Fukushima Brings New Agenda For Renewables

As well as an adverse viewpoint on capitalism

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is getting worse by the day, poisoning the Pacific Ocean and threatening a nuclear holocaust of some unknown dimension. You will not outlive this disaster.

This is a question that transcends being anti-nuclear. The fate of the earth is at stake here and the whole world must be watching every move at that site from now on. With 11,000 fuel rods scattered around the place, as a ceaseless flow of contaminated water poisoning our oceans, our very survival is on the line.

— Harvey Wasserman (long-time anti-nuclear activist)1

Ever since the Japanese tsunami in 2011, Japan has seen an explosion of interest in renewable energy. The government has set a target of 25% to 35% renewable energy by 2030, planning to invest $700 billion in wind, solar, fuel cell, and biomass. 2

Isn’t it disturbing that it requires the lethal wrath of a nuclear accident before a country turns to renewables?  Is there something deadly wrong with this picture? Or, to put it another way, this is a prime example of the problem with capitalism’s focus on profits at any, and all, costs. You know the problem: Renewables are too expensive, blah blah blah! Well, fellas, the ultimate costs are human lives and the environment when the cheapest sources for energy are fossil fuels and uranium.

If the world economy continues to focus its growth and development on what is ‘most cost effective’ for capitalism’s income statements and shareholder interests rather than what protects the environment, then it is only a matter of time before the great extinction event takes over, money and all. So much for stocks, bonds, and savings accounts; they’ll be worthless.

On the other hand, if the world’s capitalists had reversed their priorities to (1) environment first, (2) profits second, the planet would not be in this dreadful mess in the first place. Already human-caused CO2 from burning fossil fuels is choking the ocean with acidification, which is well documented by peer-review scientific studies.

Hold on to your hats now that they’re mixing radiation into the defunctive cocktail of acidification; we’ll see what happens next.

As such, beware: Capitalism is bad for your health!

Removing Spent Fuel Rods

In August, TEPCO finally admitted that a cumulative 20-40 trillion Becquerel of radioactive tritium had leaked into the Pacific Ocean. As well, and additionally, the contaminated water of the most recent spill, September  2013 at Fukushima, was 6,700 times more radioactive than legal limits; whereas, several hundred times would be a serious problem.

As an aside, and certainly worth mentioning, fish along the western coast of Canada are bleeding from their gills, belies and eyeballs. Scientists do not yet know the cause.

Japan’s 48 nuclear power plants remain in mothballs, but the Abe government wants to re-open the plants. This wish, however, will most likely remain a wish, not a reality, because the people of Japan have an intimate understanding of nuclear power more so than any other country in the world, ever since 1945.

And, now Japan is once again about to enter a new nuclear dimension, as TEPCO gets ready to remove 400 fuel rods from the rickety, collapsing Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Reactor 4 Building, which is currently tipping and sinking. A decent-sized earthquake would likely topple the entire structure, and the consequences are unthinkable, possibly creating havoc on the order of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Already, the world knows all about the destructive capabilities of one atomic bomb. It was August 6, 1945 when “Little Boy” (an atomic bomb) whistled down upon the city of Hiroshima from the belly of a Boeing-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay piloted by Col. Paul Tibbets, Jr., causing 90,000-166,000 deaths (half of these on the first day.)

Now, TEPCO is forced to act before a more widespread disaster ensues; although this whole affair has been a ‘slow rolling disaster’ since its inception. Portentously, the rod removal will be the most dangerous engineering feat in the history of humankind. One slip-up could cause a massive radiation release, and the cesium alone would match the fallout of 14,000 Hiroshima bombs. Yes, fourteen thousand!

TEPCO plans to use a remote-controlled 273-ton mobile crane to remove the spent fuel rods. According to Paul Gunter, MD, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project: “Given the uncertainties of the condition and array of the hundreds of tons of nuclear fuel assemblies, it will be a risky round of highly radioactive pickup sticks.” 3   And, lest we forget, nobody has ever attempted this before… hmmm.

According to an RT News article, “Fukushima Readies for Dangerous Operation to Remove 400 Tons of Spent Fuel,” October 23, 2013: “In November it will try to remove 400 tons of spent fuel from plant’s Reactor No. 4. But even a little mistake may result in a new nuclear disaster.” And, wouldn’t you know – the operation will take one year, allowing plenty of time for a slip-up to happen. Egads! We’ll all be forced onto our tiptoes for the next 12 months.

Here’s the sensitivity problem that’s involved in this operation: The fuel rods must remain submerged in water and absolutely must not touch each other or break, or all hell will break loose. “Should the attempt fail, a mishandled rod could be exposed to air and catch fire, resulting in horrific quantities of radiation released into the atmosphere. The resulting radiation will be too great for the cooling pool to absorb as it simply has not been designed to do so.” 4

Counterpoint

A September 2013 Forbes magazine article takes the opposing side of the argument about how dangerous Fukushima is to people and to the ocean. According to Tim Worstall,  “… the dangers are somewhere between vanishingly trivial and non-existent. Indeed, an entirely reasonable and sensible solution to the radioactive water at the plant would be to simply dump it all into the ocean.” 5

Mr. Worstall’s suggestion is to filter out as much radioactive material as possible, dilute what’s left, and dump it in the Pacific. Bingo, the problem is solved. By the way, it should be noted that Forbes is not the only capitalist tool mouthing off about Fukushima as a non-issue benign situation.

So, why then is TEPCO storing all of the radioactive material in hundreds of storage tanks? Are they too stupid to realize all they have to do is filter out some radiation and then dump it into the ocean? Boy, oh boy, the TEPCO operators are dumber than anyone, especially Mr. Worstall, could’ve ever guessed, by not taking advantage of his clever idea.

Of course, everybody already knows that lots of the sizzling stuff is already going into the ocean, and according to Mr. Worstall, we really don’t need to worry about that either. The levels of Fukushima radioactivity going into the ocean are miniscule compared to “the natural radioactivity of the same ocean of course.” 6

Mr. Worstall’s prescient advice is comforting because scientists and experts have been misinforming us, scaring us to death. Accordingly, a mini-apocalypse may be upon us at any time. Thank you, Mister Worstall, but excuse us for a moment while we further scrutinize your grand concept.

It appears one of Mr. Worstall’s  primary sources of information is New Scientist, a weekly non-peer-reviewed English language international science magazine. As such, it is probably fair to say that Worstall’s credibility would increase several notches by quoting sources from a “peer-review” science magazine or “peer review” data from whatever source.

As well, it is worth mentioning that Greg Egan, the science fiction writer, sharply criticized the magazine in 2006, saying, “…a sensationalist bent and a lack of basic knowledge by its writers.” The counterpoint by the then-editor of New Science, Jeremy Webb was: It is “an ideas magazine – that means writing about hypotheses as well as theories.” Fair enough, as far as that goes.

It is also interesting to note that New Scientist carried a January 2009 cover title reading, “Darwin was Wrong,” if only because this title imparts some sense of the intellectual sensibility of the magazine’s editor(s).

In fairness, Worstall also quotes Jota Kanda of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, who only mentions the amount of leakage without drawing a conclusion.

And, he uses Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as another source, who seems to indicate the amount of radiation into the ocean is no big deal. This is according to Mr. Worstall’s article. But, in a Special to CNN on April 26, 2011, Ken Buesseler said, “Follow-up work will be needed for years and decades to come before we are able to say with any certainty that we understand the fate of these radionuclides in the ocean and the effect they have had on the marine environment.”

Has Dr. Buesseler changed his opinion since 2011? Only Mr. Worstall seems to have that answer, and it must be in the affirmative because his article essentially says Buesseler claims it is no big deal.

So, taken at face value, Mr. Worstall’s opinion piece in Forbes seems to suggest the peer-review-type scientists of the world are really missing the big picture here. After all, TEPCO is building storage containers for radioactive water storage like there is no tomorrow when it would be so simple, as Worstall suggests, for them to filter out some of the radiation and dump the water in the ocean. Why build all of the silly storage containers, and please, where is the scientific community on this one? Worstall has an easy answer for all of you.

Oh, by the way, Forbes magazine refers to itself as the “The Capitalist Tool.”

Counter Counterpoint

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer.

The National Council on Radiation Protection says every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.

The EPA says any exposure to radiation poses some risk; i.e., there is no level below which we can say an exposure poses no risk.

According to the National Academy of Sciences there are no safe doses of radiation. After decades of research, it is clear that any dose of radiation increases the risk of cancer.

The Cambridge Philosophical Society’s Journal of Biological Sciences concluded that even the lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life. This is based upon 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, which studies examined natural background radiation in contrast to a more highly irradiated population. The studies reported significant negative effects in a range of categories including immunology, physiology, mutation, and disease occurrence, concluding there is no threshold below which there are no effects from radiation. 7

Mr. Worstall’s Forbes’ article ‘flips the bird’ to (1) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, (2) the EPA, (3) the National Academy of Sciences, (4) the National Council on Radiation Protection, and (5) the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s Journal of Biological Sciences, and incidentally, there are many more similar peer-review-type sources not mentioned herein that are supportive of the opinions of these institutions.

Even though Forbes claims Worstall’s article is his responsibility, they printed it, and Worstall made a bloody fool out of himself and, by association, of Forbes magazine as well by having the temerity to suggest the world’s oceans and millions of people should not worry about one of the biggest major catastrophes in the history of capitalism.

Why writers and magazines, like Worstall and Forbes, are allowed out of their caves is a subject that is beyond the scope of this article.

  1. Andrea Germanos, “Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario” Common Dreams, October 24, 2013 []
  2. Wharton School of Business University of Pennsylvania, Public Policy, Renewable Energy for Japan: A Post-Fukushima Quest, October 3, 2013 []
  3. Andrea Germanos, Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario, Common Dreams, October 24, 2013 []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Solving The Fukushima Radioactivity Problem: Dump It All Into The Ocean, Forbes, September 4, 2013 []
  6. Ibid []
  7. Global Research News, August 24, 2013 []

Robert Hunziker (MA, economic history, DePaul University) is a freelance writer and environmental journalist whose articles have been translated into foreign languages and appeared in over 50 journals, magazines, and sites worldwide, like Z magazine, European Project on Ocean Acidification, Ecosocialism Canada, Climate Himalaya, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Comite Valmy, and UK Progressive. He has been interviewed about climate change on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, FM90.7, Indymedia On Air and World View Show/UK. He can be contacted at: rlhunziker@gmail.com. Read other articles by Robert.