Sin now, ask forgiveness later

  The Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe has been getting world-wide coverage in the mainstream media for the last two weeks as TEPCO made new “revelations” and “admissions” about the flow of contaminated water coming out of the ruins of the nuclear power plant. Although the situation is newsworthy and TEPCO’s handling of the situation has been outrageous, we have to realize that even after these admissions, the narrative about the situation that they are pushing is still false.
The narrative that has been presented in recent news reports is that the contaminated water was somehow unexpected, and TEPCO were slow in revealing the truth of the situation simply because they were overwhelmed and made errors in judgment recently under the pressure of dealing with a series of surprising events.
In fact, there is nothing surprising at all about this situation. In the early days of the crisis anti-nuclear groups claimed that it was a certainty that reactors 1 to 3 had melted down. TEPCO, the Japanese government and every knowledgeable expert working in the nuclear field knew that they were correct, but in a global unified voice they all refused to “speculate” on the condition of the reactor cores. Two months later, there was official admission that the meltdowns had indeed occurred and no one knew the condition or location of the melted cores. The apologies were made for regrettably bad decisions made under pressure, but in fact the delay was deliberate and pre-meditated. It was an instance of acting on the proverbial wisdom of not asking for permission but rather doing what you want to do now and asking for forgiveness later.
The water problem was well understood at the time as well. Critics like nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen have raised the issue repeatedly. In this video from April 2011, nuclear industry critic Chris Busby stated the inevitability of it “all going to the sea.” The cores melt, pieces of them stay in the ruins of the reactor and/or some pieces of them melt into the ground, but they are all fissioning and hot for a long, long time, so they have to be constantly cooled by water, and that water has to go back to the ocean. TEPCO has tried to filter out most of the contaminants, but it is not possible to filter out radioactive isotopes of hydrogen (tritium) which has become tritiated water. You can’t easily separate so much tritiated water from normal water. (Canadian nuclear operators have some expertise in this area, but they handle fresh water, and smaller volumes than what TEPCO has on its hands). So they tried storing the water in hastily built tanks, but it has become obvious recently the number of tanks needed will far exceed what is practically possible.
The regulatory limits, the fear of angering fishermen and the public, and the need to save the reputation of the nuclear industry have all prevented the Japanese government from taking the action which will eventually be necessary. As Dr. Busby said two years ago, “It all goes into the sea.” What we have had is two and half years of crisis management and crafting of a narrative that the situation has been stabilized – put in “cold shutdown” – but now we get the admission of an “unexpected” change in circumstances and many bowed heads and deep apologies. What we are not being told is that all of this is another piece of the pre-meditated theater, just like the apology for not reporting the fact of the meltdowns when it was known. From the beginning, every nuclear expert in the world knew that it all goes to the sea.
Strangely enough, it turns out that even Dr. Busby, who is well known for accusing the nuclear industry of downplaying the health effects of radiation, agrees that the contamination that is flowing out of Fukushima Daiichi is not going to present much risk for people on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In his recent article published in Russia Today he wrote:

… the Pacific Ocean is big enough for this level of release not to represent the global catastrophe that some are predicting… So the people in California can relax. In fact, the contamination of California and indeed the rest of the planet from the global weapons test fallout of 1959-1962 [sic 1945-62? or 1954-62 if these dates refer to only hydrogen megaton bombs?] was far worse, and resulted in the cancer epidemic which began in 1980. The atmospheric megaton explosions drove the radioactivity into the stratosphere and the rain brought it back to earth to get into the milk, the food, the air, and our children’s bones. Kennedy and Khrushchev called a halt in 1963, saving millions.

So if this is the case, why all the apparent guilt and regret now about having to dump contaminated water into the sea? If it is inevitable, why not just get on with it. Delays are only worsening the situation. For example, by trying to hold back the water behind a constructed barrier, TEPCO has raised serious concerns that the ground will be softened and structures will be less likely to withstand earthquakes. What is to regret here is that the catastrophe ever happened at all. There is no use now in worrying about offending fishermen or outraging the public. The outcome of it all going to the sea was achieved the day the meltdowns happened.
The truly regrettable aspect of the situation is the denial of reality and the creation of the distorted narrative that was set up to protect the fortunes of the global nuclear industry. TEPCO and the national government are presently uttering staged apologies for a pre-meditated delayed release of information. They knew two years ago that this day would come when they would have to talk about the water problem, but they consciously planned to lie low and lie at that time, then confess and ask for forgiveness later. It is all a part of the crisis management plan, which is not so much to manage the crisis per se but to manage the damage to the fortunes of the nuclear industry. For the past thirty months Japan has preferred to forget the catastrophe and carry on with plans to sell billions in nuclear technology to India, Turkey and Vietnam.
In his editorial, Dr. Busby went on to discuss what he perceives to be the real danger that Japanese officials should be talking about honestly with their citizens. Unfortunately, the advice is to not breathe within one kilometer of the shoreline, 200 kilometers north and south of Fukushima Daiichi. The establishment of such an exclusion zone would be an unacceptable blow to the reputation of nuclear energy, and to the preferred narrative of Prime Minister Abe that the nation is fit to host the 2020 Olympics and "Japan is back" - back from what or to what, no one knows. So people who breathe the sea breeze on a daily basis are not likely to get a warning. I finish with another excerpt from Dr. Busby's editorial:

What we have here in Fukushima is more local, but still very deadly and certainly worse than Chernobyl since the populations are so large. And this brings me to my second point, and a warning to the Japanese people. The contamination of the sea results in adsorption* of the radionuclides by the sand and silt on the coast and river estuaries. The east coast of Japan, the sediment and sand on the shores, will now be horribly radioactive. This material is re-suspended into the air through a process called sea-to-land transfer. The coastal air they inhale is laden with radioactive particles. I know about this since I was asked in 1998 by the Irish State to carry out a two-year study of the cancer effects of releases into the Irish Sea by the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield… Results showed a remarkable and sharp 30 per cent increase in cancer rates in those living within 1km of the coast. The effect was very local and dropped away sharply at 2km. In trying to discover the cause, we came across measurements made by the UK Atomic Energy Research Establishment. Using special cloth filters, they had measured Plutonium in the air by distance from the contaminated coast. The trend was the same as the cancer trend, increasing sharply in the 1km strip near the coast… By 2003, we had found 20-fold excess risk of leukemia and brain tumors in the population of children on the north Wales coast… the sea-to-land effect is real. And anyone living within 1km of the coast to at least 200km north or south of Fukushima should get out. They should evacuate inland. It is not eating the fish and shellfish that gets you - it’s breathing.

Christopher Busby. “Pump and pray: Tepco might have to pour water on Fukushima wreckage forever.” Russia Today, August 7, 2013.

* This is not a misspelling of absorption
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas, liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. This process differs from absorption, in which a fluid (the absorbate) permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid (the absorbent). Note that adsorption is a surface-based process while absorption involves the whole volume of the material. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while desorption is the reverse of adsorption. It is a surface phenomenon.

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