The news coming out of Japan these days is not good.
First, the Japanese government confirmed that the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been leaking an estimated 300 tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean each day. The leaks have apparently been going on since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused three reactors in the plant to melt down.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) called the situation an emergency and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it “an urgent problem.” The consensus among independent scientists is that Tepco, the plant’s operator, is incapable of stopping the discharge into the sea, which it has kept secret for more than two years.
It was discovered after the NRA detected strontium and tritium in a monitoring well at the plant site. When found out, the company apologized.
But it gets worse.
On Aug. 14, Reuters reported that Tepco was preparing to remove 400 tonnes of “highly irradiated” spent fuel from the severely damaged Reactor Four building.
The operation, set to start in November and expected to take one year, has never been attempted on this scale and, according to nuclear experts, “is fraught with danger, including the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle,” the news agency reported.
The radiation contained in the fuel pools in Reactor Four is equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago, the Reuters report said.
In their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, independent scientists Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggat wrote: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
In other words, the devastation would be worse than Chernobyl, worse than the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, although no one can say how much worse.
The operation is necessary, however, because the chance of Fukushima being hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake was estimated last year at 98 per cent within three years. And that, according to the experts, could cause the fuel pool structure to collapse and start another chain reaction.
The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. It is truly a global crisis. A host of observers have called for a team of the world’s top scientists to take over the entire clean-up, especially in light of Tepco’s miserable track record of missteps and misinformation.
This week, however, Japan’s nuclear regulator approved a plan for Tepco to carry out the clean-up, expected to take 40 years and cost billions that the company said it doesn’t have.
Health officials in B.C. assure us that there is nothing to worry about from radioactive water pouring daily into the Pacific. It is, after all, a big ocean.
But the danger of “radiological disaster” from Reactor Four is real. For the Japanese it’s a living nightmare, and for the west coast of North America, it is a legitimate threat.
If we had a responsible government, we would be told about the risks from Reactor Four. People could take measures to protect themselves and their families in the event that an earthquake or blunder by Tepco caused the unspeakable to occur.
But as far as our government is concerned, Canadians just can’t handle the truth.