By Contributor on August 08, 2013

Just when it seemed things might be under control at Fukushima, we find they are worse than ever.

Immeasurably worse.

Massive quantities of radioactive liquids are now flowing through the shattered reactor site into the Pacific Ocean. And their make-up is far more lethal than the "mere" tritium that has dominated the headlines to date.

Tepco, the owner/operator -- and one of the world's biggest and most technologically advanced electric utilities -- has all but admitted it cannot control the situation. Its shoddy performance has prompted former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Dale Klein to charge: "You don't what you are doing."

The Japanese government is stepping in. But there is no guarantee -- or even likelihood -- it will do any better.

In fact, there is no certainty as to what's causing this out-of-control flow of death and destruction.

Some 28 months after three of the six reactors exploded at the Fukushima Daichi site, nobody can offer a definitive explanation of what is happening there or how to deal with it.

The most cogent speculation now centers on the reality that, simply enough, water flows downhill.

Aside from its location in an earthquake-prone tsunami zone, Fukushima Daichi was sited above a major aquifer. That critical reality has been missing from nearly all discussion of the accident since it occurred.

There can be little doubt at this point that the water in that underground lake has been thoroughly contaminated.

In the wake of the March 11, 2011, disaster, Tepco led the public to believe that it had largely contained the flow of contaminated water into the Pacific. But now it admits that not only was that a lie, but that the quantities of water involved -- apparently some 400,000 gallons per day -- are very large.

Some of that water may be flowing from the aquifer. Much of it also, simply enough, flows down Japan's steep hillsides, through the site and into the sea.

Until now, the utility and regulatory authorities have assured an anxious planet that the contaminants in the water have been primarily tritium. Iodine-131 is a relatively simple isotope with an 8-day half-life. Its health effects can be substantial, but its short half-life has been used to proliferate the illusion that it's not much to worry about.

Reports now indicate the outflow at Fukushima also includes substantial quantities of radioactive iodine, cesium, and strontium. That, in turn, indicates there is probably more we haven't yet heard about.

This is very bad news.

Iodine-131, for example, can be ingested into the thyroid, where it emits beta particles (electrons) that damage tissue. A plague of damaged thyroids has already been reported among as many as 40 percent of the children in the Fukushima area. That percentage can only go higher. In developing youngsters, it can stunt both physical and mental growth. Among adults it causes a very wide range of ancillary ailments, including cancer.

Cesium-137 from Fukushima has been found in fish caught as far away as California. It spreads throughout the body, but tends to accumulate in the muscles.

Strontium-90's half-life is around 29 years. It mimics calcium and goes to our bones.

That these are among the isotopes being dumped into the Pacific is the worst news to come from Japan since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whose bombings occurred 68 years ago this week, and whose fallout has been vastly exceeded at Fukushima.

Indeed, Japanese experts have already estimated Fukushima's fallout at 20-30 times as high as the 1945 bombings.

This latest revelation will send that number soaring.

The dominant reality is this: There is absolutely no indication how or when this lethal outflow will stop.

Thus far, Tepco has built scores of tanks on the site to contain whatever contaminated water it can capture. But the company is by no means getting all of it, and it is running out of space.

Some of the tanks, of course, have already sprung leaks.

There is no clear idea whether this outflow is accelerating. Tepco has injected chemicals into the ground meant to harden and form a wall between the reactors and the sea.

There's also a surreal discussion of super-cooling a part of the site to conjure up a wall of ice.

But water has a way of flowing around such feeble devices.

We may yet hear that this massive outflow is a temporary phenomenon, but that's not likely.

The site is still unpredictably radioactive. It remains unclear what has happened to the melted cores of the three exploded reactors.

The recent appearance of a steam plume has raised the specter that fission may still be occurring somewhere in the area.

It is also unclear what will happen to the hundreds of tons of spent fuel perched precariously in a pool 100 feet in the air above Unit Four.

Sustaining that cooling system until the rods can be removed -- and it's unclear when that will happen -- is a major challenge.

Should an earthquake come before that's done, and should those rods go crashing to the ground where they and their zirconium cladding could ignite in the open air, the consequences could only be described as apocalyptic.

Through it all, Japan's new pro-nuclear administration has been talking of restarting the 48 reactors that remain shut since Fukushima.

Tepco has been among the utilities pushing to resume operations at its other plants.

In the U.S., there is talk of atomic reactors somehow solving the global warming crisis.

But what we now know all too well at Fukushima is that the world's worst atomic catastrophe is very far from over.

The only thing predictable is that worse news will come.

And when it does, our increasingly fragile planet will be further irradiated, at immeasurable cost to us all.

Harvey Wasserman edits www.nukefree.org. His Solartopia Green Power & Wellness Show is at www.prn.fm.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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