Fukushima: What We Know Now

Koriyama’s Higashi High baseball team posing for a photo on their contaminated school field. Photo credit Stack Jones.

During the initial stage of the nuclear aspect of Japan’s 3.11.11. triple disaster the public was intentionally left in the dark regarding the imminent dangers that threatened their lives, their family, their property, and their livelihood. Today, a mere 10% of Fukushima children have been tested for cancer. Of that 10%, ten have been diagnosed with thyroid and other cancers that can be directly traced to the Daiichi debacle. If those figures are a sign of what is, and what is to come, then at least one hundred children have already received life-threatening malignancies. The future holds nothing less than a pandemic of tragic proportions for the residents of Fukushima in the decades to follow. And nobody is talking about it. The media has moved on.

A recent study published in Natural Hazards 63, No. 2 (September 2012), titled Civil nuclear power at risk of tsunamis, found twenty-three nuclear plants around the world are susceptible to tsunami destruction. There are seventy-four reactors at those facilities. Thirteen are currently active, while the remaining are near completion or being expanded to operate more reactors. The study states that East and Southeast Asia are at the greatest risk of a nuclear crisis triggered by a tsunami, especially China, which houses twenty-seven of the world’s sixty-four nuclear reactors currently under construction. Nineteen of those reactors are being built in areas identified as dangerous.

In Japan, seven plants, (one currently under construction) are located in tsunami zones. South Korea is also expanding two plants that are in tsunami risk zones. The study urges energy officials to consider how they would handle the consequences of a catastrophe.

Considering that it had always been reported that Japan was the pinnacle of preparedness for such scenarios, and clearly wasn’t… God help the rest of us!

Fukushima agricultural land lying fallow. Photo credit Stack Jones.

On March 11th, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. the earth began to shake violently. This 9.0 earthquake was so immense that it moved the entire planet 25cm, shifted earth’s axis, and pushed Japan 2.4 meters further out to sea. This would be the most powerful earthquake since scientists began keeping records.

At 3:15 p.m., waves traveling at more than 500 m.p.h., (according to Britain’s National Oceanography Center), and more than 40’ in height made their way toward Japan’s entire eastern coastline.

TEPCO’s nuclear facility located at Daini in Fukushima was the first plant to report failure when a 30’ tsunami flooded the plant. Seawater pumps that were used to cool the reactors failed immediately. Three of the plant’s reactors were in danger of imminent meltdown. Fortunately, a single external power line still provided power to the plant, allowing engineers to stabilize it. At Daini the engineers were able to avoid disaster. The engineers at Daiichi wouldn’t be as fortunate.

At 3:35 p.m. the biggest of a series of waves struck Daiichi. It was more than twice the height of the plants seawall. In 2009, TEPCO had been warned by a government committee of scientists that its tsunami defenses were inadequate. TEPCO ignored those warnings.

While the engineers at Daini were desperately searching for an electrical umbilical chord, several Daiichi buildings and five thousand ton fuel tanks were sucked out to sea. Thankfully, cars that had batteries in them weren’t. Most of the back-up power systems that were needed to cool down the reactor fuel rods in case of an emergency were located in the basements, When the basements flooded, the back-up power systems inevitably were destroyed. The scenario the experts had warned TEPCO about and which the company ignored, became a reality. At Daiichi, there would be no way to keep the nuclear fuel from melting down. The only thing TEPCO could think to do was to keep the matter a secret from the public for as long as they could.

The rest of Japan began searching for loved ones, as all forms of communication and travel ceased to function. Tokyo, the world’s largest city ground to a halt as widespread panic set in. Immediately, store shelves emptied of emergency supplies including food and water. Shipping ports shutdown under an emergency government order.

At 3:42 p.m. a nuclear emergency was declared, but the public wouldn’t hear about it. Especially those that lived near the reactors who were searching for missing family members in their destroyed villages

At 3:58 p.m. there was a loss of water level readings at Daiichi. This too would be held from the public.

At 4:36 p.m. emergency core cooling systems malfunctioned. There would be no way to inject water into the reactors to cool the fuel rods. Meltdown was inevitable.

Akio Komori, managing director of TEPCO’s Nuclear Division said, the company “never imagined” that one of its plants could lose all power. TEPCO executives certainly don’t have much of an imagination.

At 5:00 p.m., TEPCO finally announced to Prime Minister Kan that the cooling systems had failed at Daiichi. Kan asked to be kept informed as to what was unfolding at the facility. He wouldn’t, as TEPCO’s executives, hiding away in their Tokyo headquarters were too busy trying to figure out how to prevent a major disaster, and to prevent their market shares from plummeting when the market opened on the Monday that would follow. Ironically, Japan’s government, the “world’s most prepared” for such calamity in reality had no plan, and as a result would allow TEPCO to remain in charge of what would become the worst nuclear disaster since the “atoms for peace” program began. An accident TEPCO’s replaced and disgraced board would later admit was entirely preventable.

As night fell it was reported that there were at least 20,000 people dead or missing. As survivors gathered at makeshift emergency shelters, they were unaware of the nuclear disaster that was looming over them. Finally, the government ordered an evacuation of anyone that lived within two miles of the Daiichi reactors. Many ignored the order and continued to search for their families.

Inside the Daiichi facility workers had no functioning instruments, and didn’t know what was happening inside the reactor cores. Workers began to scavenge batteries out of cars that were scattered around the facility. This enabled the workers to power up the control room. Just before midnight workers restored power to the pressure gauge. What they discovered were levels that caused panic. Trained nuclear engineers began to shout, and pray that they were all going to die. Regardless, the levels continued to rise.

Rising heat in the reactor cores created massive amounts of radioactive steam and hydrogen. The resulting pressure meant the workers could not get water onto the fuel to keep them from being exposed. This also meant the containment vessels of every reactor that was online could explode and leave parts of Japan more contaminated, according to nuclear physicists Koide of Kyoto University, than plutonium from the equivalent of 200,000 Hiroshima bombs, and as a result any affected area would be uninhabitable for the next 600,000 years.

At 1:00 a.m. pressure continued to rise. TEPCO needed to release pressure from inside the failing reactors, which meant releasing radiation into the nearby atmosphere. TEPCO sought permission from the Prime Minister. Kan felt he had no choice but to approve this drastic measure. However, TEPCO hadn’t told Kan that they needed electricity to vent the reactors. And, of course Japan’s largest electric power company, and world’s largest privately held energy company, didn’t have any. Even if they did, the company didn’t have the means to get it to the plant. TEPCO also failed to tell Kan that they didn’t know how to vent the reactors manually, and failed to report that nobody had ever been trained to open the valves manually.

Radiation levels rose dramatically inside Reactor 1’s control room. The engineers that worked for TEPCO, and who were ordered to shut up about everything they knew, did just that. They were also culpable of hiding what TEPCO executives, and the Japanese government would not acknowledge publicly, that in less than twelve hours, nuclear meltdown had already begun.

Kan began to suspect that TEPCO was hiding the truth, and decided to go to Daiichi. He would subsequently be criticized for interfering with the emergency work at the plant. Kan would later say, “It was like a game of telephone with TEPCO headquarters.” So, while the entire nation had no knowledge that the possibility of an imminent nuclear explosion could occur, TEPCO was playing phone games, and still couldn’t figure out how to vent the reactors.

Plant manager Masao Yoshita knew radiation levels near the vents were at potentially fatal levels. He told Kan he would send in a “suicide squad” if necessary. I wonder if Yoshita planned on being one of those who was ready to die for his corporate bosses bottom line? Kan knew if those men went into the reactors he would be condemning them to their imminent death. Much like the first firefighters that charged into Chernobyl with mere fire hoses, and without any nuclear oriented training or physical protection.

If venting occurred, residents would be exposed to life threatening levels of radiation. TEPCO employees hoped for time, as they struggled to figure out a way to vent the increasing pressure from the four reactors they knew had been online. The evacuation around Daiichi had still not been completed.

By 9:00 a.m. on the morning of the 12th the villages around the plant were finally evacuated. TEPCO ordered the venting team to go in. Plant logs show the first two volunteers went in at 9:04 a.m. Radiation reading were extremely high. Each worker was limited to seventeen minutes in the reactor building. Radiation was inevitably vented from the reactors. Mayors in nearby towns of Soma, and Haranoumachi could see the radiation clouds moving toward their communities. Nobody from TEPCO, or the Japanese government bothered telling them to evacuate.

Radiation levels began to fall at the plant as it spread throughout neighboring communities. As TEPCO prematurely celebrated their momentary success, Reactor 1’s roof exploded scattering radiation fuel all over the plant.

The workers watched as radiation levels rose, and wondered if they would survive this second round of roulette. Many openly discussed escaping, but even if they did, they’d be exposing themselves to even higher levels of radiation outside, which would have certainly sealed their fate.

In Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yukio Edano played down the severity of the crisis, outright lying to the public, the media, and the world as to the extent of the damage. “We see no damage to the containment vessel. The radiation levels have not changed much since the explosion. Please, remain calm.” Kan and Edano would later be criticized for hiding the severity of the situation from the Japanese people, and the world. In reality, they knew the situation was sliding out of control. The explosion everyone dreaded would now halt efforts to get water on the exposed reactor cores. It would only be a matter of time before the fuel would melt through the core, out into the open, and release much worse levels of radiation into the environment that had already been released, and without the public being informed.

Kan finally decided to put together a panel of “experts” to discern the worst-case scenario. Those experts concluded that they would have to evacuate 120-190 miles around the plant. Tokyo, the world’s larger city would cease to function. Japan’s economy, which has already been spiraling downward due to the global economic collapse, and now the earthquake, and tsunami, would suffer even greater woes due to the debacle that the ill-prepared energy company was responsible for due to the fact that it ignored government warnings and continued to operate an inherently dangerous plant in a reckless manner.

The first plume of radiation released into the atmosphere began its death creep across large swaths of Japan, taking out entire communities with it. Any agricultural or livestock productivity would be banned from the market resulting in wreaking further havoc on the local populace. One dairy farmer, left in ruins hung himself in his own facility. He left a note saying, “If only there were no nuclear power plants.” If only…

An evacuated shopping center on the border of the No Go Zone. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Finally, the government ordered anyone within 20km of the plant to flee. Iodine tablets were handed out to the residents of Fukushima.

That same panel of government “experts” would later use golf balls, glue and paper in an attempt to seal massive cracks in the foundation of the destroyed and exposed Daiichi to prevent millions, and millions of gallons of highly toxic radiation from seeking into the Pacific Ocean. They failed. The Pacific Ocean around Fukushima, and wherever the current travels will remain toxic for millions of years to come. Professor Koide, an ardent long time self-proclaimed enemy of TEPCO said, “When this world ceases to exist, and our sun burns itself out, the radiation from Fukushima will still be here. It’s our fingerprint. It’s our shameful legacy.”

8:00 a.m. Day four.

The situation deteriorated rapidly. The explosion made it impossible to get water into reactors 1 and 2. Now, reactor 3 was also in meltdown. Another build up of hydrogen meant reactor 3 could explode at any moment. Suddenly, there was another explosion. This, explosion would be much worse than the first one that was still making its way across Japan. Massive amounts of contaminated debris was blown all over the plant, as a second radiation cloud spread across the central region. Now, parts of the plant were completely off limits to the workers. Parts of Japan would be completely off limits, and probably forever.

Radiation levels were at 1000 millisieverts per hour. At one hour of exposure at this level radiation sickness sets in. A few hours meant certain death, and it still hadn’t been reported that TEPCO had been using the highly controversial and volatile MOX fuel.

3:00 a.m. Day five.

Workers at the plant, the ones responsible for the disaster were once again openly discussing running away, and abandoning the plant. Plant manager Yoshita gathered all of the employees together and ordered an evacuation. He told everyone to “Just go home. We’ve done this much, we can do no more.” Kan received a phone call that all of TEPCO’s workers were planning to flee. If they withdrew, six reactors, and seven spent fuel pools would be abandoned. All of it would meltdown. Radiation at levels hundreds of times worse than Chernobyl would be scattered all over Japan, and the world.

Kan went to TEPCO’s Tokyo headquarters to stop the total withdraw of the facility. He told TEPCO executives that they could not abandon the facility. He said, “All those over sixty should be prepared to lead the way in that dangerous place. This would affect not just Japan, but the whole world.” Akio Komori, TEPCO’s (damage control mouthpiece) would later claim that the company never intended to pull out. He would claim they were only “looking into” pulling out.

That morning TEPCO evacuated all but a skeleton crew. Those men would later become known as the Fukushima 50. They remained locked down in the central control room with radiation levels that were extremely high. The reactors remained unmanned, and uninspected.

Fire fighters several miles away remained on standby to lay pipes that could provide water to the reactors. For now, they would have to wait, as radiation levels were too high to go anywhere near the plant.

Chuck Castro from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would state that the amount of employees on site were incredibly deficient to do what needed to be done. The U.S. experts, frustrated by the lies being told to them by TEPCO, and the Japanese government, sent a surveillance drone over the plant. The data they received was disturbing. A third hydrogen explosion exposed several pools of discarded radioactive fuel to the atmosphere. TEPCO hadn’t even known this. Those spent fuel rods were highly radioactive, and if those pools boiled dry, they would catch fire, and the resulting contamination would be far worse than from a reactor meltdown. It was imperative to get water onto those spent fuel rods.

Grasping at straws, Kan desperately ordered water to be dropped onto the facility by helicopters. Soviet crews that had attempted this all subsequently died from radiation related cancer. Tungsten plates were bolted to the helicopters to protect the crew from gamma rays. While a few drops hit their target, the operation was aborted as a failure. American crews who had been monitoring the drops discovered the radiation levels had not decreased. The U.S. began plans to withdraw 90,000 of its citizens from Japan. Americans were advised to stay at least fifty miles from the plant. The Japanese evacuation zone remained at an absurd twelve kilometers.

U.S. surveillance revealed that there were huge plates of radioactive fuel scattered around the reactors. Anyone who approached the plant would be risking their lives. (Later neutron rays would be discovered in Tokyo and Kashiwa. Neutron rays are so highly radiated that a mere Geiger counter cannot discover them.)

Day eight.

Despite life threatening danger from exposure Tokyo fire fighters were ordered to get water into the spent fuel ponds. By any means! Those men had no experience working in radioactive conditions. One fire fighter was sent in to plot a route, but the radiation that he was exposed to meant he couldn’t accompany his men back in. Eventually, the plan was for firefighters to park a truck by the sea to suck up water. They would then lay 800 yards of hose that lead to the reactors, and then leave ocean water spraying into the fuel pools. The firefighters would have only sixty minutes to complete their mission. The roads they needed to use were badly damaged and were blocked by tsunami debris. The firefighters had to lay the hose by hand, which greatly cut into their allotted time. As the firefighters got closer to the facility, the alarms on their dosimeters warned of increase levels of radiation. Working at an amazing pace, and through sheer endurance those brave men completed their mission in that one hour. Seawater began to pour onto the exposed fuel pools. Radiation at the plant began to fall.

Next, TEPCO’s workers laid miles of pipe that would channel a constant flow water into the reactor cores. To their credit they worked fast, always aware that dangerous levels of radiation could spike at any moment. TEPCO didn’t tell the men where radiation levels were the highest. TEPCO would claim that most of their dosimeters were washed out to sea. However, TEPCO assured the press that each group had one. Several workers would later admit that they worked without dosimeters. We would later learn that contractors were covering their dosimeters with lead to hide true readings. Those contractors would also tell their men to work regardless of the levels, or doses they received.  That, or lose their jobs.

After laying the pipes, reactors began to cool, but other problems arose. The highly contaminated seawater was intentionally being released into the Pacific Ocean.

The contaminated Pacific Ocean four kilometers north of ground zero. Photo credit Stack Jones.

As a result of the inadequate response to the disaster, Kan would be forced to resign, being accused of mishandling the crisis. TEPCO would be given billions in taxpayer funds to pay tens of billions in damages. Yet, after two years, the company has barely dolled out any of it. Few in Fukushima have been paid for their losses. No criminal charges have been filed against Edano, or any TEPCO executive for misleading the public thereby resulting in many people being exposed to high levels of radiation unnecessarily. People who lost their families weren’t able to properly mourn their losses due to the forced evacuation.

Workers at the plant face uncertain futures. More than one hundred have received radiation doses that increased their risk of developing cancer at some time in the future. But, they don’t have to worry at this time, because as we’ve all heard ad nauseam, there is no imminent threat of danger!

The fact is the radiation released by the Daiichi debacle has contaminated hundreds of square miles of northeastern Japan. More than 100,000 people fled the fallout, and live as nomadic wanderers not knowing their fate. Some of the areas evacuated will be uninhabitable for decades, others for as long as man walks the face of the earth,

Today I paid my TEPCO electric bill with its 10.4% increase. In reality, it was about 312% higher than my bill was at this very same time last year.

By now we’ve come to learn just how safe, cheap, and clean nuclear energy really is.

There will be an anti-nuclear rally held March 9th at 1:00 p.m. at Meiji Park. Station exit, Gaien-Mae on the Ginza Line. There will also be one held in London on March 9th at Hyde Park Corner at 12:00 p.m., and a candlelight vigil on March 11th outside the Japanese Embassy in London beginning at 5:40 p.m.

This link takes the reader to Stack Jones’ reportage gallery, which was shot during Japan’s 3.11.11. triple disaster. The comments Jones shares pertains to his personal experience while shooting Japan’s worst disaster since experts began keeping records.

Abukumagawa River Fukushima's Tainted Water Supply

Abukumagawa River Fukushima’s tainted water source. Photo credit Stack Jones.

Stack Jones is an award winning writer, photographer and musician. In contrast to his music, Stack’s social, religious and political commentaries are scathing. He tells it like it is, without allowing external influences to mar his perspective. Stack received a Juris Doctorate from the University of La Verne College of Law (ABA), and a BA in Communications from Loyola Marymount University (Magnum Cum Laude).

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