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Thursday, March 10, 2016

JAPAN'S APOCALYPTIC TRAGEDY: FUKUSHIMA (Part 1)

Just how terrible to Japan was the combined catastrophe of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster two years ago tomorrow?  Actually, as I write this posting, it is already March 11 there, and a few hours away from that fateful 9.0 moment magnitude earthquake, which was the strongestl ever to strike Japan, and the fourth most powerful in the world since record-keeping began in 1900.  To already give you the punch line, I will provide in Part 2 tomorrow, Mikhail Gorbachev indicated that Chernobyl was the real cause of the Soviet Union's collapse.  Next month will be 30 years since the Chernobyl holocaust.  Governments and the nuclear industry have tended to downplay any health negatives, but the impact has been significant and serious.

The earthquake in itself was monumental, with the whole island of Honshu shifting 8 feet east.  The resultant tsunami waves reached a height of 133 feet in Miyake, and travelled six miles inland in the Sendai area.   As far away as Chile, 11,000 miles away, the tsunami reached 6.6 feet.  There were nearly 16,000 deaths, and 2562 remain missing.  More than a third of a million were displaced, a quarter million still have not returned  home, and many never will.   A million buildings were seriously damaged or destroyed. 

I happen to be in Bangkok on 11 March 2011, and flew into Narita Airport the next day.  It took me forever to get to my hotel in Tokyo, and I spent the next month in the Orient in various stages of safety.  My Huffington Post articles reported on the apocalypse:

The World Bank estimated an economic loss of $225 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.  This comparison has the cost at $300 billion, with two Chinese earthquakes (1995 and 2008) occupying #2 and #3, while the Gulf Coast experienced #4 (Deepwater Horizon oil spill--$100 billion) and #5 (Hurricane Katrina--$45 billion).  Interestingly enough, none of the 2300 MW (about two nuclear power plants) wind turbines had any damage.

The real tragedy, of course, was the tsunami waves, which topped protective walls to incapacitate six nuclear reactors  at Fukushima Daichi and Daini, the three at the former experiencing meltdowns.  Radiation levels inside the plants were 1000 times above normality, while the external environment showed radioactivity 8 times above the norm.

  • Long-lived cesium (30-year half life) contaminated 11,580 square miles (Maryland, 9774 square miles). 
  • The allowable exposure rate of 1 mSv per year was exceeded over 4500 square miles, about the size of Connecticut.
  • However, the government five weeks later drastically increased the "allowable" limit to 20 mSv to downplay the fallout dangers.
  • The economic loss was up to $500 billion.
  • Radioactivity is continuing to be released into the ocean and 56% of fish caught are contaminated.
According to Tokyo Electric Power Plant Chief at Fukushima Akira Ono, clean-up could take 200 years, but only if the technology is developed to accomplish this task.  He has no idea how to solve that problem, and the goal of decommissioning by 2051 is impossible.  For now, the best they can do to minimize radioactive wastes leaking into the ocean is to freeze the ground.  I wonder what the electricity will cost for the next half a century?




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