CONTRIBUTION · 6th May 2011
M S Craven
The world has long ignored the potential dangers of nuclear facilities, but it is time to wakeup. The recent events surrounding the Fukushima nuclear plant are a result of Japan’s absence of proper safety procedures and an inadequacy of precautionary measures. These have been the crucial factors that severely contributed to the downward spiral of this disaster. Fukushima is a warning to the world: we must take action and be prepared, or face the consequences.
The dead zone around Fukushima is expanding daily; with the soil and ground water poisoned, the land has turned into radioactive sludge. The water used to cool the reactors is now highly contaminated. It is gradually being discharged into the ocean, dispersing radioactive nuclei along its route of the jet stream. Radiation fills the air, joining the trade winds carrying contamination, poison and sickness to many parts of the world.
We the people are told that this radiation is limited to Japan. Without evidence of test results, we are assured that the radiation levels in Canada are within safe levels. There is no mention of potential side-effects, or environmental impact; there are no precautions put in place, no warnings, and no concern for what could happen.
To understand the gravity of the situation in Fukushima, we must examine the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine. Chernobyl killed nearly one million people and counting, according to the New York Academy of Sciences. Many deaths will never be included in the official count, because the developed cancers will not be connected to Chernobyl. The long term impact of a compromised immune system and the subsequent health challenges will never be officially traced to the disaster. Chernobyl had only one reactor explode, which burned out of control for 10 days. There was relatively little radiation as the plant was three months old.
The Fukushima nuclear plants have been operating for 40 years, and hold about 30 times more radiation than Chernobyl. Nuclear expert Helen Caldicott called Fukushima “an unprecedented absolute disaster, multiple times worse than Chernobyl.” The situation is very grim and not just for the Japanese people.
The Chernobyl Disaster
The Chernobyl nuclear plant was only 3 months old, when a safety test conducted went critically wrong on April 25th, 1986. Engineers deliberately closed down cooling to all four reactors at the same time to see if their emergency cooling systems would be properly triggered. Why emergency test simulations were not performed earlier is a mystery.
Their emergency cooling systems failed.
The core heated up much faster than expected, resulting in the build up of a hydrogen bubble. The roof, made of concrete and steel, weighed 1,000 metric tons and was designed to contain any nuclear explosion. However, instead of containing the explosion, it blew off the roof which fell onto the core, causing the reactors to be exposed and the hydrogen to ignite. The core, lacking any sort of cooling, melted through multiple floors: a perfect illustration of the China Syndrome phenomenon.
Chernobyl only burned for 10 days.
Finally the Chernobyl crew dumped a mixture of sand and boron to soak up free neutrons which melted into glass. This mixture stuck to everything and slowed the heating of the core until it gradually got thicker, then stopped. Chernobyl was then encased in a lead, steel and cement sarcophagus. During the process of this concrete entombment, Chernobyl workers were allotted 40 second work shifts, due to the extremely high radiation levels. But this was not enough. Radioactive waves penetrate concrete, breaking it down at a molecular level. In order to combat this, every five years an extra six foot layer of concrete is added to the sarcophagus. This must be repeated for the next 30,000 years. This sarcophagus of concrete will soon be the size of Luxembourg, and has a full time crew on-site to monitor it. Even twenty five years after the meltdown, Chernobyl’s radiation is still intense: a 90-second exposure is equivalent to 250 x-rays.
During those 10 days that Chernobyl was burning, radioactive particles were sent around the world: those who inhaled or ingested the particles received continuous, low levels of internal radiation exposure. A dozen areas were contaminated in Russia, with seven million people in each area. The Chernobyl fatality from April 1986 through 2004 estimates the mortality rates at 985,000. A hundred times more than the WHO/IAEA calculations.
On average, spent fuel ponds hold five to ten times more long-lived radioactivity than a reactor core. A single spent fuel pond holds more cesium-137 than what was deposited by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Northern Hemisphere combined. With a half-life of thirty years, cesium-137 gives off highly penetrating radiation and is absorbed into the food chain as if it were potassium. But “half life” does not mean that it will dissipate in thirty years.
After thirty years, half of the original amount would remain (1/2-gram).
After another thirty years, half of that half would remain (1/4-gram).
After the remaining thirty years, half of the 1/4-gram would remain, or 1/8-gram would still remain.
In comparison, the 1986 Chernobyl accident released about 40 percent of the reactor core's six million curies. A 1997 report for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by Brookhaven National Laboratory also found that a severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities, and cost $59 billion in damage.
Where Chernobyl had six million curies, Fukushima’s fuel ponds contain anywhere from 20 to 50 million curies of cesium-137.
Dangers to the Ocean
The backup cooling process used in nuclear power plants involves using enormous amounts of water, which is why they are usually located near a lake or sea. After the water has been used, it becomes highly radioactive; therefore it cannot be discharged back into the water.
If the estimated leaks of radioactive material into the sea from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were judged according to the International Nuclear Event Scale, the severity of marine contamination would be rated Level 5 or 6. The radiation leaked into the sea has caused serious contamination of the marine environment, TEPCO's estimates show. Water that leaked into the Pacific Ocean from the No. 2 reactor's water intake contained an estimated 4,700 terabecquerels of radioactive substances, TEPCO announced Thursday.
On April 4-5, the company took the emergency action of discharging 10,000 tons of relatively low-level radioactive water from a fuel waste disposal facility, causing an international stir. The estimated total amount leaked, 4,700 terabecquerels, is 30,000 times the amount of radioactive material contained in the water discharged on April 4-5. It is also about 20,000 times the amount of radioactive substances the plant is legally permitted to release into the environment in a year. One terabecquerel is equal to 1 trillion becquerels.
On April 12, the Japanese government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised the severity level of the ongoing crisis to Level 7, citing the estimated 370,000 terabecquerels of radiation released into the air from the reactors. TEPCO has said leakage into the sea started April 1, but records show radiation levels in seawater peaked on March 31. It is therefore highly likely that radioactive water leaked into the ocean before April 1.
Research has shown that the ocean is able to mix and dilute these high levels of contaminants. 15 miles offshore tests reveal that the levels of contaminants such as cesium-137 are already 100 to 1000 times less than the waters near the plant. Short-term isotopes such as iodine-131 have a half-life of only eight days, and will decay to insignificant levels before long. What we do not know is the long-term effects of these contaminants on the ocean and its life. We do not know where the contaminants are going, or how fast they are spreading. The groundwater and sediments in the seafloor around Fukushima will likely remain irradiated for decades to come, and yet we have not gathered radionuclide data from these areas. We do not know how the contaminants will affect the sea-life, or how contaminants will transfer up through the food chain.
Deliberately destroying sea water is an act of desperation, because it causes everything it touches to become radioactive. In the water adjacent to Fukushima, radiation levels are 1 million times higher than they were before the disaster. The consequences of this have only just started to be researched, but this must be an absolute priority globally. The ocean’s ecosystem is vital to our survival as a species, and we might destroy it entirely in our hubris.
Although the Japanese have begun field work to determine the extent of the damage, to try to fill the enormous gaps in our knowledge about the effect of radiation on the ocean, this research must become a bigger priority for all governments. The information learned could be vital to our future survival.
The Spread of Misinformation by the Media
When we hear the news, or a Nuclear/ Health Official explaining that "only extremely low levels of radiation have been detected and therefore there is no need to be concerned, there is no health threat to the American public,” we must not be alluded into a false sense of security. While the former part of this statement is true, the latter is entirely false.
While this is a direct lie, the media is also making dangerous lies of omission. It continues to announce that radiation has not reached dangerous levels, leading us to believe that there are ʺrisk freeʺ radiation levels. This is also completely false, and a dangerous idea to be inferring.
On March 25th 2011, Dr Helmut Hirsh of Greenpeace Germany released a statement that, according to analyses of radiation released to date, Fukushima’s radiation had been reclassified as Level 7, comparable to Chernobyl. On April 11, TEPCO itself reluctantly admitted that Fukushima was now a Level 7, the worst possible. Nobody disputes that it is multiple times worse than Chernobyl, yet there isn't any higher measurement. If TEPCO had admitted this sooner, would people have taken other precautionary measures?
The total amount of the radio-nuclides iodine-131 and caesium-137 released since the start of the accident until March 23rd 2011 is so high that it is equal to three class 7 accidents, and will continue to be released until a solution is found.
Chernobyl had one nuclear reactor and only 3 months of radiation. Fukushima has had failures at four nuclear reactors which hold about 1,000 times more radiation than the bombs at Hiroshima, 40 years of improper nuclear storage, and not to mention numerous smaller nuclear events. After 10 days, Chernobyl took aggressive action by dumping sand and Boron in preparation for entombment procedures. In comparison, TEPCO worsened the nuclear disaster by adding salt water. This mistake was largely transparent, showing that the company had not conducted the necessary research, to taken the proper precautions. North America, as well as the rest of the world, must start to put better safety procedures in place to avoid disasters like the one in Chernobyl.
Radiation risks to North America
While Fukushima is located in Tokyo, Japan, its effects will—and are—being felt worldwide.
The Geiger counter readings on numerous sites have truthfully shown continuously low levels of radiation, but what few media outlets are writing about is the harm that will be done if North America does not take aggressive measures immediately.
The first radiation from Japan hit the west coast March 18, 2011. By April 1, the Fukushima radiation will have passed over all of North America, leaving many areas with very low levels of radiation depending on jet stream distribution. As the jet stream continues around the world some radioactive particles will fall with rain, snow or as dust particles, before it continues its deadly circle. The number of radioactive particles may diminish but the STRENGTH of each particle does not diminish. Some of the smaller radioactive particles like uranium and plutonium will reach the West Coast within the first week of April 2011, and then continue their lethal circle around the globe. The jet stream will control where they visit.
When Reactor 2 at Fukushima melted down on March 29th, the contents of the containment building released radiation 10 million times higher than during normal operations. It should be noted that these figures were initially given by TEPCO engineers, but the Japanese government decided that these numbers were too high, and the figures were revised downward.
Low levels of radiation will enter North America’s food and water supply over the weeks and months ahead. And even after (when and if) Fukushima is decommissioned, we can still expect numerous health problems. Many of these might ordinarily not be noticed by individuals: they might just be considered to be part of life. A child develops leukaemia. Someone else gets cancer. A friend develops a horrible immune system disorder. People just seem less healthy. All of these symptoms are caused by radiation, and must not be so easily dismissed.
Dr Ernest Sternglass of University of Pittsburgh presented the following infant mortality rate for the Pacific states, one month after the Chernobyl fallout in May 1986:
• May 1986 54% increase infant mortality in Washington State
• May 1986 48% increase infant mortality in California compared to previous June
• June 1986 245% increase deaths per thousand live births in Washington State
• June 1986 900% increase infant mortality rate per live births in Massachusetts
The following problems will face those who inhale or ingest even the smallest particle of radioactive material:
• Premature births
• Increased deaths after live births
• Increased infant pneumonia & influenza
• Increased risk of leukaemia
• Increased learning defects
• Increased thyroid cancer
• Increased breast cancer
• Immune deficiency disorders
• Increased chronic degenerative disorders
These are just some of the effects of radiation. To understand the full extent of the horrors radiation can inflict on the human body, we must look at what radiation is, and its effects—both for ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
Radiation – what it is and its effects
Radiation is energy that travels in waves and can't be seen, tasted, smelled, heard or felt. Some familiar sources of radiation exposure are microwaves, wireless devices (use microwave signals), cell phones, radiation therapy, radio waves, visible light, electric blankets, X-Rays, TV, solar flares, ultraviolet light, industrial pollution, living near electrical transformers or near a nuclear plant.
Microwave ovens were banned in the Soviet Union in 1976 because of their known health dangers. Microwave Radiation changes the molecular structure of food, rendering it harmful and completely devoid of nutritional value. Yet most North Americans use Microwave ovens daily.
Any exposure above natural (non-ionizing) background radiation causes diseases which would have been preventable.
Exposure to Uranium, Radium and Thorium, which occur naturally, is normally isolated geologically from the environment under shale and quartz. Man is responsible for disturbing them, digging them up and contaminating the environment. These naturally occurring elements are responsible for cellular mutations and various types of cancer.
There is a difference between external and internal radiation. Internal radiation absorbed by inhalation or ingestion becomes embedded in your cells, tissues and organs releasing destructive energy for the lifetime of the person, plant or animal. External radiation from X-rays, cosmic & neutron, gamma rays can harm or kill.
Non-ionizing radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation produced by televisions, computers, high voltage electrical lines, radio waves, microwaves, radar stations, fluorescent lights & sunlamps. Non ionizing radiation can disrupt, shake or move molecules. There are protections available for electromagnetic radiation.
Ionizing radiation is the more harmful, because it produces charged subatomic particles from nuclear bombs, nuclear reactors, dental & medical X-rays, CT scans and is also used in food irradiation.
Ionizing ration can break molecules, at a cellular level, causing unpredictable chemical reactions. Think of how vibration can break glass. This is what happens at a cellular level in your body from ionizing radiation. It is an insidious form of radiation, as these large subatomic particles will travel until they are forced to stop. Although our skin can easily stop ionizing radiation, if these particles are ingested, inhaled, or enter the body through a cut, they will travel through the body into the cells, blood and organs, leaving shocking amounts of damage. A single alpha particle from plutonium, uranium, americium or radon can deliver a huge blast of radiation inside your body. This radiation energy can destroy your genetic material at a cellular level.
The people are more susceptible to radiation than others are:
• Those who are already sick
• Those who have weak immune systems
• The elderly
• Children, babies & the unborn
The smaller beta particles can travel farther and are more penetrating than Alpha particles. Beta particles pose both internal and external risks to your body. Inhalation and ingestion are the most common methods of beta assaults.
Stontium 90 and Tritium are released from Nuclear Power plants during normal operation. Once in your body Strontium 90 is mistaken for calcium, which your body uses to create new blood cells. This increases your risk of bone and blood cancers such as leukaemia. Tritium binds with the most abundant element on earth, hydrogen, which is a component of water. Once bonded with water, your DNA is irradiated internally.
The most penetrating and damaging radiation is Gamma radiation. It mimics potassium in our bodies which collects in our muscles. Cesium 137, Iodine 131 and Iodine 129 emit Gamma rays. Cesium-137 mimics potassium inside the body, seeking out muscle. Iodine-131 is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid gland and increases the risk of thyroid cancer. The thyroid gland is the first to uptake radioactive iodine.
When the thyroid is iodine deficient it accumulates the first available mineral, and the danger is if the first available mineral is radioactive. When radioactive iodine is inhaled it will accumulate and be trapped by the thyroid gland causing increased risk of radiation induced thyroid cancer.
Potassium iodide (KI) administered in pharmacological doses (50-100 mg for adults) within 24 hours before or eight hours after radiation exposure can offer thyroid protection radiation exposure thus reducing the risk of thyroid cancer. In 1986 after the
Chernobyl accident Poland used potassium iodide which explains less childhood thyroid cancer compared to areas where potassium iodide was not used.
But these are just a few of the radioactive particles released. Following is a more complete list:
• Cesium 137 accumulates in fatty tissues, liver, spleen and muscles
• Iodide-131 accumulates in Thyroid, breast and ovaries
• Strontium-90 concentrates in your bones and liver
• Barium-140 causes bone tumors up to 30 years later
• Tellurium-132 causes cell mutations, repeatedly via replication
• Yttrium-0 damage to liver and respiration
• Plutonium-244 concentrates in your liver
• Uranium 235 accumulates in your bones and liver
All of these are dangerous, even at low levels. In 1972 Dr Abram Petkau discovered that low levels of radiation, over a longer period of time, were more damaging than higher doses over a short period of time. Once you ingest or inhale even extremely low levels of radioactive particles the Petkau Effect immediately starts potentially lethal tissue ionization. The Petkau Effect is when the body is ionized or irradiated continuously from the inside out. This invisible burning at the molecular level will impair your body long before there is a diagnosable disease.
The next danger of low levels of radiation is free radicals. Free radicals are generated during long term exposure to extremely low levels of radiation. Free radicals, or radicals, are atoms, molecules or ions with unpaired electrons. These highly reactive, molecules are unstable and contribute to the weakening of the body by destroying our cellular structure and making us more vulnerable to disease. When molecules in the body oxidize they become free radicals. Without sufficient antioxidants to combat the extreme low levels of radiation people can suffer from gene mutation, birth defects, infertility and increased risk of auto-immune related disease and cancer.
The potential damage caused by free radicals includes:
• Degenerative disease
• Memory loss
• Neurological diseases
• Arthritis or other joint disorders
• Heart disease or stroke
Frighteningly, these low levels of biologically significant radiation hit North America in mid-March 2011. Low levels of radiation were found in Washington and California milk by the end of March.
Ionizing Radiation Diseases
Once radionuclides are released into the environment, they circulate and are carried with the winds until they become part of the soil and food chain. They land in our drinking water, on the pastures that our livestock graze on, on our vegetables and in our fruit trees. This is particularly dangerous for humans because we are at the top of the food chain, where the higher concentrations of radionuclides end up.
The most common diseases caused by ionizing radiation include:
• Solid tumours on any organ
• Bone & blood disorders
• Lung cancer
• Breast cancer
• Endocrine disruption
• Reproductive abnormalities
• Accelerated aging process
• Birth defects
• Congenital malformations
• Kidney, liver damage
These diseases and mutations don't stop with us. If ionizing radiation enters our genes, not only does it cause irreversible damage to this generation, but to future generations, as evidenced by children born years after Chernobyl.
Marie Sklodowska Curie, a pioneer research physicist in radioactivity, is credited with the discovery of radium. Radium has caused many excruciating deaths among the European aristocracy, who unknowingly exposing themselves to dangerous radioactive materials. Radium was used in water, and painted on pocket watch faces. Marie Curie died of aplastic anaemia, caused by her miscalculations regarding the dangerous effects of radiation poisoning from her exposure to radium. Her papers and notebooks from the 1890's are still highly radioactive. They are kept in lead lined boxes. Anyone who wishes to consult them must wear the appropriate protective gear.
People get radiation sickness, also known as acute radiation syndrome, after receiving doses of high radiation in a short period of time, generally ranging from a few minutes to hours. The radiation particles deeply penetrate the body causing immense biological damage, loss of organ function, cellular damage, a depleted immune system and cancer. High radiation can destroy the human body from radiation poisoning in less than 30 days.
When radiation is at the 400-millisieverts an hour level, nuclear plant workers are at risk of radiation sickness. A total dose of 1,000-millisieverts a day can cause temporary radiation sickness leading to decreased blood count, nausea and other symptoms, but not death. However, the long term consequences are just speculative, because of damage to the immune system.
Continued in Part Two; Discover just how high the radiation levels are.