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Matsumura writes: "Let me clarify briefly why Fukushima Dai-ichi remains an enormous danger for which no scientists can recommend a solution at the moment."

A rescue worker near the Fukushima Nuclear Plant last March. (photo: Corbis)
A rescue worker near the Fukushima Nuclear Plant last March. (photo: Corbis)



Fukushima: The US Must Step In

By Akio Matsumura, AkioMatsumura.com

14 June 12

 

was amazed when I heard that one million Japanese had read our article that introduces Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata’s courageous appeal at the public hearing of the House of Councilors of Japan and Robert Alvarez’s famous figure that there is 85 times greater Cesium-137 at Fukushima than at Chernobyl accident. People from 176 nations have visited our blog and Ambassador Murata and Robert Alvarez have been quoted in online and print media in many of them. Despite this global attention, the Japanese government seems to be further from taking action to deal with the growing dangers of Fukushima Dai-ichi. In April I flew to Japan to meet with government and opposition party leaders to convey how dangerous the situation is. Ambassador Murata and I met with Mr. Fujimura, Chief Cabinet Secretary, who assured us he would convey our message to Prime Minister Noda before his departure for Washington to meet with President Obama on April 30. It was to our great disappointment that the idea of an independent assessment team and international technical support for the disaster were not mentioned publicly. I was also astonished to hear that many Japanese political leaders were not aware of the potential global catastrophe because they were not told anything about it by TEPCO. I find it difficult to understand their mindset. Why would the Japanese political leaders think it appropriate to depend on one source (with an obvious and inherent conflict of interest) to judge what issues have resulted from the Fukushima accident and who is most appropriate to handle it? As a result of this myopia, Japan’s leadership lacks a clear picture of the situation and has little idea where it is steering its country and people.

Let me clarify briefly why Fukushima Dai-ichi remains an enormous danger for which no scientists can recommend a solution at the moment.

Any one of the following accidents could seriously endanger the entire Fukushima Dai-ichi area.

1. In reactors 1, 2 and 3, complete core meltdowns have occurred. Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel may have melted through the bottom of the reactor core vessels. It is speculated that this might lead to unintended criticality (resumption of the chain reaction) or a powerful steam explosion – either event could lead to major new releases of radioactivity into the environment.

2. Reactors 1 and 3 are sites of particularly intense penetrating radiation, making those areas unapproachable. As a result, reinforcement repairs have not yet been done since the Fukushima accident. The ability of these structures to withstand a strong aftershock earthquake is uncertain.

3. The temporary cooling pipes installed in each of the crippled reactors pass through rubble and debris.

They are unprotected and highly vulnerable to damage. This could lead to a failure of some cooling systems, causing overheating of the fuel, further fuel damage with radioactive releases, additional hydrogen gas explosions, possibly even a zirconium fire and fuel melting within the spent fuel pools.

4. Reactor No. 4 building and its frame are serious damaged. The spent fuel pool in Unit 4, with a total weight of 1,670 tons, is suspended 100 feet (30 meters) above ground, beside a wall which is bulging outward.

If this pool collapses or drains, the resulting blast of penetrating radiation will shut down the entire area. At the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, the spent fuel pools alone contain an amount of cesium-137 that is 85 times greater than at Chernobyl.

Any of these occurrences could have major consequences for the entire Fukushima Dai-ichi area.

Due to the pressure by the public and media, the government of Japan sent Mr. Goshi Hosono, Minister of the Environment and Nuclear Power Policy, to Reactor 4 on May 26. He spent half an hour on a temporary staircase at the site. Surprisingly, he said the structure supporting the pool appeared sound. (So our constant request for an Independent Assessment team was accomplished within 30 minutes, just like that. Thanks, Japan.) Minister Hosono also said at the press meeting that Reactor 4 could stand a Magnitude-6 earthquake. I don’t understand why he said this. We are warning that Japanese geologists predict that a 90% probability M-7 earthquake will be hitting Japan within three years.

Is he preparing his excuse that a M-7 earthquake was beyond his assumption?

Does the government of Japan think that the public is stupid enough to believe in such a performance? If they are so brazen, it’s probably because they know the Japanese media will cover what they wish to be covered. If we were talking about business as usual, I could ignore this as political theater, but we are talking about a global catastrophe that mankind has never experienced. “Frustration” and “disappointment” take on new meaning with each passing day.

I decided to visit Washington, D.C., to meet with a retired Army Lieutenant General, an old friend who I first met at the United Nations, to explain how Fukushima should be considered an urgent international security priority, and how it requires immediate U.S. action.

He agreed. He saw very clearly why Fukushima needs action now and he was puzzled why all possible actors have been so slow to move. One year and two months have now passed and it is a mystery what the United States government is waiting for. Investigating Reactor 4 should be a prioritized national security issue. We think we have been lucky for 14 months but it was a litmus test to see if opinion leaders from all walks of life would stand up to face the challenge. They haven’t thus far. And I don’t think we can count on luck for 14 more months.

I also met with Bob Alvarez in Washington and we talked for several hours. I thanked him for his calculation of Cs-137 at Fukushima Daiichi site; the simple figure has helped draw the public’s attention to the issue. Mr. Alvarez said that the figure of a ten times Cs-137 at Reactor 4 compared to Chernobyl is low, but is useful to avoid scientific arguments; a higher figure might be 50 times, which means that 85 times greater than Chernobyl might be an underestimate as well.

But it doesn’t matter, Alvarez said, whether the magnitude is 10 or 20 times greater at Reactor 4. The Cesium-137 in Reactor 4 would cause all of Japan’s land to become an evacuation zone, the strong radiation would affect East Asia and North America, and the radioactive material fall out would remain there for several hundred years. He asked me if Japanese leaders understand this. My answer is, yes, they understand it in theory but not in a practical sense. Prime Minister Noda, the sixth premier in the past five years, does not have the political power to make a decision to request the Independent Assessment team and the international technical support teams outside of TEPCO.

I told him that I came to Washington to explain that Japan will not take the first step; its leadership does not have the power to act first and survive politically, and does not have the courage to take the first step without thinking of the second.

Our guest speaker at the Moscow Global Forum in 1990, Dr. Robert Socolow, a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University wrote his essay to Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists dated March 21, 2011.

We must explain, over and over, the concept of ‘afterheat,’ the fire that you can’t put out, the generation of heat from fission fragments now and weeks from now and months from now, heat that must be removed. Journalists are having such a hard time communicating this concept because it is so unfamiliar to them and nearly everyone they are writing for. Every layman feels that every fire can be put out.

It is so difficult, as Dr. Socolow says, to convince political leaders to take action in the face of an unknown – in this case an unprecedented catastrophe that they cannot conceive of in terms of an election cycle.

In the same way, I must explain to foreign leaders over and over again that Japan’s Prime Minister is a consensus builder, not a risk taker. He won’t face up to this challenge.

The United States government is the only other logical actor, and I find it very difficult to understand why they remain silent.

If this global catastrophe occurs, what will the world history books say?

Akio Matsumura is a renowned diplomat who has dedicated his life to building bridges between government, business, and spiritual leaders in the cause of world peace. He is the founder and Secretary General of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders on Human Survival with conferences held in Oxford, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, Kyoto, and Konya.

 

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+1 # Street Level 2012-06-14 23:05
Centralia, Pennsylvania has been burning underground since 1962.
 
 
-8 # paulrevere 2012-06-15 08:50
apples oranges.
 
 
+16 # Barkingcarpet 2012-06-14 23:51
I am appalled at the lack of international mobilization to do anything to stabilize/minim alize the potential for greater damage.

This should be the the #1 environmental and political issue on the world stage, to be dealt with, as was, for example, the threat of Hitler, in WW2.

Anything less, is an apathetic and ignorant failure of humanity, and playing "Russian roulette" with the future of all life.

We need to become better steward of this lil planet, and fast. Money/profit matters little when we are destroying the environments which sustain all life.
 
 
-13 # jwb110 2012-06-15 00:01
The US Gov't is not in any position to fix Japan's problems. That might require raising the debt ceiling in order to pay for it. Also after bailing out the US and European Banks American citizens have reached bail out fatigue. They are not going to get on board bail to out a foreign gov't that won't do their job.
Japan and Tepco and Dia-ichi are just going to have to break down and pay for their own mistakes and the only thing they should expect is pressure and the threat of international sanctions to do fix what they f@#*ed up.
 
 
+15 # Vardoz 2012-06-15 09:54
Fukushima is a global, international catastrophy and man kind needs to be prepared to address global threats. California, Bosie Idaho, California, Vancover, North Carolina and St Louis has had very high readings and it's not over yet. Radiation kills for generations. Using radioactive materials to boil water is insane and the NRC is totally irresponsible. VT Yankee is falling apart and I was just told yesterday that they are working that plant very hard with few up grades. Its 40 years old and if it goes VT and other states will be uninhabitable.
 
 
+5 # Rangzen 2012-06-15 13:25
I don't think that the debt ceiling will be much of a concern when the better part of the planet has been irradiated and the majority of us are dead or wish we were.
 
 
+11 # dovelane1 2012-06-15 01:14
Most people have learned to love the lie that saves their pride, but never the unflattering truth. Many people will tell you the part of the truth that makes them look good, or, at least, doesn't make them look bad. It takes great courage to tell the part of the truth that makes one look bad. It takes a person with a strong and healthy self-image to tell the whole, unvarnished truth.

My guess is the people in charge don't want to look bad. Ironically, if nothing is done, they will forever look worse than they do now. That is, of course, if there is anyone left to write the history of what happened.

It's been written that success is never final, and failure is rarely fatal; it is courage that counts. In this case, however, failure will probably be fatal, and not for just one person, or one group of people, but for everyone and every thing involved.

They have a choice, as does everyone - fear or courage. For everyone's sake, I hope they choose courage, and I hope they do it soon.
 
 
+5 # Rangzen 2012-06-15 13:28
Japanese tradition is very much about saving face even to the point of a breath-taking capacity for denial.
 
 
+15 # suziemama 2012-06-15 01:17
The US government has not acted largely because President Obama is pro-nuclear power, and the nuclear industry has enormous economic and political power.

President Obama's proposed 2012 budget contained $36 Billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear industry. Many of the nuclear power plants in the US share the same design as Fukushima reactors, and are just as vulnerable to earthquakes etc., if not more so. To focus attention on the threats posed by Fukushima would call into question the safety of US plants.

Not only does Obama refuse to acknowledge the desperate situation at Fukushima, and what could happen, he refuses to acknowledge the radiation that is already leaking. The federal government should be monitoring radiation levels in the food, air, land, and water along the West Coast of the US and elsewhere, but it is not.

FYI - Legislation was proposed to require that all US nuclear stations have a 1 year supply of diesel or gas fuel and spare parts necessary to run cooling operations in case of disruption of the electrical supply. This common sense legislation would help prevent nuclear core meltdowns to some extent, but the legislation has gone nowhere.
 
 
+10 # badbenski 2012-06-15 01:22
Did I just read that Japan could become uninhabitable? Wow!
 
 
+10 # dick 2012-06-15 01:35
And it is by sheer luck that no nuclear weapons, individually. or by the thousands, have been used on population centers since 1945. But that no doubt will change. We're out of self control.
 
 
+3 # waltben 2012-06-15 05:16
While I perfectly understand the probabilities you describe, as well as the political issues, you ask for the United States government to "step in" without describing what you would like us to do. Given our government's record of stagnation and inaction on just about everything, what exactly do you think we could do? Even if there were some kind of miraculous change in Washington, with our own economic situation as it is, what could this nation do anyway? Our success rate with words alone in trying to convince other governments to do or not do something has been extremely limited. If the Japanese government is as limited as you describe, I'd think the best course would be for the citizens themselves to take action (demonstrations , strikes, etc.).
 
 
+14 # paulrevere 2012-06-15 08:58
The US gov't could call for a planet wide scientific effort to solve the problem...human s created it, so one would ASSUME humans can deal with it...this is not an economic issue, this is dealing with infecting hundreds of millions of northern hemisphere humans with radiation...WTF , doesn't the US understand????
 
 
+1 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-06-15 11:06
The fact that someone is able to create a problem in no way ensures that he one anyone can solve it.
 
 
-6 # paulrevere 2012-06-15 11:24
yep...though not obvious, my ire, at least in my head, was heavily couched in a drooling smirk dipped heavily in cynicism...sigh .
 
 
+7 # Old Man 2012-06-15 12:03
Quoting paulrevere:
The US gov't could call for a planet wide scientific effort to solve the problem...humans created it, so one would ASSUME humans can deal with it...this is not an economic issue, this is dealing with infecting hundreds of millions of northern hemisphere humans with radiation...WTF, doesn't the US understand????

But yet GE has walked away with all the money. Aren't the laws terrific? oh the Greed has eliminated all regulations.
 
 
+11 # paulrevere 2012-06-15 09:02
I note there is no mention of the radioactive plume spreading across the entire Pacific. As I recall they are keeping the fuel rods teetering a hundred feet above a melted down reactor cool by circulating sea water over them and then releasing that contaminated water into the Pacific...here is a video showing a projection of that spread.

http://www.asrltd.com/japan/plume.php
 
 
+4 # Rangzen 2012-06-15 13:31
The U.S. and the international community could help Japan encase the rods in Unit 4 and move them to a stable storage facility.
 
 
+2 # NOMINAE 2012-06-16 00:17
What "stable storage facility" ? Yucca Mountain, Nevada ? One of the greatest lies of the nuclear industry is the very idea that there *IS* any such *THING* as a "stable storage facility".

That's *why* the nuclear power monster was mothballed back in the Seventies. Now it's back. How's THAT for a Nation-wide short attention span ?

One reason for all of the stalling in Japan is that there IS no "safe place" to put this stuff, and every nuclear scientist on the planet *knows* that. Do you see anyone offering to take it ?

Only the politicians and the populace remain in lethal denial of this fact, and the scientists apparently hate to once again break our bubble, so they just remain quiet on the issue.

"There are none so blind as those that WILL NOT see." "You can't fix stupid".

Scientists have proven the above to themselves with the public and the politicians time and time again.
We are all getting tired of stupid.
 
 
+6 # turtleislander 2012-06-15 06:00
What history books? There wouldn't be any, at least, not written by homo sapiens.
 
 
+11 # ruttaro 2012-06-15 08:17
Not trying to be a smart-alec, but the answer to the last question will be "The End". In my opinion, the reason the US has not acted in concert with the rest of the world is partially due to the election. No side wants to start the conversation that the world is facing an imminent threat and urgent action must begin. Americans are too insulated and thanks to Republican cuts in education for the last decades, to ignorant to understand. The other side would manipulate this as "doom-and-gloom " and position themselves as the "morning in America" side, that our best days are ahead of us. Much more in line with Americans tendency to go into denial mode.

That's one reason. The other is the politics of nuclear energy. Lobbyists for the industry are very busy doing all they can to keep the light of scrutiny off of their prized industry.

There are probably more, just as plausible reasons. The media, for example, doesn't ask the question of why are we dragging our heals or what are the plans or even do our political leaders understand the threat? This is why I think we have paralysis. Having said this, I believe our so-called leaders greatly underestimate and even completely discount the willingness of Americans to act in times of crisis. Our leaders, so captured by special interests, fail to respect the people's ability to comprehend grave circumstances and act accordingly. If they would just talk to us honestly and not down to us with deception.
 
 
+1 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-06-15 08:40
Maybe if everybody does nothing, Fukushima will blow away like cherry blossoms...or just blow away.
 
 
+8 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-06-15 11:08
That's the strategy of the Japanese government.
When I was there in 1995 two months after the Kobe earthquake, hardly any rebuilding was going on and whole populations were living under cardboard boxes in Shinjuku tube station in Tokyo or on the banks of the river in Kobe.
This problem is not going to solve itself.
 
 
+6 # George Baggett 2012-06-15 14:08
As for having a responsibility to act or help with the situation, I ask, what corporations provided the engineering and facility to build these units? Knowing the answer, makes the US a responsible party, or at least those corporations from the US that sold this pony.
 
 
+2 # 8myveggies 2012-06-16 18:21
That would be General Electric. What was their slogan? "We bring good things to life?"
 

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