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Excerpt: "The emergency at the hardest hit plant, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, appeared to be the worst involving a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago, and at least 22 residents near the plant showed signs of radiation exposure, according to local officials."

Police officers patrolled near the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture on Saturday, 03/12/11. (photo: Yomiuri/AFP/Getty)
Police officers patrolled near the nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture on Saturday, 03/12/11. (photo: Yomiuri/AFP/Getty)

Japanese Residents Showing Signs of Radiation Exposure

By Hiroko Tabuchi and Matthew L. Wald, The New York Timesv

13 March 11


apanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a quickly escalating nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, saying they presumed that partial meltdowns had occurred at two crippled reactors, and that they were bracing for a second explosion, even as problems were reported at two more nuclear plants.

That brings the total number of troubled plants to four, including one that is about 75 miles north of Tokyo.

The emergency at the hardest hit plant, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, appeared to be the worst involving a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago, and at least 22 residents near the plant showed signs of radiation exposure, according to local officials. The crisis at that plant, which is much further from Tokyo, continued late Sunday.

A day after an explosion at one reactor there, Japanese nuclear officials said Sunday that operators at the plant had suffered a setback trying to bring the second reactor thought to be in partial meltdown there under control. The operators need to inject water to help cool the reactor and keep it from proceeding to a full meltdown, but a valve malfunctioned on Sunday, hampering their efforts for much of the day.

Pressure at the reactor rose during the delay, leading to increased worries of an explosion. At a late-night press conference, officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, said the valve had been fixed, but said water levels had not yet begun rising.

Until late Sunday, the government had declared an emergency at only two nuclear plants, Daiichi and the nearby Fukushima Daini.

Then, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Japan had added a third to the list because radiation had been detected outside the plant, which is about 60 miles from Sendai, a city of 1 million people in Japan's northeast. The government did not immediately confirm the report from the IAEA, which said it was not yet clear what caused the release of radiation.

Soon after that announcement, Kyodo News reported that a plant about 75 miles north of Tokyo was having cooling system problems.

The government was scrambling Sunday to test people who lived near the Daiichi plant, with local officials saying that about 170 people had likely been exposed, but it was unclear if they or the 22 who showed signs of exposure had received dangerous doses. Early Sunday, the government said three workers were suffering full-out radiation illness.

The developments at Daiichi and Daini prompted the evacuation of about 80,000 people.

On Sunday, Kumiko Fukaya, 48, who fled the area with several family members, she had been lulled into a false sense of complacency because, she said, the plant 12 miles from her home had not had serious problems before. Then, at 7:30 Saturday morning, loudspeakers throughout her town of Tomioka blared a call for evacuation.

"The entire town was enriched by Tokyo Power," she said. "I thought they picked a safe and secure location. So instead of opposing the nuclear plant, I felt more security.

"Now I realize it's a scary thing."

Japanese officials said they had also ordered up the largest mobilization of their Self-Defense Forces since World War II to assist in the quake relief effort, including helping with the evacuation of people around the plants.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Sunday that no "harmful levels" of radiation from the damaged plants were expected to affect the United States.

"All the available information indicates weather conditions have taken the small releases from the Fukushima reactors out to sea away from the population," the NRC said in a statement. "Given the thousands of miles between the two countries, Hawaii, Alaska, the US territories and the US West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity."

On Saturday, Japanese officials took the extraordinary step of flooding the crippled No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 170 miles north of Tokyo, with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown. That came after an explosion caused by hydrogen that tore the outer wall and roof off the building housing the reactor, although the steel containment of the reactor remained in place.

Then on Sunday, cooling failed at a second reactor there - No. 3 - and core melting was presumed at both, said the top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. Even before the valve problem at that reactor, Mr. Edano warned of a possible explosion at that reactor because of a buildup of hydrogen.

"The possibility that hydrogen is building up in the upper parts of the reactor building cannot be denied. There is a possibility of a hydrogen explosion," Mr. Edano said. He stressed that as in the No. 1 unit, the reactor's steel containment would withstand the explosion.

"It is designed to withstand shocks," he said.

Officials also said they would release steam and inject water into a third reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant after temperatures rose and water levels fell around the fuel rods.

Cooling had failed at another three reactors at Fukushima Daini, although he said conditions there were considered less dire for now.

With high pressure inside the reactors at Daiichi hampering efforts to pump in cooling water, plant operators had to release radioactive vapor into the atmosphere. Radiation levels outside the plant, which had retreated overnight, shot up to 1,204 microsieverts per hour, or over twice Japan's legal limit, Mr. Edano said.

NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, flashed instructions to evacuees: close doors and windows; place a wet towel over the nose and mouth; cover up as much as possible. At a news conference, Mr. Edano called for calm. "If measures can be taken, we will be able to ensure the safety of the reactor," he said.

Before Mr. Edano's statement on Sunday, it was clear from the radioactive materials turning up in trace amounts outside the reactors that fuel damage had occurred. The existence or extent of melting might not be clear until workers can open the reactors and examine the fuel, which could be months from now.

Even before the explosion on Saturday, officials said they had detected radioactive cesium, which is created when uranium fuel is split, an indication that some of the nuclear fuel in the reactor was already damaged.

How much damage the fuel suffered remained uncertain, though safety officials insisted repeatedly through the day that radiation leaks outside the plant remained small and did not pose a major health risk.

However, they also told the IAEA that they were distributing iodine, which can help protect the thyroid gland from radiation exposure, to people living near Daiichi and Daini.

Worries about the safety of the two plants worsened on Saturday because executives of the company that runs them, Tokyo Electric Power, and government officials gave confusing accounts of the location and causes of the dramatic midday explosion and the damage it caused.

Late Saturday night, officials said that the explosion at Daiichi occurred in a structure housing turbines near its No. 1 reactor at the plant, rather than inside the reactor itself. But photographs of the damage did not make clear that this was the case.

They said that the blast, which may have been caused by a sharp buildup of hydrogen when the reactor's cooling system failed, destroyed the concrete structure surrounding the reactor but did not collapse the critical steel container inside. This pattern of damage cast doubt on the idea that the explosion was in the turbine building.

"We've confirmed that the reactor container was not damaged," Mr. Edano said in a news conference on Saturday night. "The explosion didn't occur inside the reactor container. As such there was no large amount of radiation leakage outside. At this point, there has been no major change to the level of radiation leakage outside, so we'd like everyone to respond calmly."

On Sunday morning, an official with Tokyo Electric Power said that the emergency cooling system at the No. 3 reactor at Daiichi had stopped working. The official, Atsushi Sugiyama, said that urgent efforts were being made to cool the reactor with water, and that, as with the first reactor, there would be a release of vapor containing trace amounts of radiation to relieve a buildup of pressure.

Japanese nuclear safety officials and international experts said that because of crucial design differences, the release of radiation at Daiichi would most likely be much smaller than at Chernobyl even if the plant had a complete core meltdown, which they said it had not.

After a full day of worries about the radiation leaking at Daiichi, Tokyo Electric Power said an explosion occurred "near" the No. 1 reactor at Daiichi around 3:40 p.m. Japan time on Saturday. It said four of its workers were injured in the blast.

The decision to flood the reactor core with corrosive seawater, experts said, was an indication that Tokyo Electric Power and Japanese authorities had probably decided to scrap the plant. "This plant is almost 40 years old, and now it's over for that place," said Olli Heinonen, the former chief inspector for the IAEA, and now a visiting scholar at Harvard.

Mr. Heinonen lived in Japan in the 1980s, monitoring its nuclear industry, and visited the stricken plant many times. Based on the reports he was seeing, he said he believed that the explosion was caused by a hydrogen formation, which could have begun inside the reactor core. "Now, every hour they gain in keeping the reactor cooling down is crucial," he said.

But he was also concerned about the presence of spent nuclear fuel in a pool inside the same reactor building. The pool, too, needs to remain full of water to suppress gamma radiation and prevent the old fuel from melting. If the spent fuel is also exposed - and so far there are only sketchy reports about the condition of that building - it could also pose a significant risk to the workers trying to prevent a meltdown.

Both Daiichi and Daini were shut down by Friday's earthquake, but the loss of power in the area and damage to the plants' generators from the ensuing tsunami crippled the cooling systems. Those are crucial after a shutdown to cool down the nuclear fuel rods.

The malfunctions allowed pressure to build up beyond the design capacity of the reactors. Early Saturday, officials had said that small amounts of radioactive vapor were expected to be released into the atmosphere to prevent damage to the containment systems and to lower the pressure enough so they could pump in cooling water. They said they were evacuating people in the area as a precaution.

Those releases apparently did not prevent the buildup of hydrogen inside the plant, which ignited and exploded Saturday afternoon, government officials said. They said the explosion itself did not increase the amount of radioactive material being released into the atmosphere. However, safety officials urged people who were not evacuating but still lived relatively nearby to cover their mouths and stay indoors.

David Lochbaum, who worked at three reactors in the United States with designs similar to Daiichi, and who was later hired by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to teach its personnel about that technology, said that judging by photographs of the stricken plant, the explosion appeared to have occurred in the turbine hall, not the reactor vessel or the containment that surrounds the vessel.

The Daiichi reactor is a boiling-water reactor. Inside the containment, the reactor sends its steam out to a turbine. The turbine converts the steam's energy into rotary motion, which turns a generator and makes electricity.

But as the water goes through the reactor, some water molecules break up into hydrogen and oxygen. A system in the turbine hall usually scrubs out those gases. Hydrogen is also used in the turbine hall to cool the electric generator. Hydrogen from both sources has sometimes escaped and exploded, Mr. Lochbaum said, but in this case, there is an additional source of hydrogen: interaction of steam with the metal of the fuel rods. Operators may have vented that hydrogen into the turbine hall.

Earlier Saturday, before the explosion, a Japanese nuclear safety panel said the radiation levels were 1,000 times above normal in a reactor control room at Daiichi. Some radioactive material had also seeped outside, with radiation levels near the main gate measured at eight times normal levels, NHK quoted nuclear safety officials as saying.

The emergency at Daiichi began shortly after the earthquake struck Friday afternoon. Emergency diesel generators, which kicked in to run the cooling system after the electrical power grid failed, shut down about an hour after the earthquake. There was speculation that the tsunami had flooded the generators, knocking them out of service.

For some time, the plant was able to operate in a battery-controlled cooling mode. Tokyo Electric Power said that by Saturday morning it had also installed a mobile generator to ensure that the cooling system would continue operating even after reserve battery power was depleted. Even so, the company said it needed to conduct "controlled containment venting" in order to avoid an "uncontrolled rupture and damage" to the containment unit.

Why the controlled release of pressure did not succeed in addressing the problem was not immediately explained. Tokyo Electric Power and government nuclear safety officials also did not explain the precise sequence of failures at the plant.

Daiichi and other nuclear facilities are designed with extensive backup systems that are supposed to function in emergencies to ensure the plants can be shut down safely.

Hiroko Tabuchi reported from Tokyo, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington. Martin Fackler contributed reporting from Nakaminato, Japan, David E. Sanger from Washington, and Michael Wines from Tokyo.

••••••• ••••••• Is Rep. Peter King Anti-Semitic? By JP Sottile, Reader Supported News 13 March 11


We will not stand for anti-Semitism. Right?

Representative Peter King is testing that premise. He cut to the quick with his attention-grabbing inquiry into the ominous threat posed by Muslims lurking within our own borders and, in so doing, exposed both the depth and power of a racial stereotype rooted as deeply in our popular culture and collective psyche as any we've seen since World War II.

Has Mr. King, along with his supporters in Congress and the media, kicked off a new era in America's long tradition of racial demonization? Is this the camel's nose under the tent? Are we embracing a new brand of anti-Semitism?

You see, a quick and simple examination of history reveals what may be to many a shocking truth. It also exposes the type of pervasive ignorance that so often feeds the chamber of racism with bullets of hatred.

Arabs are Semites.

That's right, folks. If you or anyone you know off-handedly or reactively degrades, demonizes, hates or simply wants to dispense with all Arabs ... they are anti-Semitic. And we can certainly agree upon the need to diligently reject all forms of anti-Semitism.

"Semitic" is a classification older than Abraham and more misunderstood than American foreign policy. Semitic peoples are those who share a linguistic heritage rooted in the Ancient Near East. Both Hebrew and Arabic are Semitic languages. They are both Semitic peoples. But knowing that would require knowing some history. And knowledge, particularly of history, is rarely the strong suit of the anti-Semite. In Nazi Germany, history and science became malleable fairy tales of racial superiority, feeding a meta-narrative about some epic genetic struggle for the purification of the human race.

In America, we've found our epic struggle rooted in economic survival and religious purification. We've found our Eternal Arab ... buying up our country, killing our children, menacing our cities, cutting off our life's blood and threatening the very foundation of the nation's identity. After all, they are not really American. They believe in a different God. Swarthy and hook-nosed, they all look the same. They wear strange clothes. Their beards and headwear give them away. And we've barely batted an eye as we've killed tens of thousands of them. Women, children ... no matter. They are not like us and not quite human. Sounds like anti-Semitism, doesn't it?

If you doubt the depth of the racism evoked by the likes of Peter King, Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck, step back and take a closer look. Racial stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims are and have been so familiar in our films and TV shows ... we barely notice them.

In 2006, a gut-wrenching documentary explored those depths. You probably never heard of it. But it is more relevant today than ever. In Reel Bad Arabs, which you can and should watch for free right here [1], Dr. Jack Shaheen shows in relentless, shocking detail the extent to which Arabs and, by popular conflation, all Muslims have been, for over 40 years, Hollywood's reliably acceptable race to kill, to demonize, to ridicule and to fear. But not really fear, because they are also shown to be inept, soul-less, subhuman and slimy. It is the classic line each racist must tread, stoking the fear needed to incite violence and sustain discrimination while also risking the elevation of the menace to the point of being an actual threat to one's implied superiority. If they can win, doesn't it mean they might actually be, in the final analysis, superior?

It is a problem that the Jim Crow South worked tirelessly to solve. They did so with a campaign of terror and lynchings, with cross-burnings and the extra-constitutional use of force and segregation. And they did it with a barrage of racist cartoons, movies and imagery.

It is a process we've seen replayed at Abu Ghraib, through indiscriminate drone attacks on wedding parties and America's reliable support of one brutal dictatorship after another. It is a problem encapsulated at Gitmo, where we store them in a state-of-the-art concentration camp and use them as de facto guinea pigs. And we've got vile cartoons [2] from Disney, an onslaught of conscience-numbing movies and the widely-accepted imagery of evil, dark Arabs. Imagery that predates 9/11 by three decades, if not longer.

Now, just like suspicious Southerners in 1950s Selma, we wonder what will happen if they decide to turn against us.

Framed against rising gas prices, chronic unemployment and a prevailing brand of fear and paranoia that America has not seen since the Red Scare of the 50s, the Arab and the Muslim offer those holding media megaphones and political titles an easy target - the ready-made devil that obscures the details. Forget our ruthless pursuit of oil at any cost. Forget that we've had our boots on their ground for decades, and the fact that we armed both Iran and Iraq as they fought a bloody war of our convenience. Forget the CIA's support of Bin Laden and the five decades of backing we've lavished on the ultra-repressive Saudi royal family.

And forget that the true threat to the Constitution lies not in the hearts and minds of American Muslims, but in the buying and selling of favors that Rep. King and his cohorts in Congress do with such ease and with such utter disdain for the will of their constituents. The real enemies of the Constitution held actual power for eight years and re-wrote the very foundation of our revered document by ignoring due process and transgressing the first principles of a republic based on the separation of powers.

Where are the hearings on the damage caused by the purveyors of the Unitary Executive?

They will never come because we are too busy seeking the dark boogeyman of Sharia Law. Too busy inciting the purest Americans to look suspiciously at their dark neighbors.

The "King Hearing" is, indeed, a test. A test we barely passed when we ignored the thinly-veiled claims that then-candidate Obama was a secret Muslim. A test many still fail today. A test we must revisit by watching what we've been watching and seeing the extent to which we've all bought into Hollywood's typecasting. When you do, consider that Arabs and Muslims have been watching all those movies, too. And think of how we'd regard and abhor those images if they depicted any other American ethnic group.

No doubt, those who profit from and survive on this brand of anti-Semitism will continue to associate the guilty with the innocent, will continue to appeal to the basest elements of human tribalism and racial competition. But America has been there. We've done that.

We have consistently, if slowly and reluctantly, discarded one racist idea after another. Make no mistake, it is in our national interest to discard one more. Let the people of Egypt and Libya and Yemen and Bahrain ... and America ... know that we see them as human beings, complete with human desires and foibles and aspirations. But first we must step back from the highly-conditioned tendency to see them and treat them all the same way.


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