Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Don't forget Fukushima: The market at work

The US mass media has scant news these days about the long-term repercussions of the nuclear catastrophe that hit Japan after an earthquake generated tsunami hit the  Fukushima nuclear facility last March.  As with the catastrophic BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1% don't really know the extent of such market generated disasters, and what they do know, they don't want to share with the general public.

The effects of the BP spill will continue in to future centuries as will those of Fukushima.  I refer to them as market generated disasters as opposed to the 1 percent's mass media that aims to convince us they were natural, or "acts of god" as they sometimes say.

As far as Fukushima goes, the scenes of homes, ships and huge buildings, in fact entire communities floating along on the crest of a giant wave are no more and the deaths of thousands need not be dwelt upon; it just doesn't make good news sense to keep harping on it after they've gone.  But Fukushima must surely be among the most devastating environmental disasters of all, not just in terms of immediate death and destruction but its long-term affects.

Foreign journalists toured the plant this week and a new independent report investigating the accident has just been published.  The report condemns the plant operator's "lax implementation of security rules" at the plant that left it vulnerable to terrorist attacks.  In addition, "The weaknesses and defects with the electrical and cooling systems were exposed" says Tetsuya Endo, a member of the panel that generated the report, "For terrorists these are among the easiest targets."  ( Wall Street Journal 2-29-12).  The report also reveals "botched efforts" in the response to the disaster including evacuating patients from hospitals in the area that led to a "number" of deaths. Here we go with the "terrorists" again.

The global capitalist class and its media has moved on now.  Reports like the one in the WSJ that sparked my interest are not for mass consumption, it's for their benefit in the main.  We can get an inkling of the severity of the catastrophe by reading these accounts.  The big problem is keeping the reactors cool, "The taming of Fukushima Daiichi has become in large part a quest to control water." the WSJ informs us. There are intricate systems of pumps that are injecting water in to the reactors every day.  The problem is storing the contaminated water and containing leaks in the system.  The Journal gives a glimpse of the enormity of the crisis, "Because that water and groundwater---now contaminated--is leaking out of the reactor at an estimated 10,000 tons a month, cleaning it up and storing the excess is a constant challenge."  Heaters have also been installed to reduce leakage from pipes bursting due to cold weather; 8 tons of contaminated water leaked out from a broken pipe earlier this month.

The Fukushima reactors will have to be continually cooled by this water until the radioactive fuel is removed.  But because of the damage to the reactor buildings and piping system water continues to leak out. Experts estimate that it will take six years to "plug the leaks" and 25 years to remove the fuel.  The water is injected in to the reactors by a pumping system complete with backups in the event of further seismic and/or tsunami activity.  The water is filtered for contaminates and some of it re-used while contaminated water is stored in huge tanks.  Storage capacity is to be expanded from 165,000 tons to 205,000 according to the WSJ.  The real issue now, and it is only the beginning,
is managing the radioactive water and finding places to store it.  Another issue that has been swept under the rug is the contamination of the world's oceans. This is something, like the effects of the BP spill, that will go on for centuries and will only be understood as it manifests itself in its various forms, genetic changes in plants and fishes as well as human cancers etc.

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not we should have nuclear power at all, what is glaringly absent from the discussion about this disaster is the decision to put three nuclear reactors in the middle of an area described by geologists as the "Ring of Fire" due to the level of seismic activity.  I am not an engineer or nuclear scientist but I am not so sure that this was a prudent decision.  On top of that, these reactors were placed next to the ocean in a nation whose language gave birth to the term "Tsunami" from what I understand.

Such decisions are made, this one a very stupid and costly one, by representatives of the 1% and on the basis of how much profit such a decision will yield. While the issue of location is absent from the discussion it is clear that location is everything and the decision makers have taken note.  The water crucial in preventing the reactors from overheating and the pumping system and back up diesel generators that move it through the system are "Set high enough on the hill so that they might remain dry if another big wave comes" a Tepco official tells the WSJ.

Good idea, but a little too little too late isn't it?

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