Monday, March 28, 2011

Acknowledging the extreme severity of Fukushima

News on the destroyed nuclear power plant pile up, I do not bother anymore writing new entries unless it looks particularly important: I just list them as updates at the bottom of the latest entry. Maybe I'll recycle those notes later or at least writing a line on them (with link) will help me keep track... 

But even if I want to become oblivious to the dimensions of the tragedy, to the difficulty of controlling this nuclear monster, to the many people who are probably being irradiated right now unbeknown just because governments have panic to panic, panic to truth, panic to the overwhelming responsibility they cannot ignore once more. 

Yesterday and today it has been known that reactor no. 2 (oddly enough the only one whose outer building is still intact) has suffered what officials describe as partial meltdown, and that radiation levels there were so extremely high that workers measuring them suffered instantaneous radiation burns and had to run away without completing the procedures. 

We do not know if what TEPCO and the Japanese government are trying to do (all extremely experimental) could have worked if there was only one damaged reactor, but with radioactive feedback between the various reactors, each one suffering from slightly different aliments but all in very bad shape, the situation is clearly out of control and has been so almost since the accident happened in March 14th. 

The only remaining solution seems to be that of a Chernobyl style sarcophagus but there are additional problems in Fukushima not existing in Chernobyl:
  • The proximity to the sea makes unavoidable that radiation will leak into groundwater and seawater. I doubt that any Chernobyl solution can prevent this (though it can prevent further release to the atmosphere).
  • The tectonic instability of the area may mean that what is a solution now will surely be open as a problem in the future. 
Chernobyl does not have these two geographical problems. 

But Chernobyl does have two problems that would be also present at any such solution applied to Fukushima:
  • Radioactive erosion of the sarcophagus from inside, what requires another larger sarcophagus around it (planned but delayed by budgetary issues). 
  • The cruel need to sacrifice workers to the dangers of high level radiation in order to save the general populace (it is not clear how these would be enticed to volunteer but I propose that they are all advocates of nuclear energy: high officials or ideologues of the nuclear-yes camp preferably).
In addition to all problems and unknowns, Yves Smith mentioned yesterday that there seems to be a lack of resolution by the Japanese authorities, maybe driven by national customs that emphasize excessive politeness and rigid hierarchies. However, as we can see in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this is not just a Japanese problem, even if the symptoms are slightly different. 

What we see in both cases is how the government struggles to save the industry and a fictitious calm, even at the cost of the health and potentially lives of the citizens. Supposedly a government must serve its citizens first, not business (business are after all supposed to be just a tool for citizen happiness and national well being), but in practice citizens are abandoned and the interests of the industry is what prevails. 

This is cruel evidence of what Capitalism really is and what Marx meant by dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, even if the forms are democratic. We can see that the reality is not democratic when the people is sacrificed to the Moloch of the private interests of mafia-like oligopolies, as happens, very blatantly, in these two cases.

More information:

Update: authorities acknowledge that plutonium has been found on the ground of the destroyed power plant, surely from the explosion of reactor no. 3, it includes three different isotopes.

Update (Mar 29):
Update (Mar 30):

The finding of plutonium pools and other dangerous mishaps (three workers drenched in radioactive water) behind the "maximum alert" declaration.

Fukushima II (Daini) smoking out today. We must not forget that there are other three plants more or less severely affected by earthquake and tsunami. We do not hear much on them but that is not necessarily because they are alright. Two of them already emitted radiation in the early days of the accident and all them had cooling system problems.

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