Japan's deepening disaster affects everyone. Atmospheric radiation will spread globally, mostly affecting the northern hemisphere. Everyone to some extent will be affected, those in Japan and nearby the most.
An unprecedented catastrophe is unfolding. You'd hardly know it from most major media reports, including US broadcast and cable channels, National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting, BBC, and Al Jazeera, failing to explain a deepening catastrophe placing millions of lives at risk.
On March 16, however, Russia Today said Japan "may be losing control" at Fukushima after a rise in radiation suggests efforts to contain the disaster aren't working. Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson told the Washington Post that evacuating most workers "is a sign to me that they have given up trying to prevent a disaster and gone into the mode of trying to clean up afterward."
Unit 1 exploded on March 12, Unit 3 on March 14. On March 15, other blasts rocked Units 2 and 4. Fires broke out, the latest at Unit 4. Reports say it's contained. Unexplained is whether thousands of fuel rods are melting.
All six plant reactors broke down. Four so far experienced explosions. Others could happen any time. Four are in serious trouble. All face potential full meltdowns, perhaps ongoing at one or more reactors, but government and media reports won't say.
On March 16, Al Jazeera said Fukushima operations were suspended because of dangerously high radiation levels. Other reports suggested partial resumption. Workers brave enough to do so face death. Hundreds of thousands of Chernobyl "liquidators" experienced major illnesses or died.
On March 15, New York Times writers Keith Bradsher and Hiroko Tabuchi headlined, "Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers," saying:
Facing near sure death from radiation poisoning, they "perhaps (represent) Japan's last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe," that, in fact, likely is ongoing but unreported.
The "faceless 50....volunteered (or were) assigned to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel," already in partial or full meltdown in what may be a futile effort to prevent disaster. Around 750 others were evacuated because of dangerously high radiation levels.
"The few details Tokyo Electric (revealed) paint a dire picture," including five worker deaths, 22 others injured (perhaps seriously irradiated), two missing, and another hospitalized for reasons unexplained.
On March 16, Times writers Hiroko Tabuchi and Keith Bradsher headlined, "Japan Says 2nd Reactor May Have Ruptured With Radioactive Release," saying:
On Wednesday, "Japan's nuclear crisis intensified dramatically" after Unit 3 reactor ruptured and began releasing radioactive steam. Because of high levels, a plan to dump water from helicopters was abandoned. However, racing against time, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) doubled the "faceless 50" to 100, rotated in and out in short shifts because of extreme radiation levels.
The ruptured reactor was "seen as the last fully intact line of defense against large-scale releases of radioactive material," but how serious conditions are remains unclear. However, Units 3 and 4 fuel rod pool overheating appears dire, and cooling and other containment efforts so far haven't worked.
Reactors have three layers of protection - the outer building, the containment vessel, and metal cladding around fuel rods inside the reactor. "The government said those rods at the No. 3 reactor were likely already damaged." Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said 70% of Unit 1's rods are damaged, adding how badly isn't known or whether they're melting.
Most likely, one or more reactors are dangerously breached, releasing radiation, and perhaps in full meltdown. No one knows for sure or isn't saying. Most likely, a major unreported disaster is unfolding, downplayed in official reports.
On March 16, Times writers David Sanger, Matthew Wald and Hiroko Tabuchi headlined, "US Calls Radiation 'Extremely High;' Sees Japan Nuclear Crisis Worsening," saying:
In congressional testimony, NRC chairman Gregory Jaczko "gave a far bleaker appraisal on Wednesday of the threat posed by Japan's nuclear crisis than the Japanese government had offered."
Saying little or no water remains in the spent nuclear fuel storage area means exposed rods are melting, spewing toxic atmospheric radiation.
Later in the day, Jaczko said NRC representatives in Tokyo "confirmed that the pool at No. 4 was empty." As a result, massive amounts of atmospheric radiation are spreading. It creates a potential armageddon scenario, proving either nuclear power in all forms end or planetary life faces potential extinction.
On March 15, Reuters headlined, "Russia says Japan may face meltdown at six reactors," saying:
"Russia's nuclear chief (Sergei Kiriyenko) warned on Tuesday that all six reactors" are threatened. He told Prime Minister Putin:
"All six can pose a threat unfortunately. But even if (all) melt down, (this) will still not lead to a nuclear explosion," a conclusion based on hope, not reality, after four earlier explosions. Others could happen any time.
Kiriyenko said irradiated gas is escaping. Moreover, coolant water may contaminate the water table. It very likely already has.
The same day Reuters headlined, "Fire at Japan nuclear reactor heightens radiation threat," saying:
"Japan raced to avert a (greater) catastrophe after (a Unit 4) fire broke out on Wednesday" sending low radiation toward Tokyo, "prompting some people to flee the capital and triggering growing international alarm at the escalating crisis."
Across Japan, radiation levels are skyrocketing. Official reports downplay them. Russia Today said a town north of Toyko has levels 300 times above normal. In Tokyo, it's 11 - 20 times higher in different parts of the city and rising. The entire country is unsafe. Millions of lives are threatened besides many more across the Pacific rim and beyond.
Chinese University toxicologist Lee Tin-lap warned of potential long-term effects, saying:
"You are (inhaling radiation) into your lungs, and there is passive absorption in the skin, eyes and mouth...." Radiation in any amount is cumulative, harmful, and forever.
Most Japanese believe nothing from government and TEPCO sources. Fukushima prefecture Governor Yukei Sato told Prime Minister Naoto Kan that "residents are angry and about to reach the breaking point." Others throughout the country accuse officials of stonewalling. They know an industry/government cabal has a long record of coverup and denial, reinforced by bogus or unreliable media reports.
For years, in fact, government officials, including from Japan's Atomic Energy Agency covered up or downplayed past accidents, their costs, and effects on human health.
TEPCO notably is tainted, exposed for having concealed or downplayed past accidents, falsifying safety records 200 or more times, and forced to admit that another of its plants wasn't designed to withstand a far lower magnitude quake than 9.0.
Moreover, at Fukushima, thousands of stored spent fuel rods pose special risks. They're kept in large pools of water without protective casing. High temperatures may have caused evaporation, making them vulnerable to overheating and combustion, perhaps within days, spreading vast amounts of radiation.
David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists' called it "worse than a meltdown," perhaps the next shoe to drop. Greenpeace nuclear expert Jim Riccio said:
"The spent fuel pool in unit 4 is boiling, and once that starts you can't stop it. The threat is that if you boil off the water, the metal cladding on the fuel rods that is exposed to the air, and is volatile, will catch fire. That will propel the radiation even further."
In 2005, A National Academy of Sciences report warned of the danger, saying spent fuel rods put America and other nations at risk from widespread radiation contamination in case of an accident or terrorist attack. The report urged immediate action to secure the pools.
Earlier in the 1990s, nuclear experts like David Lochbaum warned of spent fuel handling in US plants using Fukushima's design. As a result, they recommended storing it in dry casks away from reactor sites as a precaution. Time magazine made it a March 4, 1996 cover story titled, "Blowing the Whistle on Nuclear Safety: How a showdown at a power plant exposed the federal government's failure to enforce its own rules" to no avail. Leaving the design error uncorrected threatens serious greater harm to Japan, the Pacific rim and beyond.
Overall, TEPCO notoriously sacrificed public safety for profits, notably at Fukushima. All six reactors are substandard. Further, since the early 1970s, nuclear safety experts condemned the General Electric-designed Mark 1 containment vessels for posing unacceptable risks, according to a New York Times report. Nonetheless, they're still used in two dozen Japanese reactors, including at Fukushima.
Twenty-three US nuclear plants at 16 locations also use the same design, despite the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) calling it susceptible to explosion and containment failure because of cost-cutting design savings.
In 1972, Dr. Stephen Hanuaer, an Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) safety official, NRC's precursor, recommended Mark 1's pressure suppression system be discontinued and prohibited. He warned if its cooling system failed, overheating fuel rods would cause the reactor to burst.
As a result, three GE nuclear engineers publicly resigned, citing dangerous design shortcomings. In addition, a 1985 NRC report concluded that Mark 1 failure within the first few hours after a core meltdown was very likely.
In 1986, NRC's top safety official, Harold Denton, told an industry trade group that Mark 1 containment had a 90% probability of failing if an accident caused overheating and melting. When reactor cooling is compromised, the containment vessel is the last line of defense.
GE officials called it's design was safe, saying it's "the industry's workhorse with a proven track record of safety and reliability for more than 40 years." Despite modifications of the original 1960s design, they lied. Currently, 32 Mark 1 units operate globally. All are unsafe as Fukushima showed.
Chernobyl in 1986 killed nearly one million people and counting. Wide areas are affected by permanent contamination. Clean-up workers still risk radiation poisoning. Earlier ones suffered dreadful illnesses or died, mostly from painful cancers. In contaminated areas, the continuing effects include:
-- a 100-fold increase in aggressive thyroid tumors;
-- a 50-fold increase in leukemia, bone, brain, and other tumors;
-- a 30% increase in "malformations" caused genetic mutations and other pathologies affecting cardio-vascular function, skeleton, muscular systems and connective tissues, as well as nervous system diseases and psychic disorders; and
-- a 20% increase in premature births, besides an unknown number of spontaneous abortions, miscarriages, and still-born births.
Moreover, radiation contamination remains hazardous for thousands of years. So will contaminated Japan.
A Final Comment
On March 11, nuclear expert Harvey Wasserman headlined, "Japan's Quake Could Have Irradiated the Entire US," saying:
A similar disaster could send "a lethal cloud of radiation across the entire United States." Located in dangerous seismically active areas, "two huge reactors each at (California's) San Onofre and Diablo Canyon are not designed to withstand such powerful shocks."
They're also close to the coast, "vulnerable to tsunamis like" others affected by Japan's quake. Located between San Diego and Los Angeles, "(a) radioactive cloud spewing from one or both (San Onofre) reactors" would be catastrophic to southern and central California alone.
Avila Beach-based Diablo Canyon is located west of San Luis Obispo, between Los Angeles and San Francisco. "A radioactive eruption there would pour into central California and, depending on the winds, up to the Bay Area or southeast of Santa Barbara and then to Los Angeles." Minimally, it would "permanently destroy much of the region...."
The 1986 Chernobyl fallout "blanketed all of Europe within a matter of days," covering an area far larger than America. Jet stream winds carried it to California 10 days later. It then spread "across the northern tier of the United States."
Besides San Onofre and Diablo Canyon, "(n)umerous other American reactors sit on or near earthquake faults." Nonetheless, Obama's proposed $36 billion in nuclear industry loan guarantees (free money) instead closing down, decommissioning, and dismantling all existing plants because they're too dangerous to operate. A previous article called them ticking time bombs.
As a result, future Chernobyls and Fukushima's are inevitable. They're potentially destructive enough to kill millions, permanently contaminating wide areas, and under a worst case scenario, the entire planet with enough lethal radiation to destroy life.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.