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After Fukushima
News From Around the World
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Ed DeShields

It often takes many years for an event to qualify as a historical moment, but six months after the Fukushima nuclear accident its aftershocks still rumble across the globe.

The Fukushima event is historically significant for three reasons.  First, the disruption of industrial supply chains in Japan slowed the world’s economy by at least ½ of 1 percent, which is likely to contribute to an official relapse into recession by the fourth quarter of this year.

Second, the extent of actual nuclear contamination is just now being realized despite a concentrated effort by the Japanese government to suppress the political damage created by it.

And finally, the Fukushima accident has begun a movement to wind down nuclear power as an industry across the world.

Last week Germany announced it was ending all nuclear production by 2022.  France and South Africa are on the fence.

Casualty insurance providers are calling it quits after the Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage requires nuclear facilities to pay compensation to people affected by accidents at those sites.

German industrial giant Siemens will no longer be involved in overall managing of building or financing nuclear plants effective immediately.

Even 80 members of the 400-member Bavarian State Opera have refused to join its planned tour of Japan due to concern over radiation leaks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. The company will airlift drinking water from Germany to Japan, while radiation experts in Germany will accompany it during the Japanese tour to gauge amounts of radiation that may be contained in tour participants' meals, they said.

Team drivers for professional Indy Car racing have also expressed concern about racing in Japan some 80 kilometers from the stricken plant.

So why all the concern?

On March 17, 2011, five days after the accident, Japan quietly increased the allowable limit of allowed radiation exposure from 10 bacquerels per kilogram in water to 300 – an increase of 30 times the previous limits.

When compared to other countries these increases are serious.  Germany considers one-half of 1 bacquerel a “safe” amount.  The United States says exposure to radioactive materials should not exceed one-tenth (.001) of a single bacquerel.

However, at least one billion becquerels of radiation continue to leak from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant each day even though it is now more than six months after the March earthquake and tsunami that damaged the facility.  One billion per day.

Environmental experts in Japan are suddenly warning of new fallout from the country's nuclear crisis.  Radioactive waste is piling up at several sewerage plants, well away from the crippled Fukushima reactor.  Months after the tsunami and earthquake that triggered the nuclear meltdown, the government still has no policy on what to do with this waste.

Areas surrounding Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant will remain uninhabitable for decades due to high radiation according to the government.  The government estimated it could take more than 20 years before residents could safely return to areas with current radiation readings.

But these estimates are based on the natural decline of radiation over time and do not account for the impact of decontamination steps such as removing affected soil that has been deposited into the environmental biosphere.

According to the Environment Ministry, radioactive cesium in excess of 8,000 becquerels per kilogram was discovered in ashes and dust from industrial waste incinerators in six locations in Iwate, Fukushima and Chiba prefectures earlier this month.

Among 110 industrial waste disposal facilities in 16 prefectures in eastern and northeastern Japan, the cesium reading stood at 10,800 to 144,200 becquerels at four in Fukushima, 23,000 becquerels at one in Iwate and 11,500 becquerels at one in Chiba.
A similar study in late August showed that ashes from non-industrial incinerators were polluted with over 8,000 becquerels of cesium per kg in Tokyo and six additional prefectures.

At the end of August, the ministry decided to get local authorities to solidify incinerated dust and ashes with cement containing 8,000 to 100,000 becquerels of cesium per kg and cover them with watertight sheeting before they are buried in the ground.
As for locations with more than 100,000 becquerels, the ministry gave its approval to bury them after the level of cesium falls below the mark by solidifying them with cement. It earlier decided to allow those containing up to 8,000 becquerels to be buried in waste disposal sites only if residential houses are never built there in the future.

Now here’s the real story.

An astonishing seventy six trillion becquerels of Plutonium-239 alone have been released from Fukushima since March.  This is in addition to cesium, iodine and all the other radioactive elements also released. Scientists say this is 23,000 times greater than the government is currently reporting.

Plutonium is not a naturally occurring element and is the most toxic substance known to man.  Any plutonium in the food chain or water is unacceptable.  Zero becquerels are allowed. Plutonium the size of a speck of dust causes biological devastation to humans if inhaled or ingested.

We’re talking about an incredible amount of contamination in the biosphere here.  
Remember 76 TRILLION becquerels have been released at a rate of one BILLION PER DAY.

The most historically significant aspect of this story isn’t the fact that Japan is losing its battle for containing nuclear contamination however.   For the world, it’s going to be the loss of an important energy source at exactly the wrong time.

Since the Fukushima accident the world’s population has grown by 35 million new inhabitants.   That’s more than the either of the world’s two largest cities; Shanghai, China or Mumbai, India.   That’s enough people to duplicate the top five most populous cities in the US.  That’s in six short months since March.

Before its first anniversary next March, we’ll have added even more -- adding a population equal in size to Canada.  There will be 50% more humans on the planet at just about the time nuclear power facilities will be phasing down.  

The energy demand for the world’s population is going to double every 10 years going forward.

Fukushima’s impact on the people of Japan and the world’s future energy gap created from it is going to be felt for many years ahead.

About Ed DeShields

Last week: Europe's Hotel California Dilemma

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