By carol wolman, MD (about the author)
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Dr. Wolman is a psychiatrist who has been working to raise nuclear consciousness for 50 years. See Nuclear Terror and Psychic Numbing By CAROL WOLMAN, MD http://www.counterpunch.org/wolman12082003
Many people don’t recognize the name Fukushima until they are reminded- This is the nuclear power complex that was hit by the earthquake and tsunami last March. Like most people, I assumed the damage was immediate, not too serious in terms of consequences, and well contained.
US Senator Wyden (D- OR) took the trouble to tour the crippled plant this past April, and was alarmed. He found the damage much worse than he expected, and was especially concerned about the spent fuel rods from reactor #4 sitting in a pool 100 feet above the ground, open to the elements, in an unstable building, in an active earthquake zone.
Since his press release, reports and rumors have been flying around the internet. Some scenarios are pretty dire: an earthquake could topple the spent fuel pool, spilling out the water which keeps the rods cool, leading to an unquenchable fire which would spew out 9 times as much radiation as Chernobyl. Or reactor #2, which has a low level of water and some hydrogen buildup, could explode, again releasing huge amounts of radiation. Either of these scenarios could wipe out life in the Northern hemisphere, or on the entire planet, according to Arne Gunderson, a nuclear engineer who supervised the Three Mile Island cleanup. Many others are issuing similar warnings.
Then there’s concern about coriums, the ultra-hot residue of metal and fuel resulting from a nuclear meltdown. Three of the reactors at Fukushima melted down. The coriums are burrowing down into the earth and could possibly hit a layer of steam or methane that would explode and crack the earth’s mantle.
On the other hand, there are reassurances coming out of Japan and the World Health Organization that the amount of radiation released so far isn’t dangerous to health, and that all the reactors and spent fuel pools at Fukushima are under control and stable.
What to believe? How worried should we be? Here in California, we are directly in the path of winds and ocean currents coming from Japan. Information about the state of the reactors and the level of radiation in various places has been hard to come by. For that reason, I’ve launched a petition http://www.change.org/petitions/senators-boxer-and-feinstein-investigate-the-ongoing-danger-from-the-fukushima-nuclear-reactors
The Fukushima complex is owned by the Toyko Electric Energy Company- TEPCO, which has known associations with the Japanese underworld. TEPCO has conducted few inspections of the facility, and is refusing to allow outsiders to inspect. The plant was recently nationalized by the Japanese government, and has been toured by several ministers, who say that the cleanup is good as far as it goes, but always hedge in some way. We can hope for more transparency and more vigorous efforts to take care of the multiple dangers that are ongoing as the government takes charge.
It’s easy to ignore or deny the ongoing danger from Fukushima, for a number of reasons. Japan experienced a triple catastrophe in March 2011- earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns. Since the first two were short-lived. self-limiting events, with recovery from both well under way, it’s easy to put Fukushima into the same category. But unlike an earthquake or tsunami, which wreaks havoc and then is finished and done with, a damaged nuclear facility is like a wounded beast- exceedingly dangerous and hard to control. The aftereffects can last for thousands, even millions of years. But unlike earthquakes and floods, radiation cannot be seen, heard, smelled, experienced directly. The effects of cancer, sterility, birth defects, etc often don’t occur until years later. Without an immediate and tangible threat, it’s easy to push the menace of Fukushima out of our consciousness.
We’ve lived with thermonuclear weapons, thousands of them, perched on top of missiles in a number of countries, on hair trigger alert, for 60 odd years. Despite the bitter animosities among nuclear nations, and the occasional hot wars, these devastating weapons have not been detonated, the feared nuclear holocaust which would wipe out life on earth has not occurred, and so we’ve relaxed our vigilance. We’ve come to trust that our species is able to control the genie which was unleashed in 1945. We don’t pay attention to the radioactive dust emitting deadly alpha particles now blowing around the planet from the use of “depleted” uranium weaponry. Similarly, we’ve embraced nuclear energy, ignoring the omnipresent problem of spent nuclear fuel, for which no good means of disposal has yet been found.
There is enormous, but deeply buried fear associated with nuclear disaster. It affects the very stuff of life, the DNA, the basic genetic code for all living beings- animal, vegetable, bacterial. We all have the image of a mushroom cloud tucked away deep in our brain, with lots of rationalizations for ignoring it, and living as if the threat of annihilation was not ever-present. There is deep despair, psychic numbing, a sense of great helplessness and inability to affect the situation. The science is intimidating, the governments and agencies involved seem out of reach, the media is untrustworthy. So the general public uses the strategy of ignoring the problem.
What can we do to empower ourselves and deal realistically with the ongoing threat posed by the Fukushima nuclear disaster?
First, we must look at the urgency. As the NYT puts it: W hether the chances (of disaster) are small or large, changes should be made quickly because of the magnitude of the potential calamity. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/world/asia/concerns-grow-about-spent-fuel-rods-at-damaged-nuclear-plant-in-japan.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2
I highly recommend this article, which presents a balanced overview of the situation.
Secondly, we must mobilize public support to force this quick change. The Japanese government seems more intent on reassuring people than on accelerating the cleanup. This is understandable, given the enormous expense required- estimated at $500 BILLION dollars. Japan should ask for international assistance, especially since the entire planet would be affected by another explosion at Fukushima. This step has not been taken, and international pressure is required to bring it about.
Nuclear disaster affects everyone- the 1% as well as the 99%. It does not discriminate on the basis of skin color, religion, political affiliation, neighborhood, sexual orientation, or any of the other variables which tend to divide people. Unlike the threat of nuclear war, the Fukushima situation is nonpartisan, so that national loyalties and ideologies don’t come into play. This should make it easy for people to unite around the threat from the damaged reactors.
What’s needed is for people to overcome denial and become aware. I recommend several measures:
A simple Geiger counter can be had for under $100. The ability to detect increases in radiation oneself rather than relying on biased government or industry sources is empowering. Every neighborhood should have one.
Information IS available, if one searches for it. http://enenews.com is the best website I’ve found for comprehensive, up to the minute news about Fukushima.
We need to make the situation at Fukushima a priority. There are so many issues demanding our attention these days- ecological, humanitarian, political- that it’s hard to put one ahead of the rest. But the level of threat to all living beings posed by the instability at Fukushima is equivalent to a forest fire almost out of control- it must be attended to, NOW.
We need to overcome the social taboo against discussing nuclear threats, and express our concerns- to our family, friends, neighbors, political representatives.
We need to get together and organize to put pressure on the US govenrment, to pressure the Japanese government, to allow outside supervision and assistance. Meetups, town meetings, other events would be helpful.
An independent, ongoing watchdog group is essential, both to monitor the cleanup and to put out warnings if more problems arise. We need to lobby to make this happen. My petition http://www.change.org/petitions/senators-boxer-and-feinstein-investigate-the-ongoing-danger-from-the-fukushima-nuclear-reactors is addressed to the California senators, since California will be heavily affected by any new disaster at Fukushima. Pressure from the US may be the best way to force Japan to bring in international monitoring and assistance.
We have a choice. We can deny the imminent threat posed by the damaged reactors, or we can unite and work together to demand that all possible measures be taken, as quickly as possible, to defuse the danger.
Take action — click here to contact your local newspaper or congress people:
Investigate the ongoing danger to the US from the Fukushima reactors
Click here to see the most recent messages sent to congressional reps and local newspapers
Carol S. Wolman, MD is a psychiatrist in Northern California. A lifelong peace activist, she is helping to distribute a Peace Plan for the Holy Land- email her for a copy.