Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Fukushima Series

These three pieces were written in August and September of this year. They are not for the faint of heart. I did not undertake writing these without an excruciating amount of research and reflection. Would it not have all been better to have lived in denial? That's the thing about us writers... we can't do that. We feel an immense need to speak a truth. Research this yourself. More facts coming to light paint an even darker picture. In the new year I will write another column. It will not be pretty. But it must be written. After that, it is back to humour. I promise. Some say it is best not to worry about things you can do nothing about. Is that true?

I have a correction to the statistics on Canada's production of Uranium. We produce approximately 20% of the world's uranium. We are the second highest producer in the world next to Kazakhstan.

Normalcy Bias

As human beings we are completely ridiculous. Utterly, forbiddingly, painfully ridiculous. This is not a funny column. I am a writer in my generation commenting on this time in history. If I did not write this then there would be no point to writing anything. Really. If you don't believe me, do the research yourself. 

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds," said Oppenheimer the builder of the nuclear bomb, not knowing if it would ignite the atmosphere when tested and completely obliterate us all. You have to give the man credit I guess because the moment called for a profound quote from the bhagavad gita instead of "holy f**k" to mark the climax of humanity's moment of sublime stupidity.

When the Fukushima nuclear plant was inundated with the tsunami in 2011, it was the single most catastrophic environmental disaster in history. Ever. It is said that every single day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for two years and running, the equivalency of 10 Hiroshima bombs is being pumped into the Pacific Ocean. Right now. As you read this. The American and Canadian government's reaction to the Radioactive plume that blanketed the northern hemisphere at that time was to shut down radiation monitoring sites and increase what was considered safe limits for human exposure. They are also now considering changing the definition of cancer. It is said that every 40 days the rain brings more as the jet stream sweeps the planet. It was measured by backyard geiger counters in Ottawa. The naysayers and the down players are quick to say that the amount in the ocean is like a swimming pool of contamination, that's all. They skirt the issue of bioaccumulation. Little fish eat big fish. All of the tuna tested in California this year had levels of caesium that far exceeded levels for human consumption. It takes from two to five years for cancer levels to begin showing up. At the time of the incident, sudden deaths of infants born in Western Canada increased profoundly (35%) over previous years. There is no such thing as a safe level of radiation. Period. Every x-ray, every mri, every strontium-laced fish accumulates in the human body until you grow a tumour or develop leukaemia. 

Fukushima, the world's, history's greatest environmental disaster is not over. Let me quote an astute and succinct article by Harvey Wasserman: "We are now within two months of what may be humankind’s most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is no excuse for not acting. All the resources our species can muster must be focussed on the fuel pool at Fukushima Unit 4…. Fukushima’s owner, Tokyo Electric (Tepco), says that within as few as 60 days it may begin trying to remove more than 1300 spent fuel rods from a badly damaged pool perched 100 feet in the air. The pool rests on a badly damaged building that is tilting, sinking and could easily come down in the next earthquake, if not on its own. Some 400 tons of fuel in that pool could spew out more than 15,000 times as much radiation as was released at Hiroshima…..

Should the attempt fail, the rods could be exposed to air and catch fire, releasing horrific quantities of radiation into the atmosphere…. Former Japanese Ambassador Mitsuhei Murata says full-scale releases from Fukushima 'would destroy the world environment and our civilization. This is not rocket science, nor does it connect to the pugilistic debate over nuclear power plants. This is an issue of human survival.'” 

We know what Tepco did and continues to do. Proven lies, all along the line. We know what government's did and are doing, glossing it over. And the media? What is the media's response to the single most catastrophic environmental disaster in history? Welcome to the power of advertising. General Electric owns the media. They also own Fukushima. It is only being run by Japan. They designed it. They built it on a fault-line in a faraway country. They own the problem. This is why when we watch the news we get to see commentary on the nose hairs of Zimmerman at his trial or what Miley Cyrus is up to. Because we mustn't know such disturbing things such as Fukushima. They are counting on that odd human quirk, called the normalcy bias. This is not normal. It never will be. Japan says they don't know where the cores are. We may have China Syndrome times three. Like Oppenheimer, they just don't know what that may mean. It's never happened before.

As a Canadian, I'm sorry to say that over 20% of the worlds uranium production is mined and shipped from here. Chances are we had a part in this one. Japan has acknowledged they can't handle this. Every single environmental group, including saving the whales, the bees, the trees and the baboon needs to drop all their activities worldwide and put the resources where it needs to go. Now. Otherwise… well, what would be the point of all your work anyway? Call your Member of Parliament. Ask them what Canada is doing. It is about all you can do. But do it. Make no mistake this is a "holy f**k" moment.

And here, for the record, is Wikipedia's definition of "normalcy bias": The normalcy bias, or normality bias, refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This often results in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations. The assumption that is made in the case of the normalcy bias is that since a disaster never has occurred then it never will occur. It also results in the inability of people to cope with a disaster once it occurs. People with a normalcy bias have difficulties reacting to something they have not experienced before. People also tend to interpret warnings in the most optimistic way possible, seizing on any ambiguities to infer a less serious situation.

The Comedy of Errors 

I've been given some flak by my fans (okay fan…. named Colleen) for last week's deadly serious column on Fukushima. And so, this column is about the lighter side of Fukushima. It's kind of as if The Three Stooges were hired to do things over there.

Like all good stories, this begins at the beginning. First design a nuclear power plant with the cooling pool and fuel rods 100 feet up in the air and then put the back-up generators on the ground floor. Then build it on an earthquake zone. Then wait for the earthquake which will damage the cooling pool, cracking its foundation causing highly radioactive water to leak from the fourth floor to the ground floor continuously. But I'm ahead of myself in the story here. This is, after all, an epic story with many twists and turns. What could go wrong now to our intrepid fools? With earthquakes come tsunamis. So the tsunami wipes out the back-up generators and the cooling rods are heating up. Never mind the other explosions. No. Let's not talk about them. Or the atmospheric releases….

So… lets pump in some salt water and collect the contaminated waste. Let's just bolt those tanks together and neglect to weld them and make sure they are metallic enough to corrode with salt water. Then lets just keep cutting down forests to put in more and more and more tanks because there is really no place to put the contaminated water. Well, maybe the Pacific. But we have to treat it first. Don't we?

Lets tell everyone that the radioactive readings are horrible. Then, two years later lets get some monitoring equipment that actually measures beyond horrible and confess that it was really about a few thousand times worse than we said initially. Is this when the rat chews through the wire and all hell potentially breaks loose  or not? I can't remember. But it happened. The script isn't finished yet.
Let's confess that there is contaminated water leaking from one of the tanks and lo and behold, the contaminated water is leaking into the Pacific at a great rate. We won't say how much. Not for two years. We'll just wait. Break it to 'em gently. They might interfere otherwise and we don't need help. None. So let's build a wall. A dam. That'll contain it. Who knew that a dam would cause a back-up of contaminated water to the plant? That it would actually work like, well… a dam. Who knew that groundwater backing up would actually saturate the already fragile soil. Is that building containing the fuel rods listing? Is it? Can't be.

Let's not tell them that the further down we dig the higher the radioactivity numbers. Why would that be? Oh, let's not entertain the notion of china syndrome. Let's just not. We can't find those cores anyway. That's what we say.

Let's start asking for help. It appears nothing is working. Let's tell them exactly how much contaminated waste is actually going into the Pacific. Let's confess that maybe we don't know how to stop it. Let's just put it out there.

Oh, there's another tank leaking. Oh, there's a typhoon on the way. We have no choice, we have to dump into the Pacific now. Oh, the ocean curtain we designed to collect radioactivity has a tear in it. Oh, a piece of plastic from one of the fixes has blocked the new equipment pipe we put in for decontamination. We'll just shut that down for a bit. Oh, wait… Did we tell them yet that we neglected to tell the whole truth all the way through? Surely they'll forgive us. Let's build an ice-wall! Yes! We'll freeze the unstable ground and then we'll move the fuel rods even though the robots we have won't work under those conditions. We'll have to build some new ones. Or else we could use some humans. If they are willing to be exposed to lethal doses of radiation and have no human frailties when put under any kind of pressure. Let's hope there's no new earthquake happening while we do this.
Oh, and let's start up the pressure to restart another nuclear facility near by. How can we keep that ground frozen without it? Wait maybe that won't work. Oh, we accidentally dropped the monitoring equipment for testing groundwater radiation into one of the two holes we were using. We just won't test anymore maybe. Oh, we'll need to build a 3 km pipeline for contaminated waste to a storage facility in case there's another typhoon. We just need to add that to our to-do list. We'll get to it. Oh, lets host the Olympics!!! Yay!!!!

Well, that's the story some say so far. But like all good epic stories, the heroes are not done yet. The comedy continues. Let's watch our protagonists and find out what they tell us next week.

My dear Dr. Suzuki,

I was deeply amazed to see your column concerning Fukushima and how we must all be pleased to eat the fish and not to worry in any grand way. Your column of course, followed my two deeply horrific columns of the state of affairs in Japan's ravaged nuclear plant and for which I received a great deal of flak and accusations of negative thinking. It was a bit of a departure from my humour columns so it raised quite a stir. Since your pleasant column followed my miserable ones you actually had me thinking I was just a doomsayer. How, I asked myself, would I ever forgive myself for having upset my readership in such a disturbing way? I even thought I might have to go into deep psychological therapy over this one. You are after all an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. In a CBC poll you were selected as the greatest living Canadian.You are Canada's scientific spokesperson really. We all look to you for your expertise because we are not scientists for the most part. We depend on you for that. For the truth.

This is why I was deeply shocked to come across your panel discussion on October 30th, 2013 at the University of Alberta. When asked about Fukushima you said "Fukushima is the most terrifying situation I can imagine. You ask, what can we do? First of all you have got a government that is in total collusion with Tepco, they’re lying through their teeth. […] The fourth one has been so badly damaged that the fear is if there’s another quake of a 7 or above that that building will go, and then all hell breaks loose. And the probability of a 7 or above quake in the next 3 years is over 95%. […] They don’t know what to do. We need to get a group of international experts to go in with complete freedom to do what they suggest. Right now the Japanese government has too much pride to admit that. I’ve seen a paper which says that if in fact the fourth plant goes under an earthquake and those rods are exposed, it’s bye-bye Japan, and everybody on the West Coast of North America should evacuate. Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is."

I saw this and I was deeply relieved to see I did not indeed need any therapy. You see, when I'm not writing columns I spend a great deal of effort running my Society for the Rehabilitation of Misguided Scientists whose mission has now been raised to a critical level. Much like Fukushima. When your dear little light and honey column came out I was distraught indeed! I spent many a dark night with myself battling concepts of reality and delusion. I spent my days much as I always do, teaching engineers macrame and physicists how to make shrunken apple head dolls in an effort to bring them back to world we all live in. But oh, those nights were rough I will admit. How could I have been so wrong? But that's okay. I don't mind really. We all need to do some sort of self-questioning to keep us balanced and well-adjusted to this profoundly sick society. It is necessary. However, I digress…
So now I have a question you must consider: "What took you so long?" I mean really, 2 and a half years! 2 and a half years!!

Oh, it's okay Dr. Suzuki. We all live with a certain amount of denial and that's okay. But I don't think I've really come across someone that spent an entire 2 and half years in such a state of high denial over such a monstrously obvious issue. Well… that's not entirely true. I have worked with a scientist who believes the world is 6,000 years old and has pretty much decided that early humans used to play cowboys and indians on the back of a brontosaurus, but that's beside the point. You, in your official capacity as scientific spokesperson for Canada cannot continue in this way. You poor poor man. I cannot imagine how you live your days in such denial.

Oh don't be embarrassed. We all understand. Embarrassment is much harder I realize for your particular psychological disorder however I realize we must treat you with a great deal of kindness. Kindness never hurt anyone I always say. It's taken me at least a week to understand what your particular disorder is. There are actually not many studies out there to  cover everything you have but I'm fairly sure I may be right here.

Oh my dear Dr. Suzuki, I'm sorry to say it may very well be that you have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It is chief among the various disorders for its disassociation from reality and denial. It explains pretty much everything on the surface of it: Your drive to reach the pinnacle of the Canadian scientific community. The videos. The books. The two houses you own and the fossil fuels you use to spread your message in light of your declarations of environmental consciousness… The deeply amusing stories you tell just before you say "Fukushima is the most terrifying situation you can imagine."  Oh they are all key to the diagnosis. It was this last that finally clued me in. Not many personality disorders could be so cavalier in such short order. Now I may very well be wrong since I don't quite know what particular Freudian childhood trauma caused you to spin out of control. But there is something there that needs some most gentle probing.

Please consider contacting my Association for Rehabilitation of Misguided Scientists. We will not hurt you.

Sincerely yours, Sylvia Shawcross.

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