Understanding the medical implications of the Fukushima nuclear accident is a somewhat overwhelming task. On the one side stands a powerful alliance between government, industry regulators, high bureaucrats, and the nuclear industry itself, all promoting the false mantra of sustainable, safe nuclear energy. Against them are a collection of passionate scientists and activists all attempting to predict the effects of an unprecedented nuclear fallout, the likes of which are not fully understood.
The failure of the Canadian, US, and Japanese government to share and gather information surrounding the catastrophe makes open scientific debate almost impossible. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to ignore any monitoring of radioactive contaminants in seafood and the like, courtesy of an agreement signed by Hillary Clinton last year. To date, there is not a single federal agency monitoring the radiation levels in Canada or the US. And the situation is much more dire than most people think.
After the initial reactor meltdowns at building one, two, and three, and the subsequent hydrogen explosions, radiation levels around the West Coast of Canada and the States were quite high – because of the weather blowing the radiation east to west. The handful of independent research groups and universities who examined soil samples found massive radiation spikes all down the coast, including five to 10 “hot particles” inhaled per human lung a day in certain areas.
No amount of exposure is safe. Radiation is accumulative. You only have to inhale one millionth of a gram (or less) of plutonium to develop cancer. The Inhalation Toxicology Research Institute, in a study conducted in 1996, was unable to dose Beagle dogs with a small enough amount of plutonium as to not kill them within 1.5 to 5.4 years by cancer and/or lung fibrosis. The biological effects to humans would be similar, they concluded, although we humans are probably less radiosensitive.
Although one plutonium particle might not be fatal, there are 250 Kilograms of plutonium potential in reactors one, two, and three, not including the eight years of spent uranium at building four. Hypothetically, one pound of plutonium distributed evenly throughout the planet, an impossibility, would be enough to kill all human and animal life on Earth. (“Internal emitters” are far different than external radiation, since they exert heavy doses to surrounding cells.)
Plutonium (a particle named after Pluto, God of the Underworld) is just one of the 200 different isotopes (hot particles) formed by uranium fission. Some breakdown very quickly, others last billions of years.
So what’s the medical consequences for us here on the West Coast? We can at least extrapolate from a study conducted by the New York Academy of Sciences which shows that about a million people have died as a direct result of Chernobyl. Forty per cent of Europe is still radioactive. And it will be for hundreds of generations to come. They say Fukushima has released more than three times the radiation of Chernobyl, and the worst of the crisis is yet to come.
Building four, with its massive spent fuel pool containing about 20 times the radiation of a reactor, is in an extremely precarious position. Hydrogen explosions ripped the containment wall away from the spent pools, severely damaging the structural integrity of the building. If the building collapses, the radiation will be far too intense for any workers at the site. Fukushima Daiichi will have to be abandoned, setting off a ‘domino effect’ on buildings one, two, and three, releasing 83 times more Cesium 137 than did Chernobyl.
Tokyo would certainly have to be evacuated. And huge portions of the fallout would land right here on the West Coast. We would be advised to “stay inside for as long as possible and shut all windows and doors”. In other words, all life (in the northern hemisphere) would be heavily irradiated, and staying in BC would be very dangerous.
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake is enough to collapse building four. Scientists say there is a 70 per cent chance of that happening this year, and a 98 per cent chance in the next three years.
Journalists who tell you no one has died from Fukushima and therefore it’s not a big deal are not telling the truth. The incubation time for radiation-related sickness is four to 60 years. This crisis has just begun.
Tristan A. Shaw was the Cultural Affairs Editor for Urban Garden Magazine. He is a regular columnist for a number of magazines and websites, and is currently studying cultural anthropology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed in this column will usually be those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Shingle.
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