As Tuesday afternoon fades into evening, I find that I’ve yet been unable to determine just how worried people in the U.S. and Canada should be about the nuclear plant meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. The mainstream media sends mixed messages while alternative media fluctuates from claims that the danger is being intentionally overblown, to advising that the west coast of United States is in imminent danger. What to believe?
Image provided by the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security.
While speculation runs rampant, the truth always seems to lie somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, with this particular disaster, the theories and advisories are so varied that it is difficult to determine where the middle is.
The latest information being released by the Japan Times is that a radioactivity monitoring post near the No. 3 reactor showed 400 millisieverts per hour, 400 times the amount an ordinary person is exposed to in a year. They go on to say that while this is a dangerous level of radiation, that it is mainly showing these levels close to the reactors, and that further away shows much lower levels.
Kyodo News International reports that a blast occurred at the No. 4 reactor and created two square holes sized about 8 meters by 8 meters in the walls of the building that houses the reactor. At 9:38 a.m., a fire broke out there and smoke billowed from those holes. They also claim that water in a pool storing spent nuclear fuel rods may be boiling, an ominous sign for the release of high-level radioactive materials from the fuel.
U.S. mainstream news seems to be downplaying the severity of the crisis. Repeatedly on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News we hear reports that the radiation shouldn’t present too much of a problem outside the containment zone. With one notable exception. As I sit here in my office I can see the television in the other room. I notice that a nuclear reactor specialist named Ken Bergeron is discussing the problem on MSNBC. He seems to catch the host off guard by telling him that the Fukushima meltdown could spell trouble nearing the level of Chernobyl, in terms of lives in danger. “Really? Really! I hadn’t heard that!” says the reporter whose name I didn’t catch.
It doesn’t bode well for the information that is being passed around, that the Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan is quoted as asking the Tokyo Electric Power Co, “What the hell is going on?”
What the hell, indeed.
What I was able to glean from flipping through the channels today is that the danger level on the previously unknown to me nuclear disaster danger chart (formally called the International Nuclear Event Scale, or INES) has been raised. Initially it was set at 4 (on a scale of 1-7), just below 3 Mile Island. Now, it has been elevated to 6. Chernobyl was ranked at 7. According to Reuters, U.S. think tank says disaster may reach level seven. ASN (France’s nuclear safety authority) President Andre-Claude Lacoste is quoted as saying, “We are now in a situation that is different from yesterday’s. It is very clear that we are at a level six, which is an intermediate level between what happened at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl… We are clearly in a catastrophe.”
I’m no nuclear physicist, but I’m going to use my functioning brain on this one and say that anytime something is just one away from being the worst ever… its pretty bad.
So what this appears to mean is that the area around the Fukushima plant will probably remain unlivable for many years to come. As this is less of a high altitude threat and more of a ground level scenario, it actually bodes less well for residents of the area, because ground level is obviously where people live. Not to mention the contamination of the soil and water table in the area. Pretty bad. Pretty darn bad. And as I write this, the Huffington Post is reporting that another fire has broken out at the number 4 reactor unit, and two workers are missing.
As things move exponentially from bad to worse, the obvious question for those of us living in relative comfort here on the North American continent is… How will this affect us? This seems to be the area of most confusion, and the conclusion I’ve come to is, I don’t bloody know. On March 12 there was a map released of the supposed radiation threat as fallout enters the jet stream. It shows clearly that the radiation could reach the west coast of the United States and Canada. Later, that map was declared to be a hoax by some, although others are still citing the map as a resource.
Again, the U.S. media at large is downplaying the possibility of a threat to American citizens. The Daily Mail out of the U.K. has a decidedly different take in their headline, America on radiation alert: Japan faces world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl as experts warn fallout may reach U.S. They say that The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has admitted it is ‘quite possible’ the fallout could reach America.
The News Tribune report is a little more wishy-washy. They say that yes… radiation could reach the Northwestern coast of the U.S., but that the health risk of said radiation would be zilch.
An NBC Bay Area report raises even more questions. It is being reported that there has been a run by residents of California on pharmacies, with the target being Iodine tablets. Local officials attempted to calm residents by saying that there was no need for the tablets and that there is no imminent danger from radiation. But then, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin stated that she did not think that would be an overreaction. She said it was right to be prepared. So which is it?
Now we shall enter the realm of alternative media. Accusations are flying that the danger posed by the Fukushima Nuclear Plant’s possible meltdown is being deliberately underplayed, and that the scenario we’re all facing is far more dire than can be imagined. Alex Jones of Infowars.com is leading the charge for people to distrust the mainstream reporting. The scenario being laid out by he and his reporters is grim. In fact, his assessment moves from bad to worse.
The bottom line seems to be that no one knows for certain.
The people of Japan have been through literal hell in the past few days, and we must continue to hope for this horror to abate, so that the rebuilding can commence.