The catastrophe is far from over
An aerial photograph of the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe in 2011.

The catastrophe is far from over

The story of Fukushima is the story of the critical and unsolved problems with nuclear power — problems all due to basic nuclear technology

BRATTLEBORO — On March 11, 10 years will have passed since the terrible tsunami and meltdowns of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi complex in Japan.

The catastrophe is far from over. In fact, most of the impossible problems the world faced on the day of the event have yet to be solved. The reality is that the radiation continues to be at too high a level for decontamination experts to clean up.

There are several notable areas of concern.

• The central cores of the four damaged reactors continue to need constant cooling, as they are too hot (in the radioactive sense) to handle. Even specially created robots can't take it.

The only way radioactivity can be temporarily controlled is with a constant bath of cooling water - millions and millions of gallons of cooling water every day, which immediately becomes toxic and remains so for a very long time.

• Nobody has yet figured out a way to remove the melted-down fuel and reactor components, as well as the tons of toxic debris that fell into the uncovered pools during the initial tsunami. Some is large, heavy construction debris that nobody has a clue how to remove and decontaminate.

If these pools lose water, the fuel rods can combust and spew radiation over a large area. So these pools also pose a risk for radiation release if there is a tsunami or another earthquake - like the significant one that hit the Fukushima area on Feb. 13, with big aftershocks expected.

• The estimate is that there is more than a million tons of this contaminated water at the site. The industry wants the world to believe that the water can be processed to the level of having “only” tritium contaminating it.

Tritium has a very short half life, so you might hear that it's not all that scary. But it can't be filtered out of water, and it can cause damage to DNA, especially in developing fetuses and young children.

Greenpeace and other environmentalists have tested some treated water from Fukushima and found other highly toxic radioactive elements present. There is a tremendous debate about what to do with this water. Dump it in the Pacific? This poison should never enter the ocean. What should we do with it all?

Possibly the saddest part of this story, indicating the true lack of ability to manage this technology, is that the industry states that it will be 30 to 40 years before these reactors are cleaned up. Other experts call this goal way too ambitious.

Ionizing radiation makes people sicken and die. This is a fact. Nuclear power promoters can spew all the lies they want - that “a banana gives off more toxicity than a nuclear reactor” (we kid you not), “some radiation is good for you,” or “no one has ever died from a nuclear accident.”

This “spin” would just be foolish and funny if it weren't about something so potentially catastrophic and lethal.

* * *

The story of Fukushima is the story of the critical and unsolved problems with nuclear power. They all are due to basic nuclear technology.

The nuclear industry and its (non-)regulatory bodies have created a system to generate power with a level of safety that is barely adequate, where periodically something goes terribly wrong. Then you have Chernobyl. Or Fukushima. These places will be contaminated forever, or at least for the lifetimes of all who live on Earth right now.

Many of us worked long and hard to shut down Vermont Yankee, the same design as the reactors continuing to pollute Japan. We feel grateful and lucky that our community is safe from a meltdown at VY. Still, 46 years of highly radioactive waste is sitting on the banks of the Connecticut River basically unprotected, and there is no permanent repository.

It is past time to power our world with clean, green, non-toxic renewables.

We hope we will never see another Fukushima. We hope this industry will sail off into the sunset, taking its dangers and massive expenses to society and the Earth with it.

We know it won't go down without a fight.

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