Japan pictures likely show melted Fukushima fuel for first time — Bloomberg

” New images show what is likely to be melted nuclear fuel hanging from inside one of Japan’s wrecked Fukushima reactors, a potential milestone in the cleanup of one of the worst atomic disasters in history.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., Japan’s biggest utility, released images on Friday showing a hardened black, grey and orange substance that dripped from the bottom of the No. 3 reactor pressure vessel at Fukushima, which is likely to contain melted fuel, according to Takahiro Kimoto, an official at the company. The company sent a Toshiba-designed robot, which can swim and resembles a submarine, to explore the inside of the reactor for the first time on July 19.

“Never before have we taken such clear pictures of what could be melted fuel,” Kimoto said at a press briefing that began at 9 p.m. Friday in Tokyo, noting that it would take time to analyze and confirm whether it is actually fuel. “We believe that the fuel melted and mixed with the metal directly underneath it. And it is highly likely that we have filmed that on Friday.”

If confirmed, the substance — which has the appearance of icicles — would be the first discovery of the fuel that melted during the triple reactor accident at Fukushima six years ago. For Tokyo Electric, which bears most of the clean-up costs, the discovery would help the utility design a way to remove the highly-radioactive material.

The robot, which is about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long, will search for melted fuel at the bottom of the reactor on Saturday. It is possible that the company will take more pictures of what could be melted fuel spread across the floor and lower levels, according to Tokyo Electric’s Kimoto. Fuel from a nuclear meltdown is known as corium, which is a mixture of the atomic fuel rods and other structural materials.

Early Signs

“It is important to know the exact locations and the physical, chemical, radiological forms of the corium to develop the necessary engineering defueling plans for the safe removal of the radioactive materials,” said Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who was involved with the cleanup at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the U.S. “The recent investigation results are significant early signs of progress on the long road ahead.”

Because of the high radioactivity levels inside the reactor, only specially designed robots can probe the unit. And the unprecedented nature of the Fukushima disaster means that Tepco, as the utility is known, is pinning its efforts on technology not yet invented to get the melted fuel out of the reactors.

Removal Plans

The company aims to decide on the procedure to remove the melted fuel from each unit as soon as this summer. And it will confirm the procedure for the first reactor during the fiscal year ending March 2019, with fuel removal slated to begin in 2021.

Decommissioning the reactors will cost 8 trillion yen ($72 billion), according to an estimate in December from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Removing the fuel is one of the most important steps in a cleanup that may take as long as 40 years.

Similar to the latest findings on Friday, Tepco took photographs in January of what appeared to be black residue covering a grate under the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor, which was speculated to have been melted fuel. However, a follow-up survey by another Toshiba-designed robot in February failed to confirm the location of any melted fuel in the reactor after it got stuck in debris.

A robot designed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. also failed to find any melted fuel during its probe of the No. 1 reactor in March.

The significance of Friday’s finding “might be evidence that the robots used by Tepco can now deal with the higher radiation levels, at least for periods of time that allow them to search parts of the reactor that are more likely to contain fuel debris,” M.V. Ramana, professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, said by email.

“If some of these fragments can be brought out of the reactor and studied, it would allow nuclear engineers and scientists to better model what happened during the accident.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg


Footage points to difficulty in removing possible melted fuel at Fukushima plant — The Mainichi

” The footage released on Jan. 30 by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) showing what could be melted fuel inside the No. 2 reactor at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has highlighted the difficulty of salvaging the object, which is apparently stuck to footholds and other equipment at the facility.

TEPCO took the footage as part of its in-house probe into the No. 2 reactor and found that black and brown sediments — possible melted fuel — are stuck inside the reactor’s containment vessel over an extensive area.

“If what was captured in the footage was melted fuel, that would provide a major step forward toward trying our hand at unprecedented decommissioning work,” said Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, head of TEPCO’s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters, during a press conference in the city of Fukushima on Jan. 30. “The finding may provide a major clue to future work to retrieve the object,” he added.

At the time of the March 2011 meltdowns at the plant, there were 548 nuclear fuel rods totaling some 164 metric tons inside the No. 2 reactor, but they apparently melted down after the loss of power sources for the core cooling system, with part of the melted fuel penetrating through the pressure vessel before cooling down at the bottom of the containment vessel. The temperature of the reactor core topped 2,000 degrees Celsius at the time of the accident, melting metals including nuclear fuel inside the reactor.

The melted fuel has since come in contact with underground water flowing from the mountain side, generating radioactively contaminated water every day. In order to dismantle the reactor, it is necessary to take out the melted fuel, but high radiation levels inside the reactor had hampered work to locate the melted debris.

On Jan. 30, apart from the footage, TEPCO also released 11 pictures taken inside the No. 2 reactor. The images show the sediments in question stuck to metal grate footholds and water is dripping from the ceiling. Further analysis of those images may provide information on the current status of the disaster and positional clues to decommissioning work.

The in-house probe, however, has only focused on the No. 2 reactor, and there is no prospect of similar probes into the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors starting anytime soon as they were severely damaged by hydrogen explosions following the 2011 meltdowns.

In April 2015, TEPCO introduced a remote-controlled robot into the No. 1 reactor by way of a through hole in its containment vessel, but the device failed to locate melted fuel inside due to high radiation levels. While the utility is planning to send a different type of robot into the No. 1 reactor this coming spring, it would be difficult to carry out a survey similar to that conducted at the No. 2 reactor, as radiation levels are high around the through hole in the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel, from which a device could access to right below the No. 1 reactor.

The No. 3 reactor, meanwhile, holds roughly 6.5-meter-deep contaminated water inside its containment vessel, a far larger volume than that accumulated at the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. TEPCO has thus been developing a robot that can wade through water. ”

by The Mainichi


Nuclear fuel debris that penetrated reactor pressure vessel possibly found at Fukushima No. 1 — The Japan Times

” Tepco on Monday found what may be melted nuclear fuel debris that penetrated the reactor 2 pressure vessel at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said more analysis and investigation is needed to confirm that the black lumps detected in the reactor’s containment vessel are indeed fuel debris.

The steel pressure vessel houses the nuclear fuel rods and is set up inside the surrounding containment vessel.

“At this point, it’s difficult to clearly identify what they are,” said Yuichi Okamura, general manager of Tepco’s nuclear power and plant siting division, during an evening news conference at the utility’s Tokyo headquarters.

Video footage from Monday’s probe showed black lumps that looked like something that had melted and then congealed, sticking to parts of a steel grating area at the base of the containment vessel.

The material could be melted paint, cable covers or pipe wrappings, Okamura said.

Still, this is the first time Tepco has detected anything in any of the facility’s three wrecked reactors that might be melted fuel rods since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011. Okamura described the finding as “valuable information.”

The location of the debris and what form it is in are critical to eventually recovering the fuel.

Tepco plans next month to send in a remote-controlled robot equipped with a thermometer and dosimeter. Analyzing the temperature and radiation level will help identify whether the lumps are fuel debris, Okamura said.

The fuel melted after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out Fukushima No. 1’s power supply, including the vital cooling functions.

It is believed that reactor No. 2’s fuel rods melted and penetrated the bottom of the 20-cm-thick pressure vessel and fell in to the containment vessel.

Tepco has been conducting an investigation to check the interior of the containment vessel since last week.

In a previous try, workers inserted a rod equipped with a small camera as a precursor to sending in the remote-controlled robot.

The first attempt turned up nothing of note, but the utility then tried a longer rod — 10.5 meters long — on Monday that could capture images of the area beneath the pressure vessel.

The video footage also showed that water droplets were falling, which Tepco said must be cooling water being injected into the damaged pressure vessel.

Reactor 2 is one of three reactors, including 1 and 3, that experienced fuel meltdowns. ”

by Kazuaki Nagata


Editorial: Cost estimate needed first to decommission Fukushima plant — The Asahi Shimbun

” An industry ministry panel of experts is tackling two key questions concerning the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

One is how much money will be needed to decommission the plant’s reactors, three of which melted down. The other is who should foot the bill and how.

However, there are some serious flaws in the way the expert panel is working on these knotty questions, which could lead to a huge financial burden on the public.

First of all, the panel’s meetings are not open to the public. The main points of the discussions are published later, but many details, including who made specific remarks, are omitted.

The fate of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima plant and is responsible for its decommissioning, will be largely determined by whether it can restart its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture.

Panel members include many business leaders who have been promoting nuclear power generation.

The outcome of the recent Niigata gubernatorial election underscored the strong opposition of local residents against TEPCO’s plan to bring the plant back online.

The panel’s lineup raises concerns that its discussions may be based on the assumption that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant will eventually be restarted, despite the situation in the prefecture.

Another troubling fact is that the government has yet to announce any estimate of the total decommissioning cost.

In the panel’s first meeting, some members urged the government to swiftly present an estimate of the cost. In the second meeting, however, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry only said that annual spending could grow to several hundreds of billions of yen from about 80 billion yen ($703 million) spent now.

The ministry says a specific estimate of the total cost will be announced as early as the end of the year, along with a plan for management reforms at TEPCO and a package of related measures the government will take.

But this timetable doesn’t make sense. Pinning down the overall decommissioning cost should be the starting point for the panel’s discussions.

With the conditions of the melted nuclear fuel remaining unclear, it is certainly difficult to accurately estimate the cost.

Still, an estimate should first be shown to ensure substantive debate on whether the method used for the work is appropriate and whether there are ways to curb the cost.

As for financing, the panel has supported the proposal that TEPCO should secure the necessary funds on its own through management reform over other options, such as the utility’s liquidation involving debt forgiveness by its creditors, tax financing by the government and a continuation of the current state control of TEPCO.

In an apparent attempt to stress the importance of TEPCO’s own efforts to save itself, the panel has also recommended that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant should be spun off from TEPCO and integrated with the nuclear power business of another utility.

There is no disputing that TEPCO should push through thorough management reforms to prevent the public from shouldering part of the cost through tax financing or hikes in electricity rates.

The question, however, is whether the embattled utility’s own efforts will be enough to cover the entire decommissioning cost, expected to reach several trillions of yen.

If a plan based on the company’s own efforts fails and disrupts the decommissioning process, the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas in Fukushima Prefecture could be seriously delayed.

It is vital for the panel to win broad public support for its proposals on the national challenge of decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

This requires careful, exhaustive and reasonable debate, open to the public, on the cost and the financing method. ”

by The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 27


Reassessing the 3.11 disaster and the future of nuclear power in Japan: An Interview with former Prime Minister Kan Naoto — The Asia-Pacific Journal

” Introduction

For more than two decades, the global nuclear industry has attempted to frame the debate on nuclear power within the context of climate change: nuclear power is better than any of the alternatives. So the argument went. Ambitious nuclear expansion plans in the United States and Japan, two of the largest existing markets, and the growth of nuclear power in China appeared to show—superficially at least—that the technology had a future. At least in terms of political rhetoric and media perception, it appeared to be a winning argument. Then came March 11, 2011. Those most determined to promote nuclear power even cited the Fukushima Daiichi accident as a reason for expanding nuclear power: impacts were low, no one died, radiation levels are not a risk. So claimed a handful of commentators in the international (particularly English-language) media.

However, from the start of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11 2011, the harsh reality of nuclear power was exposed to billions of people across the planet, and in particular to the population of Japan, including the more than 160,000 people displaced by the disaster, many of whom are still unable to return to their homes, and scores of millions more threatened had worst case scenarios occurred. One authoritative voice that has been central to exposing the myth-making of the nuclear industry and its supporters has been that of Kan Naoto, Prime Minister in 2011. His conversion from promoter to stern critic may be simple to understand, but it is no less commendable for its bravery. When the survival of half the society you are elected to serve and protect is threatened by a technology that is essentially an expensive way to boil water, then something is clearly wrong. Japan avoided societal destruction thanks in large part to the dedication of workers at the crippled nuclear plant, but also to the intervention of Kan and his staff, and to luck. Had it not been for a leaking pipe into the cooling pool of Unit 4 that maintained sufficient water levels, the highly irradiated spent fuel in the pool, including the entire core only recently removed from the reactor core, would have been exposed, releasing an amount of radioactivity far in excess of that released from the other three reactors. The cascade of subsequent events would have meant total loss of control of the other reactors, including their spent fuel pools and requiring massive evacuation extending throughout metropolitan Tokyo, as Prime Minister Kan feared. That three former Prime Ministers of Japan are not just opposed to nuclear power but actively campaigning against it is unprecedented in global politics and is evidence of the scale of the threat that Fukushima posed to tens of millions of Japanese.

The reality is that in terms of electricity share and relative to renewable energy, nuclear power has been in decline globally for two decades. Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, this decline has only increased in pace. The nuclear industry knew full well that nuclear power could not be scaled up to the level required to make a serious impact on global emissions. But that was never the point. The industry adopted the climate-change argument as a survival strategy: to ensure extending the life of existing aging reactors and make possible the addition of some new nuclear capacity in the coming decades—sufficient at least to allow a core nuclear industrial infrastructure to survive to mid-century. The dream was to survive to mid-century, when limitless energy would be realized by the deployment of commercial plutonium fast-breeder reactors and other generation IV designs. It was always a myth, but it had a commercial and strategic rationale for the power companies, nuclear suppliers and their political allies.

The basis for the Fukushima Daiichi accident began long before March 11th 2011, when decisions were made to build and operate reactors in a nation almost uniquely vulnerable to major seismic events. More than five years on, the accident continues with a legacy that will stretch over the decades. Preventing the next catastrophic accident in Japan is now a passion of the former Prime Minister, joining as he has the majority of the people of Japan determined to transition to a society based on renewable energy. He is surely correct that the end of nuclear power in Japan is possible. The utilities remain in crisis, with only three reactors operating, and legal challenges have been launched across the nation. No matter what policy the government chooses, the basis for Japan’s entire nuclear fuel cycle policy, which is based on plutonium separation at Rokkasho-mura and its use in the Monju reactor and its fantasy successor reactors, is in a worse state than ever before. But as Kan Naoto knows better than most, this is an industry entrenched within the establishment and still wields enormous influence. Its end is not guaranteed. Determination and dedication will be needed to defeat it. Fortunately, the Japanese people have these in abundance. SB

The Interview

Q: What is your central message?

Kan: Up until the accident at the Fukushima reactor, I too was confident that since Japanese technology is of high quality, no Chernobyl-like event was possible.

But in fact when I came face to face with Fukushima, I learned I was completely mistaken. I learned first and foremost that we stood on the brink of disaster: had the incident spread only slightly, half the territory of Japan, half the area of metropolitan Tokyo would have been irradiated and 50,000,000 people would have had to evacuate.

Half one’s country would be irradiated, nearly half of the population would have to flee: to the extent it’s conceivable, only defeat in major war is comparable.

That the risk was so enormous: that is what in the first place I want all of you, all the Japanese, all the world’s people to realize.

Q: You yourself are a physicist, yet you don’t believe in the first analysis that people can handle nuclear power? Don’t you believe that there are technical advances and that in the end it will be safe to use?

Kan: As a rule, all technologies involve risk. For example, automobiles have accidents; airplanes, too. But the scale of the risk if an accident happens affects the question whether or not to use that technology. You compare the plus of using it and on the other hand the minus of not using it. We learned that with nuclear reactors, the Fukushima nuclear reactors, the risk was such that 50,000,000 people nearly had to evacuate. Moreover, if we had not used nuclear reactors—in fact, after the incident, there was a period of about two years when we didn’t use nuclear power and there was no great impact on the public welfare, nor any economic impact either. So when you take these factors as a whole into account, in a broad sense there is no plus to using nuclear power. That is my judgment.

One more thing. In the matter of the difference between nuclear power and other technologies, controlling the radiation is in the final analysis extremely difficult.

For example, plutonium emits radiation for a long time. Its half-life is 24,000 years, so because nuclear waste contains plutonium—in its disposal, even if you let it sit and don’t use it—its half-life is 24,000 years, in effect forever. So it’s a very difficult technology to use—an additional point I want to make.

Q: It figured a bit ago in the lecture by Professor Prasser, that in third-generation reactors, risk can be avoided. What is your response?

Kan: It’s as Professor Khwostowa said: we’ve said that even with many nuclear reactors, an event inside a reactor like the Fukushima nuclear accident or a Chernobyl-sized event would occur only once in a million years; but in fact, in the past sixty years, we’ve had Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Professor Prasser says it’s getting gradually safer, but in fact accidents have happened with greater frequency and on a larger scale than was foreseen. So partial improvements are possible, as Professor Prasser says, but saying that doesn’t mean that accidents won’t happen. Equipment causes accidents, but so do humans.

Q: Today it’s five years after Fukushima. What is the situation in Japan today? We hear that there are plans beginning in 2018 to return the refugees to their homes. To what extent is the clean-up complete?

Kan: Let me describe conditions on site at Fukushima. Reactors #1, #2, #3 melted down, and the melted nuclear fuel still sits in the containment vessel; every day they introduce water to cool it. Radioactivity in the vessel of #2, they say, is 70 sieverts—not microsieverts or millisieverts, 70 sieverts. If humans approach a site that is radiating 70 sieverts, they die within five minutes. That situation has held ever since: that’s the current situation.

Moreover, the water they introduce leaves the containment vessel and is said to be recirculated, but in fact it mixes with groundwater, and some flows into the ocean. Prime Minister Abe used the words “under control,” but Japanese experts, including me, consider it not under control if part is flowing into the ocean. All the experts see it this way.

As for the area outside the site, more than 100,000 people have fled the Fukushima area.

So now the government is pushing residential decontamination and beyond that the decontamination of agricultural land.

Even if you decontaminate the soil, it’s only a temporary or partial reduction in radioactivity; in very many cases cesium comes down from the mountains, it returns.

The Fukushima prefectural government and the government say that certain of the areas where decontamination has been completed are habitable, so people have until 2018 to return; moreover, beyond that date, they won’t give aid to the people who have fled. But I and others think there’s still danger and that the support should be continued at the same level for people who conclude on their own that it’s still dangerous—that’s what we’re saying.

Given the conditions on site and the conditions of those who have fled, you simply can’t say that the clean-up is complete.

Q: Since the Fukushima accident, you have become a strong advocate of getting rid of nuclear reactors; yet in the end, the Abe regime came to power, and it is going in the opposite direction: three reactors are now in operation. As you see this happening, are you angry?

Kan: Clearly what Prime Minister Abe is trying to do—his nuclear reactor policy or energy policy—is mistaken. I am strongly opposed to current policy.

But are things moving steadily backward? Three reactors are indeed in operation. However, phrase it differently: only three are in operation. Why only three? Most—more than half the people—are still resisting strongly. From now on, if it should come to new nuclear plants, say, or to extending the licenses of existing nuclear plants, popular opposition is extremely strong, so that won’t be at all easy. In that sense, Japan’s situation today is a very harsh opposition—a tug of war—between the Abe government, intent on retrogression, and the people, who are heading toward abolishing nuclear reactors.

Two of Prime Minister Abe’s closest advisors are opposed to his policy on nuclear power.

One is his wife. The other is former Prime Minister Koizumi, who promoted him.

Q: Last question: please talk about the possibility that within ten years Japan will do away with nuclear power.

Kan: In the long run, it will disappear gradually. But if you ask whether it will disappear in the next ten years, I can’t say. For example, even in my own party opinion is divided; some hope to do away with it in the 2030s. So I can’t say whether it will disappear completely in the next ten years, but taking the long view, it will surely be gone, for example, by the year 2050 or 2070. The most important reason is economic. It has become clear that compared with other forms of energy, the cost of nuclear energy is high.

Q: Thank you. ”

Interview by Vincenzo Capodici

Introduction by Shaun Burnie

Translation by Richard Minear


On Forgetting Fukushima — Robert Jacobs, The Asia-Pacific Journal

” This month the media and social networks are busy remembering Fukushima on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, but what we are really observing is the beginning of the work of forgetting Fukushima. Fukushima is taking its place alongside the many forgotten nuclear disasters of the last 70 years. Like Mayak and Santa Susana, soon all that will be left of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are the radionuclides that will cycle through the ecosystem for millennia. In that sense we are internalizing Fukushima into our body unconsciousness.

Forgetting begins with lies. In Fukushima the lies began with TEPCO (the owner of the power plants) denying that there were any meltdowns when they knew there were three. They knew they had at least one full meltdown by the end of the first day, less than 12 hours after the site was struck by a powerful earthquake knocking out the electrical power. TEPCO continued to tell this lie for three months, even after hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to or voluntarily evacuated. Just last week TEPCO admitted that it was aware of the meltdowns much earlier, or to put it bluntly, it continued to hide the fact that it had been lying for five years (I’ve written about the dynamic behind this here).

The government of Japan had such weak regulation of the nuclear industry that it was completely reliant on TEPCO for all information about the state of the plants and the risks to the public. It was reduced to being an echo chamber for the denials coming from a company that was lying. The people living near the plants, and downwind as the plumes from explosions in three plants carried radionuclides high into the air and deposited large amounts of radiation far beyond the evacuation zones, had to make life and death decisions as they were being lied to and manipulated.

Lying about nuclear issues is not unique to Japan or Fukushima. It began with the first use of nuclear weapons against human beings, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When announcing the first attack President Harry Truman referred to Hiroshima as a “military base,” and said it was chosen specifically to avoid civilian casualties. Hiroshima was a naval base (in a country whose navy was already destroyed), but the truth is that the city was chosen to demonstrate vividly the power of the super weapon and the bomb was aimed at the city center, the area most densely populated with civilians. After the war the US claimed that these attacks, in which over 100,000 people were killed instantly, actually saved lives.

The most powerful legacy of Chernobyl, besides its long-lived radiation, is the widespread use of the word “radiophobia” by nuclear industry apologists to describe the public response to large releases of radiation: fear. Look for this word and sentiment in the many articles being published this month about Fukushima. When you see it, or read the claim that more people were harmed at Fukushima by their own irrational fears than by radiation, you are seeing the work of forgetting turn its cruel wheels. Behind those wheels are the shattered lives and emotional wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people whose communities were destroyed, and whose families were ripped apart by the Fukushima disaster. People whose anxieties will rise every time they or their children run a high fever, or suffer a nosebleed or test positively for cancer. People whose suffering-at no fault of their own-is becoming invisible. Soon when we talk about Fukushima we will reduce the human impact to a quibbling over numbers: how many cases of thyroid cancer, how many confirmed illnesses. Lost-hidden-forgotten will be the hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, in many cases permanently, and try to rebuild their shattered lives. Public relations professionals and industry scientists will say that these people did this to themselves (see here, and here). And the curtain will draw ever downward as we forget them.

This is the tradition of nuclear forgetting.

The production sites of the Manhattan Project are being transformed into Disney theme parks of American exceptionalism; their local legacies of cancer and contamination becoming footnotes without citation sources lost amidst the museum exhibits and commemorations hailing the greatness of American science and engineering. The actual goal, and accomplishment, of destroying two cities and the hundreds of thousands of people living in them, barely receives brief mention at the end of the celebration: confirmation of the successful application of American power and justice that the victims brought upon themselves. In America we honor the memory of the architects of this mass murder, and we forget the victims.

Some of the difficulty in remembering those affected by nuclear disasters is systemic, and some is strategic. Radiation is difficult to understand. Exposure to radiation embodies what Rob Nixon describes as slow violence, “formless threats whose fatal repercussions are dispersed across space and time.”1 The slow impact of the catastrophe of nuclear disaster dislocates it from the disaster itself. The news cameras of the world were focused on the Fukushima Daiichi plants while they were exploding, but as the fallout of those plumes settled to earth, other catastrophic events drew our collective gaze elsewhere. Most health effects from exposure to radiation unfold over years and blend into the low moan of tragedies that afflict people in their personal lives, uncoupling from the events that caused them by our perception of the passage of time.

This dynamic has been useful to those promoting nuclear power, and discounting the health impacts of exposures to radiation since the advent of nuclear technologies (see here). Many of the cancers that progress out of these exposures result from the internalizing of radiological elements and then surface as ingestion cancers, such as thyroid cancer whose causation cannot be directly demonstrated on a case-by-case basis. When numbers spike, as in the case of thyroid cancers, some scientists claim that this is merely the result of more intensive screening. This manipulation of ambiguity is the bread and butter of the denial of the health effects of widely distributed radioactive particles, such as the situation facing people living downwind from the Fukushima plants. In addition to thyroid cancer, ingestion cancers that are caused by internalized particles tend to appear as lung cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer, throat cancer and cancers of other parts of the body that process what we swallow and inhale. These cancers are common and have multiple origins, allowing nuclear apologists to obfuscate the role that radiation may have played. This is strategic forgetting.

We have to do more than remember Fukushima, we have to learn how to remember Fukushima. To do this we must learn to see the impacts of radiation exposures before they become vaguely visible as cancers nestled in health population statistics (for example at Chernobyl and Hanford). Already higher than normal rates of thyroid cancer have been detected in children living in the plumes of the Fukushima explosions. But before we are reduced to arguing about numbers of attributable cancers (as at Chernobyl), we need to learn to see the larger and subtler manifestations of radiation disasters in the human community. Meanwhile, the psychological and emotional legacies of radiation exposures can be as devastating as some of the physiological impacts. Multi-generational families that are split into separate “temporary” accommodations, children that are taught they must avoid contact with nature, marriages dissolved by the conflicting financial requirements for one parent to keep a job while another takes the children away from radiological hazards, and lifelong anxiety over each illness because of uncertainty over one’s exposure all disrupt families, communities and individuals.

Hundreds of thousands of lives have been disrupted by the Fukushima disaster, leaving people who must pick up the pieces and carry on by themselves.

There is good reason to fixate on the clusterf*#k that is the remediation of the Fukushima site, and to track the ceaseless entry of radionuclides into the ocean that will continue for decades, the still lethal melted nuclear cores of the plants will need to be removed and contained (a process that will take numerous decades) and the flow of radiation into the sea will continue to effect the local ecosystem and the food chain in the Pacific Ocean. However, we should not allow our gaze to remain fixed on the nuclear plants, we must learn to see the deep wounds to society that are left to heal in darkness. We must learn to bring the whole of the population and ecosystem that suffer from radiological disasters into the light of our awareness and concerns. We must grieve for all that has been lost and we must hold government and the TEPCO Corporation responsible for assisting those whose lives have been shattered. We can demand corporate and governmental compensation and medical monitoring for those whose health and wellbeing have been compromised, for those displaced from their homes by radiation, and for those who have lost their livelihood because of the contamination and loss of public faith in the food they grow or fish they catch. We can remember all of those who have been affected. And we can learn how to understand the long, slow violence that follows behind the compelling first week of the nuclear disasters yet to come. ”

by Robert Jacobs