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Thursday, 31 March 2011

Information supply Fukushima Daiichi: All smoke and mirrors in the best David Copperfield style.

If you follow the news on a day-to-day basis, you wonder about the quality of the information supply for Fukushima Daiichi, the nuclear power plant in distress.

A few days after the earthquake and the tsunami, just when the problems in Fukushima had begun, you could think as a layman: this situation is all new here; it makes sense that nobody knows what exactly went wrong and what is going on now.

But today it is almost three weeks ago that the nuclear disaster started and the information supply of Tepco and the Japanese government starts to remind me of a good old-fashioned magic show of David Copperfield. It is all smoke and mirrors, as you don’t know:
-     What the situation in the reactors of Fukushima Daiichi is currently?
-     How lethal the amount of radiation is that is present there?
-     If this 15 mile safety zone (20 km) that the Japanese government is keeping up is sufficient or if it is a total laugh, endangering the people of cities and villages that live within the 30 mile zone?
-     How polluted and poisonous the ocean surrounding the nuclear reactor is and how far this polluted zone stretches?
-     How many people are now working in the danger zone and consequently are sentenced to death?
-     How lethal the fuel rods are that are used up and are lying in the “swimming pools” or what is left of it?
-     What Tepco and the Japanese government are planning to do now: covering the reactors up or not?

And that is not only a shame, but a total disgrace.

Although it is 25 years ago, I remember from the Chernobyl days that after the initial phase where the Soviets tried to cover everything up, they were quite helpful and open in sending information about the disaster (if my memory serves me well). As a matter of fact, I believe this extraordinary event helped to create the détente between Michail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, thus ending the cold war a few years later.

But the Japanese government and Tepco officials, after a promising start with “glasnost” (total disclosure) on the events at Fukushima, have been spreading all kinds of disinformation about the situation at Fukushima Daiichi. It might have to do with their fear for loss of face or future claims, but it is bad anyway.

I show here most of the newsflashes that were published during the last ten days (March 31 – 21) in the Financial Times alone (beware: some links refer to the subscription site of FT):

-   Plutonium in Fukushima soil

-   Tepco chief falls ill as share slide persists

-   Q&A: Changing pattern of radiation risk

-   Radioactive flood in Japan reactor tunnels

-   Tepco chief spent week secluded in office

-   New radiation fears at Japan plant

-   Radiation fears rise at Japan crisis plant

-   Safety risks were played down, says expert

-   Tepco reactor core may be breached, says nuclear agency

-   New leak fears in Japan reactor zone

-   More Japanese crew exposed to radiation

-   Tokyo, the water effect - another day, another scare

-   Japan sees progress on nuclear plant

-   More on that 100,000-year 'tail risk'

-   Japan nuclear crisis eases amid food fears

Although this is really a lot of news, in itself this is good: This is the internet age and if we don’t have news about a subject, we create it.Therefore you can expect that there will be more news available than in the days of Chernobyl.

Where it turns out bad, is when news is spread that is more like propaganda and especially when it contains blatant lies. I’ve taken out some of the most telling snips of three articles to make my point:

Safety risks were played down, says expert (
When Tokyo Electric Power’s crippled nuclear power plant was plunged into crisis two weeks ago, Masataka Shimizu, the company’s president, placed the blame squarely on Mother Nature: the 14-metre tsunami that knocked out its safety systems had, he said, been “bigger than our expectations”.
But Tepco’s expectations are now under scrutiny amid revelations that just two years ago one of the country’s senior seismologists repeatedly highlighted the possibility of a huge tsunami in the area of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which is now spewing radioactivity into its surroundings.
At safety review meetings convened by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency that were attended by Tepco officials, seismologist Yukinobu Okamura warned that research called into question the assumptions underpinning the plant’s design.

If I read this article, I do that, knowing that people often want to close their eyes for bad luck and risks with a very slim chance of occurring. Especially when it is extremely expensive or difficult to mitigate those risks. I am a software tester, so mitigation of risk is my everyday business.

But don’t give me then the blubberer’s story that “nobody could see this coming”. It is the same bullsh*t that we heard in the early days of the credit crisis from the pundits that were in charge.
TEPCO says plutonium found on quake-damaged plant grounds (
Some plutonium found in soil on the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant may have come from its earthquake-damaged reactors, but it poses no human health risk, the plant's owners reported Monday.

The element was found in soil samples taken March 21-22 from five locations around the plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company told CNN late Monday. The company said it was equivalent to the amounts that fell on Japan following aboveground nuclear weapons tests by other countries in past decades.
"It is not a health risk to humans," the company said. But it added, "Just in case, TEPCO will increase the monitoring of the nuclear plant grounds and the surrounding environment."

What is “no human health risk” in case of plutonium. According to Wikipedia, the story that it is the most poisonous substance on earth is indeed exaggerated. However, I read more than once that a portion of 80 microgram, breathed in, gives a 100% chance of a lethal lung cancer. And as plutonium has a weight of 19.8 grams per cc, you can calculate that 80 microgram of plutonium is 0,000004 cc.

You can bet that more than this tiny, tiny amount is found on the fields and built-up areas surrounding the nuclear power plant. Everybody that saw the explosions around the nuclear power plant knows this. 

But you are right: plutonium is very heavy (20 times as heavy as water) and yes, the chance that you breath it in directly as airborne dust is very small. But would you let your children play in a field or playground contaminated with plutonium? Or would you as a farmer like to plough the fields where the plutonium is found, spreading it into the air? And then I don’t even talk of the background radiation that the plutonium spreads just by being there.

This makes this statement of Tepco a blatant lie and a very perverse one.

Japan says makes progress in nuclear crisis (
Japan saw some success in its race to avert disaster at a tsunami-damaged power plant, though minor radiation leaks underlined perils from the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Three hundred engineers have been battling inside a danger zone to salvage the six-reactor Fukushima plant since it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that also killed 7,653 people and left 11,746 more missing in northeast Japan.
The unprecedented multiple crisis will cost the world's third largest economy nearly $200 billion and require Japan's biggest reconstruction push since post-World War II.
It has also set back nuclear power plans the world over.
Encouragingly for Japanese transfixed on work at the Fukushima complex, the most critical reactor -- No. 3 which has highly toxic plutonium -- stabilized after fire trucks doused it for hours with hundreds of metric tons of water.

I think in ten years we will come to the conclusion that all stories about Tepco’s successes in cooling down the four reactors of Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 have all been a bunch of lies. Time will teach us probably that the only way to go with the nuclear power plant was the Chernobyl way. This is my opinion and I can’t proof it, but it is what I stand for.

Every day that the reactors are heating-up themselves and are (nearly) melting, is a day of more radiation and more pollution of the surroundings and the oceans near Fukushima Daiichi. It is impossible to cool those reactors down sufficiently and it will proof impossible to dismantle them within 30 years (like I read today). The people that are working there will die in a matter of weeks, months or maybe a few years. That is the sad truth, as far as I’m concerned.

The best thing those heroes at Fukushima can do, is putting a concrete sarcophagus around the reactors and pray that that will hold until the end of times. And put a high fence around a perimeter of 30 miles from the power plant, warning potential visitors to stay the hell away.

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