Sushi with Wasabi and a Geiger Counter: Fukushima’s Fallout
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and TEPCO represent problems of a new magnitude, existential problems that have been building for decades and now near a tipping point. Together they symbolize one of the clearest immediate large-scale threats to humanity in the history of our species.
Dr. Graves warned of the risks when he said, “…for the future of mankind may rest upon man’s ability to extricate himself from living within the American Ways of Life, those states for existence which come to be when the E-R the selfishly independent system of human behavior begins to emerge [they are d-q/E-R, E-R, E-R/d-q, and e-r/F-S]…No states of existence, prior to these five, have given man more power over the physical universe, more verifiable knowledge or a greater increase in his material welfare than have they. But no states are more certain to pave the way for man’s demise than these five unless we can move, at least the leadership of man, beyond these states where man believes that the epitome of human living lies somewhere with one or some of the E-R states of existence.” These ways of life are not exclusive to the U.S.A.
In differentiating the G-T (or A’-N’) level, he spoke of a shift from a perspective of abundance, one wherein mankind’s technologies could solve any problems we might create for ourselves, to one of scarcity. By that he did not mean lack; he meant recognition of finiteness within the status quo. Most conventional resources are limited; many are not renewable. Thus, thinking at the seventh level and beyond incorporates the need to sustain the living system rather than to exploit and pollute it mercilessly for short-term gains. Even sustainability is not enough. If the most recent data about human influence on climate change hold up, it comes clear that we must do more that to stop fouling our nest, or even trying to restore balance. It’s too late for those; we must begin to repair, renew, and restore if we are to survive.
Dealing with Fukushima is immediate; and consequences of failing to do so well can extend beyond the climate change cycle. To fix this will take more than corporate or even national-level efforts. It will require massive global thinking and actions on behalf of the planetary commons. We learned the destructive power of nuclear energy in Japan with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts which loosed a terrible legacy on the world. Then began our illusion of “taming” the nuclear genie and creating cheap power instead of devastation. That illusion was proven foolish with the Chernobyl disaster. Now comes Fukushima, already a disaster followed with the potential for catastrophe, again in Japan.
At present the corporation that “owns” the plant (TEPCO) is planning a clean-up. They intend to remove spent fuel and drag parts from the damaged reactors. The risks are astronomical, and their track record is abysmal. From the initial location and design to a series of blunders after the tsunami damaged the facility, TEPCO has proven incapable of recognizing, much less handling a global danger of this magnitude. If their technicians make a mistake during this round of ultra-high-stakes pick-up-sticks, we’re talking about contaminating the northern Pacific ocean and, if things go worse, sending a radioactive plume many times more lethal than Chernobyl around the northern hemisphere. They’ve already allowed massive amounts of radiation to spill into the ocean with more oozing out of the wobbling plant every day. Now they envision dismantling the mess and somehow moving the killer leftovers somewhere else.
This task is beyond any company. It is most likely beyond the capabilities of the nation of Japan, and industrial juggernaut whose broken powerhouse has the capacity to poison an ocean, its ecosystem, and millions of humans for decades. With half-lives from years to decades to millennia – admittedly little time in terms of the earth’s geologic history – these nuclear products will be effecting us and our heirs for a very long time in human terms. Containing them is urgent, and critical in every sense.
We remain astonished that there is not a coordinated global initiative to deal with Fukushima, and relatively little public attention to it. Many nations have a stake in this disaster management scenario, not just Japan. China, Korea, Russia, the U.S., Canada, Europe – who are all unwitting stakeholders. By extension, the southern hemisphere would be impacted by an influx of refugees – remember Gregory Peck in Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach? The problems F- and G- would be like none seen before.
Yet we continue to leave a clumsy, sometimes heroic but also naive, company with the future habitability of a large swath of earth in its hands. This is a G-level problem – the living system as we know it is at stake. Leaving solutions in the E-R planners who created it is foolish. The F-level problems of displaced populations and lifestyle changes are before us. The systemic consequences to the entire ecology on the northern Pacific and adjacent landmasses scream of G-level complexity. And thus the imperative to recognize the need for -S and even -T-level collaborative intervention that transcends corporatism, nationalism, face-saving and budget balancing. The best nuclear, engineering, and systems brains on the planet need to come together to tackle this. Resources and expertise should be overwhelming the docks, the airports, and hotels of Japan today in a multinational effort for containment. Yet governments like ours in the U.S. remain stuck in the typical E-R model of waiting for invitations and getting diverted by domestic hyper-partisan politics while the sky is cracked and near to falling over a hemisphere.
Fukushima is cooking. And TEPCO is getting ready to start trying to fix it in a matter of weeks. Based on performance thus far, they are neither equipped nor qualified. The risks from a mistake or dropped fuel assembly are astronomical. Huge radiation leaks, even nuclear explosions, are possible. Because of the sheer volume of spent fuel, as well as radioactive cores in fractured vessels, a breakdown could release unimaginable harm to the ocean and the air. TEPCO is rushing because the nuclear clock is ticking while the physical plant continues to deteriorate and earthquake faults wait to send it to further meltdown or eruption. Rushing makes for mistakes.
Anyone with an interest in the future needs to start pushing politicians and social influencers – “the leadership of man” per Graves’s quote – to take action immediately. The U.S. government, among others, owes the people far more information about this crisis than it has been providing. Search the web and get a sense of how dire the situation is from people like Arnie Gundersen and Helen Caldicott. Look up Fukushima and the dangers inherent in this much radioactive fuel lying in fragile water pools. More E-R alone will not solve this problem; it caused it. This is a time to begin waking up to the realities of F- and G- because putting our heads in the sand won’t save our butts from radiation. Fukushima is as real as it gets. For those who remember “duck and cover” of the Cold War, it’s time to change the batteries in those old Civil Defense Geiger counters because we may soon need to check our nagiri for more than freshness.