2016: Nuclear Disasters

Fukushima: 2011-03-11  -   2016-03-11
The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Volume 14 | Issue 6 | Number 3, March 15, 2016

Nuclear Disasters:
A Much Greater Event Has Already Taken Place

Robert Stolz

Koide Hiroaki has dedicated his career to preventing a nuclear disaster in Japan. That disaster has now happened. As we learn in this wide-ranging and important interview, the accident often referred to as 3/11 was enormous and in many ways unprecedented. The full scope of the disaster is still unknown, but is clearly on the scale of Chernobyl, placing the amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere possibly up to 1,000 times the Hiroshima bombing of 1945. Professor Koide's reporting in his many books, interviews, and radio programs is essential reading for anyone wishing to learn the nature and extent of the radiological event of March 2011 and beyond. But early in the interview we learn something else. For while in ways unprecedented, 3/11 is also a part of a historical series of nuclear exposures from the Trinity test in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, to the Castle-Bravo Lucky Dragon Incident of 1954, to Semipalatinsk, to Chernobyl, and to the next sure-to-happen event.1 In fact, while it is clear that the urgent social, political, and medical task right now is the acute contamination of land, air, sea, and bodies by the Fukushima dai-ichi meltdowns, as Prof. Koide says, as bad as Fukushima is, "a much greater event has already taken place." His immediate reference is the enormous amount radioactive material released in the atmospheric testing from 1945 to 1980.2

Though many decades in the past, these radioactive releases at the height of the Cold War continue to contaminate the entire globe. Originally, huge amounts of radioactive material, several times greater than Chernobyl or Fukushima, were released into the air and dispersed by the prevailing winds and jet stream before falling on the oceans and land contaminating huge areas of the earth-especially in the main test sites in the South Pacific, the US West, and Kazakhstan. But some of this released material breached the tropopause, the soft barrier between the troposphere and the stratosphere, escaping the troposphere before becoming trapped aloft in the stratosphere. Recently it has been discovered that major spring thunderstorms-and notably the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland- regularly rise high enough to breach the tropopause. Radioactive particles, mostly plutonium and Cesium-137, now decades old, attach to the storms and fall back to earth as a fresh contamination of material from atmospheric testing.  As prof. Koide points out this means that the entire earth has been and continues to be exposed to radiation from these tests. Following the widely accepted model of radiation exposure as damaging at all levels-the linear, no threshold model (LNT)-it follows that this exposure led to a rise of damage to global health, especially childhood thyroid cancer, leukemia, and other health effects.3

But 3/11 is not only one in a series of radiation contaminations dating back to the birth of the atomic age. These nuclear disasters are also part of a larger historical series of toxic events dating back to the birth of the industrial age. Prof. Koide himself notes the parallels of his own work with the Japanese anti-pollution activist Tanaka Shōzō's (1841-1913) fight against the pollution of the Watarase and Tone rivers north of Tokyo by the Ashio Copper Mine in the 1890s. Fukushima must be seen in the context of these other toxic events,  ....

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