Not to put too fine a point on it, your future and the future of the planet you live on is right this very minute being determined by a capitalist corporation with a growing reputation for gross negligence, glaring ineptitude, and consorting with unapologetic gangsters that don’t even bother to candy-coat their profession. Although it wouldn’t take an awful lot of stretching to fit that description around the US Congress, the point of the accusation this time is Tepco, a.k.a. Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owners & operators of the disaster-stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
Tepco is in the process of moving more than 1500 reactor fuel rods from their precarious fourth floor perch, over 100 feet in the air. They have to be moved because the whole building they’re in, Unit 4, was partially demolished by the incidental effects of an earthquake-tsunami disaster on 2013 March 11 (a.k.a. “3/11”). The building is said to be unable to withstand another one of the major rattlings Japan periodically gets from earthquakes. In fact, considering the hydrogen explosion that blew the top off the building not long after the tsunami hit, and the subsurface damage being caused by unmanaged movement in the water table below the building since then, it’s a wonder it hasn’t collapsed already.
In an effort to create calm out of excuses for nothing but raw, screaming panic, a few days in advance of the removal tests, Tepco organized a media event to show selected public observers how perfectly under control things are at Unit 4. They cleaned all the debris out of the coolant tank and even vacuumed it until the water was a crystal clear glowing green. Everything looked just fine – too fine for rods that have been exposed to air, bathed in saltwater, and are, according to most experts who’ve commented on it, surely warped, bent, maybe stuck together, and likely to come apart in a grand apocalypse instead of out of the tank in protective casks as planned. In fact, some of the rods were known to have been damaged and unable to be removed “as planned” since long before the 3/11 disaster.
Unit 4 is the only one of the four reactor buildings at the site that hasn’t suffered a core melt-down. The other buildings are so hot that they aren’t even safe for automated machinery if it includes sophisticated electronics like computers. Tepco doesn’t want to talk about them at all, and inquiries about what’s going on inside them tend to be answered with nervous ambiguities or silent head shakes. Lacking consistent, verifiable reporting, current guesses are that the cores have melted through the containment vessels’ several inches of steel, the several feet of concrete underneath the vessels, and are now working their way down through the ground where they may be cooled a little by the water table – as it flows into the sea, which isn’t a good thing. Somewhere, somehow, something or someone someday is going to want to drink that water, or eat something that lived in it, and isn’t going to react well to the added excitement of the radiation it will be spiced with.
The problem with Unit 4 hasn’t been as spectacular as the problems with the rest of its immediate family. Unit 1 has at times emitted brilliant bursts of blue light. Unit 3 may have launched bits of plutonium high into the atmosphere when it blew the top off its reactor core. Unit 4 had been shutdown days in advance of the earthquake and subsequent tusnami, which is actually a big part of the reason it’s such a critical problem today.
When the tsunami hit, Unit 4’s spent fuel pool was full of fuel rods that normally would have been in Unit 4’s reactor. Tepco says all but 202 of the rods in the pool were “spent,” but we’ve learned not to trust too much of what Tepco says. Tepco has been caught being far less than honest and forthcoming for over 40 years. Just since the tsunami, Tepco has refused to admit that even one core meltdown had happened until the evidence was indisputable, unwilling to acknowledge that the entire Pacific Ocean was being contaminated with up to 400 tons of radioactive water per day until it couldn’t be hidden anymore, and full of patronizing assurances that the containment and clean-up were all under control every step of the way even when storage tanks routinely overfilled, generators shutdown, rats chewed through control cables, plutonium was discovered in the ground many miles from the site, and higher rises in radiation levels are reported every few weeks.
Among the many reasons Tepco has been slow and completely unable to do the right thing is its continued focus on doing whatever it takes to make a profit instead of doing whatever it takes to protect just its customers, never mind the rest of the world. There appears to be adequate excuse to accuse Tepco of still being primarily focused on salvaging as much as it can of its nuclear power operations, even those at Fukushima, where Units 5 & 6 are, like all the rest of Japan’s nuclear power generators, still idle.
About 150 miles almost due west of Fukushima on Japan’s left shore, Tepco is currently trying to restart the giant Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest complex, despite questions regarding the possible leakage, fire, and earthquake safety problems that shut it down in the first place. Japanese officials are refusing to let Tepco proceed with the restart saying that along with whatever may be wrong with Kashiwazaki Kariwa, Tepco needs to solve its problem with “institutionalized lying,” first.
Some of that lying helped hide the fact that Tepco management knew from the day the complex was built that the backup power generators at Fukushima would fail if they were ever called on to do their jobs. The engineering was inadequate and the generators themselves substandard.
At Fukushima, the working conditions for the abused laborers tasked with the clean-up get worse as time goes on, as does the quality of the work done. Many of the most experienced and most capable have been forced to leave after having received more radiation exposure than can be permitted for an entire lifetime whichever way the exposure is measured. The pay is bad, the hours long, and the whole project so subjected to unreasonable constraints that Tepco has subcontracted the tasks out to nested levels of subcontractors up to seven layers deep. Part of the excuse for the gross financial inefficiencies involved in employing all those middle men is that the system allows Tepco to hide its exposure to the staffing done by Japan’s organized crime syndicates, collectively referred to as “yakuza.” In Japan, yakuza portfolios are often used to officially sanction illegal activity, like employing people in ways and by means that the law would have a problem with if the law had to know about it.
In other words, despite the technologically ground-breaking nature of the clean-up task, Tepco isn’t overly concerned with making sure that only the best and the brightest are employed in every aspect of the work upon which the fate of Japan and possibly our planet may depend. A growing number of (desperate) experts think that Tepco should be replaced (immediately) by an international engineering group (in case it’s not already too late) with access to the trillions of dollars it will take to do the job the right way.
There is no doubt that the fuel rods, whether they’re really spent or not, need to be moved from the sketchy roost they now occupy and placed where they at least aren’t in danger of falling over 100 feet to our doom. Estimates are that the radiation resulting from a major whoops with the better than 400 tons of fuel rods could be on the order of “14,000 Hiroshimas.” One analyst says it’s “bye-bye Japan” if that happens and advises that the west coast of North America would end up having to be evacuated whether everyone gets the best anti-radiation underwear on the market, or not.
While it’s not expected that, even were the worse to happen, there would be an explosion like a nuclear bomb, any accident could be quite spectacular and ultimately fatal for hundreds of thousands, if not millions.
The question needs to be asked, why do we continue to allow nuclear power plants to exist? While Japan still incomprehensibly struggles with the idea, Germany, one of the world’s greatest industrial centers, has dedicated itself to getting rid of all of theirs. Despite the usual difficulties that accompany pioneering new paradigms, the Germans are well on their way to a sustainable future with renewable, environmentally responsible energy sources that don’t include nuclear power plants or burning carbon – and Germany has improved rather than sacrificed the German standard of living.
Yet here in the US we have otherwise remarkably coherent, reasonable people like James Hansen, a former lead NASA scientist who is often considered a hero of America’s environmental movement, championing nuclear energy. Seemingly haven forgotten our own nuclear catastrophe at Three Mile Island in 1979 and the numerous sobering near-misses at nuclear power plants all over the country during only the past two and a half years, there are climate scientists who would still like us to think that we understand the technology well enough to use it safely despite no one, anywhere, having yet come up with demonstrably effective ways to cope with the inevitable major disasters or a convincingly sane way of dealing with nuclear waste. If we understand the energy source so well, why is it that the best we can do to utilize it is simply as an extraordinarily sophisticated way to heat water?
In one of those amazing coincidences, a guy named Nobuo Fukushima founded a refrigeration company called Fukushima Industries over 60 years ago in Osaka, several hundred miles southwest of Fukushima prefecture’s coast where even now, Godzilla is doubtlessly incubating in a deep, dark cavern in the ocean, being nurtured by all that delicious radioactive cesium, strontium, & tritium, and probably plutonium & uranium as well.
For his company’s mascot, Mr. Fukushima chose an anthropomorphized egg with “a strong sense of justice,” short, stubby wings, and a grin that makes one wonder what it found in the back of Mr. Fukushima’s own refrigerator. Combining the first few letters of the founder’s name with the English word for feeling great, the mascot was named, “Fukuppy.” Anyone daring enough to blend two languages like that, especially when using Latin characters for its standard spelling, should have been alert enough to also realize the name was skirting an edge (depending on whether the ‘u’s are pronounced like Japanese “oos” or English “uhs”), but it wasn’t until the series of unfortunate events at Fukushima Dai-Ichi that the mascot’s name became most meaningfully eponymous.
In response to recent tittering, the refrigerator company issued a sincere apology, respelled Fukuppy’s name in Katakana characters, and added a more Japanese characterization. Still, all things considered, when you have a Fukuppy like that you have to ask, “What the Fukushima is wrong with people?”
Links directory (There are a lot of links in this article, but they scarcely scratch the surface. Most of the articles include links to others like them or to original sources on related aspects of the disaster. The more you dig into the problem at Fukushima, the worse it sounds. But, don’t take any writer’s word for it, get the info as close to the original sources as you can, and then find multiple original sources! The article text that the links link from is parenthesized at the end of each line. The music video links are intended add guts to the story in ways that simple reporting can’t, and the lyrics for all the tracks have their own links so you don’t miss any of that sometimes not very subtle messaging.)
- The Onion (2013 Nov 20) – Buddhist Extremist Cell Vows To Unleash Tranquility On West (your future) You’ve been warned.
- truthout / America Blog (Gaius Publius, 2013 Nov 20) – Fukushima: High-Risk TEPCO Work at Reactor 4 Has Started (moving more than 1500) Lots of great links.
- Asia Times (Viktor Kotsev, 2013 Nov 18) – TEPCO risks all at Fukushima (have to be moved) There should be an “of us” after “all” in that title. It tells how the rods are close to creating an apocalypse just sitting there. There is almost no margin for error, yet even Tepco admits they still don’t know all they should about conditions inside the pool.
- BBC (Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, 2013 Nov 08) – Fukushima’s fuel rod removal plan (selected public observers)
- Common Dreams (Andrea Germanos, 2013 Oct 24) – Fuel Removal From Fukushima’s Reactor 4 Threatens ‘Apocalyptic’ Scenario (grand apocalypse)
- Japan Today (Aaron Sheldrick, 2013 Nov 15) – Some spent fuel rods at Fukushima were damaged before 2011 disaster (unable to be removed) In other words, despite all of Tepco’s assurances and the eager echo chamber provided by global mainstream media, part of the job was known to be impossible as stated before the fuel rod removal plan was announced.
- EneNews – Fukushima reactor cores may have had “Melt Through to China Syndrome” and went into the earth itself – Includes over 1,500 pounds of plutonium (current guesses) The three short bullets in this article quickly summarize a little of the most paralyzing terror Fukushima has to offer. Hollywood can’t make up horror this good! (BTW, many experts now agree, the “may have had” in the title can drop the “may.”)
- Examiner (billy rainbow, 2011 Apr 29) – Our friend nuclear power hard at work in Fukushima, Japan (rest of its immediate family)
- RT (2013 Nov 20) – Fukushima operators begin risky nuclear fuel rod removal (202 of the rods) The brief report includes a number of interesting numbers & statistics.
- AlterNet (John LaForge, 2013 Oct 25) – Could the Entire Pacific Fishery Be Tainted by Fukushima? (entire Pacific Ocean) Note the dam(n)ed no matter what problem with the contaminated water: if it’s prevented from reaching the ocean it goes back into the ground water, but if nothing is done, it contaminates the ocean. Short of evacuating the entire watershed and using it for a nuclear waste pond, there’s nothing to be done, and even if that sizable chunk of Japan were sacrificed, there’s no guarantee that it’s possible to build the required retainer, and it sure isn’t going to get paid for by profit-centered corporations.
- Washington Post (Chico Harlan, 2013 Oct 21) – For Tepco and Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, toxic water stymies cleanup (400 tons of radioactive water per day)
- Vancouver Sun / Bloomberg (Yuriy Humber & Tsuyoshi Inajima, 2013 Oct 13) – Tepco split looms as utility lacks ability to deal with Fukushima disaster (accuse Tepco)
- RT (2013 Oct 13) – Radioactivity level spikes 6,500 times at Fukushima well (its nuclear power operations) There are several jaw-dropping quotes in this article. E.g.: “They have a thousand tanks that are held together with plastic pipe, so if there is a moderate earthquake the plastic pipes will fail and all that material will run across the ground surface and into the ocean.”
- Reuters (Antoni Slodkowski & Kentaro Hamda, 2013 Oct 28) – Tepco can’t yet be trusted to restart world’s largest nuclear plant (Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear power plant)
- Japan Times (2013 Nov 17) – Cracks in Tepco’s 3/11 narrative (despite questions) This article presents evidence that the earthquake set the meltdown sequence in action. The tsunami just provided icing for a cake that was already in the oven.
- Greg Palast Journalism and Film (Greg Palast, 2012 Mar 08) – The Fukushima story you didn’t hear on CNN (engineering was inadequate)
- Greg Palast Journalism and Film (Greg Palast, 2011 Mar 14) – Tokyo Electric to Build US Nuclear Plants (generators themselves substandard) In other articles not listed here (search for them on his site) Palast goes on to mention that the emergency generators at Fukushima were located in a way that was practically guaranteed to flood during a tsunami, and that the people who designed it that way were well aware of the problem from the get-go. And that’s just the introduction to the whole horror story behind the generators.
- Reuters (Antonio Slodkowski & Mari Sato, 2013 Oct 25) – Help wanted in Fukushima: Low pay, high risks and gangsters (abused laborers)
- Esquire (Charles Pierce, 2013 Nov 12) – The Fukushima Crisis comes to the States (quality of the work done) This one’s here to add levity to the reading. The report on the tank construction is priceless!
- Japan Times (2013 Nov 12) – Plan to lower radiation readings OK’d (exposure is measured) Perfect solution! If radiation levels are too high, just change the way the levels are measured!
- Naked Capitalism / Americablog (Yves Smith / Gaius Publius, 2013 Nov 08) – Japanese Mafia Feared in Charge of Fukushima Cleanup (hide its exposure) Along with running dialog on a spectrum of current event topics like Fukushima and a “Daily Antidote” of cute animal pictures, Naked Capitalism features a wealth of rigorous mathematical abstracts complete with charts & graphs analyzing economic issues of all kinds.
- Daily Mail UK (2013 Nov 21) – Yakuza gangsters ‘forcing homeless people to work on the Fukushima nuclear plant clear-up… who are fired once they suffer high radiation doses’ (organized crime syndicates)
- Reader Supported News (William Boardman, 2013 Nov 13) – Fukushima Funhouse Tests Technique, Predictions, Nerves (technologically ground-breaking)
- Nuclear Information and Resource Service (2013 Sep 13) – Seventeen international scientists and experts write UN Secretary General (experts think)
- Washington’s Blog (2013 Oct 30) – How to Help Protect Yourself from Fukushima Radiation (anti-radiation underwear)
- Reuters (Kiyoshi Takenaka, 2013 Nov 12) – Japan’s ex-PM Koizumi urges Abe to abandon nuclear power (Japan still incomprehensibly struggles) The most endearing thing about this report is the description of the former Japanese premier’s about-face about nuclear power. I.e., in referring to the current premier, Koizumi, he is quoted as, “What a magnificent and fantastic project it would be. He can get to use his power to utilise nature as resources. There are no other prime ministers who are as lucky as he is.”
- Grist (John Upton, 2013 Nov 07) – More nukes? Are you kidding? Enviros push back against Hansen’s call (championing nuclear energy)
- BuzzFlash / truthout (Harvey Wasserman, 2013 Nov 05) – Pro-Nuke Scientists Should Go to Fukushima (climate scientists) Some of these facts just can’t be over-emphasized.
- Common Dreams (Harvey Wasserman, 2013 Nov 11) – Pandora’s Atomic Box Score: On the Nuclear Industry’s Total Melt Down (understand the energy source) This article contains some of the only really encouraging news in the whole pile of it listed here: the general state of the nuclear energy sector’s expansion plans.
- Fukushima Industries – company history (Fukushima Industries)
- The Guardian (Justin McCurry, 2013 Oct 15) – Meet Fukuppy, the inadvertent Fukushima mascot (his company’s mascot) So Cute!!
- Fukushima Industries – On the naming of our mascot (sincere apology)
- Fukushima Industries (2013 Oct 15) – character (a more Japanese characterization)
- truthout (Kevin Zeese & Margaret Flowers, 2013 Oct 23) – A Global Threat That Deserves a Global Response (The more you dig)
- Solarstone & Clare Stagg – Jewel (YouTube, 7:15 min – TranceAddicteDz) (future of the planet) Lyrics The visuals in this video were better than other choices, but if you want plain hi-fi sound without the last few seconds cut off, you can look at a boring still image while you listen, instead.
- Euronews (2013 Nov 17) – Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant begins risky fuel rod removal (Tepco is in the process) Video includes (sort of inexact) transcript.
- Switchblade Symphony – Clown (YouTube, 5:13 min – maligno1000) (raw, screaming panic) Lyrics See? This is what it’ll do to you. The more you learn about what’s happening in Fukushima, the closer you come to being curled up in a corner, naked, drooling, and playing with your toes. You could end up like this guy.
- All Time 10s – 10 Things You Shouldn’t Know About the Yakuza (YouTube, 3:05 min – Alltime10s) (yakuza) This clip features a good tip on some great, classic artwork opportunities for your home!
- OneRepublic – Counting Stars (YouTube, 4:44 min – OneRepublicVEVO) (here in the US) Lyrics It would have been hard to deliberately write a song that does a better job of expressing the intended message here!
- Ferry Corsten feat. Jenny Wahlstrom – Many Ways (YouTube, 3:21 min – FerryCorstenVEVO) (all things considered) Lyrics This one and the first one are an attempt to bracket all the hysterically mind-numbing terror with a sense of hope. There are many ways.
- Lady Gaga – Applause (YouTube, 3:35 min – LadyGagaVEVO) (is wrong with people) Lyrics