Why does it seem as though the nuclear crisis in Japan just keeps getting worse with each passing day? TEPCO has announced that extremely radioactive water is now leaking from reactors 1, 2, and 3 at their damaged nuclear complex. On Thursday, three workers stepped into water in reactor 3 that contained 10,000 times the normal amount of radiation. Two of the workers experienced significant radiation burns and all three were sent to the hospital. Authorities have also announced that it is very likely that the containment vessel in reactor 3 has been breached. That is extremely alarming because reactor 3 is the one that uses plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel (“MOX fuel”). So is plutonium being released into the surrounding environment? That would be absolutely catastrophic. But what we know is happening already is quite catastrophic. According to a recent NewScientist article, radioactive iodine-131 is being released at 73% of the level that it was being released at during the Chernobyl disaster. But iodine-131 only has a half-life of about 8 days. According to that same article, radioactive cesium-137 is being released at 60% of the level that it was being released at during the Chernobyl disaster. Cesium-137 has a half-life of approximately 30 years. That means that all of this cesium is going to be with us for a very, very long time.
Also, it is important to keep in mind that the Chernobyl disaster only burned for 10 days.
The damaged reactors at Fukushima are still emitting radioactive material and will probably be for quite a while.
In addition, the Fukushima complex contains a whopping 1760 tons of nuclear material.
Chernobyl only contained 180 tons.
So all those that are claiming that the Fukushima disaster could not possibly eclipse the Chernobyl disaster are completely delusional.
Most of the media coverage about the radiation coming from Fukushima in recent days has focused on radioactive iodine, but the truth is that cesium may be the greater threat over the long-term.
The recent article in NewScientist mentioned above described what happens when cesium and iodine enters the human body….
Moreover the human body absorbs iodine and caesium readily. “Essentially all the iodine or caesium inhaled or swallowed crosses into the blood,” says Keith Baverstock, former head of radiation protection for the World Health Organization’s European office, who has studied Chernobyl’s health effects.
Iodine is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid, and leaves only as it decays radioactively, with a half-life of eight days. Caesium is absorbed by muscles, where its half-life of 30 years means that it remains until it is excreted by the body. It takes between 10 and 100 days to excrete half of what has been consumed.
So how much cesium are we talking about?
Well, nobody knows for sure, but Keith Harmon Snow is estimating that each spent fuel pool at the Fukushima nuclear complex could have 24,000 times the amount of cesium that was produced by the nuclear bomb that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War 2.
That is a very frightening number if you stop and think about it.
Already there is quite a bit of evidence of cesium contamination across northern Japan.
For example, 25 miles from the Fukushima complex, one batch of a leafy green vegetable known as kukitachin was recently discovered to contain 11 times the legal limit of radioactive iodine and 82 times the legal limit of cesium.
So when the Japanese prime minister calls the situation at Fukushima “very grave and serious” he is perhaps understating things.
Unfortunately, things could become even more serious if reactor 3 starts spewing out significant amounts of plutonium.
A recent CNN article explained why reactor 3 is such a concern….
That reactor is of particular concern, experts have said, because it is the only one at the plant to use a combination of uranium and plutonium fuel, called MOX, that is considered to be more dangerous than the pure uranium fuel used in other reactors.
So why should we be concerned about MOX fuel? A recent article on the Natural News website described the potential threat this way….
Largely absent from most mainstream media reports on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is the fact that a highly-dangerous “mixed-oxide” (MOX) fuel in present in six percent of the fuel rods at the plant’s Unit 3 reactor. Why is MOX a big deal? According to the Nuclear Information Resource Center (NIRS), this plutonium-uranium fuel mixture is far more dangerous than typical enriched uranium — a single milligram (mg) of MOX is as deadly as 2,000,000 mg of normal enriched uranium.
Considering the fact that the half-life of plutonium-239 is approximately 24,000 years, perhaps we should all be taking this crisis a little more seriously.
The crisis at Fukushima is rapidly becoming the biggest nuclear disaster in history. Hopefully the authorities in Japan will quickly realize that the “Chernobyl solution” is the only solution here.
The longer that Fukushima is allowed to pump radioactive material into the environment the worse it will be for all of us. Just as with Chernobyl, there are going to be serious global health consequences from this nightmare.
The total extent of the health damage being done by Fukushima will probably never be fully known. But what we do know is that a whole lot of the radioactive material being pumped out by Fukushima will be with us for a very, very long time.