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Saturday, March 19, 2011

For the media, nuclear catastrophe cannot hope to compete with a Muslim boogeyman
Posted by Jill | 8:20 AM
Isn't it peculiar how our news media cannot seem to cover two major news stories at once? Besides, how can nuclear catastrophe, which is SO last week, hope to compete with the latest Muslim boogeyman-du-jour? Especially when one thing makes General Electric look really, really bad, and the other, in the context of a revived so-called war on terror, stands to make the company (a major defense contractor) a whole bunch of money.

So while the talking heads of the news have been diverted to the shiny new bauble of an expanded war in the middle east, we are starting to learn just how bad the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant really is (photos can be seen at linked article):

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency admitted that the disaster was a level 5, which is classified as a crisis causing 'several radiation deaths' by the UN International Atomic Energy.

Officials said the rating was raised after they realised the full extent of the radiation leaking from the plant. They also said that 3 per cent of the fuel in three of the reactors at the Fukushima plant had been severely damaged, suggesting those reactor cores have partially melted down.

After Tokyo Electric Power Company Managing Director Akio Komiri cried as he left a conference to brief journalists on the situation at Fukushima, a senior Japanese minister also admitted that the country was overwhelmed by the scale of the tsunami and nuclear crisis.

He said officials should have admitted earlier how serious the radiation leaks were.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said: 'The unprecedented scale of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, frankly speaking, were among many things that happened that had not been anticipated under our disaster management contingency plans.

'In hindsight, we could have moved a little quicker in assessing the situation and coordinating all that information and provided it faster.'

Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the crisis' severity.

It is now officially on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. Only the explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 has topped the scale.

Deputy director general of the NISA, Hideohiko Nishiyama, also admitted that they do not know if the reactors are coming under control.


Meanwhile, workers at the devastated power station are continuing their desperate battle to prevent a complete meltdown which some fear could be as bad as Chernobyl.

The latest pictures show a whole wall missing from the building housing reactor number four. Inside, a green crane normally used to move spent fuel rods into the storage pool can be seen. Underneath the crane, but not seen in the picture, is the 45ft-deep spent fuel storage pool which has boiled dry.

Officials at Fukushima are rapidly running out of options to halt the crisis. Military trucks are spraying the reactors for a second days with tons of water arcing over the facility.

Engineers are trying to get the coolant pumping systems knocked out by the tsunami working again after laying a new power line from the main grid.

And they today admitted that burying reactors under sand and concrete - the solution adopted in Chernobyl - may be the only option to stop a catastrophic radiation release.

It was the first time the facility operator had acknowledged burying the sprawling 40-year-old complex was possible, a sign that piecemeal actions such as dumping water from military helicopters or scrambling to restart cooling pumps may not work.

'It is not impossible to encase the reactors in concrete. But our priority right now is to try and cool them down first,' an official from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, told a news conference.

But some experts warned that even the concrete solution was not without risks.

'It's just not that easy,' Murray Jennex, a professor at San Diego State University in California, said when asked about the so-called Chernobyl option for dealing with damaged reactors, named after the Ukrainian nuclear plant that exploded in 1986.

And for those who claim that people exposed to radiation at Chernobyl were not harmed because they weren't fried instantly, there's this:
The risk of thyroid cancer among people who were exposed as children to the nuclear fallout at Chernobyl has not declined nearly 25 years after the disaster, said a study released on Thursday in the United States.

The National Institutes of Health-led study examined more than 12,500 people who were under 18 at the time of the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986, and who lived near the accident site in one of three parts of Ukraine.

Each person's thyroid radioactivity levels were measured within two months of the accident, and they were screened for thyroid cancer four times, beginning as early as 12 years after the disaster and continuing for 10 years.

Sixty-five of those in the study were diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

When researchers examined the cancer risk in relation to how much exposure to radioactive iodine-131 (I-131) each person received, they found a two-fold increase for each additional gray, an international unit of absorbed radiation.

“The researchers found no evidence, during the study time period, to indicate that the increased cancer risk to those who lived in the area at the time of the accident is decreasing over time,” said the study.

Overall, the “clear dose-response relationship, in which higher absorption of radiation from I-131 led to an increased risk for thyroid cancer... has not seemed to diminish over time,” it said.

As for the area around the plant itself? Here's what it looks like today.

But where's the sexy story potential of the possibility of a sizable part of the world's third largest economy becoming uninhabitable for generations when compared to the delicious prospect of whipping Peter King into a frenzy over yet another Middle Eastern dictator?

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