Writer goes nuclear: Throwing a pebble into a polluted pond

The rhetoric will be decisive, and the point of this article made explosively clear. The goal of these incendiary words is to rattle around your heads far louder than fallout alarms; that somehow letters can make the world hear what convenience has made unheard. I throw into the pond a pebble, the story of the reactor meltdown at Fukushima, in simple hope that while we have ignored a reactor falling into the sea, someone might notice a pebble being tossed.

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the island nation on Japan and sent a shock through the world both literally and physically: the island reportedly moved several inches from its foundations. Part of this shock, though, was in fact a nuclear one. At the onset of the disaster, newspapers had not yet lost their tongue or perhaps their nerve, and it rang clearly over the airwaves that there were serious issues with the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Over the next couple days, it became known that the tsunami had made the reactor unable to keep the nuclear fuel rods running the plant stable. The cooling systems failed, and heating and melting not only the fuel rods but also more than 115 fuel rods that were decommissioned and waiting for disposal. Without the water to keep them cool, radioactive material began to leak from the plant with an initial dispersal of at least 20 percent of the impact created by Chernobyl. That was day one of a disaster that till this day has yet to fully be contained.

Surprisingly, it took until 2013 for the Japanese government to begin to remove the spent fuel rods out of the containing pools hanging in the top of the fourth reactor. This process lasted until Dec. 20, 2014 when the New York Times reported that all the 115 spent fuel rods had finally been removed to another containing pool on the plant’s grounds. But the human race doesn’t actually know how to neutralize nuclear materials, we just stick it somewhere out of the way and let it sit. Out of sight is out of mind thought Japanese officials in the wake of the Fukushima accident, not only in the cavalier “disposal” of the radioactive material, but also in the more than 100,000 families that had to be evacuated from the area.

However, the clean up is not through yet. Experts still have no idea of the conditions of the fuel rods in Reactors One and Three on the site, and furthermore have no idea how to remove the radioactive material. Best plans at the moment include sealing the entire contraption in a concrete sarcophagus much like what was done with Chernobyl.   

The difference between the two is that people actually cared about Chernobyl. It could take decades more to fully clean up the Fukushima accident, as well as hundreds of billions more dollars just to stop the current leak of radioactive material. This leak is made all the more complicated to stop because someone with infinite wisdom built the reactor on top of a large amount of groundwater. This groundwater collects the radioactive runoff, and it is yet unknown if some of the radioactive rods have burned through the bottom of the reactors and now sit cooling themselves in this same aquifer. This would be scary enough if not for physics deciding to get involved. The groundwater necessarily flows into a nearby bay, and then into the ocean. The end result is four years worth of radioactive fallout not only being carried across the world in air currents, but also poured out into the world’s ocean. No concrete evidence has been linked to this, but radiation is detected in dead whales on the West Coast in far larger quantities than it was before the incident, additionally all manner of marine organisms on the West Coast have been dying inexplicably. It may be a stretch to claim this as the work of the Fukushima disaster, but with decades more of leaking water, the possibility becomes far more real.

With such slow cleanup processes, and, at best, dodgy recognition of the situation, it is no wonder the story of Fukushima hasn’t merited the long monotonous war drums that media tends to lend to top stories. The story continues to unfold while even now the United States pushes to expand nuclear efforts. The costs of Chernobyl in one day counteracted all benefits it ever gave and the same is likely to be Fukushima, yet we still don’t seem to get it. Perhaps it will take a hundred more reactors to make people care and take action against nuclear energy. Perhaps though, it will only take one well placed pebble, a couple ripples, and a writer gone nuclear; maybe then, the world will notice the toxic water at it’s feet.

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