Fukushima Fear and Fallout

By:  Rebecca Terrell
Fukushima Fear and Fallout

Pundits warn that radiation from a damaged Japanese nuclear power plant could require mass exodus from the Northern Hemisphere. Should you start packing?

Scientists predict unprecedented disaster should an earthquake hit Japan and further damage the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. The facility was crippled in March 2011 when the 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake triggered violent tsunami waves, claiming almost 16,000 lives and injuring or displacing thousands of others in a catastrophe the Japanese prime minister called the “toughest and most difficult crisis” for his country since World War II.

TEPCO is still cleaning up the damage at the six Fukushima reactors, a project some say will be far more devastating than the natural disaster should anything go awry. The object of concern is spent fuel rods stored in damaged cooling stations at the plant. The rods must remain submerged in water; otherwise, they could ignite and discharge radioactive materials into the environment. Fears run rampant that another high-magnitude earthquake will drain the cooling pools completely, expose the fuel, demolish Japan, and spew lethal nuclear radiation across the globe.

“I have seen a paper which says that if, in fact, the fourth plant goes under an earthquake, and those rods are exposed, it’s ‘Bye, bye Japan,’ and everybody on the west coast of North America should evacuate,” environmentalist David Suzuki told his audience at an October 2013 University of Alberta symposium. “Now, if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.”

Some of his terrified colleagues agree and urge Northern Hemisphere evacuation in the event of further seismic damage. “If there’s another earthquake and Building 4 collapses,” said author and physician Helen Caldicott, “I’m going to evacuate my family from Boston.” She made the remark during an address sponsored by the Physicians for Social Responsibility, an anti-nuclear organization she co-founded in the 1970s. Caldicott named her native Australia a safe haven.

“It would certainly destroy Japan as a functioning country,” claimed former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen in a 2012 KGO Radio interview. “Move south of the equator if that ever happened. I think that’s probably the lesson there.”

Are these warnings realistic? Should governments be making evacuation plans for the Northern Hemisphere? Are nuclear bombs mere firecrackers in comparison to exposed fuel rods? Must we revert to the 1950s, build fallout shelters, and dust off old Duck and Cover filmstrips? Or are these predictions simply rantings of anti-nuclear agitators promoting a decades-old propaganda campaign touting a no-nuke-is-good-nuke party line and preying on the ignorance of the public about the benefits, safety, economics, and efficiency of nuclear power?

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