You have seen the Japanese government’s response to the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan. Top officials have been slow to expand the exclusion zone around the Fukushima 1 and 2 Nuclear Power Plants. They have been less than forthcoming in providing information about exactly in what state the reactors in trouble are. By failing in these two critical aspects, the government of Japan is exposing your countrymen and countrywomen present in Japan, as well as the Japanese people, to mortal danger.
Partial meltdown of the reactor fuels has already occurred at three of the troubled reactors: the Unit 1, 2, and 3 reactors of the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Hydrogen explosions at Units 1 and 3 have caused the loss of their reactor containment buildings. It is impossible to say if the Japanese officials in charge, and the workers at work in Fukushima, can manage to avert the complete meltdown of one or more of the reactors that have suffered cooling system failures. Senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists Edwin Lyman warns that “Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor Units 1, 2, and 3 are boiling water reactors with Mark I containments. The Mark I is unusually vulnerable to containment failure in the event of a core-melt accident.” In the worst case scenario, according to Dr. Lyman, a radioactive plume may be dispersed hundreds of miles.
Pentagon officials reported yesterday that “helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.” Even before that, an elevated level of radiation, which Japanese officials themselves have said must have resulted from emissions from the Fukushima reactors, was detected at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant, about 120 miles away from the Fukushima plants. The 20 km-radius exclusion zone set by Japanese authorities is clearly, and tragically, inadequate.
Despite that, at a press conference today, US Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos said:
Our position that was set forth yesterday has not changed: we are encouraging U.S. citizens to heed the instructions of the Japanese civil defense authorities.
Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency has recommended that people who live within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area immediately. No other evacuations have been recommended.
However, heeding “the instructions of the Japanese civil defense authorities” will result in a grave threat to the lives of Americans in Japan for whom Ambassador Roos is responsible — the threat that the ambassador can help minimize by taking more proactive precautionary life-saving measures: take all US citizens in Japan as far away from the Fukushima reactors as possible and be ready to administer potassium iodide tablets far beyond the 20 km-radius zone; and urge the Japanese government to do the same for all — foreign residents as well as Japanese nationals — who are subject to the same threat.
The same goes for all other foreign embassy personnel present in Japan.
International media, too, have a life-saving role to play, by providing critical information. Hire Japanese-language translators, translate into Japanese what your nation’s best nuclear scientists who are not beholden to the nuclear industry have to say about Fukushima, and publish and broadcast it so the people of Japan can understand what needs to be done.
From the beginning of the Great East Japan Earthquake, I have followed Japanese-language media closely, to see what they have to say about Japan’s nuclear reactors. It is clear that the Japanese people were under a virtual information blockade, regarding the severity of the problems and their potential health consequences, due to the Japanese media’s failure to challenge their government’s lack of transparency and accountability. The possibility of a complete meltdown was frequently raised in international media from Day 1, but the Japanese media were silent on the worst case scenario at least for the first 24 hours. That information blockade has begun to be breached, especially since the explosion at Unit 1 of Fukushima 1, but even now the Japanese media’s performance is woefully inadequate. More can and must be done to inform the public. Tell the Japanese what they need to know to save as many lives as possible in the event of a complete meltdown. It’s in your power to do that.
Yoshie Furuhashi, born in Japan, is Editor of MRZine.