It's now just past a month since the Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Cataclysm, starting with "Hawaii Tsunami, Again" on March 11. I landed at Narita Airport (Tokyo) on Day 2 (March 12), and my life has been driven by what I call the Chicken and Chicken Little School of Reportage: take no chances, for the sky could fall at any time.
For example, in Day 4 I took the French Embassy's directive for their citizens to leave Japan, and somehow escaped to Beijing, China. However, China blocks out most things Google, including my personal blog site, so I edged halfway closer by flying to Seoul. On Day 12 I gained the courage to return to Tokyo. However, the radiation level in this city had doubled, so I took Japan Railway to Nagasaki.
It is here that it occurred to me that 66 years previously, atomic bombs fell, contaminating Hiroshima and Nagasaki with radioactive particles that should have made those cities uninhabitable for thousands of year. Why are we are so concerned, then, about those partially melting reactors in Fukushima, yes, now determined to be a nuclear accident level 7 disaster, the same as Chernobyl, when both cities are not only safe, but vibrant?
The atomic bomb that detonated over Hiroshima used Uranium-235, while the Nagasaki bomb had Plutonium-239. The half-life of U-235 is 700 million years, while that of Pu-239 is 24,000 years. In other words, once on the ground, they will be there for a very long time. I thus again visited both peace parks to get to the bottom of all this.
I asked for and received several pages from the Hiroshima Peace Museum regarding this issue. To quote:
"Today, the background radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the same as the average amount of natural radiation present anywhere on Earth. It is not enough to affect human health."
Part of the answer is that these bombs exploded high up in the air and all the radioactive material blew or rained away... somewhere. I guess.
But, Little Boy over Hiroshima was only about 1% efficient, so what happened to the 139 pounds of the U-235 that were particularized? From all reports, the plume dissipated over land and sea. Same for Nagasaki and the 12 pounds of Pu-239 particles. There was a slight increase of leukemia in the Nagasaki region, but no additional incidence of cancers anywhere in and around Hiroshima. Thus, contrary to any kind of logical sense, while the high altitude (1968 feet for Hiroshima and 1800 feet for Nagasaki) of the nuclear explosions immediately killed 200,000 people, these cities soon became safe, and are thriving today. I'm, actually, still wondering why.
But with respect to the relative long-term danger of nuclear power plants versus ATOMIC BOMBS, another article mentioned that there is a lot more fissionable material in the former compared to the latter. For example, a 1000 MW reactor uses 50,000 pounds of enriched uranium/year and produces 54,000 pounds of waste, which keeps accumulating, so in a 20-year period, there should be more than a million pounds of radioactive material on site. Little Boy had only 141 pounds of U-235, while Fat Man used 14 pounds of Pu-239.
Chernobyl released 200 times more radiation than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, combined. As far away as Scotland, the radiation rose to 10,000 times the norm. Frighteningly, the Fukushima reactors are said to be more dangerous than Chernobyl (Uranium-235) for two reasons: more enriched uranium, and Fukushima #3 has plutonium. At this time, the Fukushima reactors have only emitted about 10% the total radioactivity of Chernobyl, but there seems to be no soon end to this crisis.
A particularly inflammatory issue about this subject is the specter of plutonium, which is a byproduct of U-235 nuclear reactors. For one, you can make more bombs, and the Cold War is why the USA chose uranium over thorium in the 50s. However, it is reported that you can actually hold plutonium and your skin will protect you from the radiation. A key matter is that radioactivity danger is inversely proportional to the half-life of the material. Thus, a chunk of P-239, with a half-life of 24,000 years, should not be a health concern. Apparently, you can even eat it, and you should survive. In fine particles in your lung, plutonium can cause cancer.
Other radioactive products of these nuclear reactors are isotopes of iodine and cesium. Iodine-131 is particularly mentioned, because it has a half-life of eight days, and therefore very radioactive. In the sea, though, much of this material loses potency quickly, so in a hundred days, it should not be a danger to human health. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, so it is unfortunately conformed to affect our lifestyles: radioactivity is high, but safety, as such, comes only after 300 years, the time when Chernobyl is supposed to become good for human habitation. Natural accumulation of mercury already has been judged bad for your health, so you can fully expect all kinds of radioactive fears forthcoming about eating seafood, for public perception rules markets more than reality.
Further on the "peaceful" uses of nuclear, Chernobyl showed that a major nuclear power plant accident can contaminate a large region for a very long time. An area the size of Switzerland for 300 years is the case of Chernobyl. You DON'T want to click on The Children of Chernobyl. It is reported that 330,000 had to be relocated. Fukushima, being at the same highest level as Chernobyl, will mean that residents within a few miles (but how many?) will never be able to return home. Additionally keep in mind that plutonium might this time be a contaminant, and the dangerous period for this isotope is 100,000 years. But, remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki are thriving today, and it has only been 66 years.
In any case, this damning liability of nuclear fission facilities could well be the conclusive reason why there will be no new plants into the long-term future. This is why we should be afraid of Fukushima and any nuclear facility.
That should be convincing enough, but one final screw into the fission coffin is that society will simply determine that nuclear power is not worth the potential damage. Chernobyl supposedly cost Ukraine, Belarus and Russia hundreds of billions of dollars. This was greater than the revenues gained from all the nuclear power plants in those countries from the beginning of operation in 1954 to when the accident occurred. The cost of Hurricane Katrina was about $125 billion, but what can we do about hurricanes? (Actually, the Blue Revolution has a possible answer.) Something similar to Chernobyl will be true for Fukushima, as the estimated cost of damage will exceed $300 billion. When you realize that Tokyo Electric Power Company reported a net income of about $1.3 billion last year, you must get the message.
Thus, these mathematics and overwhelming preponderance of evidence should lead you to a conclusion that nuclear fission is far too risky. Yes, this combination of 9.0 earthquake, 124 foot tsunami and three partial nuclear meltdowns at the same location might not happen again. But consider that many nuclear facilities are located at the coastline in the path of a possible 200 mile/hour hurricane, and you should be worried. This is unbelievable, and really not a sensible comparison, but the energy yield of Little Boy and Fat Man together is one-fourth the energy released by an average hurricane in ONE SECOND.
Further, there are 436 nuclear plants. What if a terrorist organization or two or more managed to have one of their members hired to work in them. By now perhaps there could be several terrorists here and there plotting to cause maximum damage as insiders. There is no way to prevent these types of orchestrated mission, and the impact will be catastrophic if this reactor happened to be in the vicinity of a large population, as no doubt will be within the planning strategy of these organizations. If a Muslim, such a suicidal effort will allegedly get you and your family to Heaven, and there could be that psychotic environmentalist.
Thus, you very much should worry about Fukushima and any operating nuclear facility. The problem is that with Peak Oil and Global Warming, and now, the end of nuclear fission, is Humanity Doomed? While you ponder over those negatives,on the plus side, the Sakura blooms are at peak in Tokyo, I just returned to Hawaii and there is always hope for fusion. After all, if our Sun and all the stars use this process to provide energy, here, surely, must be the ultimate answer.
I thank my colleagues, mostly from Hawaii, for helping me craft the above summary. Click on Planet Earth and Humanity for details.