I'm having a panic attack. I just became aware of something that is happening on the globe, up the road, so to speak, and I think we should all be on high alert, build shelters and buy heaps of baked beans.
Could we be perched on the brink of an unthinkable catastrophe? If so, it would be hard to comprehend why no one has warned us or at least explained the danger and handed out brochures telling us what to do in the event of this potential disaster movie coming to a real-life-town near you. It might be why our leaders all seem to be very quiet on this issue. They certainly aren't issuing watch-and-see cautions or duck-and-cover cautions or catch-the-next shuttle- to-Mars cautions. Maybe climate change and environmental issues are not high on the agenda because it's too late. We're all screwed so let's just make hay while the sun still shines. Business as usual.
But in the coastal town of Fukushima in Japan there is a massive, angry carbuncle on our planet that is leaking toxic pus into our oceans and if that's not bad enough, now there is a looming possibility that it's about to spill the rest of its detritus into our oceans and atmosphere.
The 2011 damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has left the place broken and leaking approximately 300 tonnes of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean every day. Holy Fukushima Batman. 300 tonnes every day. That's horrifying. Radioactive caesium doesn't sink to the floor of the ocean so fish must swim through it, ingesting it, having it wash through their gills. Blue-fish tuna caught along the Californian coast have been found to have elevated levels of radioactive caesium which can be traced back to Fukushima. Not some of those tested, but all of them. Miso glazed and seared tuna steaks are off the menu for me now!
The tidal plume that sweeps from Japan to the West Coast of America is promising to deliver this pernicious, radio-active souvenir, along with an island of floating tsunami debris the size of Texas that stalks through the Pacific like a colossal Oscar the Grouch. The plume is predicted to arrive at Oregon, Washington State and Canada early in 2014 and peak in 2016. This migration will continue through North and South America, Hawaii and eventually Australia over a period of decades.
In Japan, the area around Fukushima is already permanently uninhabitable and most objective scientists have agreed that a much greater land mass in Japan should also have been evacuated. But this isn't just about Japan.
This has the potential to present us with a blockbuster, planet-wide, horror show because as early as next week TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, will begin an attempt to clean-up and stabilise the joint. That's a good thing, right? From what I am reading, not necessarily. First of all, TEPCO, has a history of acting like a bull in a china shop and in this case it would be a bull in a china shop where the china is radioactive and so much as a tiny crack could set in motion a series of cascading effects leading to...nuclear meltdown or an explosion. One would see a relatively gradual death of our planet the other might herald it in a little faster.
The plant has been damaged by natural disaster and eroded by the elements after sea water was used for cooling the reactor. A recovery mission of 1300 fuel rods weighing up to 400 tonnes, resembles the game of drawing sticks except in this instance a damaged or 'short' stick will spell disaster. These huge, delicate, fragile, devastatingly dangerous giant musk sticks must be removed by manually operated remote-control, from a gigantic above-ground pool. There is no way of knowing the extent of damage to the rods until they are lifted out.. A salvage mission within such a damaged structure has never been attempted before. I'm nervous.
The radioactive material inside the plant in Fukushima is precarious, having been held together with little more than sticky tape and glue for two years. Another quake, even a relatively mild quake, could destabilize the place again with catastrophic consequences. There will be up to 12,000 workers being rotated to minimize radiation exposure. Many of these workers will be inexperienced, marginalized and desperate people. Reports are coming from insiders that many workers have been forced into these dangerous jobs by the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, an organisation with strong ties to the nuclear industry. If the exposure to high levels of radiation is not enough of a menace to this clean-up operation, there is the little matter of the place jiggling like a Tetley tea-bag every few months. One more quake and the whole thing could come undone. I'm more than nervous.
TEPCO, to date, has been about as transparent as the Berlin Wall. After the 2011 quake, they said, no problem, everything's hunky dory here. It turned out it wasn't and it isn't. They are down-playing the risks this time, too. Either we need to send some independent nuclear physicists from around the world to supervise this clean up or I'm off to Woolworths for crates of water, cans of everything but tuna and a one way ticket to Tasmania.
When I went to the beach on the week-end and waded through a sludge of dead birds who'd died en route from Japan, I had to wonder if it was merely a portent or something more sinister. Either way, it freaked me out. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie with documentary overtones.