Official Chest-thumping No Solution for Radiation Scare
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 17, 2011
Summary: The Japanese government has announced that the level of radiation in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Number One is too high. Therefore all plant personnel will be evacuated. This is tantamount to a declaration that the plant is being abandoned. This means that the disaster may worsen. The amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere has reportedly increased. When it comes to fighting enemies, we must anticipate the worst, and prepare for the worst. This must be our basic attitude, When it comes to radioactive materials, the public naturally wants to believe the government's assurances that "Everything is fine!" But the government cannot merely thump its chest. If it does, it may soon find its back to the wall.
Full Text below:
The Japanese government has announced that the level of radiation in the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Number One is too high. Therefore all plant personnel will be evacuated. This is tantamount to a declaration that the plant is being abandoned. This means that the disaster may worsen. The amount of radioactive material released into the atmosphere has reportedly increased.
When the earthquake first occurred, officials in charge assured the public more than once that radioactive contaminants would not leak from the power plant. The power plant experienced a series of hydrogen gas explosions. But Japanese officials insisted that "hydrogen gas explosions are not nuclear explosions," therefore were no danger to public health. Only when the situation deteriorated, did they admit that radioactive materials had leaked. Only then did they enlarge the evacuation zone. The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan withdrew to a position off the coast of Fukushima, highlighting the severity of the radiation leakage. Rescue helicopters flew through clouds to reach the affected areas. Upon their return, crew members and helicopter fuselages revealed clear signs of radiation exposure. The radiation leaks cannot be minimized.
Nuclear energy officials on Taiwan have remained tight-lipped about whether radioactive fallout would reach Taiwan. All they have been willing to say is that they probably will not, that the fallout will be diluted, that winds over Japan are currently blowing from the west, and that "They absolutely will not reach Taiwan." In short, they think there is virtually no risk. But the public remains skeptical of such official assurances. They have stopped buying oysters, scallops, Aomori apples, and Fukushima peaches from Miyagi Prefecture. They even have doubts about dairy products, which have yet to feel the impact on the food chain. Ordinary people who would normally visit the night markets on Taiwan, now prefer to avoid the radiation. For them "It is safer to stay at home." As a result, business has fallen roughly thirty percent.
This is not because the public entertains stereotypes about officials who thump their chests and offer loud assurances. It is because the hazards of radiation are cumulative, and increase geometrically. They accumulate in the body. They harm not just the current generation. Genetic mutations are passed on to the next generation as well. When confronting disaster, we must anticipate the worst, and prepare for the worst. We cannot simply hope that winds will blow the contaminants out over the Pacific Ocean and dilute the fallout. Such assurances are little more than asking for Buddha's blessing.
In April of last year the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted. Volcanic ash reached Asia and the Americas. That was because the volcanic ash reached the stratosphere. It was caught by jet streams and carried along. The smoke and dust discharged from Fukushima failed to reach such altitudes. Tropospheric transport is unstable. Officials are attempting to defuse public panic. They claim that "Currently the winds are from the west. The U.S. may need to be careful. But Taiwan is all right!" Such rhetoric reveals a lack of understanding. Wind direction is subject to abrupt changes in atmospheric pressure and altitude. Currently the winds over Japan's earthquake-stricken areas are no longer from the west.
The government is hoping for favorable winds. It has set up monitors at the three nuclear power plants on Taiwan, and at 50 other locations. It intends to monitor radiation doses and to post the results on the Internet, It will provide the public with real-time information. This is a progressive measure. It will enable the public to immediately grasp the situation regarding radiation pollution. We approve. But such measures are reactive. The choice of monitoring locations was subjective. They should have been studied in greater depth. Radioactive materials do not remain in the air. With rain, they enter the soil, water, plants, and the food chain. People eating fruits and vegetables, dairy products, meat, and fish may ingest radioactive materials. This is not something monitoring radiation doses in the atmosphere can guard against. Besides, suppose the radiation detected reaches dangerous levels? What are we suppose to do then? Besides evading and covering up problems, what has the government done?
People want to believe the government's assurances that "Everything is fine!" But they must first witness the government take concrete actions. Consider the 1986 Japanese response to the release of radioactive material during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26 the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred. First, the Japanese government confirmed that the disaster was serious, Then it established, for the very first time, a Disaster Prevention and Countermeasures Headquarters, directly answerable to the Prime Minister. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, universities, research institutions, scientific research institutions, the military, and NGOs were all mobilized. All of Japan, including land, sea, air, water, soil, and living organisms, were categorized and thoroughly monitored.
Monitoring continued for one month. It confirmed traces of radioactive contamination. Nuclear energy officials were joined by experts in public health, nuclear medicine, and environmental medicine. All participated in the survey, signed the investigation report, and adjourned the task force. Concrete and responsible action enabled the Japanese to believe in the government's findings.
International nuclear authorities have classified the Fukushima nuclear disaster as a Level Six "Serious Accident," second only to Chernobyl. This implies a serious leak of radioactive materials. This means that contingency plans must be initiated. The United Nations IAEA is planning an emergency meeting next week. It will discuss measures to combat the continuous increase of radioactive materials. It has adopted a cautious attitude regarding Japan's nuclear disaster. This contrasts sharply with our own government's smugly confident attitude. Premier Wu Den-yih put it well when he said we must not be overconfident in our predictions.
When it comes to fighting enemies, we must anticipate the worst, and prepare for the worst. This must be our basic attitude, When it comes to radioactive materials, the public naturally wants to believe the government's assurances that "Everything is fine!" But the government cannot merely thump its chest. If it does, it may soon find its back to the wall.