The World’s Worst Meltdown
By photojournalist Kenji Higuchi of Tokyo
The greatest earthquake in Japan’s history (Richter 9.0) struck the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. A devastating tsunami followed. An early count of the dead and missing numbered 20,000, and the number is rising. Japan’s major power company –The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) – owns the 6 reactors damaged during the blackout that followed the quake and tsunami. Without electricity, the emergency core cooling systems for the reactors failed. Back-up generators and batteries kicked in, but they soon failed as well. The result is the world’s worst nuclear accident. And it is not over yet.
Everybody knows that earthquakes bring tsunamis. But TEPCO failed to fully integrate this knowledge into its systems. And after its cooling systems failed, TEPCO insisted that a hydrogen gas explosion would never happen. But on March 12 the world saw the huge explosion in Reactor 1; it saw another explosion in Reactor 3 the next day; two days after that it saw a third hydrogen gas explosion rock Reactor 2. And Reactor 4, with its fires and damaged spent fuel pool, is in a critical state. Yet even now, every day, we have to listen to people calling this catastrophe “beyond expectations” – academics do it, intellectuals do it, journalists and financiers do it. They do it because they get paid for promoting nuclear power. Whenever these pro-nuclear people appear in the media, I find them scarier than the earthquake and tsunami combined. This accident was not “beyond expectations” at all – it was an accident that was bound to happen once corporate greed became more important than human beings.
Sub-contractors always get brought in to do our nuclear dirty work. They like the jobs but are told little of the dangers. To stabilize the Fukushima reactors, every day more than 3,000 subcontract workers get sent into hot zones. I believe these workers will sicken and die within 10 years. Chernobyl is evidence of that. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces also get sent in. These young people do not really understand the dangers of nuclear power. When I hear that people are living within 30 km. of the reactors, I know they are trapped in a sea of radiation. I think that their lives will soon become tragic. Every day since the accident, TEPCO and the government have been telling lies. One result is a big food problem. The first sign came when cattle were fed hay contaminated by cesium, and the beef was sold to cities throughout Japan, so a lot of people ate it. Contaminated vegetables and fruits are also being sold and eaten. Sometimes the government recommends people not sell or eat produce from Fukushima. But there is no oversight or enforcement. And some of the radioactivity pouring out of the Fukushima reactors has been carried on the wind to Tokyo. Yet professor Keiichi Nakagawa of the Department of Radiology at Tokyo University Hospital has repeatedly said on TV that “it is impossible for people in Tokyo to be adversely affected by radiation from Fukushima. This radiation will have no impact on human bodies.” This academic calls himself an expert; but he receives funding from the nuclear industry, and he has never been to Fukushima.
We call people damaged by radiation “hibakusha” (“explosion-affected persons”). I have been documenting Japan’s nuclear industry hibakusha for 40 years.
Consider how many radiation victims this catastrophe will create. On March 14 we heard that 160 people near the damaged reactors had become hibakusha. Evacuations were first ordered for residents within a 5 km. radius of the plant; then it ordered people within a 10 km. radius to go, then within 20 km., then within 30 km. The evacuation zone should have begun at 30 km. — this is where evacuations began for people near Chernobyl. I believe that the total number of radiation casualties coming out of Fukushima will turn out to be more than we are able to imagine.
For 40 years the God of Nuclear has been soothing the minds and hearts of people with the mantra that it is Cheap, Clean, Safe, Abundant, and Peaceful. Finally the God of Nuclear is getting its come-uppance. It now finds itself on the brink of collapse. This is the time for Japan to go back to Square One to fashion a new energy policy. It is time to put an end to nuclear power and cross over into natural energy.
I have succeeded in getting to Fukushima only once so far, and I have so far once visited some of the shelters for people who fled the danger zone. In one shelter a guard tried to confiscate my film. He did not get it. I will document Fukushima more because there are important lessons to be learned here. Sooner or later history will make those lessons known. The sooner we figure out what those lessons are, the better. One lesson is already clear: nuclear reactors do not bring happiness — they bring nothing but tragedy.
Mahatma Ghandi had seven things he wanted to warn people against carved onto his tombstone. He called them “the Seven Social Sins.” I agree with nuclear engineer Koide Hiroaki from the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, who recommends that we call Ghandi’s seven social sins “The Seven Nuclear Sins”. They are:
Politics Without Power
Wealth Without Work
Pleasure Without Conscience
Knowledge Without Character
Commerce Without Morality
Science Without Humanity
Worship Without Sacrifice.