Radiation and You

As the dimensions of the nuclear catastrophe grow at the Fukushima reactors following the great Honshu earthquake on Japan's northeastern coast, the world is becoming increasingly well-versed in gradations of Seiverts, Roentgens, Grays, Rems, Curies, Becquerels and Coulombs.

Many of these measures are named for the scientists who developed the scale by which we are allowed to measure our growing alarm -- Rolf Maximilian Sievert, Wilhelm Roentgen, Jean Coulomb, Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie, for instance. Of course, none of these units are named for New Jersey's "radium girls," sharpening their brushes with their saliva to paint numbers on glow-in-the-dark watch faces, painting radium paint on their nails and lips for fun while the factory bosses and chemists cowered behind lead shields. They went on to die particularly agonizing deaths from bone marrow cancer. That was in 1926-the factory sites are still Superfund cleanup sites.

Marie Curie, of course, who discovered radium and was awarded the Nobel Prize, died in 1934 at the age of 67 from leukemia -- thought to have been contracted because of her continuing exposure to radiation from the substance she discovered. When a human dies of radiation poisoning, his body itself contaminates the soil and groundwater if burial is employed or the atmosphere if cremated.

The media and others have been accused of being 'doomsayers' and 'scaremongers' during this incident. However, after two and a half weeks since the initial meltdown following Japan's earthquake and tsunami, let's look at the realities:

1) Radiation has been detected in Tokyo's water supply. The most recent report indicate that the area affected continues to expand, with radiation levels risng in 12 kinds of vegetables including broccoli, spinach and wasabi, which certainly ought to inspire some dark jokes about the heat of horseradish. Radiation in milk produced in the region around Fukushima has exceeded allowable limits.

2) Radioactive iodine and caesium have been detected in Japan's seawater. Logically, one would expect iodine, a major component of all sea life, to be dangerous to humans eating ocean fish and sea vegetables.

3) Uncontrolled radioactive emissions until today. As the Fukushima reactors use MOX fuel rods which include plutonium, it is highly probable that plutonium, the most poisonous substance known to man, has been released into the atmosphere.

We have been told by experts that plutonium is almost impossible to detect in small quantities but no less deadly. Will this area, or even Tokyo itself, become uninhabitable? If one factors in plutonium, we have to change the scale by which we view nuclear accidents. Fukushima could in fact become more deadly than Chernobyl.

There were proven coverups during the construction and operation of the Fukushima reactors. If such coverups exist in Japan, can anyone doubt that all nuclear power plants in 30 or so countries can also be suspect?

4) Japan appears no closer to a solution to the Fukushima disaster. To add some sense of scale, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the US was decommissioned in 1988 after contaminating 622 square kilometres. Hanford's cleanup is not expected to be completed until 2052 at a cost of US$128 billion. Some 43,000 square miles around the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine have returned to the wild, with 45,000 residents evacuated from the nearby city, under orders to leave immediately . The area is now home to wolves, bears and is returning rapidly to the wild, much the same as the History Channel show Life After People depicts American cities after the human race is dead.

Japan's banks are planning on lending $24 billion to TEPCO so the lights won't go dark in Tokyo, plus loans of US$37.5 billion from government, adding the very real possibility of an economic meltdown to equal the nuclear.

Did Japan even consider its vast geothermal potential before going nuclear? Can anyone still believe that nuclear power is a proven, safe, clean, green, cheap source of electricity? Proven, yes – proven deadly.

I'll say it again: If Thailand goes ahead with nuclear power, I'll be the first one blocking the road and chaining myself to the gates.

CJ Hinke serves on the international advisory board of WikiLeaks and founded Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) He is an anti-nuclear activist.