What Happened to Media Coverage of Fukushima?
by Anne Landman
While the U.S. media has been occupied with Anthony Weiner, the Republican presidential candidates and Bristol Palin's memoir, coverage of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster has practially fallen off the map. Poor mainstream media coverage of Japan's now months-long struggle to gain control over the Fukushima disaster has deprived Americans of crucial information about the risks of nuclear power following natural disasters. After a few weeks of covering the early aftermath of Japan's earthquake and tsunami, the U.S. media moved on, leaving behind the crisis at Fukushima which continues to unfold. U.S. politicians, like Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, have made disappointing and misleading statements about the relative safety of nuclear power and have vowed to stick by our nuclear program, while other countries, like Germany and Italy, have taken serious steps to address the obvious risks of nuclear power -- risks that the Fukushima disaster made painfully evident, at least to the rest of the world.
News outlets in other countries have been paying attention to Fukushima, though, and a relative few in this country have as well. A June 16, 2011 Al Jazeera English article titled, "Fukushima: It's much worse than you think," quotes a high-level former nuclear industry executive, Arnold Gunderson, who called Fukushima nohting less than "the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind." Twenty nuclear cores have been exposed at Fukushima, Gunderson points out, saying that, along with the site's many spent-fuel pools, gives Fukushima 20 times the release potential of Chernobyl.
Efforts to bring problems at Fukushima under control are not going well, either. Japanese authorities only just recently admitted that nuclear fuel in the three damaged Fukushima reactors has likely burned through the vessels holding it, a scenario called "melt-through", that is even more serious than a core meltdown. Months of spraying seawater on the plant's three melted-down fuel cores -- and the spent fuel stored on site -- to try and cool them has produced 26 million of gallons of radioactive wastewater, and no place to put it.
After a struggle, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), finally managed to put in place a system to filter radioactive particles out of the wastewater, but it broke down soon after it started operating. A filter that was supposed to last a month plugged up with radioactive material after just five hours, indicating there is more radioactive material in the water than previously believed. Meanwhile, TEPCO is running out of space to store the radioactive water, and may be forced to again dump contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean. TEPCO already dumped some water into the ocean weeks ago, amid protests from fisherman, other countries and environmental organizations. And even if TEPCO does successfully filter the contaminated water and manage to bring its radioactivity down to acceptable levels, the utility will still have to deal with the pile of radioactive sludge the process will produce. The plan they've come up with to deal with the sludge is to seal it in drums and discard it into the ocean, which may cause even more problems. Greenpeace has already found levels of radiation exceeding legal limits in seaweed and shellfish samples gathered more than 12 miles away from the plant. The high levels of radiation in the samples indicate that leaks from the plant are bigger than TEPCO has revealed so far.
To Read the Rest of the Essay and to Access Hyperlinked Resources