On the Beach: The Fukushima 21st Century Version

One of my favorite movies is On the Beach.  Released in 1959, it is a post-apocalyptic story of a group of people in Australia waiting for a radiation cloud to spread over them after a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere.

But this is not a summer blockbuster about radioactive monsters or mutants. This is a movie about people finding love and redemption in the everydayness of ordinary life as they cope with the coming reality.  I won’t discuss the plot – see it for yourself. I will only say one of the final scenes of the movie where a submarine sails from port as the soundtrack plays the Australian ballad “Waltzing Matilda” is one of the more haunting movie scenes ever.

I raised this movie because we on the west coast of North America face our own On the Beach moment – maybe we have already. I’m talking about the past, present, and future releases from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disasters on March 11, 2011. And in the worst case scenarios, maybe the majority of the people on Earth face the same moment.

Though government officials in both the United States and Canada continue to minimize the degree of exposure and risks in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami when three plants had complete core meltdowns, each new revelation is more frightening,

Recent reports have indicated the radioactive plume of water will hit the northwest coast of North America starting in early 2014. Some oceanographic simulations conducted in Spain predict that while the radiation will begin arriving then the levels of radiation will be much lower than in the waters surrounding Fukushima. Other studies by German oceanographers suggest a three-year plume event – again with lower levels of radiation.

Does that mean the days of eating salmon are over?  In the worst case that might not even matter.

I think the governments of the United States and Canada may have misrepresented (in not lied) about the amount of radioactive fallout hitting the west coast of both countries in the days following the earthquake and tsunami when the cores melted – but it may take years to know how much radiation exposure there was (to be determined by the rates of cancer).

And the mixing of a radioactive plume in the wide basin of the Pacific Ocean means perhaps a significantly lower concentration of radioactive water on the shores of the Olympic peninsula and other coastlines in North America. Still it gives pause to think that the days of eating salmon and walking the coastline may be coming to an end for years, if ever.

Even more frightening is the announcement this week that Tepco (the plant operator) has been given permission to remove the fuel rods from the spent fuel pool in Plant Number 4. The issue is that the building in which the fuel rods are stored is crumbing and the rods themselves are in an uncertain state. Without going into all the technical details, the rods are clad in a chemical element (zirconium) that burns if exposed to air. If there is a collapse of rods or the building, fuel rods would begin to burn. The impact of burning fuel rods grow to apocalyptic levels based on how bad the fire is and how far it spreads to other areas of the Fukushima plant – starting with a need to evacuate large areas of Japan (if not the entire country) and growing to a highly radioactive cloud of a dust spreading over the entire northern hemisphere.

This is serious stuff and not to be ignored by concerns about Kabuki-theater politics or what NFL game is hot this week.

You can begin reading more here.



Author: TomR

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