Recent news that thousands of fuel rods are being removed from Fukushima has raised a lot of questions and concerns across the globe. Is the extraction safe or is this the beginning of Armageddon? Does TEPCO really have the expertise to do this and are the oversight mechanisms credible. Add to this our speculation relative to the long term ramifications of Fukushima on our food supply, our health, and the health of future generations and we have cause for worry.
In early 2012, a year after a massive tsunami severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, I connected with Joy Thompson who, along with her husband Randall, worked as health physicists during the Three Mile Island clean-up. With this latest news about the extraction of the fuel rods, I felt it was time to once again reach out to Joy and get her assessment and opinion on the long term affect of Fukushima to the environment and to humanity.
Joy was gracious in providing some thought-provoking answers. Not the answers I hope for or wanted, but answers none-the-less.
What Does the Defueling of Fukushima Mean to Us?
First, the defueling operation at Daiichi unit 4 is probably among the riskiest industrial operations ever attempted, much less under emergency high-stress conditions.
While reports from concerned parties everywhere (including NRC/DoE, French and Russian and German nuclear officials and IAEA) have varied on how long the pool was essentially empty after the disaster onset, and how much burned – and for how long – there is wide agreement that a significant portion of the spent fuel assemblies in the pool are probably damaged.
Damage comes from just brittleness and corrupted by salt water all the way to broken with spilled crumbled fuel and loose rods. The Japanese government admitted last month that the boron ‘blades’ absorbing stray neutrons between fuel bundles in each of the assemblies have long since corroded away. We do not have reliable figures on how much boron is being maintained in the pool either. This is a nightmare scenario.
Alas, the many other intractable issues present at the reservation make it imperative that what fuel can be removed must be removed – quickly – if for no other reason than to be able to say they tried to do “something” to mitigate what’s going to be an extremely ugly end game. There is a 90% probability for a 7.0+ earthquake in the next three years; it could bring these unstable ruins down.
The most likely bad news events from the defueling operation will be criticalities in the pool caused by broken/dropped rods and/or fuel sludge. If these boil off too much water or include the ‘fresh’ core that was in the pool during shroud work in the containment, we could witness your basic open air meltdown. On open air meltdown would release contamination to atmosphere equivalent to thousands of Hiroshima bombs. If they have to abandon the site the rest of ‘em will go. That’s half again as much radioactive gnarl as has been released by all the bombs, all the meltdowns, all the other nuclear opposes added together from the beginning. Not good.
Perhaps this is all for show, they already know it’s a hopeless task, and are just setting us all up for the failure scenario. Guess we’ll see what Plan B entails when it’s called for.
I am not very optimistic on this, but who knows? Do I swear off Pacific seafood for the duration anyway. Contaminates concentrate up the food chain, but even the plankton and krill are contaminated. No tuna. Sardines, anchovies, squid, shellfish, crustaceans, seaweed are all contaminated as well off the northeastern coast of Japan, and soon the west coast of the Americas. None of the isotopes escaping are the same thing as potassium-40 in bananas, so don’t buy that propaganda.
Now, to your other questions . . .
Fukushima Today – An Interview with Joy Thompson
1. Some of the people on the West Coast are trying to point to jellyfish die-offs and such as being harbingers of the whole Pacific dying. Is that a realistic fear?
No, it’s not that realistic. While radioactive contamination can certainly weaken life forms to the point of making them susceptible to diseases they’d normally be immune or resistant to, the organisms involved have been demonstrating high stress and die-offs all over the world for some years – since well before Fukushima.
Something is certainly unhealthy in the oceans, and we humans are no doubt largely responsible with our filthy habits. It could be increased methane due to global warming, seawater ‘layers’ flipping, oxygen depletion from nitrogen run-offs, open oil gushers and Corexit, etc. Definitely disheartening developments to be paid close attention, most likely harbingers of worse things than Fukushima.
2. What about people (like my friend George) who have thought about moving back to the Pacific Northwest. Is buying a home on the West Coast a bad idea now? And if so, just how bad an idea is it?
Well, so long as you aren’t planning on living basically IN or ON the water (like as a commercial fisherman or on a houseboat), I don’t see that being there is any worse than being anywhere else. The most serious danger to humans will come from the atmospheric fallout (still circling and coming down in the rain from 3/11/2011). Which will increase again if there are criticalities during unit-4′s defueling. But the rain falls on us all, it can be as contaminated in Charlotte or Paris as it might be in Seattle.
If you’ve a choice, do try to put some mountains between you and everything west of you. It’ll help some.
3. Do you think housing prices are reflecting the radiation risks to the West Coast?
Sorry, don’t know what housing prices out there are doing right now. Could be correction [deflation] from the whole economic Mega-Scam that brought us down in 2008.
4. Do you still eat shellfish? How do you determine what’s safe to eat and what isn’t?
I never liked shellfish, actually. I do still eat occasional trout (which I love, and is abundant locally in these mountain streams). Admit to being unable to resist smoked salmon on occasion, but eat it so rarely that I truly wouldn’t miss it if it weren’t available. Haven’t eaten tuna in years due to mercury/heavy metals contamination.
I grow quite a bit of our food organically on my acreage – have half an acre in truck vegetables, another half-acre in pumpkins, melons and winter squash, apple, peach, cherry and pear trees, and a small vineyard with concord, muscadine and zinfandel grapes. I grow a large number of herbs, and manage 10 acres of forest-grown medicinals.
I should note here that wild-grown ginseng hit nearly $900 a pound this year. Some of my Mama ‘Sangs are more than 20 years old – one of those roots can go for thousands in China, and there are always Chinese buyers at the autumn exchanges. So far, however, I just keep planting seeds and only harvest what I use in tinctures. I have a healthy stand of elder that is proving lucrative. Elderberry tinctures were proven in side-by-side medical studies during the swine flu epidemic to work better to prevent infection or shorten duration than Tamiflu. Friends who are nurses will buy all I can make.
My land is bordered by state game lands and national forest, where abundant black/raspberries, blueberries, wineberries, persimmons and sloes grow wild. I also harvest acorns to leech and make flour out of it to enrich bread and cornbread. I grow only heirloom Indian corn, dry and store it whole to grind on demand. I frequent area tailgate markets in season and the regional farmer’s market.
I’ve found the trick to getting really great deals on bulk produce is to show up at the end of the day on Saturday. Many vendors bring their harvest just for the weekend, and are willing to practically give it away as they’re packing up so as not to have to throw it out. Get great ripe tomatoes, cukes, eggplant, squash and beans by the peck or bushel that way, but then you’ve got to preserve it right away.
I am able to preserve a great deal of our bounty, grown, traded for or bought. I also dehydrate most everything in my nifty solar dryer. Made it a couple of years ago out of salvaged windows and untreated boards from a neighbor’s sawmill. Can some condiments and pickles, make wines, wine vinegars, balsamic and hard cider with much of the fruit. We have a couple of pet Pekin ducks, get 2-4 very large eggs a day. Plus a neighbor with bees for raw honey. I don’t do bees (though I’d like to) because we’ve too many bears. Out here you learn to share with the wildlife, who do a very good job of cleaning out downed POM fruit that would otherwise draw hornets. Dogs do a good job of keeping them out of the compost and away from the house. Cats are great vermin eradicators – field mice, rats, moles, voles and gophers.
My best advice to those who want to commit to surviving by learning to do for themselves is to move to the country, or a small town surrounded by countryside. You can produce a lot even on two or three acres, and make friends with neighbors who produce much more. Barter is the primary means of trade for home-grown foodstuffs out here, your skills and hobbies may be more valuable than you thought!
There are small farms locally specializing in organic/free range poultry and meat if you eat meat. We could hunt if we needed to. Stay low on the food chain if you do hunt – avoid all carnivores, go lightly on the venison, stick with small animals (rabbit, etc.) and birds (turkey, grouse, etc.). Their metabolism is fast enough for biological half-life of the worst isotopes to be short. Plus, they don’t live long enough to accumulate too much.
Basically, eat locally as much as possible, get to know your farmers. When there’s plumes/fallout, avoid green leafies and berries, or build a greenroom off a south-facing wall. In the end, we’ve all got to eat. Even when we can’t avoid contamination. We’ll all die when our time comes anyway, might as well enjoy the ride. It’s a good way to live.
5. What about salmon and other migratory fish?
6. And bottom fish like halibut?
I’d avoid halibut, flounder, and of course crabs and shellfish/crustaceans. The bottom habitat of all our coastal shelf waters are contaminated with a gross amount of pollutants chemical, heavy metal, radioactive, and just plain filth. Heck, I even avoid catfish, because a sad number of our lakes and rivers are just as polluted. The heavy stuff always sinks, ends up in whatever’s living there.
7. Would you care to speculate about how many people will die – ultimately – prematurely due to the Fukushima accident? What are you colleagues saying?
Cancer rates will rise, likely to the point where your chances of being diagnosed in your lifetime are sure if you live long enough, but treatments and cures are always possible. We can hope.
DNA-related birth defects – different from developmental issues due to exposures during pregnancy – probably will take another generation to show in significant numbers. General weakness due to constant low level and internal bombardment will probably claim as many as air pollution from burning coal does now. In fact, they’ll likely claim it comes from coal instead of Fuku. Even if we quit burning coal today.
Unless you are vaporized to a greasy shadow on the wall they will never admit radiation killed you. Or shortened your life. It’s all an academic exercise in cost-benefit analysis (premeditated random murder) and damned statistics used to deny culpability. Truth be told, there will be some millions of premature deaths worldwide just from Fukushima so far. They’ve four more Level 7 disasters lined up waiting to happen there, so the numbers could easily go up. Sad but true, take precautions where you can.
8. What’s with the positioning of nuclear power as an answer to global warming? First: Is there global warming, second is nuclear power really the solution or more of a problem? And third, what’s the Big Numbers Game on our heads about?
Yes, there is global warming. It is evident in the melting of the ice caps and glaciers, increasing droughts, floods, and severe storms. Yes, humans are contributing to it by means of our filthy industrial habits. Burning fossil fuels, mostly. We can and absolutely should cut it out – stop fouling our nest.
But the climate will continue to change anyway. We should put our energies into adapting. If it gets too warm to grow apples and cherries, plant peaches and oranges. Consider installing drip-hoses and re-routing your gray water to the crops if there’s a drought. If you’re careful of the soaps/detergents you use for bathing and dishwashing, etc., your crops will thank you.
If things need disinfecting or grease-cutting, don’t use bleach – use vinegar. Baking soda as scouring powder, etc. Investigate making your own soaps with glycerin instead of lye. And don’t forget – sunshine is the best disinfectant and laundry freshener there is!
No, nuclear power is NOT the answer to global warming. We can adjust and adapt to different ways of doing things. All we have to do is do it. The big numbers game on our heads is propaganda and Money-Talking. They aren’t satisfied to have impoverished billions of us with their stupid economic Monopoly game, they want everything else too. Everything. Fuck’em, I say.
Caveat: In their (small) favor, the MoneyMasters are no longer investing in nukes. Truth is, there is not enough money on this planet to build the 4,000 new nukes we’d need within the next 20 years to put a dent in anthropocentric global warming. In fact, they’re locked into a grand ‘austerity’ plan for the next 20 years that is going to seriously diminish the demand for energy everywhere. Building new nukes is a total fool’s errand, absolutely unnecessary. Not gonna happen.
9. As long as we’re talking nuclear power, do you buy Iran’s claim that they are only in it to building a nuclear power infrastructure?
Sure, why not? Israel could turn ‘em to glass if they tried to make bombs. But Iran is seismically as unstable as Japan, they need a nuclear power infrastructure like they need bullet holes in all their heads. They have plenty of sunshine and wind. They should develop those.
10. If the Israelis do, indeed, bomb the Iranian installations, how is that likely to be (compared to Fukushima or Chernobyl, for example)?
Meh. Just another bomb. Somebody’s exploding one somewhere every year or so, sometimes more. Even the Israelis aren’t dumb enough to bomb a site stuffed with already-enriched fuel. If they bomb, they’ll bomb before there’s fuel (or bomb facilities outlying that would cripple the project), and they’ll use bunker-busters, not nukes. Israelis talk tough, but they aren’t suicidal.
11. Is nuclear terrorism inside the US a real threat, or is it a sales job on the American people?
Heh. You can answer this one.
Since Fukushima we are told the worst case of radioactive pollution the planet’s ever seen is no big deal, right? So we’re supposed to be terrified of some disgruntled teenager blowing an IUD/pressure cooker with an X-ray source mixed in? I wish they’d make up their damned minds.
This used to be the “Home of the Brave,” strange as that seems these days. Our own government is doing most of the terrorizing lately far as I can see, and no. They are not really serious about anything but keeping people terrified (dead people aren’t afraid). And while they don’t care when or how we die, they won’t kill themselves just to kill us. They don’t have to help us stay alive, so probably won’t.
Caveat: If de ebil terrier-ists blow the hell outta my little town tomorrow, I will stand corrected. Unfortunately for the terror-mongers, if they blew the hell outta my little town, nobody would miss it.
12. As an expert in nuclear affairs, do you ever get the sense that you (and your colleagues) are more subject to government surveillance than regular people? Do/should nuclear scientists be more alarmed about government surveillance than anyone else?
Not any more!!!
I and my colleagues left the nuclear industry decades ago. But yeah, they’ve been tapping our phones since submarine days. You learn not to say things they might take the wrong way. Or say ‘hi’ to them, especially on holidays when you’re waiting for Mom to come to the phone.
The assumption of constant surveillance is given for whole classes of people in this (and other) countries. Welcome to our world!
13. If you were a regular working stiff in Japan, would you still be there?
Most likely not. But then, I’m not Japanese. If I were in the southwest of that country I might stick around. If I were Tokyo-north, I’d have bugged out two and a half years ago.
About Joy: Joy Thompson was part of a 3-person investigatory team with her husband Randall and colleague David Bear during the immediate recovery operation at TMI-2 in 1979. As health physics personnel, the team monitored on-site radiation levels, releases of radioactive contamination into the environment and doses to workers. The Thompsons went on to establish a family entertainment business with their children, and took up homesteading in the mountains of North Carolina. Joy maintains a blog about homesteading, self-sufficiency, current issues and organic gardening, Wise Living Journal.
For an informative, fascinating and somewhat shocking account of Joy and Randall’s experience at TMI, I recommend that you read the article Investigation: Revelations about Three Mile Island disaster raise doubts over nuclear plant safety.
The Final Word
As good as I am about reaching out to people, I sometimes struggle with just the right questions. For assistance with this article, I asked George Ure (Peoplenomics) to help formulate questions using his investigative nose for news. He was, after all, the news director at a leading Seattle radio station for years and years.
I would also like to thank Joy for her willingness to publicly share her thoughts with us. She has endured much as a result of her frankness over the TMI cover-up and is a great friend to Backdoor Survival when it comes to being honest and forthright.
As I said at the onset, the answers to these questions are not what I had hope for and yet they are not unexpected. May God help us all as we navigate around the fallout from Fukushima in the ensuing years.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy, also known as the Survival Woman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and has moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. At Backdoor Survival, Gaye speaks her mind and delivers her message of prepping with optimism and grace, regardless of the uncertain times and mayhem swirling around us.