For the Birds Radio Program: Fukushima, Japan
“The affected nuclear reactors were built by General Electric, the American company that constructed 23 identical reactors here in the United States, including in Monticello, Minnesota. The Japanese reactors were ostensibly built to survive an 8-hour power shortage. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 11 of the 104 reactors in the United States were built to withstand an 8-hour power shortage. The remaining 93 reactors were designed to withstand a 4-hour power shortage.”
Ever since 9/11, the news has been scarier than at any time in my adult lifetime, but during the past 10 days, the bad news has taken a quantum leap. As of this morning, March 21, 2011, over 22,000 people in Japan are confirmed dead or missing. Radioactive iodine and cesium are now being found in milk, spinach, and Tokyo tap water. From the beginning, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company have been minimizing the dangers in a repeat of what our own government and BP did less than a year ago after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and Gulf oil spill. Oddly enough, last week another huge oil sheen, 100 miles long, was found over the Gulf off Grand Isle, where some of the worst effects of the spill have still not been cleaned up. Slipping under most news departments’ radar has been the sudden spate of earthquake activity in Arkansas that corresponded with natural gas extraction using the fracking method, which subsided when the drilling was stopped. It of course may be coincidental. But we’re sure playing Russian roulette with our world, aren’t we?
But back to Japan. The four most dangerous reactors are still in a crisis. Last night gray smoke started gushing from Reactor No. 3, emanating from the building’s southeastern side, where the reactor’s spent nuclear fuel pool is located. Workers again had to be evacuated. Two hours later white smoke started gushing from Reactor No. 2. The smoke seems to have spontaneously stopped, but no one knows what caused it.
Most Americans are so numbed by the horrors of what the Japanese are facing that we don’t really know how to react. The bizarrely insensitive jokes a handful of people have been making seem to happen after every disaster—but dismissing them implies that we adult human beings have no free will or control over our own mouths. Mystifyingly, Ann Coulter has been repeatedly saying that radiation is actually good for human health, a bizarre slap in the face of the human beings in the very country that suffered the only two atomic bombs dropped in wartime ever.
The affected nuclear reactors were built by General Electric, the American company that constructed 23 identical reactors here in the United States, including in Monticello, Minnesota. The Japanese reactors were ostensibly built to survive an 8-hour power shortage. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 11 of the 104 reactors in the United States were built to withstand an 8-hour power shortage. The remaining 93 reactors were designed to withstand a 4-hour power shortage.
With so many people dead, and so many people working tirelessly under a literal cloud of radiation trying desperately to ensure that there isn’t an even bigger disaster, and so many people without access yet to food or water because of the earthquake and tsunami, it’s hard to think about what is going on with birds. Certainly that’s low on everyone’s priority lists right now. People have been warned to wash all vegetables, a great deal of milk is being taken off the market, and people caught in the rain are being told to dispose of their clothing as soon as they take shelter and to completely shower. People without access to electricity yet aren’t hearing those warnings, and of course neither is wildlife.
I don’t know what most of us Americans can do except contribute to the Red Cross. But not even considering the radiation and radioactive particles that are turning up over our own atmosphere, the enormity of this disaster is beyond comprehension, and preventing a worse disaster and cleaning up the mess are the first orders of duty. But we also need to seriously address how we humans, the only species that includes nuclear and rocket and environmental scientists, can prevent these disasters in the future.