Fukushima — Yes, This Shit Again

What do we have to do, and why haven’t we done it?

What in the World?? | Mara Leighton | April 1, 2016

  • Copied

And you thought it was over.

On March 11, 2011 a tsunami triggered by the Tohoku earthquake killed 15,000 people and initiated an *energy accident* at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. The tsunami (as natural disasters are wont to do) damaged the plant and caused equipment failures…..which caused a loss-of-coolant accident……which caused three nuclear meltdowns, and the release of radioactive material. In case I need to remind you, this is not the same caliber radiation that convinced your mom  you need to stand 15 feet away from an operational microwave in case you fry your uterus.  I’m serious — that was advice.

Nor are these the kinds of chemical anomalies found pooling in weird phosphorescent streaks at the top of the Hudson river. At least at Fukushima you would die before a third and/or fifth arm sprouted.

To me, an abandoned nuclear power plant is accompanied by the sort of stagnant silence found hanging in a room that no one has touched in awhile. The sort of still that only breaks when a 10 foot moose with 4 antlers and fangs breaks a twig. The sort of place J.R.R Tolkien got the entire idea for LOTR from, simply because he did acid and had a vision of the entire microcosm of the trilogy playing out on top of a mushroom cap.

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 9.52.52 PM
My mom went to Japan and all I got was this

Basically, Fukushima in an abstract sense was a factory of Goosebumps characters and miscellaneous things I didn’t have mental drawer space for.
But I was wrong…. because even the demented animals that I can come up with in the (considerably dark) dark recesses of my mind couldn’t survive in Fukushima today.

Remember Chernobyl? Well, probably not, because it was the same year mom was doing shooters at a college bar and most likely trying actively to not have you. But yes, in the golden year of ’86, Chernobyl occurred in Soviet Ukraine. A flawed reactor design was operated by an inadequately trained personnel (that catch-all phrase) and released a whopping amount of radioactive particles into the atmosphere — and, subsequently, into the western USSR and Europe.

A school in the town of Pripyat, where Chernobyl occurred
A school in the town of Pripyat, where Chernobyl occurred

Since the catastrophe in Ukraine, Fukushima is the largest nuclear disaster to date and the second disaster (after, you guessed it, Chernobyl) to be given the Level 7 event classification of the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Show of hands, who even knew that existed? And why don’t you go ahead and keep them up if you knew this was happening?


We live in a bubble. Or, to be fair, a semi-rectangular gated community.  

What is conversation fodder to us, is an emerging generational concern for humans exactly like us, 6,738 miles away. In cosmic terms, that’s your roommate. And your apartment is very small. 

Why are we still talking about this? It’s been five years.

Yes, there have been improvements….

  1. Now, five years out, some clean-up workers don’t have to wear full respirators like explorers a big corporation paid to unwittingly conquer an alien planet.
  2. Radiation levels in the region around the plant have fallen by roughly half.


  1. Lonesome, evacuated towns have been re-opened to (assumedly wait-listed) residents. But if a once thrice-radiation baked plot o’land doesn’t sound like the ideal place to finally settle down and start that farm, you obviously haven’t seen enough representations of the colonization of our very own western frontier by the poorest and most desperate Americans. No skyscrapers and high tops will be put in to accommodate the up and coming of Fukushima’s ‘burbs unless hazardous radiation is shown to stop the production of wrinkles or, even more disastrous for the poor — old age entirely.

….but we are still decades away from solving this.

Though radiation levels have fallen, they still prevent workers from actually accessing the radioactive cores themselves, which is necessary to actually address the most pressing issues. And though previously quarantined neighborhoods are being reopened, the farmers that work the land there likely have to accept lower bids for their produce because of the stigma attached to the area. The land may be viable in theory again, but is it in actuality?

what do we have to do, and why haven’t we done it?

Well, we’re trying, but… it’s hard.

“Fukushima Dai-ichi is a complicated cleanup site,” says Dale Klein, a former chairman of the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission who now consults for the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, which owns the plant. Well said.

Scientists sent in five robots specially designed by TEPCO and Toshiba to go underwater and remove the radioactive nuclear rods, aaaaaand not one has returned. They have all “died.” Every single one sent into the cesspool of chemical WTF have broken down under the radiation levels. They were made with one purpose, and are actually scientifically incapable of achieving it. If sophisticated AIT had predated this, it would have shut down the program for emotional abuse.

And if they can’t survive, that’s even better for us. Because who can’t name at least five scifi-tech movies where the robots perished in an environment humans survived (where the deciding factor was not the power to love)?

image taken from I, robot
I, Robot — since changed from the Sundance title of I, Terrified

Even better is the fact that it took scientists two years to make something that only lived long enough to prove the hypothesis that putting metal in the microwave is a bad idea. One win for moms everywhere.

Because of what is essentially the complete inability to get a looksy into our very own comic book chemical vat, it’s nearly impossible to ascertain the condition of the destroyed facilities or the molten debris…

And because of its glorious ocean-to-mountain range, that icy fresh mountain groundwater continuously seeps through the ruined building before finding its merry way to the ocean. First, TEPCO used a giant ice wall to halt contamination, but it was only partially successful. And if walls aren’t working to keep the immigrants or the chemicals out, it’s safe to say the catapult and circular wheel aren’t worth shit now either.

But, relax. You’re not going to see miles of megalodons off the shores of Miami in the unseasonably warm months.

Instead of just seeing where this shit takes us (cancer, third arm, or looks-fine-for-now!) the company has sent the groundwater through a complex filtration system that removes radioactivity. Well…. almost. Except for Tritium, which can’t be removed because it is literally embedded in the H2O of the water molecules.

“Tritium is part of the water itself, so how do you filter water out of water?” – Klein

Again, hitting us with those good points, Klien.

How about that Ice 9, anyone?

SO, instead of diluting tritium water and crossing our fingers as we kick the boat out from shore, we did a very human thing and simply put it in some bags. Got that shit out of here. I don’t want to see it.

Same thing for the contaminated soil.
So, right now, there is a building with working light switches, a functioning driveway, and a million tons of Fukushima water and 9 million bags of decontaminated waste inside. Every three to four days, a new tank is added. Which works…for now.

Fukushima’s prime coastal real estate makes it especially important, and perilous, for the environment.

But we might have to wait until 2040 for robots who can either a) sacrifice themselves halfway to the core and push their offspring on, or b) can withstand the kind of intense radiation that killed their predecessors.
The first case of cancer found in a Fukushima worker was confirmed last October. Though they will be paying the treatment costs, the government stopped short of recognizing the link between the worker’s cancer and his work at Fukushima. It may very possibly be unrelated, but it still begs a looming question.

We often live through a disaster in the 3 second fly lifespan of a quick click, click, scroll on our iPhone. Mention it four times during the week to convince others we are not so egotistical as to not care enough about the people of Japan (what’s their capital again?), and then consider it resolved once it’s exited our lipid barrier. But, this cleanup will take years to remedy. What takes you moments to skim, will take several decades and thousands of people and brilliant minds to clean up.

This article helped kill a couple minutes on the BX12 select for you, but the issue itself will continue to demand the attention of Japan for the coming generations.