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CONTRIBUTION · 15th April 2011
Alexandra Heidl
After trying for days to contact the Canadian embassy for help; only to be greeted with a voice recording in Japanese, I truly knew what it was like to feel helpless. It wasn’t until the trains had started to become operational that I was able to personally visit the embassy to ask for help on the current situation. I was told that they were very busy trying to get updated on the situation and I should receive an email shortly to inform me of what was happening. It took days before I received an email. The earth was still shaking and the news of the Fukushima nuclear plants became grimmer.

I had received an email, two and a half weeks after the earthquake, from the Canadian embassy informing me that Canada had not declared this crisis an emergency and that if I wished to leave Tokyo I would have to find a way on my own. With continuous rolling blackouts occurring across Tokyo; the Cities affected by the tsunami and the nuclear disaster then rated at an emergency level 5, I was appalled that my government had just abandoned me. France and England had already arranged planes to evacuate their citizens, while Harper decided there was no need for an alarm.

With my home now in Tokyo I had nowhere in Vancouver to return to, therefore I had decided to stay and keep myself informed on the situation unfolding in Japan.

By remaining in contact with family and friends back home I began to learn that Canada had no idea what was happing in Japan and even three weeks later they were under the impression that Japan was already back to normal. I immediately decided to take action and use my cousin’s, Michael Craven, connections to get a scientific approach of what was occurring. Michael Craven had tried many times, in vain, to warn federal ministers in Canada what is happening.

Due to Michael Craven’s professional connections and reputation, I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of the top scientist working who has been assessing the current situation since the explosions from the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Professor Hayano is the chair of the physics department at the University of Tokyo. Working alongside the government I knew the information would be biased and he would only share what would eventually be released to the public.

Most people are aware of the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear plant in Ukraine and the 1979 Three Mile Island explosion in Pennsylvania, USA. These two events have been the guidelines on how to assess the current Fukushima crisis and what follows is from what Professor Hayano explained to me.

The Chernobyl Crisis was considered a chain reaction. Unlike Fukushima,
Chernobyl did not have a containment vessel and was a carbon explosion. The reactor was using Uranium and was producing a surplus of energy, which caused a chain reaction leading to an explosion. The radioactive material dispersed, after burning, over a large area.

The Chernobyl nuclear plant was surrounded by fresh water sources (ie: lakes). Both the soil and water was contaminated, along with the fish and food being grown in the soil that was eventually consumed by the residents.

Iodine-131 was present in the Chernobyl explosion and was believed to be the cause of inducing cancer into children below ages 14. Adults were not as affected to the Iodine-131.

There were 6 units involved in the Fukushima event.

Units number 4, 5, and 6 at the Daiichi plants were not working on the day of the earthquake, therefore had no active fuel rods.

Units number 1, 2, and 3 at the Daiichi plants had their control rods exposed in the reactors which caused the explosions.

March 11: There was an increase of energy at a different site, the Onagawa plant, which caused a fire and sent radiation to the North and the Pacific, but then dissipated. Eventually the fire was extinguished.

March 12: The unit 1 Fukushima Daiichi plant reactor lost water in the morning, 15 hours after the earthquake. The exposed Zirconium rods created a reaction with oxygen causing an explosion. This occurred outside the primary containment vessel (PCV), not inside, and the main vessel remained intact. It was believed to be a Hydrogen explosion. The plume of contaminated air also containing Idoine-131 had been pushed towards the North before settling on the soil.

March 13: Unit 3 of the Fukushima plant lost water inbetween 12pm and 12am which left the rods exposed, which created a second explosion on March 14th at 11am.

March 14: Unit 2 reactor lost water, exposing the fuel rods, which created yet another explosion the following day.

There was a radioactive cloud that moved that day from south to north which increased the measurement levels of radioactive material.

Also the spent fuel storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plan caught on fire and radioactivity was being released directly into the atmosphere. Dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour were reported at the site. There was a possibility that the fire was a hydrogen explosion. It was extinguished two hours later.

As of 6 April, nitrogen gas has been injected into the Unit 1 containment vessel to reduce the possibility of hydrogen combustion within it.

Currently the government is still unsure of the amount of Cesium present in the water.

In conclusion the ongoing crisis of Fukushima is worse than Chernobyl because the radiation emitted has a long lived nuclei and has not only contaminated the soil but also a body of water which is not, like a lake, controlled and confined; the Pacific Ocean.

The areas that are highly contaminated and are the most concerning, are the 1600 playgrounds nearest to the plants surrounding the Fukushima area. They have found extremely high measurements of contamination in these localized areas and it causes alarm as children are the most susceptible to cell mutation and damage from radiation exposure.

Still radiation emitted from the Fukushima crisis is considerably low, considering every year radiation is released from various sites. India (20 millisievert (mSv)per year) and Brazil (10 millisievert (mSv)per year) are the countries with the highest recorded levels of radiation released into the atmosphere.

The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co. are constantly telling citizens that there are no major health impacts “For the time being” and that there will be no “immediate effects” This of course is their way to keep the public from panic as they continue to be under tremendous anxiety and stress.

We understand that the Fukushima crisis is far more serious than the Three Mile Island incident. In researching the events at the Three Mile Island and the effects later on, one learns that most of the serious damage is done to the people within the explosion circumference. People have suffered birth defects to physical complaints, such as headaches and back pain, as well as more anxiety and depression. As well the changes in levels of hormones which affect various bodily functions, including muscle tension, cardiovascular activity, overall metabolic rate and immune-system function, are discovered.

Cancers diagnosed included: lymphoma, leukemia, colon and the hormonal category of breast, endometrium, ovary, prostate and testis. For leukemia and lung cancers in the six to 12 km distance, the number observed was almost four times greater. In the 0-six km range, colon cancer was four times greater.

The Three Mile Crisis did not dump any radioactive waste water into water systems and therefore affected the people only within the circumference of the fall out.

Fukushima will be much worse as it has been deposited into a body of water that will contaminate an ecosystem that is shared by many countries including Canada which prides itself on its pristine nature.

The Fukushima crisis has been measured by the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), which assess the severity on a scale from zero to seven.

As of Tuesday April 12 the Fukushima crisis has been moved from level 5 to level 7.
The total amount of iodine-131 and cesium-137 emitted between March 11 and at 11 am April 12, according to the reactors' estimated condition, reached 370,000 terabecquerels.
The work being done to bring the situation under control has run into one complication after another. The end to this crisis could be months or even years away; with the amount of nuclear leakage increasing.
From Tokyo
Comment by M Craven on 19th April 2011
My cousin Alexandra is now back in Canada, she left Japan yesterday. I am still here waiting for Nathan Cullen to arrange a convenient time to allow me to call him. Honestly BC waters are not safe and our natural resources are at risk. I am so glad politicians continue to ignore this issue...I guess there are more pressing matters like Canucks games to worry about. Something needs to be done fast. I have a plan to help but I need support.
Thanks for the update.
Comment by Kim on 15th April 2011
I have been thinking of you and Michael and wondering what had happened with you. Have you changed your mind about staying? The situation is not one to be taken lightly for sure.

Please keep us updated on your experiences there Alexandra and be mindful of your safety. I have my doubts, given the level of contamination, of the continuing safety of any of us.