Worst nuclear reactor disaster ever spirals out of control yet Japan will host Olympics this summer in Fukushima as billionaire Bill Gates pushes nuclear energy based on doomed design

News & Analysis

Today ten years ago the worst nuclear reactor catastrophe exploded in Japan when a massive earthquake sent a tsunami slamming into a reactor complex at Fukushima Daiichi.

Three reactors next to the Pacific blew up and blasted thousands of tons of highly radioactive debris, gas and goo into the ocean, air and over a wide swath of Japan. The never-ending triple meltdowns have continued to spew radiation with millions of tons even more ionizing poisons being set to be dumped into the Pacific later this year.

On March 11, 2011, EnviroReporter.com immediately launched its award-winning multi-pronged Fukushima investigation that found evidence of radioactive contamination across the United States in air, water, food, drink and marijuana. This included live radiation monitoring accessed by over a million viewers.

More than a dozen radiation stations across the country monitoring online live, thousands of radiation tests on consumables, and videotaped radiation detecting have been crucial parts of this ongoing investigation.

The disaster continues to this day with no end in sight. The Japanese government’s purported plan is to wait until after their rump 2021 Olympics are over this summer to then dump over 1,000 massive containers of highly radioactive water generated over the last decade from cooling the triple meltdowns to gush into the Pacific Ocean.

Each tank is filled with around 1.25 million gallons of the hottest goo on Earth. Each day produces more than 400 tons of newly radioactive water needed to keep the demolished reactors from catching on fire and destroying Japan. The Japanese want to dump it all into the Pacific outraging fishermen, environmentalists and groups like Greenpeace Japan which has produced a comprehensive new report on Fukushima.

“Our original findings showed that decontamination efforts have been limited and that 85% of the Special Decontamination Area has undergone no decontamination,” the report reads. “Successive governments during the last ten years, and largely under prime minister Shinzo Abe, have attempted to perpetrate a myth about the nuclear disaster. They have sought to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination program and ignoring radiological risks.”

The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have played a decade’s long game of claiming progress where there’s been none to be had. The goo they plan to dump in the Pacific is fraught with the foulest fission products resultant from the meltdowns: strontium-90, cesium-134, cesium-137 and tritium.

Japanese political and business leaders are so caught up in their web of self-deception that they have convinced themselves of the safety of the Fukushima prefecture where the nuclear plant is located. They plan to hold the Olympics Baseball/Softball competition in a 30,000-capacity stadium near the meltdown site where 19,000 people were evacuated in 2011 because of the radiation, never to return to now-deserted ghost towns. But it’s okay for baseball in 2021.

The lessons of ten years of Fukushima have been lost on most people, especially Microsoft founder and third most wealthy person in the world, Bill Gates. Gates has been on a tear promoting a “new” generation of nuclear reactors that are smaller and easier to build to help fight global warming.

Gates told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in February that new nuclear reactors would “absolutely” become politically viable because, as he put it according the the network’s show reporting, ‘it’s the safest energy system available, and would help combat climate change since it has low greenhouse gas emissions. It just has a bad rap.’

“Nuclear has actually been safer than any other source of [power] generation,” Gates said. “You know, coal plants, coal particulate, natural gas pipelines blowing up. The deaths per unit of power on these other approaches are — are far higher.”

Notwithstanding the fact that the unsolvable problem of how to somehow store the millions of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste we already have generated in the United States and worldwide and are generating, Gates offered no solutions to this intractable and deadly problem. Instead, Gates offered a tantalizing glimpse of a very unrealistic nuclear-powered panacea.

“There’s a new generation [of nuclear power] that solves the economics, which has been the big, big problem,” Gates said referring to the fact that the power plants are very expensive to build, especially with those pesky containment domes that attempt to protect the public. “At the same time, it revolutionizes the safety.”

Gates has somehow sold himself, and now some of the world as well, that using liquid sodium instead of water to cool down a reactor at lower pressure would somehow reduce the chance of a meltdown. Plus, that these liquid sodium reactors could be built small and cheaply. And everywhere.

EnviroReporter.com’s Rocketdyne Investigation clearly has not been on the billionaire’s must-read list. Because if it had been, he’d know that liquid sodium reactors are just a, well, stupid idea and Bill Gates is anything but. But, nevertheless and no matter the amount of money, you can’t fix stupid.

Gates has said that he while he’s good at theoretical ideas, chemistry is not his strong suit. Whether this humility is manufactured or not, he’s certainly telling the truth because his chemical mastery of liquid sodium reactors seems wanting.

Liquid sodium erupts into flame upon contact with air and explodes when it touches water making it extremely dangerous to deal with, especially if it used to cool a nuclear reactor. That “revolutionizes” the danger using this outdated technology and is anything but the panacea Gates gushes over. Liquid sodium is a nuclear nightmare waiting to happen. In fact, it already has.

Gates’ false claim that this is a “new generation” of nuclear power makes one wonder just how he could have missed the 1959 partial meltdown of the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) at Rocketdyne’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory in Southern California. The SRE partial meltdown released hundreds of times more radiation into the environment than the Three Mile Island partial meltdown did in 1979.

Indeed, EnviroReporter.com’s first piece about the SRE was this reporter’s Los Angeles magazine June 1998 cover story Hot Zone. If that piece didn’t drive home the dangers of liquid sodium reactors, surely 2009’s 50 Years After America’s Worst Nuclear Meltdown, co-written with Joan Trossman Bien, should have.

“Unlike most conventional reactors that circulate water to be heated by the fuel rods in the core in order to turn steam turbines, the SRE used sodium because it could operate under lower pressure,” the 2009 article read. “Pure sodium — not to be confused with table salt, or sodium chloride — was a risky metal to use since it catches fire when exposed to air and explodes when mixed with water.”

The danger of future mini-Fukushima disasters happening thanks to Gates backing this dangerous and outdated nuclear technology isn’t just some pipedream of a poorly-read billionaire. It was the stated campaign policy of now-President Joe Biden.

Biden’s clean energy plan includes “advanced nuclear reactors, that are smaller, safer, and more efficient at half the construction cost of today’s reactors.”

The twin endorsements of an old dangerous nuclear reactor technology by Bill Gates and Joe Biden make a mockery of clean energy plans that attempt the arrest the planet’s plunge into uncontrolled overheating.

The twin catastrophes of the 1959 SRE liquid sodium meltdown and the ongoing 2011 Fukushima meltdowns are ample evidence of the lethality of nuclear power, in any form.

The idea is stupid even if the people behind it aren’t. And you can’t fix stupid.

5 Comments

  1. @David Noyes: That is an ambitious idea that may not have been considered. No one, however, would allow highly radioactive water to be dumped in the Artic because it would further poison an already stressed ecosystem that thaws dangerously every summer. A more conservative but realistic idea would be to build more tanks to hold the toxic water, just as they have for a decade.

  2. Don’t dump the water in the Pacific Japan. Ship it to the Arctic and dump it on the ice. It will freeze and in 1,000 years the half life will make it inert.

  3. Another Simi Mom

    Thank you Michael for keeping us posted on how the Fukushima meltdowns have affected us in the western U.S.A.

    The probable release of tons and tons of radioactive water in Japan will eventually show itself in the USA, first in Hawaii and Alaska, as the Fukushima radionuclides reach their fishing waters. Then the radioactively contaminated water will contaminate fin fish and shellfish regularly harvested on the West Coast. Over the years since the meltdowns, Enviroreporter has shown all of us that the Fukushima radionuclides have found their way into “fresh” fish sold in supermarkets and restaurants throughout the West.

    These days there are so many people who eat large quantity of fish compared with our parents’ generation, thinking fish is healthy. When the Pacific Ocean-caught fish become more radioactive, after TEPCO’s upcomming release of the radioactive cooling water, none of your run-of-the-mill city, county, state or Federal “health department” officials, let alone Federal food regulatory agencies as the West Coast’s Pacific of fishermen-caught fish get “hotter and hotter”. Likely 99% of shoppers and chefs won’t have a clue that there is anything wrong.

    Comparatively speaking the West Coast wholesale seafood business is huge dollarwise. Roughly 20 years ago I worked at a law firm which, among other clients, represented stupid banks who lent money to businesses in the form of lines of credit. My law firm would be called in when the borrower screwed up big time and wasn’t making scheduled payments on those “operating lines of credit”. Our job was to help the FDIC insured banks out of the mess their high level employees made in that sort of business lending, and trying to salvage the value of the business when the borrower came close to running it into the ground. For a whole lot of reasons, some businesses-in-trouble are saved and some are shut down, usually through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    One such business, which I’ll call “Fisherman Ronny” was particularly memorable, in terms of their troubles. Fisherman Ronny’s employees bought edible fin fish and shell fish from fishing boat operators all across Southern California. Each day, the fresh-caught fish would be taken to FIsherman Ronny’s fish warehouse south of the 10 Freeway, where restaurant customers orders would be filled. Fisherman Ronny had a fleet of refrigerated trucks to take massive flats of fin fish and shell fish over to Las Vegas on a daily basis, so that tourists and gamblers could eat fresh fish in the desert. I used to smile when I would see those fish-trucks on the freeway headed east in the L.A. area, or road trips to and from Las Vegas.

    All of that business’ customers were supposed to send their payments for the seafood to a “lock box” in L.A. at our client bank, which would loan pull payments out of the lock box and then the balance remaining in the payments from restaurants would be put into the Fisherman Ronny corporate bank account, and his bookkeepters would pay the fishermen as well as the company’s other operating expenses.

    At one point in time, the bank’s employees started noticing that the deposits to the lock box coming from Las Vegas restaurants and casinos significantly dropped, and after the bank took the loan payments there was not much left to send to Fisherman Ronny’s bookkeeper. The bank called our law firm, and our investigator determined that Fisherman Ronny liked to go to Las Vegas to gamble and eat fancy steaks. It turned out that some of the restaurants and casinos were paying for the seafood they bought from Fisherman Ronny with casino chips, not checks. That’s a common means of off-the-books payments seen in California businesses for a whole lot of reasons.

    Lucky me got to be the lawyer for the bank, which installed a watchdog/receiver to take control of the company away from the compulsive gambler and steak eater until he could reform his ways. During the course of 6 months or so, while I negotiating with Fisherman Ronny’s lawyer to get that wholesale seafood business out of a jam, I learned a lot about the practical mechanics of how seafood makes it to our dinner tables or restaurant tables in the West.

    Having learned a lot about the “seafood wholesale business” It scares the heck out of me to think what will happen after the Japanese government and TEPCO release the highly radioactive water from Fukushima and the radioactive material finds its way into dinner table seafood harvested from the Pacific. Based on Enviroreporter’s testing experience, that newly released-into-the-Pacific will eventually contaminate a whole lot of seafood eaten in California and Nevada, and further east.

    Based on the wholesale seafood business I witnessed first-hand, the heavily radioactively contaminated seafood destined for American tables and tummies will not be tested for radioactivity in any way, shape or form, and unlike biological contaminants of the seafood, cooking it will not make the radioactive substances in the seafood go away.

    The only effective means of keeping radioactively contaminated seafood out of America’s wholesale/retail/restaurant food chain (as well as out of pet food) will be the California or Federal government imposing wanding/testing mandated to be done at the seafood warehouses in California as the fishermen’s products come in the door, tray by tray and box by box. The “government” will have to permanently station their inspectors in the seafood warehouses, just like is supposed to be happening at beef slaughterhouses all across the USA.

    If that government-mandated testing doesn’t happen, restaurant owners are going to have to wand test loads of seafood they buy, like Enviroreporter has done, to protect the businesses from long term tort liability to their customers/diners. While a small restaurant likely won’t do that, the wanding will need to become common at supermarkets, casinos and in large corporate restaurant chains, who will to protect themselves from clever plaintiffs lawyers, like those looking for Round-Up and ranitidine contaminated clients today.

    And eventually word will reach health conscious Americans about even-more radioactive seafood in the West, and the smart and healthy consumers in the West will not eat seafood unless it is “Certified as Harvested from the Gulf of Mexico waters”. The filled-up fish truck will be headed west, not east.

  4. Hi Michael,

    Your piece is quite GOOd.

    A separate, shorter piece on just the Gates/Rocketdyne might grab those who have Instagram attention spans.

  5. Thank you Michael for your excellent reporting and investigation. It’s scary to think that we have learned nothing about sodium reactors/nuclear energy as well as all its problems and dangerious harms that it causes both to our environmnent and health.

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