What's A Little Particle Decay Between Friends?

« September 2013 »


There are a lot of big topics to cover in depth this week, and in order to get to them all in a timely fashion, I'm forgoing the usual Wednesday routine and leaving Idiots Say The Damndest Things for Saturday's bonus column. Today, we have to talk about Michael Bay's Fukushima.

I mean, not literally, because technically, nothing about the Japanese nuclear reactor is exploding, and if it did, it'd be to save us all and there wouldn't be any lingering problems afterward, just an Aerosmith song following Ryan Reynolds winking or something. But the government response to the nuclear disaster? That shit is straight out of Hollywood.

First, there was the revelation that the water leaking from the plant, which was damaged in an earthquake/tsunami one-two punch two years ago, was a shit-ton more radioactive than previously reported, because the monitoring equipment maxed out and they just took the maxed out reading as the actual reading. This is roughly the equivalent of saying you weren't driving 180 miles an hour down the freeway because your speedometer stops at 75, except to more closely map the actual situation, your speedometer would have to stop at ten fucking miles per hour.

And now, Japan has plans to stop the contamination with a half-billion dollar underground ice wall. Which on the face of it is not the confidence-building phrase Japan probably thinks it is. The details from the BBC News story on it will not help you sleep any easier. ACTUAL DETAILS TIME!

"He said the plan to freeze the ground around the site was "challenging", and a permanent solution was needed."

"He" is the Vice President of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, and um, your half billion dollar ice wall is a temporary stopgap? Assuming it works? I mean, the BBC titled their helpful diagram "How the 'ice wall' could work", combining both British understated skepticism ("could") with slightly condescending quote marks around "ice wall". And for good reason.

"The technique has only been used on a small scale to control pollution before but not with radioactive contamination, he added."

The technique, by the way, is basically sinking pipes into the ground and pumping coolant through them to freeze the earth, forming a barrier the radioactive water can't get through, unlike the wall of the tank designed to hold the radioactive water, which has failed spectacularly.

But the bit that will make you really scared? Right here:

"The funding pledge comes days before a decision is due on the host nation for the 2020 summer Olympic Games, for which Tokyo is a candidate."

Since the dawn of the summer blockbuster in "Jaws", there has been one constant theme in disaster movies. That local officials will insist the problem is fixed so that the big event can take place and have its desired economic impact, and that those local officials are wrong. The shark's not dead, the bomb threat's not a fake, the coastal walls won't stop the kaiju.

So, yeah. Once they get the pipes sunk, it'll take six to eight weeks to freeze the soil, and then we'll see how the temporary stopgap measure is working, because as we've seen time and time again with this reactor, Japan's nuclear agencies are totally capable of and willing to report accurate measurements of how fucked up their shit is.