The danger level of the Fukushima disaster has now officially been raised to level 7, that is the highest possible level. This puts the Fukushima disaster on the same level as Chernobyl, even though the amount of radioactive material released is not yet as great due to the different reactor design and nature of the disaster.
According to the French organization CRIIRAD, increased levels of the radioactive isotope iodine-131 have been detected in Western Europe. CRIIRAD is also warning vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, young children and nursing mothers to refrain from consuming fresh milk and dairy products, leafy vegetables and rainwater. That is, fresh milk and leafy vegetables from Europe, not Japan.
I am not one of those risk groups and I will continue to drink milk and eat leafy vegetables within reason. Besides, we grow our own lettuce in a greenhouse, so there is no risk. But this is still worrying.
Even more worrying is this report by the German political TV magazine Monitor, based on a leaked confidential report by AREVA, a French company that is the largest supplier of nuclear power technology in the world. According to the AREVA report, a nuclear meltdown is occurring under the open air in the cool-down pool for spent fuel rods. The spent fuel rods are exposed to the air and releasing radioactive fission materials.
Meanwhile, the protests against nuclear power are still going strong in Germany. This weekend, Günter Grass, German writer and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, held a protest reading in front of the nuclear power station Krümmel near Hamburg. The Krümmel power station (and the experimental reactor in nearby Geesthacht) have long been suspected to be linked to an increased incidence of leukemia in the nearby Elbmarsch region. A video of the reading can be found here.
However, many Americans are still denying the dangers of nuclaar power in spite of increasing evidence. The conservative German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ran this interview with the alleged American environmentalist Steward Brand (the Whole Earth Catalogue guy) in which Brand not only expressed his strong support for nuclear power, but also has the gall to call Germans hypocrites for their opposition to nuclear power. The deliberate blindness of many Americans, including those who consider themselves environmentalists, is genuinely disturbing.
Another example of American downplaying of the dangers of nuclear power is a certain XKCD cartoon. I won’t dignify that cartoon by linking to it, but you know which one I mean: The one that tries to make you believe that the radiation in the immediate neighbourhood of the Fukushima reactor is less dangerous than getting an X-ray or flying from New York to Los Angeles. Here, Kathryn Allen puts that odious cartoon into perspective.
However, there are alternatives to nuclear power and they may be closer than we think. Greenpeace has now presented a study according to which Germany can permanently switch off all its nuclear power stations until 2015 without any ill effects. Also according to the Greenpeace study, all coal fired power stations, which are problematic because of their high carbondioxide emissions, in Germany could be switched off by 2040. I have my issues with Greenpeace (long story), but their plan is worth considering.