Last week, the world turned its attention to Ukraine. Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down over war-torn Ukraine. Perhaps many people have forgotten that Ukraine also the took center stage on world news almost three decades ago. On Saturday, 26 April 1986, disaster struck at reactor number four of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. Just like last week’s event, the world was shocked when the nuclear meltdown took down the nuclear plant. The mishap caused a large 30 km off-limits cordon around the area. Besides uprooting more than 350,000 residents, the enormous cost to the tune of USD$18 billion was incurred for containment and decontamination purposes. The economic costs and the impact on health have not been fully evaluated. Nuclear accidents are not new. The world’s first nuclear power plant was commissioned on June 27, 1954 in Obninsk. Before Chernobyl, the first serious nuclear plant accident occurred at Three Mile Island in 1979. Fukushima became the next victim. In 2011, a huge earthquake induced a tsunami that took down three nuclear plants at Fukushima-Daiichi.
It had been three years since the accident. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEOCO) is still struggling to contain the nuclear fallout. Ashahi Shimbum reported on 24 July 2014 that more than 1 trillion becquerels of radioactive substances were released into the environment during debris-clearing work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant last year. TEPCO officials are not able to ascertain the precise amount of radioactive substances that leaked out of the plant site. With so much uncertainty, it is almost impossible to gauge the true damage and the spread of radioactive materials. The only certainty is that tons of radioactive material had been leaking into the ocean and is exposing the whole world to radioactive contamination. Debris from the tsunami are still being washed onto the western shores of North America after floating across the Pacific Ocean for three years. To put the scale of impact in perspective, the radioactive leaks are pouring incessantly into the ocean ever since the earthquake hit Fukushima whereas debris that are ariving on American coasts had ceased emanating three years ago. How this catastrophe is going to affect marine life and the consequential food chain is mere conjecture. The effects may not be apparent until years henceforth.
Already reeling from the vagaries of reports on health and safety concerns on the crisis, the Shinto Abe government pressed to enact laws to curtail publication of information pertaining to the nuclear fallout. Associated Press reported on 26 November 2013 that the Japanese Lower House approved a state secrecy law to incarcerate journalists who attempt to leak or report inappropriate information or are complicit in the solicitation of related materials. Such illegal acts face an imprisonment term of up to five years. Instead of providing comfort, it only fueled speculation that the situation is far worse than officials will admit. Sporadic protests were carried out by Japanese but to no avail. In the vicinity of Fukushima, locals are reporting all forms of health problems and animal deformities.
The Telegraph reported on 29 July 2014 that “Genetic mutations have been found in three generations of butterflies from near Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, raising fears radiation could affect other species.” Elsewhere in the USA, social media circulated readings of unusually high radiation readings purportedly coming from Fukushima (e.g. http://enenews.com/researchers-radioactive-materials-detected-california-levels-spike-400-normal-crew-discovers-island-tsunami-debris-never-anything-like-tv-disturbing-new-images-pacific-looks-like-islands-plas). With governments overtly suppressing information, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ascertain truth from the deluge of government reports, social media claims and counter claims. It may take another disaster to unveil what is the truth.
Abe successfully coaxed the Singapore government to relent on the ban of foodstuff from Fukushima during his meeting with Singapore’s prime minister on 31 May 2014. Japan Times reported that “Singapore will lift a ban on food imports from Fukushima Prefecture imposed amid the nuclear meltdowns crisis, Premier Lee Hsien Loong said Saturday at a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In response, Abe expressed his gratitude and said, “It gives Fukushima great courage,” government officials said. Singapore stopped importing food products from Fukushima after the massive earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 unleashed one of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophes at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.”
The Singapore prime minister has indeed shown great courage and was truly diplomatic to accede to this request by Abe. Is this a wise decision? Should diplomacy or economic expediency override the interest of Singapore? Or will this turn out to be a foolish decision that the people of Singapore has to bear through this act of “tact”? Who knows! For now, who cares.
And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.