Japan’s Official Meltdown in Meaning: Tohoku Quake and Nuclear Monitoring

Japan’s Official Meltdown in Meaning: Tohoku Quake and Nuclear Monitoring

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On March 13, Japan’s Prime Minister's office imposed information control on news related to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, citing the legal grounds of Article 15 of the Constitution. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano's explanation might seem confusing, because Article 15 has nothing to do with limiting information releases related to national security.

The text of Article 15 reads:

"The people have the inalienable right to choose their public officials and to dismiss them. 2) All public officials are servants of the whole community and not of any group thereof. 3) Universal adult suffrage is guaranteed with regard to the election of public officials. 4) In all elections, secrecy of the ballot shall not be violated. A voter shall not be answerable, publicly or privately, for the choice he has made."

Article 15 contains nary a mention of censorship--in fact, quite the opposite.

Constitutional experts can try to get their heads around this legal paradox, but all they'll come up with is a migraine headache. To decipher Edano's novel interpretation, it takes many years of political reporting inside the epicenter of twisted logic at Nagata-cho, home of the Prime Minister's Office and the Diet (Japan’s parliament).

My previous gurus in Tokyo-style, old-school journalism prepared me well for this meltdown moment. Using crafty Machiavellian swordplay and Orwellian judo—and a healthy sense of humor--my departed sensei assumed their alter egos as script editors for high officials.

Were my teachers assuming their “official” guise today, they might explain things to their students at the loyal Capital Press Club in phrasing, such as:

"To serve the public and our citizens’ right to know, the democratic government of Japan shall from now on gather all information available on the present-day disasters and present this information to the mass media in a coherent and timely manner. The heads of all relevant agencies and ministries shall submit their reports to our central office and avoid making misleading comments harmful to the public interest. All facts will be verified and findings carefully reviewed to ensure the release of accurate and balanced findings, even if this arduous task takes months or years."

Such wording is consistent with Japan's mangling of its postwar democratic Constitution.

In the spirit of Article 15, as stated above, "The people have the inalienable right to dismiss their public officials." The time is now to exercise that constitutional right.

The Alchemist's Notebook

Now for some serious, scientific facts.

With the second in the series of nuclear-plant blasts, I dug out old textbooks from my university studies in organic chemistry. This blast, which blew apart the concrete structure of Reactor 3 at the Fukushima 1 nuclear plant, emitted a billowing cloud of yellow smoke, a telltale sign of chlorine gas. This follows on official admission that both explosions up to that point were caused by the combustion of hydrogen.

If so, why were those gases being emitted from reactor chambers?

Inside the pressure cooker, radioactive ions are ejecting electrons, which in turn are splitting the bonds that hold together water, or H2O. Hydrogen gas is thereby released on one side, and supercharged oxygen on the other. These gases create a bubble at the top of the reactor chamber. When vented through an escape valve, in order to relieve internal pressure, the extremely hot gases combine in fast combustion. Simply put, they explode.

A similar process is splitting the salt, called NaCl (sodium chloride) that is dissolved in the seawater being pumped into the reactors. Besides chlorine gas, free radicals of sodium – much more corrosive than drain cleaner, for example – are being released.

These two chemicals are eating away at the micro-fissures in the steel alloy chamber, whose crystal structure is gradually being fragmented by the extremes of fission-caused heat alternating with injections of cool water, as well as by the vibrations from the aftershocks.

The release valve itself is a potential weak point, because the exhaust filtration systems were probably destroyed in the blasts.

While the reactor chamber has four protective layers, the all-important steel lining is the main defense against a rupture that would trigger a total meltdown. Chlorine is highly toxic for the nuclear workers attempting to get the reactors under control. These brave men are heroic, but heroes are falling against the manmade monster.

Preparations for worst-case scenario need to be initiated in an international effort by the U.N. Security Council.

From Manga to Markets

This apocalyptic nuclear scenario--long predicted in Japan's sci-fi manga and anime--should not catch us watching helplessly. The corporate deceivers, the creators of this real-life drama, beg to be reprimanded in the capitalist marketplace. That’s because punitive action will not come from the many politicians beholden to the nuclear lobby.

A spotlight must be cast on the big names of the nuclear industry--the likes of Toshiba-Westinghouse, GE, Bechtel, Areva, Babcock and Wilcox, as well as such operators as TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and Consolidated Edison, plus the "usual suspects" list of financial institutions that support them.

This corporate-political Axis of Evil should be the target of an Internet divestment campaign and protest rallies. Politicians who receive nuclear-lobby funding should be exposed and voted out. The nuclear fakers among the anti-global warming movement need to be "defrocked." Search engines that are now covering the tracks also require appropriate action.

If each of us waits for reddish lumps to appear on our bodies and clumps of hair to fall off, it will be too late. Action starts now, while you've still got a half-life.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times Weekly, has covered the earthquakes in San Francisco and Kobe, participated in the rescue operation immediately after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and led the field research for an architectural report on structural design flaws that led to the tsunami death toll in Thailand.