Impact of Fukushima Continues to Inch up to Chernobyl Levels

New radiation leaks at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant spurred Japanese nuclear regulators to raise the level of how great an accident it is from five to seven (“major”). Since that’s the highest on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s scale, it’s now on a par with Chernobyl.

Of course, Fukushima has emitted only a tenth of the radiation as Chernobyl, according to the Associated Press. In other words, if Fukushima is 7.0, Chernobyl was 7.999. But, AP writes of the Fukushima radiation leaks, “they eventually could exceed Chernobyl’s emissions if the crisis continues.”

This came hot on the heels of news that five communities had been added to the 12-mile suggested evacuation radius. In addition, citizens were urged to keep the ill, pregnant, and very young outside an 18-mile radius. In fact, reports the Japan Times, the Fukushima radius “will soon be turned into a legally binding off-limits zone,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “Officials suggested Sunday that they will now be able to force anyone out of the evacuation zone who refuses to leave.” A commentator on PBS, whose name I failed to catch, suggested that Japan may use eminent domain with the residents relocated and somehow provided housing elsewhere.

Meanwhile, at ABC News, Stephen Brozak and Henry Bassman, executives at WBB Securities, wrote about the consequences of Fukushima for the world, business and otherwise. They point out that the enlarged 18 miles-plus evacuation radius is “the same distance as the exclusion zone around Chernobyl in Ukraine.” But less radiation than Chernobyl aside, in other respects, the implications are as or more serious.

. . . Japan is neither as large or as sparsely populated as Ukraine. Close to 73 percent of Japan is unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use.

Presumably, the authors mean that was already true before the disaster. Though it’s difficult to understand why since three-quarters of Japan certainly isn’t park land. Nevertheless, Brozak and Bass write:

The Japanese government and Japanese investors comprise the second largest holders of U.S. Treasuries, at $885 billion. The Bank of Japan also is reported to hold $493 billion in its reserve balance to avert credit problems. Some financial observers have speculated that the earthquake and tsunami may force Japan’s government and investors to liquidate much of the U.S. debt they hold.

In other words, Japan may call in what the United States owes it. While the United States is staggering from that roundhouse right, neither will the rest of the world be immune from the economic ripple effects of Fukushima.

Farmers have been forced to destroy crops and dispose of dairy products. Because of continuing contamination of seawater, the healthfulness of seafood from the Pacific Ocean is in question. Japan is already a net food importer. In response to a continuing shortage of Japanese home-grown food, the Japanese government may encourage importation of even more foreign food, which is likely to increase the price of food in a nation where food is already an extremely expensive commodity. Worldwide, increased competition for food is likely to affect prices, causing some people in marginal economies to go hungry.

No matter how desperate we are for energy, it’s difficult to understand how people can still proselytize for a form of it in which one accident can cause waves at home and elsewhere as powerful as, well, a tsunami.