What if they don’t plan to tell us? A Halloween tale

Image from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the George Romero movie that gets lots of Netflix views in late October.

I’m sure it has something to do with the time of year, but I’ve been thinking about nightmarish things lately. And most of them are real things. Even the debt ceiling/government shutdown debacle is something of a joke when you think about it. Yes, it would be… embarrassing if the US defaulted and bad things would happen, but things are within our control to some degree, and as much as some countries would hate us (Hello, China), we could muddle through. Hey, China–what other nation is dumb enough to buy all those salad shooters?

Then there’s Fukushima (specifically the accident at the nuclear power plants around Fukushima, which encompass some four reactors). That’s scary in a tooth-rattling way.

Last week, the coast off Fukushima was hit with another earthquake of high magnitude (7.3 or thereabouts depending on who you trust). This caused those of us who’ve been following the disaster for the past two years a bit of panic. After all, thanks to the numerous leaks around the plants, the ground has been saturated with radioactive water. The ‘radioactive’ part of that phrase is bad enough, but the ground being saturated makes things worse; a bit of shaking and a building or two might come tumbling down–the ground is the consistency of pudding in some places. This would be bad at all parts of the reactors, of course. But Fukushima 4 has a containment vessel with some 1300 spent fuel rods sitting in it that is precariously perched some 100 feet above the ground.It would have been nice to remove the rods before the ground became muddy and the possibility of the whole mess falling down presented itself. But that’s a woulda, shoulda, coulda concern.

TEPCO is about to try to remove the fuel anyway– a dangerous enough proposition given the possibility of the rods having bent or cracked during the accident phase. There’s an article here about the technical issues. But all of that pales when you consider two things:

* there’s the radioactive equivalent of 85 Chernobyl accidents in that single spent fuel pool; and

* This is what the pool looks like as of a month ago–notice there’s NO ROOF.

Spent fuel pool at Fukushima number four. Look rickety? It is.

The ‘no roof’ part is especially bad because there’s no way to close off the radiation should something bad happen in the removal of the fuel rods–the highly radioactive steam and particulate will just percolate out the top into the wind.

In my formative years (when I was busy building model airplanes and going steady with a purloined copy of Playboy) , I was reading a lot about Hiroshima. Besides the book by John Hersey, there were also anecdotal stories by various survivors.  Various Hibakusha (the name given to the survivors of the bomb blasts) have given their accounts. And for me, if there were any doubts about the horrors of nuclear bombs and what radiation does to the body, they were put to rest by visiting the traveling exhibits of Hiroshima Peace memorial museum, which chronicled (both with film and by contemporary drawings) what happened after Fat Boy and Little Boy were dropped.

Which brings me to the zombie reference. One of the insidious things about radiation poisoning is that many people who get a lethal dose are initially okay. It takes a few days for the radiation to cause massive organ failure and the other things that will lead to a very unpleasant death. And at the atomic blast sites, there were people ambulating around for several days before the radiation took their lives. To read contemporary accounts is to be subsumed in a zombie world, where the shocking is commonplace. It reminds one of the accounts of Europe during the plague, where bodies lay where people fell because there was no one available to bury them.

And that leads me back to Fukushima. There have been reports for awhile now that children are showing signs of radiation poisoning–things like bloody noses that don’t stop, sinus problems, etc. Others have been talking about government efforts to keep reporting of such symptoms to a minimum. And there has been very little reporting in the US–Sorry to sound conspiracy minded, but I suspect that every time there’s truly bad news to report, the call goes out to California for one of the Kardashians to do something photo-worthy.

This was actually a scenario that was discussed in the US military back in the Cold War days. If you had a large contingent of troops who’d been exposed and who wouldnt show symptoms for a week or so, what should you do with them? Once they were told their prognosis, they’d be useless to you–they’d probably want to run off the battlefield and get drunk or laid as often as possible for those last few days. But could you organize units of the walking dead? Could you build combat units out of men who didn’t know they were dying? It was a moral conundrum, and it hadn’t been solved prior to the end of the Cold War as far as I know.

And then there’s this meme. It’s about Peak Oil but it applies here:


From a politician’s point of view, there’s no advantage to bearing bad news. Nobody’s going to want to hear it, and you’ll be hated for it. So would our ‘leaders’ keep news about Fukushima and radiation sickness to themselves? Why not? There’s no percentage in telling us. The doctors could blather on about that ‘crazy new virus’ they were seeing, even as people are falling down dead. Because after all, not everyone will die. At least not right away. There will be crops to plant and generators to run and credit accounts to deal with. So why tell us?

What if people falling down dead in the streets becomes the new normal? It has happened before–the dark ages certainly, but also during the siege of Leningrad in 1942, when people were dying too fast to be buried, and bodies were left out until spring.

Happy Hallowe’en.


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