70 Miles of Flotsam & Radioactive Waste Dumped into the Pacific

You’d pretty much have to have been living on some other planet to be unaware of the 9-point earthquake and subsequent tsunami that rocked northern Japan a few weeks ago.  We won’t be boring you with rehashes of that tragic event.  But we do want to fill you in on the latest aftermath.  For example, there’s now a flotsam island some 70 miles long floating out into the Pacific, made up of houses, and plastics, bodies and cars, polluting as it goes, and creating dangerous hazards in the shipping lanes.  The U.S. Navy’s 7th fleet is keeping an eye on this latest mess, and describes that it covers more than 2.2 million square feet of ocean surface.  Experts estimate that the rubbish may take as much as two years to hit Hawaii.  It may be another year after that before it hits the U.S. West Coast.  Meanwhile, there’s a very real threat to ships large and small of hulls being breached, props being fouled, and marine mammals and other ocean creatures being adversely affected by this huge island of rubble.

This current will bring cars, homes, bodies, furniture and other debris to our shores.

While we’re on it, did you know that the Japanese government elected to dump over 11 milion liters (2.5 million gallons) of radioactive water into the Pacific ocean?  Yep, water that’s 500 times more radioactive than the legal limit was unceremoniously poured into the world’s oceans.  Just a couple days later, radioactive fish were found some 50 miles offshore.  “We had no choice,” they claim.  Sure ya did.  Barrel it up and bury it in YOUR back yard, until a combined effort of Japan and the rest of the world figures out what to do with it.  But because they didn’t want it in their back yard, they poured it into ours?  All due sympathy to the people of Japan during this tragedy, but it’s still not OUR nuclear plants that are melting down.  Junichi Matsumoto, of Japan’s TEPCO makes an attempt to justify the choice, saying “We think releasing water with low levels of radiation is preferable to allowing water with high levels of radiation to be released into the environment.”  That may be true, Mr. Matsumoto, but it wasn’t a binary situation.  You didn’t have to make that choice.  Nice try, but we’re not quite that lacking in logic.  Matsumoto claims that the urgency was from a leak they thought was happening.  But none of that stopped them from bottling the radioactive water and keeping it out of the Pacific.  Using the ocean as one’s dumping ground is never appropriate, but radioactive wastes are even more dangerous.  Potential results range from giving cancer to sea mammals and fish, to causing genetic mutations that could literally alter the entire food chain’s balances.

Taking this action at all was unacceptable.  Doing so without conferring with the rest of the world was simply too typical of the Japanese perspective that suggests the world exists for them to exploit anywhere and any way that they like.  We are not against the Japanese people.  We have a number of friends in and from Japan, and feel deeply for their circumstances.   That said, the nation of Japan continues to act with blatant disregard for marine life.  The nation issues permits to kill over a thousand whales each year for “research”, (not including the untold thousands of dolphins which need no permit.)  This whale hunting and killing takes place in Antarctic waters long ago set aside as marine sanctuary by the entire world.  They go there, we have been told, because the waters are cleaner, so the whale flesh will have less mercury.

The earthquake in Japan, and the aftermath which continues, is just one example of the ways in which a relatively small local event can have global repercussions.  We must, as a species, shift our perspective, our way of looking at the oceans.   This planet cannot survive (nor can we) if we continue to use it as our dumping grounds.

Tennessee Toxic Spill Update

Devastation from the recent coal ash disaster at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant near Knoxville is far from cleaned up, let alone done and over with, but already confessions have begun.

Last week Tom Kilgore, CEO of the TVA, admitted before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee that their plant had experienced two less severe leaks in 2003 and 2005, but left those breaches inadequately repaired.

Mr. Kilgore’s excuse of heavy rains and freezing temperatures doesn’t excuse that the TVA was not prepared for such conditions in the first place, nor does it justify why the holding ponds are not lined.

It seems there’s blame enough to go around for everyone. Committee chairwoman, Senator Barbara Boxer (D, CA,) also admits to a portion of responsibility for the spill, in that she has been chairwoman of the committee since 2007 but had paid no attention to the T.V.A.’s practices as pertains to toxic byproducts.

Senator Boxer and other members of the Environment and Public Works Committee promised to press for stronger coal ash regulations, including a requirement that it be stored in lined pits. The senator suggested that the coal ash be dried as well, to prevent it from flooding homes and rivers. This may be ill-advised, though, as the dried coal ash could then become airborne. If not well contained, people might breathe the ash, or have it settling in their homes, where it could be ingested.
We have more than 1300 toxic waste ponds in the United States, each full of heavy metals known to cause cancer, respiratory disease, crippling nervous system disorders (as well as reproductive complications.) They’re all there because of fossil-fuel powered generator plants. Isn’t this proof enough that it’s high time we switched to wind, solar and hydro-generated energy sources? Perhaps that would prove a better way to spend the money than to be lining pools and drying toxic coal ash. Wouldn’t you agree, Senator Boxer?

Mammoth Toxic Coal Ash Spill Near Knoxville

The largest environmental disaster of its kind has over 5 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash flooding an area of eastern Tennessee about 40 miles east of Knoxville. Although initially reported at 1.7 million cubic yards, it seems the wet coal ash , which poured out through a broken retaining wall from an unlined area, is actually more like three times that — enough to cover more than 3000 acres a foot deep in the sludge. Authorities claim the pond’s capacity was only 2.6 million cubic yards, leaving everyone wondering how they didn’t know that it was actually over twice that volume.

Tennessee Valley Authority, a Federally owned corporation put into existence in 1933 by F.D.R., owns the electric generating plant. [Read more...]