Water Closet for April 18, 2014

On March 11, 2011 the tsunami came ashore and surged far inland along the low northeast coast of Honshu, Japan.  The power plant at Fukushima was severely damaged.  Radiation still leaks from it three years later.  This story continues and may for centuries.  Japan now debates the reopening of its nuclear power plants. The following is the Stream Team’s Water Closet written three years ago soon after that tsunami.  Are we too in danger of similar leaking radiation?  In 1755, not long ago to geologists, just a few leagues east of Cape Ann, a substantial earthquake shook and took down 1000s of chimneys from Boston to Falmouth.  The Leeward Islands 1000 thousand miles south soon experienced a tsunami like wave.  Will another send a tsunami over the low lying Seabrook nuclear power plant which is not as far away as Fukushima was from its tsunami’s quake?


 Trinity Test, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, American and Russian nuclear bomb tests, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl are events burned in old memories of when radioactive elements resulting from man’s activities got out of control purposely or otherwise.  [pullquote]”Rachel Carson, very loudly in writing, warned us a half century ago in Silent Spring of agricultural chemicals on the loose in our waters”[/pullquote]Now we add Fukushima.  The poisons rose and are rising with water into the air to become part of the clouds.  Water is a neutral carrier of life’s good stuff like salts in the sea and sugars, salts, amino acids, and hormones in the blood to mention but a few of thousands of natural solutes.  It also carries radioactive isotopes, pesticides and herbicides in air and flowing water beyond where they ought to be.  Quiet Rachel Carson, very loudly in writing, warned us a half century ago in Silent Spring of agricultural chemicals on the loose in our waters.  This past week in the Boston Globe we were reminded of another outspoken woman, pediatrician Helen Caldicott, who spoke, many thought unpleasantly, against the dangers of radiation.  She started a decade after Carson bothered us and has gone on ever since.  She opposes all nuclear weapons and power plants.  One old Closeteer remembers attending a meeting where she in quiet fury told the group what we people were doing.  Sometimes the truth it is very uncomfortable.  Now politicians are warned over and over, often by timid advisors, about keeping their cool.  Some of us old folks are nostalgic for the rare times when our leaders let us know how they truly felt.  Caldicott continues to speak out from her home and medical practice in Newton.  She is now watching the out of control events at Fukushima’s power plants very carefully.  She hasn’t and doesn’t need to say “I told you so.”  The media are making that point very loudly, albeit not always clearly.  They remind us daily of past events and doubts; leaders and their advisors around the world are listening.


Seabrook Station, nuclear power plant, is surrounded by salt marsh near the ocean. Half a world away on an east coast about the same latitude is the Fukushima plant leaking poisons.

Man, and woman, such as Marie Curie, brilliantly learned to separate radioactive elements from natural rock, not always for the right reasons.  We saw that at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Many survivors there still suffer 65-years later.  Homo sapiens then decided to “harness” these elements’ tremendous power and release it slowly as is happening in several hundred power plants around the world.  The nearest to us is just a half-hour up the road at Seabrook.  At Chernobyl and Fukushima the faulty harnesses broke.  The wind-water borne radiation from Chernobyl fell even further away than distant Wales where 25 years later the soils in certain pastures still grow grass that taints the milk of grazing livestock.  Centuries lasting poisons descended with the rain.  The measurable, but not dangerous we are told, plumes from Fukushima passed over the United States last week, more may be still coming.  Two generations have passed since the nuclear bomb tests of the 1950s when radioactive elements in jet stream droplets circled the world.  The tests in northwestern Russia resulted in strontium-90 contaminated milk being dumped in New York state 20,000 plus jet stream miles down wind.  We could go on about the contamination from U.S. tests and others far away.  We needn’t; past and present escapes are now being recalled daily on BBC, CNN, PBS and other media.  Have you noticed how many times even the experts are saying “We don’t know.” when asked questions?  That was a main point of Caldicott’s.  She told us as a medical doctor who studied radiation on the side what was known and warned again and again about what wasn’t.  As we have, and are again learning, even very small doses may cause harm.  That is why they put a lead apron over your lap when ex-raying in the dentist’s office.  They don’t want sperm, eggs, and vital organs too much affected. In Tokyo as of this writing milk and certain other foods are being banned for babies due to low level contamination.

President Obama, who is about as well read as any leader we’ve had since perhaps Teddy Roosevelt, knows all the above and more.  Last year he announced his administration’s energy plans; nuclear power despite daily vulnerability and the potential dangers from long lived wastes, was an important part of his plans.  He and others the world over, stimulated by communications from Japan, not yet physically by abnormally high levels of radiation, are giving the whole subject further thought.  We hope he and his advisors will speak with fire brands like Caldicott.  It will provide balance for the cool rational assurances they are receiving from engineers who say water will cool reactors down and keep their operations safe if systems are designed and built right.  Alas, we’ve seen with the BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf and now in Japan what the engineers don’t and can’t know so aren’t fully prepared.  Who would have predicted a 9 point quake and the resulting tsunami?  We do know that when fuel rods, active and spent, are not surrounded by water things spin out of control.  The results end up in the natural water of the sky, ground and seas and there do we know not what.

We need lots of energy that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases say the president and other movers and shakers for environmentally responsible progress.  In the Closet we naively ask, why not put much more money into wind and solar, but most of all settle for less of everything?  That’s just not human nature you scoff.  We counter: human nature much needs changing.  Edwin O. Wilson brilliantly argues that some of our behavior can be traced to evolution and is in our DNA; however, by no means all.    We are not fully hardwired.  Our advances in science and Wilson’s, Carson’s and Caldicott’s ideas strongly support this statement.

We end with the old saw “moderation in all things”.  Radioisotopes and cosmic rays are natural constituents of our habitats.  It is the excesses, which we have some control over we should worry about.  Life styles of too many are examples of excess.  Huge houses  with few people; multiple houses per some families; several large vehicles per household; no good public transport systems in too many  places, and none even seriously asked for; thousands of acres of huge shopping centers at a distance, many like those in Danvers and Peabody covering once good agricultural land; common foods and flowers shipped thousands of miles instead of being raised here, etc., etc., etc. . .  Our English teachers warned us repeatedly against the use of etc., its use likened to “whatever”.  Et cetera sure does apply to life styles in many countries, especially ours, styles that are poisoning the planet.

Let’s cool it. We can see what excess heat is doing at Fukushima.  Excessive mutations and radiation sicknesses are far too high a price to pay for the lifestyles of a fraction of the world’s human populations.  Let us start by keeping wastes from water.




Precipitation Data* for Month of: Jan Feb March April
30 Year Normal (1981 – 2010) Inches 3.40 3.25 4.65 4.53
 2013 – 14 Central Watershed Actual 3.47 4.34 4.32 1.2 as of 4/15**

Ipswich R. Flow Rate (S. Middleton USGS Gage) in Cubic Feet/ Second (CFS):

 For April 15, 2014: Normal . . . 115 CFS         Current Rate . . . 107 CFS


*Danvers Water Filtration Plant, Lake Street, Middleton is the source for actual precipitation data thru March. Normals data is from the National Climatic Data Center.

**Updated April precipitation data is from MST gage..

THE WATER CLOSET is provided by the Middleton Stream Team: www.middletonstreamteam.org or <MSTMiddletonMA@gmail.com> or (978) 777-4584

Featured photo credit: jeffcutler via photopin cc

Photo credit: jeffcutler via photopin cc