Upside to Fukushima

SUBHEAD: Here on Kauai there will be long term impacts from the Japanese nuclear disaster - some may be positive.

By Juan Wilson on 30 November 2013 for Island Breath -

Image above: Illustration of Godzilla suit #5 with tropical island background for 1967 movie "The Son of Godzilla". From (

The Downside
It is becoming clear to most observers that the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 11 March 2011 constitute the worst industrial disaster in human history. It also is a daunting engineering problem that may be beyond human capacity to "solve".

Fukushima will be a problem that at best will outlast almost everybody alive today. The shortest, most optimistic timeframe that Tepco has estimated it needs for clearing the site of uncontrolled radioisotope releases is 40 years. And that's if nothing goes wrong. It is more likely that its effects  will outlast your great-grandchildren.

Even under the best circumstances, it is pretty much unavoidable that the Fukushima valley riverbed and aquifer will be fouled with radioactive elements for a very long time and that water flowing into the ocean will carry with it Cesium 137 (half-life of 30 years) for decades, if not centuries or even millennia. 

The question is: Can the Pacific Ocean survive that assualt?

The answer is: Yes, but it will be a different ocean.

So what are the upsides?

Nuclear Power is Dead
The disaster at Fukushima will prove itself be the end for any Nuclear Power Renaissance that was warming up. Even the techno-optimists who want to keep Western Civilization running at any cost (including depending on nuclear power) will have to let go of this hot poker. Nuclear power, as a technology under human control, is a proven failure. And for us to realize that is real progress.

The industry simply cannot be maintained operationally with its continual need for a massive supporting grid of power, transportation, high-tech replacement parts, engineering expertise, skilled technicians, etc.

Even past their useful life (of about 40 years) nuclear plants will continue to need vast resources for many decades after they are off-line. There has never been a complete planned decommissioning of a nuclear plant and it's spent fuel. The US still has no place or technique designated to handle the all the ensuing radioactive waste.

Moreover, who would chose a career in nuclear engineering merely to watch over retired plants that continue to need tender loving care. Who will even pay for that?

Fukushima has been made the embarrassing poster child for the nuclear power industry. The nuclear power industry is at a dead-end!

And that is real progress.

The Pacific Ocean will live
Yes, the largest body of liquid surface water in the known Universe has gotten the shit kicked out of it. Before my time, from here in Hawaii, it was the taking of every whale that could be squeezed into an oil lamp. Peak Whale was about 1840.

In my lifetime the Pacific has suffered the devastation of World War II and the paranoia-based atmosphere testing by France, Russia and America of hundreds of nuclear bombs - one as close as 800 miles from Honolulu.

Since the Cold War days the Pacific Ocean has been strip mined of fish. Ninety percent of the large edible fish have been consumed. The reefs are being raked clean of ever smaller fish.

Cesium 137 will be concentrated in the larger fish as it passes up the food chain. Yes, there will be mutations and even extinctions in the ocean. But some of those events will lead to new opportunities for some species both new and old. This won't be on a timescale that humans can sense or plan for. It's just the way Nature works.

One thing Fukushima's leaking Cesium 137 will do is make Pacific fish much less unappetizing for humans to eat. As terrible as that may be, it will be a better fate than staying so appetizing so as to be fished into extinction in the dragnet of a Japanese or Alaskan trawler.

I predict that commercial fishing in the Pacific, as we know it, will collapse shortly.

There won't be so many successful high-end sushi restaurants in Honolulu offering the catch of the day from the Pacific Ocean within a another year or two.

And that's a good thing!

Fewer Suburban Newbies
Some of the biggest problems we face here on Kauai relate to over-development. To date we have been fortunate.
  1. We were able to hold of the Superferry in 2007.  It would have brought hundreds of cars, trucks and people every day to the outer islands from overcrowded Oahu. Whatever secret beaches, surf spots, opihi, and sunrise shells here would be gone by now with the Superferry sailing.
  2. America experienced a nationwide financial collapse in 2008. The housing bubble burst and with it the fortunes of the speculators and house flippers.

The result has been that Kauai has not been paved over with suburban cul-de-sacs leading to retail plazas the way Oahu and Maui have been.

Here about 90% of the plans for thousands of units in the Koloa-Poipu area alone were snuffed.
Fortunately, the speculative growth economy has not recovered and Kauai has not been suburbanized.

The disaster at Fukushima will further delay the time large land holders like Alexander & Baldwin, Grove Farms and others can pave over paradise.

And that's a life saver!

Fewer MacMansions for Billionaires

The rich on the mainland have been bailing out of the Southwest and other enclaves because they smell the smoke of disasters to come from Climate Change: firestorms; tornadoes; droughts; hurricanes - you name it. In recent years some inordinately rich have "discovered" Hawaii - like Larry Ellison (who bought Lanai); Pierre Omidyar (rescaping Hanalei Bay); Bill Porter (taking over Kilauea's soul).

You may be a retiring investment banker on Wall Street and are looking for a sweet spot to park your money and build a MacMansion. How about on 20 acres of prime Agricultural Land on Kauai that you can grow a putting green on? The word is that it's easy to blow smoke up the skirts of the local officials for a variance or just to look the other way - for a favor.

I've been afraid that beyond the new-agey glamor and altruistic claptrap much of the effect of the super-rich moving to Kauai will be that some professionals, consultants, independent contractors, and personal assistants may be enriched but a new kind of plantation mentality will begin that serves the wealthy through intern positions, apprenticeships, wwoof roles, and other forms of modern serfdom. 

But with Fukushima in the picture many banksters may pass on Kauai and have their people look at properties in Brazil or Argentina instead.

Forget the rich. A better system for Kauai will be for its citizens to barter and trade the products, food and services we can provide for ourselves.

And that's means it's a better place to do your own business!

Less Tourists in Vacation Rentals
Yes, it is the bulwark of the Hawaiian economy today, but tourism from across the Pacific Ocean is an unreliable industry build our Kauai economy on. It depends on a public relations blitz that pretends to offer the "tropical magic of an ocean paradise". But it could just as easily be Cancun, Puerto Rico, or Costa Rica. 

The traffic on our only main highway can be ridiculously clogged. Tourism on Kauai requires lots of rental cars, illegal transient vacation rentals, and subservient jobs.

Tourism on Kauai actually does not deliver to tourists a lot of great shopping opportunities, much night life, or many safe life-guard protected beaches. The increase of private upscale development, as well as access restrictions, have closed off many places where tourists used to go; Paapa Bay Beach, Kipu Falls, Lepeuli Beach, Waipahee Slippery Slide, Ooiki Falls, Wahiawa Beach, etc.

With that and the discomforts of post 911 flying (TSA humiliations, astounding fuel costs, nasty in-flight service) the attraction of  tourism to Hawaii might be wearing thin. But now the potential tourist might have pause when they hear that besides the traffic problems, there are record levels of radioisotopes breaking in the surf at Kealia County Beach Park. Maybe it will have to be be New Zealand this year.

The point is that Fukushima radiation should get us off our butts to get as self-sufficient, self-reliant on renewable energy and food as soon as possible.

And that's a real incentive!

The island of Kauai
Undoubtedly there will be many unwanted and disturbing effects on Kauai by the ongoing increase of radioisotopes pouring from Japan into and across the Pacific Ocean. We cannot easily change that. But we can change how we live on Kauai and work towards the best outcome of these events.

As I said... there is an Upside.



  1. Appreciate reading your views on what has been unfolding.
    Thank you Juan.
    ~Jenny in Wailua