Only luck and real courage at 14 nuclear reactors on Japan’s Pacific coast overcame the technical failures of nuclear power and prevented the nation from being destroyed by radiation.
The untold story of March 11, 2011 is how close Japan came to three more spent fuel pool fires at Fukushima Daiichi and four meltdowns at Fukushima Daini.
When the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the Pacific coast caused a seismic shock wave that reverberated throughout northern Japan, the country’s nuclear plants shut down automatically, as planned, preventing any further nuclear chain reactions.
Therein lies nuclear power’s fatal flaw, because an automatic shutdown does not stop the ongoing heat generated inside each nuclear reactor.
When uranium atoms split (a process called fission), they release tremendous energy, as well as rubble. Even when the chain reaction stops, the highly radioactive rubble emits decay heat that continues for years. Automatic shutdown simply means that no new nuclear fissions will occur.
A tsunami struck the west coast of Japan at Fukushima Daiichi just 45 minutes after the earthquake and plant shutdown, damaging all six nuclear reactors at the site and destroying shoreline emergency cooling water pumps.
The tsunami flooded Fukushima Daiichi’s emergency diesel generators. This is portrayed as the cause of the triple meltdown, because without diesel generators producing electricity, the plant could not be cooled.
Some have suggested that the diesel generators should be relocated so they are higher than a tsunami could reach, but this is the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
When the tsunami struck, the cooling equipment along the shoreline was turned into a scrap yard of twisted metal. Even if they had not been flooded, without operational shoreline pumps, the emergency diesel generators were doomed to fail, making it impossible to cool the nuclear core. In truth, the utter destruction of the shoreline pumps caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.
The tsunami also wrecked cooling pumps at eight other reactors located at Fukushima Daini, Onagawa, and Tokai.
Twenty-four of the 37 emergency diesel generators located at four separate nuclear power sites, which contained a total of 14 nuclear reactors, failed during the tsunami. Of the 24 diesel generators that failed, only nine failures were due to flooding (eight at Fukushima Daiichi and one at Fukushima Daini). The other 15 diesel generators were not flooded, but were disabled when the tsunami wrecked their shoreline cooling pumps.
The situation in Japan was dire when the sun set on March 11, 2011. At Fukushima Daiichi, three reactors were melting down and three spent fuel pools were at risk of catching fire because they could not be cooled. Conditions were also worsening at Fukushima Daini’s four reactors.
It was good fortune and extreme courage that saved Japan and its people from a more tragic catastrophe.
First, the wind blew out to sea rather than inland. Experts have acknowledged that only 20 percent of Fukushima’s airborne radiation releases blew inland, while 80 percent streamed out to sea. If the wind had blown in the opposite direction, exposure to radiation would have been five times worse, and Tokyo would have been evacuated.
Fortunately, the tsunami-generating earthquake struck during a normal workday, when almost 1,000 people were working at Fukushima Daiichi and thousands more were working at Fukushima Daini. The employees trapped on site fought courageously to mitigate the escalating catastrophe. Without their efforts, Japan could have had as many as 10 nuclear meltdowns and simultaneous spent fuel fires.
If the earthquake and tsunami had begun at night, only 200 employees would have been working at these plants. With roads and bridges destroyed, none of the necessary staff would have been able to return to work.
Now, more than three years after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, shoreline cooling pumps throughout the world – including in Japan – remain unprotected from flooding or terrorist attacks.
Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis. Is reopening its nuclear plants worth the risk to its people and their homeland?
The simultaneous technological failure at 14 nuclear reactors due to a single natural phenomenon clearly shows that the nuclear engineers who envisioned and designed nuclear power failed to expect the unexpected.
Unfortunately, the nuclear industry continues to push its message that nuclear power can be made safer. Fukushima, and before it Chernobyl, shows us that nuclear technology will always be able to destroy the fabric of a country in the blink of an eye.
Arnold GundersenArnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Associates is a former nuclear industry senior vice president and licensed reactor operator. He earned his master’s degree in nuclear engineering via the prestigious Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship.
Over 3 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is virtually no health research being conducted or released on harm to the Japanese. An April report by a UN committee tried to sweep the issue under the rug, predicting any harmful effects of the catastrophe is “unlikely.”
The UN panel made a very broad assumption about the worst nuclear catastrophe in history (or worst since Chernobyl) – and did this BEFORE research is done. However, a local health study raises alarm bells. Fukushima Medical University found 46% of local children have a pre-cancerous nodule or cyst, and 130 have thyroid cancer, vs. 3 expected. Incredibly, the University corrupts science by asserting the meltdown played no role in these high figures.
But Japanese studies must go far beyond childhood thyroid diseases. Japan isn’t the only site to study, as the fallout from the meltdown spread across the northern hemisphere.
In 2011, we estimated 13,983 excess U.S. deaths occurred in the 14 weeks after Fukushima, when fallout levels were highest – roughly the same after Chernobyl in 1986. We used only a sample of deaths available at that time, and cautioned not to conclude that fallout caused all of these deaths.
Final figures became available this week. The 2010-2011 change in deaths in the four months after Fukushima was +2.63%, vs. +1.54% for the rest of the year. This difference translates to 9,158 excess deaths – not an exact match for the 13,983 estimate, but a substantial spike nonetheless.
Again, without concluding that only Fukushima caused these deaths, some interesting patterns emerged. The five Pacific and West Coast states, with the greatest levels of Fukushima fallout in the U.S., had an especially large excess. So did the five neighboring states (Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Utah), which received the next highest levels.
Most of the spring 2011 mortality increase were people over 80. Many of these elderly were in frail health; one possibility is that the added exposure to radioactive poison sped the dying process.
Fukushima radiation is the same as fallout from atom bomb explosions, releasing over 100 chemicals not found in nature. The radioactive chemicals enter the body as a result of precipitation that gets into the food chain. Once in the body, these particles harm or kill cells, leading to disease or death.
Once-skeptical health officials now admit even low doses of radiation are harmful. Studies showed X-rays to pregnant women’s abdomens raised the risk of the child dying of cancer, ending the practice. Bomb fallout from Nevada caused up to 212,000 Americans to develop thyroid cancer. Nuclear weapons workers are at high risk for a large number of cancers.
Rather than the UN Committee making assumptions based on no research, medical research on changes in Japanese disease and death rates are needed – now, in all parts of Japan. Similar studies should be done in nations like Korea, China, eastern Russia, and the U.S. Not knowing Fukushima’s health toll only raises the chance that such a disaster will be repeated in the future.
Joseph Mangano is Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.
Janette D. Sherman MD is an internist and toxicologist, and editor of Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.
There is broad disagreement over the amounts and effects of radiation exposure due to the triple reactor meltdowns after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) joined the controversy June 4, with a 27-page “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report ‘Levels and effects of radiation exposures due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami.’”
IPPNW is the Nobel Peace Prize winning global federation of doctors working for “a healthier, safer and more peaceful world.” The group has adopted a highly critical view of nuclear power because as it says, “A world without nuclear weapons will only be possible if we also phase out nuclear energy.”
UNSCEAR, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, published its deeply flawed report April 2. Its accompanying press release summed up its findings this way: “No discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” The word “discernable” is a crucial disclaimer here.
Cancer, and the inexorable increase in cancer cases in Japan and around the world, is mostly caused by toxic pollution, including radiation exposure according to the National Cancer Institute. But distinguishing a particular cancer case as having been caused by Fukushima rather than by other toxins, or combination of them, may be impossible leading to UNSCEAR’s deceptive summation. As the IPPNW report says, “A cancer does not carry a label of origin…”
UNSCEAR’s use of the phrase “are expected” is also heavily nuanced. The increase in childhood leukemia cases near Germany’s operating nuclear reactors, compared to elsewhere, was not “expected,” but was proved in 1997. The findings, along with Chernobyl’s lingering consequences, led to the country’s federally mandated reactor phase-out. The plummeting of official childhood mortality rates around five US nuclear reactors after they were shut down was also “unexpected,” but shown by Joe Mangano and the Project on Radiation and Human Health.
The International Physicians’ analysis is severely critical of UNSCEAR’s current report which echoes its 2013 Fukushima review and press release that said, “It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
“No justification for optimistic presumptions”
The IPPNW’s report says flatly, “Publications and current research give no justification for such apparently optimistic presumptions.” UNSCEAR, the physicians complain, “draws mainly on data from the nuclear industry’s publications rather than from independent sources and omits or misinterprets crucial aspects of radiation exposure”, and “does not reveal the true extent of the consequences” of the disaster. As a result, the doctors say the UN report is “over-optimistic and misleading.” The UN’s “systematic underestimations and questionable interpretations,” the physicians warn, “will be used by the nuclear industry to downplay the expected health effects of the catastrophe” and will likely but mistakenly be considered by public authorities as reliable and scientifically sound. Dozens of independent experts report that radiation attributable health effects are highly likely.
Points of agreement: Fukushima is worse than reported and worsening still
Before detailing the multiple inaccuracies in the UNSCEAR report, the doctors list four major points of agreement. First, UNSCEAR improved on the World Health Organization’s health assessment of the disaster’s on-going radioactive contamination. UNSCEAR also professionally “rejects the use of a threshold for radiation effects of 100 mSv [millisieverts], used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past.” Like most health physicists, both groups agree that there is no radiation dose so small that it can’t cause negative health effects. There are exposures allowed by governments, but none of them are safe.
Second, the UN and the physicians agree that areas of Japan that were not evacuated were seriously contaminated with iodine-132, iodine-131 and tellurium-132, the worst reported instance being Iwaki City which had 52 times the annual absorbed dose to infants’ thyroid than from natural background radiation. UNSCEAR also admitted that “people all over Japan” were affected by radioactive fallout (not just in Fukushima Prefecture) through contact with airborne or ingested radioactive materials. And while the UNSCEAR acknowledged that “contaminated rice, beef, seafood, milk, milk powder, green tea, vegetables, fruits and tap water were found all over mainland Japan”, it neglected “estimating doses for Tokyo … which also received a significant fallout both on March 15 and 21, 2011.”
Third, UNSCEAR agrees that the nuclear industry’s and the government’s estimates of the total radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean are “far too low.” Still, the IPPNW reports shows, UNSCEAR’s use of totally unreliable assumptions results in a grossly understated final estimate. For example, the UN report ignores all radioactive discharges to the ocean after April 30, 2011, even though roughly 300 tons of highly contaminated water has been pouring into the Pacific every day for 3-and-1/2 years, about 346,500 tons in the first 38 months.
Fourth, the Fukushima catastrophe is understood by both groups as an ongoing disaster, not the singular event portrayed by industry and commercial media. UNSCEAR even warns that ongoing radioactive pollution of the Pacific “may warrant further follow-up of exposures in the coming years,” and “further releases could not be excluded in the future,” from forests and fields during rainy and typhoon seasons when winds spread long-lived radioactive particles and from waste management plans that now include incineration.
As the global doctors say, in their unhappy agreement with UNSCAR, “In the long run, this may lead to an increase in internal exposure in the general population through radioactive isotopes from ground water supplies and the food chain.”
Physicians find ten grave failures in UN report
The majority of the IPPNW’s report details 10 major errors, flaws or discrepancies in the UNSCEAR paper and explains study’s omissions, underestimates, inept comparisons, misinterpretations and unwarranted conclusions.
1. The total amount of radioactivity released by the disaster was underestimated by UNSCEAR and its estimate was based on disreputable sources of information. UNSCEAR ignored 3.5 years of nonstop emissions of radioactive materials “that continue unabated,” and only dealt with releases during the first weeks of the disaster. UNSCEAR relied on a study by the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) which, the IPPNW points out, “was severely criticized by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission … for its collusion with the nuclear industry.” The independent Norwegian Institute for Air Research’s estimate of cesium-137 released (available to UNSCEAR) was four times higher than the JAEA/UNSCEAR figure (37 PBq instead of 9 PBq). Even Tokyo Electric Power Co. itself estimated that iodine-131 releases were over four times higher than what JAEA/UNSCEAR) reported (500 PBq vs. 120 BPq). The UNSCEAR inexplicably chose to ignore large releases of strontium isotopes and 24 other radionuclides when estimating radiation doses to the public. (A PBq or petabecquerel is a quadrillion or 1015 Becquerels. Put another way, a PBq equals 27,000 curies, and one curie makes 37 billion atomic disintegrations per second.)
2. Internal radiation taken up with food and drink “significantly influences the total radiation dose an individual is exposed to,” the doctors note, and their critique warns pointedly, “UNSCEAR uses as its one and only source, the still unpublished database of the International Atomic Energy Association and the Food and Agriculture Organization. The IAEA was founded … to ‘accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.’ It therefore has a profound conflict of interest.” Food sample data from the IAEA should not be relied on, “as it discredits the assessment of internal radiation doses and makes the findings vulnerable to claims of manipulation.” As with its radiation release estimates, IAEA/UNSCEAR ignored the presence of strontium in food and water. Internal radiation dose estimates made by the Japanese Ministry for Science and Technology were 20, 40 and even 60 times higher than the highest numbers used in the IAEA/UNSCEAR reports.
3. To gauge radiation doses endured by over 24,000 workers on site at Fukushima, UNSCEAR relied solely on figures from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the severely compromised owners of the destroyed reactors. The IPPNW report dismisses all the conclusions drawn from Tepco, saying, “There is no meaningful control or oversight of the nuclear industry in Japan and data from Tepco has in the past frequently been found to be tampered with and falsified.”
4. The UNSCEAR report disregards current scientific fieldwork on actual radiation effects on plant and animal populations. Peer reviewed ecological and genetic studies from Chernobyl and Fukushima find evidence that low dose radiation exposures cause, the doctors point out, “genetic damage such as increased mutation rates, as well as developmental abnormalities, cataracts, tumors, smaller brain sizes in birds and mammals and further injuries to populations, biological communities and ecosystems.” Ignoring these studies, IPPNW says “gives [UNSCEAR] the appearance of bias or lack of rigor.”
5. The special vulnerability of the embryo and fetus to radiation was completely discounted by the UNSCEAR, the physicians note. UNSCEAR shockingly said that doses to the fetus or breast-fed infants “would have been similar to those of other age groups,” a claim that, the IPPNW says, “goes against basic principles of neonatal physiology and radiobiology.” By dismissing the differences between an unborn and an infant, the UNSCEAR “underestimates the health risks of this particularly vulnerable population.” The doctors quote a 2010 report from American Family Physician that, “in utero exposure can be teratogenic, carcinogenic or mutagenic.”
6. Non-cancerous diseases associated with radiation doses — such as cardiovascular diseases, endocrinological and gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, genetic mutations in offspring and miscarriages — have been documented in medical journals, but are totally dismissed by the UNSCEAR. The physicians remind us that large epidemiological studies have shown undeniable associations of low dose ionizing radiation to non-cancer health effects and “have not been scientifically challenged.”
7. The UNSCEAR report downplays the health impact of low-doses of radiation by misleadingly comparing radioactive fallout to “annual background exposure.” The IPPNW scolds the UNSCEAR saying it is, “not scientific to argue that natural background radiation is safe or that excess radiation from nuclear fallout that stays within the dose range of natural background radiation is harmless.” In particular, ingested or inhaled radioactive materials, “deliver their radioactive dose directly and continuously to the surrounding tissue” — in the thyroid, bone or muscles, etc. — “and therefore pose a much larger danger to internal organs than external background radiation.”
8. Although UNSCEAR’s April 2 Press Release and Executive Summary give the direct and mistaken impression that there will be no radiation health effects from Fukushima, the report itself states that the Committee “does not rule out the possibility of future excess cases or disregard the suffering associated…” Indeed, UNSCEAR admits to “incomplete knowledge about the release rates of radionuclides over time and the weather conditions during the releases.” UNSCEAR concedes that “there were insufficient measurements of gamma dose rate…” and that, “relatively few measurements of foodstuff were made in the first months.” IPPNW warns that these glaring uncertainties completely negate the level of certainty implied in UNSCEAR’s Exec. Summary.
9. UNSCEAR often praises the protective measures taken by Japanese authorities, but the IPPNW finds it “odd that a scientific body like UNSCEAR would turn a blind eye to the many grave mistakes of the Japanese disaster management…” The central government was slow to inform local governments and “failed to convey the severity of the accident,” according to the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. “Crisis management ‘did not function correctly,’ the Commission said, and its failure to distribute stable iodine, “caused thousands of children to become irradiated with iodine-131,” IPPNW reports.
10. The UNSCEAR report lists “collective” radiation doses “but does not explain the expected cancer cases that would result from these doses.” This long chapter of IPPNW’s report can’t be summarized easily. The doctors offer conservative estimates, “keeping in mind that these most probably represent underestimations for the reasons listed above.” The IPPNW estimates that 4,300 to 16,800 excess cases of cancer due to the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan in the coming decades. Cancer deaths will range between 2,400 and 9,100. UNSCEAR may call these numbers insignificant, the doctors archly point out, but individual cancers are debilitating and terrifying and they “represent preventable and man-made diseases” and fatalities.
IPPNW concludes that Fukushima’s radiation disaster is “far from over”: the destroyed reactors are still unstable; radioactive liquids and gases continuously leak from the complex wreckage; melted fuel and used fuel in quake-damaged cooling pools hold enormous quantities of radioactivity “and are highly vulnerable to further earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and human error.” Catastrophic releases of radioactivity “could occur at any time and eliminating this risk will take many decades.”
IPPNW finally recommends urgent actions that governments should take, because the UNSCEAR report, “does not adhere to scientific standards of neutrality,” “represents a systematic underestimation,” “conjures up an illusion of scientific certainty that obscures the true impact of the nuclear catastrophe on health and the environment,” and its conclusion is phrased “in such a way that would most likely be misunderstood by most people…”
John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and anti-war group in Wisconsin, and edits its Quarterly.
 Nancy Wilson, National Cancer Institute, “The Majority of Cancers Are Linked to the Environment, NCI Benchmarks, Vol. 4, Issue 3, June 17, 2004
US papers don’t often report on the radiation disaster continuing at Fukushima-Daiichi in Northeast Japan.
But on June 17 the New York Times noted: “Inside the complex, there are three wrecked reactor cores, twisted masses of hundreds of tons of highly radioactive uranium, plutonium, cesium and strontium. After the meltdown[s], which followed a tsunami and earthquake in 2011, most of the material in the reactors re-solidified, in difficult shapes and in confined spaces, wrapped around and through the structural parts of the reactors and the buildings. Or at least, that is what the engineers think. Nobody really knows, because nobody has yet examined many of the most important parts of the wreckage. Though three and a half years have passed, it is still too dangerous to climb inside for a look, and sending in a camera would risk more leaks.”
The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused a Station Black Out at Fukushima the total loss of power used to run cooling mechanisms and the consequent melting of fuel rods dispersed massive amounts of radiation to the air and to the Pacific.
The Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), owners of the Fukushima wreckage, has said it would take 40 years to clean up the disaster. Tepco’s number was probably pulled out of the thin air, because owners of the undamaged Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin, which shut down last April, said decommissioning of Kewaunee would take 40 years.
Radiation Tripled in Pacific Albacore Tuna since Triple Meltdowns
Radioactive cesium-137 levels in Pacific albacore tuna have tripled since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi in Japan, according to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Delvan Neville, lead author of the study and a graduate research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University, told the Statesman Journal Apr. 28, “You can’t say there is absolutely zero risk because any radiation is assumed to carry at least some small risk.”
Jason Phillips, a co-author of the report, said 26 of the large Pacific fish were analyzed from 2008 to 2012. “If we were going to see it [cesium-137] in something, we would see it in albacore or other high-level predators.”
Dr. Steve Starr, Director of Clinical Laboratory Science Program, University of Missouri-Columbia, noted in a recent lecture, “Cesium 137 tends to bio-accumulate in plants and animals, which means it cannot be excreted faster than it is being ingested. Thus, as it accumulates, it increases in its concentration in the plants or animals that are routinely ingesting it. Cesium-137 also tends to bio-magnify as it moves up the food chain. This means it becomes progressively more concentrated in predator species.”
As US Agency Hushed-up Dangers to US Reactors, Reactors’ Owner Tepco Under-reported Radiation Exposures
NBC News reported Mar. 10 that internal emails by staff at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission prove the agency deliberately down-played known earthquake and tsunami vulnerabilities at aging US reactors in the early days of the Fukushima catastrophe. NBC said the emails, “show that the campaign to reassure the public about America’s nuclear industry came as the agency’s [NRC’s] own experts were questioning US safety standards and scrambling to determine whether new rules were needed to ensure that the meltdown[s] occurring at the Japanese [site] could not occur here.”
NBC said the emails reveal the NRC’s “efforts to protect the industry it is supposed to regulate.” The news network went as far as to say, “Dating back to the Three Mile Island nuclear crisis in 1979, many nuclear watchdogs and critics have said that the NRC acts first to protect the industry, and its own reputation.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was helped in misleading the public by Tepco, which repeatedly underestimated internal radiation exposures of its workers involved in immediate emergency response, according to Japan’s Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, Asahi Shimbun reported.
Last July, the Ministry reviewed exposure data on around workers and revealed that reported exposure levels for 452 out of 1,300 workers surveyed were too low. After that announcement, the Ministry looked at records of the remaining 6,200 workers, and in late March it announced 142 additional cases of under-reporting.
TEPCO did not have whole-body radiation counters when the radiation disaster began, so true contamination measurements were not possible.
Contaminated Soil and Cemeteries May be Moved from Fukushima
Japan’s federal government announced in late May that it will move thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated soil scraped from school yards and elsewhere during decontamination efforts outside Fukushima Prefecture “within 30 years” after first keeping it in storage in the heavily-contaminated prefecture.
New federal law will be needed to allow Japan’s Environmental Safety Corporation to operate the “temporary” dumps.
In a macabre aspect of compensating for areas made radioactively uninhabitable by fallout from the meltdowns, Japan is considering paying for new cemeteries and reburying the remains of people now buried in radioactive exclusion zones.
Food Not Monitored for Radiation Causing Internal Contamination
The Japan Times reported June 17, that “eating unchecked homegrown vegetables and wild game from radiation-tainted areas on a regular basis can lead to high levels of internal radiation exposure.”
According to a study published in the US online science journal PLOS ONE, “Levels of radioactive cesium detected in the bodies of the study’s participants declined once they stopped eating highly contaminated food.” The study’s authors called for increasing public awareness of radiation-risky foods especially “at a time when public interest appears to be dwindling.”
Soil from the seafloor collected about 6 kilometers from the wrecked reactors contains as much 2,700 Becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram, according to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority June 14.
In Aug. 2012, Tepco reported an all-time record 25,800 Becquerel’s-per-kilogram in two fish known as greenling caught in 20 kilometers of the stricken reactors. “There may be radiation hot spots on the seabed,” a TEPCO official said then.
The wrecked reactors spewed enormous, unprecedented volumes of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean where cesium levels near Fukushima ballooned to an astonishing 50 million times pre-disaster levels (and continue to do so, 3.5 years after it began).
The agency said that it is difficult to assess the figure because there is no standard against which evaluations can be made, but that its research would continue.
Note to Japan’s NRA: for a baseline standard, check seabed levels of cesium off any area free of nuclear reactor effluent.
John LaForge is a co-director of Nukewatch in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly.
The corporate media silence on Fukushima has been deafening even though the melted-down nuclear power plant’s seaborne radiation is now washing up on American beaches.
Ever more radioactive water continues to pour into the Pacific.
At least three extremely volatile fuel assemblies are stuck high in the air at Unit 4. Three years after the March 11, 2011, disaster, nobody knows exactly where the melted cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be.
Amid a dicey cleanup infiltrated by organized crime, still more massive radiation releases are a real possibility at any time.
Radioactive groundwater washing through the complex is enough of a problem that Fukushima Daiichi owner Tepco has just won approval for a highly controversial ice wall to be constructed around the crippled reactor site. No wall of this scale and type has ever been built, and this one might not be ready for two years. Widespread skepticism has erupted surrounding its potential impact on the stability of the site and on the huge amounts of energy necessary to sustain it. Critics also doubt it would effectively guard the site from flooding and worry it could cause even more damage should power fail.
Meanwhile, children nearby are dying. The rate of thyroid cancers among some 250,000 area young people is more than 40 times normal. According to health expert Joe Mangano, more than 46 percent have precancerous nodules and cysts on their thyroids. This is “just the beginning” of a tragic epidemic, he warns.
There is, however, some good news—exactly the kind the nuclear power industry does not want broadcast.
When the earthquake and consequent tsunami struck Fukushima, there were 54 commercial reactors licensed to operate in Japan, more than 12 percent of the global total.
As of today, not one has reopened. The six at Fukushima Daiichi will never operate again. Some 30 older reactors around Japan can’t meet current safety standards (a reality that could apply to 60 or more reactors that continue to operate here in the U.S.).
As part of his desperate push to reopen these reactors, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shuffled the country’s regulatory agencies, and removed at least one major industry critic, replacing him with a key industry supporter.
But last month a Japanese court denied a corporate demand to restart two newer reactors at the Ooi power plant in Fukui prefecture. The judges decided that uncertainty about when, where and how hard the inevitable next earthquake will hit makes it impossible to guarantee the safety of any reactor in Japan.
In other words, no reactor can reopen in Japan without endangering the nation, which the court could not condone.
Such legal defeats are extremely rare for Japan’s nuclear industry, and this one is likely to be overturned. But it dealt a stunning blow to Abe’s pro-nuke agenda.
In Fukushima’s wake, the Japanese public has become far more anti-nuclear. Deep-seated anger has spread over shoddy treatment and small compensation packages given downwind victims. In particular, concern has spread about small children being forced to move back into heavily contaminated areas around the plant.
Under Japanese law, local governments must approve any restart. Anti-nuclear candidates have been dividing the vote in recent elections, but the movement may be unifying and could eventually overwhelm the Abe administration.
A new comic book satirizing the Fukushima cleanup has become a nationwide best-seller. The country has also been rocked by revelations that some 700 workers fled the Fukushima Daiichi site at the peak of the accident. Just a handful of personnel were left to deal with the crisis, including the plant manager, who soon thereafter died of cancer.
In the meantime, Abe’s infamous, intensely repressive state secrets act has seriously constrained the flow of technical information. At least one nuclear opponent is being prosecuted for sending a critical tweet to an industry supporter. A professor jailed for criticizing the government’s handling of nuclear waste has come to the U.S. to speak.
The American corporate media have been dead silent or, alternatively, dismissive about the radiation now washing up on our shores, and about the extremely dangerous job of bringing intensely radioactive fuel rods down from their damaged pools.
Fukushima’s General Electric reactors feature spent fuel pools perched roughly 100 feet in the air. When the tsunami hit, thousands of rods were suspended over Units 1, 2, 3 and 4.
According to nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen, the bring-down of the assemblies in Unit 4 may have hit a serious snag. Gundersen says that beginning in November 2013, Tokyo Electric Power removed about half of the suspended rods there. But at least three assemblies may be stuck. The more difficult half of the pile remains. And the pools at three other units remain problematic. An accident at any one of them could result in significant radiation releases, which have already far exceeded those from Chernobyl and from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
At least 300 tons of heavily contaminated Fukushima water still pour daily into the Pacific. Hundreds more tons are backed up on site, with Tepco apologists advocating they be dumped directly into the ocean without decontamination.
Despite billions of dollars in public aid, Tepco is still the principal owner of Fukushima. The “cleanup” has become a major profit center. Tepco boasted a strong return in 2013. Its fellow utilities are desperate to reopen other reactors that netted them huge annual cash flow.
Little of this has made its way into the American corporate media.
New studies from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have underscored significant seismic threats to American commercial nuclear sites. Among those of particular concern are two reactors at Indian Point just north of New York City, which sit near the highly volatile Ramapo Fault, and two at Diablo Canyon, between Los Angeles and San Francisco, directly upwind of California’s Central Valley.
The U.S. industry has also suffered a huge blow at New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project. Primarily a military dump, this showcase radioactive waste facility was meant to prove that the industry could handle its trash. No expense was spared in setting it up in the salt caverns of the desert southwest, officially deemed the perfect spot to dump the 70,000 tons of high-level fuel rods now backed up at American reactor sites.
But an explosion and highly significant radiation release at the pilot project last month has contaminated local residents and cast a deep cloud over any future plans to dispose of American reactor waste. The constant industry complaint that the barriers are “political” is absurd.
While the American reactor industry continues to suck billions of dollars from the public treasury, its allies in the corporate media seem increasingly hesitant to cover the news of post-Fukushima Japan.
In reality, those gutted reactors are still extremely dangerous. An angry public, whose children are suffering, has thus far managed to keep all other nukes shut in Japan. If they keep them down permanently, it will be a huge blow to the global nuke industry—one you almost certainly won’t see reported in the American corporate media.
Fallout from Fukushima? A re-make of Godzilla! That’s the good news
There’s not much new to say about Fukushima. It remains an out of control disaster with as yet unmeasurable dimensions that continue to expand. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that everything new about Fukushima is just the same-old same-old getting worse at an uneven and unpredictable rate. Either way, it’s not good and, while it’s worse in degree, it’s not yet apparently worse in kind, so that’s one reason you don’t hear that much about it in the news these days.
Whatever the full truth is about Fukushima, it’s probably unknowable at present. And it might remain unknowable even if there was total transparency, even if there were no corporate, institutional, governmental, and other layers of secrecy protecting such enemies of the common good as profit, capital investment, and weapons development.
Secrecy and false reassurance have always been an integral part of the nuclear industry in all its manifestations. In January 2014, Tokyo Shimbun reported yet another example of nuclear opposition to honesty: the Fukushima prefecture government and the government-run Fukushima Medical University signed a secrecy agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations agency that “is committed to applying the highest ethical standards in carrying out its mandate,” or so it claims. The IAEA’s press release about the agreement is bland and inoffensive. According to Shimbun, each party to the agreement has the right to designate any information as confidential, specifically mentioning data about thyroid cancer in children or other facts that might “stir up anxiety of residents.”
Here are some other elements of SNAFUkushima that might stir up anxieties of residents and non-residents alike:
Radioactive Water is Beyond Control and Unmeasured
Clean groundwater has been flowing into the Fukushima nuclear plant complex since before the earthquake/tsunami of March 11, 2011, led to the meltdown of three of the four reactors at Fukushima Daiichi and the cold shutdown of the two reactors at Fukushima Daini at the same site. Once clean groundwater enters the site, some portion (or perhaps all) of it is contaminated by radioactivity, primarily from the three melted down reactors.
Additional clean water is pumped into the site to keep the melted down reactors from further melting down, as well as to keep the nuclear fuel stored in fuel pools from starting to melt down. All of this water is radioactively contaminated.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government, essentially co-owners of the Fukushima complex, together with their subcontractors, have been collecting some of the radioactive water in steel tanks on site. Some, perhaps hundreds, of the 1,000-plus tanks have leaked.
Radioactive water has flowed from the Fukushima complex into the Pacific Ocean continuously since March 11, 2011. The flow rate varies, most likely, but no one knows what the rate is and there is no reliable system in place to measure the flow. There is also no reliable system in place to measure the intensity of the radiation, which also most likely varies.
TEPCO’s plan since 2013 has been to use an Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) to treat the water in the holding tanks before releasing it into the Pacific. The processing system reduces the water’s radioactivity, but does not remove it all. After treatment, 62 nuclides, including Strontium and Plutonium, are supposed to be removed, but the water retains high levels of Tritium. As of May 2014, the ALPS treatment plan has not been implemented, has suffered several breakdowns, and is now more than six months behind schedule.
Radioactive Water Dumping Began at Fukushima on May 21
TEPCO, in a press release, said “we have commenced operation of the groundwater bypass.” TEPCO said it was releasing 560 tons (more than 150,000 gallons) of groundwater that is within “safe” radiation levels directly into the Pacific. TEPCO hopes to divert and release 100 tons (26,900 gallons) of groundwater every day. The Shanghai Daily reported that:
TEPCO said the levels of radioactivity of the groundwater being released were within legal radiation safety limits and will follow the World Health Organizations guidelines that groundwater for such releases should contain less than 1 becquerel per liter of cesium-134 and cesium-137, 5 becquerels of beta ray-emitting radioactive material.
Groundwater flowing into the disabled reactor buildings is estimated at 400 tons (over 107,000 gallons) per day.
TEPCO and Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) consider this bypass release process less dangerous than collecting contaminated water in tanks that leak. Despite approving the start of TEPCO’s plan, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Sunichi Tanaka, has reportedly slammed TEPCO for incorrectly measuring levels of radioactive materials in groundwater at its Daiichi facility. Tanaka has said that even though three years has passed since the reactor meltdowns at the plant, TEPCO is still “utterly inept” when it comes to taking accurate readings of radioactivity at and around its facilities and “lacks a basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”
The Unit 4 Spent Fuel Pool Still has Disaster Potential
In March 2011, the unit 4 reactor didn’t melt down because all its nuclear fuel rod assemblies had been removed for re-fueling, so they were stored in the unit’s spent fuel pool. But the fuel pool was about 100 feet above the ground and the earthquake/tsunami and subsequent explosions at the Fukushima left the fuel pool’s 1535 fuel assemblies in a precarious situation in an unstable building. An accident as bad as a meltdown, or worse, hasn’t happened yet, but remains possible as long as the fuel pool holds a substantial number of fuel assemblies.
TEPCO started to remove fuel assemblies in late 2013, moving them to safer fuel pools on the ground. Removal is scheduled to be complete before the end of 2014. But TEPCO said it had removed only 9 percent of the spent fuel so far and the delicate, dangerous process continues.
[On May 20-21, the internet was rife with reports of an explosion and fire at unit 4 on May 20, a claim that was based on a less than persuasive video. As of this writing, there seems to be no credible confirmation of an explosion or fire at unit 4.]
Radioactive Contamination Spreads, But Threat Level Uncertain
Reports of radioactively contaminated fish have increased during the past two years, but there is as yet no systematic testing by any government or corporate or even non-profit program that comprehensively measures the threat in any reliable manner (hardly an easy task since the fish and the water in the Pacific are in motion all the time). Anecdotal reports of Fukushima fish and other anomalies include:
• ALBECORE TUNA caught off Oregon and Washington state from 2008 to 2012 suggested a tripling of tuna-borne radiation in post-Fukushima fish, according to an April 30, 2014, report. But one researcher said that even the elevated level was only one-tenth of one per cent of the level for concern set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
• CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION issued a report April 30 that both minimized the current threat of radiation from Fukushima and also called for further research into the effects of low level radiation on humans and for reliable radiation monitoring supported by government. The report noted that the release of radiation from Fukushima continues with no end in sight. The report also said, without apparent irony, that people on the west coast were still in less danger from Fukushima radiation than from the residual radiation from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific 50 years and more ago.
• MUTATION AND PREMATURE DEATH in butterflies caused by Fukushima levels of residual radiation was demonstrated by Japanese researchers, in a report published by Nature, as reported May 15 by Smithsonian.com. The researchers wrote: “We conclude that the risk of ingesting a polluted diet is realistic, at least for this butterfly, and likely for certain other organisms living in the polluted area.” A field study around Fukushima has shown a decrease in the population of these butterflies and other insects.
• THYROID CANCER in children from Fukushima has reached a higher than normal level. A May 19 story reported that 50 newly documented thyroid cancer cases represented about a 50% increase since February.
* DENIAL IN JAPAN surfaced in the form criticism of “Gourmets,” a food-oriented comic that included a storyline in which characters, who are culinary writers, visited the Fukushima complex and then fell ill and developed nosebleeds. According to Art Review on May 19, the food comic editor said the story “was a well-meaning attempt to highlight the fact that parts of Fukushima were dangerous, and that people were reluctant to complain themselves.” Criticism of the story was based on the fear that it would damage the Fukushima region’s people and products, food products especially. The corporate publisher, Shogakukan Inc., has suspended the comic series indefinitely. Japan Times reports on a nuclear researcher:
Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, says that from a medical point of view the connection between nosebleeds and radiation exposure can’t be entirely ruled out…. He adds: “The government is not only indifferent to taking responsibility for the accident, but determined to erase it from people’s memory.” Such irresponsibility, he insists, is “almost criminal.”
Meanwhile, municipalities including Osaka and Fukushima prefectures and the town of Futaba have lodged complaints with the publisher.
• HONESTY IN JAPAN appeared in The Asahi Shimbun May 20, with a previously suppressed, 400-page report that some 650 workers at Fukushima Daiichi fled the complex in the midst of the crisis. These 650 workers represent about 90 per cent of the workforce. Prior to this revelation, the official story, promulgated by media worldwide, had created the impression that workers at Fukushima remained on site, showing great personal courage during the crisis. Even after the official story was exposed as 90% false, TEPCO refused to criticize any of its workers.
Commenting on this story May 21, a Shimbun columnist noted that: “If the facts are hidden and treated as if they never happened, the Fukushima crisis will never be understood in its entirety, and no real lessons can be learned from the disaster.” The same day, a Japanese court ruled against re-starting two nuclear reactors at Fukui in western Japan. The court ruled that the two reactors represented a serious risk to the public in the event of an earthquake. The power company said it would appeal the ruling. The prime minister said the ruling would not change his plans to re-start all of Japan’s nuclear reactors.
Who actually wants to learn any “real lessons” from Fukushima?
The struggle between lying and telling the truth about SNAFUkushima seems likely to continue for a long time, especially with the Japanese government pressing to re-start its nuclear reactors and with few countries or world organizations willing to close the curtain on the nuclear age. But truth still has a constituency. In April, Katsutagka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba in Fukushima prefecture, spoke out against the government’s efforts to force former residents to return home despite radiation contamination:
Fukushima Prefecture has launched the Come Home campaign. … Air contamination decreased a little, but soil contamination remains the same. And there are still about two million people living in the prefecture, who have all sorts of medical issues. The authorities claim this has nothing to do with the fallout….
I remember feeling so deeply for the victims of the Chernobyl tragedy that I could barely hold back the tears whenever I heard any reports on it. And now that a similar tragedy happened in Fukushima, the biggest problem is that there is no one to help us. They say it’s safe to go back… while in reality the radiation is still there. This is killing children. They die of heart conditions, asthma, leukemia, thyroiditis… Lots of kids are extremely exhausted after school; others are simply unable to attend PE classes. But the authorities still hide the truth from us, and I don’t know why. Don’t they have children of their own?
Idogawa described his own symptoms, consistent with radiation poisoning, symptoms that persist even though he’s moved to another prefecture. He says he’s not getting treatment now and there’s no place to go for help: “The nearest hospital refused to treat me. So I’m trying to restore my health through nutrition.”
The Japanese government allowed Fukushima residents to start returning to their homes as of April 1, saying that it was safe. It was not safe. The government lied. On April 16, Asahi Shimbun reported some of the government’s lies that put people at risk.
“The same thing happened with Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Idogawa said: “The authorities lied to everyone. They said it was safe. They hid the truth…. Japan has some dark history.” And so does the rest of the world.
Emails obtained by journalists at NBC News reveal that officials at the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission — the government agency that oversees reactor safety and security — purposely misled the media after the Fukushima, Japan disaster in 2011.
On Monday this week — one day shy of the third anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown — NBC published emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act that for the first time exposes on a major scale the efforts that NRC officials undertook in order to diminish the severity of the event in the hours and days after it began to unfold.
“In the tense days after a powerful earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan on March 11, 2011, staff at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission made a concerted effort to play down the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis to America’s aging nuclear plants,” Bill Dedman wrote for NBC.
Through the course of analyzing thousands of internal NRC emails, Dedman and company unearthed evidence that proves nuclear regulators went to great lengths to keep the scary facts about the Fukushima meltdown from being brought into the public eye.
Even when the international media was eager to learn the facts about the Fukushima tragedy while the matter was still developing, emails suggest that the NRC’s public relations wing worked hard to have employees stick to talking points that ignored the actual severity of the meltdown.
“While we know more than these say,” a PR manager wrote in one email to his colleagues, “we’re sticking to this story for now.”
That story, Dedman wrote, was filled with “numerous examples…of apparent misdirection or concealment” waged by the NRC in an attempt to keep the true nature of the meltdown hidden, especially as concerns grew that a similar event could occur on American soil.
“The talking points written during the emergency for NRC commissioners and other officials were divided into two sections: ‘public answer’ and ‘additional technical, non-public information,’” Dedman wrote. “Often the two parts didn’t quite match.”
According to NBC, emails indicate that the NRC insisted on sticking to talking points that painted a much different picture than what was really happening three years ago this week. Japanese engineers employed by the NRC at American facilities were effectively barred from making any comments to the media, some emails suggest, and at other times those regulators rallied employees at the NRC to keep from making any comment that could be used to disclose the detrimental safety standards in place at American facilities.
In one instance cited by Dedman, spokespeople for the NRC were told not to disclose the fact that American scientists were uncertain if any US facilities could sustain an earthquake like the one that ravaged Fukushima .
“We’re not so sure about, but again we are not talking about that,” reads one email cited by NBC.
At other times, the report added, NRC officials were left in the dark about what was actually unfolding on the other side of the Pacific because access to social media sites had been blocked on their work computers, causing some regulators to only hear about information pertaining to Fukushima once it trickled down to a point where they could access it.
In one email, for example, NRC public affairs official David McIntrye wrote in apparent disbelief to his colleagues that scientist and actor Bill Nye was participating in “an incoherent discussion on CNN” about a potential hydrogen explosion at Fukushima.
“I’m not buying it,” McIntyre wrote.
Five minutes after that email was sent, a colleague responded by writing, “There is a good chance it was a hydrogen explosion that took the roof off that building, though we are not saying that publicly.”
Days later, McIntyre blasted his supervisor for hesitating during a CNN interview in which he was asked if US plants could withstand an earthquake on par with the one suffered by residents of Fukushima.
“He should just say ‘Yes, it can.’” McIntyre wrote, instead of hesitating. “Worry about being wrong when it doesn’t. Sorry if I sound cynical.”
The NRC did not respond specifically to emails published in Dedman’s report, but the agency’s public affairs director emails a statement ensuring that “The NRC Office of Public Affairs strives to be as open and transparent as possible, providing the public accurate information in the proper context.”
“We take our communication mission seriously. We did then and we do now. The frustration displayed in the chosen emails reflects more on the extreme stress our team was under at the time to assure accuracy in a context in which information from Japan was scarce to non-existent. These emails fall well short of an accurate picture of our communications with the American public immediately after the event and during the past three years,” NRC Public Affairs Director Eliot Brenner wrote in the email.
Arguably more disheartening than the NRC officials’ attempt to whitewash the disaster, however, are the facts of the matter addressed in secret by the agency but not disclosed publically. More than 30 of the nuclear power reactors in the US are of the same brand used in Fukushima, NBC reported, and some of the oldest facilities in operation have been in use since the 1970s. Despite this, though, the NRC instructed employees to not mention how any of those structures would be able to stand up against a hypothetical disaster.
On Monday, Fukushima expert and author Susan Q. Stranhan published an op-ed carried by the Philadelphia Inquirer which called into question the safety of the several nuclear facilities within the state of Pennsylvania, where a disaster in 1979 at Three Mile Island refocused national attention on the issue of nuclear safety.
“During Fukushima, the NRC recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the plant evacuate, a wise call based on a dangerous radiation plume that spread about 30 miles northwest of the reactors. Despite that experience, the NRC today remains steadfast in its belief that the existing 10-mile emergency evacuation zone around US nuclear plants is adequate and that there would be plenty of time to expand that zone if conditions warranted,” Stranahan wrote.
“Three years after Fukushima Daiichi, the NRC and the nuclear industry continue to repeat a familiar mantra: The likelihood of a severe accident is so low there is no need to plan for it. That was what the Japanese said, too.”
Meanwhile, RT reported last month that a new lawsuit has been filed by crew members who sailed on the USS Ronald Reagan three years ago to assist with relief efforts off of the coast of Fukushima but now say they were poisoned by nuclear fallout. When filed, Attorneys said that “up to 70,000 US citizens [were] potentially affected by the radiation” and might be able to join in their suit.
Tens of thousands have marched in anti-nuclear protests across Taiwan, calling on the government to phase out nuclear energy. The protest comes ahead of the third anniversary of the Fukishima disaster.
Anti-nuclear protesters in Taiwan held four rallies across the country on Saturday, urging the government both to stop construction of a new nuclear power plant and to abandon nuclear power altogether.
Organizers said some 50,000 people attended the protest march and rally in the capital, Taipei, while three other events held simultaneously in other parts of the country drew a combined total of some 30,000.
The Taipei protest was attended by members both of opposition parties and the ruling Kuomintang (KMT).
Concern about the risks posed by Taiwan’s atomic power plants has been growing since a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami unleashed a nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima plant on March 11, 2011.
Taiwan is also regularly hit by earthquakes, raising fears that its currently three nuclear facilities may be similarly vulnerable.
Protesters called on the government to cease construction work on a fourth plant that is being built in a coastal town near Taipei. The plant was originally scheduled to be completed by 2004, but the project has been delayed by political wrangling.
Several polls conducted last year showed that about 70 percent of Taiwanese oppose the building of the plant, which is situated near undersea volcanoes.
The existing plants furnish about 20 percent of the country’s energy needs.
The third anniversary of the Fukushima meltdown will occur on March 11th.
The news is that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and major Japanese corporations want to re-open the 50 other nuclear power plants that closed when Fukushima blew up, calling them a friendly economic source of cheap power. Will this end up with business as usual?
We were recently asked if we thought that Fukushima could ever be cleaned up. We have to say “no,” based upon what we know of the biology, chemistry and physics of nuclear power and isotopes and the history of nuclear development.
Chernobyl melted down in 1986 and is still releasing radioisotopes. Not all life systems were examined around Chernobyl, but of those that were – wild and domestic animals, birds, insects, plants, fungi, fish, trees, and humans, all were damaged, many permanently, thus what happens to animals and plants with short-term life spans is predictive of those with longer ones. Worldwide, some 985,000 “excess” deaths resulted from the Chernobyl fallout in the first 19 years after the meltdown. In Belarus, north of Chernobyl, which received concentrated fallout; only 20% of children are deemed to be “healthy” although previously 80% were considered well. How can a country function without healthy and productive citizens?
Notable in the U. S. is the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State, built some 70+ years ago by 60,000 laborers, and currently leaching radioisotopes into the Columbia River. DuPont was the original contractor, but since, multiple corporations, each paid mllions of dollars and have yet to contain the leaking radioactivity. Every nuclear site is also a major industrial operation, contaminated not only with radioactive materials, but multiple toxic chemicals, such as solvents and heavy metals.
In 1941, the folk singer, Woody Guthrie was hired by the US government’s Department of the Interior to promote the benefits of building the Grand Coulee and Bonneville dams to harness the power of the Columbia River, and to generate electricity and supplement irrigation. It is unlikely that Guthrie learned that the dams were to provide electricity to the Hanford nuclear site, then under construction to produce plutonium for bombs.
“Roll on, Columbia roll on
Roll on, Columbia roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
So roll on Columbia, roll on.”
Rather than turning darkness to dawn, we released nuclear weapons that made the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki “Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” – the title of Robert Jungk’s prophetic book.
Guthrie’s monthly salary was $266 – compare that to the yearly $2 billion it is costing taxpayers now.
From 1946 until 1958, the U. S. tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, the most famous of which is Bikini Island. Stillbirths, miscarriages and thyroid gland defects were detected early in the islanders. 60 years on, decontamination of Rongelap, a small island, that lies about 180 km east of Bikini Atoll, continues. Only about 0.15 square kilometer of land has been decontaminated, or just 2 percent of the island’s area, at a cost of $40 million so far. In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as “by far the most contaminated place in the world”.
Within the U. S., the Nevada Test Site, and countless other sites remain contaminated. The most recently reported releases occurred in Feb. 2014 at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, NM. Detected in the air were of plutonium-239/240 and americium-241, transuranic elements strongly linked to cancer. So far, thirteen federal contract workers have measured levels of internal radioisotope contamination. The release spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up a 2150-foot tall exhaust shaft, out into the environment, and to an air monitoring station approximately 3,000 feet northwest of the exhaust shaft.
Fukushima is still leaking large quantities of Cs-137 and Sr-90 into the Pacific Ocean, where all forms of marine life will absorb them – from algae to seaweed, to fish, to sea mammals and ultimately to humans who consume the contaminated sea life.
Our recently released peer-reviewed paper confirms hypothyroidism in newborns in California, whose mothers were pregnant during the early releases from Fukushima. Thyroid abnormalities were detected early in Marshall Islanders and in Belarus residents of Gomel located near Chernobyl. Radioactive iodine, known to interfere with thyroid function entered the U. S. from Fukushima in late March, shortly after the meltdowns, and was carried by dairy products resulting in damage to the unborn.
It takes ten half-lives for an isotope to decay. Sr-90 and Cs-137 have half-lives of approximately 30 years, which means three centuries will occur before the initial releases are gone, and the releases have not stopped.
There are some 26 nuclear reactors in the United States with the same design as those at Fukushima, and they pose a significant risk to people and the environment. The Indian Point Nuclear Power Reactors are located some 35 miles from mid-town Manhattan, with 18 million people living within 50 miles of the site. What would be the environmental, human and economic costs if the Indian Point reactors were to fail?
The current estimated price tag to “clean up” the TEPCO mess at Fukushima is $500 billion (that’s billion, with a “B.” For us who have trouble thinking of such numbers, it will take 96,451 years to spend $10.00 per minute.
Unless we close the existing nuclear power plants and build no new ones, we are destined to repeat the on-going stories of Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and the myriad other sites that have already caused untold environmental, health, social, and economic costs. So will it be sanity or business as usual?
Perhaps it was Albert Einstein who defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. We must choose a sane path away from nuclear energy. Business as usual is Insane.
Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education. She can be reached at: email@example.com and www.janettesherman.com
Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, is the author of Mad Science (pub. 2012) as well and many articles on the effects of nuclear power. He is an epidemiologist, and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project and can be reached at: (www.radiation.org).
Jungk, Robert, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, Harcourt, Brace, New York. 369 pp., C. 1956. (worth getting second-hand.)
Mangano, J, Sherman, J., Busby, C. Changes in confirmed plus borderline cases of congenital hypothyroidism in California as a function of environmental fallout from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Open J. of Pediatrics. 2013, 3:370-376 http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojped.2013.34067 (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojped/)
Mangano, J. J., Sherman, J. D. Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/ West Coast U. S. States and trends of hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. Open J. of Pediatrics, 3:1-9, March 2013
Yablokov, Alexey V., Nesterenko, Vassily B., Nesterenko, Alexey V., Sherman-Nevinger, Janette D., Consulting Editor. Chernobyl – Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Vol 1171, 2009. Available at: firstname.lastname@example.org
TEPCO has revised the readings on the radioactivity levels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant well to 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter – both a record, and nearly five times higher than the original reading of 900,000 becquerels per liter.
Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years. The legal standard for strontium emissions is 30 becquerels per liter. Exposure to strontium-90 can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. originally said that the said 900,000 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter, including strontium – were measured in the water sampled on July 5 last year.
However, the company noted on Friday that the previous radioactivity levels had been wrong, meaning that it was also likely readings taken from the other wells at the disaster-struck plant prior to September were also likely to have been inaccurate, the Asahi Shimbum newspaper reported.
The Japanese company has already apologized for the failures, which they said were a result of the malfunctioning of measuring equipment.
TEPCO did not mention the radioactivity levels of other samples of both groundwater and seawater taken from between June and November last year – which totaled some 140.
However, the erroneous readings only pertain to the radiation levels measured in water – readings taken to measure the radiation levels in air or soil are likely to have been accurate.
In the basement of the station, the drainage system and special tanks have accumulated more than 360,000 tons of radioactive water. The leakage of radioactive water has been an ongoing problem in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.
TEPCO also said on Thursday that 600 liters of contaminated water – which had 2,800 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter in it, leaked from piping leading to a tank at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
A record high level of beta rays released from radioactive strontium-90 was detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant beneath the No. 2 reactor’s well facing the ocean, according to the facility’s operator who released news of the measurements mid-January.
TEPCO measured the amount of beta ray-emitting radioactivity at more than 2.7 million becquerels per liter, Fukushima’s operator said as reported in the Japanese media.
In March 2011, an earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s coast, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The catastrophe caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the facility, leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The water used to cool the reactors has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water ever since. Some of the radioactive water has been escaping into the Pacific Ocean.
Fukushima’s missing melted cores and radioactive gushers continue to fester in secret.
Japan’s harsh dictatorial censorship has been matched by a global corporate media blackout aimed—successfully—at keeping Fukushima out of the public eye.
But that doesn’t keep the actual radiation out of our ecosystem, our markets … or our bodies.
Speculation on the ultimate impact ranges from the utterly harmless to the intensely apocalyptic.
But the basic reality is simple: for seven decades, government Bomb factories and privately-owned reactors have spewed massive quantities of unmonitored radiation into the biosphere.
The impacts of these emissions on human and ecological health are unknown primarily because the nuclear industry has resolutely refused to study them.
Indeed, the official presumption has always been that showing proof of damage from nuclear Bomb tests and commercial reactors falls to the victims, not the perpetrators.
And that in any case, the industry will be held virtually harmless.
This “see no evil, pay no damages” mindset dates from the Bombing of Hiroshima to Fukushima to the disaster coming next … which could be happening as you read this.
Here are 50 preliminary reasons why this radioactive legacy demands we prepare for the worst for our oceans, our planet, our economy … ourselves.
1. At Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945), the U.S. military initially denied that there was any radioactive fallout, or that it could do any damage. Despite an absence of meaningful data, the victims (including a group of U.S. prisoners of war) and their supporters were officially “discredited” and scorned.
2. Likewise, when Nobel-winners Linus Pauling and Andre Sakharov correctly warned of a massive global death toll from atmospheric Bomb testing, they were dismissed with official contempt … until they won in the court of public opinion.
3. During and after the Bomb Tests (1946-63), downwinders in the South Pacific and American west, along with thousands of U.S. “atomic vets,” were told their radiation-induced health problems were imaginary … until they proved utterly irrefutable.
4. When British Dr. Alice Stewart proved (1956) that even tiny x-ray doses to pregnant mothers could double childhood leukemia rates, she was assaulted with 30 years of heavily funded abuse from the nuclear and medical establishments.
5. But Stewart’s findings proved tragically accurate, and helped set in stone the medical health physics consensus that there is no “safe dose” of radiation … and that pregnant women should not be x-rayed, or exposed to equivalent radiation.
6. More than 400 commercial power reactors have been injected into our ecosphere with no meaningful data to measure their potential health and environmental impacts, and no systematic global data base has been established or maintained.
7. “Acceptable dose” standards for commercial reactors were conjured from faulty A-Bomb studies begun five years after Hiroshima, and at Fukushima and elsewhere have been continually made more lax to save the industry money.
8. Bomb/reactor fallout delivers alpha and beta particle emitters that enter the body and do long-term damage, but which industry backers often wrongly equate with less lethal external gamma/x-ray doses from flying in airplanes or living in Denver.
9. By refusing to compile long-term emission assessments, the industry systematically hides health impacts at Three Mile Island (TMI), Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc., forcing victims to rely on isolated independent studies which it automatically deems “discredited.”
10. Human health damage has been amply suffered in radium watch dial painting, Bomb production, uranium mining/milling/enrichment, waste management and other radioactive work, despite decades of relentless industry denial.
11. When Dr. Ernest Sternglass, who had worked with Albert Einstein, warned that reactor emissions were harming people, thousands of copies of his Low-Level Radiation (1971)mysteriously disappeared from their primary warehouse.
12. When the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Gofman, urged that reactor dose levels be lowered by 90 percent, he was forced out of the AEC and publicly attacked, despite his status a founder of the industry.
13. A member of the Manhattan Project, and a medical doctor responsible for pioneer research into LDL cholesterol, Gofman later called the reactor industry an instrument of “premeditated mass murder.”
14. Stack monitors and other monitoring devices failed at Three Mile Island (1979) making it impossible to know how much radiation escaped, where it went or who it impacted and how.
15. But some 2,400 TMI downwind victims and their families were denied a class action jury trial by a federal judge who said “not enough radiation” was released to harm them, though she could not say how much that was or where it went.
16. During TMI’s meltdown, industry advertising equated the fallout with a single chest x-ray to everyone downwind, ignoring the fact that such doses could double leukemia rates among children born to involuntarily irradiated mothers.
17. Widespread death and damage downwind from TMI have been confirmed by Dr. Stephen Wing, Jane Lee and Mary Osbourne, Sister Rosalie Bertell, Dr. Sternglass, Jay Gould, Joe Mangano and others, along with hundreds of anecdotal reports.
18. Radioactive harm to farm and wild animals downwind from TMI has been confirmed by the Baltimore News-American and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
19. TMI’s owner quietly paid out at least $15 million in damages in exchange for gag orders from the affected families, including at least one case involving a child born with Down’s Syndrome.
20. Chernobyl’s explosion became public knowledge only when massive emissions came down on a Swedish reactor hundreds of miles away, meaning that—as at TMI and Fukushima—no one knows precisely how much escaped or where it went.
21. Fukushima’s on-going fallout is already far in excess of that from Chernobyl, which was far in excess of that from Three Mile Island.
22. Soon after Chernobyl blew up (1986), Dr. Gofman predicted its fallout would kill at least 400,000 people worldwide.
23. Three Russian scientists who compiled more than 5,000 studies concluded in 2005 that Chernobyl had already killed nearly a million people worldwide.
24. Children born in downwind Ukraine and Belarus still suffer a massive toll of mutation and illness, as confirmed by a wide range of governmental, scientific and humanitarian organizations.
25. Key low-ball Chernobyl death estimates come from the World Health Organization, whose numbers are overseen by International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations organization chartered to promote the nuclear industry.
26. After 28 years, the reactor industry has still not succeeded in installing a final sarcophagus over the exploded Chernobyl Unit 4, though billions of dollars have been invested.
27. When Fukushima Units 1-4 began to explode, President Obama assured us all the fallout would not come here, and would harm no one, despite having no evidence for either assertion.
28. Since President Obama did that, the U.S. has established no integrated system to monitor Fukushima’s fallout, nor an epidemiological data base to track its health impacts … but it did stop checking radiation levels in Pacific seafood.
29. Early reports of thyroid abnormalities among children downwind from Fukushima, and in North America are denied by industry backers who again say “not enough radiation” was emitted though they don’t know how much that might be.
30. Devastating health impacts reported by sailors stationed aboard the USS Ronald Reagan near Fukushima are being denied by the industry and Navy, who say radiation doses were too small to do harm, but have no idea what they were.
31. While in a snowstorm offshore as Fukushima melted, sailors reported a warm cloud passing over the Reagan that brought a “metallic taste” like that described by TMI downwinders and the airmen who dropped the Bomb on Hiroshima.
32. Though it denies the sailors on the Reagan were exposed to enough Fukushima radiation to harm them, Japan (like South Korea and Guam) denied the ship port access because it was too radioactive (it’s now docked in San Diego).
33. The Reagan sailors are barred from suing the Navy, but have filed a class action against Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which has joined the owners at TMI, the Bomb factories, uranium mines, etc., in denying all responsibility.
34. A U.S. military “lessons learned” report from Fukushima’s Operation Tomodachi clean-up campaign notes that “decontamination of aircraft and personnel without alarming the general population created new challenges.”
35. The report questioned the clean-up because “a true decontamination operations standard for ‘clearance’ was not set,” thereby risking “the potential spread of radiological contamination to military personnel and the local populace.”
36. Nonetheless, it reported that during the clean-up, “the use of duct tape and baby wipes was effective in the removal of radioactive particles.”
37. In league with organized crime, Tepco is pursuing its own clean-up activities by recruiting impoverished homeless and elderly citizens for “hot” on-site labor, with the quality of their work and the nature of their exposures now a state secret.
38. At least 300 tons of radioactive water continue to pour into the ocean at Fukushima every day, according to official estimates made prior to such data having been made a state secret.
39. To the extent they can be known, the quantities and make-up of radiation pouring out of Fukushima are also now a state secret, with independent measurement or public speculation punishable by up to ten years in prison.
40. Likewise, “There is no systematic testing in the U.S. of air, food and water for radiation,” according to University of California (Berkeley) nuclear engineering Professor Eric Norman.
41. Many radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate as they pour into the air and water, so deadly clumps of Fukushima’s radiation may migrate throughout the oceans for centuries to come before diffusing, which even then may not render it harmless.
42. Radiation’s real world impact becomes even harder to measure in an increasingly polluted biosphere, where interaction with existing toxins creates a synergy likely to exponentially accelerate the damage being done to all living things.
43. Reported devastation among starfish, sardines, salmon, sea lions, orcas and other ocean animals cannot be definitively denied without a credible data base of previous experimentation and monitoring, which does not exist and is not being established.
44. The fact that “tiny” doses of x-ray can harm human embryos portends that any unnatural introduction of lethal radioactive isotopes into the biosphere, however “diffuse,” can affect our intertwined global ecology in ways we don’t now understand.
45. The impact of allegedly “minuscule” doses spreading from Fukushima will, over time, affect the minuscule eggs of creatures ranging from sardines to starfish to sea lions, with their lethal impact enhanced by the other pollutants already in the sea.
46. Dose comparisons to bananas and other natural sources are absurd and misleading as the myriad isotopes from reactor fallout will impose very different biological impacts for centuries to come in a wide range of ecological settings.
47. No current dismissal of general human and ecological impacts—”apocalyptic” or otherwise—can account over time for the very long half-lives of radioactive isotopes Fukushima is now pouring into the biosphere.
48. As Fukushima’s impacts spread through the centuries, the one certainty is that no matter what evidence materializes, the nuclear industry will never admit to doing any damage, and will never be forced to pay for it (see upcoming sequel).
49. Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, warned that it is a form of suicide to raise radiation levels within Earth’s vital envelope, and that if he could, he would “sink” all the reactors he helped develop.
50. “Now when we go back to using nuclear power,” he said in 1982, “I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”
As Fukushima deteriorates behind an iron curtain of secrecy and deceit, we desperately need to know what it’s doing to us and our planet.
It’s tempting to say the truth lies somewhere between the industry’s lies and the rising fear of a tangible apocalypse.
In fact, the answers lie beyond.
Defined by seven decades of deceit, denial and a see-no-evil dearth of meaningful scientific study, the glib corporate assurances that this latest reactor disaster won’t hurt us fade to absurdity.
Fukushima pours massive, unmeasured quantities of lethal radiation into our fragile ecosphere every day, and will do so for decades to come.
Five power reactors have now exploded on this planet and there are more than 400 others still operating.
What threatens us most is the inevitable next disaster … along with the one after that … and then the one after that …
Pre-wrapped in denial, protected by corporate privilege, they are the ultimate engines of global terror.
Many of the people who were forced to evacuate after the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may never return, Japanese lawmakers admitted, overturning initial optimistic government pledges.
A call to admit the grim reality and step back from the ambitious Fukushima decontamination goals came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition parties. Japan has so far spent $30 billion on the clean-up program, which has proven to be more difficult to carry out than initially expected.
The new plan would be for the government to fund relocation to new homes for those who used to live in the most contaminated areas.
“There will come a time when someone has to say, ‘You won’t be able to live here anymore, but we will make up for it’,” Shigeru Ishiba, the secretary General of Abe’s Liberal Democrat party said in a speech earlier this month.
On Tuesday, evacuees reacted with anger at the government’s admission.
“Politicians should have specified a long time ago the areas where evacuees will not be able to return, and presented plans to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere,” Toshitaka Kakinuma, a 71-year-old evacuee, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Some 160,000 people escaped the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami transformed the plant into the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. About a third of them are still living in temporary housing. They were promised that this would not last for longer than 3 years.
In August the death toll among the evacuees surpassed the threshold of 1,599 lives, which is how many people in the prefecture were killed by the disaster itself. The displaced residents are suffering from health problems, alcoholism and high rates of suicide.
The Ministry of Environment wanted to decontaminate 11 townships in the affected area, bringing the average annual radiation dose to 20 millisieverts, a level deemed safe by the International Centre for Radiological Protection. It further pledged to pursue a long-term goal reducing it to 1 millisievert per year.
The clean-up, however, has been marred by delays and reports that workers sometimes simply dumped contaminated waste rather than collect it for safe storage, causing the environment ministry push back the deadline. There are also calls on the government to abandon the more ambitious dose target, arguing that it is unrealistic.
Some evacuees said they wouldn’t return even after the first phase of the cleanup, saying the dose of 20 millisieverts per year still poses health risks.
“No matter how much they decontaminate I’m not going back because I have children and it is my responsibility to protect them,” Yumi Ide, a mother of two teenage boys, told Reuters.
The fear of radiation has soared in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, with rallies against the use of nuclear power scoring record attendance. The government shut down all 50 remaining Japanese reactors for safety checks, and there is strong pressure to keep them offline.
The Japanese government is reportedly seeking to borrow an extra $30 billion for the Fukushima cleanup and compensations, which would raise the total cost of the disaster response to $80 billion. The figure does not include the cost of decommissioning reactors to be carried out by the plant operator, Tepco. The company recently complained about the huge expense of the process, which may last at least 30 years.