The Fukushima clean-up team remains in the dark about the exact locations of 600 tons of melted radioactive fuel from three devastated nuclear reactors, the chief of decommissioning told the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in an exclusive interview.
The company hopes to locate and start removing the missing fuel from 2021, the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) chief of decommissioning at Fukushima, Naohiro Masuda, revealed.
The fuel extraction technology is yet to be elaborated upon, he added.
Following the tsunami-caused 2011 meltdown at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant uranium fuel of three power generating reactors gained critical temperature and burnt through the respective reactor pressure vessels, concentrating somewhere on the lower levels of the station currently filled with water.
The melted nuclear fuel from Reactor 1 poured out completely, estimated 30 to 50 percent of fuel from Reactor 2 and 3 remained in the active zone, Masuda said.
The official estimates that approximately “200 tons of [nuclear fuel] debris lies within each unit,” which makes in total about 600 tons of melted fuel mixed up with metal construction elements, concrete and whatever else was down there.
Five years after the Fukushima tragedy, the exact location of the highly radioactive “runaway” fuel remains mystery for TEPCO. The absolutely uncontrollable fission of the melted nuclear fuel assemblies continue somewhere under the remains of the station.
“It’s important to find it as soon as possible,” acknowledged Masuda, admitting that Japan does not yet possess the technology to extract the melted uranium fuel.
“Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it,” Masuda said.
TEPCO’s inability to locate the melted fuel could be explained by huge levels of radiation near the melted reactor shells. It is so high that even custom-built robots sent there to get information about the current state of affairs there get disabled by the tremendous radioactivity flux. Human presence in the area is understandably out of the question.
The company’s decommission plan for Fukushima nuclear power plant implies a 30-40 year period before the consequences of the meltdown are fully eliminated. Yet experts doubt the present state of technology is sufficient to deal with the unprecedented technical task.
“Nobody really knows where the fuel is at this point and this fuel is still very radioactive and will be for a long time,” the former head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Gregory Jaczko, told Foreign Correspondent.
“It may be possible that we’re never able to remove the fuel. You may just have to wind up leaving it there and somehow entomb it as it is,” said Jaczko, who headed the USNRC at the time of the Fukushima disaster.
Melted uranium fuel and tons and tons of highly radioactive water aren’t the only issues troubling TEPCO’s clean-up team at Fukushima. There are also some 10 million plastic bags full of contaminated soil concentrated in gigantic waste dumps scattered around the devastated nuclear facility.
The Japanese prime minister at the time of the Fukushima disaster, Naoto Kan, told the ABC that Japan’s government is already paying TEPCO US$70 billion to enable the company to do the decommission works at Fukushima.
“But that is not enough. It will probably cost more than $240 billion. I think 40 years [to decommission the plant] is an optimistic view,” Kan said.
Estimated 100,000 Japanese citizens evacuated from the Fukushima exclusion zone will be unable to return to their homes until TEPCO can show that the Fukushima plant is in a stable condition, Masuda said.
An ice wall being built at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant won’t completely prevent groundwater from flowing inside the facility and leaking out into the earth as radioactive water, according to a chief architect of the project.
Chief architect Yuichi Okamura told AP that gaps in the wall and rainfall will still allow for water to creep into the facility and reach the damaged nuclear reactors, which will in turn create as much as 50 tons of contaminated water each day.
“It’s not zero,” Okamura, a general manager at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said. “It’s a vicious cycle, like a cat-and-mouse game… we have come up against many unexpected problems.”
The wall, which will be 1.5km (1 mile) long, will consist of an underground pipe network stretching 30 meters (100 feet) below the surface, around the reactor and turbine buildings. The pipes are designed to transport refrigerant cooled to -30° Celsius (-22°F) to chill the nearby soil until it freezes.
The barrier is being turned on in sections for tests, and the entire freezing process will take eight months since it was first switched on in late March. The process requires an amount of electricity that would power 13,000 Japanese households.
Despite its current efforts, TEPCO – the operator of the Fukushima plant – has been fiercely criticized by those who say the groundwater issue should have been forecast and dealt with sooner.
Shigeaki Tsunoyama, an honorary professor and former president of University of Aizu in Fukushima, said that building a concrete wall built into the hill near the plant after the disaster would have minimized the contaminated water issue.
Okamura acknowledged that the option of building a barrier at a higher elevation near the plant was considered in the days following the disaster, but defended the actions of TEPCO, stressing that the priority is on preventing contaminated water from escaping into the Pacific Ocean.
Others have criticized the US$312 million wall, which is being built by construction company Kajima Corp., as a waste of taxpayer money.
TEPCO has repeatedly faced criticism for its handling of the Fukushima crisis, which occurred after a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to a meltdown of reactors at the facility in March 2011. The disaster was the worst nuclear accident to take place since Chernobyl in 1986.
The company has admitted that it did not act properly during the disaster, confessing in February that it announced the nuclear meltdowns far too late. It also stated in a 2012 report that it downplayed safety risks caused by the incident, out of fear that additional measures would lead to a shutdown of the plant and further fuel public anxiety and anti-nuclear campaigns.
Despite the ongoing problems encountered following the meltdowns, TEPCO has set 2020 as the goal for ending the plant’s water problem – an aim which critics say is far too optimistic.
However, the water problem is just part of the monumental challenges faced at the facility. Controlling and dismantling the plant is expected to take 40 years. Robots have been tasked with taking photos of the debris, as the radiation levels are too high for humans to complete the job.
April 26 is the 30th anniversary of the reactor meltdown and radiation disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine, which brings to mind cesium. Thirty years is how long it takes for half a given amount of cesium-137 — dispersed in huge quantities from Chernobyl (and Fukushima) — to decay into radioactive barium. This 30-year “half-life” means half of Chernobyl’s jettisoned cesium-137 is still around — over four million billion “Becquerels” in Europe alone, according to TORCH: The Other Report on Chernobyl. This cesium will persist in decreasing amounts in soil, water, and food for another 270 years.
Chernobyl’s two massive explosions and 40-day-long fire spewed thousands of tons of radioactive dust around the world. Maureen Hatch, writing in Oxford Journals March 30, 2005, reported that “contamination of the ground was found to some extent in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.” Yet it is not unusual for young people to know almost nothing about Chernobyl. Infants at the time may have ingested the dispersed poisons. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported May 17, 1986 that “since radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident began floating over Minnesota last week, low levels of radiation have been discovered in … the raw milk from a Minnesota dairy.”
The UN classifies Chernobyl and Fukushima as the worst environmental catastrophes in history; they are the only Level Seven radiation disasters ever to hit the top of its 0-to-7 scale. Like H-bomb tests of an earlier era, the four meltdowns are acts of unlimited, multi-generational ecological warfare: serial killers altogether hydrological, biological, psychological, economic, genetic, and agricultural. The number of illnesses, cancers and fatalities these radiation gushers have caused is unknown, but the plague of cancer ravaging the general population is obvious.
Ukraine’s abandonment standard better than Japan’s
Chernobyl saw the permanent evacuation of 350,000 from an 18-mile “exclusion zone” around the wreckage, and from hotspots in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Japan is limiting its evacuation to 200,000 from within a 12-mile radius of Fukushima, even though cesium-137 was found 25 miles from the three meltdowns in amounts over twice the evacuation standard used at Chernobyl. Japanese surveyors found up to 3.7 million Becquerels-per-square-meter in the populated area. The abandonment standard used at Chernobyl was 1.48 million Bq/m2, according to the New York Times. The nuclear industry gets off lightly because hundreds of millions of hospital patients around the world cannot prove their illnesses came from a particular radiation exposure.
The most often-repeated fatality estimate is from the UN’s 2006 Chernobyl Forum, which reported “9,000 excess deaths for the most affected areas.” The study is regularly misreported as having identified “4,000 Chernobyl deaths,” and it’s been criticized for investigating only those fatalities expected in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine — although the majority of radioactive fallout was deposited outside those former Soviet republics.
Author Alexey Yablokov says, “There is no reasonable explanation for the fact that the [Chernobyl Forum] completely neglected the consequences of radioactive contamination in other countries, which received more than 50% of the Chernobyl radionuclides….” Yablokov’s book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, estimates 985,000 Chernobyl deaths.
Alternately, Ukraine’s Minister of Health Andrei Serkyuk declared in 1995 that 125,000 Ukrainians had died from the effects of Chernobyl. Serkyuk said a large share of casualties were among children, pregnant women and rescue workers or “liquidators.” Liquidators were the soldiers, farmers, miners and factory workers conscripted to work removing and burying radioactive topsoil, debris and equipment from near the smashed reactor using inadequate protective gear or none at all. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that “Russian officials estimated 10,000 Russian ‘liquidators’ died” and quoted health officers who said “close to 3,600 Ukrainians who took part in the cleanup effort have died of radiation exposure.” However, Ukrainian authorities said in 2009 that over 25,000 liquidators died getting the accident under control and constructing a concrete shield over the wreckage.
Everyone in the global north is subject to uninvited, unwelcome, dangerous radiation exposures caused by Chernobyl, Fukushima and routine reactor emissions. The industry treats everybody like liquidators, but has a snappier name for us. We’re called “sponges.”
On the 5th Anniversary of the catastrophe, Prof Geraldine Thomas, the nuclear industry’s new public relations star, walked through the abandoned town of Ohkuma inside the Fukushima exclusion zone with BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.
Thomas was described as “one of Britain’s leading experts on the health effects of radiation”. She is of the opinion that there is no danger and the Japanese refugees can come back and live there in the “zone”. Her main concern seemed to be how untidy it all was: “Left to rack and ruin,” she complained, sadly.
At one point, Rupert pulled out his Geiger counter and read the dose: 3 microSieverts per hour. “How much radiation would it give in a year to people who came back here,” he asked. Thomas replied: “About an extra milliSievert a year, which is not much considering you get 2mSv a year from natural background”.
“The long term impact on your health would be absolutely nothing.”
Now anyone with a calculator can easily multiply 3 microSieverts (3 x 10-6 Sv) by 24 hours and 365 days. The answer comes out to be 26 mSv (0.026Sv), not “about 1mSv” as the “leading expert on the health effects of radiation” reported.
I must personally ask if Gerry Thomas is a reliable expert; her CV shows she has published almost nothing in the way of original research, so we must ask how it is the BBC has taken her seriously.
This recalled the day the first reactor exploded in 2011. I was in London, and the BBC asked me to come into the studio and comment. Also present was a nuclear industry apologist, Dr Ian Fells. Like Geraldine Thomas he seemed unconcerned about the radiation: the main problem for him was that the lifts would not work. People would have to climb stairs, he complained.
I said then on that first day that this was a serious accident like Chernobyl, but he and everybody who followed him told the viewers that it was no problem, nothing like Chernobyl.
Some months later, looking back, it became clear I was correct on every point, but I never was invited back to the BBC. I visited Japan, took sophisticated measuring equipment, obtained vehicle air filters, spoke to the Japanese people and advised them to take Calcium tablets to block the Strontium-90.
My vehicle air filter measurements showed clearly that large areas of north east Japan were seriously contaminated – including Tokyo. This was too much for the nuclear industry: I was attacked in the Guardian newspaper by pro-nuclear George Monbiot in an attempt to destroy my credibility. One other attacker was Geraldine Thomas. What she said then was as madly incorrect then as what she is saying now. But the Guardian would not let me respond.
The important evidence for me in the recent BBC clip is the measurement of dose given by Rupert’s Geiger counter: 3microSieverts per hour (3Sv/h). Normal background in Japan (I know, I measured it there) is about 0.1Sv/h. So in terms of external radiation, Ruperts’s measurement gave 30 times normal background.
Is this a problem for human health? You bet it is. The question no-one asked is what is causing the excess dose? The answer is easy: radioactive contamination, principally of Caesium-137. On the basis of well-known physics relationships we can say that 3Sv/h at 1m above ground represents a surface contamination of about 900,000Bq per square metre of Cs-137. That is, 900,000 disintegrations per second in one square metre of surface: and note that they were standing on a tarmac road which appeared to be clean. And this is 5 years after the explosions. The material is everywhere, and it is in the form of dust particles which can be inhaled; invisible sparkling fairy-dust that kills hang in the air above such measurements.
The particles are not just of Caesium-137. They contain other long lived radioactivity, Strontium-90, Plutonium 239, Uranium-235, Uranium 238, Radium-226, Polonium-210, Lead-210, Tritium, isotopes of Rhodium, Ruthenium, Iodine, Cerium, Cobalt 60. The list is long.
The UN definition of ‘radioactively contaminated land’ is 37,000Bq/square meter, and so, on the basis of the measurement made by the BBC reporter, the town of Ohkuma in the Fukushima zone (and we assume everywhere else in the zone) is still, five years after the incident, more than 20 times the level where the UN would, and the Soviets did, step in and control the population.
But the Japanese government wants to send the people back there. It is bribing them with money and housing assistance. It is saying, like Gerry Thomas, there is no danger. And the BBC is giving this misdirection a credible platform. The argument is based on the current radiation risk model of the International Commission on Radiological Protection the ICRP.
Last month, my German colleagues and I published a scientific paper  in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Health and Toxicology. It uses real-world data from those exposed to the same substances that were released by Fukushima to show that the ICRP model is wrong by 1,000 times or more. This is a game-changing piece of research. But were we asked to appear on the BBC, or anywhere else? No. What do our findings and calculations suggest will have happened in the five years since the explosions and into the future? Let’s take a look at what has happened since 2011.
The reactors are still uncontrolled five years after the explosions and continue to release their radioactive contents to the environment despite all attempts to prevent this. Concerning the melted fuel, there is no way to assess the condition or specific whereabouts of the fuel though it is clearly out of the box and in the ground.
Meanwhile, robots fail at the extremely high radiation levels found; ground water flowing through the plant is becoming contaminated and is being pumped into storage tanks for treatment; high radiation levels and debris have delayed the removal of spent fuel from numbers 1, 2 and 3 reactor buildings. TEPCO plans to remove debris from reactor 3 and this work has begun. Then they are hoping to remove the fuel rods out of reactors 1 and 2 by 2020 and the work on removing debris from these 2 reactors has not begun yet.
Much of the radioactivity goes into the sea, where it travels several hundreds of km. up and down the coast, destroying sea life and contaminating intertidal sediment. The radionuclides bind to fine sediment and concentrate in river estuaries and tidal areas like Tokyo Bay. Here the particles are re-suspended and brought ashore to be inhaled by those living within 1km of the coast.
From work done by my group for the Irish government on the contaminated Irish Sea we know that this exposure will increase the rate of cancer in the coastal inhabitants by about 30 percent.
The releases have not been stopped despite huge amounts of work, thought and action. The treated water is still highly radioactive and cannot yet be released.
That is a real problem on site with three heavy spent fuel pools still full and largely inaccessible. Collapse of the buildings would lead to coolant loss and a fire or even an explosion releasing huge amounts of radioactivity. So this is one nightmare scenario: Son of Fukushima. A solid wall at the port side may have slowed the water down but diverting the water may cause problems with the ground water pressure on site and thus also threaten subsidence. Space for storing the radioactive water is running out and it seems likely that this will have to be eventually spilled into the Pacific.
Only 10 percent of the plant has been cleaned up although there are 8,000 workers on site at any one time, mostly dealing with the contaminated water. Run-off from storms brings more contamination down the rivers from the mountains.
There are millions of 1-ton container bags full of radioactive debris and other waste which has been collected in decontamination efforts outside the plant and many of these bags are only likely to last a handful of years before degrading and spilling their contents. Typhoons will spread this highly contaminated contents far and wide.
Let’s look at the only real health data which has emerged to see if it gives any support to my original estimate of 400,000 extra cancers in the 200km radius. Prof Tsuda has recently published a paper in the peer review literature identifying 116 thyroid cancers detected over 3 years by ultrasound scanning of 380,000 0-18 year olds.
The background rate is about 0.3 per 100,000 per year, so in three years we can expect 3.42 thyroid cancers. But 116 were found, an excess of about 112 cases. Geraldine says that these were all found because they looked: but Tsuda’s paper reports that an ultrasound study in Nagasaki (no exposures) found zero cases, and also an early ultrasound study also found zero cases. So she is wrong. The thyroid doses were reported to be about 10mSv. On the basis of the ICRP model, that gives an error of about 2000 times.
From the results of our new genetic paper we can safely predict a 100 percent increase in congenital malformations in the population up to 200km radius.
In an advanced technological country like Japan these will be picked up early by ultrasound and aborted, so we will not actually see them, even if there were data we could trust. What we will see is a fall in the birth rate and an increase in the death rate because we know what has been happening and what will happen; we have seen it before in Chernobyl. And just like Chernobyl, the (Western) authorities are influenced by or take their lead from the nuclear industry: the ICRP and the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) which since 1959 has taken over from the World Health Organization as the responsible authority for radiation and health (Yes!).
They keep the lid on the truth using ill-informed individuals like Geraldine Thomas and, by analogy with New Labour: New BBC. Increasingly I could say “New Britain” as opposed the Great Britain of my childhood, a country I was proud of where you could trust the BBC. I wonder how the reporters like Rupert can live with themselves presenting such misguided information.
Fukushima is far from being over, and the deaths have only just begun.
2. Genetic Radiation Risks-A Neglected Topic in the Low Dose …
Christopher Busby is an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation. He qualified in Chemical Physics at the Universities of London and Kent, and worked on the molecular physical chemistry of living cells for the Wellcome Foundation. Professor Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk based in Brussels and has edited many of its publications since its founding in 1998. He has held a number of honorary University positions, including Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Health of the University of Ulster. Busby currently lives in Riga, Latvia. See also: http://www.chrisbusbyexposed.org, http://www.greenaudit.org and http://www.llrc.org.
“[W]e should be carefully monitoring the oceans after what is certainly the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history,” marine chemist Ken Buesseler said last spring.
Instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency halted its emergency radiation monitoring of Fukushima’s radioactive plume in May 2011, three months after the disaster began. Japan isn’t even monitoring seawater near Fukushima, according to a Sept. 28 story in The Ecologist.
The amount of cesium in seawater that Buesseler’s researchers found off Vancouver Island is nearly six times the concentration recorded since cesium was first introduced into the oceans by nuclear bomb tests (halted in 1963). This stunning increase in Pacific cesium shows an ongoing increase. The International Business Times (IBT) reported last Nov. 12 that Dr. Buesseler found the amount of cesium-134 in the same waters was then about twice the concentration left in long-standing bomb test remains.
Dr. Buesseler, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, announced his assessment after his team found that cesium drift from Fukushima’s three reactor meltdowns had reached North America. Attempting to reassure the public, Buesseler said, “[E]ven if they were twice as high and I was to swim there every day for an entire year, the dose I would be exposed to is a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray.”
This comparison conflates the important difference between external radiation exposure (from X-rays or swimming in radioactively contaminated seawater), and internal contamination from ingesting radioactive isotopes, say with seafood.
Dr. Chris Busby of the Low Level Radiation Campaign in the UK explains the distinction this way: Think of the difference between merely sitting before a warm wood fire on one hand, and popping a burning hot coal into your mouth on the other. Internal contamination can be 1,000 times more likely to cause cancer than the same exposure if it were external, especially for women and children. And, because cesium-137 stays in the ecosphere for 300 years, long-term bio-accumulation and bio-concentration of cesium isotopes in the food chain – in this case the ocean food chain – is the perpetually worsening consequence of what has spilled and is still pouring from Fukushima.
The nuclear weapons production complex is the only other industry that has a record of deliberate whole-Earth poisoning. Hundreds of tons of radioactive fallout were aerosolized and spread to the world’s watery commons and landmasses by nuclear bomb testing. The same people then brought us commercial nuclear power reactors. Dirty war spawns dirty business, where lying comes easy. Just as the weapons makers lied about bomb test fallout dangers, nuclear power proponents claimed the cesium spewed from Fukushima would be diluted to infinity after the plume dispersed across 4,000 miles of Pacific Ocean.
Today, globalized radioactive contamination of the commons by private corporations has become the financial, political and health care cost of operating nuclear power reactors. The Nov. 2014 IBT article noted that “The planet’s oceans already contain vast amounts of radiation, as the world’s 435 nuclear power plants routinely pump radioactive water into Earth’s oceans, albeit less dangerous isotopes than cesium.”
Fifty million Becquerels of cesium per-cubic-meter were measured off Fukushima soon after the March 2011 start of the three meltdowns. Cesium-contaminated Albacore and Bluefin tuna were caught off the West Coast a mere four months later; 300 tons of cesium-laced effluent has been pouring into the Pacific every day for the 4 1/2 years since; the Japanese government on Sept. 14 openly dumped 850 tons of partially-filtered but tritium-contaminated water into the Pacific. This latest dumping portends what it will try to do with thousands of tons more now held in shabby storage tanks at the devastated reactor complex.
Officials from Fukushima’s owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., have said leaks from Fukushima disaster with “at least” two trillion Becquerels of radioactivity entered the Pacific between August 2013 and May 2014 — and this 9-month period isn’t even the half of it.
The fact that Fukushima has contaminated the entirety of the Pacific Ocean must be viewed as cataclysmic. The ongoing introduction of Fukushima’s radioactive runoff may be slow-paced, and the inevitable damage to sea life and human health may take decades to register, but the “canary in the mineshaft,” is the Pacific tuna population, which should now also be perpetually monitored for cesium.
Last November Buesseler warned, “Radioactive cesium from the Fukushima disaster is likely to keep arriving at the North American coast.” Fish eaters may want to stick with the Atlantic catch for 12 generations or so.
Fukushima police have finally reacted to a criminal complaint filed against TEPCO and 32 of its top officials two years ago over the contamination caused by the 2011 nuclear disaster. They have referred the case to prosecutors.
The Fukushima District Prosecutors’ Office will now determine whether to pursue criminal charges against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and its top management over the leaks of highly radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea.
The criminal complaint alleges that the company and its executives failed to manage storage tanks of contaminated water or build underground walls to block the flow of radioactive material into the sea at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Notable people on the list include TEPCO’s President Naomi Hirose, former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former President Masataka Shimizu.
Police have reviewed claims filed by local residents after 300 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from TEPCO tanks.
Investigators say that since the complaint was launched in 2013, they have conducted interviews with TEPCO officials and analyzed other relevant information on suspicion of environmental pollution offense law violations. The police will document their observations and present the case to the Prosecutors’ Office.
TEPCO has not made any public comments on the matter, but has said that company officials were in contact with investigators, according to NHK.
The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is considered to be the world’s worst environmental catastrophe since Chernobyl. As of March, about 600,000 tons of contaminated water are still contained within TEPCO tanks. According to preliminary estimates, site cleanup may take up to 40 years.
According to London-based independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment Dr. Ian Fairlie, the health toll from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe is horrific: about 12,000 workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation (some up to 250 mSv); between 2011 and 2015, about 2,000 died from the effects of evacuations, ill-health and suicide related to the disaster; furthermore, an estimated 5,000 will most likely face lethal cancer in the future, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What makes matters even worse, the nuclear disaster and subsequent radiation exposure lies at the root of the longer term health effects, such as cancers, strokes, CVS (cyclic vomiting syndrome) diseases, hereditary effects and many more.
Embarrassingly, “[t]he Japanese Government, its advisors, and most radiation scientists in Japan (with some honorable exceptions) minimize the risks of radiation. The official widely-observed policy is that small amounts of radiation are harmless: scientifically speaking this is untenable,” Dr. Fairlie pointed out.
The Japanese government even goes so far as to increase the public limit for radiation in Japan from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year, while its scientists are making efforts to convince the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) to accept this enormous increase.
“This is not only unscientific, it is also unconscionable,” Dr. Fairlie stressed, adding that “there is never a safe dose, except zero dose.”
However, while the Japanese government is turning a blind eye to radiogenic late effects, the evidence “is solid”: the RERF Foundation which is based in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is observing the Japanese atomic bomb survivors and still registering nuclear radiation’s long-term effects.
“From the UNSCEAR estimate of 48,000 person Sv [the collective dose to the Japanese population from Fukushima], it can be reliably estimated (using a fatal cancer risk factor of 10% per Sv) that about 5,000 fatal cancers will occur in Japan in the future from Fukushima’s fallout,” he noted.
Dr. Fairlie added that in addition to radiation-related problems, former inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture suffer Post-Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders that apparently cause increased suicide.
The expert also pointed to the 15 percent drop in the number of live births in the prefecture in 2011, as well as higher rates of early spontaneous abortions and a 20 percent rise in the infant mortality rate in 2012.
“It is impossible not to be moved by the scale of Fukushima’s toll in terms of deaths, suicides, mental ill-health and human suffering,” the expert said.
Given that Japan’s authoritarian regime of Shinzo Abe has cracked down on the information flow from Fukushima with a repressive state secrets act, we cannot know for certain what’s happening at the site.
We do know that 300 tons of radioactive water have been pouring into the Pacific every day. And that spent fuel rods are littered around the site. Tokyo Electric power may or may not have brought down all the fuel rods from Unit Four, but many hundreds almost certainly remain suspended in the air over Units One, Two and Three.
We also know that Abe is pushing refugees to move back into the Fukushima region. Thyroid damage rates—including cancer—have skyrocketed among children in the region. Radiation “hot spots” have been found as far away as Tokyo. According to scientific sources, more than 30 times as much radioactive Cesium was released at Fukushima as was created at the bombing of Hiroshima.
Some of those isotopes turned up in at least 15 tuna caught off the coast of California. But soon after Fukushima, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration stopped testing Pacific fish for radiation. The FDA has never fully explained why.
But now a small amount of Fukushima’s radiation has turned up in green tea shipped from Japan to Hong Kong. This is a terrifying development, casting doubt on all food being exported from the region.
According to the New York Times:
“A sample of powdered tea imported from the Japanese prefecture of Chiba, just southeast of Tokyo, contained traces of radioactive cesium 137, the Hong Kong government announced late Thursday evening, but they were far below the legal maximum level.
The discovery was not the first of its kind. The government’s Center for Food Safety found three samples of vegetables from Japan with “unsatisfactory” levels of radioactive contaminants in March 2011, the month that nuclear reactors in Fukushima, northeast of Tokyo, suffered partial meltdowns following a powerful earthquake and tsunami.”
Should every meal you are served now be accompanied with a radiation monitor?
Another radioactive water leak in the sea has been detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the facility’s operator TEPCO announced. Contamination levels in the gutter reportedly spiked up 70 times over regular readings.
The sensors are connected to the gutter that pours rain and ground water from the plant to a bay adjacent to the facility.
The levels of contamination were between 50 and 70 times higher than Fukushima’s already elevated radioactive status, and were detected at about 10 am local time (1.00 am GMT), AFP reported.
After the discovery, the gutter was blocked to prevent leaks to the Pacific Ocean.
Throughout Sunday, contamination levels fell, but still measured 10 to 20 times more than prior to the leak.
“We are currently monitoring the sensors at the gutter and seeing the trend,” a company spokesman said.
He did not specify the cause of the leak.
It has proved difficult for TEPCO to deal with plant decommissioning. Postponed deadlines and alarming incidents occur regularly at the facility.
Earlier this week, the UN nuclear watchdog (IAEA) said Japan had made significant progress, but there is still a radioactive threat, and a “very complex” scenario at Fukushima.
About a month ago, TEPCO announced it would miss their toxic water cleanup deadline, suspending it until the end of May, after earlier pledges it would be done by March.
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