Fukushima: the cover-up continues

A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon in a suit filed on behalf of 14 children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima arguing that the nearby town of Koriyama should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure. After the Fukushima accident, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area. The average radiation for Koriyama is below this level, but some “hot spots” around the city are above the cutoff. The district court rejected the suit in a December 2011 decision. An appeal is now before the Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi prefecture.

After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which emitted more radiation than the stricken Fukushima plant, the Soviet government evacuated women and children from within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, bigger than the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. The number of children in the original suit dwindled to 10 for the appeal, and is now down to one as families have left the prefecture voluntarily. Toshio Yanagihara, one of the lawyers, said, “I don’t understand why an economic power like Japan won’t evacuate the children—something even the fascist government did during World War II”—a reference to the mass evacuation of children during air-raids. “This is child abuse.”

After Chernobyl, thousands of children got thyroid cancer.  In Fukushima, at least three cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed among children, although experts hasten to emphasize the absense of a proven link to the nuclear disaster. Comparative figures on thyroid cancer in other areas of Japan are apparently unavailable. A 12-year-old girl who was among those who filed the original suit but have since left the area said in a hand-written statement submitted to the court: “Even if I am careful, I may get cancer, and the baby I have may be hurt.” (AP, April 14)

Last month, the Japanese media touted claims of the Environment Ministry that while more than 40% of children from Fukushima prefecture tested for thyroid abnormalities, that rate is “not troubling” because it roughly matches data elsewhere in Japan. “The results in Fukushima prefecture were approximately the same as in the other prefectures,” said Yasuo Kiryu, a senior ministry official in charge of radiological health control.

The prefectural government has been conducting ultrasound thyroid gland tests on about 360,000 children and young adults who were aged 18 or under when the disaster at the plant struck in March 2011. To obtain control data for comparison, the Environment Ministry tested 4,365 children in Nagasaki, capital of Nagasaki prefecture; Kofu, capital of Yamanashi prefecture; and Hirosaki, Aomori prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun, March 9)

These findings are actually small comfort, given that thyroid abnormalities throughout Japan have been elevated since the Fukushima disaster.  We don’t claim to know why, or if there is necessarily a link to the nuclear disaster, but calling the results “not troubling”  is an utter perversity. We echo Helen Caldicott’s call for an international investigation into these findings. Until then, we are not going to join the rush to exculpate the Fukushima disaster. 

Furthermore, it has been revealed that some of the researchers  have been tainted by money from Japan’s nuclear industry. A new study has also determined that US babies in West Coast states are at a higher risk for thyroid disease than those in the rest of the country—as a likely result of the Fukushima disaster. 

And, highlighting the risks to the prefecture’s children, whistle-blowers have brought to light egregious corner-cutting in the disposal of contaminated waste in Fukushima.

There is nothing about any of this that is “not troubling,” thank you. 

  1. Tokyo: thousands march against nuclear power

    Anti-nuclear activists turned out in force in for a Tokyo protest against re-starting more reactors on June 2, surrounding the Diet building in a giant ring. Organizers pot the numbers at some 85,000, while the Metropolitan Police Department had an estimate of about 20,000. At a rally before the march in Shiba Park, speakers included authors Keiko Ochiai and the Nobel-winning Kenzaburo Oe. Organizers included the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, which has been organizing the Friday night demonstrations in front of the prime minister’s office, and Genpatsu wo Nakusu Zenkoku Renrakukai (National Conference on Abolishing Nuclear Power Plants). Japan shut its 50 reactors for safety checks in the wake of the Fukushima disaster but has restarted two of them, citing possible summertime power shortages. (Asahi Shimbun, June 3; Bangkok Post, June 2)


  2. Radioactive isotope found in Fukushima groundwater
    One week after TEPCO admitted that radioactive water was leaking from a storage tank at Fukushima, comes the company’s revelation that Strontium-90 is present in groundwater at the site at 30 times the legal rate—a hundredfold. The radioactive isotope tritium has also been detected at elevated levels. While the world has forgotten the Fukushima disaster, water is still being pumped daily through the reactors to cool them, and what to do with it all is a growing dilemma. TEPCO’s new admission may complicate its request to discharge what it describes as waters with low-level radiation into the Pacific Ocean, despite objections from skeptical local fishermen.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s LDP policy chief Sanae Takaichi on May 17 called for the restart of off-line nuclear reactors, asserting that no one had died from the Fukushima disaster. After the new contamination revelations, he was shamed into apologizing for the remark. (BBC News, DW, AFP, June 17; BBC News, June 6)

  3. Groundwater contamination level soars at Fukushima
    From Kyodo, July 9:

    The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Tuesday that the density of radioactive cesium in groundwater by the sea at the plant has soared to around 90 times higher than three days ago.

    According Tokyo Electric Power Co., the groundwater sample, collected Monday from an observation well located close to the Pacific Ocean, contained 9,000 becquerels of cesium-134 per liter and 18,000 becquerels of cesium-137 per liter. The reason for the sudden rise in toxicity is unknown.

    “Mud that has absorbed radioactive cesium may have got mixed with the water. We will measure the (contamination level of the) water again,” a TEPCO official told a press conference at the Fukushima prefectural government office.

    The official also said the company will determine whether radioactive substances are seeping into the sea after studying its seawater survey.

    From Asahi Shimbun, July 9:

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. said radioactive cesium levels in a well at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on July 8 were 90 times higher than those measured at the same site just three days earlier.

    TEPCO said July 9 that cesium levels of 27,000 becquerels per liter, the highest cesium levels found since the onset of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, were detected in water samples a day earlier from a well on the seaward side of the No. 2 reactor building.

    “It is unclear whether the radioactive water is leaking into the sea,” a TEPCO official said. “After gathering needed data, we will conduct analyses.”

    The unusually high cesium levels were found in a well near the water intake for the No. 2 reactor, from which highly radioactive water leaked into the sea in April 2011.

    TEPCO said cesium-134 levels in the well water were 9,000 becquerels, 150 times the legally permitted level, while 18,000 becquerels of cesium-137, 200 times the legally allowed level, were also detected in the water.

  4. Fukushima an “emergency”: official
    Think the emergency is long over? Think again. From HuffPost, Aug. 5:

    An official at Japan’s nuclear watchdog told Reuters on Monday radioactive water seeping from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the sea constitutes an “emergency,” an assessment far more extreme than previously stated.

    “Right now, we have an emergency,” head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) task force, Shinji Kinjo, told the news service.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant’s operator, admitted last month that contaminated water from Fukushima had leaked into the underground water system and reached the sea. The company gave its first estimate of the extent of the leak this weekend.

    According to AFP, TEPCO estimates between 20 trillion and 40 trillion becquerels of radioactive tritium have spilled into the ocean.

  5. Radioactive water leaking at Fukushima
    Radioactive water has leaked from a temporary storage tank into the ground at Japan’s Fukushima plant, TEPCO admits, saying at least 300 tons of the highly radioactive water was discovered by an employee Aug. 19. Officials described the leak as a Level 1 incident—the lowest level on an international scale that measures nuclear events. This is the first time that Japan has declared such an event since the initial disaster of March 2011 earthquake and tsunami (which was the world’s only Level 7 disaster after Chernobyl). TEPCO said a puddle of the contaminated water was emitting 100 millisieverts an hour of radiation, Kyodo news agency said, exceeding the maximum yearly dose allowed for a nuclear worker in Japan. (BBC News, Aug. 20)

  6. Fukushima goes to Level 3
    Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority called for elevating the new emergency at Fukushima to Level 3 on the international seven-point scale. TEPCO general manager Masayuki Ono  told Reuters: “One hundred millisieverts per hour is equivalent to the limit for accumulated exposure over five years for nuclear workers; so it can be said that we found a radiation level strong enough to give someone a five-year dose of radiation within one hour.” (BBC News, Aug. 21)

  7. Fukushima radiation levels jump off the chart

    From BBC News, Sept. 1:

    Radiation levels around Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant are 18 times higher than previously thought, Japanese authorities have warned.

    Last week the plant's operator reported radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank into the ground.

    It now says readings taken near the leaking tank on Saturday showed radiation was high enough to prove lethal within four hours of exposure…

    The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) had originally said the radiation emitted by the leaking water was around 100 milliseverts an hour.

    However, the company said the equipment used to make that recording could only read measurements of up to 100 milliseverts.

    The new recording, using a more sensitive device, showed a level of 1800 milliseverts an hour.

    The new reading will have direct implications for radiation doses received by workers who spent several days trying to stop the leak last week…

    In addition, Tepco says it has discovered a leak on another pipe emitting radiation levels of 230 milliseverts an hour.

    Utterly terrifying. We aren't sure about the bona fides of this item from a strange site called Occuweather, but it doesn't seem too implausible…

    As the concentration of radioactivity increases over time in the nearby waters, the water cycle will help pull up radioactive water into clouds and storms, creating so-called "hot rain storms" across the Pacific. If engineers are unable to resolve the crisis there, hot rain storms could bring radioactive storms to portions of the United States and elsewhere in the world in just a few years…  

    [W]eather forecasts may need to include a siervert number: the unit for absorbed radiation is a sievert, and it measures the effect a dose of radiation will have on the cells of a body. One sievert all at once will make you sick and more than that could kill you…

    Recent tests on rainwater in the Pacific Northwest have detected radioactive substances from the Fukushima disaster, but for now, the levels have been too low to have a harmful impact on humans.  

    But as the disaster continues in Japan, that could change for the worse.

    Are you ready for hot rain storms?

    We'll wait for experts to weigh in on "hot rain." But it remains all too clear: the Fukushima disaster is far from over.

  8. Fukushima Facebook frauds not helping, arigato
    The New York Times reported Sept. 3 that Japanese authorities are now planning to use pipes of liquid coolant to freeze the earth under the leaking Fukushima Daiichi power plant to stem the flow of radioactive water into the ground. This is obviously not a permanent solution, and is an implicit acknowledgement that they have no idea how to stop the leaking. Given this utterly alarming situation, we really wish that Facebook partisans would stop spreading false rumors that only serve to undermine public concern. Among the widespread bogus claims (reported as “real news” on specious websites with pseudo-objective names like National Report) are that the sea is boiling near the Fukushima plant, and that hundreds of dead whales are washing up on the beach. Urban Legends and Hoax Slayer have exposed these stories as fraudulent—the photo of washed-up whale carcasses was actually taken in New Zealand a year before the Fukushima disaster even started. 

    Similarly, a map of the Pacific purported to show the spread of radiation across the ocean from Japan to the west coast of the Americas is actually a map produced by NOAA showing comparative wave heights during the March 2011 tsunami. Maddeningly, Snopes, in calling out the hoax, uses the utterly misleading headline “Fukushima Emergency: FALSE.” There certainly is a Fukushima emergency! But now those who were skeptical about it will be assauged by the Snopes headline.

    Do you Internet scare-mongers, and you legions of enablers who forward their lies without fact-checking, understand how you are hurting rather than helping? Ironically, you are actually complicit with TEPCO’s cover-up. Too sad.

  9. Did typhoon deepen Fukushima disaster?
    From NHK World, Oct. 17:

    The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant says it has detected high levels of radioactivity in a ditch leading to the sea, after Typhoon Wipha brought heavy rain…

    Officials at the Tokyo Electric Power Company say they detected 1,400 becquerels per liter of beta ray-emitting radioactive material at a measuring point 150 meters from the sea on Wednesday.

    The figure was more than 70 times higher than readings taken on Tuesday. It’s also the highest since monitoring of the ditch water was started in August.

    Officials say rain from the typhoon caused contaminated soil to flow into the ditch and created the high radioactivity.
    They say they will begin a cleanup operation.

    Officials also say they will assess the effects on the surrounding sea.