Contractors could be illegally dumping radioactive soil, vegetation and water into rivers and open areas near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Japan’s Environment Ministry admitted Jan. 4. The ministry said it will summon senior officials from companies contracted by the Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration to answer questions on how they manage contaminated waste following claims of illegal dumping in the coastal town of Naraha, the evacuated village of Iitate, and the inland in the city of Tamura. Under a law passed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, illegal dumping of contaminated substances may be punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to ¥10 million. “It is very regrettable if that is true,” Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said of the suspected dumping at his first news conference of 2013. (Kyodo, Jan. 5)
The charges came to light when a young worker for one of the contractors, Dai Nippon Construction, alerted the Environment Ministry after repeated complaints to management were apparently met with such replies as “Yeah, yeah, it’s OK. It can’t be helped.” The young man, who was recruited at a job placement center in Tokyo, even reported that contaminated vegetation was being dumped loose, rather than being collected in bags. (Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 4) Local residents also reported witnessing radioactive mud being dumped directly into Fukushima prefecture’s major river, the Abukuma. (Fukushima Diary, Jan. 5)
Citizen journalism also brought to light that workers as young as 18 were sent to the Fukushima site without adequate training. Some reported that they were told to write resumes with fictitious work experience. The new citizen media site 8bit uploaded a video interview with a worker in September who had applied for a job entitled “backup logistics support,” but was actually dispatched to the stricken plant, and exposed to high doses of radiation. (Global Voices, Sept. 20)
Another controversy concerns the nearly 700 radiation monitoring devices, popularly called “droids” due to their appearance, that the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT) has installed around the prefecture. With the typical pretense of democracy, MEXT has established a “realtime environmental radiation page” where the public can monitor the readings. The problem is that the readings appear to be total bullshit. Back in July, journalists and scientists who undertook to inspect the droids found that the immediate environs of the monitoring posts had been deliberately decontaminated so as to produce low readings. For instance, clean, non-radioactive soil was spread over the ground below the posts so the contamination below would not be registered. The claims made a brief flurry of news within Japan, but won no international coverage. (See the radiation measurement trade website Safecast, Dec. 29; Safecast, July 31)
Amazingly, these abuses seemingly persist despite the close involvement of international authorities. Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Fukushima’s Koriyama City, and is cooperating with the prefectural government in decontamination. (DW, Dec. 18)
A constant level of citizen pressure is responsible for whatever accounatability there is—and this has met with official harassment. On Dec. 9, Professor Masaki Shimoji of Osaka’s Hannan University was arrested—for the crime of having walked through a wing of the central train station as part of a protest two months earlier, against plans to incinerate radioactive waste from Fukushima in Osaka. The protesters merely cut through the station on their way to a city building to continue their rally there after standing for some time outside the station. It is apparently illegal to protest inside a train station in Japan—although, strictly speaking, Shimoji and his comrades didn’t. Shimoji has been an outspoken critic of the incineration plan, and arresting him two months after the October incident sems a clearly intimidatory move. Worse yet, he was denied bail and held for days before he was brought before a judge. (Simply Info, Dec. 19; Fukushima Voice, Dec. 14) Osaka’s Gov. Hashimoto Toru has signed off on the incineration plan. (Fukushima Diary, Aug. 3)
On Sept. 11, the Occupy METI movement marked the one-year anniversary of the launch of its protest encampment outside the Tokyo offices of the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI), the World Network for Saving Children from Radiation noted. The camp has survived numerous police evictions, re-establishing itself each time. The camp saw a public hunger strike last year against the re-start of the Oi nuclear reactors, and has also protested the post-Fukushima reorganization of the nuclear regulatory bureaucracy as insufficient.
Over 150,000 evacuees remain in temporary housing, and many will probably never be able to return home. This includes people from the mandatory 20-kilometer-radius evaucaiton zone, and the voluntary 50-kilometer-radius evacuation zone that was finally declared a full six weeks after the start of the disaster. Officials say an area the size of the state of Connecticut will have to be deconraminted. The government has admitted that the most highly contaminated areas will likely never again be fit for human habitation, and like the town of Chernobyl, will remain desolate ghost-towns for decades to come. (NYT, Nov. 27; Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 2; CTV, March 11, 2012)
Atkins apparently hasn’t got word of the wave of abnormal thyroid growths in Fukushima’s children. He is also presumably unfamiliar with the prediction of Princeton’s Professor Frank N. von Hippel, that “one might expect around 1,000 extra cancer deaths related to the Fukushima Daiichi accident,” as reported in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept./Oct. 2011.
On July 19 of last year, ABC News reported more formal findings from a team of Stanford University researchers that the number of extra cancer deaths from the Fukushima disatser would likely range between 15 and 1,300, with a best estimate of 130. Most of these deaths will likely occur in Japan, but there could be as many as 30 in North America. These findings, published in Energy & Environment Science, were (perversely but predictably) also presented as reassuring; e.g. Japan Probe headlined “Stanford Researchers: Fukushima Radiation Will Likely Kill Less Than 200 People Worldwide.” Those among the 130 (or 1,3000) can be forgiven for not viewing it that way. The findings also contradict the predictions of zero extra deaths earlier issued by the UN Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.