Radiation cover-up at Fukushima exposed

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 ÂĄ10 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)

Despite all this, the level of denial about the situation remains simply staggering. Some smarmy jerk on the Asian Correspondent website named Gavin Atkins confidently informs us that only five people were killed in the Fukushima disatser—one trapped in a crane console during the quake, two swept away by the tsunami, a clean-up worker who suffered a heart-attack, and another whose cause of death has not been determined. TEPCO won’t reveal this information, while assuring us it wasn’t radiation. “Only” two workers were hospitalized due to radiation exposure—after their clothes were soaked while standing in radiocative water. Apparently, they weren’t even wearing rubber boots, but Atkins is reassured that they were released from the hospital within four days. He adds: “[T]he good news is that there are still precisely zero deaths attributable to the release of radiation at the plant, and on the basis of doses received, zero are expected…. No effects on health or significant contamination cases have been identified among the general public evacuated from the area.”

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.

Atkins evidently also failed to hear about the roughly 600 people who died as a result of the Fukushima evacuation. Stanford News says these deaths were “mostly due to fatigue and exposure among the elderly and chronically ill.”



  1. “Fukushima 50” on “death mission”
    A heart-wrenching BBC News report on Jan. 7 on the “Fukushima 50″—actually, a few hundred workers who stayed on at the plant after the disaster struck, at great risk to their health—reports that they are actually ostracized rather than lionized in Japan, seemingly taking the hit for popular anger at TEPCO. They shun publicity, and many seem to be suffering from post-traumatic stress. One who was tracked down by BBC, apparently with some effort, also said the workers had been ordered to stay on as plant careened out of control: “The person who sent us back didn’t give us any explanation. It felt like we were being sent on a death mission.”

  2. Fukushima survivors sue government, utility
    Residents near the Fukushima nuclear power plant this week filed lawsuits over radiation exposure againt Japan’s government and TEPCO. The four suits, which demand the government and TEPCO pay compensation and restore pre-disaster radiation levels, came as the nation marked the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear crisis. The suits were filed with the district courts of Fukushima, Chiba and Tokyo. Altogether, 1,650 plaintiffs are seeking damages that are estimated to reach at least 5.36 billion yen. The plaintiffs are demanding the government and TEPCO pay 50,000 yen per person a month until pre-distatser conditions are restored. (Daily Yomiuri, March 12)

  3. Leaks continue at Fukushima
    From the New York Times, April 7:

    Small Leak Is Reported at Fukushima Nuclear Plant
    TOKYO — A small amount of toxic water has leaked from an underground storage pool at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, the plant’s operator said Sunday, two days after it reported a much larger leak from a similar storage pool.

    The operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said that about three liters, or just over three quarts, of water was believed to have leaked from the No. 3 pool, where highly contaminated water is stored after being used to cool the damaged reactors and spent fuel of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. On Friday, the company said about 32,000 gallons of radioactive water had leaked from the neighboring No. 2 pool.

    While the newest leak is tiny by comparison, it has raised new public concerns about the company’s ability to safely manage the plant… Last month, some of the makeshift cooling systems built after the accident were stopped for days by a partial blackout that was later blamed on a short circuit caused by a rat.

    Major Japanese newspapers published criticisms of the company over the weekend, saying it had tried to cover up the risks from the leak reported Friday and had understated the levels of radioactivity in the water. The company said it appeared that the water had seeped through holes in plastic sheets used to protect the large underground storage pools.

  4. Fukushima worker radiation exposure understimated
    Interesting juxtaposition of news items re. Fukushima this week. First this from AP, tho the nuclear-boosters will be quick to remind us that no link can be proven between this tragic development and the disaster:

    Masao Yoshida, the man who led the life-risking battle at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant when it was spiraling into meltdowns, died today of cancer of the esophagus. He was 58.

    Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Yoshimi Hitosugi said Yoshida died at a Tokyo hospital.

    Yoshida led efforts to stabilise the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power and cooling systems, causing triple meltdowns and massive radiation leaks.

    Recalling the first few days when the three reactors suffered meltdowns in succession, Yoshida later said: “There were several instances when I thought we were all going to die here. I feared the plant was getting out of control and we would be finished.”

    And now this, from Japan’s national daily Asahi Shimbun (no coverage in Western media that we’ve been able to find):

    The test records of 479 workers at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant contained false documentation on the amount of internal radiation they were exposed to, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said July 5.

    The records of 452 of them have since been revised upward by a maximum of 48.9 millisieverts, according to health officials. The records of the rest were revised downward.

    The ministry said Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, failed to follow government instruction to make sure that its employees and contractors followed proper calculation protocol and that inadequate methods were employed to estimate the amount of internal exposure.

    In March, records of external exposure were found to be in error by up to several millisieverts in 63 individuals.

    The revised internal exposure calculations recorded 50 millisieverts in 24 people by the end of March 2013. Six people topped 100 millisieverts.

    The maximum dose limit for nuclear plant workers by law is set at 100 millisieverts over a five-year period. At least two individuals continued to work after reaching that limit.

    The latest findings increase concerns over the health effects from radiation following the revelations that workers received much greater exposure than originally reported.

    About 20,000 individuals had worked at the stricken nuclear plant by the end of 2011, nine months after the reactor meltdowns.

    Protocol calls for individuals to be tested at the first sign of internal exposure. But radiation levels were not taken for several months after initial exposure due to a shortage of measuring devices…