BGG Ed. note — I’ve felt, that, here in the U.S., we are shielded from what’s happening in Japan post-Fukushima disaster and yet it’s so important to keep up to speed. I’ve compiled excerpts of – and links to – key news articles over the last few months. This continues to be a developing story. I will also post follow-up pieces which relate to this information and refer back to it.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster took place after the Japanese power plant could not withstand the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, causing a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns, and releases of radioactive materials, and the evacuation of a 20 kilometer zone (12 miles) around it, displacing at least 180,000 people. It is a continually unfolding story. Yet the catastrophe has received little attention over the last 9 months since initially capturing non-stop worldwide news and public attention. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was on the ground there risking his health. Updates have been sporadic at best; however, in the few months, there’s been a smattering of new articles – from which the information released is important to be aware.
Via Wikipedia: “The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant … following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011. The plant comprises six separate boiling water reactors originally designed by General Electric (GE), and maintained by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The Fukushima disaster is the largest of the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents and is the largest nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.”
Many people believe that the Fukushima will surpass Chernobyl in its ultimate impact and tragic effects.
How can we live in a world with nuclear power – already a problematic energy source – if those in charge of it are irresponsible both before such a horrendous incident – and in the aftermath?
In addition to the devastating impacts to the lives and health of the people in Japan, animals and wildlife were left to fend for themselves. Provisions were not made to accommodate animals’ lives and people were forced to leave them behind, as well as, livestock. (Wonderful JEARS – Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support – volunteers went into the zone afterwards. That may have to be its own post.)
Surely, we are at the point where people and animals are fully taken into consideration, and information, even if difficult, is communicated properly. What happened to birds, squirrels, other animals on the ground and in the air?
This impacts all of us. Our water, air and soil are all connected. Products we consume come from Japan and food from the West Coast has been affected. Even if there are people saying not to worry, perhaps we should be doing just that.
In the Media:
The Japan Times reported in late November that the Fukushima nuclear power plant that experienced a series of failures after being subjected to an earthquake and tsunami was built under the assumption by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) that the facility would not have to withstand a tsunami greater than 5.7 meters high. This, despite the fact, that as recently as 2008 an in-house study projected a tsunami “as high as 10.2 meters” was likely. Officials dismissed this risk as “unrealistic” yet the March 11th tsunami was “as high as about 15 meters .. [and] knocked out the reactor cooling systems, leading to three meltdowns. The waves easily overran the plant’s sea wall.” The company back in 2008 “ruled out an immediate need to bolster defenses against the sea.”
On November 17th, the Wall Street Journal reported Radioactive Rice in Fukushima as “radioactive cesium exceeding the government limit was detected for the first time in rice harvested in Fukushima prefecture.” In addition, “The detection is likely to fuel consumer anxieties already rife with concerns that products such as beef and green tea tainted with unsafe levels of radioactive contaminants have made their way onto store shelves.”
The comments section at the article were particularly illuminating —
Frank Snapp wrote:
Detected for the FIRST TIME”…Yeah right! Contrary to the ridiculous implication of this article, I’m certain that all agricultural products in Japan are highly contaminated from ongoing aerosolized emissions–quadrillions of bequerels–from Fukushima and fallout surely reaches probably every corner of Japan and most parts of the Northern Hemisphere. This “first time” contaminated rice detected in Japan article is a minimization propaganda faux news piece meant to disempower, misinform and to distract the citizens of Japan. Don’t settle for this pablum. Demand the reality because in this you are going to pay the price for going along to get along!
Don’t worry, they’ll just do what they did with the milk and mix it with less contaminated rice so the the average radiation reading comes under the government limit.
In September, ABC News asked the question: Fukushima Fallout in California Waters: A Threat?:
The radioactive fallout from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant accident has spread as far as California waters, according to scientists from the University of California, Berkeley.
But although the level of radioactivity in the water was higher than normal, they said, it was still very low and not harmful to humans.
“The levels of fallout we have observed in San Francisco Bay area rain water pose[d] no health risk to the public,” wrote the study authors, led by Eric B. Norman of UC Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering. Additionally, he said, people don’t generally drink rain water.
Scientists also found radioactive material in samples of weeds, vegetables and milk sold in the area, but those levels were also very low.
While people have no reason to fear these findings, Elsayyad understands why people worry when they hear about elevated levels of radiation. The health effects of being exposed to radiation can be very serious, and include organ damage and cancer.
“It’s deeply ingrained in our culture that radiation is harmful,” he said. ”I wouldn’t blame people for being worried, but it’s important to make it clear that these results show the water is safe.”
Again, illuminating in the comments:
John c –
Just because the levels aren’t harmful doesn’t mean we should not be alarmed and disapproving of measurable nuclear contamination of our environment. Pollution is pollution. The scale of any nuclear disaster is so large! A moderate change in lifestyle is not impossible.
Since when is the water we all get from lakes and reservoirs not “rainwater”? In fact, they actually are concentrated forms of rainwater in that all precipitation that falls everywhere around the catchment area eventually runs off and collects in them. So all the Cesium that is falling in the hundreds/thousands of square miles around these catchments would eventually end up floating in them!
They admit that there is Cesium in the rain but fail to mention there will actually be more Cesium in the lakes as it continues to accumulate over time. With a half-life of 30-years, it sure isn’t going away anytime soon – just the opposite of what this feel-good story indicates with its “everything is back to normal” levels comment. Clearly a bunch of double-talk meant to misinform the public about where all this Cesium is actually ending up – which is EVERYWHERE like a blanket over everything not just a few selected items like this or that they so conveniently decide to randomly test to say it’s OK. If its in the milk, then its in the cow. If in the cow, its in the grass. If in the grass, then in the air and rain which means everything everywhere is covered just the same and not just that random sample of milk!
The November 2nd New York Times in Fears of Fission wrote, “The disclosures raise startling questions about how much remains uncertain at the plant, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The Japanese government has said that it aims to bring the reactors to a stable state known as a ‘cold shutdown’ by the end of the year.”
Previously, The Times story, Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo (10/14), revealed:
It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.
The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.
“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”
The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.
Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”
The Australian (December 2nd) reported:
MOLTEN nuclear fuel in one reactor at Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant burned through the steel pressure vessel and three-quarters of the surrounding concrete containment vessel that formed the reactor’s last substantial internal barrier.
The revelation of the near “China Syndrome” meltdown is yet another revision of the severity of the disaster following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Helen Caldicott in the International Herald Tribune 12/2/2011 via Common Dreams:
Studies in Belarus found that in 2000, 14 years after the Chernobyl disaster, fewer than 20 percent of children were considered “practically healthy,” compared to 90 percent before Chernobyl.
Now, Fukushima has been called the second-worst nuclear disaster after Chernobyl. Much is still uncertain about the long-term consequences. Fukushima may well be on par with or even far exceed Chernobyl in terms of the effects on public health, as new information becomes available. The crisis is ongoing; the plant remains unstable and radiation emissions continue into the air and water.
Recent monitoring by citizens groups, international organizations and the U.S. government have found dangerous hot spots in Tokyo and other areas. …
Many thousands of people continue to inhabit areas that are highly contaminated, particularly northwest of Fukushima. Radioactive elements have been deposited throughout northern Japan, found in tap water in Tokyo and concentrated in tea, beef, rice and other food. In one of the few studies on human contamination in the months following the accident, over half of the more than 1,000 children whose thyroids were monitored in Fukushima City were found to be contaminated with iodine 131 — condemning many to thyroid cancer years from now.
Children are innately sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation, fetuses even more so. Like Chernobyl, the accident at Fukushima is of global proportions. Unusual levels of radiation have been discovered in British Columbia, along the West Coast and East Coast of the United States and in Europe, and heavy contamination has been found in oceanic waters.
Fukushima is classified as a grade 7 accident on the International Atomic Energy Agency scale — denoting “widespread health and environmental effects.” That is the same severity as Chernobyl, the only other grade 7 accident in history, but there is no higher number on the agency’s scale.
Last week’s New York Times‘ revealed “radiation [has been found] in infant food.” This information only became public when “a citizen’s group in Fukushima first detected the radiation in Meiji’s baby formula and pressed the company for tests.” You’d think, in light of this disaster, Japan’s policy of not testing foods would be changed. Meiji, the maker of the formula, responded to the test results, stating babies could still “drink the formula every day without any effect on their health.”
Part II will feature things we can do to protect ourselves somewhat, while also remaining informed on the true extent of this disaster and the fact that information is being released sketchily at best. Similar to the climate post-9/11, people in downtown Manhattan were told the air was “safe” – by government officials and echoed by the majority of the media – while myself and others worked to raise attention to this issue, protested school children being allowed back to schools nearby, knowing this was not the truth*. (Many “first responders” and residents are now sick, dying or have died.) We all deserve better.
That’s what this blog and (forthcoming) book are about – keeping ourselves informed and knowing what to look out for.
* See this great FAIR (Fair and Accuracy in Reporting) from 2006 holding the media accountable regarding 9/11 air safety, “Gullibility Begins at Home: New York Times accepted false reassurances on Ground Zero safety“
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