On Monday, IAEA said that despite uncertainties about the radiation doses incurred by children immediately after the accident, “an increase in childhood thyroid cancer attributable to the accident is unlikely.”
On Tuesday, Greenpeace slammed the conclusions of the UN body as being ‘political rhetoric’.
“Nobody knows how much radiation citizens were exposed to in the immediate days following the disaster. If you don’t know the doses, then you can’t conclude there won’t be any consequences. To say otherwise is political rhetoric, not science,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan.
Part of the reason why no solid data is available regarding the potential exposure of the civilian population, as IAEA notes, resulted from the chaos and unpreparedness of the authorities to deal with and document the radiological impact of the March 2011 industrial disaster. Besides security and design “weaknesses” at the nuclear facility, IAEA also noted the government’s failure to swiftly and uniformly distribute stable iodine to block radiological effects in humans.
Greenpeace notes that those were evident failures on behalf of both Tepco and Tokyo, and remains certain that there is no safe level of radiation exposure following a nuclear disaster.
Meanwhile, Japanese media reported that yet another youth has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, bringing the total number of young victims to 104, out of the 385,000 Fukushima Prefecture non-adult residents at the time of the accident.
At the same time, the prefectural government committee investigating the issue said that “as of now, it is unlikely for the thyroid cancers found in Fukushima Prefecture to have been caused by the nuclear power plant accident,” Asahi News quotes.
Greenpeace blames IAEA for being complicit in covering up the truth about the potential harm posed by Fukushima fallout.
“The IAEA report actively supports the Abe government’s and the global nuclear industry’s agenda to make it appear that things can return to normal after a nuclear disaster,” Ulrich said. She accused Tokyo of giving the green light for Fukushima residents to return home, despite the risk of further nuclear exposure.
The organization also criticized the government’s move to restart nuclear power plants in the country. Last month, the Japanese government approved the program, which would let evacuees temporarily return to their homes for up to three months. The program is a step towards lifting the evacuation order and encouraging people to go back to their former residencies.
“But there is nothing normal about the lifestyle and exposure rates that the victims are being asked to return to,” Ulrich continued. “To intentionally subject nuclear victims to raised radiation levels is unjustified, particularly when we have the tragic reminder of Chernobyl where we saw increased rates of cancers more than five years after the crisis.”
The environmental NGO claims that its July investigation registered radioactive contamination levels in Fukushima prefecture at such a “high level” that it would be “impossible” for people to return.
Tokyo plans to lift the evacuation order by spring 2017 for many parts of the evacuation area stretching to a 20-kilometer radius around the Fukushima plant in addition to other zones that had high levels of radiation. Currently about 79,000 people from 10 localities remain evacuated.
TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The World Trade Organization has put off a decision on whether to set up a dispute settlement panel on South Korea’s import ban on Japanese fishery products, the Fisheries Agency said Monday.
At a meeting Monday, the WTO stopped short of making a decision as South Korea did not agree to the establishment of the panel. But the WTO is expected to approve the setting up of the panel as requested by Japan at its next meeting, on Sept. 28.
South Korea introduced the ban on some fishery products from eight prefectures, including Fukushima, in the wake of the reactor meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Source: Japan News
FUKUSHIMA–An investigation into health problems triggered by the 2011 nuclear disaster here turned up a new case of thyroid cancer in a young person who lived near the stricken plant.
The latest diagnosis brings to 104 the number of people out of the 385,000 or so Fukushima Prefecture residents who were 18 years old or younger at the time of the accident that are confirmed to have thyroid cancer, prefectural authorities said Aug. 31.
However, the prefectural government committee investigating the issue of health problems said that “as of now, it is unlikely for the thyroid cancers found in Fukushima Prefecture to have been caused by the nuclear power plant accident.”
The latest check was conducted between April and the end of June.
Source: Asahi Shimbun
“The IAEA report actively supports the Abe government’s and the global nuclear industry’s agenda to make it appear that things can return to normal after a nuclear disaster.”
A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “downplays” the continuing environmental and health effects of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown while supporting the Japanese government’s agenda to normalize the ongoing disaster, Greenpeace Japan charged on Tuesday.
The Vienna-based IAEA released its final report Monday on the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. While the agency pointed to numerous failings, including unclear responsibilities among regulators, weaknesses in plant design and in disaster-preparedness, and a “widespread assumption” of safety, it was more circumspect with regard to health concerns.
The Fukushima disaster released vast amounts of radiation, leading to fears that cases of thyroid cancer in children would soar as they did following the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.
The 200-page report sought to assuage those worries, stating: “Because the reported thyroid doses attributable to the accident were generally low, an increase in childhood thyroid cancer attributable to the accident is unlikely.”
That assertion wasn’t bulletproof, however. The report added: “[U]ncertainties remained concerning the thyroid equivalent doses incurred by children immediately after the accident.”
In a press statement, Greenpeace Japan seized on the information gap.
“The IAEA concludes that no discernible health consequences are expected as a result of the Fukushima disaster, but admits important uncertainties in both radiation dose and long-term effects,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner with Greenpeace Japan. “Nobody knows how much radiation citizens were exposed to in the immediate days following the disaster. If you don’t know the doses, then you can’t conclude there won’t be any consequences. To say otherwise is political rhetoric, not science.”
“The IAEA report actively supports the Abe government’s and the global nuclear industry’s agenda to make it appear that things can return to normal after a nuclear disaster,” Ulrich said. “But there is nothing normal about the lifestyle and exposure rates that the victims are being asked to return to.”
In July, Greenpeace Japan charged that the IAEA “has sought to downplay the radiological risks to the population since the early days in 2011. In fact, it produced two documents that can be said to have laid the foundation and justification for Abe’s current policy of de facto forced resettlement.”
Exploring the political dynamics further, Ulrich wrote at the time:
Over four years after the triple reactor core meltdowns and exploded containment buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the majority of the Japanese public has remained opposed to any nuclear restart. The country has been completely nuclear-free for nearly two years, thanks in large part to significant public opposition, in spite of the massive pressure from nuclear utilities and the Abe government on local city governments.
However, these utilities are massively powerful and the Abe government is wholly in bed with them.
In an effort to reduce public opposition, Abe has been pushing forward the pro-nuclear agenda to ‘normalize’ a nuclear disaster. If the public can be convinced that less than five years after the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, citizens can go home and return to life the way it was before the disaster – with no additional health risks – then that is a powerful argument against the majority of Japanese citizens who oppose nuclear reactor restarts.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported Tuesday that evacuees from three Fukushima Prefecture localities who were displaced by the nuclear disaster started temporarily returning to their homes on Monday to prepare for their eventual permanent return.
“But applicants for the temporary stay program that began that day totaled 1,265, less than 10 percent of about 14,000 eligible as of Aug. 30,” the paper reported. “The small number indicates that an overwhelming majority of evacuees are still concerned about radiation levels and prospects for a return to normalcy in their hometowns.”
Source: Common Dreams
The IAEA released its final report Aug. 31 on the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that spewed out vast amounts of radiation, leading to fears that cases of thyroid cancer in children would soar.
However, the report downplayed those fears, stating: “Because the reported thyroid doses attributable to the accident were generally low, an increase in childhood thyroid cancer attributable to the accident is unlikely.”
The 200-page report, compiled by 180 experts from 42 IAEA member countries, was released along with five technical volumes totaling 1,000 pages, and is to be presented at the IAEA’s general meeting scheduled to start on Sept. 14.
The materials are available on the IAEA’s official website at (http://www-pub.iaea.org/books/IAEABooks/10962/The-Fukushima-Daiichi-Accident).
“A major factor that contributed to the accident was the widespread assumption in Japan that its nuclear power plants were so safe,” the IAEA stated, adding that facilities and emergency procedures to address a major accident, such as the one triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, were woefully insufficient.
The report begins with the foreword by Yukiya Amano, director-general of the IAEA.
“There can be no grounds for complacency about nuclear safety in any country,” Amano wrote.
With regard to other causes of the Fukushima disaster, the report cited flaws in the design of nuclear facilities and emergency procedures. It also criticized the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., for not having taken appropriate preparations in case outside power sources were lost for a prolonged period or anticipated accidents simultaneously occurring at multiple reactors.
The IAEA report pointed out that TEPCO did not take steps against towering tsunami inundating the plant even though it had anticipated that possibility based on a pre-disaster assessment by the government.
The final report also mentioned the effects of radioactive iodine released from the plant on the thyroid glands of children living near the nuclear facility.
But it also noted that uncertainties still linger about radiation doses children incurred immediately after the accident.
Source: Asahi Shimbun
Evacuees from three Fukushima Prefecture localities who were displaced by the nuclear disaster started temporarily returning to their homes on Aug. 31 to prepare for their eventual permanent return.
But applicants for the temporary stay program that began that day totaled 1,265, less than 10 percent of about 14,000 eligible as of Aug. 30.
The small number indicates that an overwhelming majority of evacuees are still concerned about radiation levels and prospects for a return to normalcy in their hometowns.
Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori said a secure environment must be in place for evacuees to participate in the preparatory program.
“What is most important is to provide a sense of safety and security,” he said at a news conference on Aug. 31. “Evacuees will not readily join the program unless they have easy access to health care, education and shopping areas.”
Residents of parts of Minami-Soma, Kawamata and Katsurao were ordered by the central government to evacuate when a triple meltdown occurred at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as a result of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Last month, the government approved the program that would let evacuees from the three areas temporarily return to their homes for up to three months. The program is a step toward lifting the evacuation order and encouraging people to return home, as many have chosen to settle elsewhere after the prolonged evacuation.
In the village of Katsurao on Aug. 31, evacuee Kazuhiro Matsumoto, 59, was busy repairing the damaged walls of his home.
“It is nice to be back home, but I will miss my grandchildren after my return here,” Matsumoto said. “I am fixing my home because we need a place where my family and relatives can get together on New Year’s Day.”
While living in makeshift housing, Matsumoto has been working in cleanup operations in Katsurao for which his company was commissioned.
His son’s family of six already built a home outside the village and decided not to return to Katsurao to live.
Rice paddies across from Matsumoto’s home are overrun with weeds, with a large number of bags containing radioactive soil and other waste produced in decontamination operations piling up.
“Even though the authorities say we are safe, I am still anxious because we cannot see radiation,” he said.
The government plans to lift the evacuation order by spring 2017 for many parts of the evacuation area, which encompasses a 20-kilometer radius around the Fukushima plant and localities outside the zone that had high levels of radiation.
Officials from Minami-Soma, Kawamata and Katsurao hope to see the evacuation order lifted by next spring.
They have begun a preparatory program based on prospects that cleanup work will progress further in the coming months.
Local authorities say many general contractors will not accept assignments in the evacuation area. But they believe that work to mend local infrastructure and homes will proceed once evacuees are allowed to return home to live.
The number of residents who signed up for the preparatory program was low because many of the evacuees, primarily young couples, have decided to make a fresh start. They have purchased homes close to their workplaces or their children’s schools.
Four years after the onset of the nuclear disaster, about 79,000 people from 10 localities remain evacuated.
Source: Asahi Shimbun
Fukushima evacuees begin three-month stays in their homes ahead of final return
FUKUSHIMA – Evacuees from three municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture are being allowed to return home for long-term stays before the central government formally lifts the evacuation order for those areas.
The government says it made the move, which took effect Monday, because radiation levels have dropped sufficiently in Minamisoma, Kawamata and Katsurao since the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
The government will decide by November whether to lift the evacuation order after hearing from the evacuees.
The long-term stays are allowed for 14,255 people in 4,647 households, the largest number in the long-stay program so far.
Some areas will remain no-go zones because radiation levels remain high.
As of Monday, 1,308 people in 478 households, some 10 percent of the total, had reported to the government that they would start the long-term stays in their homes.
Decontamination work in residential areas in Kawamata and Katsurao was completed in summer last year, halving the average radiation level in the air to 0.5 microsievert per hour.
In Minamisoma, only 26 percent of decontamination work had been finished by the end of July, but natural falls in radiation levels were taken into consideration.
Dosimeters will be given to each household, while consultants will be dispatched to check the health status of residents. Minamisoma has set next April as its target date for the lifting of the evacuation order, while Katsurao and Kawamata are being less exact and have set the target for next spring.
Long-term stays have already been conducted in Tamura and part of Kawauchi, where evacuation orders have been removed, and in Naraha, where it is slated to be lifted on Wednesday.
Source: Japan Times
Radiation spewed out by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may be responsible for differences in the growth of native Japanese fir trees in the area.
Researchers primarily from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences said Aug. 28 that many fir trees near the plant, as well as other areas, had undergone “morphological defects.”
They intentionally avoided words like abnormality, but used morphological defects and change.
Their studies showed that the changes occurred more frequently in areas with higher air rates of radiation.
“But it is still unclear whether the phenomenon has been caused by radial rays,” a team member concluded, adding that exposure to higher levels of radiation is “one possible cause.”
Conducted in January, the survey covered the town of Okuma in Fukushima Prefecture, located 3.5 kilometers from the plant, where radiation levels of 33.9 microsieverts per hour were detected, and two locations in the town of Namie, also in the prefecture.
While one of the Namie investigation sites is 8.5 km from the plant and measured 19.6 microsieverts per hour, readings of 6.85 microsieverts were detected at the other spot, located 15 km from the facility.
All the sites are within the government-designated difficult-to-return zone, meaning that the residents were evacuated and are prohibited from living there.
The team also examined firs in distant Kita-Ibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture, which had radiation levels of 0.13 microsieverts per hour, for comparison.
In each of the four sites, the scientists checked 100 to 200 fir trees.
They found that more than 90 percent of firs in the Okuma site were not growing normally. Fir tree boles normally extend upward with two or so branches arising from them horizontally each year. But this was not the case.
Similar changes in shape were found in more than 40 percent of firs and around 30 percent of the trees, respectively, in the two Namie locations. Less than 10 percent of fir trees in the Kita-Ibaraki survey site also were different.
According to the NIRS, findings of studies concerning the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and other research revealed that conifers, such as firs and pine trees, are vulnerable to the effects of radiation.
However, the scientists noted that the problems reported in their latest survey may have been caused by animals, tree sickness or cold weather, not by exposure to strong radiation.
The Environment Ministry has been examining the impact of radial rays on local ecosystems since the nuclear crisis unfolded at the Fukushima nuclear plant four years ago. The NIRS study is part of those ministry efforts.
The governmental agency has to date monitored 44 kinds of animals and plants in areas around the damaged facility, but no other significant changes or abnormalities have been reported.
‘LABORATORY EXPERIMENTS ESSENTIAL’
Tomoko Nakanishi, a professor of radiation plant physiology at the University of Tokyo, said the latest findings are invaluable as researchers have difficulty doing surveys in the difficult-to-return zone due to high radiation readings.
“There had been so little data on such areas,” she said.
But Nakanishi also pointed out it will require further research to conclude the morphological changes have been caused by exposure to radial rays.
“Other factors may have affected fir trees,” Nakanishi said. “Researchers need to examine through lab experiments what will happen when firs are exposed to high levels of radiation.”
Source: Asahi Shimbun
After the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) in March 2011, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of the released radionuclides into the surrounding area. We investigated the morphological changes in Japanese fir, a Japanese endemic native conifer, at locations near the F1NPP. Japanese fir populations near the F1NPP showed a significantly increased number of morphological defects, involving deletions of leader shoots of the main axis, compared to a control population far from the F1NPP. The frequency of the defects corresponded to the radioactive contamination levels of the observation sites. A significant increase in deletions of the leader shoots became apparent in those that elongated after the spring of 2012, a year after the accident. These results suggest possibility that the contamination by radionuclides contributed to the morphological defects in Japanese fir trees in the area near the F1NPP.
During the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (F1NPP) accident that occurred in March 2011, radionuclides that were released into the atmosphere contaminated the surrounding environment1,2. Since the accident, much attention has been paid to the biological consequences of contamination by radionuclides. To detect the biological changes in the environment, various wild organisms, such as Japanese monkeys3, lycaenid butterflies4, and gall-forming aphids5, inhabiting the surrounding area have been investigated as possible indicator organisms. However, further studies using radiation-responsive indicator organisms help us to reach a consistent conclusion, whether radiological contamination from the F1NPP accident had a biological impact on the environment.
For the purpose of biomonitoring of the radiological contamination, nevertheless, coniferous plants have been demonstrated to be suitable indicator organisms because of their high radiosensitivity, which was revealed decades ago by field examination using gamma irradiation facilities6,7,8,9. Radiosensitive damages in conifers were reported after the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986, where two local coniferous species, Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) and Norway spruce (Picea abies), showed distinct biological damage in the radioactively contaminated areas10,11,12. Under experimental and accidental exposure, morphological changes, particularly in branching of the main axis, were shown to be the most frequently observed radiosensitive responses of coniferous plants6,7,8,9,10,11,12.
Coniferous tree species are grown in the area highly radioactive contaminated by the F1NPP accident, where Japanese fir (Abies firma) is one of the most common naturally grown species. Different from other coniferous species, young-tree populations of Japanese fir are abundant, because this species has the characteristic ability to sprout even on the shaded forest floor. The short height of young trees enables the easy observation of morphological changes in the whole tree. In addition, the regular annual branching of Japanese fir trees enables determination of the year that any morphological changes occurred through a number of past years (Fig. 1).
In this study, we used the Japanese fir tree as an indicator organism to detect the environmental impact of radiological contamination caused by the F1NPP accident. We examined the morphological changes in annual leader shoots for the past five years within the highly contaminated area around the F1NPP13. The investigation was carried out in January 2015 at 3 observation sites (S1, S2, and S3), at different distances from the F1NPP and with different contamination levels (Fig. 2, Table 1). The three observation sites were situated in “Area 3” where it is expected that the residents have difficulties in returning for a long time (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). Fir trees were also examined in a slightly contaminated control site (S4), southwest of the F1NPP.
Most of the naturally grown Japanese fir trees showed a typical monopodial branching pattern to form a trunk with one main axis (Fig. 3A), whereas some trees showed distinctive morphological defects on the main axis of the trunk (Fig. 3B,C). Independently of the growing site, these defects were characterized by irregular branching at the whorls of the main axis with a distinct deletion of the leader shoot that normally elongates vertically to form the main axis. The space of the deleted leader shoot was filled in by the remaining lateral branches that either extended upwards (Fig. 3B) or retained their horizontal position (Fig. 3C).
The overall frequency of the morphological defects of the main axis varied among observation sites, S1, S2, and S3, but it was significantly higher in each site compared to the control, S4 (chi-square test with df = 1, p = 2.1 × 10−58, 3.7 × 10−17, and 8.1 × 10−7, respectively, Bonferroni-corrected; Fig. 4). The frequency corresponded to the ambient dose rate at the observation sites that represented the local levels of radionuclide contamination (S1 > S2 > S3 > S4, Table 1). A high frequency of defects was observed in S1, where 125 out of 128 trees showed branching defects of the main axis.
Branching defects of the main axis were analyzed separately in each annual whorl (Fig. 5). Compared to the whorls of 2010, which had been generated before the F1NPP accident, the frequency of deleted leader shoots was significantly increased in the whorls after 2012 (sites S1 and S3), or those after 2013 (site S2). The frequency peaked in the whorls of 2013 and tended to decrease in the whorls of 2014 in every observation site. The variation patterns in the series of annual whorls were similar among the sites, whereas no annual variation was observed in the control site, S4. These results indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred most frequently in the whorls that elongated from terminal winter buds during the growing season of 2012–2013.
Despite the significant increase in the frequency of deleted leader shoots in annual whorls around 2013 in the observation sites S1–S3, the number of lateral branches that elongated from the same whorls did not show annual variation that corresponded to the deletion frequency of leader shoots (Fig. 6). The number of lateral branches was not different among annual whorls even in S1 (one-way ANOVA, p = 0.84), in which the frequency of leader shoot deletions varied most intensely compared to the other observation sites (Fig. 5). On the other hand, the number of lateral branches showed significant annual variation in S2, S3, and S4 (one-way ANOVA, p = 1.4 × 10−7, 6.3 × 10−3 and 1.5 × 10−8 for S2, S3, and S4, respectively); however, the annual variation patterns were independent from the frequency of leader shoot deletions. In addition, the variation in lateral branch number among the sites did not correspond to the frequency variation of deleted leader shoots. This indicated that the deletion of leader shoots occurred independently of the change in lateral branch number that elongated from the whorls.
Differences in the development of the leader shoots and lateral branches were also observed from a close inspection of the defected whorls. At each site, the deleted leader shoots left no marks among normal lateral branches (Fig. 7A). Similar structures were also observed in the winter buds of 2015 at the top of the main axis, where normal lateral buds with completely deleted apical buds were sometimes observed (Fig. 7B). These observations demonstrated that the deletion of leader shoots probably resulted from the deletion of apical buds at an early stage of their development, independently of the formation of lateral buds.
Japanese Govenment insisting on making priorly evacuated people to return to live in highly contaminated areas
Full-scale decontamination work has begun in one of the areas in Fukushima Prefecture that received the highest doses of radioactive fallout from the 2011 nuclear accident.
About 30 workers gathered at an elementary school in the town of Okuma on Friday. They used heavy machinery to remove top soil from the playground.
Okuma partly hosts the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The government has determined that some parts of the town will remain restricted areas where people will not live for an extended time.
In these restricted zones, decontamination work had only been carried out on an experimental basis.
But at the request of town officials, the Environment Ministry decided to launch full-scale cleanup work targeting a district where there are a lot of schools and public facilities.
The ministry plans to finish decontaminating the roughly 95-hectare area by next March.
Similar restricted zones exist in 6 other municipalities in Fukushima.
Ministry officials plan to decide whether to start decontaminating them after checking their radiation levels and the wishes of the residents.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to seek ¥4.5 billion in the government’s fiscal 2016 budget to provide financial assistance to local communities facing reductions in existing subsidies following the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, ministry sources said Wednesday.
New support measures are necessary as some aging reactors are to be decommissioned, the sources said.
The operational period for nuclear reactors is limited to 40 years in principle. They can then operate a further 20 years if approval is given by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, but the requirements to extend operations are tough and maintenance costs are high.
In April, a decision was made to decommission five aging reactors, including the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture, located in central Japan.
As a result of the decommissioning decision, the local governments in those areas will see a decline in the subsidies they are given for fiscal 2016 under the current program for support to communities hosting nuclear plants.
The National Governors Association is calling on the central government to continue providing support to host local communities until the dismantling of decommissioned reactors is completed.
The planned support program is expected to help finance new measures to shore up local economies near such reactors, the sources said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the Fukushima Prefectural Government decided to subsidize moving expenses for those who wish to return home after vacating areas outside of the designated evacuation zones after the March 2011 disaster.
To support those who aim to return to Fukushima, the prefectural government plans to offer financial assistance of up to ¥100,000 per household, the officials said.
The government has allocated ¥376 million for such expenses in a supplementary budget for September for some 5,200 households, with the aim of providing such support within the year.
“I’m taking seriously the current situation,” Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori told a news conference.
According to the prefectural government, the number of people who left areas that were not affected by evacuation advisories following the nuclear disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant was estimated at some 25,000 as of the end of last year.
The subsidy is expected to be offered to those who have already returned to Fukushima, on condition that they lived in temporary housing for two years or longer.
In June, the Fukushima government decided it would stop providing free housing under the disaster relief law at the end of fiscal 2016, when the financial support on moving expenses is scheduled to end as well.
It also plans to offer housing aid for low-income earners who move from temporary housing to privately rented housing for some two years starting in fiscal 2017.
Source: Japan Times
On 21 May 2015, the Japanese government referred measures taken by the Korean government to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Since Sept. 6 2013, the Korean government has restricted the import of Japanese fisheries products from eight prefectures including Fukushima, where a nuclear-power-plant disaster occurred in 2011.
According to the Korean government, import restrictions are indispensable for food safety reasons, while the Japanese government argues that its products are safe for humans to consume.
The Agreement of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS Agreement) provides that members have the right to take SPS measures necessary for the protection of human, animal or plant life or health.
However, members must ensure that any SPS measure is applied only to the extent necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and is not maintained without sufficient scientific evidence, based on a risk assessment under the SPS Agreement (Art. 2).
Since the risk assessment under the SPS Agreement is “the evaluation of the potential for adverse effects on human or animal health arising from the presence of additives, contaminants, toxins or disease-causing organisms in food, beverages or feedstuffs,” (Annex A, para.4 emphasis added) risk assessments based on the minority scientific opinion can be used as justification for measures taken by South Korea, as long as there is any possibility of adverse effects on human health.
Most man-made radionuclides emitted from atomic energy incidents were classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2001.
The international standard recommended by the CODEX Alimentarius Commission is 1,000Bk/kg for cesium (Cs) 134/137, reflecting the maximum acceptable level for human health.
The Commission, however, proposed that radionuclides in foods should be maintained to a level that is “as low as reasonably achievable.”
According to the SPS Agreement, members may maintain SPS measures resulting in a higher level of protection than the relevant international standards, if there is a scientific justification, or a member determines to be appropriate in accordance with Article 5 (Art.3.3).
Regarding Cs 134/137 in foods, many members including South Korea (100Bq/kg), the European Union (100Bq/kg), Taiwan (370Bq/kg), China (90~800Bq/kg) and Japan (10~100Bq/kg) have, therefore, maintained higher levels of protection than recommended by CODEX.
Under Article 5.7 of the SPS Agreement, South Korea can take provisional measures to restrict the importation of the Japanese products, if relevant scientific evidence is insufficient.
Given the on-going nature and unprecedented magnitude of Fukushima disaster, it is doubtful whether Japan has provided South Korea with sufficient information regarding the actual conditions of radioactive contamination after the disaster and whether a complete risk assessment estimating the adverse effects of radionuclides on human health will be currently possible.
Since South Korea and Japan failed to settle the trade dispute through consultation, under the Understanding on Rules and Procedures Governing the Settlement of Disputes, the dispute is due to be referred to the Panel.
During the Panel process, Japan must prove that there have been no more additional emissions of man-made radionuclides into the environment after the disaster, and provide the Panel with sufficient scientific evidence supporting the food safety of Japanese marine products.
Source: The Korea Times
On 8/23/2015, a researcher of a citizen reported high level of radioactive material is still detected from earth beside Yokokawa dam in Minamisoma city Fukushima. The dam provides agricultural and industrial water. The analysis was implemented on 8/18/2015.
The highest reading of Cs-134/137 was 481,000 Bq/Kg from moss and soil. The second highest reading was 222,000 Bq/Kg from the soil on the bridge.
Monkey’s excrement was also analyzed to detect 50,000 Bq/Kg of Cs-134/137. The second highest reading was 36,600 Bq/Kg.
Source: Fukushima Diary
It has been more than four years since the east coast of Japan was hit with a trifecta: an earthquake of Magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, followed by a massive tsunami triggered by the quake’s tremors, and then the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear generating complex. Design mistakes, a poor safety culture, and human error exacerbated the situation. And it all happened within the span of an hour, searing the name “Fukushima” into the collective memory of all. Like Hiroshima a few hundred kilometers to the south, the name Fukushima became synonymous with the horrors that can befall a nation from uncontrolled atomic chain reactions.
I had traveled to Japan to attend a meeting of the Japan Scientists’ Association in Yokohama, near Tokyo, which was expected to announce a major change in its pro-nuclear energy position.
While there, several other conference attendees and I received permission to go on a guided tour to the restricted areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi plant to see for ourselves, first-hand, the things that we had all been discussing in conference rooms and lecture halls for the past three days. One of the conference organizers—Yoshimi Miyake, a professor at Akita University—accompanied us on our trip to Fukushima. (To be precise, Fukushima is a prefecture with the namesake city its capital. The plant itself is called Fukushima Daiichi.) Another participant, Lucas Wirl from Germany, volunteered to act as our photographer.
What follows are my personal impressions from the tour that occurred immediately after the meeting, and a few of the relevant highlights from the meeting itself—which called for the elimination of nuclear power from Japan as soon as possible. A total of seven of us traveled about 50 miles, starting from a point some 40 miles south of the power plant, then heading along a series of coastal highways until the road took us to within just a little over a mile and a half from the plant, within the town limits of Futaba—which was about as close as anyone could get to the site without special protective gear. We then continued northeast to the village of Namie, one of the nearest villages to the plant, and a place where the government was aggressively pushing for former inhabitants to return to live year-round.
Along the way, we passed through many towns and little villages that had been hit hard. As for the plant itself, the radiation levels are so high that it is difficult to even operate robots. And in places like Namie—whose closest boundary lay less than five miles away from the plant—the radiation levels posed significant risks, because they are so much higher than normal natural background radiation. Also accompanying us were Itoh Tatsuya of the Iwaki City chamber of commerce and Baba Isao, an assemblyman from the town of Namie—both locales hurt substantially by the multiple disasters.
Getting there. We traveled by Shinkansen—bullet train—from Tokyo to Iwaki City in Fukushima prefecture, where we stayed overnight before beginning our journey the next day. As we left our hotel after breakfast, one of our guides—Tatsuya—readied his Geiger counter. Before leaving, he took a measurement of the background radiation level and announced that it was higher than normal today, even though Iwaki is more than 40 miles from the ill-fated power plant. It sounded like he was a weather forecaster talking about humidity levels. He did not give a figure as to how much higher the background radiation was.
As we started heading north, we saw homes destroyed by the tsunami. Iwaki lost 200 people, Tatsuya said. As we began to reach the outskirts of Iwaki City, the radiation level rose consistently, if in very small amounts. Here at about 20 miles from the plant it was about 0.1 microSieverts per hour—objectively not really high at all, but above where we started, and marginally higher than the normal natural background radiation. The Geiger counter’s needle flickered, occasionally registering higher levels, especially when we passed through some tunnels.
As I looked out the window, I thought of what one of the conference presenters, Mitsugu Yoneda of Chuo University in Tokyo, had said: There were 120,000 evacuees across the Fukushima prefecture, and it was unlikely that they would be able to return to their homes in 2016 in the so-called “difficult-to-return” zones, where the cumulative annual exposure is expected to be 20 milliSieverts or more. In recognition of this fact, the government had come up with a new category called “release preparation zones,” where the cumulative annual exposure is estimated to be well above “normal” but less than 20 milliSieverts. The government’s plan to promote an early return to these areas was called a politically motivated whitewash by Yoneda, because anything close to 20 milliSieverts is far higher than the normally accepted safe annual limit. (One milliSievert is about equal to about 100 millirems—the units most commonly used in the United States. Thus, 20 milliSieverts would be 2,000 millirems.)
Different countries have different standards, but in the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires that its licensees limit annual radiation exposure to individual members of the public to 1 milliSievert (100 millirems) above the average annual background radiation. Because the natural background radiation usually averages in the range of about 3.1 milliSieverts (310 millirems), that figure plus the allowed exposure from the nuclear power plants makes for a total of about 4.1 milliSieverts (410 millirems) annually—a far cry from the 20 milliSieverts (2,000 millirems) that could be encountered by a member of the public in any putative “release preparation zone” near Fukushima Daiichi.
To give a sense of scale, the average person gets 0.16 milliSieverts (about 4 millirems) from a single chest X-ray, and about 0.96 milliSieverts (24 millirems) in cosmic radiation annually if that person is living at sea level. Cumulative dosages of 500 milliSieverts (50,000 millirems) or above are considered “high,” and cause acute radiation sickness, many different forms of cancer, and death. But because radiation affects different people in different ways—depending upon one’s age, general health, and genetic predisposition—it is not possible to indicate precisely what dose is needed to be fatal to a given individual. All that researchers can do is give statistical averages, such as “50 percent of a population would die within 30 days of receiving a dose of between 350,000 to 500,000 millirems (3,500 to 5,000 milliSieverts).”
Some of the other background information that Yoneda provided was similarly dismal. For one thing, the building containing the failed reactors has radiation levels as high as 4,000 to 5,000 milliSieverts per hour (400,000 to 500,000 millirems per hour), making even the operation of robots difficult. In fact, two power company robots had to be abandoned while inside the depths of the plant. And some spots, such as inside the primary containment vessel, went as high as 9.7 Sieverts per hour (970,000 millirems per hour). In addition, it has not been possible to precisely locate the melted core. (Another conference speaker, Jun Tateno, who was a former research scientist with the Japanese Atomic Energy Research Institute, accused the government of suppressing voices from the scientific community that were critical of the safety of power plants. He said that we have reached a situation in which we do not even know how much plutonium is in the core.) In the meantime, huge amounts of water must be pumped in to keep the reactors cool; this liquid then mixes with ground water, contaminating it as a result.
The picture is not much better when it comes to the land. In an effort to decontaminate residential areas, radioactive soil is being dug up from approximately 1,000 sites. The government wants to consolidate this contaminated material in semi-permanent storage sites in the “difficult-to-return zones” in Futaba and Okuma towns. Local residents, meanwhile, fear that these could turn into permanent repositories of radioactive material.
I was jolted out of my reverie by the comments of Tatsuya, who pointed out a large apartment building that looked empty. He said that in days past there would have been many children’s clothes hanging from the balconies. The only people who are living there now are some of the laborers who are working to decontaminate the town.
Tatsuya noted that the Geiger counter was reading about 1 microSievert per hour as he moved the counter around the parking lot. That was bad enough; it translated to 8.76 milliSieverts per year.
He then bent down to take a reading from a grassy spot. The counter needle pinned to the right. “Off the scale!” he exclaimed. It was higher than 5 microSieverts per hour, which is more than 50 times higher than normal natural background radiation per hour in Tokyo. It translated into a cumulative annual dose of 43 milliSieverts—many times above the 6.2 milliSieverts (620 millirems) average annual exposure for members of the general public, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (In addition to the natural background radiation level of about 3.1 milliSieverts [310 millirems], the average person is also likely to fly in an airplane, watch television, or undergo medical procedures, and all these manmade sources together add another 3.1 milliSieverts [310 millirems] per year to one’s exposure, making for a total radiation dose of 6.2 milliSieverts, or 620 millirems. This figure could colloquially be considered the “normal” amount of radiation exposure for a member of the general public, as a very rough rule of thumb.)
We left soon thereafter. We were told that most workers did not wear dosimeters to record their cumulative radiation dose. There was good money to be made in decontamination work. They did not want to know.
But if one does the math, what the workers and their supervisors were ignoring—or were being told to ignore—could be significant. If a person spent one week working at this part of a supposedly safe parking area for 8 hours per day, then he or she would have been exposed to 40 microSieverts per day. And if that person was there for a 5-day workweek, then over the course of a single week that person would have been exposed to 200 microSieverts. In a year, that person could receive 10 milliSieverts, a significant dose. Of course, scientists are rightly cautious of such “anecdotal” evidence; our Geiger counter readings could have been off, or the machine calibrated incorrectly, or some other source of error introduced—though I doubt it because it had earlier read the background correctly. But the result of such quick and dirty, back-of-the-envelope calculations for what is supposedly a low-risk parking area, well away from the restricted hot zones, do give one pause—especially as the ongoing lack of dosimeters means that no one really knows a given individual’s cumulative dose. The amount of exposure to a thing that you cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or feel sneaks up on you. Even when you think you are safe, you are not.
If nothing else, the fact that a simple, random spot-check registered so highly is an eye-opener, and counter to what has been officially portrayed. An April 16, 2015 story in the Asahi Shimbun—one of the major, reputable, national newspapers in Japan, of a stature comparable to the New York Times—quoted a government agency as saying: “Cleanup crews around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were exposed to an average dose of 0.5 millisievert of radiation per year, well below the government safety standard, a report shows.”
An important item seemed to lie further down in the article, which noted: “However, the health ministry said the number of workers surveyed is different from the total number of cleanup personnel reported by the Environment Ministry, which could mean the association failed to record radiation doses of all individuals working around the Fukushima plant.”
No wonder there has been public distrust and charges of a lack of clarity about the radiation clean-up operation, as can be seen in the title of a 2013 Guardian newspaper article: “Life as a Fukushima clean-up worker—radiation, exhaustion, public criticism.” Even when the approximately 7,000 workers involved in the clean-up do wear dosimeters, that is no guarantee of accuracy; there have been reports of a Tokyo Electric Power Company executive who tried to force clean-up workers to manipulate dosimeter readings to artificially low levels by covering their devices with lead shields.
The voice of science. Because of such activities, it is hard to pin down basic data. Accordingly, the conference had been a key opportunity for researchers from different countries and different fields—including physicists, of course, but also economists and climate scientists, among others—to get together and compare notes.
Nearly 80 scientists, engineers, and academics from all over Japan attended. Many of the Japanese attendees were renowned academics in nuclear physics and engineering. Several had held high-level positions in the nuclear research establishment. Among international participants were delegates from the United States, Germany, and South Korea, among other places.
While there were no representatives from China at the meeting, Jusen Asuka, an environmental policy professor from Tohoku University, gave his analysis of the impact of Fukushima on the Chinese nuclear program. He said that the accident in Fukushima created a figurative, as well as literal, shock wave throughout China: People started stocking up on iodized salt, and stores ran out of the substance within 30 minutes of opening. The Chinese government suspended all license applications for new reactors, temporarily halted all nuclear plant construction, and established a nuclear safety law. China also began investing heavily in non-hydro renewables.
The meeting’s goals. The importance of the meeting could hardly be underestimated, given that Japan is at a critical juncture in its debate about what path to follow in its energy future. On the one hand, a conservative government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and backed by powerful forces in business and the nuclear industry, was pushing hard to bring back the nuclear plants—and even build new ones. Simply put, the Abe administration’s objective is to make the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy a thing of the past; therefore, it promotes the idea that things are getting back to normal. After all, Abe won an election victory in December 2014, with one plank being that the nuclear plants would be restarted. Abe is counting on the fact that with 54 nuclear reactors in a small country, many people’s livelihoods depended on the reactors’ continued operation.
It is hard to tell if the government’s promotional campaign is succeeding. The Abe government is continuing to push for the revival of nuclear power in Japan, as exemplified by the recent restart of the Sendai plant.
By doing so, it clearly sought to lay down a marker—and also perhaps to gauge public opinion before proceeding to restart other plants.
On the other hand, public opinion has been growing stronger in opposition—although the opinion polls have not been overwhelming. One of the significant aspects of the conference was the vigorous participation of women scientists like Miyake, who spoke out strongly against nuclear power and also challenged the male domination in the scientific community. Young mothers were participating in increasing numbers in anti-nuclear protests in Japan and also in Korea, we were told by Hye-Jeong Kim, a leader of the anti-nuclear movement in South Korea, who is also a member of the country’s Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, an equivalent of the NRC in the United States.
With these developments in mind, a scientific community that can speak with one voice and make a credible case against the government-industry publicity campaign is crucial. The Japanese Scientists’ Association envisioned its role as accurately communicating to people around the world the dangers of nuclear power and the seriousness of the damage suffered by the Japanese people. And the group hoped to use science to counter the forces that promote nuclear power in Japan, and demand that Japan give top priority to renewables.
A welcoming banner. Heading north towards Tomioka, we found large tracts of land piled high with green trash bags. From a distance, the piles looked like vegetation; it was only as we got closer that we saw that they were full of the radioactive dirt that had been excavated from the topsoil as part of the government’s efforts to decontaminate the soil. It appeared to be a hopeless task.
In reaching Tomioka—badly hit by the tsunami—we found a nearly destroyed town invoking an image of the Apocalypse. All we saw were homes, businesses, and shops as they stood or fell after the tsunami hit and then the radiation struck. There was no sign of life other than decontamination workers going about their grim task.
Continuing our journey toward Namie—one of the worst-hit towns, whose boundaries lie about six miles northeast of Fukushima Daiichi at the closest point—we passed through the small villages of Okuma and then Futaba. We continued onward, and edged as close as 1.5 miles from the plant at one spot, but no closer. All roads to the plant from here on were barricaded. Ironically, one banner welcoming visitors to the town read: “Nuclear Power is Our Future.”
Can Japan make the switch to renewables? A key goal of the conference was the public announcement that the Japan Scientists’ Association formally opposed nuclear power in Japan, and that its opposition was based upon scientific analysis of the accident in Fukushima and its impact. This about-face was a major step; it meant that some of the same Japanese scientists who had been the most forceful and outspoken proponents of nuclear energy now opposed it. To bolster the impact of this statement, the association had to show both the economic and technical feasibility of alternative sources of energy. Consequently, much of the meeting focused on the lessons learned from the experiences of other countries, and the keynote speaker of the conference, professor Juergen Scheffran of Hamburg University, Germany, gave the European perspective on the implications of the transition from fossil and nuclear to renewable energy. The focus was especially on Germany, which is in the middle of its own planned transition to a non-nuclear future.
With that in mind, Reiner Braun, co-president of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, Switzerland, spoke about the status of the German exit from nuclear power and entrance into renewables. Known as Energiewende in German (literally “energy turn”), it would entail shutting down all nuclear plants by 2022, with seven plants shut down immediately. The renewable energy sector would be expanded at the same time that there was a step-by-step reduction in fossil fuel use; modern natural gas plants are to be used as a transition technology. Structural changes would also be made to the distribution network to account for the decentralized nature of the new energy supply.
Braun, a veteran of the protest movements against nuclear weapons and nuclear power, said it was important to understand why a politically conservative government had made this U-turn. A vast majority of the German people had rejected nuclear energy and there were decades of organized resistance, starting with massive protests against the stationing of NATO’s tactical weapons on German soil. While progress was promising so far, Braun reminded his audience that Energiewende was the “largest technological challenge” faced by the country since the post-WW II reconstruction efforts. The political challenges, meanwhile, were comparable to those encountered after the reunification of the two Germanys after the end of the Cold War.
But there was no doubt it had to be done, or that Japan could learn from observing the German experience. The feeling from the meeting was best summed up by the conference chair, Tsuyoshi Kawasaki, an expert on climate science and an emeritus professor at Tohoku University. Kawasaki ended his brief remarks with the words: “The Japanese Scientists’ Association believes that human beings and nuclear power cannot coexist.”
I was reminded of these words many times as we toured the forbidden land of once-lively towns of Fukushima prefecture.
It might have been worse. Finally we arrived at Namie, our destination, and as close as we could get to the actual plant itself. Another of our guides, Baba Isao, an Assemblyman from the town, had secured special permission for us to enter. We first went to the town hall for a quick lunch; the building had undergone a decontamination operation and there were a few town employees at work. A radiation level monitor with a large digital readout was in front of the building.
Namie had a population of 21,000 before it was evacuated. About 14,000 were relocated within Fukushima prefecture (his family being one) and 6,000 outside. Two hundred people were known to have perished in the tsunami. Isao told us that his wife had gone back to their house a few weeks ago and found the radiation level to be 34 microSieverts per hour, which is nearly 7 times higher than the “hotspot” we had encountered in J-Village. It would be considered an absolute no-go. Newspaper reports have cited other such hotspots in Namie.
Isao said that some people wanted to return, but he had advised them against it, although we found a convenience store to be open. Meanwhile, the government was making Namie’s clean-up a priority, undertaking infrastructure improvement and house-to-house decontamination. The town was considering a proposal that would allow people to return in 2017, but Isao was doubtful.
In addition to the presence of radiation, there was another reason not to return: There were no longer any jobs in these communities, where the nuclear power plant was the raison d’etre for the town. In fact, before the accident, in a bid to boost the economy, the town had been negotiating with the Tohoku Electric Power Company to set up another nuclear plant in Namie.
We found a perfect ghost town where life ceased to exist, as if a light switch had been turned off. Abandoned homes were now inhabited by cats. In the downtown area there were closed stores, including a barbershop and a bakery. All looked as if the employees were on a break. There were tens of bikes left at the train station; a few buses were parked in their designated spots as if waiting for commuters to disembark from a train.
We drove through more silent streets before arriving at an elementary school, which had been in the tsunami’s path. The school building was destroyed, but the children miraculously survived by running to a hill nearby. Inside the building, there were children’s lockers with small boxes for crayons. A memorial stupa—a mound-like, Buddhist shrine—stood on the roadside, with flowers and candles.
From the elementary school, we could just barely see what appeared to be the top of the turbine buildings of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Red and white construction cranes hovered over them. Namie escaped more damage thanks to the prevailing winds, which dispersed much of the fallout toward the ocean. And what if that second nuclear plant had already been up and running when disaster struck?
Ironically, Namie had been lucky. Things could have been much worse.
Source: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees promised 2017 return but ‘ineffective’ clear-up may take 200 years
Radiation levels in the abandoned towns near the power plant in Japan are 19 times higher than that considered safe for humans
In an abandoned village where 15,839 people used to live, an unnerving silence prevails.
The families have gone, their cars have been left to rust, and house roof tiles lie shattered on the pavement.
Something terrible has taken place.
Even though the power lines are still down above the deserted streets, a newly installed LED screen over the main road flashes up numbers: 3.741, 3.688, 3.551.
They are radioactivity readings measured in microsieverts per hour, taken from Geiger counters in the ground below.
The normal safe level of background radiation in the air for humans to live in is 0.2 microsieverts. Here in Tomioka, in the shadow of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, radiation is 19 times that.
Recent photographs purporting to show mutant daisies near the plant went viral on Twitter. No wonder people are not coming back.
In March 2011, the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl left the world fearing the extent of the fallout.
Japan’s 43 other reactors were shut down after the meltdown and remained dormant until earlier this month, when Japan restarted its nuclear power programme by turning on a reactor at its Sendai plant in northwest Japan.
But just last week, London-based radioactivity expert Dr Ian Fairlie claimed that while 2,000 people have already died from the effects of evacuation and suicide, another 5,000 could develop cancer after exposure to radiation.
Today, the deathly pall of radiation still lingers. I went back to Japan’s devastated northeast coast after the government opened up part of the evacuation zone enforced after a tsunami caused the disaster.
An unprecedented decontamination operation continues around the clock in a 50-mile radius around the stricken power station.
It is part of a £7billion effort by a Japanese government wanting the community to be able to return.
But as I enter the dead zone I see scores of decontamination workers in masks, plastic gloves and thick overalls. Field by field, they are clearing the top layer of soil from every affected area of farming land and the places where people used to live.
They clear a buffer strip along the side of the forest covering the hillsides above.
The soil is shovelled into thick plastic bags, which are then piled up in football pitch-sized pyramids at designated radioactive waste sites by the roadside.
At one seafront storage facility, where the now-defunct Tomioka railway station used to be, thousands of tonnes of toxic waste line the beach.
Many here believe it is impossible to get rid of the radioactive dust coating this densely forested rural area following the meltdown of three reactors at Fukushima.
As my guide Makiko Segawa says: “They are only digging up the farmland and three metres on both sides of the roads. That is a drop in the ocean, really.
“When you look up into the mountains and the forests, you realise radioactivity is everywhere around us and they will never get rid of it properly.
“People here are genuinely terrified of the effects of radiation and don’t believe assurance it is safe to return.”
Some of the 200,000 evacuees who had to leave in the days after the reactor’s cooling system failed can return, but the majority say they never will.
A mask-wearing policeman patrolling to prevent looting tells me it is dangerous to spend more than 24 hours here.
“We are sent up from Tokyo for a few months at a time, but we never stay longer than we have to,” he concedes.
“I have a family, so of course I worry. We stay in the car as much as possible and try to keep on the move.”
The hands on the clock on the main street outside Tomioka’s supermarket have stopped at five minutes to three. It is a permanent reminder of the earthquake that happened 40 miles out to sea, triggering a 130ft-high tsunami that caused meltdown at Fukushima.
A few metres away, opposite a roadside garage, vending machines are shrouded in six-foot weeds.
There are haunting reminders of broken lives everywhere I look. Children’s shoes have been left on a Mickey Mouse rack by the front door of one shuttered-down property.
Behind screens, through windows cracked by the earthquake, are glimpses of families suddenly uprooted: clothes left to dry, meals unfinished.
It was recently announced the clearance teams have started decontaminating a school in Iitate, one of the places downwind from the Fukushima where radiation remains highest.
I peer through the window of the locked-up school building in Kusano and see it remains as it was on the day of the reactor failure. Boxes of textbooks and stationery sit unopened following a delivery, while the swimming pool is murky and covered in green algae.
Iitate was right in the path of the plant but residents were evacuated only a month later, so many face health problems due to dangerous exposure levels. And only a quarter of the town has been properly decontaminated so far.
A Greenpeace spokesman said: “The decontamination efforts are largely insufficient and ineffective. It is clear that radiation levels in Iitate are too high for a safe return of its residents.”
The disaster has also been blamed for 80 suicides. Last year, a court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company to pay £284,000 to relatives of a woman who killed herself after evacuation.
We pass abandoned amusement arcades, retail parks, restaurants and factories, all taped off and awaiting demolition. A church building is now a clean-up facility for the workers.
The government has assured all evacuees they can return home by 2017. Yet authorities were recently forced to admit the clean-up operation at the plant could take 200 years. Recent scans of one reactor revealed nuclear fuel in the furnace had melted and dripped into the outer containment vessel. It is so radioactive humans cannot go near it.
Tepco is developing robots capable of entering the ruined reactors and removing radioactive material safely. The alternative is to enclose the whole power station in concrete, above ground and below, as happened at Chernobyl.
Beyond a line of trees I see the outline of the plant. A security official stops our car when we stop at the turn-off.
His hands crossed in an X-shaped warning, it is clear Japan wants to keep its dirty secret away from prying eyes.
They are called the “precariat,” Japan’s proletariat, living precariously on the knife-edge of the work world, without full employment or job security. They are derided as “glow in the dark boys,” “jumpers,” and “nuclear gypsies.” They have even been dubbed “burakumin,” a hostile term for Japan’s untouchables, members of the lowest rung on the ladder in Japanese society.
Homeless and unemployed or marginally employed day laborers, unskilled and virtually untrained, they are the nuclear decontamination workers recruited by Japanese gangsters, yakuza, to make Fukushima in northern Japan livable again after the 3/11 triune disaster – the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami which precipitated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown.
These workers have been recruited for one of the most dangerous and undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong. Reuters and the L.A. Times have both remarked that it is an unprecedented effort.
Reuters made a direct comparison between Fukushima and the Chernobyl “incident.” Unlike Ukraine and the 1986 nuclear “accident” at Chernobyl, where authorities declared a 1,000 square-mile no-habitation zone, resettled 350,000 people and decided to let radiation take care of itself, Japan is attempting to make the Fukushima region livable again.
The army of itinerant decontamination workers has been hired at well below the minimum wage to clean up the radioactive debris and build tanks to store the contaminated water generated to keep the reactor cores cool. They work in noisome unregulated environs, without adequate supervision, training or monitoring or the protection of health insurance.
Most of the workers are subcontractors, drifters, unskilled and poorly paid. In an article for Al Jazeera’s America Tonight, David McNeill, blogger about nuclear gypsies, commented: “They move from job to job. They’re unqualified, of course, in most cases.”
Jeff Kingston, Dept. of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan, noted in October 2014 that the numbers of these nuclear gypsies or members of the “precariat” -have been seen to have risen from 15 percent of the Japanese workforce in the late 1980s to 38 percent to date and the numbers are expected to continue to rise.
Jobless, or Just Homeless?
The laborers deputed to carry out this huge ambitious project, Japan’s nuclear gypsies, include both the homeless and those who can be said to be just one notch above homelessness – jobless people. These two classes are often nearly identical. It is perhaps more useful to identify the workers on the decontamination project as the working poor in dire economic straits.
Are these laborers truly homeless? What of a recent survey saying that homelessness has reached an all-time low? Al Jazeera noted in October 2014 that although a 2014 government survey had found that Tokyo’s homeless population had dropped drastically, critics dispute this finding, calling the survey another effort to ignore a population that is contending with growing economic disparity, and exploited for cheap labor.
Charles E. McJilton, CEO of the Food Bank Second Harvest Japan, disputes the numbers of the homeless in Japan. He believes that although actual numbers of the homeless in Tokyo may be down, these numbers fail to take into account the larger issue country-wide of poverty and economic insecurity. Al Jazeera reported him as saying, “It has always been a misunderstanding in the media that poverty in Japan is represented by the homeless.”
Tom Gill of Meiji Gakuin University suggests that the larger problem is the rapidly growing number of people in dire straits.
Many Japanese living on the edge apply for assistance under Japan’s livelihood protection law - seikatsu hogo - which guarantees a basic standard of living. Gill has said that the problem is the sharply increasing number of applications for the generous welfare benefit, and its worsening impact on the national debt, the largest in the developed world.
Well over 500,000 people in Japan have been reported to have lost their jobs since the “Lehman shokku,” the day in September 2008 when Lehman Bros. collapsed and triggered a worldwide financial crisis.
Half the people who lost their jobs were on temporary or part-time contracts that offered them no insurance. Thousands lived in company housing and when they lost their livelihoods, they lost their homes. Today they camp out under blue tarpaulins, sleeping in parks, under bridges, and in railway stations or in 24-hour Internet cafes.
The Christian Science Monitor noted that as of Sept. 2009, twenty million people, one-sixth of Japan’s population, lived below the poverty line. Seventy-seven percent of unemployed Japanese have no unemployment insurance, according to a report earlier in 2009 by the International Labor Organization as cited by the Monitor.
The Monitor also quoted Charles McJilton who once lived as a homeless person in Tokyo for 18 months. “When you fall out of the [workers’] safety net in Japan, you wouldn’t believe what is [no longer readily] available.” He is referring primarily to access to housing, but also to new jobs, food and medicine.
Even the jobless who do find new jobs cannot easily find a new home. The government made 13,000 housing units available to homeless people, and as of September 2009, had filled 7,666 of them. But that is not a lasting solution, argues McJilton. He says that the housing project may have cleared a lot of people off the streets but that “the government is more interested in keeping the peace than in solving the homeless problem.”
As these workers lose their jobs, with few chances of finding another one, younger men are ending up on the streets. The Monitor noted that of the 5,400 people who slept in Internet cafes in 2007, 41 percent were under 30. When they leave the shelters, they are supposed to start looking for work. Only half of them actually do so, however. The other half go back to the streets – often because they see no hope of finding a job.
One nuclear gypsy cited by Reuters in December 2013 summed up a near hopeless situation. “We’re an easy target for recruiters,” Shizuya Nishiyama, 57, says. He briefly worked at Fukushima clearing rubble. He now sleeps in a cardboard box in Sendai Station. “We’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.”
These men are sitting ducks, targets for wage slavery at the Fukushima nuclear decontamination project.
TEPCO, Yakuza and Subcontractors
Another nuclear gypsy was even more direct, eloquent and despairing. In its January 2014 report for Al Jazeera’s America Tonight, the laborer Tanaka was quoted as saying: “TEPCO is God. The main contractors are kings, and we are slaves.”
The January 2014 Al Jazeera report further reported that hiring for the cleanup operations is an effort in which the Japanese mafia, the yakuza, is deeply involved. Workers and onlookers who were interviewed said that it is the yakuza’s employment practices which further poison the system.
“The Yakuza have, historically, been deeply embedded in the structure of the construction industry,” explains Takeshi Katsura, a laborer who also helps workers exploited by the Japanese mafia. “It’s the structure that’s evil,” he said.
The subcontracting system and high demand for labor in Fukushima have been a boon for organized crime. “To quickly gather 4,000 to 5,000 decontamination workers in Fukushima, you need to do it the traditional way,” said Katsura. “Using the Yakuza.”
The decontamination industry is particularly appealing to the yakuza, because of the extra government-funded $100-a-day in danger pay per worker. But don’t assume that this pay actually gets to the workers!
Takeshi Katsura said: “Because workers are hired through subcontractors, wages are skimmed all along the way, and workers at the bottom actually doing the work sees their pay go down.” “For people in Japan who live like me and work various places, it’s hard to find work that pays $100 a day,” nuclear gypsy Tanaka said. “I get housing, and was able to save more than usual.”
But the promise does not deliver. “The government says it will pay $100 a day, but I initially got $20,” said Sato, another worker lured to Fukushima by the promise of extra cash. “The contractors and subcontractors took the remaining $80.”
In December 2013 a Reuters Special Report noted that only a third of the money allocated for wages made it to the workers. The rest was skimmed by middlemen, police reports say. After deductions for food and lodging, that left workers with an hourly rate of about $6, just below the minimum wage equal to about $6.50 per hour in Fukushima. Some of the homeless men ended up in debt after fees for food and housing were deducted, police say.
The report noted that the problem of paid workers running into debt is widespread. “Many homeless people are just put into dormitories, and the fees for lodging and food are automatically docked from their wages,” said a Baptist pastor and advocate for the homeless. “Then at the end of the month, they’re left with no pay at all.”
The base pay for decontamination work may in theory be higher than for other kinds of work. But the risks are also higher.
In a January 2014 Al Jazeera Special Report, nuclear gypsy Tanaka says he was shocked to find radioactive hot spots in the area he worked, marked with tape but never decontaminated. Training and protective gear were also scarce. “The training didn’t teach us the dangers of handling radiation, so there were some people who worked with their bare hands,” he said. “They would contaminate not only themselves, but would spread particles to others.
Tanaka was fired after his company’s contract wasn’t renewed. Like many nuclear workers approaching their radiation limit of 50 millisieverts a year, it is unlikely that Tanaka will ever be hired at Fukushima again. He’s since lost his apartment, and is crippled by fatigue.
When Sato, another nuclear gypsy, complained about the terms of his employment, he was told his contract had changed, and that he now owed money for food and lodging. Sato was lucky. Others who complain and quit like him have faced violent retribution.
“I’ve had workers tell me that they’ve been beat up and been told, ‘I’ll kill you,’” said Katsura. “Threatened with, ‘You know what will happen to you.’”
Radiation Exposure: Unclear Rulings, Erratic Enforcement
Mainichi Japan’s report in March 2015 on the decontamination project noted that about 28,000 people per day were hired to do decontamination work in 2014, according to the Ministry of the Environment and the Fukushima Prefectural Government. This year the figure has reached about 20,000. But their status regarding radiation exposure remains unclear.
It is also far from clear who is to take responsibility for management of radiation doses, one observer has reported.
In January 2012, an act came into force which gave decontamination workers the same radiation exposure limits as nuclear power plant workers (a maximum of 50 millisieverts per year and 100 millisieverts over five years). This act specified that employers must have their workers undergo special health checks, and they must record and preserve their radiation readings.
However, at the time the regulation came into effect, there was no centralized system for managing individual workers’ total radiation exposure.
Furthermore, sloppy implementation, a lack of oversight, and the very existence of a floating population of itinerants, nuclear gypsies, have made this regulation difficult or impossible to enforce.
In a Mainichi Japan article on March 12, 2015 one 45-year-old man who has visited seven decontamination sites since October 2012 comments, “In decontamination by cities, towns and villages, there are areas called “microspots” where radiation levels are high even in areas being decontaminated by municipal governments.
Another observer, a 58-year-old man who applied to take part in managing decontamination work has offered the following summary on the vast project: “Decontamination has produced a temporary economic bubble, and all sorts of businesses have got in on it.” But it is not all good. “I get looked at as if I’m doing something dirty, and I think I’ve had enough of it,” he said.
Injuries and Deaths on the Job: TEPCO’s Response
To the argument frequently posed that nobody has officially died at Fukushima, a January 2015 report of rising numbers of onsite accidents and deaths, many of which have been attributed to poor onsite oversight or management, may offer a response.
Data released by TEPCO and reported in Mainichi Japan in March 2015 showed that the number of accidents and cases of heat stroke involving Fukushima workers had doubled to 64 in 2014
The pattern is very Japanese. Incident, charges, apology or faux explanation, inaction, another incident. More apologies. No change in hiring, pay, working conditions.
A cosmetic change – opening a workers’ canteen.
ENENEWS reported on January 20, 2015 on injuries and fatalities. The number of incidents doubled this year. “It’s not just the number of accidents that has been on the rise. It’s the serious cases, including deaths and serious injuries that have risen…” said Katsuyoshi Ito, a local labor inspector overlooking the Fukushima power plant.
ENENEWS reported that the number of injured workers has soared at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant [and] far exceeded the 2013 figure by November 2014, [TEPCO] officials said… Thirty-nine workers were injured at the plant between April and November 2014, while one became ill.
Last Sept. 22, a worker from a partner compan suffered a broken back after being hit by a falling iron pipe. During work to build a tank on Nov. 7, three workers were injured by falling steel weighing 390 kg. One was left temporarily unconscious, while another broke both ankles. Labor inspectors recently warned [TEPCO] about the rise in accidents and ordered it to take measures to deal with the problem.
Akira Ono, the head manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant said: “We are deeply sorry for the death of the worker and express our deepest condolences to the family. We promise to implement measures to ensure that such a tragedy does not occur again.”
Fukushima Diary reported on a new fatality. On August 3, 2015 TEPCO reported that another Fukushima worker had died 2 days before. Although TEPCO states the cause of death is not identified, a former Fukushima worker posted on Twitter that the worker died of heatstroke.
It is speculated that TEPCO withheld the announcement of the death so as not to cause a scandal before removing debris from the fuel handling machine from 3 (Spent Fuel Pool of Reactor 3).
TEPCO’S Response to Labor Complaints: On June 24, 2015, a few months after the dispute with the labor inspectors and a full four years after the three part disaster 3/11, Reuters reported that TEPCO has opened a rest area and canteen for cleanup workers, which will serve up to 3,000 meals a day and provide rest space for around 1,200 workers.
According to Reuters, TEPCO has been widely criticized for its treatment of workers and handling of the cleanup, which is expected to take decades. TEPCO has repeatedly promised to improve conditions for workers. Almost 7,000 workers, provided by around 800 mostly small contractors, are involved in decontaminating and decommissioning the plant.
Decontamination Project: Future Plans
Depending on whom you talk to, decontamination has either been very successful or a complete failure. The business is estimated to take at least another 40 years, so there will be no lack of job opportunities. Areas said to be decontaminated still register very high levels of radiation.
However, the project has not met with local approval. Most Fukushima folk displaced by the nuclear accident have said they do not believe the government’s assurances of safety and they are unwilling to return home.
In a July 21 2014 press release, a Greenpeace Japan investigation revealed that “Radioactive contamination in the forests and land of Imitate district in Fukushima prefecture is so widespread and at such a high level that it will be impossible for people to safely return to their homes.”
The press release noted that these findings follow the Abe Government’s announcement on 12th June 2015 to lift evacuation orders by March 2017 and terminate compensation by 2018, which effectively forces victims back into heavily contaminated areas.
Jan Vande Putte, radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium: “The Japanese government has condemned the people of Litate village to live in an environment that poses an unacceptable risk to their health. Stripping nuclear victims of their already inadequate compensation, which may force them to have to return to unsafe, highly radioactive areas for financial reasons, amounts to economic coercion. Let’s be clear: this is a political decision by the Abe Government, not one based on science, data, or public health,” he said.
Decontamination: Greenpeace’s Summary
It is possible that the people of Fukushima took note of Greenpeace’s July 21 2015 report. In July 2015, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to be taking a big step toward the goal of repatriating Fukushima evacuees by adopting a plan that would permit two-thirds of evacuees to return by March 2017, the sixth anniversary of the disaster.
But while some evacuees have cheered this chance to return, many more have rejected it. In fact, polls show a majority do not even want to go back.
In a telling move in a country where litigation is relatively rare, more than 10,000 have joined some 20 class-action lawsuits to demand more compensation so they can afford to choose for themselves whether to return.
The Abe government’s new timetable, adopted on June 12, calls for accelerating the pace of this cleanup with a “concentrated decontamination effort” over the next two years.
In Litate, the narrow valleys are filled with workers scraping off the top two inches of soil, which is then put into black bags that are stacked into man-made hills. Across the entire evacuation zone, workers have already filled 2.9 million bags, which will be stored for at least the next 30 years at toxic waste sites that the government is building inside the zone.
But even with the massive cleanup, only about one-fifth of the 6,200 displaced residents of Litate are willing to return, according to a recent head count by village officials.
To summarize the future of Japan’s nuclear decontamination program, perhaps the best commentary also comes from Greenpeace.
“Decontamination efforts are, many times, missing the government’s targets. Massive amounts of highly radioactive water flow into the ocean from the reactor site every day. The location of molten reactor cores in Units 1-3 remains unknown – which is a problem that requires massive amounts of cooling water every day to minimize the risk of another major radiation release.”
“Those who created the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe know that their nuclear power plants have no place in a modern Japan. And they are fighting as hard as they can to stop clean energy progress and shore up their dirty-energy-based profits.”
“But, for the people of Japan, a majority of whom oppose any nuclear restart, there are massive opportunities on the horizon for a truly safe and clean future. And we, at Greenpeace, will stand with them – against the onslaught of the nuclear village – to ensure that the clean, renewable energy future becomes a reality.”
Source: International Policy Digest
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