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The danger of sourcing food and material from the Fukushima region

Ground-level nuclear disasters leave much more radioactive fallout than Tokyo is willing to admit
 A storage tank for contaminated water near the site of the Fukushima nuclear disaster
August 25, 2019
International concerns are growing over the Japanese government’s plans to provide meals from the Fukushima area to squads participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The starting point for the Olympic torch relay, and even the baseball stadium, were placed near the site of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. It seems to be following the model of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, where Japan’s rise from the ashes of the atomic bombs was underscored by having a young man born the day of the Hiroshima bombing act serve as the relay’s last runner. Here we can see the Shinzo Abe administration’s fixation on staging a strained Olympic reenactment of the stirring Hiroshima comeback – only this time from Fukushima.
But in terms of radiation damages, there is a world of difference between Hiroshima and Fukushima. Beyond the initial mass casualties and the aftereffects suffered by the survivors, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima resulted in little additional radiation exposure. Nuclear technology being as crude as it was back then, only around one kilogram of the Hiroshima bomb’s 64kg of highly enriched uranium actually underwent any reaction, resulting in a relatively small generation of nuclear fission material.
Whereas ground-based nuclear testing results in large quantities of radioactive fallout through combining with surface-level soil, the Hiroshima bomb exploded at an altitude of 580m, and the superheated nuclear fission material rose up toward the stratosphere to spread out around the planet, so that the amount of fallout over Japan was minimal.
Even there, most of the nuclides had a short half-life (the amount of time it takes for half the total atoms in radioactive material to decay); manganese-56, which has a half-life of three hours, was the main cause of the additional radiation damages, which were concentrated during the day or so just after the bomb was dropped. The experience of Nagasaki was similar. As a result, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were able to fully resume as functioning cities by the mid-1950s without additional decontamination efforts.
Piles of plastic bags containing contaminated soil and other waste, a common site in the Fukushima region
Fukushima’s radiation increases over time
The Fukushima disaster did not result in mass casualties, but the damages from radiation have only increased over time. The nuclear power plants experiencing core meltdowns had the equivalent of around 12 tons of highly enriched uranium in nuclear fuel – roughly 12,000 times more than the amount of uranium that underwent nuclear fission in the Hiroshima bomb. At one point, the Japanese government announced that Fukushima released 168 times more cesium than the Hiroshima bomb. But even that was merely a difference in emissions; there’s an immeasurable difference between the amount of fallout from Hiroshima, which was left over from a total spread out over the planet at a high altitude, and the amount from Fukushima, which was emitted at ground level.
Hiroshima also experienced little to no exposure to cesium-137 and strontium-90 – nuclides with half-lives of around 30 years that will continue to afflict Japan for decades to come. Due to accessibility issues, most of the forests that make up around 70% of Fukushima’s area have been left unaddressed. According to Japanese scholars, around 430 square kilometers of forest was contaminated with high concentrations of cesium-137. The danger of this forest cesium is that it will be carried toward residential or farm land by wind and rain, or that contaminated flora and fauna will be used in processing and distribution. Indeed, cedar wood from Fukushima remains in distribution in the region, and was even shipped off recently to serve as construction material for the Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, the incidence of thyroid cancer in children – a rare condition – has risen all the way from one to two cases before the incident to 217 in its wake. Yet the Abe administration has only impeded a study by physicians, using various government-controlled Fukushima-related investigation committees as vehicles for sophistry and controlling media reporting on the issue.
Seok Kwang-hoon, energy policy consultant of Green Korea
Abe administration hoping to cut costs in nuclear waste disposal
The economic consequences have been astronomical as well. From an expert group’s analysis, the Japan Center for Economic Research estimated that the 14 million tons of radioactive waste from collecting Fukushima’s cesium-contaminated soil would result in a financial burden of 20 trillion yen (US$187.98 billion) based on the acceptance costs at the Rokkasho-mura radioactive waste disposal center. Contaminated water from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant – which already amounts to 1.2 million tons and is expected to increase to 2 million – was predicted to cost fully 51 trillion yen (US$479.35 billion) in tritium and strontium removal costs alone. Factor in the 10 trillion yen (around US$94 billion) in resident compensation, and the amount is close to the Japanese government’s total annual budget. Hoping to cut costs, the Abe administration announced plans to reuse soil waste in civil engineering, while the contaminated water is expected to be dumped into the Pacific after the formalities of a discussion. But few if any Japanese news outlets have been doing any investigative reporting on the issue.
When Abe declared the situation “under control” during the Olympic bidding campaign in 2013, this truthfully amounted to a gag order on the press and civil society. Having the world’s sole experience of filing and winning a World Trade Organization (WTO) case on Fukushima seafood, South Korea may be in the best position to alert the world to the issue of radioactivity and the Tokyo Olympics. I look forward to seeing efforts from the administration.
By Seok Kwang-hoon, energy policy consultant of Green Korea

September 1, 2019 - Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , , ,

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