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The ostriches of Fukushima and what they told us about radiation

hjkklmlm.jpgAn ostrich runs by a bicycle with rusted chain in November 2011 in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 30, 2019

Of all the astonishing sights that unfolded in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear crisis, the one that took the biscuit was ostriches roaming in one of the towns hosting the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Farmers in the area were forced to abandon their livestock due to mass evacuations ordered after the triple meltdown at the plant, and many departing residents also left their pet dogs and cats to fend for themselves as evacuation shelters would not accept animals.

An area of 20 kilometers radius of the plant was declared off-limits immediately after the accident, and the creatures left behind became feral.

It was not uncommon for later visitors, wearing protective gear because of high radiation levels, to see cattle and pigs wandering through the streets of Futaba and Okuma, the now-empty towns that co-hosted the nuclear power plant.

Masato Kino, now 50 and an economy ministry official in charge of decommissioning and radioactive water issues, returned to the area on Sept. 23, 2011, six months after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that hit the northeastern Tohoku region, triggered devastating tsunami which in turn knocked out cooling systems at the plant and caused the nuclear crisis.

He was flabbergasted to come across an ostrich peeping into a private home from its yard in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.

That day, Kino, who at the time also served as an official of the government’s local nuclear accident control headquarters, was accompanying returning evacuees on their visits to tend to family graves.

The ostrich was observed as Kino and three colleagues were driving back.

Although he wondered what the ostrich was doing there, he had the wherewithal to scatter dog food out of the car window for the big bird to tuck into.

Each time Kino came across dogs and cats in the restricted area, he would scatter dog food he had prepared in his car. He saw himself as a “lonely volunteer.”

It later emerged that the bird had escaped from an ostrich park in Okuma, situated 7 km from the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The facility was opened in 2001 by Toshiaki Tomizawa, now 81, a former assemblyman of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, to draw tourists to the region.


The ostrich park had nine birds when it opened. But the figure quickly rose to 30 and a restaurant was set up on the premises to serve ostrich meat. Soon after that, the nuclear crisis struck.

Following the disaster, Tomizawa moved to Saitama Prefecture to live with his daughter.

When he returned to the park three months later, more than half of the ostriches had died. The remaining 10 or so became feral in the no-entry zone.

Many sightings of the species were reported, drawing complaints from people, who on temporary return visits, were frightened to encounter ostriches near their homes.

Tomizawa trapped six ostriches in late 2011 with help from the farm ministry and other parties.

Farm ministry officials told him to kill them, so Tomizawa contacted ornithologists and other experts to find ways to “make full use of them.”

One of them, Yoshihiro Hayashi, director-general of the National Museum of Nature and Science, who was involved in research on animals affected by the disaster, asked ornithologist Hiroshi Ogawa, an animal husbandry professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, for advice.

In response to the offer, Ogawa began examining how the six ostriches trapped in January and May 2012 had absorbed radioactive substances.

It was assumed the feral birds feasted on contaminated plants, bugs and rainwater, so Ogawa tried to see if there was a way of reducing radioactive substances in their bodies by feeding them radiation-free dog food and well water.

Although the ostriches should have been kept in an area where radiation levels were significantly lower, transferring animals from the no-entry zone was prohibited. As a result, they were cared for at Tomizawa’s stable in the restricted area.

The birds displayed a radiation reading of 4.6 microsieverts per hour when the research started in March 2012. To lower the figure, Tomizawa frequented the stable from Saitama Prefecture once every one or two weeks to give them clean food and water.

The six ostriches were finally euthanized and dissected one month, two and a half months, nine and a half months and 14 months after they were caught, respectively, so that changes in radiation levels in their bodies could be analyzed.


The results showed that almost no radioactive substances other than radioactive cesium derived from the Fukushima crisis remained in their bodies, meaning that they were free from strontium and other more dangerous materials.

According to the findings, cesium is more easily absorbed through skeletal muscles than organs. It turned out to be difficult to rid muscle tissue of the substance.

The cesium reading began dropping nine and a half months after the birds were captured, which suggests the radiation level will drop if the animals are kept under low-radiation conditions.

The research provided insights into internal radiation exposure and drops in the radiation level of wild animals,” Ogawa said.

Tomizawa, who still lives in Saitama Prefecture, described his ostrich park as having “reported successive losses and posing many problems.”

But Tomizawa also has good memories of that time. Because the overseas media gave the escaped ostriches more extensive coverage than in Japan, Tomizawa was treated like a TV celebrity when he visited Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere after the disaster.

I met many people thanks to the ostriches,” Tomizawa said. “I feel things worked out right in the end.”


Tomizawa decided to open the ostrich park in 2001, two years after Tokto Electric Power Co. began keeping four ostriches at its Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The reasoning behind TEPCO’s bizarre move was that the high productivity rate of the bird species resembled that of reactors.

An ostrich reaches adulthood within two years on a meager diet of wheat and corn, yet grows to 2 meters tall and weighs more than 100 kilograms. A female ostrich lays eggs for 40 years, starting from the age of 2.

This feature is similar to the characteristic of nuclear power plants that can generate a lot of electricity from a small volume of uranium fuel,” reads a promotional pamphlet issued by plant operator TEPCO around that time.

As ostriches are called Strauss in German, TEPCO said it wanted the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to be nicknamed “Strauss power plant” in the document.

However, those efforts appear to have fallen flat as few TEPCO officials were aware of the nickname.

TEPCO hired a veterinarian to look after the ostriches, but as the species is ill-tempered it was decided that the three ostriches still alive should be sent to Tomizawa to look after.

While a TEPCO public relations official said the utility could not offer a detailed explanation as to when and why the utility stopped keeping the birds “due to an absence of relevant documents,” at least one thing can be said about the project: what it touted as “highly productive” turned out–just like the nuclear power plant–to be difficult to deal with.


October 7, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japan utility execs received payments from town official

September 27, 2019
TOKYO (AP) – A Japanese public utility admitted Friday that 20 of its executives, including its president, received $3 million in cash and gifts over seven years from a former town official in western Japan where it has a nuclear power plant.
The admission underscores the continuing collusion between officials and Japan’s nuclear industry.
Kansai Electric Power Co. President Shigeki Iwane acknowledged that he and the executives received the gifts from the former deputy mayor of Takahama town in 2011-2018. Former Kansai Electric Chairman Makoto Yagi, who also was chairman of the powerful industry group Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan in 2011-2016, was also a recipient.
The case surfaced during a tax inspection.
Iwane apologized and said the money was mostly returned.
He said he first met the man soon after becoming Kansai Electric president in 2016 and was given a congratulatory gift.
Iwane said he resisted but accepted it because he was afraid that hurting the influential man’s feelings would harm the company’s business. Public trust in nuclear safety had been shattered in Japan following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“I was afraid that insisting on returning the gifts would strain our relations and may cause an adverse impact on our nuclear business in the region,” he said. He refused to say what the gift was, but said he kept it in a safe and was planning to return it to the man later.
Trade and industry minister Isshu Sugawara called the scandal “outrageous.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that “As public utility operators, public trust is indispensable. It’s a serious problem that they accepted money and gifts in such a murky way.”
No criminal charges have been filed, but legal experts said Kansai Electric officials may be guilty of bribery if the flow of the money was premeditated.
Media reports said the money had been received by the Takahama official as a “handling fee” from a contractor at the nuclear plant.
Iwane said the contract between the utility and the contractor was appropriate and that he and other executives were not aware that the money was coming from an alleged kickback.
Such payments are illegal and if Kansai Electric executives were aware of where the money came from, they could be held liable for breach of trust, said lawyer and former prosecutor Yasuyuki Takai.
“As top executives of a public utility that serves as the foundation of Japan’s energy industry, they should not have done that, regardless of the criminality of the case,” he said in an interview with NHK public television.
Local officials said the former deputy mayor was a powerful fixer who brought two nuclear reactors to the town.
“Traditionally, nuclear plants and host communities tend to be closely bound by money,” Kenichi Oshima, an economics professor at Ryukoku University in Kyoto and an expert on nuclear energy costs and finance, told NHK.

October 7, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Forever tied to nuclear disaster, Fukushima residents hope for PR boost from 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Participants of an event to promote the “reconstruction Olympics” theme for the 2020 Tokyo Games hold balloons at the J-Village national soccer training center in the town of Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 1.
September 27, 2019
SUKAGAWA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Two softball games and one baseball game in Fukushima next summer may be little more than an 2020 Olympic cameo, but local fans are thrilled to have them, largely in the hopes they will give their prefecture a badly needed public relations boost.
Fukushima was one of the three northeastern prefectures that bore the brunt of the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, and will be part of the focus next year given that Tokyo Olympic organizers have dubbed the games “the reconstruction Olympics.”
In addition to the games in Fukushima, Miyagi Stadium will be one of the Olympic soccer venues, while all three prefectures will be focal points of the Olympic torch relay, which officially starts in Fukushima.
The 2011 disaster killed over 15,800 people and forced the evacuation of up to 470,000, while triggering a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Even eight years later, Fukushima suffers from the suspicion that food from the prefecture might be contaminated. And locals see the Olympics as an opportunity to show off their region the way they see it.
Koki Unuma, a resident of Koriyama and a baseball fan who follows the local independent minor league club, expressed hope that the Olympics will put Fukushima Prefecture in a good light.
“It’s a chance to show that Fukushima has become vibrant again,” he said at a game in Sukagawa between the Fukushima Red Hopes and the Tochigi Golden Braves. “I wonder how foreign people will view us.
“I want the place to be packed with foreign visitors, so that people will see we are doing well, and that they tell others. I’m excited to have the games here.”
One man, who declined to give his name but said he had worked until recently not far from the stricken nuclear plant, said Fukushima had largely recovered but felt the symbolism of being included in the Olympics had value.
“There is basically one area that is not back (around the damaged plant), but by and large Fukushima has recovered,” he said. “I think as a symbol the Olympics are a good idea. What they mean by ‘the reconstruction Olympics’ is a little vague to me. That area around Soma is hard hit, but as a whole Fukushima Prefecture is doing very well.”
The plight of the prefecture encouraged former major leaguer Akinori Iwamura to help start up the Red Hopes, where he serves in a dual role as manager and team president.
“People living in Fukushima have suffered the most. It’s almost as if they are being treated as wrongdoers. The rumors are terrible,” he said in a recent interview. “Some evacuee children have been bullied in the towns they’ve been relocated to. That is the most intolerable.
“The (evacuee) kids going back to visit Fukushima might receive some kinds of gifts to take back with them, but some must feel those things, candy and the like, are troublesome, because at rest areas along the expressway people find uneaten candy from Fukushima thrown into the garbage bins.
“It makes you realize people don’t know how many of the things they hear they can actually believe.”
Iwamura said that consumers outside Fukushima have second thoughts about the safety of the food from there and local farmers cannot get fair value for their products. But he said the Olympics are a golden opportunity to change peoples’ perceptions of Fukushima.
“For us baseball people here, we want to make the baseball and softball games held here a success,” Iwamura said. “If we can be wildly enthusiastic about them and show that to the people coming from abroad, then they will tell others that Fukushima is safe, that the people here are living good lives.”
Naomi Nukazawa and her daughter Aya are fans of the Red Hopes and are keen to see the local Olympic competition, but so far have been unable to secure tickets.
“We’ll apply again, but right now it is like the people here are getting left out,” Nukazawa said.
“I work at a hotel. This is a chance to get different kinds of guests — I’m really excited about that. People will visit Fukushima (for the Olympics), but once it’s over that will likely be the end of it. Perhaps some people will be moved by their time here and that will have a lasting impact in some ways.
“Maybe other Japanese will be influenced by foreigners’ positive responses to us and will remember us, remember Iwate, remember Miyagi, remember our local specialties, because it seems we’re forgotten now.”
Another Koriyama resident, Yuji Amaha, echoed other locals’ complaints that people outside Fukushima don’t realize that most of the region is safe from radioactivity.
“Having a big international tournament here in Fukushima Prefecture is getting people excited,” he said, referring to Iwate hosting games for the Rugby World Cup and Miyagi hosting Olympic soccer. “In a sense, these things are connected to our recovery and are therefore meaningful.
“The people who live in Fukushima think it’s safe. I want those people who … question how safe it is to come. I want people who study the data to say it’s safe. Those who doubt the safety should come and see for themselves.”
Iwamura expressed optimism for next year and for the future.
“Most prefectures will have no Olympic sports,” he said. “That Fukushima is going to have baseball and softball is a thrill, something to be really happy about. Twenty or 30 years down the road, nobody will remember what it is like now.”

October 7, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Information, media freedom – theme for October 19

You might think that this has nothing to do with nuclear issues. And you’d be right – nothing directly.   But this is a world issue that affects every controversial matter, and suppression of journalism will surely affect nuclear issues, and indeed, it already does.

Press Freedoms:  Criminalizing journalistic activity

Prosecutors recently expanded a criminal case against Julian Assange to include accusations that he violated the Espionage Act by soliciting, obtaining, and publishing classified documents leaked in 2010 by Chelsea Manning, which could establish a precedent that such common journalistic activities (a separate question from whether Assange counts as a “journalist”) can be treated as a crime in America…..more

October 7, 2019 Posted by | Christina's themes | 2 Comments

Nuclear news for first week of October

Radio Ecoshock, which (along with Paul Beckwith) I regard as the best information source about climate change, devoted its most recent programme to Australia. Australia does stand out – as both the “canary in the coal-mine”– for climate change, and as the top climate-denialist country.

In today’s Australian news I find an item which illustrates this. Australian country towns are in drought, losing their water supplies. But the national obsession with sport goes on. Thousands of litres of water were trucked in to the now waterless town of Pooncarie – to settle the dust on the race track, for the annual racing carnival.  Australia’s P.M. Morrison criticised Greta Thunberg, and Australia continues to take no real action on prevention of, or adaptation to, climate change.

Bill Gates is wrong. Nuclear power will not save the climate.

How nuclear power powers the bomb.

NORTH KOREA. USA – North Korea talks broke down, but USA calls them “good discussions”.  North Korea launches missile into waters near Japan days before nuclear talks set to resume with U.S.

IRAN. International Atomic Energy Agency reports improved cooperation with Iran.

INDIA. India and Pakistan sliding toward potential nuclear warStrong environmental opposition in India, to uranium mining and nuclear power.


CHINA. China buried nuclear waste in Sudan desert.

FRANCE. Nuclear company EDF denounced by France’s economy minister as a “state within a state”.

UK. Scrutiny on Britain’s nuclear plans: small modular reactors uncompetitive.

BANGLADESH. Russia’s manipulations in supplying Bangladesh with nuclear technology.

JAPAN. Nuclear Scandal Hangs Over Japan’s Abe as Parliament Opens. Bribery scandals in Japan’s nuclear power sector. Statement of opinion of a resident of the city of Date, Fukushima Prefecture, presented to the Tokyo Regional Court.

SAUDI ARABIA.  Saudi King’s Personal Bodyguard Killed Because He Knew Too Much

October 7, 2019 Posted by | Christina's notes | Leave a comment