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Nuke disaster radiation continues to threaten traditional ways of life in northeast Japan

Tetsuzo Tsuboi, who has worked to prevent shiitake cultivation logs from absorbing radioactive cesium by putting them up on blocks, covering them with nonwoven fabric, and other measures, is seen in the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sept. 5, 2021.

October 8, 2021

FUKUSHIMA — When the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was struck with a triple-meltdown in March 2011, it spewed radioactive material across a wide swathe of northeastern Japan’s forests. Even now, more than a decade after the catastrophe, the impact of the cesium still found in the region’s trees is enormous.

One area to feel the brunt of the fallout’s effects is eastern Fukushima Prefecture’s Abukuma mountains, once one of Japan’s leading sources of logs for shiitake mushroom cultivation, and now at a virtual standstill. Ten years into this continuing disaster, locals and experts have been working hard to find ways to revive the traditional industry, in hopes of being able to pass on the mountains’ rich natural resources, and the life connected to this landscape, to the next generation.

“Once a tree trunk gets this thick, it’s not really good as a log.” We are in the woods in the Miyakoji district of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, about 20 kilometers west of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Kazuo Watanabe, the 59-year-old head of the Miyakoji office of the Fukushima central forestry union, is standing by a copse of konara oaks for shiitake cultivation, sighing as he speaks.

Watanabe says that the oaks are harvested for the shiitake business when they are about 15 centimeters across. And it takes about 20 years to get that big. If the trunks are too thick, it becomes difficult for new growth to sprout from the stump. But konara logging has stagnated severely because of the nuclear disaster, leading to a halt in shipments.

Radioactive cesium exceeding the government-set maximum of 50 becquerels per kilogram has been detected in logs from Miyakoji and other parts of the Abukuma region. Even 10 years after the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdowns, testing has turned up cesium levels in the logs of between 100 and 540 becquerels per kilogram.

To grow shiitake, mushroom mycelia are put into holes drilled into sawtooth oak, konara oak and other types of logs. In 2010, Fukushima Prefecture was Japan’s third-largest producer of these logs, shipping some 4.78 million of them. But the nuclear disaster changed all that, and even now the prefecture produces only about 140,000 of the cultivation logs annually.

According to the Forestry Agency, as of the end of 2020, log-grown shiitake shipments were restricted in 93 municipalities across Fukushima, Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures due to cesium contamination. Along with Fukushima Prefecture, Miyagi Prefecture and other jurisdictions are voluntarily limiting shipments of the logs as well.

Cesium 134 has a radioactive half-life of about two years, meaning it has almost disappeared over the past 10. However, cesium 137’s half-life is approximately 30 years, meaning it will retain 30% of its original radioactivity 50 years on from the disaster, and 10% after a century.

The problem is the cesium inside the trees, which absorbed disaster fallout though their bark soon after the meltdowns, and through their roots. If plants have scant supplies of potassium, an essential element for growth, then they will absorb cesium, which has similar chemical properties. This has led to farmers sprinkling their fields with potassium fertilizer as a countermeasure. However, this is difficult to do in the vastness of the forest.

About 70% of Fukushima Prefecture is covered in forest. But in principle, only certain areas are eligible for nuclear disaster decontamination, such as residential districts and their immediate surroundings. The government and researchers believe that decontamination has limited the effectiveness in reducing the external exposure of the residents and that it is very costly, plus there is a risk of a spillover of soil due to the scraping of topsoil. And while cesium 137 indeed becomes less radioactive over time, it will take 150 years for the emanations to fall to a few percent of its current level.

And so the shiitake cultivation log production is essentially frozen, as are local traditions of sharing out edible wild plants, mushrooms and the like. To preserve these natural resources and this way of life for future generations, in January 2020 local forestry workers and experts created the “Abukumayama no kurashi kenkyujo,” or the Abukuma mountain way of life research center. Its purpose: to create a vision for the Abukuma region for the next 150 years. Participants study woodland culture at former industrial sites connected to the mushroom cultivation log business. Research center head Kazunori Aoki, 60, told the Mainichi Shimbun, “The nuclear accident changed the mountains’ value, and our connection to them has become quite tenuous.”

Aoki once raised “wagyu” beef cattle and farmed vegetables in Miyakoji, but he closed his business after the nuclear disaster. Watching growing tracts of farmland go wild, Aoki said he decided he “wanted to change the landscape a little at a time and return it to the mountains.” Since 2012, he has been planting 100 to 300 maples and other trees every year, a project that helped lead to the Abukuma research center’s creation.

In April this year, the center brought together 40 people from both inside and outside the city of Tamura to plant 90 mountain cherries, Kobushi magnolias and other trees in Miyakoji. But some elderly residents of the district worry that there is no one to take over the community, and that there is no hope for a future connected to the mountains.

“We want to work with the local community to consider how the next generation can live with the natural wealth of the mountains,” commented center administrative head Yumeko Arai, 35.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20211007/p2a/00m/0bu/023000c

October 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | | Leave a comment

New type of fallout from Fukushima Daiichi found a decade after nuclear disaster

Hot stuff: a polished cross section of one of the particles studied. (Courtesy: Satoshi Utsunomiya)

15 Mar 2021

New, large and highly radioactive particles have been identified from among the fallout of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. An international team of researchers has characterized the particles using nuclear forensic techniques and their results shine further light on the nature of the accident while helping to inform clean-up and decommissioning efforts.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, which occurred as a result of a powerful earthquake that struck off of Japan’s east coast, generating a tsunami that reached some 14 m high when it reached the nearby shoreline. Breaching sea defences, the water from the wave shut down emergency generators that were cooling the reactor cores. The result was a series of nuclear meltdowns and hydrogen explosions that released a large amount of radioactive material into the surrounding environment — including microparticles rich in radioactive caesium that reached as far Tokyo, 225 km away.

Recent studies have revealed that the fall-out from reactor unit 1 also included larger caesium-bearing particles, each greater than 300 micron in diameter, which have higher levels of activity in the order of 10Bq per particle. These particles were found to have been deposited in a narrow zone stretching around 8 km north-northwest from the reactor site.

Surface soil samples

In their study, chemist and environmental scientist Satoshi Utsunomiya of Japan’s Kyushu University and colleagues have analyzed 31 of these particles, which were collected from surface soil taken from roadsides in radiation hotspots.

“[We] discovered a new type of radioactive particle 3.9 km north northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which has the highest caesium-134 and caesium-137 activity yet documented in Fukushima, 105–10Bq per particle,” Utsunomiya says.

Alongside the record-breaking radioactivity seen in two of the particles (6.1×105 and 2.5×10Bq, after correction to the date of the accident) the team also found that they had characteristic compositions and textures that differed from those previously seen in the reactor unit 1 fall-out.

Reactor building materials

A combination of techniques including synchrotron-based nano-focus X-ray analysis and transmission electron microscopy indicated that one of the particles was found to be an aggregate of smaller silicate nanoparticles each with a glass-like structure. This is thought to be the remnants of reactor building materials that were first damaged in the explosion and then picked up caesium that had been volatized from the reactor fuel.

The other particle had a glassy carbon core and a surface peppered with other microparticles of various compositions, which are thought to reflect a forensic snapshot of the particles that were airborne within the reactor unit 1 building at the moment of the hydrogen explosion and the physio-chemical phenomena they were subjected to.

“Owing to their large size, the health effects of the new particles are likely limited to external radiation hazards during static contact with skin,” explained Utsunomiya — with the two record-breaking particles thought too large to be inhaled into the respiratory tract.

Impact on wildlife

However, the researchers note that further work is needed to determine the impact on the wildlife living around the Fukushima Daiichi facility — such as, for example, filter feeding marine molluscs which have previously been found susceptible to DNA damage and necrosis on exposure to radioactive particles.

“The half-life of caesium-137 is around 30 years,” Utsunomiya continued, adding: “So, the activity in the newly found highly radioactive particles has not yet decayed significantly. As such, they will remain [radioactive] in the environment for many decades to come, and this type of particle could occasionally still be found in radiation hot spots.”

Nuclear material corrosion expert Claire Corkhill of the University of Sheffield – who was not involved in the study – says that the team have offered new insights into the events that unfurled during the accident. “Although the two particles selected [for analysis] were small, a mighty amount of chemical information was yielded,” she said, noting that some of the boron isotopes the researchers identified could only have come from the nuclear control rods damaged in the accident.

Ongoing clean-up

“This work is important to the ongoing clean-up at Fukushima, not only to the decontamination of the local area, but in defining a baseline understanding of radioactive contamination surrounding the power plant, to ensure that any materials accidentally released during the fuel retrieval operations can be quickly identified and removed,” she adds.

With this study complete, the researchers are now using the particles to better understand the conditions involved in the reactor meltdown, alongside looking quantify the distribution of this fallout across Fukushima, with a focus on identifying resulting radiation hot spots.

“If we can find and remove these particles, we can efficiently lower the radiation dose in the local environment,” Utsunomiya concluded.

September 7, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

Not Seeing the Contaminated Forest for the Decontaminated Trees in Fukushima

Robert Jacobs

Abstract: This article explores how the models of medical risk from radiation established in the aftermath of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are insufficient for understanding the risks faced by people in contaminated environments like Fukushima. These models focus exclusively on levels of external radiation, while the risk faced by people in areas affected by radioactive fallout comes from internalizing fallout particles. These models have helped to obscure the health impacts over the last 76 years of those exposed to fallout, from the people who experienced the Black Rain in Hiroshima, to the global hibakusha exposed through nuclear testing, production and accidents, and now to those living where the plumes deposited radiation in Fukushima.

When nuclear disasters happen, we look to past incidents to help us predict what human health impacts may follow, but not all radiological disasters are alike. The Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents were highly publicized and loom large in the public imagination, but these disasters are mere data points on a graph of nuclear incidents that have exposed the public to radiological harm. The “global hibakusha,” human beings that have been exposed to ionizing radiation, have suffered those exposures in multiple ways. The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only people to have been directly attacked by nuclear weapons. However, since then there have been more than 2,000 nuclear weapons detonated in tests. The communities downwind from those test sites did not suffer direct attack, but rather, were exposed to radioactive fallout from the mushroom clouds as they drifted. Besides the above listed nuclear meltdowns, multiple accidents have befallen nuclear reactors. Additionally, many people have been exposed to radiation through nuclear production at uranium mines, or plutonium production sites like Hanford. The disease toll from radiological exposure depends on the type of exposure. The most important distinction is between being exposed to radioactive waves that pass through your whole body, and radioactive particles that get inside your body and remain there. The biological routes are different and so the health outcomes also differ. 

For the last 12 years I have been working on the Global Hibakusha Project, conducting field work in radiologically contaminated communities and populations all around the world (Broderick and Jacobs, 2018).1 As a historian, it is natural for me to think that looking to the past can help us imagine and anticipate the future. In April of 2015, four years after the Fukushima disaster, I gave a talk as part of the “4.11 International Symposium: From Hiroshima and Bikini to Fukushima and the World,” in Fukushima City. My lecture was titled, “Pretending Fukushima is New: How Studying Sites of Radiological Contamination Around the World Can Help Us to Understand the Present and Future in Fukushima.” The primary health risk that people in Fukushima face is from internalizing alpha-emitting or beta particles through inhalation, swallowing or abrasions. Yet predictions of their risks are almost entirely modeled on data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the exposures were predominantly from external gamma waves. This disconnect is visibly reflected to us in the maps of danger that always accompany discussions of the radiological legacy of Fukushima, maps like the one below. This application of data about external exposures to dismiss the health concerns of people immersed in a landscape dense with long-lived radioactive particles is not unique to Fukushima, it is elemental to how the majority of the millions of global hibakusha have remained invisible—have been rendered invisible.

Fig. 1: Radiation map showing both the distribution of radioactive iodine and concentric circles
radiating out from the site of the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plants (Kyodo)

My chapter in Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context, “Fukushima Radiation Inside/Out,” argues that the maps of contamination we use to understand the risks downwind from the Fukushima Daiichi plant are flawed. They model a pattern of danger and safety that works as hard to obscure certain dynamics as it does to delineate others. These broken maps reflect health models about harm from radiation that are limited yet invariably presented as inclusive and comprehensive. 

As mentioned above, we biologically encounter radiation in two distinctly different manners. Our whole bodies are exposed to radioactive rays when we are immersed in high levels of radiation that are external to our bodies, as happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The detonations of those weapons released high-energy gamma and neutron waves that were similar to a single giant x-ray that penetrated entire bodies and extended out several kilometers from the hypocenter. Separately from this form of exposure is when we encounter radionuclides, individual radioactive particles that remain after nuclear detonations, either as beta particles or alpha-emitting particles. We often refer to radiation in this form as “radioactive fallout” since it usually deposits into our ecosystems by “falling out” of clouds drifting from radiological explosions or fires. Once the particles have dispersed into the ecosystem, they are harder to locate. These are primarily dangerous to us if we internalize them inside of our bodies. If they remain inside of our bodies, they emit their very small amounts of radiation to nearby cells 24 hours a day for however long the specific particle remains radioactive. For some particles that is days, for many it’s centuries or longer. Cesium-137, a particle that spread in large amounts after both Chernobyl and Fukushima, remains dangerous to living creatures for 300 years. These two forms of exposure (external whole body vs. internalized in a specific bodily organ) present distinctly different risks to human health (for a primer on these forms of radiation see here).

The risks that people downwind from the Fukushima plants face is primarily from fallout. Large amounts of fallout can also present danger from their collective external radiation when they first deposit, however, now, 10 years later, those particles have distributed into the ecosystem. Settling into soil, moving with rainwater and groundwater, being taken up by plants and animals: they are embedding and migrating. As they spread out, our ability to detect them degrades. Since Geiger Counters measure the external energy that the particles radiate, we usually find them when they are present in large amounts. Now that they are widely dispersed, many have migrated far from the color-coded maps of risk we see of Fukushima. Those maps are snapshots of external readings at a specific moment that has passed. 

In Fukushima, relatively few people are being exposed to high levels of external radiation except for the cohorts of onsite workers at the nuclear plant site, those involved in decontamination efforts, and those who lived where the fallout deposited in large amounts. People living in most (but not all) of the areas where heavy fallout deposited were evacuated fairly quickly. For those who continue to live in, or are being returned to areas of lower contamination, we still measure the external levels of gamma radiation to predict the risks they face. However, just as with the Marshallese after US thermonuclear testing, just as the Kazakhs after Soviet testing, and just as with those living in contaminated areas downwind from the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine and Belarus, the primary risk to the public health is not the external radiation, the primary risk is that one may internalize radioactive particles and retain them inside the body. Telling someone that the external levels of radiation are not high is not actually saying that they are not at risk, it is just a way of saying that we only have models that delineate risks from the external levels. And if those are low, we declare, health agencies declare, UN public health bodies declare: there is no significant risk. Yet there is. Those living in contaminated regions of Fukushima join a long list of people whose homes and communities have received significant deposits of radionuclides through fallout. All have invariably had their levels of risk minimalized. Many have had their anxieties cited as irrational and pathologized as “radiophobia.”2 Almost none have received any compensation for their health problems and the loss of value of their lands and businesses.3

In Fukushima, as downwind from nuclear test sites, communities experienced large deposits of radioactive fallout, yet the model that has always been used to predict health outcomes is based on studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: this is the wrong model for these disasters. In Hiroshima and Nagasaki there was a massive burst of external radioactive gamma and neutron waves at the moment the nuclear weapons detonated, lasting less than a minute. This was followed by radioactive fallout as the mushroom clouds deposited radioactive particles (beta and alpha-emitters) and drifted.4 The health models built out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only assessed the harm from the external exposures. These models emerged from studies done at the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki since 1946 (reformed in 1975 as the Radiation Effects Research Foundation), especially the Life Span Study (LSS) which began in 1950. This study establishes a large database, corelating radiation exposures to subsequent health outcomes and early mortality. The study is rigorous, yet its use in the years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki has frequently been careless. The LSS assesses only external radiation exposures, it explicitly excludes consideration of the health effects of internal radiation exposures from living with fallout. There is nothing wrong with this methodological choice. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were events in which a large cohort of people were exposed to a single large dose of external gamma radiation. It would have been very difficult at the time to determine who had internalized a radionuclide and who hadn’t. In the early years of the Cold War, it was assumed that future wars would involve the use of nuclear weaponry and the exposure of many people to large bursts of gamma rays as were the people near the hypocenter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But that was not what happened; instead, over 2,000 nuclear weapons were tested, and millions of people were exposed to radioactive fallout. We did not have a robust database on the health consequences that might result from these exposures—so we used the tool we did have, the LSS. The LSS tells us little about the risks faced by people living with large depositions of fallout. 

The Cold War period, and beyond, are periods in which the invisibility of the health consequences of exposures of internalized radiation was made invisible, and the misapplication of the LSS was elemental to this cloaking. A key reason that the LSS has been weaponized to obscure the health effects of internalized radiation exposures is that since the exposures did not happen as acts of war, but rather as weapon development, those exposed should be entitled to compensation for their health problems, and the loss of value to contaminated land. This would likely have restricted nuclear weapon testing. These dynamics have been extended to obscure and shield compensation obligations in other historical instances of large-scale radiological contaminations such as waste dumping and nuclear accidents. 

All of us have been dealing with the horrors and the terrors of the COVID-19 pandemic since early 2020. Viscerally, we feel the anxieties and fears that accompany uncertainty about dire risks to our lives and loved ones. Being cautious about our public activities in the age of COVID makes intuitive sense. We navigate our potential exposures, work to mitigate our potential contaminations, and worry endlessly about loved ones with health concerns. Each small, unrelated medical symptom a family member exhibits is met with anxiety. This is a reality for people worldwide. Those who live in areas dense with radionuclides face similar anxieties: the locations of the risk are indeterminable; who is being exposed and who is safe is unclear, even while the damage is inflicted; daily life is rife with anxiety. But in radiologically contaminated communities it is not conspiracy theorists on social media dismissing them as irrational, it is state health officials. They draw maps, based entirely on externally measured levels of radiation, and use those maps to tell people to move back to villages where the levels of contamination are “acceptable,” to send their children to schools and move back to towns where the presence of radioactive particles is not dense enough to register on Geiger counters placed high above the ground.

Fig. 2: Fixed station radiation monitor post.

Imagine a map of COVID cases that shows high levels in one city and low levels in the adjoining city, and being told that therefore there is no risk at all once you enter the city with lower levels. We would all continue to be cautious. That is common sense, not (radiophobic) irrationality. If a group of 10 people were to stand downwind from someone coughing out COVID microbes, some may get sick and some may not. Who has inhaled a microbe and who hasn’t will not be visible until the disease presents. This is what it is like to live in an ecosystem with migrating radionuclides. Even if their presence is not significant enough to make a Geiger counter ping, caution is rational. However, the history of fallout contamination is a history of dismissing the health concerns and worries of the populations living in the areas where fallout came down. 

A clear way to visualize how the reliance on external measurements to determine risk is problematic is to examine the scientific literature on Fukushima. Biologist Timothy Mousseau, with colleague Anders Møller, has conducted field work in the Zone of Exclusion in Chernobyl for decades (primarily on birds and small insects for whom multiple generations of inheritance have passed), and have sought to conduct corollary field studies in the evacuation zones of Fukushima. Speaking to an IPPNW symposium on the 10th anniversary of Fukushima, Mousseau examined the top 500 articles in the Web of Science database. He found that only 10 out of the top 500 papers (2%) were based on actual biological fieldwork assessing the impacts of radiation on living organisms. Almost all of the other 98% were studies of “calculated doses and the possible link to health impairments rather than any sort of directly measured biological consequences” (Mousseau, 2021).5 Most of the scientific literature around Fukushima, and Chernobyl, are based on estimates of health impacts utilizing externally measured radiation and applying statistical models such as the Life Span Study. These estimates are not observed findings, but predictions of the numbers of cancers and early mortality that may be expected in the future among the exposed population.

This model of utilizing measurements of external radiation and statistical databases of disease probabilities has been a critical component of how the global hibakusha have been ignored since the advent of nuclear weaponry. As radioactive fallout blanketed communities downwind from the Nevada Test Site, and other nuclear test sites around the world, such assessments were routinely used to dismiss the health concerns of downwinders. Now, many of those same individuals (in America) whose health concerns were dismissed are recipients of Radiation Exposure Compensation Act funds from the US government. Ignored and dismissed for decades because of the use of external modeling and statistical correlation of that modeling to the LSS, select members of these communities were only able to obtain recognition and some small compensation late in their lives because they were full citizens with access to legal remedies in a wealthy nation. 

As I detail in my forthcoming book Nuclear Bodies, nuclear test sites are not chosen because of their scientific properties, rather, communities are selected to be irradiated because of their political inability to resist such treatment. Nuclear test sites are built upwind of these communities. Hence, most of the exposures of global hibakusha were in colonial or postcolonial spaces, or were citizens of poor or developing nations and have not been recognized or awarded compensation for their suffering.6 Their subaltern political status was fundamental to their communities being chosen as radiologically disposable. For example, the British and French never tested nuclear weapons within their own national borders. Along with the United States, the British and French tested all of their thermonuclear weapons (hydrogen bombs that yield vastly larger fallout clouds) in Pacific nations either directly under their control, or of actual colonial status (specifically, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and French Polynesia). Keeping these big fallout clouds outside of their own borders was national policy to protect their own populations, and conversely, put them inside the borders of other nations and subjected their populations to risk. This has never been accidental. Nuclear power plants are not sited inside of the urban areas where their electricity is consumed, but in the rural areas at a distance so that if there is a radiological release it exposes less people, but also less politically powerful people. Kate Brown has cited how the Soviet government purposefully seeded clouds from Chernobyl to rainout their particles in Belarus rather than over the large Russian cities they were drifting towards.7

Relying exclusively on maps of externally measurable radiation and medical models based solely on the harm caused by external exposures extends this invisibility for further generations and will continue to legitimize dismissing and ignoring both the health and emotional impacts of radiation exposures into the future. Fukushima is part of a continuum of the dismissal of the harm endured by those who suffer from internal exposures to radioactive particles from nuclear tests, nuclear accidents and nuclear production worldwide. Looking at the broken maps works to obscure the real risks in Fukushima.

Many of the particles embedded in the ecosystem of Fukushima will remain dangerous to living creatures for hundreds, or even thousands of years. During this period, they will not stay put. As I point out in my chapter in Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context, this reveals the decontamination theater of soil removal in Fukushima. The years since 3.11 have seen a continual media presentation of crews removing radioactive topsoil from towns, schoolyards and homes in Fukushima.

Fig. 3: Decontamination crew works to decontaminate a roadside in Iitate in 2015 (Greenpeace).
Almost certainly the particles in the forest canopy and on the trees will re-contaminate this roadside within a year.

The reduction in radiation levels is the predicate for declaring towns safe for return. The particles themselves remain radioactive; the fields filled with plastic bags of particles stacked around the region are now nuclear waste sites that must be managed for generations. The theatrical aspect is in pretending that by removing the radioactive particles from the towns they are now “clean.” Since the towns are themselves situated in larger ecosystems full of radionuclides, this “decontamination” cannot last: wind, rain, typhoons will all strip particles down from the forests and mountains surrounding the towns and re-contaminate them. Similar to how the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were meant to produce the impression that Fukushima has recovered, all theater requires the willing suspension of disbelief. When we placed a containment dome over the melted core of Chernobyl reactor unit #4 people assumed that the Chernobyl disaster was clearly over, only to be surprised to read in the papers about ongoing criticalities in the subterranean core that threatened ongoing releases. Long-lived particles create ongoing and fluctuating realities. Fukushima is not simply something that happened, it is something that is still happening.

References

Broderick, M. and Robert J. (2018) ‘The Global Hibakusha Project: Nuclear post-Colonialism and Its Intergenerational Legacy’, Unlikely: Journal for the Creative Arts, 5 [online]. (Accessed: June 5, 2021).

Brown, K. (2019) Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. London: Allen Lane.

Jacobs, R. (2013) ‘Nuclear Conquistadors: Military Colonialism in Nuclear Test Site Selection During the Cold War’, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, 1(2), pp. 157-177.

Mousseau, T. 2021. “Ecology in Fukushima: What Does a Decade Tell Us?” [Online video]. (Accessed June 5, 2021).

Petryna, A. (2013) Life Exposed: Biological Citizenship after Chernobyl. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Stawkowski, M. (2017) ‘Radiophobia Had to be Reinvented’, Culture, Theory and Critique, 58(4), pp. 357-374.

Notes

1

The outcomes of this research will be published next year in, Robert Jacobs, Nuclear Bodies: The Global Hibakusha (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2022), forthcoming. Also, see my blog Global Hibakusha.2

Stawkowski, 2017.3

Petryna, 2013.4

The areas where fallout came down most heavily downwind of Hiroshima is referred to as being affected by “black rain,” this is because rain strips fallout particles from the air and brings them down in large quantities, and the black soot from the fires in Hiroshima made the rain black and sticky. The rights of those who suffered illness from exposure to black rain, and also from exposures resulting from entering the city in the weeks after the nuclear attack, are still being litigated and contested in Japanese courts today.5

Mousseau, 2021.6

Jacobs, 2013.7

Brown, 2019, p. 42.

https://apjjf.org/2021/17/Jacobs.html

September 2, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | | Leave a comment

A message from Forest Measurement Laboratory in Namegawa

March 6, 2021

A message from a representative of the Forest Measurement Laboratory, a group that measures radioactivity in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. It was founded in the fall of 2012 mainly by mothers after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

They thought that measurements by municipalities were not sufficient to protect their children from radiation exposure, so they started this project by themselves.

March 23, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

8% of Japanese consumers still hesitate to buy Fukushima food products

At their own risk and peril. There is no acceptable safe threshold when it comes to radioactive contamination.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori (left) promotes peaches from the prefecture in the city of Fukushima in July.


Feb 28, 2021

About 8.1% of consumers in Japan still hesitate to buy food products from Fukushima Prefecture almost 10 years after the March 2011 nuclear disaster, a survey by the Consumer Affairs Agency has shown.

Although the figure is the lowest since the survey started in February 2013, the finding is “very regrettable,” Shinji Inoue, minister for consumer affairs and food safety, said after the survey was released Friday. “Safety has been secured” for produce from Fukushima, he added.

The latest survey, the 14th of its kind, was carried out online on Jan. 15-19, with answers received from 5,176 people in their 20s to 60s mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The share of respondents who hesitate to buy food products from Fukushima has been on the decline since hitting 19.6% in the August 2014 survey, and fell below 10% for the first time in the latest survey.

Fukushima is home to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant, the site of the triple meltdown disaster triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

According to the survey, the share of respondents who hesitate to buy food products from Iwate, Miyagi or Fukushima prefectures dropped to a record low of 6.1%, down from 6.4% in the previous poll in February 2020. The three prefectures were hit hardest in the disaster.

A record high 62.1% of respondents said they do not know that checks for radioactive substances have been conducted on food products from disaster areas. The figure has been rising since standing at 22.4% in the first survey.

An official said the agency will continue efforts to not only boost the share of people who are aware of radiation checks but also offer all of the information available about radioactive substances in food products.https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/28/national/fukushima-products-survey/

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Radiation criteria sow confusion for evacuees

Workers decontaminate a road in a special reconstruction district in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, in October. | FUKUSHIMA MINPO

February 26, 2021

Traffic was lighter on the Joban Expressway in the Futaba district in Fukushima Prefecture during the New Year holiday, with people avoiding traveling back to see their relatives due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Roadside signs show the radiation levels of areas near the no-go zones put in place after meltdowns in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, reflecting the fact that, even after 10 years, Fukushima residents are unable to return to their homes.

The no-go zones, which are considered uninhabitable for the foreseeable future due to high radiation levels, stretch through six Fukushima towns and villages: Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba, Namie, Katsurao and Iitate. Parts of those zones are now designated as special reconstruction districts, where the government will concentrate its decontamination efforts so that residents can return to their homes in the future.

A decade after the tsunami-triggered nuclear disaster, decontaminating the areas damaged by the fallout is a crucial part of the reconstruction that will pave the way for evacuees to come back to their homes and resume the life they had before the disaster.

But two figures of radiation exposure levels — 20 millisieverts a year and 1 millisievert a year — that the government provides as safety criteria are causing confusion among residents, triggering criticism of what could be called a double standard.

One of the criteria for the government to lift evacuation orders is whether the area’s annual cumulative radiation level has become 20 millisieverts or below, based on a recommendation from the nongovernmental International Commission on Radiological Protection.

When there is a nuclear disaster similar to that at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the ICRP recommends that annual radiation exposure should be limited to between 20 to 100 millisieverts immediately after the disaster. It then recommends the exposure is lowered to between 1 to 20 millisieverts during the reconstruction period.

As the minimum recommended exposure level right after a disaster, the 20 millisieverts mark became the radiation level yardstick for the central government to order the evacuation of a certain area after the nuclear meltdowns.

Meanwhile, the government has set up a long-term decontamination goal of reducing the radiation levels of contaminated areas to an annual 1 millisievert and below. This is to keep a lifetime exposure level below 100 millisievert — the level at which it starts to affect one’s health.

Therefore, the government stipulated the annual 1 millisievert exposure level in its reconstruction policy plan for Fukushima approved by the Cabinet in July 2012. The Environment Ministry aims to keep radiation levels in the special reconstruction district under 1 millisievert as a long-term goal.

However, the no-go zones had been above 50 millisieverts on an annual basis immediately after the nuclear meltdowns. The radiation level is on the decline with natural attenuation of radioactive cesium as well as weathering effects, but there are still patches with high radiation levels.

Even within the no-go zones, there is no easy way to carry out decontamination. Typically it is done by mowing lawns, raking up fallen leaves, washing down roads and other surfaces with a high-pressure water hose, and wiping off the walls and roofs of buildings and housing.

“It’s not easy to bring down radiation levels to 1 millisievert or below just with decontamination,” said an Environment Ministry official in charge.

In Article 1 of the radiation decontamination legislation established after the nuclear disaster, it is stipulated that the purpose of decontamination is to “minimize the health risks of radioactive exposure as much as possible.”

Despite the criteria for easing evacuation orders and the long-term goal on bringing down radiation levels, it is unclear how the government can lower radiation levels to 1 millisievert after evacuation orders are lifted for no-go zones.

The two figures are creating a confusion among local residents, who are torn between the desire to return to their homes and concerns over the radiation level.

“I won’t feel safe until annual radiation levels are below 1 millisievert,” one resident said, while another said, “Can you say for sure that an annual exposure of 20 millisieverts won’t affect our health in the future?”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/26/national/fukushima-radiation-criteria/

February 28, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima rice farmers innovate to survive, 10 years after disaster

Rice planting for commercial sales began in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in May, 2017, for the first time since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster. |

February 21, 2021

Fukushima – Although the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture still casts a shadow over local agriculture a decade later, rice farmers are working to shake off radiation-related rumors and pass on Fukushima’s rice farming to the next generation.

Some are pinning hopes on an original rice brand developed in the prefecture to find a way to overcome the difficulties posed by the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. The disaster was triggered by the major earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

The annual rice harvest in Fukushima, which totaled 445,700 tons in fiscal 2010, slid to 353,600 tons in the following year and has since remained at around 350,000-380,000 tons. Although exports of Fukushima-grown rice have been increasing in recent years thanks to promotion measures by the national government, shipments to Hong Kong, for example, plunged to 2.6 tons in fiscal 2019 from some 100 tons in fiscal 2010 due to the strengthening of purchase restrictions introduced after the disaster.

All Fukushima-made rice had to undergo checks for cesium and other residual radioactive substances to secure safety. Finally, in 2020, rice grown in areas other than 12 municipalities near the accident-hit power plant was switched to random checks.

Also in 2020, rice of the “Fuku, Warai” (lucky, laughter) original brand was harvested for the first time after 14 years of development by the Fukushima Agricultural Technology Center. Of the total 37 tons harvested, the producers sold 16.8 tons via the internet and stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area, exceeding the sales projection of 15 tons. Full-scale sales of the rice, whose features include sweetness and a rich scent, will start in fiscal 2021.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to allow only farmers certified by the Good Agriculture Practice program and other selected producers to engage in the cropping of the new rice brand, in order to ensure quality and credibility.

“I take pride in producing safe and secure rice,” said Shiroyuki Terasawa, 70, who is the only producer of the new rice brand in the Hamadori coastal region in Fukushima Prefecture. “I want everyone to know that Fukushima-grown rice is tasty.”

Terasawa’s rice field in the city of Minamisoma was washed away by the tsunami. Despite worries about rumors related to the nuclear disaster, he restarted full-scale farming in 2015, out of a sense of responsibility for keeping local agriculture alive.

According to an official from the Fukushima prefectural government, some of those who initially abandoned farming have returned in recent years, partly thanks to large-scale streamlined farm operations realized through the establishment of agricultural corporations.

Terasawa also set up a corporation and started so-called smart farming, utilizing drones and GPS devices, on large-scale farmland of some 55 hectares. “Although the scenery and the environment have changed from before the disaster, I want to stay active in farming as long as I live.” he said.

Ami Endo, 23, from Minamisoma, experienced the disaster when she was 13.

“I wanted to restore the rural landscape and interactions among people in the local community that used to be common” before the disaster, she said, explaining her decision to go to an agricultural technical college and work in the farming sector.

Endo gave her father a push to resume farming although he was reluctant to begin again. They have been rice cropping together since 2019.

“I don’t see people of my age at community gatherings,” Endo said, aware that young people are moving away from agriculture.

She stays positive, however, saying: “I can learn things I don’t know from my predecessors in the community. I want to create an all-round company that will handle production, commercialization and distribution (of agricultural products).”https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/02/21/national/fukushima-rice-innovation/

February 21, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima residents demand stricter decontamination to enable safe return

Residents of the Yonomori district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, march with a portable shrine in April 2007.

January 22, 2021

“Will Tomioka go back to how it was before?” Looking at the results of a survey, Kazuyoshi Kamata, vice head of the Yonomori Station northern administrative district in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, reflects on his hometown and its reconstruction following the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triple meltdown in 2011.

In the surveys conducted by the Reconstruction Agency last fall, Tomioka residents listed important conditions in deciding whether they would return to their hometown or not, such as the reopening and construction of new medical, welfare and elder care facilities as well as the resumption and improvement of shopping complexes.

One condition that stands out among the list, though, is a further reduction in the amount of radiation, which 1 in 3 residents raised as an important issue. The government has been decontaminating specially designated areas, where it was once thought that settlement was limited for good but which can be reopened for residents. It has set the annual radiation exposure limit to be lower than 20 millisieverts as one of the standards to lift the evacuation orders.

Now that nearly 10 years have passed since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, Kamata stressed the need for the government to decontaminate the area under stricter standards so that residents will feel safer returning to their hometown.

“In order to maintain people’s feelings for their hometowns, I want (the government) to stick to the stance of rebuilding our Tomioka in the form that we all want, including restoring the (basic living) environment.”

Tomioka’s Yonomori district used to be bustling with an increasing population, said Kamata, adding that younger generations supported the local community by planning events utilizing a famous row of cherry blossom trees and developing agriculture centered around rice crops.

“The district was a place full of energy where everyone, regardless of generation, was involved in making the local community,” said Kamata.

At the Yonomori cherry blossom festival held in spring, for example, smiles spread among residents as children strolled around, and the event also featured a mikoshi, or Shinto palanquin, from Otoshi Shrine.

The government is also doing its part in reconstructing the specially designated area in Tomioka by establishing zones focused on revitalizing businesses and agriculture. With creating agricultural corporations and making use of tourism resources such as roadside cherry blossom trees as the two main pillars, the government is working to attract about 1,600 people to live there, which is 40% of the population before the accident.

In the meantime, residents have been raising concerns about the 20 millisieverts condition, demanding a higher standard and more decontamination. In places that have recorded higher radiation levels, it is expected there will be damage from harmful rumors about things including tourism and agriculture.

“Without people, reconstruction would not begin. Creating conditions to invite more people without concerns is of utmost importance,” said Kamata, arguing that alongside other areas, restoring the living environment, including decontamination with the aim of lowering the annual radiation exposure to 1 millisevert or less, will be needed for future generations to live in Yonomori.

“Once the evacuation order is lifted, I want the local community to regain its connections within (the district),” said Kamata, hoping to take on a role of handing down the district’s traditions and way of life, as well as traditional scenery, to younger generations once he returns. As a vice-head of the administrative district, though, Kamata also intends to communicate crucial issues to the local government while residing in the area.

The lifting of the evacuation order in the specially designated area is expected in the spring of 2023, 12 years after the order was first issued.

“Without tackling issues such as restoring the living environment and infrastructure, as well as decommissioning of the Fukushima No.1 plant in a diligent manner, people won’t come back,” said Kamata. Now he hopes the government will share his passion for the hometown’s rebuilding.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Jan. 12.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2021/01/22/national/fukushima-decontaminating-town/

January 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Forests affected by Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident

November 22, 2020

Forestry was once a thriving industry in Fukushima – until the 2011 nuclear disaster struck. More than 70 percent of the prefecture is covered with trees, but large areas have been abandoned or neglected.

“It’s regrettable. I didn’t even imagine things were so bad,” says forester Akimoto Kimio, who visited a plantation in Tomioka, about 10 kilometers away from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Ever since an earthquake and tsunami triggered a triple meltdown at the facility, the forest has been abandoned. Some of its most prized pine trees, more than 50 years old, have died.

Akimoto, 72, heads a local forestry cooperative that was relocated elsewhere in the prefecture following the nuclear accident. But after nine years and eight months, it returned to Tomioka on November 4.

Akimoto Kimio, the head of the Futaba district forestry cooperative.

The forestry cooperative ships timber and manages maintenance, such as thinning out trees. Akimoto oversees about 2,000 hectares, 60 percent of which is in areas subject to an evacuation order due to high radiation levels.

His cooperative used to have 20 workers. At one point, the number dwindled to just two. Akimoto has worked hard to keep it afloat, negotiating with the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company on decontamination work and compensation. He believes forest preservation will one day help to ensure evacuated residents can return.

Unattended areas of woodland can pose various risks, including fires. A contaminated forest would be particularly hazardous in the event of a landslide, because the mud flow is likely to contain radioactive substances.

n 2017, a forest fire near Tomioka burned down trees on a 75-hectare-plot. It took 11 days to extinguish.

“Our mission is to take good care of our hometown forests and enhance the surrounding environment,” says Akimoto on the day his cooperative returned to Tomioka.

“We will help lay the groundwork to ensure residents can return worry-free. We hope many will come home.”

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1383/

November 22, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Radioactive Isotopes Measured at Olympic and Paralympic Venues in Fukushima Prefecture and Tokyo, Japan

November 12, 2020

“This newly reviewed study of Radioactive Dusts and Dirt at Japanese Olympic sites and throughout Northern Japan by Fairewinds and Marco Kaltofen has four significant conclusions:

Different types of alpha and beta radioactive micro-particles were released at other times and landed in various locations throughout Japan. “The exclusive use of cesium-137 beta activity levels as a proxy for total internal and external exposure, therefore, introduces dose assessment errors.”

“Rooftops previously decontaminated in Minamisoma are recontaminated by airborne atmospheric dust containing radionuclides … from the Fukushima meltdowns. The data show a need for continuing reassessment and potentially, additional remedial work on many sites in Fukushima Prefecture.”

The greater Tokyo Olympic venues had activities similar to sample sites in the US. In contrast, Olympic sites in Northern Japan near Fukushima contained an average of about twice as much radioactivity as Tokyo, with Plutonium identified at the J-Village National Training Center.

Non-Olympic sites throughout Japan averaged 7.0 times greater beta activity than the Tokyo Olympic venues. These data show that remediation emphasized the Olympic venues over cleaning other contaminated parts of Japan.”

https://www.fairewinds.org/demystify/radioactive-isotopes-measured-at-olympic-and-paralympic-venues-in-fukushima-prefecture-and-tokyo-japan?fbclid=IwAR25v6TXTqn7TOPNxRoBkwLzF9r6_YLEPi3IbcMlpNnkA5s1tFhh5x4MAVY

November 15, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Rice harvested in ‘Fukushima’s tsunami-hit area’

Mind you, in this title they call it ‘Fukushima’s tsunami-hit area’ and not Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear disaster-hit area”, the usual subtle propaganda from the Japanese media’s spin doctors denying the existing resulting radiation and contamination

October 3, 2020

Rice was harvested in the coastal areas of Namie Town, Fukushima Prefecture for the first time since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Rice farming resumed in the town’s inland areas after the evacuation order following the nuclear accident was lifted three years ago, but it only partially resumed this year in the coastal area where fields were hit by the tsunami and needed to be restored.

Personnel of an agricultural company that is leasing rice fields from farmers and about 30 students from Tokyo University of Agriculture, which has an alliance with the town, harvested golden rice plants on Saturday.

The rice will be sold at local roadside stands and at the university shop.

Shikoda Yuji, representative of Fukushima Stage Farm says, although the work to remove debris was painstaking, he was deeply moved to see rice being harvested in the tsunami-hit area for the first time in 10 years.

A student of the university says restarting of rice harvesting makes him feel that reconstruction is progressing, and that he is looking forward to tasting the rice.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20201003_22/

October 12, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Radioactive soil plan casts shadow over Fukushima village

Keiko Shigihara used to make pickles out of flower petals from a cherry tree at her former home in Fukushima Prefecture.

Sep 11, 2020

Keiko Shigihara, 58, soaks up the summer sun as she looks over her property in the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture, from where she evacuated after the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The land where her home used to be is now an empty lot. Cherry trees and oak trees are the only things left.

Shigihara remembers the days when she used to make homemade salted cherry blossoms and rice cakes wrapped in oak leaves.

“It’s sad but there’s nothing to be done now except look forward,” said Shigihara, who evacuated to the city of Fukushima after the calamity.

Iitate’s Nagadoro administrative district, where her home was located, was designated a no-go zone due to its high radiation levels. But the Environment Ministry later designated the district as an area where radiation-tainted soil removed as part of the decontamination process would be reused to fill the land for farming.

The project is slated to begin by March 2021.

Shigihara was born in the town of Futaba, which is located on the coastline of Fukushima Prefecture — one of the areas hardest hit during the 2011 earthquake.

After graduating from high school in Futaba, she met Yoshiyuki, now 59, a native of Iitate, and the two married. She moved into his home, where her in-laws also lived, in Nagadoro in 1988 and helped out with farming. She raised her two daughters there, too.

The Nagadoro district, which is located in the southern part of the village, is a well-preserved area surrounded by mountains.

Different types of fish can be found in the nearby Hiso River, and Shigihara often made meals with fresh vegetables grown in the fields or plucked from the mountainsides.

“I bet you’re glad you married someone living in Iitate,” Shigihara’s late father-in-law used to say.

That peaceful lifestyle was upended in 2011. Life in evacuation, bleak as it was, continued for years, and the family did not know if they could ever return or what would happen to their home.

But, at the end of 2016, the government said, out of the blue, that it was planning to bury the contaminated soil to create arable land.

“Contaminated soil was supposed to be taken to an intermediate storage facility” where it’s preserved safely, Shigihara said. She was worried whether it was safe to bury it in the ground.

Naturally, the plan drew concern from local residents.

Deliberation between the central government, the village and its residents spanned a year.

Local residents were worried about whether it was possible for people to live there again if they were to go ahead with the project, or that a damaging reputation would haunt agricultural products harvested there.

But the government pressed on, saying it will be an experimental case to reuse contaminated soil in local areas. The government ensured it would also closely monitor radiation levels in the air and conduct tests to make sure the produce is safe.

In the end, locals gave in and the project was given the green light in November 2017.

In April 2018, 186 hectares of the Nagadoro administrative district’s 1,080 hectares were designated for the project. The village of Iitate proposed in May to lift evacuation orders.

At the end of last year, Shigihara’s cherished home was demolished for the plan. Watching it be torn down would have been too painful, so she waited to return until after it was done.

“Anything to help my hometown recover,” she said.

Fresh produce is being cultivated nearby and experiments have been conducted to plant crops on contaminated soil without adding a layer of uncontaminated soil.

In the long wait for Nagadoro’s residents to return home, the clock has finally begun moving again.

This section features topics and issues covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published Aug

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2020/09/11/national/iitate-fukushima-contaminated-soil/

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Has Turned These Grandparents Into Avid Radiation Testers

Takenori Kobayashi (left) and his wife Tomoko Kobayashi bring soil samples into what they refer to as a “grandma and grandpa lab” to test it for radiation, in Fukushima prefectures

September 11, 2020

Takenori Kobayashi lugs a garbage bag full of soil across a parking lot to an unmarked office. His wife, Tomoko, holds the door to a tiny work space with lab equipment and computers set up. On the edge of Fukushima’s former nuclear exclusion zone, this is the place the couple likes to call their “grandma and grandpa lab.”

It started as a makeshift operation in the city of Minamisoma the year after the 2011 nuclear disaster, when people — mostly elderly — returned to the area and were worried about high radiation levels in their food and soil.

“We’ve given up hope that our children and grandchildren will come back to live here,” Tomoko, 67, says. Most young people decided to start lives elsewhere rather than return, not wanting to take the risks with radiation. “But in order for them to come back and visit us,” she continues, “we need to know everything is safe. So we test it all.”

Citizen science like this flourished in Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in 2011, when a tsunami triggered explosions at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The wind carried radioactive material for miles, covering whole towns and neighborhoods with dangerous, yet invisible, particles. For weeks after the disaster, information was scarce and trust in the Japanese government plummeted. And now, almost a decade later, wide arrays of residents have taken it upon themselves to collect radiation data — from mothers worried about their kids to surfers monitoring beaches to individuals with Geiger counters in their homes — to help regain a sense of control.

Tomoko measures soil into a container that will go through a donated gamma counter, a big cylindrical machine that measures radioactive particles.

Inside the lab, the Kobayashis pair get to work. One measures out soil into small containers, the other starts labeling — so coordinated and practiced, it’s almost like a dance. They put the samples through a donated gamma counter, a big cylindrical machine that measures radioactive particles. Today, they’re testing soil from a nearby farm.

A handful of other residents help run the lab, and throughout the years, experts from nearby universities have come to teach them all about the different equipment and radiation science.

“All the grandparents here are radiation professionals now,” Takenori, 71, says with a smile.

Before the disaster, he was an accountant, and Tomoko helped run a nearby inn that has been in her family for generations. When the disaster happened, they were forced to evacuate for five years. But when they were allowed to come back home in 2016, they reopened the inn — and learned everything they could about radiation.

“We never thought we’d be doing this. What normal person would expect this?” says Tomoko with a chuckle. “But anyone who faces this kind of situation has to become a scientist to survive.”

Tomoko and Takenori were forced to evacuate Minamisoma after the disaster, but after five years, they returned to reopen Tomoko’s family inn.

Takenori points to colorful radiation maps of the area hanging on the wall. The couple made them, along with a team of volunteers, using donated Geiger counters — hand-held devices used to measure radiation — over the past few years as more neighborhoods reopened to the public.

“It is important for us to visualize the invisible,” he says. “We needed to see it.”

The maps show that Fukushima’s radiation levels are decreasing, because of both natural decay of particles and large-scale Japanese government decontamination efforts. But there are still a lot of hot spots — places where radiation is worryingly high. The authorities have tried to ease concerns, testing food in supermarkets and setting up radiation monitors in public parks, outside train stations or flashing along highways, but trust in the government is still extremely low. Many residents say they still feel best collecting information themselves.

Maps hang on the wall of the lab where the Kobayashis do radiation testing. The maps, one part of their work, were created by a team of volunteers who took air measurements. The maps show that the radiation levels in Fukushima are decreasing.

One of the original citizen data operations in Fukushima is called Safecast. The nonprofit organization formed in the immediate days after the disaster, when it became clear that accurate radiation information was not available. Safecast started building and distributing radiation monitors in Fukushima, and then putting all the data online for public use.

Now, nearly a decade later, Safecast has hundreds of devices in the area around the Daiichi nuclear power plant, with dozens of local residents helping to take hundreds of readings a day. There’s even one hanging in the Kobayashis’ inn.

“We found that simply allowing people to take measurements themselves, and have a way to compare it to government data was really important for their peace of mind, for their sense of agency,” says Azby Brown, the lead researcher at Safecast.

Azby Brown is the lead researcher at Safecast, an organization that formed in the immediate days after the disaster. It builds and distributes radiation monitors in Fukushima, and puts all the data online for public use.

Part of the reason people want to collect data themselves and compare it is because even after more information became available, it was often contradictory. The United Nations and the International Commission on Radiological Protection have published reports saying that radiation risks in Fukushima are low. Other organizations, like Greenpeace, dispute those findings. The Japanese government insists that the areas being reopened are safe. But many are quick to point out that the government raised the legal limit of radiation exposure in this part of Fukushima prefecture after the disaster — meaning that many of these areas wouldn’t necessarily be considered safe in other parts of Japan or the world.

Brown says that giving people the ability to collect and understand their own data can help them ease their anxiety and make decisions based on their personal comfort.

People stand near the ocean in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, commemorating the ninth anniversary of the tsunami and nuclear disaster.

“Some people will look at the data and say, ‘Oh my God, I’m leaving,’ ” Brown says. “Other people will say, ‘Oh, you know, it’s not as bad as I feared, maybe I’ll stay.’ And yet others will say, ‘Well, it’s pretty bad, but now at least I know what I’m facing and I know how hard it’s going to be.’ “

That last option is ultimately how the Kobayashis felt when they decided to come back after their neighborhood was reopened in 2016. By that point, Tomoko had gotten a Geiger counter. She remembers how empowering it felt to know and understand the reading. It was low enough for the pair, something they both felt comfortable with.

“I was so relieved,” she says, “I knew I could come home.”

But now, Tomoko says, a new invisible threat has her worried — the coronavirus. She says a lot of the anxiety everyone is feeling now reminds her of how she felt back in 2011. She has stocked up the inn with cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and cloth face masks. But the travel sector has plummeted during the pandemic.

Tomoko stands at the inn in Fukushima prefecture that has been in her family for generations.

“Radiation is a bit similar to the virus,” she says sitting at the kitchen table of her inn. “It doesn’t have any smell, you can’t feel it, you can’t see it.”

Tomoko says she is, of course, aware that the two are very different, but the parallels have been striking to her. She remembers back in March and April, when she saw cities like London and New York looking abandoned and empty on TV. It reminded her of the towns in Fukushima, right after the disaster. It brought back a lot, she says.

“As long as you have a Geiger counter, you can detect radiation,” she says. “But with the virus, there is no Geiger counter.”

Tomoko says, like many of us, she’s eager for science to help find one.

https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/907881531/fukushima-has-turned-these-grandparents-into-avid-radiation-testers

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Particles from Fukushima meltdown contained plutonium

fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium_1600Local residents who live around the 20km exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant undergo a screening test for possible radiation at screening center on September 13, 2011 in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

 

August 6th, 2020 Posted by Stanford

Microscopic particles emitted during the Fukushima nuclear disaster contained plutonium, according to a new study.

The microscopic radioactive particles formed inside the Fukushima reactors when the melting nuclear fuel interacted with the reactor’s structural concrete.

Nearly ten years after meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant caused a nuclear disaster, the new information about the extent and severity of the meltdown and the distribution patterns of the plutonium have broad implications for understanding the mobility of plutonium during a nuclear accident.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale,” says coauthor Rod Ewing, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University.

The researchers found that, due to loss of containment in the reactors, the particles were released into the atmosphere and many were then deposited many miles from the reactor sites.

Studies have shown that the cesium-rich microparticles, or CsMPs, are highly radioactive and primarily composed of glass (with silica from concrete) and radio-cesium (a volatile fission product formed in the reactors). But the environmental impact and their distribution is still an active subject of research and debate. The new work offers a much-needed insight into the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) meltdowns.

The study used an extraordinary array of analytical techniques in order to complete the description of the particles at the atomic-scale.

The researchers used a combination of advanced analytical techniques, including synchrotron-based micro-X-ray analysis, secondary ion mass spectrometry, and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy, to find and characterize the plutonium that was present in the CsMP samples. They initially discovered incredibly small uranium-dioxide inclusions, of less than 10 nanometers in diameter, inside the CsMPs; this indicated possible inclusion of nuclear fuel inside the particles.

Detailed analysis revealed, for the first-time, that plutonium-oxide concentrates were associated with the uranium, and that the isotopic composition of the uranium and plutonium matched that calculated for the FDNPP irradiated fuel inventory.

These results strongly suggest that the nano-scale heterogeneity that is common in normal nuclear fuels is still present in the fuel debris that remains inside the site’s damaged reactors,” says geochemist Satoshi Utsunomiya of Kyushu University, who led the team.

This is important information as it tells us about the extent [and] severity of the meltdown. Further, this is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.”

With regards to environmental impact, Utsunomiya says, “as we already know that the CsMPs were distributed over a wide region in Japan, small amounts of plutonium were likely dispersed in the same way.”

This is important information for the eventual decommissioning of the damaged reactors and the long-term management of their wastes.

The team “will continue to experiment with the CsMPs, in an effort to better understand their long-term behavior and environmental impact,” says Gareth T. W. Law, a coauthor on the paper from the University of Helsinki. It is now clear that CsMPs are an important vector of radioactive contamination from nuclear accidents.”

While the plutonium released from the damaged reactors is low compared to that of cesium; the investigation provides crucial information for studying the associated health impact,” says coauthor Bernd Grambow of Nantes/France.

Utsunomiya emphasizes that this is a great achievement of international collaboration. “It’s been almost ten years since the nuclear disaster at Fukushima,” he says, “but research on Fukushima’s environmental impact and its decommissioning are a long way from being over.”

The paper appears in Science of the Total Environment.

Additional researchers from Kyushu University, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Institute of Technology, National Institute of Polar Research, University of Helsinki, Paul Scherrer Institute, Diamond Light Source, and SUBATECH (IMT Atlantique, CNRS, University of Nantes) contributed to the work.

Source: Stanford University via Kyushu University

Original Study DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140539

https://www.futurity.org/fukushima-nuclear-disaster-plutonium-2417332-2/

 

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | 1 Comment

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

August 4, 2020

A radiology journal has retracted two papers about the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan over concerns that the researchers used “ethically inappropriate data” from the people they studied.

The articles, which appeared in the Journal of Radiological Protection in 2017, were written by  Makoto Miyazaki, of the Department of Radiation Health Management at Fukushima Medical University, and Ryugo Hayano, a professor of physics emeritus at the University of Tokyo. As we reported, both papers were initially subject to expressions of concern last year.

The papers have been cited a total of 26 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The retraction notice for “Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): 1. Comparison of individual dose with ambient dose rate monitored by aircraft surveys” reads:

Following the Expression of Concern issued on this article on 11 January 2019, IOP Publishing is now retracting this article. On 4 June 2020, IOP Publishing received confirmation from the authors of 2017 J. Radiol. Prot. 37 1 (the first in a series of two research articles) that ethically inappropriate data were used in the study reported in this article. This confirmation follows an investigation into the matter by Date City Citizen’s Exposure Data Provision Investigation Committee, which finds that some subjects within the study did not consent to their data being used for research, and it is unclear whether the unconsented data was provided to the author. IOP Publishing believes that the authors were unaware of the ethical problems with this data, which was supplied by a third party. The results of this investigation are available (in Japanese) at https://www.city.fukushima-date.lg.jp/soshiki/3/41833.html (IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection take no responsibility for the content at this link).

The readers are asked to note that, as part of the article submission process, the authors of the above referenced article confirmed that the research reported in the article adhered to the Ethical Policy of IOP Publishing and the Society for Radiological Protection.

As a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), this matter has been investigated by IOP Publishing in accordance with COPE guidelines and it was decided that the article should be retracted. The authors agree with this retraction and have fully complied with all investigations.

More details are expected to be forthcoming. However, in line with COPE guidelines, we are retracting this article promptly and will update this retraction notice with more information, as necessary and as it is released.

Based on the investigation report it has also been found that there is an error in table 1 of this article. The figure relating to glass badge holders in 2014 3Q is incorrect and should be close to N = 12 011. These data were also provided to the authors by the same third party and the authors were not aware of this mistake in advance of publication of the article.

The second paper, Individual external dose monitoring of all citizens of Date City by passive dosimeter 5 to 51 months after the Fukushima NPP accident (series): II. Prediction of lifetime additional effective dose and evaluating the effect of decontamination on individual dose,” carries an identical notice (minus the error).

Miyazaki, the corresponding author of the papers, has not responded to a request for comment.

Fallout over Fukushima fallout papers continues as two are retracted

A pair of radiation exposure studies on the people of Date City have been retracted. Authors Hayano and Miyazaki retracted the 2017 papers this week after years of dispute.

By early 2019 this issue had become too big to ignore. Hayano and Miyazaki attempted to claim unintentional mistakes and later tried to blame the city. An investigation into scientific misconduct at the University of Tokyo went nowhere as the statues required intent. Both researchers continued to claim the data manipulation that took months worth of data and applied it over years, making radiation exposures look less severe, was merely a spreadsheet accident.

Some of Hayano’s other Fukushima related studies raised questions about the methodology and potential biases. A 2014 study used a whole body counter scanning machine in small children but used an unusually short scan duration that may have grossly under counted their radiation exposures.

August 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment