Today marks the 7th anniversary since the devastating earthquakes and tsunami hit northern Japan, claiming up to 21,000 lives and triggering the second-worst nuclear disaster in history.
The multiple meltdowns and explosions at three of the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which is located in the heart of the tsunami-hit region, resulted in the contamination of a wide area of land and sea and caused the evacuation of some 160,000 residents living near the plant.
Naturally, one of the biggest fears from nuclear "fallout" is the impact on health, most crucially the effect of radionuclides, such as radioactive iodine and caesium. Studies following the A-bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Nevada nuclear tests and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, among others, showed an increase in prevalence of a variety of of cancers among survivors and residents. Of those cancers, thyroid cancer has been shown to be a concern, particularly because it has been shown to impact people under 18 the most -- including babies and unborn foetuses.
In the case of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, even the most conservative estimates -- including those made by US cancer expert Robert Peter Gale, who treated emergency workers who were irradiated (some of whom eventually died) by the explosion and massive release of radionuclides at ONE reactor at the Chernobyl plant -- say more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancers were found among children and adolescents as a result of ingesting large amounts of iodine.*** Since the Nevada tests, which were carried out between 1952 and 1957, up to 270,000 of the 170 million US residents alive at the time of those experiments developed extra thyroid cancers, according to Gale's 2013 book "Radiation."
In the case of Fukushima, tests on some 380,000 people who were under 18 at the time of the nuclear disaster have found some 200 "extra"** thyroid cancers (39 of them "suspected" cancers).
According to cancer experts, this is 10s of times more than the normally occurring thyroid cases in Japan's general population.
What is perplexing about the finds in Fukushima is that while in other historical cases such as Chernobyl, extra thyroid cancers believed to be tied to the radiation emitted by the nuclear plant did not begin to show up in residents until around a decade after the disasters, in Fukushima they started to show up just a few years after the disasters.
This has led scientists to believe they are not connected to the disaster itself.
One of them is Imperial College London cancer expert Geraldine Thomas. In one interview with Dr. Thomas I was told about something known as the "screening effect," where extensive tests on patients turn up "suspected" thyroid nodes/lumps that "almost certainly will be treated, even though treatment might not be required." What this means is that, many people who have lumps on their thyroids that are not necessarily tied to radiation and quite possibly not even to cancer go through life completely unaware that they exist. They are, in many cases, harmless. However, the moment they are tested and the lumps revealed, the "natural" result is that they will be treated, possibly through a surgical procedure that might actually have not been required (and potentially be of even more danger to the patient than the lump itself).
Kenji Shibuya, a public health specialist at University of Tokyo, is another specialist who would seem to agree with Thomas. According to a report in Science magazine, Shibuya said after the first thyroid cancers were detected back in 2011 that the extensive screenings were leading to an “overdiagnosis and overtreatment,” of dozens of children who were having their thyroids removed, perhaps unnecessarily.
Further clouding the issue is how/where the relevant radionuclide -- iodine-131 -- was dispersed following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. While government data showing where these radionuclides were dispersed was sadly lacking -- an issue I discuss in my book Yoshida's Dilemma -- it is widely believed that prevailing winds took them out to sea. Gale says in his book that even if that was not the case and the winds had taken them inland, the Japanese diet -- which is high in iodine due to the widespread consumption of fish, seaweed and other iodine-rich marine products -- "the danger would not have been as grave as one might think."
"The danger to people from iodine-131 released in the Chernobyl reactor meltdown ... was strikingly dissimilar from that released in the Fukushima explosions," Gale writes.
A major difference between the two is how quickly and efficiently the Japanese cut the food supply chain after the disaster, adds Thomas. "While Chernobyl children continued to consume contaminated milk and other dairy produce, Japanese children ate uncontaminated food brought in from elsewhere," she says.
A final word on this point: As reported in my book, independent tests of soil from rice paddies by local farmers and other residents living inland from the nuclear plant, showed fairly large deposits of radionuclides INCLUDING iodine. Are we to believe, then that these were already present in the soil?
Nonetheless, scientists such as Thomas are adamant that the occurrence of cancers among Fukushima residents will not take place for another three years at least.
And yet, I have personally interviewed residents, nuclear plant workers and disaster first respondents who have developed cancers that they believe, or have been told, were a result of the nuclear disaster. As one of the lawyers representing some of those first respondents (who are in the process of suing Fukushima plant operator TEPCO)* says, his clients were shown to be healthy and fit before the disasters. "So why are they getting cancer and other illnesses? That can only be because they were exposed to radiation. It can’t just be a coincidence.”
Thomas, Gale and other (often pro-nuclear) cancer experts seem to be in agreement about one thing: while it is impossible to incontrovertibly link nuclear plant radiation to cancers, it is also impossible to say that link does not exist. (No experiments to date have revealed a DNA marker connecting the two, according to Thomas). If science has been unable to provide 100 percent verification in this regard, does it make sense to assume that thyroid or other cancers that occur 10 years or more after a nuclear disaster are connected but those occurring under 10 years are not? It seems ludicrous to say something unprovable suddenly becomes provable at a certain point, and that point is 10 years, even if we have historical "evidence" suggesting that is the case.
*His clients are US sailors and other navy officials who were taking part in relief operations following the March 11 2011 disasters. They claim that their illnesses -- including thyroid and other cancers -- were the result of a plume of radiation from the Fukushima plant that passed over their boats when anchored in the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles northwest of the plant.
**"extra" indicates "in addition" to what would be normally found in the population.
***If discovered at an early stage aught thyroid cancer is often cured by removing the thyroid gland. In the case of the 6,000 cases following Chernobyl, most were not life-threatening. Indeed, according to a 2006 UN report, there were just 15 childhood thyroid cancer deaths believed to be attributable to the Chernobyl disaster.
According to a report in the The Bangkok Post an environmental action group in Thailand is protesting the import of fish from Japan that was sourced in Fukushima and being served at restaurants in the Thai capital..
The Stop Global Warming group has demanded that the Thai Food and Drug Administration reveal both the name of the importer and the Japanese restaurants serving the imported seafood to make consumers aware about where the Fukushima fish is being served.
According to a report last week, Thailand made its first import of fish from Fukushima since the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which underwent multiple meltdowns and explosions following massive earthquakes and tsunami that struck the region on March 11 2011.
Up to 21,000 people lost their lives in the disasters in Japan’s Tohoku region and 160,000 Fukushima residents were evacuated from their homes following a massive release of dangerous radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant.
In the the Japan Times report, the recently imported fish was to be served at a dozen Japanese restaurants in Bangkok. Stop Global Warming is demanding the names of the restaurants be revealed to prevent consumers being put at risk of possible caesium contamination, the Bangkok Post reported.
Doubts were also expressed that the Thai fisheries department (FDA) had conducted tests on the fish shipment to confirm whether or not it was safe.
According to the FDA the shipment had undergone inspections and diners should not be concerned.
The report comes just a week after South Korea said it will maintain its 7-year restrictions on seafood imports from Japan as it prepared to appeal against a World Trade Organisation ruling vetoing bans on Japanese fisheries products that were introduced following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Since 2011, South Korea has banned 50 types of seafood caught in the waters near the Fukushima plant, though it has continued to import fish from Japan.
What’s more, another 24 nations still have some import restrictions on Japanese seafood products that were implemented as a result of the Fukushima disaster, according to news reports.
As we approach the 7th anniversary of the 2011 disasters in northern Japan, reports are coming through of a ball of caesium that has been found in a Fukushima river.
Caesium is one of the radionuclides that was emitted from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following the 2011 nuclear disaster.
According to broadcaster TBS the ball of caesium was found by a team of Tokyo University researchers in a river about 5 km north of the plant, which experienced multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions following massive earthquakes and tsunami that hit the region in March 2011.
Experiments have shown that exposure to radiation from caesium can result in malignant tumors and shortening of life.
The broadcaster reports that the find of the small glass-like ball of matter was made last year, but has only just been made public.
In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster a huge quality of radioactive caesium was one of a number of poisonous radionuclides that were emitted from the plant, causing the evacuation of some 160,000 residents. This caesium, however, was said to easily dissolve in water.
The recent find indicates that there are other clumps of the radionuclide that are insoluble in water. It is believed that this means they will remain in the atmosphere considerably longer.
The TBS report stated that this is the first time such caesium balls have been found following the nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture, which is located approximately 250 km north of Tokyo.
However, it is not the first solid material thought to have been emitted from the plant that has been found nearby. A recent study by a team of international scientists reported that among other non-gaseous materials emitted from the plant following the March 2011 disasters were uranium, which has a half-life of 4.5 billion years.
A type of radioactive caesium called Caesium-137 has a much shorter lifespan of roughly 30 years, but its high fission yield means it is abundant even in spent nuclear fuel and can be harmful to human health for many years.
According to one Stanford University report: "Its half-life of about 30 years is long enough that objects and regions contaminated by cesium-137 remain dangerous to humans for a generation or more, but it is short enough to ensure that even relatively small quantities of cesium-137 release dangerous doses of radiation."
The recent find is reportedly only a small sample and not believed to be a major health hazard to the surrounding environment. However, experts remain unsure how it made its way into the river and remaining in an undissolved state."One high possibility is that caesium balls are carried by the river and into the sea," commented University of Tokyo Professor Yoshio Takahashi.
Further research will be carried out to understand the exact composition of the matter. However, it is believed that this is the first time for such a find to be made in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster and could provide further clarification as to the exact nature of the Fukushima disaster.
A recently released study indicates uranium and other solid radioactive micro-particles were among the dangerous materials that contaminated the environment following the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima.
Previous reports suggested that only volatile radioactive gases such as caesium and iodine had caused contamination following the multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which were triggered by massive earthquakes and tsunami on March 11, 2011 and led to the evacuation of some 160,000 residents.
The new study, which is a collaborative investigation by a team of international scientists, claims that additionally the likes of uranium and technetium were among the contaminants found in soil samples inside the nuclear exclusion zone that was set up following the disaster.
“Our research strongly suggests there is a need for further detailed investigation on Fukushima fuel debris, inside, and potentially outside the nuclear exclusion zone,” said Dr. Gareth Law, a lecturer in analytical radiochemistry at the University of Manchester and one of the authors of the report.
Uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and can be lethal. Exposure to high doses can result in kidney failure and death once it enters the blood stream. It can also irreparably damage the immune system, as was the case during the 1999 nuclear disaster at a uranium reprocessing facility in Tokai, Japan, where two workers died and many more fell sick following an illegally conducted preparation of nuclear fuel using enriched uranium.
It can also lead to cancers, according to a website produced by Argonne National Laboratory for the US Department of Energy.
According to the new study on uranium and other deposits in Fukushima, nano fragments found in soil samples collected from paddy fields up to 4 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant provide proof that uranium was among the materials released during the disaster. The particles that would have been released from the Fukushima reactors would be a fraction of the width of a human hair, meaning they could easily have been inhaled by residents.
The study was conducted by experts from universities and research institutes around the world, including those in the UK , France , the U.S. and Japan and was published in the journal Environmental Science Technology.
“It was a shock to discover that nanoscale fragments of uranium dioxides were released into the environment from Fukushima Daiichi,” commented lead researcher Dr. Satoshi Utsunomiya of Kyushu University’s department of chemistry, who is an expert in engineered nanoparticles in the environment, and how they interact with biological material such as microbes and the human respiratory system. “Yet, there are still many unknowns when it comes to overall information about the debris within the reactors and the impact on the human body. Until the day comes when the nuclear debris is removed from the reactors, it is extremely important to persevere with the continued and careful examination of the debris samples (collected so far) and to accumulate accurate information.”
The new findings could mean the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant, which is currently estimated to take 40 years, could be an even bigger undertaking than originally believed.
“Having better knowledge of the released microparticles is also vitally important as it provides much needed data on the status of the melted nuclear fuels in the damaged reactors,” Utsunomiya was reported elsewhere as saying. “This will provide extremely useful information for the decommissioning strategy.”
The health impacts of the 2011 disaster has been widely debated among scientists. Some, such as Imperial College, London cancer specialist Geraldine Thomas, have praised the post-disaster management, particularly the evacuations and quick severing of the food chain. Unlike the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Ukraine, where delayed evacuations and failure to prevent residents consuming contaminated dairy products led to cancer and other illnesses, such an expeditious response at Fukushima ensured health consequences will be so low as to be inconsequential, Thomas says.
Others, however, have criticised the post-disaster response, pointing to the poor distribution if iodine tablets (to prevent thyroid cancers) and the failure to evacuate residents from some of the areas that were most heavily contaminated by the radiation (including Iitate Village). Indeed, up to 200 thyroid cancer cases have been detected in Fukushima children so far and according to one 2016 study, Japan can expect to see an additional 10,000 cancer cases in the region most impacted by the nuclear disaster.
Other issues that are often criticised include plant operator TEPCO’s failure to accurately report on the exact extent and nature of radioactive leaks from the plant — including leaks into the Pacific Ocean.
The latest findings will further concerns, particularly by those who fall in the anti-nuclear corner, about the true extent of the nuclear disaster, especially in light of the government’s continued attempts to return evacuees to their homes — which skeptics believe are merely an effort to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community about the true impact of the 2011 disasters.
A fisheries staffer lines up blue marlin fish on the earthquake-damaged floor of the fish market at Shiogama city, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan on 28 May, 2011. The market, which reopened for business in early May 2011 is located in one of the prefectures whose seafood is currently banned by South Korea. Photographer: Rob Gilhooly
South Korea says it will maintain its 7-year restrictions on seafood imports from Japan as it prepares to appeal against the World Trade Organisation’s ruling vetoing bans on Japanese fisheries products that were introduced following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
That ruling was made after a WTO dispute panel ruled that the restrictions, while justified in the wake of the disaster, violated the WTO’s sanitary and phytosanitary agreement if continued.
The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was triggered by a massive tsunami, which caused a total blackout at the plant and led to explosions and meltdowns at three of the 6 reactors there. Radioactive contamination forced the evacuation of some 160,000 residents living near the facility and in the months that followed millions of tons of contaminated water is know to have leaked into the Pacific Ocean. Traces of that contamination have been detected as far away as the West coast of the United States.
However, Japan has long claimed — with support from the International Atomic Energy Agency — that the levels of contamination are now safe and in 2015 filed an objection with the WTO regarding South Korea’s continued import bans. Those bans were introduced due to concerns of the radioactive continuation on certain fish caught in Japanese waters near the Fukushima plant.
Japan also complained about the additional testing and certification requirements that had been placed by South Korea on Japanese fish caught from eight prefectures near Fukushima.
The ruling notwithstanding, Seoul is still allowed to keep its bans in place while it appeals the decision and raw WTO makes a final ruling, which reportedly could take more than a year.
Interestingly, while South Korea has banned 50 types of seafood caught in the waters near the plant, it states it has continued to import fish from Japan since 2011 — to the tune of almost three-quarters of a million tons. Of that total, only around 0.03 percent was returned for additional radiation tests.
What’s more, 24 other nations still have some import limitations on Japanese seafood products, according to news reports.
Seoul’s stance, taken it says to protect Korean consumers from potential ill effects of contaminated seafood, is seen as week and uninformed as it has undertaken just seven sampling of Japanese seafood to date and has failed to produce any reports relating to the issue over the past seven years. Additionally, a committee of civilian radioactivity experts has brought to ceased operations monitoring Japanese seafood. “In a word, the authorities were ill-prepared for the dispute,” (over the WTO ruling), says an editorial in the Korea Times.
“Now, related government ministries and agencies should waste no efforts to collect scientific and objective data to prove the harmful effects,” the KT editorial continues. “They also need to address Japan’s refusal to cooperate in probing seawater contamination near the disaster-hit area.”
South Korea should also seek backing from the other 24 countries that took similar measures in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe, among then U.S., Russia and Argentina, it states.
Either way, Seoul is adamant it will maintain its ban. According to a Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy statement, the government will appeal the ruling “to safeguard public health and safety” and “Regardless of the decision, the current import ban will be put in place until the WTO’s dispute settlement procedure ends.”
Japan’s minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ken Saito said at a news conference that Japan will “call on South Korea to sincerely and promptly correct their measures”.
The district court in Fukushima has judged that the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant crippled by nuclear catastrophe in 2011 must compensate relatives of a 102-year-old man who committed suicide rather than evacuating his home following the disasters.
Plant operator TEPCO has been ordered to pay ¥15.2 million (US$143,400) in damages to the family of Fumio Okubo, who was the oldest resident of Iitate, a village located 40km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where multiple explosions and reactor meltdowns occurred following a massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the area in March 2011.
In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster — the second worst in history after Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986 — around 150,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes. Residents in Iitate — which was one of the villages most highly contaminated by the nuclear disaster — were not instructed to flee until a month later. Unable to face the prospect of evacuating, Okubo ended his life, the court decided.
According tot he lawyer for Okubo's family, the Fukushima District Court said the suicide was a result of “strong stress” caused by the evacuation order and and Okubo’s concerns that he would be a burden to his family.
“It is significant that the court recognised the eldest man in the village who would have lived out his final days in his homeland was hit by such a terrible tragedy,” he added.
According to local news, the family had originally demanded compensation worth almost four times the amount that was settled on by the court, but there is no plan for an appeal.
TEPCO, which says it will consider the ruling before deciding on further action, has already been ordered to pay damages in relation to two other suicides by Fukushima residents who killed themselves after evacuating their homes in the radiation-contaminated region.
There is an interesting article on the website of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists discussing the bill recently passed in the US House Science, Space, and Technology Committee aimed at boosting low-dose radiation research.
The bipartisan bill would potentially set in motion a $96 million research effort to take a closer look at the real health effects of ionizing radiation in the low-dose region, defined as being below 100 millisieverts (roughly the equivalent of 10 CT scans, the article states, which in itself is misleading as CT scans can be as low as 1 mSv, depending on which part of the anatomy is being scanned).
Opinions among experts regarding the impact of low radiation doses exposure vary widely and is discussed in some depth in Yoshida’s Dilemma. Those who insist the risks of developing cancers from low doses point to data gathered from survivors of the 1945 Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where long-term cancer risk for adults receiving a dose of 100 millisieverts increased by 1 percent. That risk reportedly decreased in proportion to decreased dose rate.
Some scientists, such as Imperial College London cancer specialist Gerry Thomas and Oxford University professor emeritus Wade Allison, are insistent that such levels are harmless and impossible to unequivocally link (scientifically speaking) to cancers. On the other hand some experts believe even much smaller doses — even doses as small as 10 mSv per hour, can cause DNA damage leading to cancer. Indeed, it has been widely documented that CT scans, which like X-rays and PET scans use ionizing radiation, can damage DNA and cause cancer (although the National Cancer Institute says those risks are relatively small).
However, debate has continued about this proportional risk — the so-called “linear no-threshold” model. “Some experts argue that the cancer risk drops off more quickly than estimated at lower doses, while others say that the risk at very low doses might actually be underestimated by the linear no-threshold model,” the BAS article states. “A small group of researchers insists that radiation has beneficial effects at low doses, with some claiming that conspiracies dating back to the 1950s held back the truth of this theory … .”
Should the new US bill fair better than its predecessors and be enacted into law, there is hope among the pro-nuclear sector that the subsequent research “will give the nuclear industry a boost, by reducing public fears of radiation-caused cancer,” the article states.
“I doubt that renewed radiation research would achieve that goal, but that’s not to say that it would be useless,” writes Jan Beyea, a nuclear physicist who has been involved in the low-dose radiation debate for over 40 years.
The article has triggered some interesting debate already — arguments such as those between Benusedobserver and Rod Adams in the comments below the article are well worth reading and will help to clarify why Beyea is not entirely optimistic that the stated goal being attainable.
The full BAS article can be found here
Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant operator TEPCO has been hit with another order by a Japanese court to compensate residents who were affected by the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the plant.
A district court in Tokyo told Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) it must pay a total of ¥1.1 billion yen to residents of Odaka, a district of Fukushima lying 18 km from the stricken plant.
Each of the 318 plaintiffs will receive ¥11.8 million (roughly US$110,000) — one-tenth of the amount they had originally sought from the utility — for financial and psychological hardships they claimed to have suffered from the disaster at the plant, which suffered multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions, causing widespread radioactive contamination.
Around 160,000 residents living in districts near the plant were evacuated in the days and weeks following the nuclear accident, which was triggered by deadly earthquakes and tsunami.
Osaka is one of the districts that has been been decontaminated and declared by the government as being once more habitable, though only a few dozen have decided to return due to financial and health concerns, according to one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs.
"Especially those with small children are worried... while elderly people are unable to come back without any supporting family," Osamu Oki told AFP.
So far around 12,000 evacuees have filed numerous lawsuits against TEPCO and the Japanese government.
In the US, meanwhile, TEPCO and rector manufacturer General Electric are being sued by hundreds of US sailors who took part in relief operations following the disasters and have since fallen sick, allegedly due to radiation exposure.
Up to 21,000 people lost their lives following the March 2011 disasters in Japan’s northeast.
In other news lethal levels of radiation has been reported by TEPCO at the Fukushima plant almost seven years after the disasters. is ongoing and is estimated to take a total of 40 years.
The utility announced it had detected 8 Sieverts (Sv) per hour of radiation at one of the three containment vessels that were badly damaged during the disasters.
According to experts such a level is highly dangerous — one hour’s exposure to that amount could be fatal. However, it is to be expected and unlikely to pose a threat if nobody goes near it.
TEPCO along with a variety of other private and public entities are currently developing technology to prevent human involvement with the eventual removal of nuclear debris that remains in the plant’s stricken reactors, which could take another 10-15 years to materialise.
SOURCE: AFP, NHK, Tokyo Shimbun
The South China Morning Post published a feature story I write about the mental and other illnesses being suffered by US sailors and Fukushima nuclear plant workers allegedly as a result of exposure to the radiation that leaked from the Fukushima no. 1 plant following the March 2011 nuclear disaster. While experts confirm that plant workers and possibly some other first respondents are likely to continue to suffer mental health issues for years to come, they dismiss the likelihood of cancers and other physical illnesses being connected to the radiation from the nuclear accident. The full story can be read online here
In April this year I wrote a story about a man who was suing Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. after he developed leukaemia following a stint working at the crippled plant.
Japanese news sources are now reporting about another former worker at the plant who Japan's labor ministry also has certified as being eligible for work-related compensation after developing the same form of cancer due to radiation exposure.
This time the worker, also is in his 40s, is an employee of TEPCO who worked at the Fukushima plant for more than 19 years, including a 9-month period after the March 2011 nuclear accident.
According to the labor ministry the unnamed worker checked out damage from the quake-generated tsunami and injected cooling water into the No.1 and No.3 reactors during those 9 months.
The cores of those two reactors and one other went into meltdown after the plant lost all power sources following devastating earthquakes and tsunami that inundated the facility.
The worker was exposed to just under 100 millisieverts of radiation, which the labor ministry says is sufficient to cause leukaemia. He was diagnosed with the disease in February 2016.
He becomes the 4th Fukushima worker to be awarded compensation due to leukemia or thyroid cancer thought to have been directly related to undertaking containment work at the plant following the disasters. He also becomes the 14th nuclear plant worker since 1976 to gain official recognition by the health ministry having an illness that is directly related to his place of work. In my april story, the former worker said he believed there were many more, though their stories were never heard due to being paid off or other reasons.