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