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No One Wants You to Know How Bad Fukushima Might Still Be via Vice

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A year after the Wall Street Journal report, TEPCO announced that the Daiichi plant’s meltdown had released 2.5 times more radiation into the atmosphere than initially estimated. The utility cited broken radiation sensors within the plant’s proximity as the main reason for this deficit and, in the same statement, claimed that 99 percent of the total radiation released from the Daiichi plant occurred during the last three weeks of March 2011. That last part turned out to be untrue—a year later, in June 2013, TEPCO admitted that almost 80,000 gallons of contaminated water had been leaking into the Pacific Ocean every day since the meltdown. As of today, that leak continues.

This year marked the disaster’s third anniversary, but new accounts of mismanagement and swelling radiation levels continue to surface. In February, TEPCO revealed that groundwater sources near the Daiichi plant and 80 feet from the Pacific Ocean contained 20 million becquerels of the harmful radioactive element Strontium-90 per gallon (one becquerel equals one emission of radiation per second). Even though the internationally accepted limit for Strontium-90 contamination in water hovers around 120 becquerels per gallon, these measurements were hidden from Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for nearly four months. As a response, the national nuclear watchdog agency censured TEPCO for lacking a “fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation.”

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Dr. Caldicott was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School when she became president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, an American organization of doctors against nuclear warfare, climate change, and other environmental issues, in 1978. The organization, along with its parent body the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, a year after Caldicott left.

Last September, Caldicott organized a symposium at the New York Academy of Medicine entitled, “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima,” and has a book coming out on the issue this October. Her expertise on the subject is founded on academic research, but also her lifelong role as a doctor practicing preventative medicine in the nuclear age.

“Japan produces parts for nuclear reactors, like reactor containment vessels,” she said in an interview with VICE. “They’re heavily invested in nuclear power, even though they actually have access to nine times more renewable energy than Germany.”

Although Caldicott says what separates Fukushima from Chernobyl is the continuous leakage of radioactive material, in her eyes they’re unified by an institutionalized effort to keep the veil from lifting. “The Japanese government took three months to tell the world that there had been three meltdowns, even though the meltdowns had taken place in the first three days,” she said. “They’re not testing the food routinely. In fact, they’re growing food in highly radioactive areas, and there are stories that the most radioactive food is being canned and sold to third-world countries.”

“Some doctors in Japan are starting to get very worried about the fact that they’re seeing an increase in diseases but they’re being told not to tell their patients that the diseases are related to radiation,” she continued. “This is all because of money. Bottom line.”

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Despite these efforts, plenty has come to light. As of August 2014, we know that radiation levels around the Fukushima area continue to rise, even after three years of containment attempts. We know that doctors have found 89 cases of thyroid cancer in a study of less than 300,000 children from the Fukushima area—even though the normal incidence rate of this disease among youths is one or two for every million. We know that Japanese scientists are still reluctant to publicize their findings on Fukushima due to a fear of getting stigmatized by the national government.

We also know that US sailors who plotted a relief effort in Fukushima immediately after the disaster have reportedly been experiencing a well-up of different cancers, that monkeys living outside Fukushima’s restricted zone have lower blood cell counts than those living in other parts of northern Japan, and that the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War’s thorough critique of a recent Fukushima report by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation shows how the international community is severely underestimating the effects of the crisis.

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