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“We’re an easy target for recruiters,” one homeless man explains. “We turn up here with all our bags, wheeling them around and we’re easy to spot. They say to us, are you looking for work? Are you hungry? And if we haven’t eaten, they offer to find us a job.” As Reuters exposes, 3 years after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the meltdown at Fukushima’s nuclear facility, Northern Japanese homeless are willing to accept minimum wage (from yakuza-based entities) for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.
He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100a head.
“This is how labor recruiters like me come in every day,”
It’s also how Japan finds people willing to accept minimum wage for one of the most undesirable jobs in the industrialized world: working on the $35 billion, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up radioactive fallout across an area of northern Japan larger than Hong Kong.
In January, October and November, Japanese gangsters were arrested on charges of infiltrating construction giant Obayashi Corp’s network of decontamination subcontractorsand illegally sending workers to the government-funded project.
In the October case, homeless men were rounded up at Sendai’s train station by Sasa, then put to work clearing radioactive soil and debris in Fukushima City for less than minimum wage, according to police and accounts of those involved. The men reported up through a chain of three other companies to Obayashi, Japan’s second-largest construction company.
Obayashi, which is one of more than 20 major contractors involved in government-funded radiation removal projects, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. But the spate of arrests has shown that members of Japan’s three largest criminal syndicates – Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai – had set up black-market recruiting agencies under Obayashi.
“We are taking it very seriously that these incidents keep happening one after another,” said Junichi Ichikawa, a spokesman for Obayashi. He said the company tightened its scrutiny of its lower-tier subcontractors in order to shut out gangsters, known as the yakuza. “There were elements of what we had been doing that did not go far enough.”
Reuters found 56 subcontractors listed on environment ministry contracts worth a total of $2.5 billion in the most radiated areas of Fukushima that would have been barred from traditional public works because they had not been vetted by the construction ministry.
“If you started looking at every single person, the project wouldn’t move forward. You wouldn’t get a tenth of the people you need,” said Yukio Suganuma, president of Aisogo Service, a construction company that was hired in 2012 to clean up radioactive fallout from streets in the town of Tamura.
“There are many unknown entities getting involved in decontamination projects,” said Igarashi, a former advisor to ex-Prime Minister Naoto Kan. “There needs to be a thorough check on what companies are working on what, and when. I think it’s probably completely lawless if the top contractors are not thoroughly checking.”
“I don’t ask questions; that’s not my job,” Sasa said in an interview with Reuters. “I just find people and send them to work. I send them and get money in exchange. That’s it. I don’t get involved in what happens after that.”
“The construction industry is 90 percent run by gangs.”
It would seem, perhaps, that France (and the US) need their own nuclear accident to unleash an employment boom…
Radiation cleanup work in 11 areas in Fukushima Prefecture was scheduled to be completed by March 31 under a government plan announced in January last year, according to Kyodo. The environment ministry expects a delay in the project to the year beginning April 2016 amid opposition from locals to the setup of temporary storage facilities, Kyodo said.
A record earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 wrecked the nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), causing radioactive leaks that forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people. The government said last week it will assume decontamination costs from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns in order to accelerate the rebuilding of the region.
Decontamination costs near the Fukushima site, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo, are estimated at about 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion), the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters said in a statement Dec. 20. The government plans to recover the costs through a sale of its shares in Tepco.
The environment ministry will release a revised schedule for the cleanup work soon, according to Kyodo.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gearoid Reidy at firstname.lastname@example.org
It seems US sailors aren’t the only ones who three short years after the Fukushima disaster are being stricken by cancers and other radiation-induced diseases. For once, the media blackout surrounding the Japanese nuclear power plant tragedy appears to have crumbled, and at least a portion of the truth has been revealed. Hong Kong’s SCMP reports that fifty-nine young people in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Notably, all of newly diagnosed were younger than 18 at the time of the nuclear meltdown in the area in March 2011. They were identified in tests by the prefectural government, which covered 239,000 people by the end of September.
And while it is not rocket surgery to put two and two together, now that the data is in the public domain, here come the experts to explain it away.
On one hand, there are those who seemingly have not been bribed by the Abe government to “bend” reality just a bit in the name of confidence. People such as Toshihide Tsuda, a professor of epidemiology at Okayama University who has called upon the government to prepare for a possible increase in cases in the future. “The rate at which children in Fukushima prefecture have developed thyroid cancer can be called frequent, because it is several times to several tens of times higher,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun quoted him as saying.
He compared the figures in Fukushima with cancer registration statistics throughout Japan from 1975 to 2008 that showed an annual average of five to 11 people in their late teens to early 20s developing cancer for every 1 million people.
And then come those who probably would still be touting the great job Tepco is doing in containing the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, even though Tepco itself has now admitted the exploded nuclear power plant is out of control.
Tetsuya Ohira, a professor of epidemiology at Fukushima Medical University, disagreed. It was not scientific to compare the Fukushima tests with cancer registry statistics, he argued. Scientific? Or notpolitically feasible for a prime minister who is desperate to restart domestic nuclear power plants, since Abenomics is getting monkeyhammered thanks to soaring energy and food import costs (and, among other factors, leading to a crash in Abe’s popularity rating), and any reality leaking, pardong the pun, from Fukushima will end both that ambition, and his political career prematurely.
Shockingly, a month ago, prefectural officials deemed it unlikely that the increase in suspected and confirmed cases of cancer was linked to radiation exposure. Their “logic” is that in the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, it was not until four or five years after the accident that thyroid cancer cases surged. Apparently the thought that the local cancer victims may have been subject to radiation orders of magnitude higher than Chernobyl thanks to a lying government which consistently repeated that “all is well” has not crossed anyone’s mind.
“It is known that radioactive iodine is linked to thyroid cancer. Through the intake of food, people may absorb and accumulate it inside glands,” said Dr Choi Kin, a former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association.
Children might absorb more of it than adults because they were still growing, he said, but it remained to be proven that the radioactive iodine came from the nuclear disaster instead of the normal environment.
Bottom line “experts” are divided about whether the Fukushima cancers are caused by nuclear radiation… which, perhaps, is why they are experts. As everyone else knows, a surge in thyroid cancer in a population in close proximity to an exploded power plant, can only be due to one thing: non-participation in the ponzi stock market. So start buying stocks, or else the p53 mutations are coming for you too!
General Electric Knew Its Reactor Design Was Unsafe … So Why Isn’t GE Getting Any Heat for Fukushima? Washington’s Blog
GE Engineers and American Government Officials Warned of Dangerous Nuclear Design
5 of the 6 nuclear reactors at Fukushima are General Electric Mark 1 reactors.
GE knew decades ago that the design was faulty.
ABC News reported in 2011:
Thirty-five years ago, Dale G. Bridenbaugh and two of his colleagues at General Electric resigned from their jobs after becoming increasingly convinced that the nuclear reactor design they were reviewing — the Mark 1 — was so flawed it could lead to a devastating accident.
Questions persisted for decades about the ability of the Mark 1 to handle the immense pressures that would result if the reactor lost cooling power, and today that design is being put to the ultimate test in Japan. Five of the six reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which has been wracked since Friday’s earthquake with explosions and radiation leaks, are Mark 1s.
“The problems we identified in 1975 were that, in doing the design of the containment, they did not take into account the dynamic loads that could be experienced with a loss of coolant,” Bridenbaugh told ABC News in an interview. “The impact loads the containment would receive by this very rapid release of energy could tear the containment apart and create an uncontrolled release.”
Still, concerns about the Mark 1 design have resurfaced occasionally in the years since Bridenbaugh came forward. In 1986, for instance, Harold Denton, then the director of NRC’s Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, spoke critically about the design during an industry conference.
“I don’t have the same warm feeling about GE containment that I do about the larger dry containments,” he said, according to a report at the time that was referenced Tuesday in The Washington Post.
“There is a wide spectrum of ability to cope with severe accidents at GE plants,” Denton said. “And I urge you to think seriously about the ability to cope with such an event if it occurred at your plant.”
When asked if [the remedial measures performed on the Fukushima reactors by GE before 2011] was sufficient, he paused. “What I would say is, the Mark 1 is still a littlemore susceptible to an accident that would result in a loss of containment.”
The New York Times reported that other government officials warned about the dangers inherent in GE’s Mark 1 design:
In 1972, Stephen H. Hanauer, then a safety official with the Atomic Energy Commission, recommended that the Mark 1 system be discontinued because it presented unacceptable safety risks. Among the concerns cited was the smaller containment design, which was more susceptible to explosion and rupture from a buildup in hydrogen — a situation that may have unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Later that same year, Joseph Hendrie, who would later become chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a successor agency to the atomic commission, said the idea of a ban on such systems was attractive. But the technology had been so widely accepted by the industry and regulatory officials, he said, that “reversal of this hallowed policy, particularly at this time, could well be the end of nuclear power.”
This faulty design has made the Fukushima disaster much worse.
Specifically, the several reactors exploded … scattering clumps of radioactive fuel far and wide.
In addition, the Mark 1 included an absolutely insane design element: storing huge quantities of radioactive fuel rods 100 feet up in the air.
The Christian Science Monitor noted:
A particular feature of the 40-year old General Electric Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactor model – such as the six reactors at the Fukushima site – is that each reactor has a separate spent-fuel pool. These sit near the top of each reactor and adjacent to it ….
Indeed, the fuel pools have caught fires several times, and now constitute an enormous danger.
As we noted last year, the spent fuel pool at Fukushima reactor number 3 is in a heap of rubble (spent fuel pool designated as “SFP” in the lower left):
Nuclear fuel rod expert Gundersen says the pool at unit 3 is in much worse shape than at 4:
Unit 3 is worse [than No. 4]. Mechanically its rubble, the pool is rubble. It’s got less fuel in it [than unit 4, but] structurally the pool has been dramatically weakened. And, god nobody has even gotten near it yet.
He’s right. It’s too radioactive for Tepco to even get a look at what’s going on in the reactor pools at units 1 through 3, and they have no idea how to do it. Indeed, the technology does not even exist to approach those reactors, as the high radiation levels quickly destroy even robots.
Heck of a job, GE …
Postscript: Unfortunately, there are 23 virtually-identical GE Mark 1 reactors in the U.S.
But GE and the American government are largely responsible as well.
Two ongoing environmental events are affecting all life on the planet, even if it’s not yet noticeable where you live. Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock is watching climate change and Fukushima very closely. In this program, he summarizes the latest reports and predictions. Extreme weather events are increasing and worsening. Ocean dead zones are growing. Methane from melting permafrost is warming the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide.
The Fukushima nuclear site has already increased airborne radioactivity in the northern hemisphere. Ocean-borne radioactivity will be hitting the North American west coast by 2014. And no one knows what to do about it. But Alex has ideas on how we can respond individually and positively. Episode 251.
Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight – 3 Dec, 2013 – The tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has led to the toughest nuclear cleanup ever. Radioactive water is still poisoning the sea – and it could take 40 years to fix the mess. Is Japan up to the challenge?
Fukushima’s fuel rod removal plan – 8 Nov, 2013 – When I asked the same experts how long it would be until reactors one, two and three could be dismantled, they shook their heads. When I asked them where they thought the melted reactor cores were, they shook their heads again.
Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant – 26 Nov, 2013 – State secrecy law carrying threat of 10-year jail term criticised as attack on democracy but PM denies trying to gag press.
“[The Odds of] Longer Term Chronic Effects, Cancer Or Genetic Effects … Cannot Be Said To Be Zero”
It is very difficult to obtain accurate information on the dangers from Fukushima radiation to residents of the West Coast of North America and Hawaii.
On the one hand, there is fear-mongering and “we’re all going to die” type hysteria.
On the one hand, there is a tendency for governments to cover up the truth to avoid panic and deflect blame for bad policy. Japan is poised to pass a bill which would outlaw most reporting on Fukushima. And the U.S. government is not even monitoring radiation levels in the waters off the U.S. coast. As the Cape Cod Times reports:
With the first plume of water carrying radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit the U.S. West Coast any day now, [the senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ken Buesseler’s] latest project is to convince the federal government to monitor radiation levels in the sea water.
“We don’t have a U.S. agency responsible for radiation in the ocean,” Buesseler said. “It’s really bizarre.”
He spent this past week in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, asking them to come up with some sort of plan to keep tabs on levels of radionuclides in the ocean.
Buesseler also talked with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who agreed the federal government has a role in making sure the oceans are healthy and safe.
But Markey said in an email that an increased federal role is not likely [because of budget cuts].
Indeed, Dr. Buesseler points out the circular reasoning which the government is using (at 10:00):
I completely agree that no radiation has been seen in the regards that we’re not really testing for it [laughter] in any organized way … We have very few data; it’s not really being organized. The government says we don’t really need to do that because we’re predicting very low levels. On the other hand, you could argue I’d very much like to see study on our side of the ocean just to confirm these values and build some confidence with the public that’s been concerned about this. They’re right to be concerned — as scientists we’re telling them they shouldn’t be, but it’d be nice to have a few more data points to fill that gap … I’ve been told that there’s very little testing going on.
People are certainly concerned. As the Wall Street Journal notes:
Water containing radioactive materials has been leaking from storage tanks and drains at the plant into groundwater and the nearby ocean, raising concerns across the world that currents might spread radioactivity to faraway places.
But people don’t know where to get accurate information on the risks involved.
This essay provides reliable information on what is really going on … based upon the known science. It’s divided into 3 sections:
I. Is Low-Level Radiation Dangerous … Or Harmless?
You may have heard different claims about whether low-level radiation is dangerous … or harmless.
Fox News reports:
Doug Dasher, who [teaches] radioecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said it remains possible that there will be minor effects for people on the U.S. West Coast, despite the low test results.
“No acute effects resulting in mortality or damage to organs … would be expected,” he told FoxNews.com. But he added that more subtle effects might occur.
“Longer term chronic effects, cancer or genetic effects… odds are statistically low, if the concentrations in the models remain within the projections, [but] cannot be said to be zero.”
What is Dasher saying? That even low levels of radiation from Fukushima can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.
A major 2012 scientific study proves that low-level radiation can cause huge health problems. Science Daily reports:
Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews. Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.
The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe …. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”
Mousseau and co-author Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.
The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.
The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.
“When you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”
“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”
Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”
“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”
Physicians for Social Responsibility notes:
According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no safe doses of radiation. Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.
“There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water.”
“Consuming food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the body,”said Alan H. Lockwood, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Radiation can be concentrated many times in the food chain and any consumption adds to the cumulative risk of cancer and other diseases.
John LaForge writes:
The National Council on Radiation Protection says, “… every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”The Environmental Protection Agency says, “… any exposure to radiation poses some risk, i.e. there is no level below which we can say an exposure poses no risk.” The Department of Energy says about “low levels of radiation” that “… the major effect is a very slight increase in cancer risk.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says, “any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer … any increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk.” The National Academy of Sciences, in its “Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII,” says, “… it is unlikely that a threshold exists for the induction of cancers ….”
Japan Times reports:
Protracted exposure to low-level radiation is associated with a significant increase in the risk of leukemia, according to a long-term study published Thursday in a U.S. research journal.
The study released in the monthly Environmental Health Perspectives was based on a20-year survey of around 110,000 workers who engaged in cleanup work related to the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986.
Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the National Research Center for Radiation Medicinein Ukraine were among those who participated in the research.
Indeed, the overwhelming consensus among radiation experts is that repeated exposure to low doses of radiation can cause cancer, genetic mutations, heart disease, stroke and other serious illness (and seethis.) If a government agency says anything else, it’s likely for political reasons.
The top U.S. government radiation experts – like Karl Morgan, John Goffman and Arthur Tamplin – and scientific luminaries such as Ernest Sternglass and Alice Stewart, concluded that low level radiation can cause serious health effects.
A military briefing written by the U.S. Army for commanders in Iraq states:
Hazards from low level radiation are long-term, not acute effects… Every exposure increases risk of cancer.
(Military briefings for commanders often contain less propaganda than literature aimed at civilians, as the commanders have to know the basic facts to be able to assess risk to their soldiers.)
The briefing states that doses are cumulative, citing the following military studies and reports:
- ACE Directive 80-63, ACE Policy for Defensive Measures against Low Level Radiological Hazards during Military Operations, 2 AUG 96
- AR 11-9, The Army Radiation Program, 28 MAY 99
- FM 4-02.283, Treatment of Nuclear and Radiological Casualties, 20 DEC 01
- JP 3-11, Joint Doctrine for Operations in NBC Environments, 11 JUL 00
- NATO STANAG 2473, Command Guidance on Low Level Radiation Exposure in Military Operations, 3 MAY 00
- USACHPPM TG 244, The NBC Battle Book, AUG 02
Research from the University of Iowa concluded:
Cumulative radon exposure is a significant risk factor for lung cancer in women.
And see these studies on the health effects cumulative doses of radioactive cesium.
As the European Committee on Radiation Risk notes:
Cumulative impacts of chronic irradiation in low doses are … important for the comprehension, assessment and prognosis of the late effects of irradiation on human beings ….
And see this.
The New York Times’ Matthew Wald reported in May:
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists[’] May-June issue carries seven articles and an editorial on the subject of low-dose radiation, a problem that has thus far defied scientific consensus but has assumed renewed importance since the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan in March 2011.
This month a guest editor, Jan Beyea [who received a PhD in nuclear physics from Columbia and has served on a number of committees at the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science] and worked on epidemiological studies at Three Mile Island, takes a hard look at the power industry.
The bulletin’s Web site is generally subscription-only, but this issue can be read at no charge.
Dr. Beyea challenges a concept adopted by American safety regulators about small doses of radiation. The prevailing theory is that the relationship between dose and effect is linear – that is, that if a big dose is bad for you, half that dose is half that bad, and a quarter of that dose is one-quarter as bad, and a millionth of that dose is one-millionth as bad, with no level being harmless.
The idea is known as the “linear no-threshold hypothesis,’’ and while most scientists say there is no way to measure its validity at the lower end, applying it constitutes a conservative approach to public safety.
Some radiation professionals disagree, arguing that there is no reason to protect against supposed effects that cannot be measured. But Dr. Beyea contends that small doses could actually be disproportionately worse.
Radiation experts have formed a consensus that if a given dose of radiation delivered over a short period poses a given hazard, that hazard will be smaller if the dose is spread out. To use an imprecise analogy, if swallowing an entire bottle of aspirin at one sitting could kill you, consuming it over a few days might merely make you sick.
In radiation studies, this is called a dose rate effectiveness factor. Generally, a spread-out dose is judged to be half as harmful as a dose given all at once.
Dr. Beyea, however, proposes that doses spread out over time might be more dangerous than doses given all at once. [Background] He suggests two reasons: first, some effects may result from genetic damage that manifests itself only after several generations of cells have been exposed, and, second, a “bystander effect,” in which a cell absorbs radiation and seems unhurt but communicates damage to a neighboring cell, which can lead to cancer.
One problem in the radiation field is that little of the data on hand addresses the problem of protracted exposure. Most of the health data used to estimate the health effects of radiation exposure comes from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of 1945. That was mostly a one-time exposure.
Scientists who say that this data leads to the underestimation of radiation risks cite another problem: it does not include some people who died from radiation exposure immediately after the bombings. The notion here is that the people studied in ensuing decades to learn about the dose effect may have been stronger and healthier, which could have played a role in their survival.
Still, the idea that the bomb survivor data is biased, or that stretched-out doses are more dangerous than instant ones, is a minority position among radiation scientists.
Dr. Beyea writes:
Three recent epidemiologic studies suggest that the risk from protracted exposure is no lower, and in fact may be higher, than from single exposures.
Conventional wisdom was upset in 2005, when an international study, which focused on a large population of exposed nuclear workers, presented results that shocked the radiation protection community—and foreshadowed a sequence of research results over the following years.
It all started when epidemiologist Elaine Cardis and 46 colleagues surveyed some 400,000 nuclear workers from 15 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia—workers who had experienced chronic exposures, with doses measured on radiation badges (Cardis et al., 2005).
This study revealed a higher incidence for protracted exposure than found in the atomic-bomb data, representing a dramatic contradiction to expectations based on expert opinion.
A second major occupational study appeared a few years later, delivering another blow to the theory that protracted doses were not so bad. This 2009 report looked at 175,000 radiation workers in the United Kingdom ….
After the UK update was published, scientists combined results from 12 post-2002 occupational studies, including the two mentioned above, concluding that protracted radiation was 20 percent more effective in increasing cancer rates than acute exposures (Jacob et al., 2009). The study’s authors saw this result as a challenge to the cancer-risk values currently assumed for occupational radiation exposures. That is, they wrote that the radiation risk values used for workers should be increased over the atomic-bomb-derived values, not lowered by a factor of two or more.
In 2007, one study—the first of its size—looked at low-dose radiation risk in a large, chronically exposed civilian population; among the epidemiological community, this data set is known as the “Techa River cohort.” From 1949 to 1956 in the Soviet Union, while the Mayak weapons complex dumped some 76 million cubic meters of radioactive waste water into the river, approximately 30,000 of the off-site population—from some 40 villages along the river—were exposed to chronic releases of radiation; residual contamination on riverbanks still produced doses for years after 1956.
Here was a study of citizens exposed to radiation much like that which would be experienced following a reactor accident. About 17,000 members of the cohort have been studied in an international effort (Krestinina et al., 2007), largely funded by the US Energy Department; and to many in the department, this study was meant to definitively prove that protracted exposures were low in risk. The results were unexpected. The slope of the LNT fit turned out to be higher than predicted by the atomic-bomb data, providing additional evidence that protracted exposure does not reduce risk.
Japan – Like the U.S. – Turns to Censorship
2 weeks after the Fukushima accident, we reported that the government responded to the nuclear accident by trying to raise acceptable radiation levels and pretending that radiation is good for us.
We noted earlier this month:
Japan will likely pass a new anti-whistleblowing law in an attempt to silence criticism of Tepco and the government:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is planning a state secrets act that critics say could curtail public access to information on a wide range of issues, including tensions with China and theFukushima nuclear crisis.
The new law would dramatically expand the definition of official secrets and journalists convicted under it could be jailed for up to five years.
Unfortunately, this is coming to pass. As EneNews reports:
Associated Press, Nov. 26, 2013: Japan’s more powerful lower house of Parliament approved a state secrecy bill late Tuesday […] Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants […] The move is welcomed by the United States […] lawyer Hiroyasu Maki said the bill’s definition of secrets is so vague and broad that it could easily be expanded to include radiation data […] Journalists who obtain information “inappropriately” or “wrongfully” can get up to five years in prison, prompting criticism that it would make officials more secretive and intimidate the media. Attempted leaks or inappropriate reporting, complicity or solicitation are also considered illegal. […] Japan’s proposed law also designates the prime minister as a third-party overseer.
BBC, Nov. 26, 2013: Japan approves new state secrecy bill to combat leaks […] The bill now goes to the upper house, where it is also likely to be passed.
The Australian, Nov. 25, 2013: Japanese press baulks at push for ‘fascist’ secrecy laws […] Taro Yamamoto [an upper house lawmaker] said the law threatened to recreate a fascist state in Japan. “This secrecy law represents a coup d’etat by a particular group of politicians and bureaucrats,” he told a press conference in Tokyo. “I believe the secrecy bill will eventually lead to the repression of the average person. It will allow those in power to crack down on anyone who is criticising them – the path we are on is the recreation of a fascist state.” He said the withholding of radiation data after the Fukushima disaster showed the Japanese government was predisposed to hiding information from its citizens and this law would only make things worse. […] The Asahi Shimbun newspaper likened the law to “conspiracy” regulations in pre-war Japan and said it could be used to stymie access to facts on nuclear accidents […]
Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan president Lucy Birmingham: “We are alarmed by the text of the bill, as well as associated statements made by some ruling party lawmakers, relating to the potential targeting of journalists for prosecution and imprisonment.”
Activist Kazuyuki Tokune: “I may be arrested some day for my anti-nuclear activity […] But that doesn’t stop me.”
Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University in Tokyo: “This is a severe threat on freedom to report in Japan […] It appears the Abe administration has decided that they can get a lot of what they want, which is to escape oversight, to decrease transparency in the government by passing a law that grants the government and officials broad authority to designate information as secret.”
U.S. Charge d’Affairs Kurt Tong: It’s a positive step that would make Japan a “more effective alliance partner.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: “This law is designed to protect the safety of the people.”
Rather than addressing the problems head-on, the Japanese government is circling the wagons.
Unfortunately, the United States is no better. Specifically, the American government:
- Censors journalists who raise inconvenient truths
- Pressured the Japanese government to re-start its nuclear program, and is allowing Fukushima seafood to be sold in the U.S.
- Weakened safety standards for U.S. nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster
As we noted 6 months after Fukushima melted down:
American and Canadian authorities have virtually stopped monitoring airborne radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation. (Indeed, the EPA reacted to Fukushima by raising “acceptable” radiation levels.)
The failure of the American, Canadian and other governments to test for and share results is making it difficult to hold an open scientific debate about what is happening.
Earlier this year, the acting EPA director signed a revised version of the EPA’s Protective Action Guide for radiological incidents, which radically relaxing the safety guidelines agencies follow in the wake of a nuclear-reactor meltdown or other unexpected release of radiation. EPA whistleblowers called it “a public health policy only Dr. Strangelove could embrace.”
When the economy imploded in 2008, how did the government respond?
Did it crack down on fraud? Force bankrupt companies to admit that their speculative gambling with our money had failed? Rein in the funny business?
Of course not!
The government just helped cover up how bad things were, used claims of national security to keep everything in the dark, and changed basic rules and definitions to allow the game to continue. See this, this, this and this.
So now that Japan is suffering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl – if not of all time – is the government riding to the rescue to help fix the problem, or at least to provide accurate information to its citizens so they can make informed decisions?
Of course not!
The EPA is closing ranks with the nuclear power industry ….
Indeed, some government scientists and media shills are now “reexamining” old studies that show that radioactive substances like plutonium cause cancer to argue that they helpprevent cancer.
In other words, this is a concerted propaganda campaign to cover up the severity of a major nuclear accident by raising acceptable levels of radiation and saying that a little radiation is good for us.
Any time the results of bad government policy is revealed, the government just covers it up rather than changing the policy.
The thousands of people who punch in every day at what is arguably the world’s most dangerous workplace are accustomed to facing risks.
But now workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have embarked on their most precarious operation since the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns and explosions at the facility.
On Monday, select crews from Tokyo Electric Power Company began removing hundreds of highly radioactive spent fuel rods from a cooling pool inside a rickety reactor building, a job that is unprecedented in scale, and where one wrong move could have disastrous consequences.
Fuel rod quick facts
Workers at Fukushima Daiichi plan to remove more than 3,100 fuel rod assemblies from four reactor buildings.
Tokyo Electric Power Company officials say 80 of those assemblies are cracked — 70 in the reactor one building. They say holes and cracks in the damaged assemblies could cause radioactive particles to leak out.
Six teams of six workers will operate the crane to move the assemblies to the special containers. Each team can only work for two hours a day — they rotate to keep the operation moving, to minimize radiation exposure.
The amount of radioactive cesium-137 in the pool holding the fuel rod assemblies is said to be the equivalent of roughly 14,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs.
“It’s a totally different operation than removing normal fuel rods from a spent fuel pool,” Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, said recently.
“They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break. I’m much more worried about this than I am about contaminated water.”
TEPCO’s checkered track record
But given that TEPCO has not exactly won over the Japanese public with its handling of the catastrophe, and that the amount of radioactive cesium-137 in the pool is said to be the equivalent of roughly 14,000 Hiroshima-sized atomic bombs, this next step is turning into a crucial test for the beleaguered utility as much as it is an engineering challenge.
Few in Japan or abroad seem convinced that TEPCO can pull this off, given the company’s checkered track record.
This is the same utility, they point out, that used false inspection reports years ago to cover up faults at Fukushima Daiichi; that dismissed warnings in 2008 that a monster tsunami could engulf the plant; that waited weeks to admit meltdowns even happened in March 2011, and that waited many months to acknowledge radioactive water is leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
It has also held back key information and stumbled from problem to problem over the past two-and-a-half years.
In fact, TEPCO has performed so poorly that a task force for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is recommending it be split up so that the job of decommissioning the wrecked plant would be separated from the utility’s power-generating role.
The fuel rods to be removed over the next 12 months or so are mostly in reactor four, which was offline when Fukushima Daiichi was shaken by powerful tremors and swamped by towering waves.
In the subsequent hydrogen explosions and fires, debris rained down on the large pool that holds 1,533 fuel rod assemblies —1,331 used and 202 unused. Another roughly 1,500 assemblies in the three other reactors are to be removed as well.
Workers spent months shoring up the structure and the pool, fearing another strong quake could trigger a catastrophe.
TEPCO spokesperson Tatsuhiro Yamagishi told CBC News that along with cesium-137 and cesium-134, the radioactive isotopes contained in the fuel include strontium-90, radium-226, uranium-235, and plutonium-239, which has a half-life of approximately 24,000 years.
Yamagishi admits engineers don’t know exactly how many assemblies have been damaged. The current estimate is that 80 have cracks.
“We are managing different types of risks,” he said. “We are evaluating each case right now.”
John Froats, an associate professor and nuclear engineer in residence at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, says those risks can probably be dealt with if handled carefully.
“The Fukushima Daiichi plant evolution is no doubt complicated by the plant damage and debris,” he said. “These complications can be managed by careful inspection to understand the state of systems and equipment and the fuel, and then by careful planning of the step-by-step tasks that need to be achieved.”
TEPCO workers have already removed a good amount of debris, checked some fuel rod assemblies to make sure they weren’t corroded by the seawater that was used to cool the pool in the early days of the crisis, and stabilized the building.
- Crippled Fukushima reactor to get ice wall
- Removal of fuel rods begins at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
They’ve also successfully removed two unused rod assemblies. This week they began using the specially constructed crane to extract the fuel units one-by-one, keeping them underwater as they move them into specially-designed containers and then to another location on site.
In a corporate video on the TEPCO website, a deep-voiced narrator cheerfully runs through a simplified version of the process.
“Moving the spent fuel out of the damaged reactor building and into safe, permanent storage lays the groundwork for moving forward with cleanup and remediation of the damaged reactor building,” the video says.
In the video, TEPCO also calls the removal of the fuel rod assemblies from the reactor four building “a milestone” in the recovery of Fukushima Daiichi.
The world is watching
Certainly, it’s a key part of the decades-long decommissioning process now underway, and perhaps key to the company’s survival.
But while utility managers have no choice but to show they’re up to the task, the reality is they’re tackling a challenge none in their industry has faced before, and they’ll be carrying out the work knowing people around the world will be watching with critical eyes.
Among the critics is Mitsuhiko Tanaka, a science journalist and engineer who helped build part of reactor four at Fukushima Daiichi (and who later admitted to helping cover up a manufacturing flaw with the unit).
As he sees it, “TEPCO is a selling-electricity company, not an engineering company.
“It is quite apparent that TEPCO doesn’t have enough ability to cope with the problems in progress now. That’s why [it] has made a lot of mistakes.”
Tanaka, who calls the current state of the nuclear plant “hopeless,” says that while the utility has plenty of experience in normal fuel removal work, this job is different because of the possibility that some of the rod assemblies have been damaged.
And although TEPCO spokespersons insist their inspections and those by outside experts confirm the reinforcement of the reactor building has made it seismically sound, Tanaka maintains the structure is still vulnerable.
“I think it is very dangerous,” he says. “Furthermore, this very difficult work is going to be done in an earthquake-prone country.”
TEPCO was given permission in late summer to take on the removal of the fuel rods. But just before the operation begain U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited the facility to offer American help.
“The success of the cleanup also has global significance,” Moniz said. “We all have a direct interest in seeing that the next steps are taken well, efficiently and safely.”
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) successfully removed the first nuclear fuel rods today from a cooling pool at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk.
The first of the fuel-rod assemblies at the plant’s No. 4 reactor building was transferred from an underwater rack on the fifth floor to a portable cask just before 4 p.m., the utility known as Tepco said in an e-mailed statement.
A member of the media wearing a protective suit and a mask walks in front of a fuel handling machine on the spent fuel pool inside the building housing the No. 4 reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (Tepco) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on Nov. 7, 2013. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
Tepco planned to remove 22 assemblies from the pool, which contains 1,331 spent fuel assemblies and 202 unused assemblies, by the end of tomorrow, the company said. Crews are beginning with the unused assemblies because they are less fragile, spokesman Yusuke Kunikage said by phone.
The operation is the most significant test to date of Tepco’s ability to contain the threat stemming from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Were the rods to break or overheat, it could prompt a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
“Although moving spent fuel into long-term storage is a routine task that Tepco has taken more than 1,200 times over the years, the circumstances at Fukushima Dai-Ichi require special care,” Tepco president Naomi Hirose said in a video message on the company’s website. “The success of the extraction process therefore represents the beginning of a new and important chapter in our work.”
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority assigned an inspector to oversee the removals, in addition to its existing staff at the plant, and is using video monitoring of the removal, the agency said in a statement Friday.
An uncontrolled nuclear reaction due to structural failures or mishandled fuel is highly unlikely because of safeguards and workers’ experience with the procedure, Akira Ono, the Dai-Ichi plant’s chief supervisor, said at a Nov. 7 news conference at the power station.
Removing the rods, bunched in assemblies, will take place from a large shoebox-shaped structure cantilevered atop the reactor building, which was damaged in an explosion after the earthquake and tsunami. The assemblies, each holding about 80 rods, will be moved to a more secure pool on the ground.
Tepco said that it plans to complete the removal of all the fuel in the pool by the end of 2014.