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Act 1: Japanese Prime Minister Had to Fly In to Fukushima In the Middle of the Night to Get the Scoop from Low-Level Nuclear Workers … Because Tepco Wouldn’t Tell Him the Truth
In this 27-second video, Amy Goodman summarizes her interview with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan:
We just came from Tokyo. We broadcast for three days from Japan. And we’re going to play the interview I did with the former prime minister, the one in charge at the time [of the Fukushima disaster], Naoto Kan. He said it was extremely difficult to get a straight answer from TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, that ran the plants, and he had to fly in. He figured the only place he could get a straight, nonpolitical answer—he flew in the middle of the night to the plant to talk to the workers to figure out whether he had to evacuate 50 million people in Tokyo.
This is not the first time Tepco has been less than honest:
- An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design
- Tepco knew right after the 2011 accident that 3 nuclear reactors had lost containment, that the nuclear fuel had “gone missing”, and that there was in fact no real containment at all. Tepco has desperately been trying to cover this up for 2 and a half years … instead pretending that the reactors were in “cold shutdown”
- Tepco admitted that it’s known for 2 years that massive amounts of radioactive water are leaking into the groundwater and Pacific Ocean, but covered it up
- Tepco falsely claimed that all of the radiation was somehow contained in the harbor right outside the nuclear plants
- Tepco has substantially under-reported the amount of radiation released at Fukushima
- Tepco – with no financial incentive to actually fix things – has only been pretending to clean it up. And see this
Act 2: U.S.Nuclear Authorities Were Extremely Worried About West Coast Getting Hit By Fukushima Radiation … But Publicly Said It Was Safe
Nuclear expert Ed Lyman – chief scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists – said:
While the U.S. government was telling the American people there was nothing to fear from Fukushima and that U.S. plants aren’t vulnerable to the same problems, internally, they were—there was a much different story. So we’ve learned from a lot of Freedom of Information Act documents that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the White House were actually very concerned about the potential impact of radiation from Fukushima affecting not only Americans in Tokyo, which was more than a hundred miles away from the plant, but also Americans on the West Coast. And they were furiously running calculations to try to figure out how bad it could get. But there was no sense of this in what they were telling the public.
Indeed, Seattle residents were exposed to dangerous radioactive “hot particles” because the government didn’t warn residents:
This is similar to the Japanese government withholding radiation plume data from evacuating Fukushima residents … which caused them to evacuate to areas of very high radiation.
EneNews rounds up details on the freedom of information act information.
From April to September of 2013, as Bloomberg reports, TEPCO admits that levels of radiation measured from water samples around the destroyed Fukushima nuclear reactor were “significantly undercounted.” We assume it was mere coincidence that during this very time Shinzo Abe proclaimed the 2020 Olympics would be safe and used many of these readings as evidence. In addition to this debacle, The BBC reports, the likely scale of the radioactive plume of water from Fukushima due to hit the west coast of North America should be known in the next two months; and rather stunningly, The Japan Times reports a new study finds the lifetime risk of developing cancer has risen among 1-year-old girls in an area affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. But apart from that, everything’s great.
TEPCO admits radiation levels were “signicantly” undercounted… (Bloomberg)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is re-analyzing 164 water samples collected last year at the wrecked Fukushima atomic plant because previous readings “significantly undercounted” radiation levels.
The utility known as Tepco said the levels were undercounted due to errors in its testing of beta radiation, which includes strontium-90, an isotope linked to bone cancer. None of the samples were taken from seawater, the company said today in an e-mailed statement.
“These errors occurred during a time when the number of the samplings rapidly increased as the result of a series of events since last April, including groundwater reservoir leakage and a major leak from a storage tank,” according to the statement.
Earlier today, Tepco suspended the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima plant after a cooling system failed due to a damaged power cable, the company said in a separate e-mailed statement. Work resumed at the reactor No. 4 spent fuel pool after activation of a backup system.
And then there’s the plume coming California’s way… (BBC)
The likely scale of the radioactive plume of water from Fukushima due to hit the west coast of North America should be known in the next two months.
Only minute traces of pollution from the beleaguered Japanese power plant have so far been recorded in Canadian continental waters.
This will increase as contaminants disperse eastwards on Pacific currents.
And this dismal study.. (The Japan Times)
The lifetime risk of developing cancer has risen slightly among 1-year-old girls in an area affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, according to a study published online in a U.S. science journal Monday.
The assessment was based on a two-month study by Japanese researchers conducted about a year and a half after the March 2011 nuclear disaster. The study checked the radiation exposure of around 460 residents living near the crippled plant Fukushima Prefecture.
Health risk assessment indicates that post-2012 doses will increase the lifetime solid cancer incidence rate among 1-year-old girls by 1.06 percentage points in the Tamano area of Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, from the average rate of 31.76 percent, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said.
It is the first time projections have been made regarding the probability of cancer risk related to the nuclear disaster, according to the team.
Akio Koizumi, a team member and Kyoto University professor of environmental health, acknowledged that lifetime cancer incidence likely rose slightly due to radiation exposurebut said he sees the impact of radiation exposure on health as “small.”
But apart from that, the clean-up is going great…
- *TEPCO SAYS PLANNED RESTART OF NUCLEAR PLANT DIFFICULT: MAINICHI
But this should make everyone feel better…
- *TEPCO TO GIVE CONDO RESIDENTS 5% DISCOUNT ON POWER: NIKKEI
New TEPCO Report Shows Damage to Unit 3 Fuel Pool MUCH Worse Than That at Unit 4
Days before Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympics last September, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe stated that Fukushima contaminated water was “under control.” Now, as Reuters reports, the nation’s nuclear watchdog has uncovered that, following “uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading,” which prompted a re-examination of samples, levels of Strontium-90 were five times the levels previously recorded. The Japanese NRA blasted TEPCO, “We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September. We have been repeatedly pushing TEPCO to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information.” One can only wonder why – when the promise of $500 million of government support is on the line… and new cracks are appearing.
Japan’s Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) is again in the midst of controversy for failing to timely report on record radiation levels at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is now blasted for holding back strontium measurements since September.
TEPCO on Wednesday revealed that it detected 5 million becquerels per liter of radioactive Strontium-90 in a groundwater sample taken some 25 meters from the ocean as early as last September, Reuters reports. The legal limit for releasing strontium into the ocean is just 30 becquerels per liter.
Although the reading was alarmingly five times the levels taken at the same spot two months prior to that, TEPCO decided not to immediately report it to the country’s nuclear watchdog. That is despite Strontium-90 being considered twice as harmful to people as Cesium-137, which was also released in large quantities during the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011 caused by powerful earthquake and tsunami.
According to a TEPCO spokesman cited by Reuters, the decision was due to “uncertainty about the reliability and accuracy of the September strontium reading,” which prompted the plant’s operator to reexamine the data.
However, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) officials say no data came up until now despite repeated demands to TEPCO.
“We did not hear about this figure when they detected it last September. We have been repeatedly pushing TEPCO to release strontium data since November. It should not take them this long to release this information,” Shinji Kinjo, head of the NRA taskforce on contaminated water issues at Fukushima, told the agency.
Top NRA officials, including the watchdog’s chairman, have lashed out at TEPCO for “lacking a fundamental understanding of measuring and handling radiation” while responding to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
“This is not an appropriate way to deal with the desire of the public [for transparency] and in particular, the regulator, which is now very closely regulating issues related to public health, the environment and so on,” Martin Schulz, a senior research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, has said.
On Thursday, fears of new leaks surfaced in Japanese media, as Asahi Shimbun reported two cracks in a concrete floor of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 facility near radioactive water storage tanks. Some contaminated water from the melting snow may have seeped into the ground through the cracks stretching for 12 and 8 meters, TEPCO said.
Earlier last year, TEPCO came under criticism for letting radioactive water leak from a tank at Fukushima and also concealing the fact for some time.
Days before Tokyo won its bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games last September, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed that contaminated water at Fukushima was “under control”and vowed to provide some $500 million to help contain it.
Fukushima’s Legacy: Understanding the Difference Between Nuclear Radiation & Contamination | Peak Prosperity
Fukushima’s Legacy: Understanding the Difference Between Nuclear Radiation & Contamination
Are fish from the Pacific safe to eat? What about the elevated background radiation readings detected in Japan, and recently, in California? Are these harmful levels?
Should we be worried? And if so, what should be done about these potential health threats? What steps should we take to protect ourselves?
As many of you know, I’m a scientist by training. In this report, I’ll lay out the facts and data that explain the actual risks. I’ll start by pointing out that Fukushima-related fears have been overblown as well as heavily downplayed by parties on each side of the discussion.
Much of this stems from ignorance of the underlying science. But some of it, sadly, seems to be purposefully misleading. Again, on both sides.
To assess the true risks accurately, you need to know about the difference between radiation and contamination. The distinction is vital, and, unfortunately, one of the most glossed-over and misused facets of the reporting on nuclear energy.
Starting with the Bottom Line
All of my research and understanding of the risks of radiation at this point indicate that people living on the West Coast of the U.S. or in Hawaii are currently not in danger from the radiation released in the wake of the Fukushima tragedy.
While the background levels are elevated somewhat, those detected so far remain well within what I consider to be a safe zone. However, should there be another accident at the damaged facility leading to the release of another large plume of radioactive matter, then this assessment could, understandably, change.
The exception to this assessment is for those living within a hundred kilometers of Fukushima. For those people, my analysis points to serious risks, especially for those living with a kilometer or two of the coast, extending 100 kilometers in either direction. The details behind my assessment are contained in the full report below.
The intent of this report is to help readers understand the likely implications of the Fukushima situation with more clarity, as well as to provide a useful framework for identifying the risks posed by any future nuclear incidents and what your response to them should be.
The most important takeaway from this analysis should be this: Radiation, itself, is less a threat than most people imagine. But radioactive contamination is an entirely different and far more dangerous beast.
While both deliver a ‘dose’ of radiation, it’s contamination – especially ingested contamination – that has the greatest odds of delivering a concentrated dose to human tissue in a way that can lead to serious acute and/or chronic damage.
The difference between these two will be explained in detail. For those who chose not to read the full report and just want the punchline, it’s this: Contamination is the process of acquiring radioactive particles that then become lodged on, or more dangerously in, your body. Do all you can to protect yourself against it.
Should you find yourself nearby during a nuclear accident, your first order of business is to avoid breathing or ingesting any contaminated particulate matter. This usually involves sheltering in place and is when duct tape and plastic sheeting become your best friends. While it may sound silly to use such a dime-store defense against a nuclear hazard, it is in fact both remarkably effective and entirely necessary. Merely keeping you and your family away from the fallout for a matter of 2-3 days, possibly a bit longer depending on conditions, can make an enormous difference in your survival odds.
For now, the levels of radiation that have been detected and reported outside of Japan are between two and three orders of magnitude below what I would personally consider to be worrisome. And there’s no concrete evidence that the bigger concern, contamination, has traveled to countries outside of Japan.
And within Japan, the story takes on its own complexity (just as happened in the areas surrounding Chernobyl), where local wind patterns in the days after the accident created a complex quilt of danger and (relative) safety.
For those who wish to engage with the context and details of the post-Fukushima world, the journey begins by understanding what ‘radiation’ actually is.
What do we mean when we say ‘radiation’? As it turns out, that word can mean any number of things.
You are bathed in radiation every day: from sunlight, radio waves, wi-fi, etc. Some radiation is electromagnetic (in the case of light), and some is composed of particles (matter).
When we hear about ‘radiation’ in the press, what’s typically being referred to are potentially harmful forms of energetic emissions, both electromagnetic and particulate, that can damage biological organisms.
The main distinction between harmful and benign radiation lies in the ability of the radioactive wave or particle to ionize a molecule in your body. Technically, ‘ionizing’ means “to create an ion,” which involves forcibly stripping an electron off a molecule or atom. This leaves the molecule or atom in a charged state (referred to as ‘ionic form’), which thus can cause the affected particle to break apart or otherwise not work as it did before.
For example, the hemoglobin in your blood is a very complex molecule. Breaking even one of its internal bonds can completely destroy its ability to carry oxygen.
Every cell in your body is an enormously complex machine with thousands of different molecules each with a crucial function. Wreck enough of these molecules through the process of ionization and the cell dies. Destroy or disrupt the DNA at the center of the cell, and malfunction will result, one dramatic form being the loss of the ability to self-regulate its growth, which we call cancer.
Radioactive substances emit various forms of energy. Some of the energetic releases are in the form of photon waves (such as gamma or X-rays) while some are in the form of actual fast-moving particles (such as alpha and beta particles, and neutrons).
We lump them all together and call them ‘radiation’. But when it comes to their impact on living organisms, not all forms of radiation are created equally. Some are far more effective ‘disrupters of life’ than others.
The basic types of radiation you would encounter as a consequence of a nuclear accident like Fukushima are:
- Alpha particles. These are fast moving nuclei of helium, meaning that they consist of two protons and two neutrons. The electron shell is missing, so these are charged particles in search of electrons to strip from some other hapless molecule or atom. In the subatomic world, these are very large particles and so are the most easily stopped. They cannot penetrate even a single sheet of paper or the layer of dead skin cells on the outside of your body. As a result, they are quite easy to protect against with minimal effort. However, we shouldn’t take total comfort in this fact. The deadly toxin polonium-210, the one used to kill various enemies of the Russians over the years, emits alpha particles and is quite effective as a poison. The reason for this lies in the fact that, once ingested, it works its damage in close proximity to a person’s cells. On the outside of a body, alpha particles bump into already-dead skin cells, so no harmful damage results. On the inside, they careen straight into living cells and are quite damaging.
- Beta particles. These are electrons that have been ejected through a radioactive decay process (technically, it’s when a neutron decays, yielding both a proton and an electron). Beta radiation can penetrate a sheet of paper easily, and it requires something along the lines of an aluminum plate a few millimeters thick to stop it. Beta particles have medium ionizing power and medium penetrating power, but there is a very wide spectrum of potential power intensities, depending on exactly which radioactive substance is emitting the beta particle. One very common radioactive substance found in nuclear plants, tritium, is a beta emitter.
- Gamma rays. These are high-energy photons with strong penetrating power and high ionizing potential. In the past, they were distinguished from x-rays on the basis of their energy potential, but they are really the same thing (they are both high-energy photons). Although, what we call an x-ray generally carries a lot less energy than a gamma ray. That is, an x-ray is at the low end of the energetic spectrum, while a gamma ray is at the higher end. This is exactly analogous to the difference between visible sunlight and UV rays, which are the radiation (composed of high-energy photons) that burns your skin. Just place gamma rays a lot further along that same spectrum all the way at the point where, instead of being stopped by your underlay of skin, the gamma rays can create an equivalent ‘sunburn’ on tissues all the way through your body. Gamma rays vary in strength and actually occupy a spectrum of energies (not unlike how white light includes the spectrum of all the colors of the rainbow), so we need to know more about the specific gamma rays in question to know how damaging they might be.
- Neutrons. Neutrons are the bad boys of the radiation story, and are only found as a consequence of a nuclear reaction (controlled or uncontrolled). Their penetrating power is extraordinary, requiring several meters of solid substance to stop them. They work their harm by indirect ionization, which is not unlike a pool ball smashing into a lamp. A typical example would be the capture of a neutron by a hydrogen nucleus consisting of a single proton, which is then ripped away from its position by the kinetic energy contained by the neutron, and then, like our billiard ball, careens about breaking things, ionizing some atoms/molecules, or shattering the bonds between atoms. In terms of biological damage, neutrons are horrific – roughly ten times more damaging than beta or gamma radiation on a per-unit-of-energy basis.
Of course, there’s a lot of complexity buried within each of these ‘buckets’ of radiation types, especially given the uncertainty that each bucket has a range of energies associated with it.
To help clarify this, imagine that we’re talking about radiation as if it were vehicles traveling on a highway. It’s not really possible to predict how destructive it would be to collide with ‘a vehicle,’ because that answer depends on knowing factors like the vehicle’s size, weight, and speed.
Bumping into a small car traveling slowly in your same direction will be far less damaging than slamming head-on into a large fully-loaded Mack truck going 80 mph.
The way this is technically measured is by the energy that each type of radiation carries, measured in units called ‘electron volts’ (eV). Think of the eV rating as combining both the speed and the mass of the vehicle we are trying to rank.
To the eV designation, we’ll add the scientific shorthand of K for ‘kilo’ signifying 1,000 and M for Mega signifying 1,000,000. So 1 KeV = 1,000 eV, and 1 MeV = 1,000,000 eV
Along our radiation ‘highway,’ we find that x-rays carry the least energy and are in the vicinity of 1.2 KeV. They are small, light cars. Think Fiat.
Gamma rays are not a single vehicle type, because they can have energies anywhere from a few KeV all the way up to 25 MeV. They are everything and anything from tiny TR-6s to massive, fully loaded, Peterbilt double trailer trucks traveling 80 mph. For reference, the gamma rays emitted by gesium-137, a very common byproduct of nuclear reactors and a main component of the Fukushima releases, is 700 KeV, hundreds of times more energetic than your typical dentist x-ray, but not nearly the most potent gamma ray you could encounter.
Some common gamma emitters are cesium-137, cobalt-60 and technetium-99. Also, about 10% of the radioactivity of iodine-131 is gamma, the rest is beta (making this is a mixed radioelement).
Alpha particles have very high kinetic energies standing at about 5 MeV. However, they have exceptionally poor penetrating power, so we might think of them as very large steamrollers that can lurch forwards violently, but only for a few feet. If you are right next to it, you’re in big trouble, but otherwise you’re safe.
In recent years, a potent alpha emitter, polonium-210, was used to assassinate both Yasser Arafat and Russian critic Alexander Litvinenko. Because polonium-210 only emits alpha particles, you could carry it in a glass vial in your pocket and slip though radiation detectors at any facility because none of the alpha particles would make it through the vial wall (and even if they somehow did, they’d be stopped by the fabric of your pants pocket). In fact, you could merrily rub it on your skin and suffer no ill effects.
But if ingested? Just a few milligrams, a speck the size of a small grain of salt, would be sufficient to kill. All those gigantic lurching steamrollers would be positioned right next to your living cells, crashing into them and destroying your tissues one cell at a time.
Common alpha emitters include radium, radon, polonium, uranium, and thorium.
Beta particles are electrons ejected during proton decay, and they travel at high speed. They can range anywhere between 5 KeV and 20 MeV. For our purposes, the isotopes most commonly associated with nuclear reactions are in the range of 19 KeV (tritium) to 600 KeV (iodine-131 and strontium-90) to 2.3 MeV (yttrium-90). So these range from medium-sized cars to tractor-trailers, in our analogy.
Beta particles have medium penetrating power and they can easily get through your skin to the living tissues beneath. Think of them as being able to give you a very harsh sunburn from the outside inwards if you were exposed long enough. Again, their worst effects come if ingested, where they can cause lots of damage.
Some common beta emitters are strontium-90, yttrium-90, iodine-131, carbon-14, and tritium.
Neutrons are a very wide topic, so we’ll just talk about them in terms of a nuclear reactor. The moderate to fast neutrons emitted as a product of fission are extraordinarily dangerous and can penetrate lead shields and many meters of concrete. They are most readily stopped by interacting with hydrogen, so water and wax (and human bodies) – which contain lots of hydrogen atoms – are better at stopping neutrons than concrete.
Neutrons are not part of the radioactive release from Fukushima. They really aren’t ever an issue unless you somehow find yourself near an open, uncontained source of fission – like inside the containment shell of an operating reactor, or in the vicinity of an exploding nuclear bomb. Then neutrons are a BIG problem.
Of note: In the early stages of the Fukushima meltdown, neutron ‘beams’ were detected 13 times from outside the reactors. This understandably caused the TEPCO workers a lot of worry and slowed their response efforts. This was a certain indication that there was spontaneous fission happening outside of a sealed containment vessel, something that TEPCO was busily assuring the world had not happened. They were still claiming that the vessels were intact and full of pumped cooling water.
The bottom line is that the topic of radioactivity is complex. If we want to make intelligent decisions, then we need to know which type of radiation we are talking about.
For example, there are folks walking about with mail-order radiation detectors and reporting ‘counts per minute’ readings. But counts of what, exactly? Is each ‘count’ a low-energy beta particle or a high-energy gamma ray? There’s a world of difference between the two.
So we owe it to ourselves to dig into the context before coming to conclusions. To determine how concerned we should be about any new data, we have to translate ‘counts’ of any particle into their potential health effects.
Radiation’s Effect on Our Health
Okay, here’s the thing most people don’t know about radiation: We are surrounded by it and have evolved with it over billions of years. The body can deal with exposure to a certain amount of ionizing radiation without any difficulty at all. Naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium and radon and carbon-14, have been a part of life since the very beginning. Gamma rays rain down from the celestial heavens every day.
So radiation alone is not a cause for concern for me. Even temporary radiation levels that are significantly above my normal background baseline, as much as ten or twenty times, are not a concern of mine as a healthy adult.
But as our vehicle analogy above showed, first we have to know what kind of radiation we are talking about. Is it alpha, beta, or gamma? How much energy is it carrying?
We also need to know about the person being exposed to the radiation. Tolerance levels for what’s “safe” will be lower for kids, the old, and the frail.
For these reasons, science has struggled to come up with a universal measurement for the health impact caused by radiation. As a result, we have several different measurement methodologies parked into a few slightly different, but essentially related, scales. Each attempts to combine the acute effects of radiation exposure into a single ‘dose’ that is a measure of both the intensity and the duration of the exposure.
As mentioned previously, some radiation has the ability to travel right through our bodies entirely without being absorbed. So, the ‘dose’ reading needs to focus on the amount of any specific radiation type that will be absorbed (or stopped) by the body and thereby have opportunity to impact the molecules in that body.
The radiation absorbed dose is measured in Gray, rad, rem, and Sievert.
Rads and Grays are related to each other. One Gray is a huge dose, and the rad just breaks the Grays down into finer units. One Gray = 100 rads (rad stands for Radiation Absorbed Dose). These measure the amount of energy that ionizing radiation imparts to matter. This matter could be anything: a block of cement, or a human.
Sieverts and rems are likewise related. One Sievert = 100 rems, but these are adjusted to provide a measure of the impact of the absorbed dose of ionizing radiation on biological tissue. To equate the two systems, the absorbed dose in Grays or rads is multiplied by a ‘quality factor’ that is specific to each type of radiation to account for their different biological impacts: the result is Sieverts or rems. Thus, using our vehicle analogy from before, our small sedans get an adjustment factor of 1, while heavier vehicles get an adjustment factor as high as 10-20 times greater.
Based on this table, it’s no wonder that polonium-210 is such a devastating radiological poison, because alpha particle get an adjustment factor of 20 (!), making them twice as deadly as fast neutrons, even. But, again, the alpha particles have to be ingested to have that impact, whereas neutrons can travel through ten feet of concrete and still be dangerous.
Keep in mind this table is a huge simplification of a very complicated field of study. For example, it also matters which tissues are being exposed, as they have very different sensitivities to radiation.
However, if we are talking about an episode of external exposure to radiation, like a worker at Fukushima might get, then we care about the Sievert or rem scale:
- 1 Sievert (or 1 Sv), or 100 rem, will induce nausea and reduce the white blood cell count
- 5 Sv, or 500 rems, would cause death for 50% of those exposed in a matter of months
- 10 Sv, or 1,000 rems, is 100% fatal within weeks
The above table leaves out the element of time, so if you are standing near a source of ionizing radiation that is hitting you at the rate of 1 SV per hour, after ten hours you will have received 10 Sv, a fatal dose. If you stand next to that source for an hour you will get nauseous, and destroy some of your white blood cells. If you only stand there for ten minutes, you’ll receive something like 100 mS (the maximum yearly allowed dose for U.S. nuclear workers) and likely not feel any adverse effects.
Thus, dose is a function of intensity and time. You may recall seeing the grainy footage of Chernobyl ‘workers’ ducking out from behind cover and racing to move a single wheelbarrow of rubble from point A to point B. In those few seconds, they may have received a lifetime maximum dose of radiation and were (hopefully) sent home after accomplishing that one task.
The average global background radiation is 0.27 microS/hour (that’s millionths of a Sievert). If we multiply that number by 24×365, it yields an average yearly dose of 2.4 mS/yr. TEPCO workers are permitted to receive 250 mS/yr, while U.S. nuclear worker standards are 100 mS/yr, which is roughly 25 times greater than background.
The average airport security screening device delivers a dose of 0.25 microS, or the equivalent of a full day’s background radiation. If that alarms you, just know that during the actual flight you take, the average exposure is ten times higher than that – providing 2.7 microS per hour of flight at cruising altitude, or ten times normal background. So a 5-hour flight at cruising altitude will provide you with a dose of gamma radiation that measures 54 times more than you get at the airport screening itself, or two full days worth of background radiation.
Again, at these levels, I am not even remotely concerned. If there were something to worry about, then the epidemiological data from flight attendants and pilots would have long ago revealed a health concern. That’s one reason why I’m not worried about periodic episodes of 10x normal background radiation.
Of course, the Sievert is a very crude scale, developed a long time ago. One might argue that the biological impact of airport screeners and whole-body gamma irradiation might be more subtle and complex due to differences in tissue responses and how the radiation is concentrated on the surface of the skin by airport scanners. All of that remains an open question to me, but not enough of one to concern me.
Still, the point here is that we are surrounded by radiation all the time, and we absorb a yearly dose no matter where we live – but Denver-ites get a lot more than people living in Miami due to the altitude (less atmospheric protection from extra planetary gamma arrays).
Here’s a link to a super useful graphic that visually shows the Sievert doses of both ordinary life and the Fukushima accident in relation to each other.
Based on this chart, plus all of the information above, even if your background radiation goes up by a factor of ten or twenty, I wouldn’t be concerned.
Contamination Is the Real Danger
But radioactive contamination? That’s a whole different beast.
By “contamination,” I mean ingesting some radioactive isotopes or particles that become lodged in the body somehow. Perhaps it’s a small speck of radioactive dust that gets lodged in the lung where it will persist (like coal dust and asbestos do), or perhaps it’s a substance that our bodies try to accumulate because it resembles a biologically useful element (as is the case with iodine or strontium).
In Part II: The Contamination Threat, we examine in depth the threats posed by radioactive contamination, including the most prevalent contaminants to be wary of, and the compounding effects of bioaccumulation and biomagnification. One of the most nefarious aspects of contamination is how it uses Nature’s processes against itself.
For the record, we are aware of no imminent public health threat from nuclear contamination outside of already-identified “hot zones.” But for those who wish to better understand the risks and prudent protection measures related to the real dangers of a similar Fukushima-type event in the future (or an unfortunate escalation of the current Fukushima situation), being forewarned is forearmed.
by Brian Covert
When International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials praised the authorities in Japan in October 2011 for their “efficient” handling of the Fukushima nuclear accident seven months after it occurred, perhaps the organization was speaking a little too soon or thinking too wishfully.
Or perhaps it had something to do with the head of the IAEA at the time, Yukiya Amano, being a career bureaucrat from Japan who was just doing what he was hired to do. Or perhaps the IAEA itself was just doing the job it was created to do back in 1957 by the United Nations of supporting and promoting the “peaceful use” of nuclear energy worldwide.
Or maybe it was just a simple matter of laying the first foundation of The Official Story: that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was basically, as Japanese authorities have insisted, sotei-gai — beyond expectations — that it was totally unforeseen and could not possibly have been predicted, but not to worry: Everything would soon be under control and back to business as usual.
Despite the best efforts of a “poodle press” in Japan, snuggled comfortably in the elite laps of power, to repeat such reassuring words to an anxious public, some of the truth did manage to come out about what is arguably the worst nuclear accident in human history.
Looking back decades from now, however, 2013 may well be remembered as the year when the iron lid finally came down over the truth and The Official Story concerning Fukushima was set firmly in place.
It was this year that the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima plant, admitted that, among other problems, 300 tons of radioactive groundwater could not be stopped from leaking every day from the Fukushima plant into the nearby Pacific Ocean. It was highly contaminated water, of course, but it was not officially expected to harm sea life or human beings in any way. Not to worry.
Then there was the announcement in September 2013 that Tokyo — a city located less than 320 kilometers (200 miles) from the ongoing nuclear crisis at Fukushima — was chosen to be the site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
A month later, as if to bolster Japan’s good news, a United Nations scientific committee, in a report to be submitted to the UN General Assembly, downplayed all the public worry over Fukushima. The UN committee placed the levels of radiation as being “very low,” stating: “No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants.” This prompted a strong rebuke from citizens groups and others in Japan who saw this as an attempted whitewash of major proportions by the UN.
But there was one more step to be taken before The Official Story could be called airtight: In November and December 2013, the Japanese government — with the blessing of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama and despite strong public opposition at home in Japan — proceeded to ram a bill through its parliament that, upon becoming law, would make whistleblowing a crime of state that could result in a prison term of up to 10 years.
This “state secrets protection bill” was supposedly intended to protect Japanese government and military secrets from possible terrorist actions (and, no doubt, from an Edward Snowden-type of situation) at a time when Japan’s military-industrial complex was expanding in lock-step with that of the U.S. But it could also be considered no mere coincidence that this state secrets bill was being pushed through to law at a time when TEPCO was just starting a yearlong operation in decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant that was unprecedented both in scale and in the potentially devastating consequences that could result if the slightest thing — forces of nature, mechanical failure, human error — went wrong in the course of that year.
This operation involves removing some 1,500 fuel rods from a Fukushima reactor, one by one, and placing them in a more secure area, something that has never been attempted before anywhere. Radiation levels said to be many thousands of times those of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima could be emitted from the Fukushima nuclear plant if any unforeseen problems occur along the way.
Now that Japan’s state secrets bill has become law, leaking sensitive information concerning Fukushima could technically be considered a crime, both for the whistleblower who leaks it and for any journalist who reports it. The extended “war on terror” has now joined hands with “atoms for peace,” with truth becoming the first casualty.
As of the end of 2013, nearly three years after the crisis began at Fukushima, there are an estimated 150,000-plus Japanese residents evacuated from the Fukushima area, many living in temporary housing. Some of that housing is reportedly now in substandard condition, with residents essentially being left to fend for themselves.
Confirmed cases of thyroid cancer are now appearing in some children from the Fukushima area, and the numbers of such cases are certain to rise in the future. Reports of increased levels of radiation, of varying degrees, have also come up throughout Japan and beyond its borders.
Meanwhile, TEPCO and two government ministries are busy arguing about which one of the three parties is responsible for cleaning up the contaminated water that is seeping into the ground and into the nearby sea. And yet, in spite of these and many other problems along the way, the IAEA has wavered little in its praise for Japan’s handling of the Fukushima accident and the quote-unquote “good progress” that has resulted.
The Official Story surrounding Fukushima is one of an unexpected disaster being dealt with swiftly and safely by honest, open authorities facing unlucky circumstances — and being duly investigated by an independent-minded news media that is diligently doing its job. But like all official stories, this story has a long and sordid history behind it. It is a history that people need to know about if they are to understand how and why Fukushima happened in the first place, and which direction the crisis is likely to take in the future.
Here, then, is the story behind the story of Fukushima.
This research was originally published as chapter 14 in Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution, eds. Mickey Huff, Andy Lee Roth, and Project Censored (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012).
On the Road to Fukushima: The Unreported Story behind Japan’s Nuclear-Media-Industrial Complex
The most powerful earthquake to ever hit the islands of Japan struck on the afternoon of March 11, 2011. The magnitude 9 quake, centered about 70 kilometers (43 miles) off the Pacific coast, sent oceanic shock waves racing toward Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region. Located squarely on the tsunami’s course were coastal areas that are also home to several nuclear power plants, such as in Fukushima Prefecture, which is situated about 240 kilometers (150 miles) from Tokyo, the most populated metropolis on the planet. As it became clear that something had gone seriously wrong and, due to the tsunami, Japan now had a nuclear catastrophe on its hands at Fukushima, all eyes turned to the Japanese press.
But the Japanese press was nowhere to be found. In the immediate aftermath of reactor meltdowns and the release of radioactivity at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, when evacuations and press restrictions had not yet been set by Japan’s government, the major Japanese news companies did not have a single reporter on the ground in the area.1 Such media companies in Japan usually spare no expense in having their reporters or photographers camp for days at a time outside the homes of suspects in sensationalized crime cases or when stalking scandal-tainted celebrities. But when it comes to pursuing real news stories of public concern, investigating the nation’s political or corporate centers of power, and exercising the freedom of press as enshrined in the Japanese constitution, the news media of Japan can be strangely submissive or even silent. Nowhere has that been more on display than in the reporting of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
How is it that one of the most technologically advanced, democratic societies in the world finds itself with a press that serves more as a lapdog to the powerful than as a watchdog for the public? How does Japan’s nuclear power industry in particular fare in the news media? And more importantly, how is censorship fostered in such an environment and how did it get this way?
The answers to such questions can be found by taking a look back on the road to Fukushima that Japan has traveled since the Second World War. It is the story that most of the mainstream media in Japan are failing to report or to piece together in the wake of Fukushima, perhaps because, in many ways, the media itself is the story.
It is the story of how of the Japanese press has risen to become a global media power unto itself,2 and how Japan’s corporate-dominated news industry grew hand-in-glove with the nation’s development of atomic energy and other major industries following the war. It is the story of a Japanese war crimes suspect imprisoned by US occupation forces, of Japan’s preeminent media tycoon, of the godfather of Japanese nuclear power development, and of the father of Japanese professional baseball—all of whom happen to be the same man, the powerful Japanese predecessor of today’s Rupert Murdoch.
It is the story of the power wielded by right-wing forces in Japan and, at the fringes, of the Japanese mafia. It is a story that also closely involves the United States of America as benefactor: the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Congress, and the US media establishment. It is the story of America’s Cold War geopolitical priorities over the long-term security and environmental safety of the planet.
It is the story, in the end, of Japan’s rise as a modern nuclear-media-industrial power from the ashes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 up to Fukushima more than sixty-five years later. This report attempts to connect the dots of Japan’s atomic past and present, providing the much bigger picture behind the individual acts of censorship surrounding Fukushima and, in doing so, will hopefully offer lessons for the future of a democratic, responsible press in Japan.
The Shoriki Factor
If there is one person who has stood at the nexus of nuclear power, media conglomeration, politics, and industrial development in postwar Japan, it would be Matsutaro Shoriki.
Shoriki, in the early 1920s, was a high-ranking official of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, and in previous years had reportedly been involved in every major incident of police repression of social unrest.3 That included the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1923, Japan’s deadliest natural disaster up to then, in which more than 100,000 people died and tens of thousands of others went missing.4
After the earthquake’s ensuing panic and confusion and the Japanese government’s declaration of martial law, the police took the opportunity to round up ethnic Koreans living in Japan, along with leading Japanese socialists, anarchists, labor activists, and other leftist dissidents of the day—some of whom were later reported killed.5 This all happened on Shoriki’s watch, and a month after the quake he was promoted to a department head position within the Tokyo police hierarchy.6 Shoriki’s law enforcement career came to a halt a couple months later, however, when a young Communist Party supporter attempted to shoot Hirohito, the emperor-to-be, in public. Shoriki was among those dismissed from their police posts for the lapse in security surrounding the assassination attempt.
It was the end of Shoriki’s days as a hard-line police official, but just the beginning of his career as a central figure in the Japanese media world.
One month after his firing from the Tokyo metropolitan police, Shoriki—with no past media experience whatsoever—found himself serving as president of the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, then a fledgling 50,000-circulation Japanese metropolitan daily paper in Tokyo.7 He had bought out a controlling stake in the newspaper through a huge personal loan from a cabinet minister then serving in the Japanese government. A rebellion immediately arose among the editorial staff of the paper, but the new owner had no regrets. “Instead of committing hara-kiri” (ritual disembowelment) over the police firing, “I bought a newspaper,” Shoriki would boast.8
The openly pro-capitalistic, anticommunistic Shoriki quickly showed himself as having a finger on the public pulse, understanding well the links between three key areas: mass entertainment, mass mobilization, and massive profits.9
His Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper company sponsored tours in Japan of major league baseball players from the US—first in 1931, then again in 1934, when the Yomiuri paid for US baseball legends Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and others to come and play in Japan. The next year, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper created its own baseball team, the Yomiuri Giants, in the exact image of the famed Giants baseball team of New York (later of San Francisco). In 1936, Japan’s first professional baseball league was started, with Shoriki going on to serve as owner of the Yomiuri Giants pro team and as the first commissioner of the Nippon Professional Baseball league years later.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s, the winds of war were blowing in Japan. All of the Japanese press was expected by the military-dominated government to support Japan’s war of aggression throughout East Asia and the Pacific, and the major news publications—from liberal to conservative—toed the line, either under government pressure or out of a sense of patriotism. Two days after the Japanese military attack on the US-occupied Pacific island of Hawaii in December 1941, the major newspapers in Japan sponsored a public rally in Tokyo denouncing the US and Britain. Shoriki, representing the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, was reportedly one of the main speakers.10
In the fifteen years since Shoriki had taken over the paper, the Yomiuri had gone from being a fairly liberal Tokyo metro daily paper to being an unashamedly conservative national daily newspaper—the third-largest daily paper in Japan, in fact—with a circulation of 1.2 million.11 The Yomiuri became the most nationalistic of Japan’s mainstream news media during World War II. For his efforts, Shoriki, like other press executives in Japan, was appointed to several key government propaganda organizations during the war, including as cabinet-level advisor in the government.12
Behind Prison Walls
Following the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed more than 200,000 people in August 1945, and Japan’s formal surrender a month later, the occupation forces under General Douglas MacArthur wasted no time in sniffing out suspected war criminals as part of victor’s justice, Yankee-style.
The top ranking of war criminals, “Class A,” applied to persons in the highest decision-making bodies in Japan who were believed to have taken part in the starting and/or waging of war against the Allied powers. Among those who were openly demanding that the Americans include Shoriki, the Yomiuri newspaper president, in that Class-A category were Shoriki’s longtime enemies on the Japanese political left and, incredibly, some of the newspaper magnate’s own editorial staff at the Yomiuri Shimbun.13 Long considered to be something of a “dictator” within his paper,14 Shoriki was now facing a serious mutiny by his crew at a very sensitive time in Japanese history. In December 1945, he was ordered by the US occupation forces to report to Japan’s notorious Sugamo Prison in central Tokyo as an inmate.
The dozens of initial suspects of Class-A war crimes at the prison made up a virtual “who’s who” of the most elite of Japanese political, military, and business circles. Shoriki was placed in cellblock 2-B of the prison, directly across from a prominent industrialist who had once been head of the mighty Nissan group of corporations.15 As a media baron, Shoriki commanded respect even behind bars. The Buddhist priest in charge of counseling the accused war criminals at the prison recalled: “Mr. Shoriki, former president of the ‘Yomiuri Newspaper,’ I had met two or three times at banquets given by the Chief Priest, whose advisors in various matters we both had been. He [Shoriki] was still as vigorous as ever. . . .”16
George Herman Ruth, one of the US baseball idols invited by Shoriki to play for Japanese audiences back in the 1930s, had little sympathy for his former patron. “That bum [Shoriki] seemed like a pretty nice fellow,” Babe Ruth, now retired from baseball, said on hearing the news of Shoriki’s imprisonment in Tokyo. “I guess he was too nice, come to think of it. All any of them guys did was bow to us, and even then they must have had a knife in their kimona [sic].”17 Ruth even complained that the American ballplayers had been cheated during their tour of Japan a decade before: “Shoriki didn’t pay us what he promised to pay. Most of us spent more money in Japan than we made.”18
As Shoriki and the others languished in prison not knowing their fate, the US, at least in the early stages, proceeded with its plan of “reforming” Japan, putting a high priority on strengthening democratic institutions and the rights of the individual.
But a funny thing happened on the way to democracy: on a parallel track, the government of the United States, under the umbrella of the Truman Doctrine of President Harry Truman, was also proceeding on a “reverse course” in Japan. From 1947–48 onward, the US priority began shifting away from promoting democracy to fighting communism. General MacArthur’s occupation forces in Tokyo now sought to “strengthen, not punish” right-wing Japanese leaders so as to secure Japan as a key ally especially against the regional influence of Communist China.19
The Cold War was starting and, almost overnight, the US had gone from purging its sworn wartime enemies on the political right in Japan to purging those on the left. Japanese ultra-rightist organizations and even the yakuza, Japan’s mafia syndicates, were becoming useful tools for the US occupation authorities in suppressing the growing social movement of organized labor and liberal political dissent, including in the Japanese news media.20
And so it was that right-wing media mogul Matsutaro Shoriki walked out of the Tokyo prison gates on September 1, 1947—twenty-one months of prison time served and no war-crime charges filed against him.21 Shoriki and many of his fellow Japanese war-criminal suspects were looking much more useful to the United States beyond—rather than behind—prison walls.
Television and “Atoms for Peace”
In summer 1951, with the official end of the American occupation of Japan just around the corner, Shoriki and other released Japanese war criminal suspects were finally removed from General MacArthur’s war-criminal “purge list” and were now free to resume their former public lives. Shoriki received his pardon on August 6, the sixth anniversary of the Hiroshima atomic bombing. The very next day, he went to work on his next big project: establishing Japan’s first commercial television network.22
In this venture, Shoriki had warm support from conservative members of the US Congress, who, like their right-wing counterparts in Japan, apparently saw the mass media not as a way to inform or educate the poverty-stricken Japanese masses but rather as a means to essentially feed the Japanese public a steady stream of pro-American messages of progress and development in the postwar period.
Shoriki’s key ally in the US Congress for this was Karl Mundt, a Republican senator from South Dakota. Through the mid-1940s, Mundt had served as an active member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was investigating suspected Communist infiltration throughout US society. During that same period, Mundt pushed a bill through Congress in 1948 that became law, creating the Voice of America short-wave radio propaganda program.23 But Mundt had an even bigger dream: using the rising medium of television to carry VOA broadcasts throughout the world, including in Japan, as a way to counter the growing global “red” menace. Mundt called his grand plan “Vision of America.”24
It was Hidetoshi Shibata, then a popular conservative, America-friendly radio commentator on Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster) and a former Yomiuri newspaper reporter under Shoriki, who eventually hooked up Mundt and Shoriki.25 On August 14, only a week after Shoriki’s pardon as a US-branded war crimes suspect, Mundt, at a press conference in Washington DC accompanied by a member of Japan’s parliament, announced plans for a team of three American “experts” to fly to Japan the following week to firm up the plans for this new Japanese TV broadcasting network.26 Another week later, the Japanese and American sides met in Tokyo and worked out the details: it was agreed that instead of making this new TV station a part of Mundt’s worldwide “Vision of America” scheme, it would be a wholly Japanese-owned and Japanese-run network financed in part by airing Voice of America radio broadcasts within Japan.27
Shoriki had meanwhile regained his old position as the largest shareholder of the Yomiuri paper, and now persuaded the heads of his archrival daily newspapers, the liberal Asahi and Mainichi, to join the conservative Yomiuri in putting up joint capital of about ¥2 billion ($25 million) for the TV station. Shoriki also used his highly placed connections in Japanese government and financial institutions to further strengthen support for the new station, promoting the TV network as potentially attracting three million Japanese viewers within five years.28
In July 1952, just three months after the US occupation bureaucracy had packed its bags and gone home, the new Nippon Television Network (NTV) was granted its broadcasting license by Japanese media regulators. Shoriki became the first president of NTV in October 1952, and in August 1953, the station went on the air with black-and-white television programs. Now it was just a matter of getting the message out to the masses.
“Kilowatts, not killing”
At the United Nations in December 1953, US President Dwight Eisenhower announced the start of his “Atoms for Peace” program. Several months later in September 1954, US atomic energy commissioner Thomas Murray stood before a convention of American steelworkers at Atlantic City, New Jersey, and called for a nuclear power plant to be built in Japan with US know-how and manpower as “a dramatic and Christian gesture which would lift all of us far above the recollection of the carnage” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki nine years before.29 An editorial in the Washington Post immediately and enthusiastically supported this “brilliant idea,” stating: “How better, indeed, to dispel the impression in Asia that the United States regards Orientals merely as nuclear cannon fodder!”30
A few months after that in early 1955, Representative Sidney Yates, a Democrat from Illinois, took it even further when he stood on the floor of the US Congress and called for that proposed first nuclear power plant in Japan to be constructed, of all places, in the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima. He was then sponsoring a bill in Congress for a 60,000-kilowatt nuclear power generating plant to be built in Hiroshima as part of Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace”—a power plant, Yates said, that would “make the atom an instrument for kilowatts rather than killing.”31 (Plans for the Hiroshima nuclear plant eventually fizzled out.)
Back in Japan around that same time, Matsutaro Shoriki, while still president of NTV, campaigned in February 1955 for a seat in his own country’s House of Representatives and won. He was appointed to the cabinet-level position of minister of state. Everything now seemed to be in place. For the better part of 1955, Eisenhower’s newly established United States Information Service (USIS), with its mission of overseas “public diplomacy” (read: propaganda) and Shoriki’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which now had a colossal circulation of more than two million readers,32 worked closely together on plans to bring America’s atomic-age vision to the Japanese people.33
The Atom Returns to Japan
On November 1, 1955, the USIS and Shoriki’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper kicked off the opening of a futuristic, traveling “Atoms for Peace” exhibition at an event hall in downtown Tokyo, not far from the Imperial Palace.
The fifteen sections of the exhibition, touted as the first of its kind in Far East Asia, explained “how the boundless wealth of the atom has been unlocked, and now it is already being used in many ways for man’s benefit in medicine and industry.” The exhibition was to be shown in Tokyo for a month and a half, then rotated on to seven other major Japanese cities.34 The exhibition included profiles of ten pioneering nuclear scientists; a small demonstration nuclear reactor; a movie about the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; panel displays; and an introduction to the medical, agricultural, and industrial uses of atomic isotopes.35 On New Year’s Day of 1956, while the exhibition was still touring Japan, state minister Shoriki was appointed the first chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a move praised by US atomic energy commissioner Lewis Strauss as “an important contribution to international peace.”36
The “Atoms for Peace” exhibition finally arrived in Hiroshima in May 1956 and was shown for three weeks at the recently opened Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, located within the city’s Peace Memorial Park commemorating the victims of the 1945 US atomic bombing. An estimated 110,000 Japanese visitors came to see the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition in Hiroshima, and a reported 2.5 million people had seen the exhibition nationwide.37 At the end of it all, notwithstanding some public and press criticism that arose, the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition in Japan was considered a resounding success, primarily due to the positive spin given to it by the Japanese media, especially the Yomiuri newspaper and NTV network headed by Shoriki.38
Code Name: PODAM
Tetsuo Arima, a professor of media studies at the elite Waseda University in Tokyo, goes where the Japanese mainstream press fears to tread in researching and making public the CIA’s past connections to the media and nuclear power in Japan, having published several books on the subject in recent years. He has visited the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington DC and obtained almost 500 pages of once-secret documents detailing the introduction of atomic energy technology to Japan.39
“Relations with PODAM have now progressed to the stage where outright cooperation can be initiated,” Arima quotes one of those CIA documents as reading, concerning political maneuvering against the Japan Communist Party back in the 1950s.40 Another document approves “PODAM” as being used to gain information about political developments and trends in Japan, along with information on persons working in Japanese newspapers and media. PODAM, the code name of a CIA asset, was none other than Japanese media tycoon Matsutaro Shoriki.41
Indeed, a cursory check of the NARA website (www.archives.gov) reveals Matsutaro Shoriki as being listed under the cryptonym PODAM as well as “POJACKPOT-1.”42 Equally revealing is Shoriki’s TV station, Nippon Television, being listed in the archive’s CIA file index as part of a project called “KMCASHIER.”43 Project KMCASHIER, as Arima notes, was a failed 1953 US plan to construct a massive microwave communications network covering four Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines) as part of a larger international microwave communications network. Japan’s role in KMCASHIER was listed under the CIA code name of “POHIKE.”44 “POBULK” is listed in the archive index as the CIA code name for the Yomiuri, Shoriki’s newspaper.
Arima found also that Shibata, the popular NHK radio newscaster who initially put Shoriki in touch with US senator Mundt of VOA fame, had contacted and met in Tokyo with persons connected with the CIA (presumably on Shoriki’s behalf), both before and after Shoriki obtained the broadcast license for NTV.45 The professor also came across a document dated May 5, 1955—placing it around the time of joint preparations by the USIS and Shoriki’s Yomiuri newspaper for the “Atoms for Peace” exhibition—in which a “provisional” security clearance was sought for Shoriki as an “unwitting cutout.”46 This indicates that Shoriki would have been considered a trusted intermediary for passing along highly sensitive information, yet not necessarily aware of the details of that information or exactly how he was being used for such intelligence purposes.
According to one CIA document that Arima uncovered, Shoriki as atomic energy commissioner was so impatient to get nuclear power online in Japan following the 1955–56 “Atoms For Peace” exhibition that he seriously considered buying a small reactor to power his own home as a public show of atomic energy’s benefits.47 And what was PODAM’s urgent motivation? To help reach his political aspiration of becoming the prime minister of Japan.
The Deep Ties that Bind
Japanese nuclear power, industrial production (especially in electronics), and the news media grew side by side in the critical Cold War years that would see Japan elevated to the status of “economic miracle.” Without doubt, from the end of the Second World War onward, the media industry has been a crucial part of that whole corporate synergy in Japan—not an objective, neutral force standing outside it.48
That is still the situation today for the most part. The electric power companies in Japan advertise widely in the major print and broadcast media companies. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)—operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant and two others—alone spent about ¥27 billion ($330 million) on public relations and other events promoting nuclear energy in 2010, ranking tenth highest among all Japanese corporations in the amount of money spent on such expenses that year.49 Of that amount, TEPCO spent ¥9 billion ($110 million) directly on advertisements placed in the media.50
So what effect does this kind of relationship between nuclear energy and media in Japan have on news coverage? According to author and independent journalist Osamu Aoki, a former reporter for Japan’s Kyodo News wire service, “Newspapers, TV, magazines—it makes no difference: because they receive these huge advertising monies, it’s hard for them to criticize the power companies, especially with nuclear power. It’s a taboo that’s been going on for some time.”51
Where Japan differs from the US and other developed countries is in the sheer breadth and depth of external press controls and media self-censorship in the form of the “kisha club” (reporters’ club) system.52
The kisha clubs are press clubs attached to various Japanese government agencies (from the highest levels of government down to local government agencies), political parties, major corporations, consumer organizations . . . and electric power companies. At last count there were an estimated 800 to 1,000 kisha clubs nationwide. Membership in such clubs is mostly restricted to the big Japanese newspaper and broadcasting companies, with smaller Japanese media and the foreign press normally not allowed in. One important rule: kisha club reporters are not usually allowed to “scoop” fellow club members on any given story, even if they are reporters for rival Japanese news companies. In most cases a kisha club is based on the premises of the institution that the reporters are covering, with the operating expenses of the club paid by that institution. The kisha club rooms generally are off-limits to the average Japanese citizen, even when located inside of public buildings.
TEPCO, like other power companies around Japan, has its own in-house kisha club. And what was the chairman of TEPCO doing at the time of the March 11 quake/tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear plant disaster? He was hosting Japanese journalists on a press junket in China, courtesy of the power company.53
According to an independent journalist attending a press conference hosted by TEPCO soon after the accident on March 11, 2011, not one of the power company’s kisha club reporters got around to asking the TEPCO chairman at press conferences about the possibility of plutonium leaks from the Fukushima plant until the independent journalist himself raised the critical question two weeks after the accident. Another independent Japanese reporter working for Internet media was shouted down by the TEPCO kisha club reporters when he tried to ask the TEPCO chairman a question at the same press conference. These are not uncommon occurrences at kisha clubs in Japan.54
How did all of this translate in terms of Japanese versus overseas reporting on Fukushima soon after the accident? There were often major gaps between the two. On the morning of March 12, the day after the accident, for example, Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK television, was telling evacuees from Fukushima to calmly “walk instead of drive to an evacuation area” while also repeating Japanese government assurances that there was “no immediate danger.”55 That same morning, the tone of reports carried on BBC News, as just one foreign news media source, was one of skepticism of such Japanese government assurances rather than blind acceptance.56 That kind of gap between Japanese and overseas coverage would widen considerably as the Fukushima crisis went on, with the Japanese public increasingly voicing distrust of their government and suspicious that Japan’s media were not reporting the whole story.
That is certainly true for one related issue that has been underreported in Japan for years: the so-called “nuclear gypsies”—the thousands of day laborers, many unskilled and homeless, that make up a large part of the workforce at Japan’s fifty-four nuclear power plants nationwide—and the yakuza (organized crime) syndicates as suppliers of such temporary workers to the industry.57 The underside of Japan’s economic miracle in the postwar era was the existence of pools of cheap, “disposable” labor from the slums of the big cities, such as the Sanya district in Tokyo and Kamagasaki district in Osaka, working in the vast construction industry with which the yakuza have long been aligned. But the electric power companies today also use such day laborers, doing highly dangerous work with little or no job security, and many of these nuclear workers are financially exploited by the yakuza and other labor agents as well.
It has been left mainly to independent journalists in Japan to uncover and expose these facts. One of them, photographer Kenji Higuchi, had worked for decades before Fukushima, trying to tell an indifferent Japanese media and public the stories of these exploited, intimidated nuclear power plant workers and the illnesses that afflicted them after they had worked at the plants. Higuchi’s efforts to get at the truth are the focus of a short documentary film, Nuclear Ginza, broadcasted in 1995 on Britain’s Channel 4 television.58 More recently, another Japanese independent journalist, Tomohiko Suzuki, went undercover as a day laborer at the Fukushima nuclear power plant after the March 2011 accident and found that the yakuza were still recruiting day laborers to work there, with top management at the Fukushima plant—like most construction companies in Japan—not necessarily knowing (or caring) how these workers got hired there in the first place.59
The Selling of a “Miracle Man”
To be fair, the Japanese people are not the only ones who have been sold a bill of goods about nuclear power and been shielded from seeing its dark side by the media. Americans have too, and the US media role over the years is one that has to be acknowledged in this post-Fukushima age. This is most clearly seen in the US media treatment of Matsutaro Shoriki and the vital role he played in bringing US-sponsored atomic energy to Japan during the Cold War years.
In 1946, six months after the American occupation of Japan had begun, the US progressive magazine the Nation correctly noted how “Shoriki’s yellow journalism, combined with the scandalously low wages he paid his newsmen and printers, brought him rich profits, and his fervent support of aggression [in the Pacific War] won him a seat in the House of Peers and a position as Cabinet adviser.”60
Compare that with the glowing coverage a few years later by US mainstream media: Shoriki as “bitterly anti-Communist” ally to the US and Japan’s “most successful publisher,” known “among Western newsmen as the [William Randolph] ‘Hearst of Japan’” (Time magazine, 1954);61 Shoriki as “father of professional baseball in Japan” who nobly sent then–US president Eisenhower an ancient suit of Japanese armor as a show of goodwill (Washington Post, 1954);62 Shoriki as “Japan’s Mr. Atom,” a man who “has made a brilliant success of nearly everything he has tried” and who, “‘if he lives long enough . . . will make Japan one of the leading atomic powers of the world’” (New York Times Magazine, 1957);63 and Shoriki as pioneering TV network president aiming to make Japan the first country in the world to have color television (Time, 1959).64
Then there was the 1963 Time tribute to Shoriki as art connoisseur, head of his Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper’s own symphony orchestra, architect of the “Yomuiri Land” amusement park in Tokyo named for his newspaper, and all-around Man for the Millennium. The article quoted Bob Considine, a well-known columnist for the Hearst media empire in the US, who sounded almost shocked with awe: “[W]henever editors speak of the great press lords of our age, they often mention Hearst and sometimes [Canadian-British tycoon Lord] Beaverbrook. But they always mention Shoriki.”65
Just a few years earlier, this same Hearst underling and ghostwriter, Considine, had written the foreword to the American publishing industry’s own nod to Japan’s premier media baron in a 200-page book titled Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan—A Biography. The book was published in 1957 by Exposition Press, back then a leading publisher of so-called “vanity books” that are essentially paid for by the person who is the subject of the biography—which, in this case, would have been Shoriki himself. The book was coauthored by the publishing company’s president, Edward Uhlan. A New York Times obituary would later list Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan as one of the late Uhlan’s most noteworthy accomplishments.66
All in all, Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan stands out as a cleverly crafted work of disinformation. It covers up Shoriki’s infamous reputation as a police bureaucrat before the Second World War, plays down his wartime role in anti-US propaganda and war-criminal imprisonment by the US after the war, and plays up his subsequent achievements in baseball, news media, and atomic energy in Japan—with a strong line of anticommunist sentiment running throughout. Newspaper, magazine, and book publishing media in the US had now weighed in with Shoriki and his crusade for a pro-America, pro-nuclear Japan, and on the whole found him to be on the right side of the cause.
Epilogue: The Road from Fukushima
When Matsutaro Shoriki died in 1969 at age eighty-four while in office as a representative of Japan’s parliament (and while still NTV network president), his obituary in the Washington Post was surprisingly sparse. Nowhere did the Post mention that Shoriki, as Japan’s first atomic energy commissioner, had been Washington’s point man on nuclear energy development after the war—indeed, he had led Japan to embrace atomic power as a prime energy resource ten years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also missing was Shoriki’s tainted past as a former police official and as a prisoner during the US occupation of Japan. And of course, there was no mention at all of the CIA’s interest in Shoriki as an asset of the agency.67
Just a few years later in 1976, however, the late Shoriki’s name surfaced in connection with the “Lockheed scandal,” a major political scandal in Japan involving bribe money paid by the US aerospace corporation Lockheed to a former Japanese prime minister. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper denied allegations of Shoriki, its ex-president, having been a past “recipient of CIA favors” and spoke of suing for libel the American publications that carried the stories.68
If most Japanese people know or remember anything at all about the late press lord today, it is probably the “Matsutaro Shoriki Award” bestowed in Shoriki’s name every year with great fanfare to some outstanding Japanese baseball figure by NTV network and Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper—whose circulation of thirteen million readers today makes it reputedly the largest daily newspaper in the world.69 The majority of Americans know even less about Shoriki, including the fact that the prestigious Museum of Fine Arts in Boston today has a respectable chair position named after him.70 And for their part, few if any Japanese mainstream media companies in their news reporting are linking Shoriki to nuclear energy and the Fukushima accident of March 11, 2011—even though it was his influence and vision of a fully atomic-powered Japan, with firm support by the US, that had led Japan as a nation to that place.
Demands have arisen in the wake of Fukushima for Japanese government nuclear regulators and politicians to be more independent of the nuclear power industry that they are supposed to be keeping an eye on.71 But looking to the future, there is one more party that equally needs to be separated from Japan’s nuclear power establishment (or “nuclear power village,” as it’s called), and that is the Japanese press. The media in Japan, like the government regulators, have been intimate with the nation’s atomic energy club from the very start. Until the day when the Japanese news media are finally weaned off the nation’s nuclear power village, the whole truth about nuclear energy—and the corruption and great public dangers surrounding it—will continue to be mostly unseen and unknown in this country. Disengaging the Japanese press from the nuclear powers-that-be will not be easy, but it must be done.
One place to start would be to begin dismantling the Japanese kisha club system. This too will be no easy task, given the deep historical and institutional roots of the system. But if the toothless Japanese lapdog press of today is to regain the public credibility at home and abroad that it lost in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster—and if it is to earn the respect that it would deserve as a true watchdog of the people over Japan’s centers of power in the future—then it is the Japanese news media that must now take the first steps in that direction on this long and uncertain road away from Fukushima.
BRIAN COVERT is an independent journalist and author based in Kawanishi, western Japan. He has worked for United Press International news service in Japan, as staff reporter for three of Japan’s English-language daily newspapers, and as contributor to Japanese and overseas newspapers and magazines. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Communications at Doshisha University in Kyoto.
1. David McNeill, “Fukushima Lays Bare Japanese Media’s Ties to Top,” Japan Times, January 8, 2012, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120108x3.html.
2. Five of the world’s top ten daily newspapers with the highest circulations are based in Japan. See Jochen Legewie, Japan’s Media: Inside and Outside Powerbrokers, Communications & Network Consulting Japan K.K. (Tokyo, March 2010), 3,http://www.cnc-communications.com/fileadmin/user_upload/Publications/2010_03_Japans_Media_Booklet_2nd_Ed_JL.pdf.
3. Simon Partner, Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 74.
4. August Kengelbacher, “Great Kanto Earthquake 1923,” http://www.japan-guide.com/a/earthquake.
5. Sonia Ryang, “The Tongue That Divided Life and Death: The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and the Massacre of Koreans,” Japan Focus, September 3, 2007,http://www.japanfocus.org/-Sonia-Ryang/2513. For similar accounts, see also Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), esp. 171, 176, 191–92; and Asahi Shimbun newspaper, “Murder of an Anarchist Recalled: Suppression of News in the Wake of the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake,” Japan Focus, November 5, 2007, http://www.japanfocus.org/-The_Asahi_Shinbun_Cultural_Research_Center-/2569.
6. Shinichi Sano, Kyokaiden: Shoriki Matsutaro to Kagemusha-tachi no Isseiki (ge) [Biography of Matsutaro Shoriki, vol. 2] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011), 442.
7. Sano, Kyokaiden: Shoriki Matsutaro to Kagemusha-tachi no Isseiki (jo) [Biography of Matsutaro Shoriki, vol. 1] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011), 217.
8. “The Press: Lord High Publisher,” Time, August 16, 1954, 74.
9. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 172.
10. Ben-Ami Shillony, Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 99.
11. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 446.
12. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 76; see also Shillony, Politics and Culture, 105.
13. “1,000 Ask Trial for Publisher,” New York Times, October 30, 1945; see also Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 1], 438–44.
14. “Yomiuri Chairman Defends Actions in Internal Feud,” Asahi Shimbun, November 29, 2011, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/AJ201111290056b.
15. Shinsho Hanayama, The Way of Deliverance: Three Years with the Condemned Japanese War Criminals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950), 4; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 73–74.
16. Hanayama, The Way of Deliverance, 5.
17. “Ruth’s Ex-Pal Held as Jap [sic] War Criminal,” Washington Post, December 6, 1945, 15.
19. United States Department of State, “Milestones 1945–1952: Korean War and Japan’s Recovery,” http://history.state.gov/milestones/1945-1952/KoreanWar.
20. David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro, Yakuza—The Explosive Account of Japan’s Criminal Underworld (London: Futura Publications, 1987), esp. 69–71, 75–78.
21. Edward Uhlan and Dana L. Thomas, Shoriki: Miracle Man of Japan—A Biography (New York: Exposition Press, 1957), 181–82.
22. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 83.
23. Ibid., 78–79.
24. Ibid., 84.
25. Ibid., 78.
26. Ibid., 83–84.
27. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 449; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 84.
28. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 84–86.
29. Edward F. Ryan, untitled article from Washington Post archives, September 22, 1954, 2.
30. “A Reactor for Japan,” Washington Post, September 23, 1954, 18.
31. “Belgium and Japan Seek 1st ‘A-for-Peace’ Power,” Washington Post, February 15, 1955, 5.
32. Sano, Kyokaiden [vol. 2], 450.
33. Ran Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun’: The 1956 Atoms for Peace Exhibit in Hiroshima and Japan’s Embrace of Nuclear Power,” Japan Focus, February 6, 2012, http://japanfocus .org/-Ran-Zwigenberg/3685.
34. Robert Trumbull, “Japan Welcomes Peace Atom Show,” New York Times, November 1, 1955, 14.
35. Tetsuo Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA [Nuclear power—Shoriki—The CIA] (Tokyo: Shinchosha, 2011), 119.
36. Japan Atomic Energy Commission, text of letter from US ambassador in Japan John M. Allison to Matsutaro Shoriki, January 13, 1956,http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/about/ugoki/geppou/V01/N01/19560510V01N01.HTML.
37. Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick, “Japan, the Atomic Bomb, and the ‘Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power,’” Japan Focus, May 2, 2011, http://www.japanfocus.org/-Yuki-TANAKA/3521. See also Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun,’” Japan Focus.
38. Ran Zwigenberg, “‘The Coming of a Second Sun.’”
39. Tetsuo Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA—Hakkutsu-sareta “Shoriki Fairu” [NTV and the CIA—The uncovered “Shoriki files”] (Tokyo: Takarajima-sha, 2011), 30.
40. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 113; see also “From Hiroshima to Fukushima: The Political Background to the Nuclear Disaster in Japan,” World Socialist Web Site, June 23, 2011, http://wsws.org/articles/2011/jun2011/fuku-j23.shtml. Quotation is retranslated into English from the Japanese original.
41. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 112.
42. National Archives and Records Administration, “Cryptonyms and Terms in Declassified CIA Files—Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Disclosure Acts,” dated June 2007, http://www.archives.gov/iwg/declassified-records/rg-263-cia-records/second-release-lexicon.pdf. Accessed on March 13, 2012.
44. Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA, 63; see also Partner, Assembled in Japan, 86–87.
45. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 58.
46. Arima, Nippon Terebi to CIA. A copy of the document is partially displayed on the book’s front cover.
47. Arima, Genpatsu—Shoriki—CIA, 110; see also “Tsunami: Japan’s Post-Fukushima Future,” Foreign Policy, 2011, 198,http://www.foreignpolicy.com/files/tutEkfeUr4fOa3v/06282011_Tsunami.pdf.
48. Partner, Assembled in Japan, 228.
49. “Advertising Expenditure of Leading Corporations (FY 2010),” Nikkei Advertising Research Institute, http://nikkei-koken.com/surveys/survey14.html.
50. “Toden Kokoku-hi 90-oku en no Hamon” [Ripple effect of Tokyo Electric’s nine billion yen advertising expenses], Tokyo Shimbun, May 17, 2011, 26–27. The figure of nine billion yen is for 2009.
51. Translated commentary by Osamu Aoki on Asahi Newstar cable TV program Nyusu no Me [Eyes of the news], April 7, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2Ma4eWhX_U&feature=related.
52. For an overview of how the “kisha club” system works and other related issues, see Tomoomi Mori, “Japan’s News Media,” in Censored 2007: The Top 25 Censored Stories, eds. Peter Phillips and Project Censored (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 367–82.
53. Kanako Takahara, “Tight-lipped Tepco Lays Bare Exclusivity of Press Clubs,” Japan Times, May 3, 2011, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20110503f1.html.
55. Days Japan magazine, “Genpatsu Jiko Hodo no Kensho Shiryo” [Verified documentation of nuclear accident reporting], February 2012, 41.
56. Kenichi Asano, “BBC ni yoru Jiko Hodo” [Accident reporting by the BBC], Days Japan, February 2012, 60–61; see also “Japan Earthquake: Concerns over Nuclear Power Stations,” BBC News, March 11, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12719707.
57. “Japan’s Desperate Nuclear Gypsies,” Al Jazeera English, June 30, 2011,http://www.aljazeera.com/video/asia/2011/06/2011630173015833205.html.
58. Nuclear Ginza, Small World Productions, Cardiff, England, 1995,http://www.smallworldtv.co.uk/public/main.cfm?m1=c_75&m2=c_2&m3=c_56&m4=e_0. A Japanese subtitled version of the film can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNq0qyQJ5xs.
59. Tomohiko Suzuki, press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Tokyo, December 15, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_lYwNyTyiU. Suzuki goes into more detail in his book Yakuza to Genpatsu [The yakuza and nuclear power] (Tokyo: Bungeishunju, 2011).
60. Andrew Roth, “Japan’s Press Revolution,” Nation, March 16, 1946, 315.
61. “The Press: Lord High Publisher,” Time, 1954, 76.
62. Herb Heft, “Baseball Men Cite Good-Will Created on Trip by Giants,” Washington Post, February 7, 1954:C2.
63. Foster Hailey, “Japan’s Mr. Atom,” New York Times Magazine, November 17, 1957, SM50.
64. “Show Business: Television Abroad—Come-On in Color,” Time, August 3, 1959, 57.
65. “The Press: Publishers—Bigger & Better than Anyone,” Time, May 24, 1963, 57–58. Emphasis in the original.
66. Edwin McDowell, “Obituaries: Edward Uhlan, 76, Founder and Leader Of Vanity Publisher,” New York Times, October 26, 1988,http://www.nytimes.com/1988/10/26/obituaries/edward-uhlan-76-founder-and-leader-of-vanity-publisher.html.
67. “Matsutaro Shoriki, 84, Dies; Publisher of Japanese Daily,” Washington Post, October 9, 1969, M10.
68. Richard Halloran, “Premier Miki Vows Lockheed Inquiry,” New York Times, April 4, 1976, 2.
69. Legewie, Japan’s Media: Inside and Outside Powerbrokers, 3.
70. ArtDaily.org, “Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Announces New Chair of Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa,” September 20, 2008, http://www.artdaily.com/index.asp?int_new=26246&int_sec=2.
71. Norimitsu Onishi and Ken Belson, “Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant,” New York Times, April 26, 2011,http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/27/world/asia/27collusion.html?pagewanted=all.
The Japanese government and TEPCO have known for almost three years they had to find a solution to prevent radioactive water from the cooling operation at Fukushima from entering the Pacific Ocean.
Everyday TEPCO pumps tons of water into the damaged reactors to stop them from overheating. This water becomes radioactive, then seeps into the ground to contaminate the groundwater, which finds its way into the ocean.
They think they know how to stop the contamination, even though most scientists are skeptical.
They intend to do it by drilling a series of wells around number 2 and 3 reactors. A coolant will be pumped into the wells, freezing the soil solid and thus preventing the groundwater escaping …well that’s the theory at least.
The ‘fix’ is set to cost $320 million to construct and then the running costs on top of that. This technique is used in civil engineering projects, such as building subway tunnels and the like, and it works, temporarily, but there is no way of knowing how long it will work for. (source)
What happens if there’s another earthquake? What if the power to the pumps is interrupted, or the coolant supply runs out? None of these issues has, as yet, been mentioned.
Now I am no civil engineer, I am not a nuclear scientist either, but life experience tells me that no matter what method you use this can’t be fixed this way. Water will find a way; and if it can’t get past the frozen soil walls forming a ring around the reactor, it will go down even farther into the unfrozen soil at the bottom of the coolant well. Freeze the bottom soil and the water will just build up until the area is full to overflowing.
The same issues arise with the more permanent concrete barriers that some scientists are proposing. If they are bottomless, the water will just sink into the soil and will still eventually end up in the ocean. If they have a bottom, they will fill up, just like a kiddie pool but on a far vaster scale.
The relative irrelevancy of economics, government spying et al comes into very plain sight when you look at what is happening at Fukushima. Yes these other issues are important, but the continuance of the human race is at stake here.
This is why governments will not admit that radiation, and radioactive water from Fukushima is a problem…it is too big a problem for them to deal with.
We are talking about a situation that will be ongoing for decades. Marine life, which a huge proportion of the global population relies on as a source of protein, cannot sustain this kind of punishment on an ongoing basis.
The very air that we breathe is contaminated and will, over time, become more so, giving rise to increased miscarriages and cancers. As the soil becomes more contaminated so will the meat we eat from the cattle that has grazed on it. The plants that we rely upon to feed us will either not grow at all, or they will be contaminated.
Apart from containing this contaminated water in caskets and burying it for God knows how long, all these ‘fixes’ will amount to nought. Even if common sense did prevail, where in hell could you bury that amount of radioactive waste? Ask the United Nations to evict citizens of some far flung nation so a giant nuclear dump can be created maybe?
It may sound far fetched, but the Japanese government and TEPCO are rapidly running out of fixes. The international community is, on the surface at least denying there is a problem, purely because at this point they have no solution.
Unless something happens soon it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the end of the world as we know it happened on March 11th 2011.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!
Japanese rivers unleash ‘perennial supply’ of radiation into Pacific Ocean | Peak Oil News and Message Boards
A study published in the Elsevier journal Anthropocene late last year has revealed that many of the rivers, streams and other waterways located throughout coastal Japan have inadvertently become delivery systems for transporting radioactive waste directly from the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility into the Pacific Ocean.
Researchers from both France and Japan discovered this after conducting a thorough sediment and soil erosion analysis, which revealed the presence of cesium-137, cesium-134 and even radioactive silver in the runoff from coastal rivers. A total of 2,200 soil samples were collected as part of the study, which was originally designed to look at the normal biogeochemical cycles and dispersion of contaminants via rivers and waterways.
Since it is already known that rivers play a functional role in cleansing the natural environment of toxins, a team of scientists from the Laboratory for Climate Sciences and the Environment in France and the Center for Research in Isotopes and Environmental Dynamics in Japan decided to look at how this process works with respect to radiation distribution.
With Fukushima radiation as the source indicator, the team looked for the presence of radioactive isotopes in soil samples collected all along the coastal regions of Japan. By tracking radiation in this way, the team was able to monitor from where the soil and sediment came to gain a better understanding of the transport patterns of particulate matter — and what they found is telling.
Based on the behaviors of the catchments observed, as well as their relation to the rivers that connect them to nearby mountain ranges, the team determined that many coastal rivers in Japan are a constant source of Fukushima radiation that ends up flowing directly into the Pacific Ocean. Early speculation that radioactive isotopes were probably concentrating in the upper layer of nearby soils also proved to be true.
“Our findings show that [the] Fukushima accident produced original tracers to monitor particle-borne transfers across the affected area shortly after the catastrophe,” wrote the authors of the study in their abstract. “We thereby suggest that coastal rivers have become a perennial supply of contaminated sediment to the Pacific Ocean.”
Contaminated rivers also sending deadly radiation into lakes, water reservoirs
But it is not just the Pacific Ocean that is suffering as a result of constant contamination from Fukushima. A similar study published earlier in the year in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity found that irrigation waters, paddy fields and lakes are all being poisoned by the runoff from Fukushima.
After collecting soil samples from two small rivers located in the mountainous region of Fukushima Prefecture, scientists from the Japan-based Institute for Environmental Sciences learned that aerial deposits of nuclear contamination are occurring all across the region, and especially in the top layers of soil found in catchments.
“Our results are extremely important to quantitative assessment of the migration of radiocesium and decontamination of radiocesium in the watersheds impacted by fallout from the accident,” concluded the authors about their findings.
Accumulation of radioactive cesium has also been identified in over 20 woody plant species tested in Abiko, which is located some 125 miles southwest of Fukushima and just to the northeast of Tokyo. Researchers from the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry, or CRIEPI, found that the leaves of both coniferous and deciduous tree species had become contaminated as a result of radioactive rainfall.
“Further and continuous investigations are necessary to determine how long and how much radiocesium accumulates in the canopy and under the woody plants,” the researchers wrote.
Worldwide there has been a massive increase in cancers of all kinds since 1945.
On Monday July 16th 1945 in Alamogordo, Mexico the first ever atomic bomb was tested. The bomb was called Trinity, which by definition means three things that are closely conjoined to form one new unit. It’s also the name given to the Christian Godhead: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, but there was nothing holy about this alliance.
The success of the Trinity test allowed progression to the main event, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
16 hours after the Hiroshima bomb run, President Truman addressed the people of the United States, you can read his full speech here.
From July 16th 1945 to February 12th 2013, 530 nuclear devices have been air detonated, 528 tests and the two bombs dropped on Japan. 1525 underground tests have taken place during the same period.
Nuclear explosions of any kind involve the conversion of atomic mass into energy by one of two processes, nuclear fission, or nuclear fusion.
Fission releases energy by splitting uranium or plutonium atoms which creates radioactive elements.
Fusion is triggered by a fission explosion that then forces tritium or deuterium atoms to combine into larger atoms. This creates more powerful explosions than fission.
Both of these reactions create three types of radioactive debris.
- Fission products
- Activation products
- Leftover products used in constructing the bomb that are radioactive but did not react during the process.
By 1960 there wasn’t a single place on Earth left untouched by these tests. Every soil sample, every water sample and even every polar ice cap sample, arctic and antarctic, were contaminated…and there was still 50 years more testing to go to bring us to the present day, and the last test conducted by North Korea in 2013.
Simon, Bouville and Land have found that:
…both direct and indirect evidence that radioactive debris dispersed in the atmosphere from testing has adversely affected public health.
Studies have demonstrated radiation-related risks of leukemia and thyroid cancer within a decade after exposure, followed by increased risks of other solid tumors in later years. Studies of populations exposed to radioactive fallout also point to increased cancer risk as the primary late health effect of exposure. As studies of biological samples (including bone, thyroid glands and other tissues) have been undertaken, it has become increasingly clear that specific radionuclides in fallout are implicated in fallout-related cancers and other late effects.
You can read the rest of their research here.
New research published in the journal Nature Communications has found that radioactive particles from these tests are still in the stratosphere, but volcanic reactions can cause them to move lower, into the troposphere. Their findings were confirmed after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. Plutonium levels in the lower atmosphere increased.
At 14:46 on March 11 2011 a massive magnitude 9 earthquake shook the Honshu region of Japan. 40 minutes later a huge tsunami devastated the northeastern coast of Japan. The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station, managed by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was for the most part destroyed.
Three of the six reactors on the site were off-line and undergoing routine maintenance, the remaining three were operational. All of the operational reactors were shut down at the time of the earthquake but external power lines were cut. The reactors need to be cooled even after shutdown, and to cool them you need power. Back-up power was started and was working until the tsunami hit. The waves reached a height of 12 meters, wiping out the ten-meter-high sea wall in front of the plant. The plant itself was designed with a maximum safety factor of 5.7 meters, well under the height of the wave.
All back-up power, and therefore cooling capacity, was wiped out an hour after the earthquake. Without any cooling, the reactors went critical, and all three suffered core meltdowns within 72 hours of the earthquake. Hydrogen released during the meltdown exploded, blowing out walls and demolishing the roofs of the buildings housing the reactors.
Estimates vary as to how much cesium was released during these explosions, but the general consensus is that at least 168 times more was emitted than was produced when Hiroshima was bombed. The event was given an International Nuclear Event Score of 7, the same as Chernobyl.
Sea water was pumped in to cool the reactors and used fuel ponds, which created over 100,000 tons of contaminated water of which 10,000 tons was released into the Pacific Ocean over the course of the first week.
In the 34 months since the Fukushima disaster there have been literally hundreds of radiation leaks and contamination issues at the plant. Radioactive debris is washing up on the West Coast of the United States, and there are reports of high radiation readings on beaches, and American sailors who assisted in the days following the quake and tsunami are finding out they have cancer.
Radioactive iodine 131 has been detected in France and radiation contamination has been detected in the southwest of the UK.
Fish die-offs are increasing, and many have been tested and proved to have ingested high amounts of radioactive isotopes. Some scientists are also linking the recent spate of animal die-offs to the radiation from Fukushima.
Just a few days ago, ‘steam’ was escaping from one of the shattered buildings; TEPCO has not commented so far.
Considering that Fukushima has released more radiation than 528 air detonation nuclear tests combined, and remembering that radiation from those tests is still affecting people around the globe to this day, the problems caused by Fukushima are going to be with us for generations.
There are 437 operative nuclear power plants worldwide, and another 68 under construction. A dozen more are at the planning stage. Are we really so hungry for electricity that we are willing to risk annihilation to get it? What’s the point if generation after generation will suffer increased cancer rates?
There has to be a better way to live…and to die.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple, where this first appeared. Wake the flock up!