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Detrimental Impacts of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Continue

Energy

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy

As 2012 draws to a close, evaluating the ongoing effects of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on the people of Japan is a difficult and depressing task. After having fled their homes due to the tsunami and resulting triple nuclear meltdown, 21 months later an estimated 160,000 citizens still have not returned home.

Reports of illness in humans and livestock continue to underscore the far reaching and difficult to predict impacts that a nuclear accident can cause. In July, 36 percent of Japanese children screened were found to have abnormal thyroid growths. This fall, an illness dubbed the “Fukushima syndrome” was reported to be killing cattle near the Fukushima prefecture. Mutations are already observed in butterflies and other insects, whose shorter life cycles allow genetic disruptions to display more quickly than in mammals or humans.

The World Health Organization downplayed radiation and exposure risks in a report they released last summer, which is being discredited as biased by members of Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Dr. Alex Rosen, from Germany said, “It is unclear why a report written mainly by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and collaborating nuclear institutions would need to be published in the name of the WHO, if not to provide an unsuspicious cover” for the true radiation levels Fukushima residents were exposed to. The United Nations issued a recent report concluding that delaying the release of factual radiation data and exposure risks put residents and workers in greater danger than was necessary. This echoes the findings of an independent panel earlier this year, that called the Fukushima nuclear disaster a “man-made” catastrophe.

The Asahi Shimbun reports the technical details of the reactors here, and the outlook is still grim. In the article, Nuclear Regulatory Authority Shunichi Tanaka Chairman said, “The situation surrounding the decommissioning process is volatile, so there is a need for constant reviews in securing safety.” They are running out of room to store radioactive water and, despite reducing the amount of radioactivity being released from the reactors, there are still radioactive plumes being released.

Former chief research scientist at the now-defunct Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, Fumiya Tanabe, said, "Despite the (officially declared) cold shutdowns of the reactors, the cooling functions have been maintained there with no knowledge of where the melted fuel lies and in what state. There is a risk of unforeseen circumstances arising if another major earthquake hits.”

The national Japanese elections earlier this month yielded unexpected results, with the Liberal Democratic Party winning despite it’s pro-nuclear platform in a largely anti-nuclear nation. One problem may lie in the belief that eliminating nuclear power could further negatively impact Japan’s recovering economy. This is complicated by the reliance nuclear communities have upon the money they receive in taxes, among other incentives, for hosting a reactor, which often translates into a tax base that is double that of non-nuclear communities. Despite this, many Japanese people are concerned that a focus on the economy will undermine safety concerns related to new geologic evidence of fault lines under other reactors.

October was a month of long overdue admissions, as Tokyo Power Electric Company (Tepco) finally admitted fault in the accident, citing a lack of safety culture and long term “bad habits” as exacerbating the accident. Yoshihoko Noda also offered thanks to the “Fukushima 50,” saying “Thanks to your dedication, we have managed to preserve Japan.” While this expression of gratitude is long overdue, it falls short of the debt owed to these brave people who risked their lives to do their job. The impacts their sacrifices could have on their long-term health will only be known over time.

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Two high school girls that were affected by the disaster are launching a peace discussion forum devoted to expanding the dialogue about nuclear power and weapons. One of the young women said, “My parents’ and grandparents’ generations may be to blame for allowing the nuclear power plants, but both adults and children are responsible for thinking together about the problem.”

Our wish for the upcoming year is that all of us—all energy users—will step up to this challenge, determine where they fit into this conversation, and take meaningful actions in their daily lives to reduce their energy usage and push for clean, safe energy solutions.

Additional Resources:

  • A history of collusion between World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, including video;
  • U.S. organizations’ response to Japanese Parliament’s Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission report, highlighting similar collusion problems here;
  • Video coverage of an active protest in Tokyo, Japan this past July;
  • Fairewinds Energy Education’s video and analysis of recent Tepco report regarding the Fukushima nuclear accident, along with highlighting important safety concerns with the U.S. nuclear reactor fleet; and
  • Fukushima Diary has regular updates and news, as it breaks in Japan.

Visit EcoWatch’s NUCLEAR page for more related news on this topic.

 

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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