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Incompetent Decontamination Effort Risking Health of Fukushima Residents

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Incompetent Decontamination Effort Risking Health of Fukushima Residents

Greenpeace International

Nine months after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Greenpeace renewed its demand Dec. 7 for urgent relocation of pregnant women and children living in contaminated areas of Fukushima City, Japan, after finding radioactive hot spots and signs that the official decontamination program is both uncoordinated and thoroughly inadequate.

In early December, the environmental organization conducted radiation monitoring in the Watari and Onami neighbourhoods of Fukushima City, roughly 60km from the stricken nuclear plant, finding hot spots of up to 37 microSieverts per hour in a garden in suburban Watari, and 10.1 microSieverts per hour in bags of dirt, seemingly abandoned, on a road in Onami1.

Greenpeace's mapping of dose rates in Watari shows that people are at risk of being exposed to more than 10 times the 1 milliSievert per year international maximum for radiation doses. The Greenpeace radiation experts found that contamination levels in the Fukushima neighborhoods were comparable to areas designated as evacuation zones, such as Minamisoma. Despite this, authorities have decided only to decontaminate the Fukushima City communities, without giving the residents the right to relocate—including pregnant women and small children, who are at the most risk

"The people of Onami and Watari are facing clear risks to their health and must be given the right to relocate with full support," said Kazue Suzuki, Greenpeace Japan nuclear campaigner. "The government must not discriminate between residents in similar situations2. At very least pregnant women and children must be evacuated from risky areas until sufficient decontamination is completed."

Although official decontamination work has been underway in Onami for two months, only 35 houses out of 370 have reportedly been completed to date, with residents continually exposed to radiation as they wait. In the Watari area, no decontamination work has yet started, and official radiation monitoring is limited to just 1,038 houses out of 6,700. Worried residents wanting rapid decontamination are being left to do the work themselves without clear information about the risks or safety training—further threatening public health.

In August 2011, Greenpeace called on the authorities to urgently organize and deploy thousands of workers to decontaminate areas such as Fukushima City and Koriama, and presented new Prime Minister Yoshihiro Noda with a detailed list of technical demands3. However, these demands have not been met, and the situation for many Fukushima residents has clearly worsened since then.

"Radioactive waste is being buried on the same properties it is removed from, as there are still no proper waste storage sites, and decontamination work is spreading contamination rather than removing it4," said Ike Teuling, Greenpeace International radiation expert. "The situation is rapidly spinning out of control, and the Japanese government seems to have abandoned its responsibility to protect its population as it has left local authorities, who lack the necessary knowledge and equipment, to clean up this mess."

For more information, click here.

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1. Hotspots measured at 10cm. The latest raw data and Google maps from this round of radiation monitoring are available by clicking here.

2. Fukushima City levels for decontamination: 2 microSievert per hour at 1m for households with children or pregnant women, 2.5 microSievert per hour at 1m for other households. Minamisoma levels for evacuation: 2 microSievert per hour at 50cm for households with children or pregnant women.

3. A Greenpeace letter to the Japanese national Government calling for stronger protective and decontamination measures is available by clicking here. For a detailed list of demands, click here.

4. Examples of bad decontamination practices:

  • Decontamination waste (top soil) of one house in Onami buried in an opposite field, risking further contamination spread.
  • Decontamination run-off water with levels up to 9.8 microSv per hour at 10 cm on the street in Onami. The contamination is not removed but spreads in the environment with this method. * Bags with decontamination waste left on a street in Onami with levels up to 10.1 microSievert/h at 10 cm. 
  • Sub-contractors decontaminating a house in Onami with high-pressure hoses without wearing face-masks.
  • Decontamination of houses in Onami is done in two phases: first washing the house, second removing the top soil. In between phases the residents are allowed to return to their houses, increasing the risk of further spreading contamination. 
  • Inhabitants of Watari are asked to decontaminate their own houses. One resident buried waste in a corner of his garden only one meter away from the house. Radiation levels at that spot were 1.1 microSiever/h at 1 meter.

Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organization that acts to change attitudes and behavior, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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