By Lauren McCauley
A wildfire broke out in the highly radioactive "no-go zone" near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant over the weekend, reviving concerns over potential airborne radiation.
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By Lauren McCauley
A wildfire broke out in the highly radioactive "no-go zone" near the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant over the weekend, reviving concerns over potential airborne radiation.
By Yuko Yoneda
Six years ago, more than 15,000 people perished and tens of thousands of people's lives changed forever. Northeastern Japan was hit by a massive earthquake, followed by an enormous tsunami that wiped out coastal towns one after another. In the days that followed came the horrifying news: the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors went into meltdown. The disaster is still with us.
Nuclear survivors continue to live with fear for their family's' health and with uncertainty about their future. Women are bearing the greatest brunt. They continue to grapple with unanswered questions, unable to relieve a deeply held sense of anger and injustice.
Over the past six years, starting just two weeks after the beginning of this nuclear disaster, Greenpeace conducted radiation surveys in the contaminated region. The latest survey gathered data in and around selected houses in Iitate village, located 30-50 km from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In some homes, residents would receive a radiation dose equivalent to getting a chest x-ray every week. And that's assuming they stay in the limited decontaminated areas, as 76 percent of the total area of Iitate has not been touched and remains highly contaminated.
Despite this, the government, headed by Shinzo Abe, intends to lift evacuation orders from the village and other areas in March and April 2017, and one year later terminate compensation for families from those areas. It will also cancel housing support for those who evacuated outside designated zones. For those dependent on this support, it could mean being forced to return.
Women and children are the hardest hit by the nuclear disaster. They are physically more vulnerable to impacts of the disaster and radiation exposure. Evacuation broke up communities and families, depriving women and children of social networks and sources of support and protection. Together with a yawning wage gap (Japan has the third highest gender income disparity in the most recent OECD ranking), female evacuees—especially single mothers with dependent children—face far higher poverty risk than men.
Despite, or because of the adversity, women are the greatest hope for transformative change. Though women are politically and economically marginalized, they have been at the forefront of demanding change from the government and the nuclear industry.
Mothers from Fukushima and elsewhere are standing up against the paternalistic government policies and decisions, to protect their children and to secure a nuclear-free future for the next generations. They are leading anti-nuclear movements by organizing sit-ins in front of the government offices, spearheading legal challenges and testifying in court, and joining together to fight for their rights.
Let's stand up with women at the forefront of anti-nuclear struggle. Let's fight for their rights and future together.
Yuko Yoneda is the executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
By Whitney Webb
The first photos of the wild boars that have come to dominate the abandoned streets of towns near the site of the 2011 Fukushima disaster have emerged as government-led teams begin to cull the boar population to make way for the expected return of the towns' former residents.
For the last six years, the streets of the towns abandoned in the wake of the Fukushima disaster have been walked, not by people, but by wild, radioactive boars. After the 2011 meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, exclusion zones were set up around the plant and the populations of the towns within were evacuated to a safer distance, giving rise to Fukushima "ghost towns." In the years since, hundreds upon hundreds of wild boars have come to roam the deserted streets, foraging for food.
The highly radioactive boars have been reported to attack people when provoked and have become a major problem in the Japanese government's efforts to prepare the towns for the eventual homecoming of its former, human residents. In the abandoned coastal town of Namie—just 2.5 miles from the site of the meltdown—residents are expected to return at the end of the month, meaning that the boars must be cleared. Tamotsu Baba, mayor of Namie, told the Mirror: "It is not really clear now which is the master of the town, people or wild boars."
The Japanese government has been sending in teams to "cull" the boars, which has also led the radioactive animals to be filmed and photographed for the first time. According to Baba, the need to eliminate the boars is urgent: "If we don't get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable." The "culling" teams have been using cage traps and air rifles to reduce the boar population in Namie and three surrounding towns, including Tomioka where 800 boars have already been killed. Hundreds more boars have been captured since the program began and population control efforts are expected to continue well after residents return.
However, not all residents will be returning. For example, well over half of Namie's pre-disaster population of 21,500 have decided not to return home, according to a government survey conducted last year. These residents cited concerns over radiation and the on-going safety issues at the nuclear power plant as the main reason for their decision.
By Whitney Webb
While media attention has largely drifted away from the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the years since the disaster, a recent and disturbing development has once again made Fukushima difficult if not impossible to ignore.
On Feb. 2, Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO, quietly released a statement regarding the discovery of a hole measuring 2 meters in diameter within the metal grating at the bottom of the containment vessel in the plant's No. 2 reactor.
Though news of this hole is indeed concerning, even more shocking was the associated jump in radiation detected in the area. According to estimates taken at the time of the hole's discovery, radiation inside the reactor was found to have reached 530 sieverts per hour, a massive increase compared to the 73 sieverts per hour recorded after the disaster. To put these figures in perspective, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's maximum amount of radiation exposure permitted for astronauts over their entire lifetime is 1 sievert.
Human exposure to 5 sieverts would kill half of those exposed within a month, while 10 sieverts would prove fatal to nearly all exposed within a matter of weeks. An official with Japan's National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals with the organization had never even considered working with such high levels of radiation.
A nearly 1-square-meter hole is seen in a walkway in the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It is thought that the heat of the melted nuclear fuel caused the walkway to give way.TEPCO
TEPCO initially tried to counter public fears by stating that most of the reactor's nuclear fuel remained in the containment vessel despite the hole. However, on Feb. 3, TEPCO spokesman Yuichi Okamura was quoted as saying that "it's highly possible that melted fuel leaked through." At the time, TEPCO said that it would send a robot into the area to survey the full extent of the damage in order to definitively determine whether fuel had leaked outside of the reactor into the surrounding environment.
The first robot, deployed on Feb. 16, was unable to conduct any meaningful measurements, as the extreme conditions within the reactor forced operators to abandon it within the containment vessel. The "scorpion" robot, manufactured by Toshiba, was meant to record images of the reactor's interior and collect accurate—instead of estimated—data on the levels of radiation within. Within three hours of deployment, the device stopped responding to operators despite its stated ability to withstand high levels of radiation. TEPCO has not commented on its new plans to gauge the damage recently uncovered in the reactor in the wake of the robot's malfunction.
When a second robot was sent to investigate, it also failed.
One of the World's Worst Nuclear Disasters Grows Even worse
Despite a lack of widespread media coverage and TEPCO's reassurances that things are under control, there is concern that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima—already one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history—is quickly growing even worse.
PBS News reported last year that more than 80 percent of of the radioactivity from the three damaged reactors was released into the Pacific Ocean, as 300 tons of radioactive water have leaked from the reactors every day since an earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled the plant in 2011.
The Pacific Ocean may have diluted much of the radiation, due to its massive volume, yet radiation and debris from the disaster has been detected along the western coast of Canada and the U.S. Traces of Fukushima radiation were first detected in early 2015, when trace amounts of cesium-134 and cesium-137 appeared in samples collected near Vancouver Island. Then, in December of last year, researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution detected seaborne cesium-134 along the Oregon coast.
Though no link between the presence of radiation has been officially established, fisheries along the entire western coast of North America have been collapsing. Last month, the U.S. secretary of commerce reported on the failure of nine salmon and crab fisheries in Alaska, California and Washington—all due to "unexpected" yet steep declines in fish populations.
While scientists and government authorities alike are "stumped" as to the cause, fish caught along the West Coast have showed high increases in the levels of cesium for years—as far back as 2014. Researchers have maintained that fish, however, are still "safe" to eat despite the fact that at least one group of doctors agrees that there is "no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources, period."
The Japanese government, TEPCO and mainstream media continue to insist that this massive release of radiation into the environment has had no effect on human or environmental health. However, thyroid cancer rates have soared in Japan, with 131 children developing thyroid cancer in the six years since the disaster. That total is equivalent to about 600 thyroid cancer cases per million children, while the child thyroid cancer rate elsewhere is about one or two children per million per year.
Despite the marked increase in cancer rates, TEPCO and the Japanese government insist that Fukushima radiation is "unlikely" to result in a greater incidence of cancer cases. However, exposure to Iodine-131, the main radionuclide released into the air and water during the meltdown, is known to increase human risk of thyroid cancer and is the most clearly defined environmental factor associated with thyroid tumors, suggesting that a correlation between radiation and exposure likely exists.
This latest breach in one of the plant's damaged reactors as well as TEPCO's inability to even properly gauge the extent of the damage suggests that we have yet to see the full devastating potential of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Reposted with permission from our media associate MintPress News.
Nearly six years after the initial explosion caused a catastrophic meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear power plant in the Fukushima prefecture of Japan, the situation has suddenly taken a drastic turn for the worst.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company which owns and operates the now defunct power plant, announced Thursday that radiation inside the containment vessel of one of the plant's failed reactors has now reached levels undetected since the disaster first occurred in 2011.
Radiation inside the reactor has reached 530 sieverts per hour, a drastic increase from the previously recorded 73 sieverts per hour recorded in the aftermath of the meltdown. The level of radiation is so high that an official of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences told the Japan Times that medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation in their work.
TEPCO has stated that the cause of the radiation spike is a 2 meter diameter hole inside the bottom grating of the containment vessel. The hole was likely caused by melted fuel.
Images from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's No. 2 reactor revealed a hole thought to be made by fuel leaking out of the pressure vessel.Nikkei Asian Review
Plans have been made to send a robot into the area to survey the damage as the true extent of the structural damage remains unknown. However, previous attempts to use robots to gauge damage or seal breaches at Fukushima have failed. Several robots were deployed to seal a breach in another containment vessel, which continues to release 300 tons of radioactive water a day into the Pacific Ocean. Due to the high temperatures present, all of the robots were rendered nonfunctional and unable to complete the task.
While TEPCO previously claimed that most of the reactor's nuclear fuel remained contained in the pressure vessel, company spokesman Yuichi Okamura stated that "it's highly possible that melted fuel leaked through."
TEPCO has yet to state the expected impact of the radiation spike or the potential consequences of the nuclear fuel leak. The company is expected to detail its plan for containment and offer more details regarding the impacts of this latest development in the coming week. However, given that TEPCO admitted to "covering up" the impact of the initial disaster with the full complicity of the Japanese government, it remains to be seen if they can be taken at their word.
Reposted with permission from our media associate True Activist.
By Paul Brown
There have been three well-documented major nuclear accidents in the last 60 years, each one accompanied by official lies and cover-ups. There have been other less well-known serious accidents that have been so effectively hushed up that decades later there are only the sketchiest details available.
The legacy of these disasters is a deep distrust of the industry by many voters. In some leading industrial countries this has led to governments being forced to abandon nuclear power altogether, while others face such strong opposition to new stations being built that they have abandoned the idea, although they still keep the old ones operating, at least for now.
This checkered history of the industry matters. It has caused a global split. While many scientists and politicians concerned about climate change believe that nuclear power is vital if governments are to meet their commitments to curb dangerous global warming, just as many do not.
The opposition is based on the belief that the industry has lost all integrity and credibility and that renewables are a cheaper, safer and all-round better bet. This view is reinforced by the inability of the industry to deal with its waste. Renewables can easily be recycled, but nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands of years, leaving future generations to pay for it.
But it is the three major disasters that are at the root of this fierce debate. They happened over a span of 60 years and all had different causes. But all followed a familiar pattern.
The first was at Windscale in north-west England in 1957, when a plutonium-producing reactor caught fire. The second was Chernobyl on the border of Ukraine and Belarus in 1986: the top blew off one of the reactors and there was a serious fire. The third was at Fukushima in Japan in 2011, when an earthquake and a tsunami caused meltdowns at three reactors.
All three accidents had startling similarities in the official reaction. In each case the governments involved, the nuclear regulators and plant owners tried to hide the scale of the disaster from the public who were most in danger. In each case this resulted in unnecessary exposure of the population to harmful radiation.
Second, the possible long-term health effects to the people involved were hotly disputed. In each case this took the form, both at the time and ever since, of governments and the industry playing down the health risks.
There is still an argument about whether the Windscale fire caused a leukaemia cluster in children in the neighborhood. After Fukushima, governments and the industry claim, very few or no deaths at all resulted. Expect the argument to continue for decades.
Third has been the underplaying of the enormous cost and intractable nature of trying to clean up the mess. For example, people who are evacuated are told the move is only temporary, when it could last for decades, possibly generations.
Again, the official estimate for "compensation" for the Fukushima accident rose from ¥5.4 trillion (£40bn) to ¥8 trillion (£70bn), a fact only slipped out at the end of November 2016, nearly five years after the accident.
In each case, even after the Windscale accident 60 years ago, the clean-up of the actual nuclear pile that caught fire has several times started and then been abandoned as too difficult. They are not expected to be completed for decades.
There is no hope of cleaning up Chernobyl or Fukushima this century. A new concrete shell over Chernobyl to replace the existing crumbling structure should be in place by 2017 at a cost of €2.1—but this is designed only as a temporary structure, to last 100 years.
Governments tried hard to cover up what happened. At Windscale, the British government subsequently admitted it had deliberately covered up the seriousness of the accidents to keep its nuclear weapons program on track.
In Chernobyl's case it was the sky-high radiation readings from as far away as Scandinavia and Germany that led the Soviets to admit what had happened. Thirty years later the real health effects of the accident are hotly disputed.
Thousands of children have had their thyroids removed and there have been many birth defects and cancers. Belarus, worst hit by the disaster, is anxious to play down the long-term effects to avoid frightening potential foreign investors in the country.
The nuclear industry has been trying hard to put all this in the past. In response to public concerns it has come up with a whole series of "safer" designs for nuclear power stations. As a result, some countries like Finland and Britain are encouraging the building of a new generation of French, Japanese, Chinese and American designs.
This time, however, it is not just safety that is at issue. For the last 35 years not a single nuclear power station in the west has been built to time or on budget. It undermines the claim that nuclear power will be able to compete with other fuels on price. It has repeatedly been shown that, without government subsidy, nuclear power cannot survive.
The latest evidence for this is the two new power stations being built in Finland and France. Both are nearly 10 years behind schedule and have more than doubled in cost.
The original claims that the price of the electricity the stations would produce would be competitive cannot be true. Wholesale prices must already have more than doubled before a single watt of power has been produced.
Yet, despite this track record, the nuclear industry hopes to keep on growing and claims it is expecting to do so—and many governments continue to pour money into research and development. They do so in the hope that one day nuclear power will provide a safe and economically viable method of producing electricity.
So far, however, there is no sign of the long-predicted nuclear renaissance. The costs of a safe design continue to increase as the industry and governments attempt to live down the legacy of misleading the public for the last 60 years. It seems that if the climate is to be saved from overheating, we shall have to do this without the aid of new nuclear power.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
In 2011, a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the Fukushima prefecture in Japan, leading to a nuclear disaster whose impacts are still being felt globally. Now, a massive 7.4 earthquake hit Fukushima around 6 a.m. local time, and tsunami warnings and advisories are in effect.
It was first reported as a 7.3 earthquake but was later revised to 7.4 by the Japan Meteorological Agency. The epicenter of the quake was 67 km northeast of Iwaki, a city on the southern coast of the Fukushima prefecture.
Residents along Japan's Northeastern coast have been told to evacuate immediately and seek higher ground. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency, tsunami waves are expected to hit repeatedly and make landfall imminently.
NHK News Japan
Their warning stated: "Damage due to tsunami waves is expected. Evacuate immediately from coastal regions and riverside areas to a safer place such as high ground or an evacuation building. Tsunami waves are expected to hit repeatedly. Do not leave safe ground until the warning is lifted." NHK News Japan warned those living on the coast to "hurry up and run away."
Though immediate concern was given to local residents and their safety, attention has quickly turned to TEPCO's nuclear power plant in Fukushima, the site of the 2011 catastrophic meltdown. Five years ago, three of the plant's six reactors melted down leading to the largest release of radiation into the ocean in world history. The damaged reactors were never sealed and continue to leak an astounding 300 tons of radioactive wastewater every day. As Japan braces for yet another tsunami, concern is growing regarding the potentially devastating effects that another tsunami could have on the cooling system's of the plant's three remaining, intact reactors.
According to reports, these fears are not unfounded. In the aftermath of the earthquake, TEPCO confirmed that the cooling system in one of the three intact reactors stopped working, but was successfully restarted 90 minutes after its abrupt shutdown. Though no "abnormalities" were reported, TEPCO has remained silent as to what caused the shutdown and if the cooling system suffered any damage that could lead to another unexpected shutdown. TEPCO said that the cooling system failure posed no "immediate danger" even though they admitted that there has been a "gradual" rise in reactor temperatures.
With the tsunami expected to arrive within hours, people around the world will be watching to see if the nuclear reactors will hold or if history will repeat itself in the worst way possible. However, TEPCO's credibility regarding its Fukushima plant is dubious as they lied about the true extent of the 2011 crisis with complicity from the Japanese government. Hopefully, this time they are telling the truth.
Reposted with permission from our media associate True Activist.
Radioactive contamination in the seabed off the Fukushima coast is hundreds of times above pre-2011 levels, while contamination in local rivers is up to 200 times higher than ocean sediment, according to results from Greenpeace Japan survey work released Thursday.
"The extremely high levels of radioactivity we found along the river systems highlights the enormity and longevity of both the environmental contamination and the public health risks resulting from the Fukushima disaster," Ai Kashiwagi, energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said.
Greenpeace sediment sampling in Abukuma river, Miyagi prefecture, February 2016. The Abukuma has a 5,172km2 catchment15 which is largely in Fukushima prefecture, before entering the Pacific ocean in Miyagi prefecture. Greenpeace / Raquel Monton
"These river samples were taken in areas where the Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe," said Kashiwagi.
Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg.
Greenpeace radiation specialist Jacob Namminga on board research vessel off the coast of Fukushima Daiichi, removing marine sediment sample collected by Remotely Operated Vehicle, March 2016. Greenpeace / Christian Aslund
The lifting of evacuation orders in March 2017 for areas that remain highly contaminated is a looming human rights crisis and cannot be permitted to stand. The vast expanses of contaminated forests and freshwater systems will remain a perennial source of radioactivity for the foreseeable future, as these ecosystems cannot simply be decontaminated.
Caesium-137 has a half life of 30 years and will continue to pose a risks to the the environment and human health for hundreds of years. Cs-137 contamination in seabed samples near the Fukushima plant was measured at up to 120 Bq/kg – compared to levels pre-2011 of 0.3 Bq/kg. Further, the levels of contamination found 60km south of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were comparable with those found within 4km of the plant. Numerous marine science investigations, have concluded that these higher levels are one explanation for some marine species still showing higher cesium levels than the background levels in seawater.
River systems along Fukushima and neighboring prefecture coastline discharging radioactivity into Pacific Ocean.
"The radiation levels in the sediment off the coast of Fukushima are low compared to land contamination, which is what we expected and consistent with other research," Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said. "The sheer size of the Pacific Ocean combined with powerful complex currents means the largest single release of radioactivity into the marine environment has led to the widespread dispersal of contamination."
Most of the radioactivity in Fukushima Daiichi reactor units 1-3 core fuel in March 2011 remains at the site.
"The scientific community must receive all necessary support to continue their research into the impacts of this disaster," Ulrich said.
"In addition to the ongoing contamination from forests and rivers, the vast amount of radioactivity onsite at the destroyed nuclear plant remains one of the greatest nuclear threats to Fukushima coastal communities and the Pacific Ocean. The hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly contaminated water, the apparent failure of the ice wall to reduce groundwater contamination and the unprecedented challenge of three molten reactor cores all add up to a nuclear crisis that is far from over."
A radiation survey team onboard the research vessel Asakaze, supported by the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior, conducted underwater survey work along the Fukushima coastline from Feb. 21 to March 11 this year, as well collecting samples in river systems. The samples were measured at an independent laboratory in Tokyo.