The Japan Times has always been a mixed bag: They have had decent coverage of a number of domestic issues, going back to the days of the Zai-Nichi anti fingerprinting movement and Mad Cow disease. On the the other hand, they have had several regular columnists (Brad Glosserman and Ralph Cossa) with connections to CSIS, a CIA affiliated organization that pushes American military policy. As well, their “Vernacular News column invariably has summaries from one of the two most rabidly right wing papers, the Yomiuri (the other being Sankei). Perhaps because they have a new President (Yukiko Ogasawara, replacing her fatherToshiaki, who also is or was associated with the CSIS), their coverage of issues concerning social democracy will continue to improve.
In any case, the Japan Times has had a number of decent articles on the nuclear crisis following the earthquke and tsunami on March 11 of this year. Here are a few that were in the same edition recently.
|Dissenting voice: Sebastian Pflugbeil, president of the German Society for Radiation Protection, talks about radiation and health at the Oct. 12 forum in Tokyo. TOMOKO OTAKE PHOTO|
To whom does scientific debate belong?
That was a central question raised by many of the 200-plus people who attended a citizens’ forum in Tokyo on Oct. 12, as they criticized the ways in which the Japanese government and radiation specialists working for it are assessing and monitoring the health effects of the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The daylong conference, organized by the Japanese citizens’ groups SAY-Peace Project and Citizens’ Radioactivity Measuring Station (CRMS), featured experts who dispute much of the evidence on which the government has based its health and welfare decisions affecting residents of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond.
Organizers of the event were also demanding that the government take into consideration the views of non-experts — and also experts with differing views from those of official bodies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). The Japanese government has constantly referred to the ICRP’s recommendations in setting radiation exposure limits for Fukushima residents.
One of the driving forces for the citizens’ forum was a desire to challenge the conduct and much of the content of a conference held Sept. 11-12 in Fukushima, titled the “International Expert Symposium in Fukushima — Radiation and Health Risk.”
That conference, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, involved some 30 scientists from major institutions, including the ICRP, the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Although the proceedings were broadcast live on U-stream, the event itself was — unlike the Tokyo forum — closed to the public.
Some citizens and citizens’ groups claimed that this exclusion of many interested and involved parties — and the event’s avowed aim of disseminating to the public “authoritative” information on the health effects of radiation exposure — ran counter to the pursuit of facilitating open and free exchanges among and between experts and citizens on the many contentious issues facing the nation and its people at this critical time.
In particular, there was widespread criticism after the Fukushima conference — which was organized by Shunichi Yamashita, the vice president of Fukushima Medical University and a “radiological health safety risk management advisor” for Fukushima prefectural government — that its participants assumed from the outset that radioactive contamination from the plant’s wrecked nuclear reactors is minimal.
Critics also claimed that the experts invited to the conference had turned a collective blind eye to research findings compiled by independent scientists in Europe in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in present-day Ukraine — specifically to findings that point to various damaging health consequences of long-term exposure to low-level radiation.
So it was that those two citizens’ groups, angered by these and other official responses to the calamity, organized the Oct. 12 conference held at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya Ward. Among the non-experts and experts invited to attend and exchange their views were people from a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, constitutional law and pediatrics.
On the day, some of the speakers took issue with the stance of the majority of official bodies that the health damage from Chernobyl was observed only in a rise in the number of cases of thyroid cancers.
Eisuke Matsui, a lung cancer specialist who is a former associate professor at Gifu University’s School of Medicine, argued in his papers submitted to the conference that the victims of Chernobyl in the neighboring present-day country of Belarus have suffered from a raft of other problems, including congenital malformations, type-1 diabetes and cataracts.
Matsui cited a lengthy and detailed report of research by the Russian scientists Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko that was published in 2007, and republished in English in 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences under the title “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.”
Matsui stressed that, based on such evidence, the Japanese government should approve group evacuations of children — at the expense of the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. — from certain parts of Fukushima Prefecture. He cited some areas of the city of Koriyama, 50 to 60 km from the stricken nuclear plant, where soil contamination by radioactive cesium-137 has reached 5.13 Curies per sq. km. That is the same as in areas of Ukraine where residents were given rights to evacuate, Matsui said.
In fact in June, the parents of 14 schoolchildren in Koriyama filed a request for a temporary injunction with the Fukushima District Court, asking it to order the city to send their children to schools in safer areas.
In the ongoing civil suit, those parents claim that the children’s external radiation exposure has already exceeded 1 millisievert according to official data — the upper yearly limit from all sources recommended by the ICRP for members of the public under normal conditions.
Following a nuclear incident, however, the ICRP recommends local authorities to set the yearly radiation exposure limit for residents in contaminated areas at between 1 and 20 millisieverts, with the long-term goal of reducing the limit to 1 millisievert per year.
Meanwhile, Hisako Sakiyama, former head researcher at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, delved into the non-cancer risks of exposure to radiation. In her presentation, she referred to a report compiled in April by the German Affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Titled “Health Effects of Chernobyl: 25 years after the reactor catastrophe,” this documents an alarmingly high incidence of genetic and teratogenic (fetal malformation) damage observed in many European countries since Chernobyl.
Sakiyama also pointed out that the German report showed that the incidence of thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure was not limited to children.
For instance, she cited IPPNW survey findings from the Gomel district in Belarus, a highly-contaminated area, when researchers compared the incidence of thyroid cancer in the 13 years before the Chernobyl explosion and the 13 years after. These findings show that the figures for the latter period were 58 times higher for residents aged 0-18, 5.3 times higher for those aged 19-34, 6 times higher for those aged 35-49, and 5 times higher for those aged 50-64.
“In Japan, the government has a policy of not giving out emergency iodine pills to those aged 45 and older (because it considers that the risk of them getting cancer is very low),”‘ Sakiyama said. “But the (IPPNW) data show that, while less sensitive compared to children, adults’ risks go up in correspondence with their exposure to radioactivity.”
Further post-Chernobyl data was presented to the conference by Sebastian Pflugbeil, a physicist who is president of the German Society for Radiation Protection. Reporting the results of his independent research into child cancers following the Chernobyl disaster, he said that “in West Germany … with an exposure of 1 millisievert per year, hundreds of thousands of children were affected.”
He noted, though, that any official admissions regarding health damage caused by the 1986 disaster in the then Soviet Union came very slowly and insufficiently in Europe. Indeed, he said the authorities denied there were health risks for years afterward.
In response, an audience member who said he was a science teacher at a junior high school in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, asked Pflugbeil to exactly identify the level of exposure beyond which residents should be evacuated. While acknowledging that was a very difficult question, the German specialist noted later, however, that he would think pregnant women should probably leave Fukushima — adding, “I have seen many cases over the years, but I come from Germany and it’s not easy to judge (about the situation in Japan).”
At a round table discussion later in the day, as well as discussing specific issues many participants made the point that science belongs to the people, not just experts — the very point that underpinned the entire event. As Wataru Iwata, director of the Fukushima-based citizens’ group CRMS, one of the forum’s organizers (which also conducts independent testing of food from in and around Fukushima Prefecture) put it: “Science is a methodology and not an end itself.”
In the end, though the citizens’ forum — which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. — arrived at no clear-cut conclusions, organizers said that that in itself was a good outcome. And another conference involving citizens and scientists is now being planned for March 2012.
Every year when I was a child, my parents would take my brother and me from our Los Angeles home to Las Vegas on vacation. Back then in the 1950s, Vegas was still a family-oriented holiday destination. Dad would drop a few bucks at the crap table while the rest of us basked in the sun. I vividly recall, one late afternoon, looking out over the desert that stretched endlessly from our hotel and pointing to a rather eerie glow over the horizon.
“That’s from the atom-bomb testing they do,” Dad explained.
“But isn’t that dangerous, Dad?”
“Do you think they would do it if it was dangerous?”
That was the average person’s attitude at the time toward nuclear testing in the atmosphere: “They” wouldn’t do it if it caused harm.
That incident from my childhood sprang to mind when the reactors at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began to spew radioactive materials into the environment. The Japanese public had the wool pulled well over their eyes, just as my father had.
They had made the fatal mistake of believing that the government officials and company executives carrying out nuclear tests and establishing nuclear power facilities had the interests of their countries and their citizens at heart; while, in fact, what motivated both was the lust for power and an all-consuming greed.
Now that lust and greed have wreaked havoc across huge swaths of the Tohoku region in northeastern Honshu. And no one has been a more ardent and articulate champion of the truth about the dangers of nuclear power — and allowing that lust and greed to rule our lives — than Takashi Hirose.
His latest book, “Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster,” has just become available online as a Kindle book in an excellent and fluid translation by a team under the guidance of American author and scholar, Douglas Lummis.
Originally published as “Fukushima Genpatsu Merutodaun” by Asahi Shinsho on May 30, 2011, this is the book that Hirose had hoped he would never have to write. For three decades he has been warning Japanese people about the catastrophes that could been visited on their country — and now his worst nightmare has become a reality.
“This is called the ‘3/11 Disaster’ by many,” he writes, “but it did not happen on 3/11, it began on 3/11 and it is continuing today. … Nuclear power plants are a wildly dangerous way to get electricity and are unnecessary. The world needs to learn quickly from Japan’s tragedy.”
Hirose points out that from day one of the disaster the situation in Fukushima had reached the highest level of nuclear accidents, namely level 7 — and from the outset, the government was keenly aware of this fact. But it chose to conceal the truth from the people.
“In past nuclear-plant disasters — those at Chernobyl (in present-day Ukraine, in 1986) and at Three Mile Island (in Pennsylvania in the United States, in 1979) — only one reactor was involved in each. However, at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, four reactors went critical at the same time.”
On March 13, two days after the tsunami that followed the magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake, Masataka Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, said at a press conference:
“The tsunami was beyond all previous imagination. In the sense that we took all measures that could be thought of for dealing with a tsunami, there was nothing wrong with our preparations.”
As Hirose and many other commentators have pointed out, Tepco executives and government planners knew perfectly well that tsunamis far exceeding 20 meters in height struck that very region in 1896 and again, 37 years later, in 1933.
The 14-meter-high tsunami that inundated many of the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s facilities was, in fact, well within the parameters of what could objectively be termed “expected” — and was simply not “beyond all previous imagination,” as Shimizu claimed.
In fact, the willful absence of care by both industry and government comprises nothing less than a blatant act of savagery against the people of Japan.
This book is full of enlightening technical explanations on every aspect of nuclear safety, from structural safeguards (and their clear inadequacy) to the nature of hydrogen explosions and meltdowns.
Hirose warns us, with detailed descriptions of the lay of the land and the features of each reactor, about the nuclear power plants at Tomari in Hokkaido, Higashidori in Aomori Prefecture and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture; about other plants in Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Shimane, Ehime, Saga and Kagoshima prefectures; and perhaps most dangerous of all, about the 14 reactors along the Wakasa Coast in Fukui Prefecture, constituting what I would call Hōshanō Yokochō (Radioactivity Alley).
Many of the reactors at these plants are aging and plagued with serious structural problems.
“I have looked through the ‘Nuclear Plant Archipelago’ from north to south,” writes Hirose. “I cannot suppress my amazement that on such narrow islands, laced with active earthquake faults, and with earthquakes and volcanoes coming one after another, so many nuclear power plants have been built.”
There is no shortage of electricity-generating potential in this country. The 10 regional electric power monopolies have perpetrated the myth of the inevitability of nuclear power in order to manipulate this essential market to their own gain.
Tepco created a fear of blackouts this past summer in order to aggrandize its own “sacrificial” role.
As Hirose points out, Japan is not a preindustrial country; blackouts are not an issue.
Many major companies could independently produce sufficient electricity to cover all of Japan’s industrial and domestic needs. They are prevented from doing so by the monopolies created by self-interested businessmen and bureaucrats, and by their many lobbyists occupying seats in the Diet.
Hirose states: “Electrical generation and electrical transmission should be separated, and the state should manage the transmission systems in the public interest. … The great fear is that there are many nuclear power plants in the Japanese archipelago that could become the second or third Fukushima. These nuclear plants could cause catastrophes exceeding the Fukushima disaster and thus affect the whole country and possibly the world.”
There is little difference between this situation and the one in the 1930s, when all-powerful business conglomerates and complying politicians “convinced” the Japanese people that it was in their interests to go to war.
One thing comes out of all of this with crystal clarity: “They” can no longer be trusted — if ever they could.
The health and welfare of millions of people living in the vicinity of nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere around the world — and not just in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas — was compromised by self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials.
Our health and welfare in this country is no less compromised by cynical self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials who deny their responsibility for showering us in that very same radiation.
Nuclear testing in the atmosphere has ceased. No longer do parents “assure” their children that there is no danger because “they” say so. And yet, the dangers of radioactive contamination of the environment by nuclear plants exist around us today.
All nuclear power plants in Japan should be shut down now, lest we find ourselves one day viewing Fukushima as the first of a chain of tragedies that threaten our lives and the very existence of the Japanese nation.