A radiation monitoring post in Fukushima city.
March 14, 2019
Despite government claims, radiation from the 2011 nuclear disaster is not gone.
Fukushima, on the other hand, is dealing with the release of radionuclides, which are fission products from nuclear power plants. These radionuclides are not rays, but dust-like particles that can stick to the body and be inhaled or ingested. Weather factors like wind and rain have displaced many radionuclides like cesium-137, which accumulate in patchy locations, such as ditches, drainage areas, or playgrounds. Because of this uneven dispersion, monitoring posts often overlook the presence of hot spots, places where the level of radiation is significantly greater. Dissatisfied by state-sponsored monitoring, many citizen scientists have collectively tracked and monitored residual radioactivity in Japan, legitimizing the presence of hot spots.
To measure radiation levels in Fukushima, the Japanese government has installed monitoring posts that display the current atmospheric level of radiation on an electronic board. Measurements of radiation levels in the air are taken at different locations and compiled to create an average level of radiation for the cities of Fukushima.
Monitoring posts are also strategically placed and their surrounding areas cleaned so that the levels of radiation remain lower. No monitoring posts are present in forests and mountains, which represent more than 70 percent of the area of Fukushima prefecture.
On top of such problems, radiation posts only measure radiation in the form of gamma rays. Yet the disaster has also released radionuclides that emit ionized particles, that is, alpha and beta particles. These ionized particles are not taken into account by state monitoring posts, even though they are dangerous if inhaled or ingested. Consequently, the data accumulated by monitoring posts is partial and unrepresentative of the extent of radioactive contamination.
Levels of radiation have also decreased due to a massive state-sponsored program of radioactive decontamination in the urban and rural areas of Fukushima. The process of decontamination consists of collecting and removing radioactive pollutants. Radionuclides are then contained in vinyl bags, so as to impede the risk of rescattering residual radioactivity. As a testament of the government-led decontamination, mountains of black plastic bags, filled with contaminated soil or debris, can be seen in many parts of Fukushima, forming a stark contrast against the emerald-green mountains of the region.
As such, decontamination does not imply that radiation has vanished; it has simply been moved elsewhere. Yet in rural regions, where many of the bags are currently being disposed, far away from the eyes of urban dwellers, residents are still forced to live near the storage sites. Many rural residents have criticized the actual efficacy of the decontamination projects. For instance, vinyl bags are now starting to break down due to the build-up of gas released by rotten soil. Plants and flowers have also started to grow inside the bags, in the process tearing them apart. With weather factors, residual radioactivity inside the bags will eventually be scattered back into the environment.
In the end, state-sponsored monitoring and decontamination are remedial measures that manage the perception of radiation in the environment. However, this does not imply that radioactive contamination is gone – not at all. When we look at the official maps of radiation of northeastern Japan, levels are low, but there are many ways to make them appear low. With overall lifespan that exceeds hundreds of years, radionuclides like cesium-137 or strontium-90 will continue to pose a problem for decades to come. However, with the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is doubtful that the Japanese state will ever acknowledge this reality.
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Fukushima, after eight years: Of the 19 to 25 million tons of contaminated topsoil bagged up across the country, the government has suggested incinerating 11 million tons..
Workers at a soil separation facility for decontamination work in Okuma.
March 11, 2019
Eight years after the disaster, not a single location will take the millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil that remain
Not even the icy wind blowing in from the coast seems to bother the men in protective masks, helmets and gloves, playing their part in the world’s biggest nuclear cleanup.
Away from the public gaze, they remove the latest of the more than 1,000 black sacks filled with radioactive soil and unload their contents into giant sieves. A covered conveyor belt carries the soil to the lip of a huge pit where it is flattened in preparation for the next load. And there it will remain, untouched, for almost three decades.
It is repetitive, painstaking work but there is no quick way of addressing arguably the most controversial physical legacy of the triple meltdown that occurred eight years ago at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
In the years after the disaster, about 70,000 workers removed topsoil, tree branches, grass and other contaminated material from areas near homes, schools and public buildings in a unprecedented ¥2.9tn (£21bn) drive to reduce radiation to levels that would enable tens of thousands of evacuees to return home.
The decontamination operation cleaned generated millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil, packed into bags that carpet large swaths of Fukushima prefecture.
Japan’s government has pledged that the soil will moved to the interim storage facility and then, by 2045, to a permanent site outside of Fukushima prefecture as part of a deal with local residents who do not want their communities turned into a nuclear dumping ground.
But the government’s blueprint for the soil is unravelling: so far, not a single location has agreed to accommodate the toxic waste.
While workers inside the ruined nuclear plant struggle to contain the build-up of more than 1m tonnes of radioactive water, outside, work continues to remove, process and store soil that will amount to 14m cubic metres by 2021.
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A cauldron used in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is displayed in tsunami-hit Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 19 as a symbol of what the government is dubbing the “Recovery Olympics.”
March 10, 2019
The central government hopes the quadrennial sports event will serve as a platform to show that the nation has recovered from the disasters.
But recovery wasn’t one of the original themes for the Tokyo Games. The concept was added when it became apparent Tokyo wouldn’t be able to secure all the venues needed in the capital or its vicinity. When organizers thus turned to the disaster-hit prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima, which will host the softball and baseball games, the recovery spin was born, with officials saying the event would contribute to reconstruction.
Moreover, the reconstruction plan for the Tohoku region is expected to end when fiscal 2020 closes in March 2021, putting an end to various central government subsidies that helped both victims and municipalities.
… “The Tokyo 2020 Games have become a goal for us to show the region has recovered,” said Yasuki Sato, a Miyagi Prefecture official tasked with coordinating the preparations.
But residents in the area view the preparations as something happening in the background. In fact, some believe they are actually hindering the region’s recovery….
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Representatives from East Japan Railway Co. give an update on the recovery of the Joban Line in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on Thursday.
Mar 9, 2019
FUKUSHIMA – A majority of people under age 50 who had lived in three towns close to the site of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster have no plans to return, an official survey showed Saturday.
Many former residents of Futaba, Namie and Tomioka say they have established new lives elsewhere and that their adopted hometowns are more convenient.
The three towns were subject to government evacuation orders in the wake of the crisis at the plant, which was triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami.
The orders for Namie and Tomioka were partially lifted in 2017. But more than 60 percent of evacuees from the two towns in their 20s and 30s and more than 50 percent in their 40s said they would not return, with other major reasons cited including concerns over the lack of medical and commercial facilities.
Regardless of age group, 49.9 percent of former Namie residents and 48.1 percent of former Tomioka residents said they would not return.
As for Futaba, which hosts part of the crippled nuclear plant and remains off limits for residents, similar proportions of those in the 20s, 30s and 40s said they would not return, and the overall figure, regardless of age group, stood at 61.5 percent.
Beyond Nuclear Press Release
Thursday, March 7, 2019
TAKOMA PARK, MD — The legacy of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will continue indefinitely, creating long-term problems for human health, radioactive waste management and the environment:
- Around 1.09 million tons of radioactively contaminated water — used to cool the destroyed reactor cores as well as groundwater flowing across the site — is being stored onsite in growing tank farms, which are now at capacity. Absent other options, Japanese authorities are looking to dump this radioactively contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, a move strongly opposed by Japanese fishermen, ocean protection groups and the worldwide environmental community.
- In an effort to downplay or dismiss the health dangers of radiation exposure, the Japanese government has ended financial benefits to Fukushima evacuees, putting economic pressures on these families to return to the region, even though it has not been — and cannot be — adequately or effectively cleaned up and made safe for human habitation. According to noted physicist, Dr. Bruno Chareyron, who has conducted field measurements in the area, “The radioactive particles deposited on the ground in March 2011 are still there, and in Japan, millions of people are living on territories that received significant contamination.”
- In order to justify the return of evacuees and claim the region is now safe, Japanese regulatory authorities have raised the allowable radiation dose from I milisievert per year to 20, an unacceptably high rate that is especially dangerous for pregnant women and children. This policy has been cited by a UN Special Rapporteur as having “potentially grave impacts on the rights of young children returning to or born in contaminated areas.”
- Plans by Tepco and the Japanese government to begin removing melted reactor fuel in 2021 are fraught with risk and uncertainty since little is still known about its condition and there is no safe, permanent radioactive waste management plan in place.
- The Japanese government plans to hold two events — softball and baseball — in the Fukushima Prefecture during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a public relations maneuver to “normalize” the situation. However, in addition to unacceptable radiation exposure doses, particularly from hot spots, the discovery of radioactive particles of reactor fuel debris in the area, including uranium and cesium, would put both athletes and spectators at risk.
- The implications for returning populations to the Fukushima region come with dire warnings from the health findings in Macaque monkeys who have lived there continuously. The monkeys have been found to have bone marrows that are producing almost no blood cells, and mothers are giving birth to babies with reduced brain sizes. With a 7% difference in DNA with humans, these outcomes are alarming.
- Scandals surrounding the ill treatment of workers at the stricken Fukushima plant, many of whom are migrants and already low-income, continue. UN human rights experts found these workers to have been exploited and their health willfully jeopardized, with workers coerced “into accepting hazardous working conditions because of economic hardships, and the adequacy of training and protective measures.”
- Despite widespread public opposition in Japan, the Abe government continues to try to restart nuclear reactors. However, only nine of the 42 still operable reactors are back on line (out of 58 originally). The government has instead turned its attention to the nuclear export market, but this took a serious hit when Toshiba’s Westinghouse nuclear division went bankrupt two years ago and Hitachi withdrew from two new nuclear power plant projects in the UK in January 2019.