Fukushima Fallout:

Worse than Hiroshima or Chernobyl?


by Gordon Edwards, August 29, 2011




No one has ever before experienced the extensive radioactive contamination of air, water, soil, and food that now faces the Japanese people after the Fukushima disaster.


It is important to realize that each nuclear reactor contains  more than a thousand times as much radioactive material as the radioactive fallout from a Hiroshima-type atomic bomb.


The dropping of the atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 caused enormous destruction, brought  about by the blast and by the fireball.  It also caused massive radiation exposures, mainly neutron and gamma radiation, most of it delivered at the very instant of the explosion.


But the fallout in the area of the bombed cities was relatively little, because in both cases the bombs were deliberately detonated high in the air so that the concussive shock wave   would do the most damage on the ground.  Thus no crater was  created by the blast, and most of the fallout was carried high  into the atmosphere by the heat of the fireball and the burning  of the cities.  It became global fallout more than local fallout.


At Chernobyl, there was an explosion in the core of one reactor followed by a very hot graphite fire that raged for days, lofting much of the radioactive fallout high into the air, and sending it across  vast distances.  A lot of it was deposited in Belarus and other  European countries; it contaminated the sheep in Northern  England and Wales for two decades, and the wild boar in Germany's Black Forest area. Some of it made its way  across the ocean to contaminate the lichen in Northern  Canada, which resulted in measurable increases of radioactive  cesium in the bodies of the Inuit people who fed on the caribou  that fed on the lichen.


But at Fukushima, not one but three nuclear reactors melted down -- Units 1, 2, and 3 -- as well as a spent fuel pool in Unit 4 that caught fire and spewed radioactive debris directly into the atmosphere.  Because there was no fireball, no burning cities, and no burning graphite, much of the radioactive fallout rained out quickly and stayed closer to the ground and contaminated everything  that it came in contact with in large swaths of territory surrounding the plant.  


The local contamination at ground level is as extensive and as insidious as anything that has previously been experienced.  Radioactive iodine has already done its worst, though the results will not be seen for decades in terms of thyroid cancers and developmental abnormalities caused by thyroid damage to embryos, infants and children.  But the radioactive cesium and strontium and plutonium and americium and dozens of other radioactive species will be in the soil and the food and the bodies of Japanese living near the affected areas and even those further away for decades, even centuries to come.


No one truly knows the full long-term effects of chronic exposure of such a huge population to these radioactive poisons, for the degree of local radioactive contamination  resulting from Fukushima is indeed unprecedented.


Gordon Edwards.


 Why the Fukushima disaster  is worse than Chernobyl

Japan has been slow to admit the scale of the meltdown.

But now the truth is coming out.  


 David McNeill, The Independent, Monday, 29 August 2011


Yoshio Ichida is recalling the worst day of his 53 years: 11 March, when the  sea swallowed up his home and killed his friends. The Fukushima fisherman  was in the bath when the huge quake hit and barely made it to the open sea  in his boat in the 40 minutes before the 15-metre tsunami that followed. 


When he got back to port, his neighbourhood and nearly everything else was gone. "Nobody can remember anything like this," he says.


 Now living in a refugee centre in the ruined coastal city of Soma, Mr Ichida  has mourned the 100 local fishermen killed in the disaster and is trying to  rebuild his life with his colleagues. Every morning, they arrive at the ruined  fisheries co-operative building in Soma port and prepare for work. Then they  stare out at the irradiated sea, and wait. "Some day we know we'll be allowed  to fish again. We all want to believe that."


This nation has recovered from worse natural – and manmade – catastrophes.  But it is the triple meltdown and its aftermath at the Fukushima nuclear power  plant 40 km down the coast from Soma that has elevated Japan into unknown,  and unknowable, terrain. Across the northeast, millions of people are living  with its consequences and searching for a consensus on a safe radiation level  that does not exist. Experts give bewilderingly different assessments of its  dangers.


Some scientists say Fukushima is worse than the 1986 Chernobyl accident,  with which it shares a maximum level-7 rating on the sliding scale of nuclear  disasters. One of the most prominent of them is Dr Helen Caldicott, an  Australian physician and long time anti-nuclear activist who warns of  "horrors to come" in Fukushima.


Chris Busby, a professor at the University of Ulster known for his alarmist  views, generated controversy during a Japan visit last month when he said  the disaster would result in more than 1 million deaths. "Fukushima is still  boiling its radionuclides all over Japan," he said. "Chernobyl went up in one  go. So Fukushima is worse."


On the other side of the nuclear fence are the industry friendly scientists  who insist that the crisis is under control and radiation levels are mostly  safe. "I believe the government and Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco, the  plant's operator] are doing their best," said Naoto Sekimura, vice-dean of  the Graduate School of Engineering at the University of Tokyo. 


Mr Sekimura initially advised residents near the plant that a radioactive  disaster was "unlikely" and that they should stay "calm", an assessment  he has since had to reverse.


Slowly, steadily, and often well behind the curve, the government has  worsened its prognosis of the disaster. Last Friday, scientists affiliated  with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the plant had  released 15,000 terabecquerels of cancer-causing Cesium, equivalent  to about 168 times the 1945 atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the event that  ushered in the nuclear age. (Professor Busby says the release is at least  72,000 times worse than Hiroshima).


Caught in a blizzard of often conflicting information, many Japanese  instinctively grope for the beacons they know. Mr Ichida and his  colleagues say they no longer trust the nuclear industry or the officials  who assured them the Fukushima plant was safe. But they have faith in  government radiation testing and believe they will soon be allowed back  to sea.


That's a mistake, say sceptics, who note a consistent pattern of official  lying, foot-dragging and concealment. Last week, officials finally admitted  something long argued by its critics: that thousands of people with homes  near the crippled nuclear plant may not be able to return for a generation  or more. "We can't rule out the possibility that there will be some areas  where it will be hard for residents to return to their homes for a long time,"  said Yukio Edano, the government's top government spokesman.  "We are very sorry."


Last Friday, hundreds of former residents from Futaba and Okuma, the  towns nearest the plant, were allowed to visit their homes – perhaps for  the last time – to pick up belongings. Wearing masks and radiation suits,  they drove through the 20 km contaminated zone around the plant, where hundreds of animals have died and rotted in the sun, to find kitchens and  living rooms partly reclaimed by nature. "It's hard to believe we ever lived  here," one former resident told NHK.


Several other areas northwest of the plant have become atomic ghost  towns after being ordered to evacuate – too late, say many residents,  who believe they absorbed dangerous quantities of radiation in the  weeks after the accident. "We've no idea when we can come back,"  says Katsuzo Shoji, who farmed rice and cabbages and kept a small  herd of cattle near Iitate, a picturesque village about 40 km from the plant.


Although it is outside the exclusion zone, the village's mountainous  topography meant radiation, carried by wind and rain, lingered,  poisoning crops, water and school playgrounds.


The young, the wealthy, mothers and pregnant women left for Tokyo  or elsewhere. Most of the remaining 6000 people have since evacuated,  after the government accepted that safe radiation limits had been  exceeded.


Mr Shoji, 75, went from shock to rage, then despair when the  government told him he would have to destroy his vegetables, kill his  six cows and move with his wife Fumi, 73, to an apartment in Koriyama,  about 20 km away. "We've heard five, maybe 10 years but some say  that's far too optimistic," he says, crying. "Maybe I'll be able to come  home to die." 


He was given initial compensation of one million yen (7,900) by  Tepco, topped up with 350,000 yen from the government.                           


It is the fate of people outside the evacuation zones, however, that  causes the most bitter controversy. Parents in Fukushima City, 63 km  from the plant, have banded together to demand that the government  do more to protect about 100,000 children. Schools have banned  soccer and other outdoor sports. Windows are kept closed. 


"We've just been left to fend for ourselves," says Machiko Sato, a  grandmother who lives in the city. "It makes me so angry."


Many parents have already sent their children to live with relatives  or friends hundreds of kilometres away. Some want the government  to evacuate the entire two million population of Fukushima Prefecture.  "They're demanding the right to be able to evacuate," says  anti-nuclear activist Aileen Mioko Smith, who works with the parents.  "In other words, if they evacuate they want the government to  support them."


So far, at least, the authorities say that is not necessary. The official  line is that they are safe.


But many experts warn that the crisis is just beginning. Professor  Tim Mousseau, a biological scientist who has spent more than a  decade researching the genetic impact of radiation around  Chernobyl, says he worries that many people in Fukushima are  "burying their heads in the sand." 


His Chernobyl research concluded that biodiversity and the  numbers of insects and spiders had shrunk inside the irradiated  zone, and the bird population showed evidence of genetic defects,  including smaller brain sizes.


"The truth is that we don't have sufficient data to provide accurate  information on the long-term impact," he says. "What we can say,  though, is that there are very likely to be very significant long-term  health impact from prolonged exposure."


In Soma, Mr. Ichida says all the talk about radiation is confusing.  "All we want to do is get back to work. There are many different  ways to die, and having nothing to do is one of them."


Economic Cost
Japan has estimated it will cost as much as
188bn to rebuild following the earthquake,
tsunami and nuclear crisis.
There are a number of estimates of the
economic impact, but the total cost is
thought to be about 144 bn.
Workers are allowed to operate in the
crippled plant up to a dose of 250 mSv
(mSv = millisieverts).
People exposed to 350 mSv were relocated.
In most countries the maximum annual dosage
for a worker is 20 mSv. The allowed dose for
someone living close to a nuclear plant is
1 mSv a year.
Death Toll
Two workers died inside the plant. Some
scientists predict that one million lives will
be lost to cancer.
It is difficult to say how many people died on the
day of the disaster because of state security, but
Greenpeace estimates that 200,000 have died from
radiation-linked cancers in the 25 years since the
Exclusion Zone
Tokyo initially ordered a 20 km radius exclusion
zone around the plant.
The initial radius of the Chernobyl zone was set
at 30 km -- and 25 years later it is still largely in place.
Tepco's share price has collapsed since the
disaster largely because of the amount it will
need to pay out, about 10,000 a person.
Not a lot. It has been reported that Armenian
victims of the disaster were offered about 6
each in 1986.
Foreign Aid
The UN's Office for the Co-ordination of
Humanitarian Affairs reported bilateral aid
worth $95 million.
12 years after the disaster, the then Ukrainian
president, Leonid Kuchma, complained that
his country was still waiting for international help.