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Japan

Until the Fukushima accident, Japan had 55 operating nuclear reactors as well as enrichment and reprocessing plants which had suffered a series of deadly accidents at its nuclear facilities resulting in the deaths of workers and releases of radioactivity into the environment and surrounding communities. Since the Fukushima disaster, there is growing opposition against re-opening those reactors closed for maintenance.

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Wednesday
Aug122015

Atomic reactor restarted in Japan, despite overwhelming public opposition  

Image: The Sendai nuclear power plant is located 40 km (25 mi) from the active volcano Mount Sakurajima in Japan. Photo: courtesy of Kimon Berlin.A 30-year old nuclear reactor in Sendai, in southwestern Japan, began powering up on August 11, amid much controversy, local active volcanoes and nationwide, and even worldwide, opposition, including by former nuclear power industry workers.

The restart is the first allowed under Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority post-Fukushima reformed safety rules. Sendai had been shut down in May 2011, shortly after the Fukushima nuclear catastorphe began, and has not operated since, till now.

Although the restart may mark a "victory" for the pro-nuclear Prime Minister Abe administration, it is a loss for public health, safety, and the environment. Abe's insistence on disregarding 2 to 1 opposition to the restart amongst the Japanese public may someday cost him and his party at the polls, as well.

And although Abe's Liberal Democratic Party remains true to its 1950s pro-nuclear power roots, it has suffered some significant defections, including Abe's own mentor: the still very popular former Prime Minister, Koizumi, who served from 2001 to 2006, is now an outspoken opponent to nuclear power.

Of Japan's 48 operable atomic reactors not destroyed at Fukushima Daiichi (Units 1, 2, and 3 melted down; Unit 4 exploded, despite not operating on 3/11/11; Units 5 and 6 were retired, due to the site's dangerous radioactive contamination), few to none have operated at all since the nuclear catastrophe began over four years ago. The long reactor shut down, showing that Japan does not need nuclear power, has been won by a grassroots, nationwide anti-nuclear groundswell, joined by many elected officials, and even some judges who have ruled in favor of citizen lawsuits, blocking restarts.

However, the Sendai restart has been allowed by a pro-nuclear prefectural governor, a majority pro-nuclear municipal council, and the recent rejection of a citizen lawsuit, despite very significant volcanic risks in the area. (see photo, left)

Residents are concerned that, despite the lessons that should have been learned from the Fukushima disaster, evacuation plans are not adequate, particularly for medical care facilities and schools.

“An Asahi Shimbun survey revealed that 66 percent of medical institutions and 49 percent of social welfare facilities within 30 km of nuclear power plants across Japan have not compiled mandatory evacuation plans specifying evacuation destinations, routes and transportation means to be used in the event of an accident.” About 220,000 people live within 30 km (20 mi) of the Sendai nuclear facility, and 900,000 live within 50 km (31 mi). Evacuating even a fraction of these people would be a Herculean task.

Beyond Nuclear recently reported on a Washington, D.C. event, featuring two medical doctors from Fukushima Medical University, that revealed a significant need to learn and apply lessons from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, more than four years after it began.

Two days before the restart, about 2,000 protesters marched at Sendai in oppostion, contending that Kyushu Electric, the company that owns and operates the reactor, has not accomplished the necessary safety enhancements to begin operation. In addition, some note that the 30-year old facility may not be reliable because of age-related degradation.

Notable among those opposing the restart are survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, and the former Prime Minister of Japan, Naoto Kan, who attended the August 9 Sendai action. Numerous commentators noted the ironic restart date for the Sendai atomic reactor, right after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings' 70th anniversaries.

Former Prime Minister Kan has testified that, amidst the chaotic first days of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe, he ordered secretive contingency planning for the evacuation of metro Tokyo, or even all of northeast Japan -- 30 to 50 million people -- if a "demonic chain reaction" of reactor meltdowns and high-level radioactive waste storage pool fires unfolded at the Fukushima Daiichi, Fukushima Daini, and Tokai nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

While local governments in Japan are responsible for emergency preparedness, and preventing radiation exposure of their residents, they have no say in whether a reactor restarts if it is hosted by a nearby jurisdiction. The editorial in the Asahi Shimbun contends that “(n)uclear reactors should be considered to be too dangerous if the local governments of areas that can be affected by accidents involving the reactors refuse to support their operations. These reactors should be decommissioned as soon as possible…(o)ne vital lesson from the catastrophe is that the mere existence of a nuclear reactor poses serious safety risks.”

Sendai receives 1 billion yen (over $8 million) per year in federal subsidies to host the nuclear facility, and local authorities voted to approve the restart, yet no poll was conducted among the local population by the pro-nuclear municipality to gauge the public’s wishes. This was widely believed to be because the results would have revealed widespread public opposition. The facility’s second reactor is scheduled for start up in October 2015.

Saturday
Aug012015

"3 Former Executives to Be Prosecuted in Fukushima Nuclear Disaster"

Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of Tepco at the time of the accident. Credit Franck Robichon/European Pressphoto Agency As reported by Jonathon Soble in the New York Times, a review panel of private citzens has -- for the second time -- overruled prosecutors and demanded that three top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) be charged in relation to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe that began on 3/11/11.

This second review panel ruling is binding, meaning prosecutors must bring charges.

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Plaintiffs Group, representing 15,000 individuals, including nuclear evacuees, has long sought the prosecution.

The binding decision by the review panel requires that prosecutors bring charges of "professional negligence resulting in death."

As reported by the 2015 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (see bottom of page 84), 3,200 individual nuclear evacuees -- the majority from Fukushima Prefecture -- have died since the nuclear catastrophe began. This includes the elderly or infirm, who have succumbed to illnesses during their long exile from their radioactive homes, as well as suicides.

The article reports:

To convict the Tokyo Electric Power executives, prosecutors would have to prove that their failure to predict the massive tsunami that struck Fukushima’s coast in March 2011 and to equip the power plant with sufficient protections against it constituted an act of criminal oversight.

However, as reported by the mainstream Japanese press, evidence has emerged that Tepco had clear warnings that such a massive tsunami was possible at the Fukushima Daiichi site, and yet the company, and its executive decision makers, chose not to act, or else dragged their feet for years.

In fact, the 2012 Japanese Parliament independent investigation on the nuclear catastrophe documented that Tepco and other nuclear power industry officials had inappropriately influenced tsunami protection decision making, leaving plants like Fukushima Daiichi vulnerable. The investigation concluded that collusion between regulators, industry, and government officials was the root cause of the catastrophe, the reason why the reactors were so vulnerable to the natural disasters that wrecked them.

Thursday
Jul232015

Fukushima event showcases need to educate local communities/institutions on radiation issues

Two medical staffers from Fukushima Medical University (FMU) in Japan -- Arifumi Hasegawa, Professor and Chair of Fukushima Medical University’s (FMU) Department of Radiation Disaster Medicine and Kenneth E. Nollet, Professor and Director of International Cooperation at FMU’s Radiation Medical Science Center -- gave talks at the Goethe-Institut in Washington, DC on July 16, on their experience dealing with the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011. Beyond Nuclear attended. The focus of the event was to see if and how the lessons of Fukushima would be applicable to nuclear reactor communities in the U.S.

It was clear that initially, FMU lacked sufficient knowledge and infrastructure to deal with the radiological catastrophe facing them-- a situation which is most likely true for many medical professionals, and others, around nuclear facilities in the United States. It also became evident as discussion at this event progressed,  these experts' lack of knowledge left them open to the nuclear establishment's biased interpretation of events, which in the past has discounted radiation's impact--instead blaming health impacts on consumption of alcohol, smoking, and mental illness.

While it is good that the FMU staff were present at Goethe where their misconceptions could be challenged or corrected, it is unfortunate that they were also presenting at other institutions, including the Red Cross, probably as the sole expertise available. Not only was one physician under the impression that tritium was also called "heavy water" (in fact, deuterium is heavy water, NOT tritium, and deuterium is not radioactive) but still more importantly, the other parroted the "official" line that any dose below 10 rem is safe. (see below)

FMU has been the subject of controversy since the catastrophe began. A different FMU medical doctor has  made statements in the past claiming any dose below 100 mSv (10 Rem) is safe, and smiling will help prevent radiation harm. Additionally, FMU is responsible for a health study that remains the center of controversy and FMU has signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with international nuclear power promotion agency IAEA regarding human health impacts of radiation exposure.

Beyond Nuclear's Cindy Folkers asked why proper biological monitoring, such as urine testing and blood draws to look for chromosome damage, was not instituted immediately after the accident in order to assess public exposure, rather than estimating doses to the public. She further suggested that communities around reactors should have their blood drawn and "banked" for future examination prior to any accident so that, should a nuclear accident occur, there would be empirical evidence of exposure (malformations of chromosomes in the blood due to radiation), rather than just reliance on error-ridden estimates and dose calculations.

Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps asked why, if radiation doses to Fukushima residents have been so low, as the FMU presenters claimed, were the "allowable" or "permissible" (not to be confused with "safe") levels of radioactivity exposure officially raised by the Japanese government to 20 mSv (2 Rem) per year shortly after 3/11/11, where they remain to this day? This is equal to the permissible dose to nuclear power plant workers in Germany, only it's applied to everyone living in contaminated areas of Japan, including children, pregnant women, the elderly, the infirm, and those with already weakened immune systems. One physician responded that 10 rem is safe. When pressed with statistical evidence that 10 rem is NOT safe, the physician conceded that allowing such dose rates was a political decision, not a scientific one. At the same time, this physician acknowledged certain stages of fetal development are uniquely vulnerable to radiation's hazards. In fact, childhood leukemia starts to increase at about 2 mSv and increases in a statistically significant way, at just 4 mSv of cumulative dose (not a yearly dose, but a total dose). That is 4 years' worth of the average background dose in most places (80-100 mrem) without any additional radiation exposure.

Wednesday
Jul222015

Cora Henry: "70 Years After Bomb, Hiroshima Activists Defy Nuclear Energy Industry"

Kosei Mito, showing Elisabeth Fernandes, of Osaka, and her niece his research on nuclear power. They are on the banks of the Motoyasu River, in front of the Atom Dome. Mr. Mito's guide badge, with an anti-nuclear weapons symbol, reads “IN-UTERO SURVIVOR.” Photo taken March 12, 2015 by Cora Henry in Hiroshima, Japan.Cora Henry, a journalism student at Indiana University, has published an article entitled "70 Years After Bomb, Hiroshima Activists Defy Nuclear Energy Industry."

Henry's article explores the history of the evolving position of Hiroshima's Hibakusha, literally “radiation-affected people,” towards nuclear power. She interviewed survivors of the bombing at the iconic remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industry Promotion Building, known as the Atomic-Bomb Dome.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, an anti-nuclear power consensus has emerged in both major Hibakusha organizations, with some members now very active in the ongoing campaign to resist atomic reactor restarts across Japan.

Wednesday
Jul152015

Witnessing Fukushima mutations, remembering Three Mile Island 

The clinical evidence concludes that exposure to radioactivity increases the risk of not only contracting a cancer and a host of diseases but also genetic mutations and birth defects. But beyond the clinical findings, we continue to witness the persistent, irreversible consequences of uncontrolled radioactive releases from nuclear accidents from Three Mile Island to Fukushima. 

Twitter feeds are now imprinting on the global consciousness the images of san_kaido’s mutant daisies found growing in Nasushiobara City, 70 miles from the 2011 Fukushima disaster site. They are hauntingly similar to botanical specimens preserved by Harrisburg, PA resident Mary Osborne that she still collects from around the  site of the Three Mile Island reactor accident in 1979.  

They are all reminders, indeed warnings, that Life in all its forms is being deleteriously altered by the increasing exposure to radioactivity escaping from every link of the nuclear fuel chain; the mining,  the routine releases, the radioactive waste and the inevitable, recurring nuclear accidents.

Better active today, than radioactive tomorrow.  Act Now!