Dear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,
The February 2013 report by the World Health Organization on the predicted radiation effects of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster provided some welcome news indeed.
For example, Richard Wakeford of the University of Manchester wrote: “The additional risk is quite small and will probably be hidden by the noise of other (cancer) risks like people’s lifestyle choices and statistical fluctuations.”
If true, the Japanese government can, for example, now confidently inform mothers living in the irradiated areas of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond that there is no need to worry about their children’s health or futures.
Unfortunately, many international experts take strong exception to these optimistic findings. This disagreement was starkly revealed at a recent symposium held in New York on March 11-12 titled “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident.”
Addressing the symposium, Alexey Yablokov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said: “Using criteria demanded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) resulted in marked underestimates of the number of fatalities and the extent and degree of sickness among those exposed to radioactive fallout from Chernobyl.”
Yablokov continued: “The Chernobyl catastrophe has already killed several hundred thousand human beings in a population of several hundred million that was unfortunate enough to live in territories affected by the fallout. The number of Chernobyl victims will continue to grow over many future generations.”
Prime Minister, I know many of your advisors claim that the amount of radiation released at Fukushima No. 1 was far less than at Chernobyl. However, a report released by the U.K.-based nonprofit Institute of Science in Society in November 2012 said: “Analysis based on the most inclusive data sets available reveals that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdown is at least as big as Chernobyl and more global in reach.” That conclusion was reached based on work with state-of-the-art atmospheric dispersion models by an international team led by Andreas Stohl at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.
Further, nuclear researcher Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University told the conference: “The cesium-137 that was released into the atmosphere by Units 1 through 3 was 168 times that of the Hiroshima bomb, according to the Japanese government report to the IAEA, an international organization which promotes nuclear power.
“However, I myself believe this is probably an underestimate, and two or three times that amount, that is, 400 to 500 times the amount of cesium-137 of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, has already been dispersed into the atmosphere. I believe almost the same amount of radioactive material released into the air has probably flowed into the ocean.”
Steven Starr of the University of Missouri pointed out that the WHO is not a reliable source of objective information since it is required to base its research on data submitted to it by member governments. Further, beginning in 1959, all WHO reports on nuclear contamination must first be approved by the IAEA, whose charter requires it to do its utmost to promote the use of nuclear power.
One point made over and over again at the symposium is that long-term epidemiological studies have shown there is no such thing as a “safe dose” of radiation. In 2006 the U.S. National Academy of Science noted: “There is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced.”
Thus, as little as a single becquerel of radiation has the potential to initiate cell damage ultimately leading to cancer and assorted illnesses. Further, as Mary Olson of Nuclear Information and Resource Services said, research has demonstrated that women are significantly more susceptible to radiation-induced illness than men, and children, especially little girls, even more so. The most endangered of all is the fetus, which, through the placenta, can have radiation introduced into its rapidly developing body through its mother.
Radiation contamination is cumulative, with the greatest danger resulting from internal exposure through inhaling contaminated air, eating contaminated foods and drinking contaminated water. Thus, the longer one remains in a contaminated environment, the more likely one is to become sick.
These findings are highly significant in light of Koide’s conclusion: “The contamination areas were as large as 20,000 sq. km, which meant a vast zone in the Tohoku and Kanto regions would have to be evacuated. Faced with such a reality, the Japanese government decided it would never be able to help the people in these contaminated areas, and that the people would be abandoned and left there. As of today, about 10 million people have been left in areas that should have been designated radiation-controlled areas, and they are exposed to continual radiation every day.”
As to what this means in concrete terms, one conference presenter, nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen, estimates that the disaster would lead to 1 million extra deaths from cancer. While Gundersen puts the release of cesium at about half that of Chernobyl, he noted that little attention has been paid to radioactive gases xenon and krypton, which poured out of the No. 1 plant in quantities “two to three times” greater than the 1986 Ukrainian meltdown. Gundersen’s assessment on the health effects of Fukushima is based on the damage done to area residents from the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania, where he served as an expert witness.
Prime Minister, you have called for a “beautiful Japan,” a Japan its citizens can be proud of. Can there truly be a beautiful Japan when large numbers of its citizens are left to face the possibility of slow, painful deaths resulting from radiation-induced cancers and other illnesses? Can the Japanese people be proud of a country that would allow this to happen to its own citizens?
It is still not too late to act, Prime Minister. For example, will your government provide financial support for residents in contaminated areas who wish to move to safe areas, most especially women of childbearing age and those with children?
BRIAN A. VICTORIA
Yellow Springs, Ohio
Presentations made at the conference in New York on March 11-12 can be viewed at www.totalwebcasting.com/view/?id=hcf# . Send comments on this issue and Hotline to Nagata-cho submissions of 500-700 words to email@example.com .