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Time has come for an ‘honorable retreat’ from Tokyo 2020 over Fukushima

Dear Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo,

Let me begin this message by offering you my sincerest condolences. Condolences for what? For the death of the belief that a trouble-free 2020 Tokyo Olympics would serve to showcase Japan’s economic revival.

Up to this point, the exact opposite has been the case, due to the scrapping of plans for a very expensive new National Stadium, the scuttling of the Olympic logo amid charges of plagiarism and newspaper headlines alleging, for example, that “Japan’s Olympics fiascoes point to outmoded, opaque decision-making.” Even more recently, Japan sports minister Hakubun Shimomura offered to resign over the Olympic stadium row.

Among these developments, the charge alleging “outmoded, opaque decision-making” is perhaps the most troubling of all, because it suggests that both of the major setbacks the 2020 Olympics has encountered are systemic in nature, not merely one-off phenomena. If correct, this indicates that similar setbacks are likely to occur in the future. But how many setbacks can the 2020 Olympics endure?

At this point it may be apt to recall the warning of 13th-century Zen master Dogen: “If there is the slightest difference in the beginning, the result will be a distance greater than heaven is from Earth.”

One lesson to be learned from Dogen’s words is that in order to understand the mess you are in now, you should reflect on how you got into it in the first place. When this is done, the “beginning” becomes clear, i.e., Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2013 statement to the International Olympic Committee that the situation at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was “under control.” The prime minister went on to tell the Diet, “The effect of radioactive substances in the nearby waters is blocked within 0.3 sq. km of the plant’s harbor.”

One needs only to look at recent stories describing the torrential downpours in the Fukushima area to know that this claim, if it were ever true, is clearly no longer valid. Even Tepco stated: “On Sept. 9 and 11, due to typhoon No. 18 (Etau), heavy rain caused Fukushima No. 1 drainage rainwater to overflow to the sea.” This is not to mention the high probability that relatively decontaminated areas have been contaminated once again by the heavy rains carrying radioactive particles lodged in the nearby mountains down onto the plains. Nor does it take into account that no one knows the location or condition of the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3.

Unfortunately, Zen master Dogen didn’t explain what to do when you find yourself in a spot where heaven is already far removed from Earth — or the truth, in this instance. Fortunately, the former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, Mitsuhei Murata, recently proposed an eminently reasonable solution. It is time, he says, for Japan to stage an “honorable retreat” from hosting the 2020 Olympics while there is still time to select and prepare an alternative site.

In an article in the September issue of Gekkan Nippon, Murata buttressed his proposal by pointing out another misstatement in Abe’s IOC testimony, namely, “(Fukushima) has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.” In response, Murata pointed to a number of incidents showing that Tokyo was affected by Fukushima radioactive fallout, including the discovery on March 23, 2011, that water from the purification plant in the Kanemachi district of Tokyo contained more than 200 becquerels per liter of radioactive iodine, double the recommended limit for young infants stipulated in the Food Sanitation Act.

Murata’s major concern, however, was not about the past but the present and future. He noted the danger still posed by large numbers of spent fuel rods suspended in spent fuel pools in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Unlike the spent fuel rods in reactor building 4 successfully removed by the end of 2014, the remaining rods can’t be removed from the damaged reactor buildings due to the high levels of radioactivity surrounding these reactors, all three of which suffered meltdowns.

Murata’s gravest concern is a number of troubling indications of recurring criticality in one or more of the reactors at Fukushima No. 1. For example, he notes that in December 2014, both radioactive iodine-131 and tellurium-132 were reported as having been detected in Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture. Given the short half-lives of these radioactive particles, their presence could not be the result of the original meltdowns at Fukushima.

Murata is not opposed to the Tokyo Olympic Games per se, but finds them a major distraction to what needs to be done immediately — namely, gathering the best minds and expertise from around the world and, with the full support of the Japanese government, doing everything humanly possible to bring Fukushima No. 1 truly “under control.” This will help to ensure the Pacific Ocean is no longer used as an open sewer for Fukushima-produced radiation, and also address the ongoing pain and distress of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond.

As Murata noted in the conclusion of his article, “Heaven and Earth will not long countenance immoral conduct.” Recognizing this, Minister Endo, will you join the call for an “honorable retreat”?

BRIAN VICTORIA
Kyoto

Send your comments or submissions (of between 500-700 words, addressed to local, regional or national politicians, officials or other authorities) here: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    One honest man! Make this guy PM!

  • Richard Solomon

    Mr. Murata is a very courageous man for making this suggestion. The chances of PM Abe even considering this reminds me of an old American adage: ‘The likelihood of this happening is somewhere between slim and none. And slim left town.’

    No way Abe could admit he was wrong when he claimed, in English no less, that ‘things are under control.’ His pride would not let him admit to having made a mistake, let alone having lied, about this.

    Additionally, Mr. Murata better not need to work in government again. He will be persona non grata from now on.

  • robrob

    The trouble remains that far from creating a task force from the ‘best of the best’ humanity has to offer, to then pose new ideas and define the correct path to save the Pacific Ocean and Japan as far as is possible, they instead idle their time away creating peer reviewed academic papers on why there is no problem at all!
    This must take some real thinking! and a great deal of scientific poetic licence to boot. This statement by Murata is the benchmark by which all discussion surrounding the 2020 Olympics must be judged. I pray it finds wings….

  • Nicole

    Lol. What is this self-righteous nonsense? That last paragraph made me cringe.

    The only thing that made sense in this new age Buddhist SJW mangina navel-gazing: fix Fukushima. I agree.

  • GBR48

    I disagree. In the middle of a global recession the UK delivered London 2012. It all but broke even, created a huge amount of positive publicity, filled a beautiful stadium for both the Olympics and Paralympics, united and cheered up a nation in a way that almost nothing else can, and enhanced everything it touched, from public interest in a variety of sports and personal fitness through recognition of paralympic athletics to the reviving of the area where it was staged.

    Most of us thought it would be a disaster as we have no faith in our politicians, but with an increasing groundswell of public support and much communal effort, it actually worked and we loved it. And we hoped everyone else enjoyed it too.

    There is no reason why Japan cannot do the same in 2020, particularly now that they have dumped that excessively large egowank of a stadium. Build a smaller stadium that the nation can fall in love with and that can be repurposed afterwards, preferably with some vernacular Japanese style to it.

    Yes, Fukushima is going to cost a huge amount of money and time to contain – a persistent reminder of the gamble that is taken when you build nuclear power stations in a quake zone. And the people of the area who are still suffering need more direct support from government to allow them to stabilise and rebuild their lives, rather than living in limbo regarding their futures.

    But there is no reason for a nation to punish itself over Fukushima by denying itself the Games. It is a great chance to connect to the rest of the world, unite on a non-political basis, and give those who lost the most in 3/11 a chance to play a role in a major event. Allow children orphaned in 3/11 the opportunity to take a role in the opening, closing and medal ceremonies.

    Governments and politicians will always do idiotic things that backfire. The Games are not for them, they are for the people: a gift from the host nation to the world.

    However sceptical you might be, trust in the rings. 2020 will enthuse the people of Japan and the world, and will be amazing.

  • Hendrix

    I have always said that Japan should never have been given the Olympics on 2 points, first the government and Abe etc have lied continuously to the people, theres been no real public apology, no one has been sued, no proper compensation yet, no heads have rolled at top management… just lies lies and propoganda….

    secondly Japan is a country that still hasnt got anti discrimination laws and is the most institutionally racist country in the developed world.. foreigners are welocome to come spend money and go home, they hate foreigners amongst them long term..

    I’ m boycotting the 2020 Olympics anyway…. at least this Murata guy has a conscience.

  • Hrishikesh

    What Dogen meant was… If your understanding is not firm in the beginning, your would eventually be lead astray

  • Enkidu

    Welcome back, Brian. In general, I would caution you against relying so heavily on Mitsuhei Murata. He has no applicable expertise in this area and isn’t afraid to show it.

    One needs only to look at recent stories describing the torrential downpours in the Fukushima area to know that this claim, if it were ever true, is clearly no longer valid. Even Tepco stated: “On Sept. 9 and 11, due to typhoon No. 18 (Etau), heavy rain caused Fukushima No. 1 drainage rainwater to overflow to the sea.”

    Can I ask why you are so concerned about this? I’m only concerned if the water was highly contaminated (it was not) and there was a lot of it (also, no). That information was also made public, but I note that you didn’t include it here.

    This is not to mention the high probability that relatively decontaminated areas have been contaminated once again by the heavy rains carrying radioactive particles lodged in the nearby mountains down onto the plains.

    This does not make sense. We are talking about a precipitation event. Your particles would be washed downstream into a waterway and would be deposited either in the sediment of that waterway or carried out into the ocean. In either case, that is a relatively better place for the contamination than up in the mountains—in other words, a good thing, net-net.

    Nor does it take into account that no one knows the location or condition of the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3.

    Can I ask why this is such a key concern? We know well enough where it is for now, i.e., at the bottom of buildings 1, 2 and 3. The exact location will become more important as we move towards removal, but that’s a ways off yet. We’re
    now focused on sealing it off from the environment (ice wall, etc.) and for
    that purpose its exact location is irrelevant.

    In an article in the September issue of Gekkan Nippon, Murata buttressed his proposal by pointing out another misstatement in Abe’s IOC testimony, namely, “(Fukushima) has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.” In response, Murata pointed to a number of incidents showing that Tokyo was affected by Fukushima radioactive fallout, including the discovery on March 23, 2011, that water from the purification plant in the Kanemachi district of Tokyo contained more than 200 becquerels per liter of radioactive iodine, double the recommended limit for young infants stipulated in the Food Sanitation Act.

    I note that you changed the key word from whether Tokyo was “damaged”
    to whether it was “affected”—wise choice. If Murata’s evidence of damage is that, we can all count ourselves lucky.

    [Murata] noted the danger still posed by large numbers of spent fuel rods suspended in spent fuel pools in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Unlike the spent fuel rods in reactor building 4 successfully removed by the end of 2014, the remaining rods can’t be removed from the damaged reactor buildings due to the high levels of radioactivity surrounding these reactors, all three of which suffered meltdowns.

    This is the same Murata that told us “the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on” the precarious state of the spent fuel pool at Unit 4, quoting such civil engineering luminaries as Arnie Gundersen. Of course, Arnie isn’t a civil engineer, but that didn’t stop him from discussing topics that he knew nothing about. A good fit for Murata.

    For example, [Murata] notes that in December 2014, both radioactive iodine-131 and tellurium-132 were reported as having been detected in Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture. Given the short half-lives of these radioactive particles, their presence could not be the result of the original meltdowns at Fukushima.

    I’m having difficulty finding any substantive evidence for this assertion and associating it with Fukushima. Could you help?

  • Enkidu

    Good comment, Starviking. Apologies for the overlap on my end, but we must have been writing this at the same time.

  • rickokona

    “under control” says Abe. What he means is the media is under control. The nuclear mess wont be under control for thousands of years about the time the half lives of the long lived nuclides have come and the gamma radiation ceases. This is what we meant when we proclaimed boiling water with nuclear fission is a Faustian Bargain, way back in the 70’s

  • jeanpaulstuart

    This whole blah is just an opinion anyway.

  • Sam Gilman

    Every few months, the Japan Times gives religious studies academic Brian Victoria space to promote fear about Fukushima. He is not talking about people from inside the evacuation zone, about whom there is enough fearmongering as it is. This is the person who in previous articles claimed visitors to Kyoto were getting radiation sickness and who tried to disrupt his students’ academic careers by preventing them going there. He’s talking about large swathes of the whole country. One wonders now he’s back in Kyoto himself if he’s registered that he was wrong. (For those unfamiliar with Japan, look up how far Kyoto is from Fukushima, and remember that even at the plant itself, no one had a high enough dose to get radiation sickness).

    Let’s consider some of the claims he’s making this time.

    1) The 200 becquerels in Tokyo tap water in March 2011. The 100 Becquerel limit, very strict by international standards, was breached at one measuring point in the whole of Tokyo once, on one afternoon a day or so after the releases. Is this a cause for concern? No, as even a few days’ perspective after the event made clear. Those limits are based on daily high consumption of water for a whole year, and 200 Becquerels wouldn’t even have breached international norms anyway. That’s why no researchers even bother taking it into account now in terms of health outcomes. This tap water story is simply an old scare regurgitated for a second chew.

    2) Victoria claims that the Pacific Ocean is being used as an “open sewer”. This would mean that radioactive water is going directly into the wider ocean largely uncontrolled. This is simply false. As Victoria himself appears to know, there is an artificial bay holding contaminated water in. Radiation levels outside of the bay are not a concern, even with groundwater seepage. Victoria mentions the typhoon forcing a release of rainwater into the sea, but mysteriously fails to mention it was water contaminated below the legal limit for release. The storage of contaminated water is certainly a challenge for the engineers working at Fukushima, but Victoria completely misrepresents the situation. This is not a reason for cancelling the Olympics.

    3) But what about the big one, Murata’s “gravest concern” that the radiation observatory at Takasaki in Gunma detected Iodine and Tellurium, which must mean Fukushima is still producing a nuclear reaction and sending material as far away as Gunma? I have the observatory records for that month on my screen open in front of me (p. 18). The columns for Iodine and Tellurium for last December, as for all the other months, say one thing: “ND”. Not detected. His information is wrong. The “gravest concern” appears groundless.

    What’s going on? Well, common sense would have prompted someone to think “if there really was a problem, it would be more prominently discussed by actual scientists rather than a figure like Murata”. I had a look back in the Takasuki archives and it turns out an error in data entry led not to detected levels, but minimum detectable concentrations being entered: 4-6 microbecquerels (4-6 millionths of a Becquerel) per cubic metre in the case of iodine. Subsequent reports correct the error to “ND”. Given that these amounts are tiny and right on the detectable limits,and given that for all the previous two years nothing had been detected at all, and given that no event had been reported at Fukushima then despite the area now bristling with radiation detectors, it would probably have been worth checking what is actually going on rather than jumping to public conclusions about continued leaks. He or Murata could have contacted the Takasaki observatory perhaps, and they could have helpfully responded “sorry, someone cocked up in Excel, that was an error”. This shows the importance not only of checking your sources, but understanding them.

    The Japan Times simply should not host such people propagating such poor information. It does not add anything to the discussion at all. The real victims are the evacuees, and the farmers and fishers in the wider area. They do not need the stigma of scare stories about radiation. People like Brian Victoria need to cast off their attachments to the catastrophe narrative, and start to look at the world as it is, not as they gruesomely want it to be. Otherwise they end up doing far, far more harm than good.

  • Sam Gilman

    The Takasaki iodine and tellurium detections didn’t happen. It was a data entry error that they corrected in the next report.

    Murata patently didn’t bother to follow up or contact anyone in the scientific community about this supposed revelation of renewed fission activity.

  • Michael Mallal

    Never thought I’d see Dogen Zenji being quoted on the web.

  • Starviking

    Can we now look forward to another “Letter to Nagatacho”?

    Dear Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo, my last letter had many errors of fact in it. Please ignore it.

  • https://twitter.com/atomikrabbit atomikrabbit

    Dear Brian – one unqualified website author citing another as a reference does not science make:
    “About the Author
    – Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and independent political consultant”

    He might better serve his readers by using his training to evaluate the deep seated fear by some of atomic energy, how it warps their reasoning powers, and turns politics away from science.

    “In a video for Fairwind Energy Education, Kalthofen said…”
    You can pretty much stop reading right there – FEE (by the way, it’s spelled Fairewinds) is Gundersen’s “charitable” organization that allows him to fly around the world giving lectures, and then write expenses off as a tax dodge. His wife Margaret, a former paralegal until they hit on the much more lucrative full-time antinuclear activist scam, makes the bookings for him: nonprofits(dot)findthecompany(dot)com/l/157276/Fairewinds-Energy-Education-Corporation
    Arnie’s been wrong about just about everything he’s said, before or after Fukushima, especially regarding the imminent worldwide disaster of the unit 4 spent fuel pools. So pointing out the errors, incompetence, inconsistency, or lack of qualifications of someone claiming expertise is an essential part of due diligence, not necessarily an ad hominem.

    “Kalthofen said about 25% of dust samples from Japan contained at least some hot particles”
    Then it should be easy enough for other researchers, who have better qualifications in radiochemistry, health physics, and epidemiology than a civil engineer, to replicate these findings and publish them in a peer reviewed journal. I can find plenty of website references to Marco Kalthofen (most of them linking back to your “nsnbc”), some blogs, and some youtubes, but no actual scientific papers. Why is that?

    “This material was in the peta-becquerel per kilogram range. … 4 followed by 19 zeroes. These are very, very high numbers”. (40.000.000.000.000.000.000 bequerels)”
    Notice how they magnify it a trillion-fold (“per kilogram”) to get a scarier number. So, assuming their numbers are accurate, if it weighed 1 nanogram it would contain 40,000,000 Bq – impressive until you consider that 1 fluid ounce (29.6 g) of water contains 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules. If fecal coliform bacteria were as detectable in extremely trace concentrations as radionuclides, you would never again step into a public restroom.

    By the way, that person you sleep next to is giving off 300,000 gamma rays per minute, from naturally occurring potassium-40 decay: hps(dot)org/publicinformation/ate/faqs/faqradbods.html
    Just thought you should know.

  • Starviking

    Well, now you’re here Brian, care to comment on the analysis by myself, Enkidu, and Sam which demolishes the core points of your letter?

  • Enkidu

    Hi Brian,

    I’m sorry to hear that one of your students fell ill. Do you know why she thinks it was related to radiation? I’ve been up to the evacuation zone as a volunteer, helping to clean up residences in advance of the evacuation orders being lifted, and have not seen or heard of similar symptoms from other volunteers or others who have spent considerable time in the evacuation zone. She should definitely go see a doctor about this.

    Also, I think one of the recurring concerns with your multiple submissions on Fukushima is your continued reliance on non-experts. You’ve exhibited this pattern again in your comment here, citing a conspiracy theory website in nsnbc (you should have a look around at the other theories this blog promotes–scary stuff!), and then relying on the unpublished work of a graduate student in Marco Kaltofen and an anti-nuclear activist in Arnie Gundersen. Neither one of these individuals has applicable expertise in the areas they are discussing and this should be a major red flag for you.

    Another thing you should be concerned about is when people withhold pertinent information from you. For instance, that article doesn’t tell you how radioactive the particle was, it just says that if it were a kilogram (which doesn’t make any sense as you couldn’t inhale a kilogram of it) it would have X radioactivity. Does that not seem odd to you? Then the article goes on about the secrecy act (which I’m not a great fan of), but this has no bearing on this information from Kaltofen. Information, by the way, that he believes is so important that he didn’t bother to publish it–another red flag. This should go without saying, but basing your beliefs on internet videos and blogs is not a good way to operate.

    Another way to look at this is to assume that everything from that blog is correct. A hot particle, as defined by Kaltofen and Gundersen (not anyone else, by the way), makes it past the body’s particulate defenses, gets into the lungs, manages to evade the body’s natural ability to expunge such particles from the lungs, radiates and damages the particular segment of DNA in a cell that would allow it to reproduce uncontrollably, and the body’s natural defenses to halt such propogation would fail, you still haven’t provided any basis for how worried we should be about this. For example, should I be more worried about cancer from a hot particle from Fukushima or about getting killed by a lightning strike? Both, I believe, are theoretical possibilities, but I’m not going to spend my days worrying about them or writing letters to the Japan Times about them.

    If you want people to share your particular concern about Fukushima, then you need to take it to the next step and explain why it is important. For example, why is this environmental issue more important than the carcinogens that are regularly emitted by the motor vehicle traffic in my Tokyo neighborhood every single day? This is what you need to overcome. If you can do so in a convincing fashion, then I would be happy to help you in your crusade.

  • Sam Gilman

    Thank you (genuinely) for taking part in this discussion. I hope you can continue to participate in a spirit of learning and exchange. This comment is long, but I hope you can recognise that I do have a passion for this topic and that it is borne out of a genuine concern for the welfare of those afflicted by fear.

    First off, I think it’s genuinely problematic that, as an academic, you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to acknowledge that you reproduced an erroneous claim about evidence for renewed criticality at Fukushima. This is not a matter of this or that interpretation: it was based on an error. We can of course argue about whether or not Murata or you should have doubled checked with the observatory and recognised experts regarding your conclusion given the wealth of contrary evidence in the public domain (such as radiation readings from diverse sources within Fukushima prefecture and beyond – all of which prompted me to say “really?” and go and check the Takasaki data for myself). In fact, I would really like to discuss this sort of thing because I think the issue of how non-experts like you and me handle scientific discourse is the fundamental issue here. But we can’t argue over the basic fact: Murata’s “gravest concern” – the climax of the evidence for the prosecution – was based on incorrect data. It doesn’t matter that the error was discovered by someone you plainly hold in contempt. That’s just tough s***.

    This is a serious matter. If Murata’s story were true, it would indeed be a source of grave concern. Fear hurts people. It is by far the biggest source of health problems from Fukushima. It is causing alcoholism, obesity in children, stress, depression and family break-up. Accuracy in pubic health statements is really important. Surely you can see that, can’t you?

    Secondly, you seem particularly stung by my describing your attempts to postpone your students’ study abroad in Japan as something that would “disrupt” their study careers. I honestly don’t understand the objection here. You don’t dispute any of the facts – you sought to postpone your students’ study abroad trip (By the way, I thought your proposal was rejected by your university and the trip went ahead anyway. Is that not correct?). A postponement in and of itself counts as a disruption, and so what I said is fair comment. But more than that – you yourself described what you did as “one of the most difficult decisions of my teaching career”, and that you “deeply regretted this recommendation”. To me that sounds like you yourself felt it would be disruptive – but that the disruption was in your eyes justified. Could you help me reconcile this? I find your view interesting as at the time, as friends of mine working in universities here that had exchange programmes had to deal with the issue of whether or not their overseas visitors would come, and it certainly felt a disruptive issue for them. It angered them. The issue is surely not whether a postponement would have been disruptive, but whether it was justified. I am inviting you to justify it with reference to proper scientific literature.

    If we look at the basis for your intervention – the case of someone developing what you originally described as having the symptoms of radiation exposure – headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting – you somewhat misleadingly here describe these symptoms as happening after a visit to Tohoku. They occurred following a visit to Kyoto after that, and as I hope to show, timing is important in this. From her own account which you helpfully linked to on this page:

    While in Nikko, where I went hiking through forests of colorful maple leaves, I began experiencing strange headaches and fatigue. At the time, I had not even considered the possibility of radiation exposure in that area. I was ignorant of the ongoing crisis at Fukushima Daiichi and the nuclear fallout from the March 2011 meltdowns that covered areas of land in the prefectures surrounding Fukushima in the northern half of Honshu.

    As I traveled by bullet train to Sendai, the train stopped in Fukushima. For the first time, the possibility of radiation exposure crossed my mind. The doors opened to let passengers pass through, and I felt a heavy mood in the air. The passengers around me seemed to be folding downward. Some covered their noses and mouths with their hands or sleeves, and some even tucked their faces into the tops of their jackets. Did they know something that I didn’t?

    My headache that was lingering for the past three days suddenly magnified into a piercing migraine. I had experienced migraines in the past, though it had been over six months since the last one. How unusual that something could have triggered a migraine so quickly.

    The migraine lasted up to an hour. The pressure in my head eased as the train continued northward. By the time I arrived in Sendai, my pain had completely dissipated. For the next three days, I felt fine.

    In mid-November I returned to Kyoto, where I spent my final week in Japan. During the last four days, I experienced a migraine again. On departure day, I flew from Osaka to Tokyo and then from Tokyo to the U.S. During the entire transpacific flight, I felt unexplainable stabbing pains in my stomach, nausea and delirium. The pain was far greater than any kind of food poisoning I had ever experienced.

    By the time I arrived back home, I felt relieved that my pain was gone. What I thought was the end of my strange symptoms was actually the beginning. The following morning I woke up with a bloody nose. During the next month, I experienced daily nosebleeds, headaches and dizziness. I felt chronic fatigue and weakness, and my mind was clouded.

    During the second week of December, I vomited for two days straight, uncontrollably purging all of the liquids from my body. On those days, I could not consume food. My body became weak and drained of energy. I continued to have nosebleeds halfway into January.

    Poor Melanie. She had a horrible time. But was it caused by a typical condition called “low grade radiation exposure” as you claim? I’ve highlighted the key elements that clearly suggest it wasn’t. What’s really important here, Brian, is your understanding of medical science and the effect of radiation on health. You have made medical claims in public that do not appear to stand up. To me, particularly as a parent living in Japan, that’s really important.

    Let’s look at the science. Radiation exposure under 0.5 Sieverts does not produce any immediate symptoms, and few appear up until a Sievert. Here’s a reference from the Mayo Clinic website. Radiation-induced headaches are not caused by low level exposure. You basically have to get over two Sieverts (which would be roughly 40 times more than the highest measured dose received by people from the evacuation area near the plant). Vomiting is not caused by low level exposure. You have to get over a Sievert. The symptoms do not appear weeks later as in Melanie’s story, but hours later. Bleeding is caused by even higher exposure. In other words, vomiting, headaches and bleeding only result from radiation in the case of radiation sickness brought on by very high exposures. To say that your student suffered these symptoms because of radiation is precisely to say that she had radiation sickness. (Ironically, fatigue – the symptom she felt immediately – is the only one that takes weeks.) Your only defence here would be that you were ignorant of all this. Which – and I want to make this really clear – would be fair enough, if you admitted it, and we could move on. Neither you nor I are qualified medical practitioners, and I imagine that you, like me, knew absolutely nothing about radiation and health before the Fukushima crisis began. Not knowing things is not a sin.

    Think about it: if your student’s short time in Japan brought her all these symptoms from radiation exposure, then all the people who are in Kyoto, or Sendai, or Nikko or Fukushima city all the time would not only also have these symptoms (they do not), but they should all now be dead from radiation exposure. However, they are very far from not all dead. I have repeatedly asked you today to provide me with any evidence from the medical that “low grade radiation exposure” as a phenomenon that causes these symptoms actually exists. I have searched the PubMed database, I’ve trawled through google scholar, I’ve looked at reference sites on radiation and health, and there’s nothing on any such condition with such symptoms. I am open to being proved wrong, which is why I have repeatedly asked you for references from the medical literature. You have refused, saying that people should read your student’s account and decide for themselves. But medical science is not a thing decided by your or my interpretation. It’s not decided by an audience reading accounts and deciding for themselves. It’s done by medical researchers and medical practitioners.

    This is important because what bothers me is that if you had consulted with a genuine authority on this issue, I’m pretty sure they would have told you precisely what I’m telling you now. (Not because I’m any kind of authority, but because I read what these people write.) Instead, who did you consult? From your original article:

    in March 2013 I attended a two-day Fukushima-related medical seminar at the New York Academy of Sciences [sic; it was the NY Academy of Medicine] where I learned, for the first time, the full scope of the ongoing dangers posed by radiation contamination from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.”

    This was, inevitably, a gathering of well-known cranks and fringe scientists, not actually sponsored by NYAM (they just rented out conference space). It was organised by Helen Caldicott who even before then had been exposed by the British environmental journalist George Monbiot as such. For an update on her activities, here’s an analysis of a lecture recently given by her. It’s by an anti-nuclear activist who appears to have lost patience with her. In the comments you will find Azby Brown of Safecast (also himself anti-nuclear) pointing out myriad additional problems. She, it should be emphasised, is not a recognised expert in health and radiation in scientific circles.

    Brian, it is your choice to rely on these people instead of recognised medical and scientific opinion. As an academic, you surely have the research skills to know that they are not mainstream. You must surely be aware how these people are seen by the wider scientific community.

    Let’s look at the source you offer for there actually being a danger in Nagoya, not so far from Kyoto. You repeat previous claims regarding hot particles by “PhD candidate” Marco Kaltofen, sourced to a site called nsnbc (which misspells his name). To quote the anti-junk science website rationalwiki:

    nsnbc.me

    Not to be confused with MSNBC, who probably aren’t aware this site copied 4/5ths of their name.

    nsnbc.me, or nsnbc ìnternational, is a lowercase alternative news site created in 2013 by a Danish man named Christoff Lehmann as a replacement for his blog.[1] The website is one of the more professional-looking crank sites. However, under the shiny exterior, the website supports a wide range of conspiracy theories and woo. nsnbc features articles supporting 9/11 conspiracy theories,[2][3]FEMA concentration camps,[2][4] Bilderberg conspiracies,[2][5]Zionist conspiracies,[6] Rothschild conspiracies,[6] Monsanto conspiracies,[7] Séralini’s discredited rat study,[8] vaccine-induced autism,[9] fluoride conspiracies,[10] and cancer woo.[11]

    Well, that’s clearly no good as a source (I really hope you agree). So, I went to check Google Scholar if Kaltofen had published anything in a peer reviewed journal on this topic. He hasn’t. He’s presented at a couple of non-specialist public health conferences, and his PhD, from a civil engineering department, not a radiology or suchlike department, isn’t currently available online (not even an abstract) so it’s not clear even how much of these ideas managed to get through a PhD review likely overseen by the wrong kind of experts. However, I do know that he has worked with Arnie Gundersen on this hot particle idea, and I know that Arnie Gundersen is a crank who, as another commenter has mentioned here, gets lots of things wrong. I also know that NO recognised health researchers anywhere believe there are such risks to people in Kyoto, nor in Nagoya. Or indeed Tokyo. Or Nikko, or Sendai. So why rely on Kaltofen? He doesn’t pass the test for credibility.

    Equally, you ask me if I was worried about the spent fuel removal at pool 4. No, I wasn’t. Do you know why? Because I couldn’t find anyone except identifiable cranks saying it was going to be a threat to some large area. The cranks certainly want people to be frightened. Some of them quite literally earn money that way. But they’re cranks.

    I mentioned at the beginning that I think the issue of how non-experts like us handle scientific information is absolutely fundamental to all this. This is a politicised issue, like climate change, HIV/AIDS, vaccines and so on: the facts can conflict with what your ideology or financial interests are. The temptation to fall into science denial is therefore strong, and there are groups seeking to exploit that temptation, for financial or political profit (or usually both). Key to this are battles over the mainstream narrative. The denier movement doesn’t need to create an alternative coherent and consistent narrative. Instead it needs to disrupt the mainstream narrative with whatever comes to hand. Most of those people at that conference at NYAM, that, let’s be fair, turned your head, do just that. Their numbers and stories don’t actually make coherent sense when all put together. The numbers will be scary, the stories will be scary, but when you try to put them all together into some kind of coherent picture, it doesn’t work. This contrasts sharply with the mainstream science account, which should from all angles fit together and make coherent sense, including bits where we are not threatened by saying “we don’t know”.

    This is why I keep badgering you over this issue of acute radiation sickness. It’s really, really important that the story of your student doesn’t actually make coherent sense in terms of the large medical literature on radiation exposure. Something is really really fishy about that picture. It’s really important that Murata’s claims about the detection of tellurium and iodine by the Takasaki observatory in Gunma didn’t make sense when put together with all the other evidence we have. There should be alarm bells going off. Alarm bells should be ringing loudly about Arnie Gundersen, given that so many of his predictions or statements have been wrong.

    I’m not calling you a science denier. I’m saying you’ve fallen in with a bad lot who are, and I’m pleading with you to come over to the right side. It doesn’t mean denying that there are problems at Fukushima. Far from it – there are. It means we put our faith in mainstream science because it’s mainstream for a damned good reason.

  • Jag_Levak

    “Marco Kalthofen found a cancer causing hot particle in a dust sample from Nagoya, Japan, 460 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. 80% by weight of this particle was made up of pure reactor core materials.”

    In the Fairewinds video, Kalthofen gives the measured activity of the particle as 310 becquerels, and then helpfully gives the specific activity as 40.000.000.000.000.000.000 bequerels per kilogram (“4 followed by 19 zeroes”). From that, we can easily calculate that there would be 1.29e^17 particles per kilogram. However, he also gives the size of the particle as 10 microns. That strikes me as highly peculiar.

    Since the particle was an irregular shape, let’s say it would have roughly the same volume as a sphere 5 microns in diameter. From that, we can calculate the volume of one kilogram of the particle matter. Such a particle would have a volume of 0.00000000000006545 cubic decimeters. Multiplied by the number of particles in a kilogram yields 8443 cubic decimeters per kilogram. That’s roughly 8.5 cubic meters per kilogram. But Kalthofen claims that particle is predominantly reactor core material. A kilogram of core material would have a volume more like 100 cubic centimeters. Kalthofen’s volume is about 86000 times too large. In fact, I think the volume would be way too large for any combination of solid elements known to man.

    So how did Kalthofen determine that the particle was mostly core material? In the Fairewinds video, he presents a gamma spectrum distribution graph for the particle. The first thing that jumps out is that the highest peak of activity corresponds to silicon. That would be highly atypical for core reactor material. The second thing that jumps out is the peak for tellurium. The location of that peak appears to be roughly where you get a 35 KeV gamma from the immediate decay of tellurium-125 as the daughter product of Iodine-125, which is used in biological assays, medical imaging, and radiation therapy. Most of the tellurium directly produced in reactors would have very short or very long half lives (it jumps from 3.2 days to 790 × 10^18 years). Any tellurium from Fukushima should have had very little radioactivity and virtually no gamma emissions by the time this particle was collected. There also seems to be no gamma peak corresponding to Am-241, which is a significant gamma source in spent fuel.

    Supposedly, Kalthofen did an X-ray assay of the elements in the particle, and it would have been a fairly simple matter to compare such an assay to core composition, but he doesn’t seem to present that information anywhere that I can find..

    And if this particle is purported to be a fragment of core material, which core could it have come from, how could it have gotten out, and how did it travel 300 miles against the prevailing winds across Japan?

  • Scott Durand

    What a great article, perhaps the distraction of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is starting wear thin. I wonder what new distraction the Japanese government will come up with next. Perhaps the first manned space mission to Mars. Fukushima needs to be resolved now!!!

  • Sam Gilman

    Hi Scott,

    I’m afraid you misread your own link, which says 76,000 MICRO Sieverts per hour (ie 76 mSv) This is out by a million (!). This shows the importance of understanding what numbers mean before you start to cite them. 76,000 Sieverts would be an insane amount. Further, I clicked through to the source your link relies on, as 76mSv/h looks high, like from something shortly after the releases in 2011. As I suspected, the readings right now are 3.232 uSv/hour. That’s 24,000 times lower. That’s right outside the plant. This shows the importance of checking sources. There are a lot of people and websites out there with wild information.

    More generally, it’s important to make sure whatever sources you use, there’s reason to trust them. Radiation monitoring is audited by an NGO for example, as is the food monitoring. The IAEA monitors things at the plant itself.

  • Sam Gilman

    (Reply 2) Hi Scott

    Sorry – I misread the source too! (>_<) Your link is up to date – but the data comes from further down the page.

    It's actually 78,000 nanosieverts per hour (nSv), which is 78 microsieverts. This is a billion times lower than 78,000 Sieverts.

    Judging from the map, that figure is right next to reactor number 1. "Administration building south". 78 uSv/ hour is indeed fairly high. It would result in a yearly dose of 683mSv if you stayed there for an entire year, which would elevate your risk of cancer. It illustrates the dangers the workers face. But the readings from the other monitors at the edge of the plant are at the highest equivalent to a dose of 27 mSv per year. This is still over the limit for resettlement, but you can see how the inverse square law operates. You don't have to get that far away from a radiation source for a radiation risk to diminish to negligible – double the distance, quarter the dose.

    I'm not suggesting that it's acceptable for people to live right up to the gates of the plant, but large parts of the evacuation zone are safe as much as safe actually means anything. (ie whatever risks there are are tiny compared to what we normally call a risk. For example, lower radiation than a place like Tokyo. No one worries about radiation when they think of living or not living in Tokyo.)

  • JustSomeGuy

    The pros and cons regarding the Fukushima incident and the traditional professional sports event, Olympics 2020 in Japan. Well, I can see why the reason to reconsider the event to take place in another country. Maybe perhaps they can accept event at another year other than 2020? But then again, this is something they shouldn’t really taken lightly for both Fukushima and the Olympics 2020 that I’m hoping it’ll take place in Japan since I’ve been meaning to visit when the event takes place. But don’t they have four more years to carefully assess and fix what is happening at the reactors? Surely, this shouldn’t be the only sole reason to stop such a huge traditional event and it’s been a very long time since Japan were responsible to hold such an event. That was in the 70’s, correct me if I’m wrong? How I see is that, it’s bad there isn’t enough support with the people who affected by the incident but for the upcoming Olympics, it holds such desire for people to come to Japan and discover its culture and society and what not for those who have not been there before. It’s like thing going hand-in-hand. I’m sure, that at least watching the Olympics is a change of pace of things that’s been happening around in Japan and can be something for, not just the Japanese but the rest to take their mind of things, if you know what I mean. Of course, the priority is the safety and health of everyone but we also need that uplifting moment of change like watching or participating an event that doesn’t happen ever so often.

  • Michael Mann

    As long as events are not being held at the Fukushima Nuclear power plant site itself there is no impact on health from radiation, no reason to stay away from the Olympic games.

  • magikald

    No amount of radiation is safe, not even small teeny tiny amounts. And what Fukushima is putting out into the environment is far from “small teeny tiny”. This is an ELE for humans.

  • Singapore Joe

    I am really distressed reading all of this. Brian Victoria completely failed to answer the legitimate questions put to him about the actual health risks from radiation in Japan, which, despite his protestations, was one of the major issues he raised in the article. At the same time I am frustrated that people like me with little science background have to rely on message boards like this to get the truth about the various issues that have been raised about Fukushima. Just by way of example, most governmental or non governmental travel websites I have read talk about areas outside the evacuation zone being safe, and point to the safety of background radiation levels, but none of these address the issue of ingestion of radioactive material through air, water or food. Why?? There are some obvious questions that global Governments are not answering for their citizens. For example: (1) There were hot spots discovered at least as far as Kanagawa Prefecture in 2011. And radioactive material was found elsewhere and cleaned up. What happened to the material that formed these hot spots? Is it possible there are more? How do we know that “hot particles” are not being carried around Japan? Even if we do not believe the cranks who claimed to have discovered radioactive particles far from Fukushima (and I myself am skeptical), the basic question still remains that there were hot spots, how do we know we found them all, and how do we know that hot particles are not being carried around in the wind to this day? To what extent can we guarantee that children in Japan (including tourists) are not ingesting these? (2) Is any foreign Government or reputable agency checking the procedures the Japanese government is using for testing of food and determining they are satisfied? (3) Similarly, what procedures are in place to prevent foodstuff from Fukushima making its way into the food chain by covert means? (4) Radioactive material from Fukushima is being apparently transported for incineration around the country. Have foreign governments or agencies determined that this is being done in a safe manner? (5) Many will have seen Youtube Videos of steam coming from the reactors. I have no idea why they have been posted, but just want to know from official sources whether any steam with radioactive material is being released from Fukushima, is it being carried to other places in Japan, and could it be dangerous? Are we sure and if so, why? (6) What potential risks remain from Fukushima, say in the event of another large earthquake or tsunami or from the reconstruction procedures being undertaken there? We all know there is a possibility that Japan may face large earthquakes in future, which in itself is scary enough but what additional risks (if any) are posed due to the Fukushima situation? (7) Is there anything we do not know yet about the status of the reactor and any possible melt down there (say because robots have been unable to operate there) that could exacerbate radiation risks? WHY DO I ASK ABOUT THIS? A close friend is completely distraught by all this, reading Japanese blogs and Youtube videos and not knowing what to believe. I am worried for her psychological well being because there is no place where people who are not experts can go to get all the facts from a credible source on the various issues that are being raised. It is clear she is not alone, and that many will suffer from psychological damage that we know occurred after Chernobyl. So I get very angry when I see articles like this which suggest there are health risks but which are not based on facts. I get more angry when the author appears to evade answering key questions. Now, I realize that in an ideal world we should not need to prove that all these concerns are baseless. In an ideal world we should be able to trust the people with expertise. Most people would like to trust their Governments to keep them safe. But the fact is that TEPCO and the Japanese Government have given us no reason to have faith in them, quite the contrary, most Japanese I talk to have little faith in their Government and believe the Government here is not releasing full and truthful information. They have not earned our trust. I think it is also possible that many international agencies have conflicts of interests to greater or lesser extents which may slant their views. And where some individuals do point to risks, they are generally branded as cranks, usually due to circumstantial evidence such as their lack of credentials, lack of publication or peer review etc. Now logic tells me that if there were ongoing radiation risks, then countries like Germany or Switzerland would be would be warning their citizens not to come here. But I have no idea what level of information they possess. And I also believe you would have to be pretty brave to announce that places such as Tokyo may not be safe. But I would love to see an impartial, up to date and easy to read report prepared by a reputable Government (Germany please) assessing the risks to adults and children in Japan arising from background radiation or ingestion of radiation caused by the Fukushima disaster and related recovery and decontamination efforts. The issue of information and disinformation is the most critical right now. This type of article only makes things worse.

  • Singapore Joe

    Thanks very much Michael. Much appreciated.

  • Atoms4Peace1

    A criticality is not the issue with the passive design features and controls in place.

  • Atoms4Peace1

    A criticality is not the issue with the passive design features and controls in place.

  • Sam Gilman

    Hi Joe,

    I think the best way to reduce stress is to have a way of identifying and cutting out nonsense so that you’re just left with reliable sources. It’s a trick I learnt in trying to understand climate change and climate change denial, and it really helped when the Fukushima crisis began. I’ll show how this applies to Toru Bove, who in my opinion is absolutely not a reliable source.

    The problem is that in any scientific area which is politicised (and nuclear power is one of them) there are people who for ideological or other reasons make stuff up on the Internet and in the media. When I say make up, they literally produce outright and often huge falsehoods. The two clearest examples outside this area are climate change denial and the anti-vaccine movement. Although both these movements claims have no basis in science, there are large groups of people committed to spreading them. They will tell you amazing horror stories of fraud, corruption and death. It can be hard to accept that pretty much all of what they say is actually made up. The temptation is to believe that they must be at least a little bit right.

    Don’t give in to that temptation. Instead, if you think a source is rather suspect, don’t give it less weight, but just ignore it in your calculations. If what they say is true, there should be other more respectable sources also saying it anyway.

    And always remember: don’t prejudge what the sources will say. We all have a very strong tendency towards confirming our prejudices. A lot of people look for proof that Fukushima is dangerous or proof that it is completely safe, and in doing so they ignore all the counterevidence. Instead, try to ask a question where the answer will tell if it is safe or not, and then look for the best quality answers. Accept those answers even if they are not the ones you wanted to hear.

    Ideally you want your sources to be:
    1. People qualified directly in the field, with a track record of having their work favourably accepted by the scientific community. That is, they publish work in scientific forums and they haven’t been identified by the scientific community as doing dubious work (ie major issues of competence and honesty).
    2. People whose financial sources of income are independent of their conclusions – that is, they don’t make their money by playing to a crowd. Ideally, university appointments. People who are paid for the quality of their work, not for their conclusions.
    3. Collectively broadly consistent. Although there is disagreement in science, genuine scientists are all trying to describe the same reality using more or less the same methods. They should all be telling the same story.

    Conversely, you want to be careful of people peddling junk science. The pattern across areas (climate change denial, anti-vaccinism etc.) is that they do not operate in scientific forums. Instead, they try to go directly to the public to disrupt popular understanding of science. Their goals are political, not scientific. So they’ll be all over the media, they’ll self-publish glossy reports, but they will rarely engage scientists in scientific forums.
    1. People who do not have evidence that they are recognised experts. They do not have the right qualifications or publication track record or appointment as an expert. People who have appointed themselves to grand sounding positions in their own organisations.
    2. People whose work and ideas have been severely criticised in scientific forums – such as post-publication peer responses. Peer review is a good thing, but there are ways of sneaking bad work past peer review, so the science community response is very important.
    3. People who say stuff that is clearly scientifically wrong in a way obvious to someone with a high school science education. This may sound like an obvious criterion, but it is surprising how often cranks with a habit of talking scientific BS will be constantly given a pass on each new claim they make. The case of Brian Victoria’s student claiming radiation sickness is a perfect example. It doesn’t take a degree in any kind of science to look up the effects of radiation on a reputable site. I gave the well-known Mayo Clinic as a supporting site on this page, for example.
    4. Collectively, the picture these people paint is not consistent. That is, if you put their claims all together, you don’t get a clear picture, you just get an impressionist scary or conspiracist cloud. This is because what junk scientists and science deniers work to do is bring doubt on the “official” (ie mainstream science) view. They are not obliged by their followers to paint a coherent consistent alternative. They’re not doing science.
    5. People whose views are the key to their income stream. This of course includes PR agents for corporations, but it also includes professional activists and activist organisations.

    So what about Toru Bove?

    First off, he himself is not an expert. He’s a superbike rider. So his testimony has no authority in itself. The best thing you can do is go and check the sources he quotes. He makes some extraordinary claims about how dangerous it is to live in Tokyo. He openly says that within five years health effects will start to be seen in the Tokyo population. You have to ask yourself – if this were based in any kind of scientific reality, wouldn’t you have scientists campaigning en masse for an evacuation? Yet where are they? Wouldn’t the politicians have all left? There are radiation detectors everywhere. Why aren’t they picking all this up?

    I actually have an interesting test for people I encounter on line who spread these ideas. I ask them this question: “When the 2020 Olympics comes and the world’s media descends on Tokyo broadcasting live and uncensored, if they do not find the human devastation you (and others like Bove) predict, will you change your mind about such ideas?” Amazingly, not one person has accepted this challenge, and I must have asked over a dozen by now. Curiously, it’s as if they don’t really believe in the literal truth of what they are saying, and many come close to saying that. Anyway, Bove’s going to need some really high quality sources.

    Secondly, he’s a Greenpeace activist and a long-time anti-nuclear campaigner. This is a red flag regarding reliability. As much as it pains me to say this, as climate change for me is the most pressing issue we all face, but what I discovered as I tried to understand the risks from Fukushima was that organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF cannot be trusted to provide factually accurate information on the topic of nuclear power. Extreme anti-nuclearism forms not simply a tribal article of faith, but also a steady income stream from hardcore members. In a really surreal twist, I discovered that they actually mimic the tactics of the climate change denial movement – bypassing scientific forums, promoting non-experts, producing in-house reports that go unreviewed by independent properly qualified scientists. Greenpeace, for example, sponsored a notoriously bad book on Chernobyl that claimed a death count hundreds of times higher than can be found in the mainstream literature (the book was trashed in scientific reviews, and the publisher withdrew it from print after it became clear that Greenpeace activists had sneaked it past all review processes). Greenpeace’s international radiation expert is actually an antiques restorer. FoE UK expelled one of its leading members because he – like some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists – argued that nuclear power might help mitigate climate change. Meanwhile FoE’s founder is happy to give an annual lecture named after a prominent living British climate change denier. WWF quite openly fakes data on carbon emissions for nuclear (look at the footnote). That’s an environmental organisation faking data about climate change because its anti-nuclearism takes precedence. It was a shock to me when I discovered all this because my natural inclination was to trust these organisations.

    This is not to say that Greenpeace et al are always wrong on the topic, but their track record is not good enough to pass the hygiene test. Not backed by science, not backed by peer review, often at odds with mainstream science. So out it goes.

    Thirdly, Bove cites a man called Arnie Gundersen a lot. Whereas Greenpeace is unreliable, Arnie Gundersen is usually just wrong. The basic facts about Gundersen:
    * He trained as a nuclear engineer. That’s about all he has going for him. He has no training in radiation and health whatsoever. He has never been employed by any institution as a researcher, and he has no scientific publication track record.
    * His career as an actual engineer appeared to end rather quickly as he was moved to administrative work.
    * In the mid to late 1980s he got fired. His employer sued him and won. (I believe it was for defamation). He eventually left the industry in 1990 and became a high school physics teacher.
    * In 2008 he and his wife started an organisation called “Fairewinds Associates” and he appointed himself “Chief Engineer”. However, Fairewinds Associates originally consisted of two people: Arnie and his wife Marge, and it’s not an engineering firm anyway.
    * Fairewinds is actually constituted as a religious/educational charity. This means it is not liable for the truth of any information it publishes.
    * On his site he claims to have 40 years nuclear engineering experience. That’s not actually true in the sense that most people would understand it, ie actually working as a nuclear engineer in the industry.
    * He displays on the site a reactor operator license certificate, but this apparently comes from learning how to operate a 100W reactor as part of his master’s degree course, not a proper full-sized reactor. The 100W reactor may not even have been on at the time.
    * If you look at who now works at Fairewinds (and they’ve made good money out of Fukushima and expanded), none of them have any health qualifications and no one else has any qualifications relating at all to nuclear power in any way. There are instead a couple of musicians, an English major, a fireman, a couple of media specialists, a geologist and a forester. This is an activist campaign organisation, not a scientific organisation.
    * Gundersen offers his services to anti-nuclear groups as an expert witness in court (which is how we know what his CV really says). You can earn some very good money doing this – I have seen figures of 300 dollars an hour.
    * He has consistently made false statements about Fukushima. He claims there was a fuel-pool explosion. There wasn’t (satellite photos show there wasn’t). He claims the explosions were caused by a nuclear criticality; they weren’t, they were caused by a build up of hydrogen. I would recommend that you look at Jag Levak’s deconstruction of the Nagoya radiation claims on this page: they are scientifically illiterate. Nothing he says on the topic appears to be true. He claims that Fukushima “dwarfs” Chernobyl. It doesn’t – but it helps his income stream to say so.

    If you see anyone citing Gundersen: just put them on ignore. What follows will very likely be wildly wrong. To repeat the point: if they’re right, then someone more reliable than Gundersen will also be saying it. The chances of that happening are pretty slim though. There are other names and sources that if you see being cited you can put the person on ignore safely: Chris Busby (I see Brian Donovan has linked to Busby’s work here. Google Busby Monbiot to find out about Busby), Helen Caldicott, Joseph Mangano, Harvey Wasserman.

    Regarding the Toshihiro Tsuji claim about rice. I hadn’t heard this one before, and it doesn’t appear to be corroborated or published anywhere. I see he’s also made claims about caesium from Fukushima reaching Nagasaki in equal densities to those in the soil near the plant. This is physically insanely implausible (look at where Nagasaki is on a map), and contradicts all known oversighted radiation readings – and radiation detectors are in independent hands and the government ones are audited by an NGO. Again, not published or corroborated anywhere. He was also a joint author of a widely panned paper about butterflies in Fukushima that couldn’t even get its scientific units straight. (The lead author is a homeopath who had never done any radiation research before 2011, and the reference list was heavy with the work of two notorious researchers – one a convicted academic fraud, the other the agent for that Greenpeace sponsored book I mentioned above). So I’m going to call BS on that.

    So I look at Toru Bove and I shrug my shoulders and think he’s a bit crazy. I don’t know how much he believes the literal truth of his claims. I’m not calling him a liar. As I am sure you are aware, the Internet is full of oddballs, and “crank magnetism” draws them together.

    If you have any sources you are concerned about, share them here and I’m happy to look at them for you.

  • Sam Gilman

    Hi Joe,

    I think the best way to reduce stress is to have a way of identifying and cutting out nonsense so that you’re just left with reliable sources. It’s a trick I learnt in trying to understand climate change and climate change denial, and it really helped when the Fukushima crisis began. I’ll show how this applies to Toru Bove, who in my opinion is absolutely not a reliable source.

    The problem is that in any scientific area which is politicised (and nuclear power is one of them) there are people who for ideological or other reasons make stuff up on the Internet and in the media. When I say make up, they literally produce outright and often huge falsehoods. The two clearest examples outside this area are climate change denial and the anti-vaccine movement. Although both these movements claims have no basis in science, there are large groups of people committed to spreading them. They will tell you amazing horror stories of fraud, corruption and death. It can be hard to accept that pretty much all of what they say is actually made up. The temptation is to believe that they must be at least a little bit right.

    Don’t give in to that temptation. Instead, if you think a source is rather suspect, don’t give it less weight, but just ignore it in your calculations. If what they say is true, there should be other more respectable sources also saying it anyway.

    And always remember: don’t prejudge what the sources will say. We all have a very strong tendency towards confirming our prejudices. A lot of people look for proof that Fukushima is dangerous or proof that it is completely safe, and in doing so they ignore all the counterevidence. Instead, try to ask a question where the answer will tell if it is safe or not, and then look for the best quality answers. Accept those answers even if they are not the ones you wanted to hear.

    Ideally you want your sources to be:
    1. People qualified directly in the field, with a track record of having their work favourably accepted by the scientific community. That is, they publish work in scientific forums and they haven’t been identified by the scientific community as doing dubious work (ie major issues of competence and honesty).
    2. People whose financial sources of income are independent of their conclusions – that is, they don’t make their money by playing to a crowd. Ideally, university appointments. People who are paid for the quality of their work, not for their conclusions.
    3. Collectively broadly consistent. Although there is disagreement in science, genuine scientists are all trying to describe the same reality using more or less the same methods. They should all be telling the same story.

    Conversely, you want to be careful of people peddling junk science. The pattern across areas (climate change denial, anti-vaccinism etc.) is that they do not operate in scientific forums. Instead, they try to go directly to the public to disrupt popular understanding of science. Their goals are political, not scientific. So they’ll be all over the media, they’ll self-publish glossy reports, but they will rarely engage scientists in scientific forums.
    1. People who do not have evidence that they are recognised experts. They do not have the right qualifications or publication track record or appointment as an expert. People who have appointed themselves to grand sounding positions in their own organisations.
    2. People whose work and ideas have been severely criticised in scientific forums – such as post-publication peer responses. Peer review is a good thing, but there are ways of sneaking bad work past peer review, so the science community response is very important.
    3. People who say stuff that is clearly scientifically wrong in a way obvious to someone with a high school science education. This may sound like an obvious criterion, but it is surprising how often cranks with a habit of talking scientific BS will be constantly given a pass on each new claim they make. The case of Brian Victoria’s student claiming radiation sickness is a perfect example. It doesn’t take a degree in any kind of science to look up the effects of radiation on a reputable site. I gave the well-known Mayo Clinic as a supporting site on this page, for example.
    4. Collectively, the picture these people paint is not consistent. That is, if you put their claims all together, you don’t get a clear picture, you just get an impressionist scary or conspiracist cloud. This is because what junk scientists and science deniers work to do is bring doubt on the “official” (ie mainstream science) view. They are not obliged by their followers to paint a coherent consistent alternative. They’re not doing science.
    5. People whose views are the key to their income stream. This of course includes PR agents for corporations, but it also includes professional activists and activist organisations.

    So what about Toru Bove?

    First off, he himself is not an expert. He’s a superbike rider. So his testimony has no authority in itself. The best thing you can do is go and check the sources he quotes. He makes some extraordinary claims about how dangerous it is to live in Tokyo. He openly says that within five years health effects will start to be seen in the Tokyo population. You have to ask yourself – if this were based in any kind of scientific reality, wouldn’t you have scientists campaigning en masse for an evacuation? Yet where are they? Wouldn’t the politicians have all left? There are radiation detectors everywhere. Why aren’t they picking all this up?

    I actually have an interesting test for people I encounter on line who spread these ideas. I ask them this question: “When the 2020 Olympics comes and the world’s media descends on Tokyo broadcasting live and uncensored, if they do not find the human devastation you (and others like Bove) predict, will you change your mind about such ideas?” Amazingly, not one person has accepted this challenge, and I must have asked over a dozen by now. Curiously, it’s as if they don’t really believe in the literal truth of what they are saying, and many come close to saying that. Anyway, Bove’s going to need some really high quality sources.

    Secondly, he’s a Greenpeace activist and a long-time anti-nuclear campaigner. This is a red flag regarding reliability. As much as it pains me to say this, as climate change for me is the most pressing issue we all face, but what I discovered as I tried to understand the risks from Fukushima was that organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF cannot be trusted to provide factually accurate information on the topic of nuclear power. Extreme anti-nuclearism forms not simply a tribal article of faith, but also a steady income stream from hardcore members. In a really surreal twist, I discovered that they actually mimic the tactics of the climate change denial movement – bypassing scientific forums, promoting non-experts, producing in-house reports that go unreviewed by independent properly qualified scientists. Greenpeace, for example, sponsored a notoriously bad book on Chernobyl that claimed a death count hundreds of times higher than can be found in the mainstream literature (the book was trashed in scientific reviews, and the publisher withdrew it from print after it became clear that Greenpeace activists had sneaked it past all review processes). Greenpeace’s international radiation expert is actually an antiques restorer. FoE UK expelled one of its leading members because he – like some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists – argued that nuclear power might help mitigate climate change. Meanwhile FoE’s founder is happy to give an annual lecture named after a prominent living British climate change denier. WWF quite openly fakes data on carbon emissions for nuclear (look at the footnote). That’s an environmental organisation faking data about climate change because its anti-nuclearism takes precedence. It was a shock to me when I discovered all this because my natural inclination was to trust these organisations.

    This is not to say that Greenpeace et al are always wrong on the topic, but their track record is not good enough to pass the hygiene test. Not backed by science, not backed by peer review, often at odds with mainstream science. So out it goes.

    Thirdly, Bove cites a man called Arnie Gundersen a lot. Whereas Greenpeace is unreliable, Arnie Gundersen is usually just wrong. The basic facts about Gundersen:
    * He trained as a nuclear engineer. That’s about all he has going for him. He has no training in radiation and health whatsoever. He has never been employed by any institution as a researcher, and he has no scientific publication track record.
    * His career as an actual engineer appeared to end rather quickly as he was moved to administrative work.
    * In the mid to late 1980s he got fired. His employer sued him and won. (I believe it was for defamation). He eventually left the industry in 1990 and became a high school physics teacher.
    * In 2008 he and his wife started an organisation called “Fairewinds Associates” and he appointed himself “Chief Engineer”. However, Fairewinds Associates originally consisted of two people: Arnie and his wife Marge, and it’s not an engineering firm anyway.
    * Fairewinds is actually constituted as a religious/educational charity. This means it is not liable for the truth of any information it publishes.
    * On his site he claims to have 40 years nuclear engineering experience. That’s not actually true in the sense that most people would understand it, ie actually working as a nuclear engineer in the industry.
    * He displays on the site a reactor operator license certificate, but this apparently comes from learning how to operate a 100W reactor as part of his master’s degree course, not a proper full-sized reactor. The 100W reactor may not even have been on at the time.
    * If you look at who now works at Fairewinds (and they’ve made good money out of Fukushima and expanded), none of them have any health qualifications and no one else has any qualifications relating at all to nuclear power in any way. There are instead a couple of musicians, an English major, a fireman, a couple of media specialists, a geologist and a forester. This is an activist campaign organisation, not a scientific organisation.
    * Gundersen offers his services to anti-nuclear groups as an expert witness in court (which is how we know what his CV really says). You can earn some very good money doing this – I have seen figures of 300 dollars an hour.
    * He has consistently made false statements about Fukushima. He claims there was a fuel-pool explosion. There wasn’t (satellite photos show there wasn’t). He claims the explosions were caused by a nuclear criticality; they weren’t, they were caused by a build up of hydrogen. I would recommend that you look at Jag Levak’s deconstruction of the Nagoya radiation claims on this page: they are scientifically illiterate. Nothing he says on the topic appears to be true. He claims that Fukushima “dwarfs” Chernobyl. It doesn’t – but it helps his income stream to say so.

    If you see anyone citing Gundersen: just put them on ignore. What follows will very likely be wildly wrong. To repeat the point: if they’re right, then someone more reliable than Gundersen will also be saying it. The chances of that happening are pretty slim though. There are other names and sources that if you see being cited you can put the person on ignore safely: Chris Busby (I see Brian Donovan has linked to Busby’s work here. Google Busby Monbiot to find out about Busby), Helen Caldicott, Joseph Mangano, Harvey Wasserman.

    Regarding the Toshihiro Tsuji claim about rice. I hadn’t heard this one before, and it doesn’t appear to be corroborated or published anywhere. I see he’s also made claims about caesium from Fukushima reaching Nagasaki in equal densities to those in the soil near the plant. This is physically insanely implausible (look at where Nagasaki is on a map), and contradicts all known oversighted radiation readings – and radiation detectors are in independent hands and the government ones are audited by an NGO. Again, not published or corroborated anywhere. He was also a joint author of a widely panned paper about butterflies in Fukushima that couldn’t even get its scientific units straight. (The lead author is a homeopath who had never done any radiation research before 2011, and the reference list was heavy with the work of two notorious researchers – one a convicted academic fraud, the other the agent for that Greenpeace sponsored book I mentioned above). So I’m going to call BS on that.

    So I look at Toru Bove and I shrug my shoulders and think he’s a bit crazy. I don’t know how much he believes the literal truth of his claims. I’m not calling him a liar. As I am sure you are aware, the Internet is full of oddballs, and “crank magnetism” draws them together.

    If you have any sources you are concerned about, share them here and I’m happy to look at them for you.