Japan’s environment minister withdraws radiation remarks

JIJI

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa on Friday withdrew remarks she reportedly made about the government’s radiation decontamination target following the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Speaking at a news conference, Marukawa said she apologizes from the bottom of her heart to those suffering from the nuclear accident, including people in Fukushima Prefecture.

She denied that she might step down over the remarks, saying she will continue to fulfill her duties.

Marukawa has been under fire since a newspaper reported remarks she made in a speech in the city of Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture on Sunday.

She was quoted as saying the government’s long-term goal of reducing radiation levels near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less has no scientific grounds.

The goal was set by the government led by the now-opposition Democratic Party of Japan, based on recommendations from the International Commission on Radiation Protection and requests from the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

At Friday’s news conference, Marukawa said that the central government will not drop the decontamination goal.

  • Firas Kraïem

    Are the Men in Black going to come visit everybody who has read or heard it, then?

    • 151E

      No need. The 24-hour ADHD news cycle will ensure it’s completely flushed out from voters’ memories long before the next election.

      • J.P. Bunny

        Even sooner. NHK is now in cedar pollen mode. No more news until after cherry blossom season.

      • Charles

        LOL!

      • Charles

        LOL!

  • Liars N. Fools

    More mis-speaking from Abe Shinzo administration ministers. When will the Japanese electorate realize that the opposition is incompetent, the ruling coalition leaders are only a bit better?

  • Testerty

    Yup. It is becoming a Japanese habit of making ridiculous declaration and then have to apologize for it. Later, of course, they will deny the apology and called the accusers liars.

  • KenjiAd

    She was quoted as saying the government’s long-term goal of reducing
    radiation levels near Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1
    nuclear plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert or less has no
    scientific grounds.

    Actually she was absolutely correct in stating that goal of <1 millisievert per year has no scientific basis. The average background radiation, from sources like cosmic ray, natural air, etc, in Japan is estimated to be 1.5 mSv per year (the US average is even higher, about ~3 mSv).

    The unrealistic goal like <1 mSv is stupid, as it would make the evacuation practically indefinite (how long can we wait until the level drops below the national average?); worse, it would create unnecessary fear of radiation that is not scientifically sound.

    She should have explained her statement. Instead, she simply chose to apologize so that her Party would get more votes. Bad politics. I'm disappointed.

    • Michele Marcolin

      As far as I have read, she seems to have been criticized more for else: a statement that could have been interpreted as minimizing the burden of the evacuated victims. The 1 mSv story is only part of it – which incidentally is correct – since it is indeed an arbitrary decision (quite wise however). But apparently there is no record anywhere of that statement. Only mambo-jumbo allegations by media that incidentally did not even record it first hand anywhere. At any rate, it is totally legitimate and very wise to be concerned about radiations levels: Fukushima and its leaks will be there for many decades yet to come (Tokyo level itself has increase to almost the double since then, despite it is not a concern). Nothing is finished: clean up hasn’t even started. Mere ‘containment’ activity for now, while decontamination is almost a propagandistic waste of money to minimize the reimbursement issues. Current politicians should be more aware of what they do, when they deal with nuclear things. As well as those who came before, should have been.

      • KenjiAd

        Let me ask you something. Two atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Are you aware of any report of higher incidence of cancer or any other illness in these cities that might be related to radiation? I’m not talking about acute illness that occurred immediately after the A-bomb. I’m talking about some long-term effects.

        I grew up in Hiroshima. And I’m old enough to remember that some women in Hiroshima faced marriage discrimination even though they were born after the war. I’m telling you this because people’s fear of radiation is often unreasonable.

        I understand that people’s natural fear of radiation; you can’t see it. But the potential risk of radiation has to be weighed against other environmental risks such as air pollution.

        Are you aware that, if you travel a lot by airplanes, you will likely be exposed to higher does of radiation than the mere 1mSv per year, which is the goal of the Japanese government. Why then, I ask, isn’t the government restricting the air travel?

      • Michele Marcolin

        Actually I am. You just have to go deeper into it. Even if sources for the time are questionable: nobody collected data systematically to do case studies at the time outside the military. Much is based on later reconstructions. Many of the properties of the atomic particles on human body were also not yet fully known. The discrimination phenomenon also is heard of. I did not look into it much, but for what I read it seems very typical of Japanese culture, where you had and still have countless forms of discrimination for any possible deviations from the standards (after all if you want a society of nails that are all well hammered down to the same level, anything that sticks out inevitably attracts attention and may be feared). But it is not by minimizing or ignoring things that you change reality.

        You could look more into what happened along Techa river in Russia’s Chelyabinsk region, where the secret nuclear compound of Mayak discharged directly into the river the waste of the plutonium production for decades, contaminating the population of a number of villages and using them secretly as guinea pigs to study the effects of exposure to middle and low level radiations over generations. Truth started to come to light since the ’90s. Nor AIEA or Russia fully acknowledge that or will knock on your door to inform you, though. But truth is out there. Available.

        Back to the comment, every country has different background radiation levels, so the 1 mSv is just an indicative measure. It could have been 2 or 3, it would not have changed much. At the time nobody was sure of anything and the so-called experts in the government weren’t experts at all. The minister wasn’t really mistaken on what she said about it. And you was indeed you right. But thing seem to have been more subtle, for what I know: a denigratory statement (consciously or not) of victims of the situation who were concerned about the superficiality (real or not) of the measures regarding the radiation levels of their whereabouts. The way she made it, more than what she said. Media probably amplified it beyond necessity. Nonetheless such slips from a minister in charge of the thing should be avoided. Politicians need to be well aware of what they do or say about Fukushima, since the topic is tricky and reactions may get random. After all it happened also because of their lack of knowledge and blind faith in things that were not what they thought to be.

        As for radiations’ effects, rest assured that being concerned is totally licit and actually welcome. It is witness of a conscience that is alive. At the cost of jeopardizing a government activity. In Italy we forced the country to quite nuclear power… It did not make much difference since behind the border France has more than 50 reactors and discharges into the northern sea continuously low level radiation waste from its reprocessing plant thanks to a flaw in the international laws. But at least we do not have the problem of the radioactive waste management ourselves and we will never have our own Fukushima. Any attempt of minimizing nuclear threats should always be seen as suspicious: the true nature of the nuclear business has and always will be strategic, therefore ‘secret’ and highly economy-entangled. Governments will always prioritize it over safety (it always did): radionuclides, which are also invisible, will still be lively and around when life and memory will no longer be… a very precious assets for a government. It just need to way for people to forget or… pass.

        Numbers and cause-effects may indeed be different and difficult to determine, but the one and only truth is that everybody reacts differently to radiations. That is why minimizing as much as possible any exposure is the only logical measure to reduce any effects, visible and invisible. Particularly for youngster. Just like for smoke. External radiations represent a lesser threat, the internal ones a more treacherous danger. Flight, that you mention, brings you strong cosmic rays exposure; it is not nice, as you point out, but it is natural (the vehicle, your clothes, your skin filter it). You do not die or get sick by CTSCAN every year, not even when repeated many times, under cure. Those radiations are not brought you by man-made radio isotopes feee in the environment that eventually find ways inside your body through respiration, food-chains, etc. sticking with you also for life. The decontamination is quite ineffective (we went there to do documentaries on that topic). People there realized it. That is why they are skeptical and concerned. Government, which now means also TEPCO, should be more responsible and act consequently about it.

        Sorry for the length. Regards.

      • KenjiAd

        Thank you for the reply. As I gather from your comment, you are probably not very familiar with the biological effects of radiations, so please allow me to explain some background. Of course I do have a bias, but I try to be as objective as possible.

        When the A-bomb exploded, people were exposed to a very high dose of radiations, in the range of up to thousands of mSv. This provided a unique opportunity to do, for lack of a better word, “experiment” of the effect of radiations on human body.

        The acute effect was immediately known; tens of thousands died because of radiation sickness within a year. From that “experiment”, they learned, for example, that the mortality reaches near 100% if one gets exposed to radiation of over 6,000 mSv.

        Scientists were also interested in how A-bomb survives exposed to a lower dose (less than 100 mSv, as low as ~5 mSv) fared later in their lives. They compared, for example, the cancer rate between the A-bomb survives and control group.

        The results were controversial. Although they showed some elevated cancer risks among A-bomb survivors, the difference was not huge and could be explained by various compounding factors.

        So in brief, there is no consensus as to the long term effect of low-dose radiation.

        Because of that, the governments of most countries have adapted the policy of ALARA (as low as reasonably acceptable), based on the assumption that even a very low-dose of radiation might have a cumulative, negative consequence. That’s what you are seeing in the 1mSv policy at issue.

        Now, I do not oppose to the ideal implicit in the ALARA policy. My argument is simply that this policy, at the level of only a few mSv of radiation, is fundamentally meaningless as a way to avoid health risks.

        If you are to avoid even 1mSv of radiation, while a guy sitting right next to you is smoking, any possible benefit of avoiding the 1mSv radiation would be completely, utterly nullified by the second-hand smoke.

        In fact, there are so many other, more serious environmental hazard whose risks are far more real and dangerous than 1 mSv radiation. That’s why I believe this policy is meaningless as a policy to protect citizens.

      • Michele Marcolin

        Thank you for the reply. Yes, I am aware of those studies, but much of the numbers originate from later reconstructions and analysis, and confirmed by further detailed and more reliable experimentation even after (US detonated more than 200 devices into the atmosphere studying any possible affect… including reaction of paints). In any case all of them deal simply with external radiation, which seems to be the only thing you take into account.

        The problem in Fukushima is that people live in an area where contaminants are free: the dust, the water, etc.all represent a potential danger. And not because they do or do not emit up to 1 mSv/year, but because they contain undetectable amounts of artificial radionuclides, whose irradiation – if constant and prolonged in time as the case for people going back to live there – is far heavier from inside than the external measurable ones. That is why kids are still not allowed to play long outside: they can intake particles and they are much more vulnerable. No geiger can quantify the effect a chromosomic damage cause by them, will bring to an immune system/body, despite equations tells you how much stronger the radiation is. We can ignore that and attribute any pathology, to casualty and live happy. Even allergies. But the fact remain: there will be effects because of that and they will likely be passed on. No matter how many mSv/year is decided. So, to this regard, I personally prefer minimizing that as much as I can, since the pollutants we are in contact daily are already many.

        Allow me one more thing, not really pertinent to Fukushima… the lack of low level radiation effects is mere propaganda: no country and less than less AIEA would admit the use of the residents of Muslymovo and other villages as experimental subjects for that. But the data exist. It is just too uncomfortable for the economy of the industry.

      • KenjiAd

        … much of the numbers originate from later reconstructions and analysis,

        No, that’s not correct. The studies tracked actual almost all the A-bomb survivors, from around 1970 to all the way up to around 2000, by recording what kind of illness they developed and how they died. The researchers (they are Japanese scientists, not the military by the way) were able to do this tracking, because all of them carried a special card that identifies them as A-bomb survivor (called “被爆者手帳”) which allowed them a free access to medical care anywhere in Japan. I’m not sure what you mean by “later reconstructions.”

        In any case all of them deal simply with external radiation, which seems to be the only thing you take into account.

        That’s not so. See below.

        The problem in Fukushima is that people live in an area where
        contaminants are free: the dust, the water, etc.all represent a
        potential danger. And not because they do or do not emit up to 1
        mSv/year, but because they contain undetectable amounts of artificial
        radionuclides, whose irradiation – if constant and prolonged in time as
        the case for people going back to live there – is far heavier from
        inside than the external measurable ones.

        With all due respect, I think you misunderstand the difference as well as similarity between nuclear bomb and nuclear-plant accident. So first please allow me to explain.

        When a nuclear bomb is exploded, as you can imagine, it releases a tremendous amount of radioactive dust into the air, way, way more than the worst accident, Chernobyl, ever released. It’s a bomb that flattened the entire city, remember? Explosion at Chernobyl/Fukushima didn’t even flatten the facility.

        In case for Hiroshima, and to a lesser degree at Nagasaki, the dust fell down to the ground in the form of rain. Known as “黒い雨” (black rain), the radioactive dust falling down soaked the entire city and surrounding area. That’s how a lot of people who visited Hiroshima, including many doctors, got radiation sickness so severe that many of them died.

        By the way, you are correct in thinking that A-bomb releases a tremendous amount of radiation at the time of detonation. The most lethal one, which does not exist in the case for nuclear-plant accidents, was a particle called neutron. Because they are not electrically charged, they go right through human tissues, not blocked by clothes or buildings. As they hit tissues, they sometimes create radioisotopes inside the body. Neutrons are quite lethal this way. It is like swallowing radioisotopes.

        … because they contain undetectable amounts of artificial radionuclides

        This part of your quote needs a special attention, because I feel this seems to be the crux of your argument. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying there must be something dangerous, radioisotopes (=radionuclides) hiding in Fukushima that we don’t know about.

        There is no such a thing. Radioisotopes released by nuclear fission, the mechanism used by nuclear power plant, are well-known. It’s a standard physics.

        Note that most of those isotopes are short-lived. For example, iodine-131, a dangerous isotope that accumulates in thyroid, has a half-life of only 8 days. So this particular isotope is practically non-existent in Fukushima any more.

        There are long-lived isotopes of course. The most troubling isotopes are Cesium isotopes whose half lives are in the range of years to thousands of years. So they don’t go away quickly. That’s why you see in the news that scientists are still checking these Cesium isotopes. Yes, you can check the level of them, quite easily.

        More about Cesium isotopes. They are dangerous because they form a salt which freely dissolves in water (just like NaCl). Because of that, once getting into a human body, it tends to spread to the entire body as human body is 70% water.

        Fortunately, cesium doesn’t stay long in the body because, you know, it comes out in your pee. :-) It doesn’t accumulate like iodine (in thyroid) or phosphorus (in bone). But again, you should definitely avoid consuming Cesium isotopes.

      • Michele Marcolin

        Thank you again. I believe we are ending up by being picky on many details not relevant to the discussion. A-bomb effects studies have little bearing here. They are a-posteriori, which means made later; years after the explosions; not based on a constant monitoring from the beginning of an official experimentation; did not record the real level of radiation at the explosion time so they have no way to prove precise cause-effect relations in most cases (it does not mean they are not scientific, of course). Anyway they deal with EXTERNAL irradiation, which means a source outside the body. They can not establish when, how often and what contaminated food the victims ingested over time, which gives a constant and direct INTERNAL irradiation to the cells. That is what I mean. The chart data for the mSv numbers have been developed scientifically, testing radiations going out on explosions or on deliberate exposition of tissues and living creatures to radiations, recording how much was damages and resistance was visible, etc. After the first two devices. A-bomb data and particularly Chernobyl – that has been systematically and carefully studied for effects on population of a not explosive irradiation, therefore more indicated – is an important even if complementary and confirmative part. In any case it was not my intention questioning any of that.

        You are giving me general information that went through all the media – in a rather diluted way also – several times… iodine, cesium, and similar stories. There are no SECRET particles in Fukushima: they are ALL out there. All the radionuclides handled and created inside a nuclear reactor. And not because of the explosion (which was modest and did not split open the reactors), but because TEPCO ventilated the reactors before that, to avoid a worst scenario of explosion by pressure, when they believed they could still save the investment without a new Chernobyl. That was a wrecked necessity having TEPCO economized on structural investments back at the time. The ventilation had NO FILTERS (!), straight from the inside of the reactor. Exactly like a fall-out of a A-bomb or Chernobyl. In no other model in US exist that possibility, because they are not that light-minded: the same reactor models have a different, more solid structure and none of them need/can be vented, because what is the only thing that should never happen! What is inside a reactor has to stay inside (there are interesting details behind this reality… but it is not relevant here). Except for iodine, all the others elements decrease on the order of 30s, 100s and 1000s of years. Cesium is peed out for the greater amount only when you intake it in high quantities, just like any other salt or substance we ingest (I am sure you realize you have several salts and mineral inside your body right know even if you do mix 50 grams of salt with water and drink it). That is our biology. If it was so easy, it would’t be such a serious issue in radiology and prevention and nobody would be sick because Chernobyl (those sick are not the liquidators, are normal people contaminated by the fall out). Full body count devices are used for that: counting the contamination you have inside by intake. The decontamination in Fukushima is done for that reason, not for the fancy 1mSv figure. Substances are volatile and enter bodies. When you assume them in constant and small doses, you just make them part of yourself and get irradiated internally, even when away from any radiating hotspot. You do not need concentration and you are not radioactive yourself: concentration can develop in a local visible pathology on yourself (tumors, etc.). When not concentrated you just get your chromosomes irradiated and broken, later passed over to your kids and there it will develop pathologies. That is what decontamination is all about. There is an endless bibliography on that. Chernobyl created a vast laboratory for that.

      • KenjiAd

        The discrimination phenomenon also is heard of. I did not look into it
        much, but for what I read it seems very typical of Japanese culture…

        Actually it has nothing to do with the culture. It has everything to do with unreasonable fear.

        Some Japanese people, in some distant past, avoided marrying people in Hiroshima, because they were afraid of some alleged genetic risks Hiroshima people carry around, a view which had no scientific basis. it was similar to the way some people still don’t even shake hands with people with AIDS, because they are afraid that they might get AIDS by touching them.

        My point of mentioning this discrimination (long time ago) was that unreasonable fear of radiation DOES have a very negative consequence in human lives.

      • Michele Marcolin

        Well, yes and no. Culture is related to habits and tradition as well as to knowledge of things. I believe that at the base of everything we can put ignorance: we usually are afraid of what we don’t know because we think it may bring harm. But It is very human and it has accompanied mankind over its entire history. It is self-preservation instinct. Knowledge and open mind may be the solution. Indeed not every body is scared to shake hands with people with AIDS. ;-)

      • Michele Marcolin

        Well, yes and no. Culture is related to habits and tradition as well as to knowledge of things. I believe that at the base of everything we can put ignorance: we usually are afraid of what we don’t know because we think it may bring harm. But It is very human and it has accompanied mankind over its entire history. It is self-preservation instinct. Knowledge and open mind may be the solution. Indeed not every body is scared to shake hands with people with AIDS. ;-)

  • Starviking

    Very sad, scientific questions seem to be decided by whoever shouts the loudest in Japan. No scientific commentary at all!

  • fromjapan

    Japan’s safety standard is always suspicious.
    because Authority of Japan consider profit for large corporation than resident health.

  • Hideomi Kuze

    “Profit First” government of Japan want to understate any contamination.