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Mutations, DNA damage seen in Fukushima forests, says Greenpeace

AFP-JIJI

Conservation group Greenpeace warned on Friday that the environmental impact of the Fukushima nuclear crisis five years ago on nearby forests is just beginning to be seen and will remain a source of contamination for years to come.

The March 11, 2011 magnitude-9.0 undersea earthquake off the nation’s northeastern coast sparked a massive tsunami that swamped cooling systems and triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Radiation spread over a wide area and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes — many of whom will likely never return — in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

As the fifth anniversary of the disaster approaches, Greenpeace said signs of mutations in trees and DNA-damaged worms were beginning to appear, while “vast stocks of radiation” mean that forests cannot be decontaminated.

In a report, Greenpeace cited “apparent increases in growth mutations of fir trees, … heritable mutations in pale blue grass butterfly populations” as well as “DNA-damaged worms in highly contaminated areas.”

The report came as the government intends to lift many evacuation orders in villages around the Fukushima plant by March 2017, if its massive decontamination effort progresses as it hopes.

For now, only residential areas are being cleaned in the short-term, and the worst-hit parts of the countryside are being omitted, a recommendation made by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But such selective efforts will confine returnees to a relatively small area of their old hometowns, while the strategy could lead to re-contamination as woodlands will act as a radiation reservoir, with pollutants washed out by rains, Greenpeace warned.

The conservation group said its report relies largely on research published in peer-reviewed international journals.

But “most of the findings in it have never been covered outside of the close circles of academia”, report author Kendra Ulrich said.

The government’s push to resettle contaminated areas and also restart nuclear reactors elsewhere around the country that were shut down in the aftermath of the crisis are a cause for concern, Ulrich said, stressing it and the IAEA are using the opportunity of the anniversary to play down the impact of the radiation.

“In the interest of human rights — especially for victims of the disaster — it is ever more urgent to ensure accurate and complete information is publicly available and the misleading rhetoric of these entities challenged,” she said.

Scientists, including a researcher who found mutations of Fukushima butterflies, have warned, however, that more data are needed to determine the ultimate impact of the Fukushima accident on animals in general.

Researchers and medical doctors have so far denied that the accident at Fukushima would cause an elevated incidence of cancer or leukemia, diseases that are often associated with radiation exposure.

But they also noted that long-term medical examination is needed, especially due to concerns over thyroid cancer among young people — a particular problem for people following the Chernobyl catastrophe.

  • Leslie Corrice

    Another Greenpeace piece of propaganda. Ho-hum. Most of the so called “peer reviewed Journals” are actually pay-for-play rags. Most of which are not found in reputable journals because the methods used are horrendous. The mantra is to find something apparently unusual, then cavalierly blame it on Fukushima. Yet, such non-scientific drivel gets published because the authors pay for it! Greenpeace is a group of nuclear energy bigotry, and as such deserves to be ignored by the popular Press.

    • shatonbytories

      Having skimmed through your posts over the since 2014 it seems you only comment on this issue (and there are reamsreams of them.) This is fair of course, but perhaps u could enlighten us as to your overwhelming and very consistent pro nuclear power stance. Is i hobby? do you wish to stop fear mongering? do u work in the industry? Would you ever accept any evidence or argument which contradicts your view? Just asking.

      As for things up in Fukushima. I agree there are many unsubstantiated rumors and scaremongering. But the Japanese govt and press are hardly helping the matter. Do you fill the people are truly informed enough to be able to dicern the truth from the falsehoods? Does the govt facilitate independent investigation and full disclosure? Is the Japanse press allowed full access or confident enough to challenge the govt. line?
      As an obvious expert you will be able to tell us, and if the general lack of interest or even mention of it amongst my Japanese colleagues and friends means they are fully informed and fully satisfied with the information they are getting, then I’ll believe you. However, I suspect their reticence to discuss it has anything to do with free, full and impartial knowledge.

      • Sam Gilman

        I think a lot of the answers to your questions about openness are kind of in the report. (I say kind of because I’ve already found without really looking a couple of misrepresentations of the research, and the sourcing shows clear problematic bias)

        What the report supposedly looks at are measurements taken by various researchers both Japanese and international. Measurements of radioactive releases are difficult to cover up. They need to be consistent both internally, and with the physics of the situation, and with monitoring outside Japan’s borders. All you need to worry about are the methods and keep an eye out for outliers who might not be what they’re cracked up to be.

        Which is where the problem is here. There is, I suppose inevitably, a heavy reliance on the work of Anders Pape Møller and Timothy Mousseau. They are researchers with poor reputations and clear political agendas. (Mousseau was involved in the publication in English of the notorious Yablokov Chernobyl book, Møller effectively banned from research in his home country after a conviction for academic fraud). If you look at this Smithsonian article on Mousseau, get past the clickbait headline and the first few paragraphs and you’ll see mainstream scientists coming as close to saying M&M’s work is junk as politeness allows:

        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/birds-are-tailspin-four-years-after-fukushima-180955134/

        And this is from Chernobyl:

        http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/scientific-meltdown-at-chernobyl-2009-03-24/

        The two basic problems with their work at Fukushima are firstly that the results they find don’t make sense because they find effects of radiation at such low doses, and secondly, there appears to be problems over their handling and publication of data. Then there is the awful butterfly study (the corresponding author for which is a colourful character, who was busy promoting alternative medicine before 2011) which relied on M&M heavily for back up.

        https://theconversation.com/questionable-studies-wont-help-identify-fukushimas-effects-26772

        I can’t speak for Leslie Corrice, but my own motivation is twofold: initially it was combatting the appalling fear-mongering that the anti-nuclear movement and much of the clickbait driven media has been engaging in, first at the expense of everyone across Japan, and now persistently at the expense of the welfare of people in Fukushima, and then climate change mitigation, where the same people have been trying to distort the debate in a number of ways (but that’s for another discussion).

    • Naomi Dagen Bloom

      You write “the methods used are horrendous” but do not clarify what those methods are. While you criticize the Greenpeace language used, I am put off by yours–“drivel” and “bigotry.” Genuine information might support your critique but does not appear in what you write.

    • Sam Gilman

      Hi Leslie,

      You suggest that many of the sources are pay to play ones (ie predatory journals). I’m not seeing that. Could you point them out?

      On the other hand, I do see an awful lot of convicted academic fraud Anders Pape Møller and his Greenpeace sidekick Mousseau, but as far as I can see none of the mainstream critiques of their plainly outlying work. Inevitably there is a lot made of the dreadful butterfly study from their acolyte the homeopathy promoter (and anti-vaccinist) Joji Matsumoto Otaki. It also looks like the author may not have read more than the abstracts to some of the regular studies she cites, as she relies on secondary sources for their contents.

      Inadverently, a rather charming conspiracy theorist (one lovely quote “PLUTONIUM which means the core was EJECTED. BOOOM!!!!!!! In your FACE!!!!!” – and yes, he knows I live in Japan) has shown me two passages where the author has misread or misrepresented sources to produce scary conclusions. Adding noughts to things and omitting key information.

      The author has a first degree in political science and women’s studies (great subjects, but not for doing radiological science) and became a (professional?) anti-nuclear activist before doing a masters a couple of years ago in environmental studies. No publications in the area to speak of. This is for Greenpeace’s big report on Fukushima. Then again, given that their international radiation expert is an art restorer (thanked at the beginning of this report), perhaps it was hard to do better.

      It’s a revealing title. “Radiation reloaded”. What’s it supposed to mean, given all the other reports by more authoritative institutions, other than “we want another go at scaring you”.

      • KenjiAd

        Inevitably there is a lot made of the dreadful butterfly study from
        their acolyte the homeopathy promoter (and anti-vaccinist) Joji
        Matsumoto Otaki.

        I’m not sure if an insect like a butterfly can be a good model system to study the health effects of low dose radiations. But there’s no harm examining it.

        I read his original paper published in the Science Report, in which they claimed that the butterfly collected at Fukushima site show morphological “abnormalities” (their term) that appear to have been caused by mutations.

        The weakness of this study was that, in my opinion, the sampling method wasn’t properly controlled. Since every scientist is human too and has a confirmation bias, if you go in to an area where you expect to find mutant Godzilla butterfly, you will find it. If you go in to a clean area where you don’t expect to find a “mutant,” you will not find as many. This confirmation bias should have been controlled.

        They had a very interesting experiment in which they artificially exposed the butterfly to radiations and observed the same morphological abnormalities. This could have been the strength of their paper.

        Unfortunately, again, I think the experiment was not properly controlled. The way they did was that they fed contaminated leaves collected at the Fukushima site to the butterfly larvae. As the control, they fed clean leaves collected at other locations.

        This set up, however, create many unknowns, because the difference between leaves collected at Fukushima and those from other locations are not just in the presence or absence of radioactivity. There could be other factors, too, including differences in chemicals. The proper way to do this experiment is to feed same leaves, but in three groups: 1) leave with radioactive Cesium, 2) one with non-radioactive Cesium, and 3) just clean leaf.

        So at this point, one cannot conclude much about the validity of their study in my opinion. More research is needed.

      • Sam Gilman

        The sampling does seem to be a strong weakness. Did you see this article?

        https://theconversation.com/questionable-studies-wont-help-identify-fukushimas-effects-26772

        That looks like a fairly strong critique to me.

  • Christina Tsuchida

    Greenpeace does sometimes take an extreme stand. That aside, the data assembled here deserves careful thought and discussion. The Japan government is right to “play down” the extreme views that did pop up after the accident: a warning by a foreign gov’t. that led [for example] a Tokyo Eng. teacher to flee his students and go to Kansai, press comparisons of the fallout to those of the WWII a-bombs, and one USA correspondent’s expectations of wild animals’ deaths from radiation-sickness. The absence of confirmation of these fears makes the Greenpeace reports rather pro-nuke-power or at least not extreme in the reverse direction.
    I rather fear the playing down of global-warming damage and deaths to protect the fossil-fuel-burning-dependent economies. These are even more monetarily endowed than the nuke industry alone. More than 40 years ago a nun teaching at Harvard Divinity Schl. opined we should get rid of the Detroit car industry to avoid global warming. Not done yet, right?

    • Sam Gilman

      Hi Christina,

      A couple of things about the sources: first off, there is a heavy bias in the material about actual biological impacts towards the work of Anders Pape Møller and Timothy Mousseau. They are, to put it mildly, controversial.

      http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/news-blog/scientific-meltdown-at-chernobyl-2009-03-24/

      As well as reference to a butterfly study by a homeopathist acolyte of M&M that was pretty awful:

      https://theconversation.com/questionable-studies-wont-help-identify-fukushimas-effects-26772

      Secondly, although I haven’t been through the report thoroughly, I have already been shown passages that when I check the sourcing for them, don’t match the sources properly.

      Greenpeace has a history of poor reporting on nuclear power. They were involved in the production of the notorious Yablokov book on Chernobyl originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences and then withdrawn from print following membership protest and really damning peer review. (Normal review processes had apparently been bypassed before publication. Mousseau, involved in that, is now one of the two agents for the book which is now put out by a vanity publisher.)

      You are right to worry about global warming. Greenpeace did a wonderful job of exposing fossil fuel sponsoring of junk science on global warming. But alas, it is not so good on climate change mitigation. Greenpeace actually prioritises closing nuclear power before closing coal plants. Why? I believe they are are one of the organisations that leading climate scientist James Hansen refers to when he said this:

      It is not always easy to speak truth to power, but all citizens have the opportunity if they choose. I have one minor, easy suggestion for you to consider, and another requiring more effort.

      The first concerns “Big Green,” the large environmental organizations, which have become one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem. After I joined other scientists in requesting the leaders of Big Green to reconsider their adamant opposition to nuclear power, and was rebuffed, I learned from discussions with them the major reason: They feared losing donor support. Money, it seems, is the language they understand. Thus my suggestion: The next time you receive a donation request, doubtless accompanied with a photo of a cuddly bear or the like, toss it in the waste bin and return a note saying that you will consider a donation in the future, if they objectively evaluate the best interests of young people and nature.

      This is at a time when the IPCC has clearly moved towards supporting an all-of-the-above (renewables and nuclear) approach to climate change mitigation because of the urgency of the problem.

    • Joffan

      You’re being very generous to Greenpeace if you think this is in any way a pro-nuclear report. Simply, they can no longer spin the tales of doom that were common currency a few years ago, as (non-)events have overtaken their dramatic horror stories.

      People are measuring radiation directly, killing cover-up stories; the fisheries are reopening, repudiating alarmism of ocean death; evacuation orders being lifted in contradiction to the forecasts of decades or centuries of desolation. And so on.

      Nevertheless it’s clear that their intent is to keep people as fearful as possible. Ominous rumblings about mutations – which are, of course, a normal part of the biosphere – and “recontamination”, ignoring the ever-decreasing levels across the board. No, this is still Greenpeace firmly trying to scare the cash out of you.

  • TV Monitor

    I can’t wait to see Godzilla emerge out of Fukushima seas.

  • Alex Smith

    Frankly, I thought this Greepeace report was rather well done with an attempt to cite every possible paper written on the topic to date. As such it was a fairly scholarly effort. There are many concerns related to possible environmental effects that have not yet been addressed and this report points to the need for more information. The solution to these concerns is to support more research which is not being done to an extent that is needed.

    As for your direct attacks on Mousseau and Moller, from what i have read and heard at lectures, Mousseau at least is not an antinuclear activist. In fact both of these guys come to this topic from other areas of biology where they are super stars. Look them up on Google Scholar. Sure, the activist groups love them but this is because, as you point out, they are among the very few actually getting their hands dirty and at least are attempting to address the questions in a scientifically rigorous manner. And given that they are not connected to nuclear industry or anything related (i.e. true outsiders), they appear to have no vested interest in the outcomes of their research, one way or another. They have attempted to use the highest level possible of replication with 400 locations for their studies of Fukushima birds and insects which is by far the most comprehensive analysis done in this regard. Also, the fact that they are working in both Chernobyl and Fukushima provides another level of replication, the hallmark of good science.

    As for the journals they publish in, almost every scientific journal has page charges which are often reduced or eliminated for scientists in developing countries or who do not have grants. If you look carefully at the journals M&M publish in you will see that these are all mainstream and in fact many of them are the top tier journals in their field which is evolutionary ecology.

    As for criticisms of Otaki’s studies of butterflies, yes of course there are limitations. But most of the issues relate to the lack of funding for research and a lack of a coordinated effort by the Japanese government to make the regions of highest radiation open for scientists to work. The studies themselves are robust within the limitations they faced in conducting the studies. These same issues apply to almost all of the published studies on this topic except for some of the M&M studies where somehow they managed to work through local residents and municipalities to gain access.

    As for the links to defamatory articles concerning M&M and Otaki, these are hallmarks of folks who are shaking the foundations a bit. There is no doubt that these new studies are in partial contradiction to some of the more conventional views of health physicists who tend to believe their models that are often based on laboratory studies or “first principles” (i.e. untested assumptions) rather than direct observation. But recent analyses suggest that direct empirical observations of what plants and animals are actually doing in response to environmental change, in this case radiation, are far more revealing and are a reflection of the fact that lab studies do not capture the natural world in a realistic way. For example, a recent paper by Garnier-Laplace, a very respected radio-ecologist at the arguably pro-nuclear group IRSN in France, suggests that organisms in the wild are 5 to 10 times more vulnerable to the effects of radiation than conventional models would predict. It is perhaps notable that Garnier-Laplace has now teamed up with M&M to include robust dosimetry in their studies. I doubt this would be happening if she had any reservations about the quality of M&M’s data.

  • Mr Men

    I logged in to comment, not on the article- but the fact that arm chair critics seem to know more than experts & people on the ground.
    Fukushima isn’t Chernobyl which happened pre mass Internet and has a holy grail following of both nuclear activists and opponents.

    It would be refreshing to hear from Japanise residents of their first hand experiences with temporary accommodation / cleanup experts and not some media drivel.