Mutations, DNA damage seen in Fukushima forests, says Greenpeace


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.

  • 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?

  • 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.