The Naked Truth About Nuclear Accident Insurance


By Miles Benson, Link TV
MAY 8, 2013, 12:00 PM

Going without insurance is described as “going naked” in insurance industry lingo. Going without insurance for the worst hazards in the nuclear power industry is business as usual.

One need not look back very far to see the problem. In March 2011, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, triggered by an earthquake followed by a tsunami that overwhelmed all of Japan’s safeguards, melted down three reactors, displaced 160,000 people and caused an estimated $250 billion in damages and other still-unfolding economic consequences.

Naked AmericaToday, in the United States, we have 104 operating nuclear plants producing electricity. The owners, operators, and government regulators who oversee them say an event like Fukushima will not happen here. And even if it did, they insist, there is enough liability insurance in place to cover the damages. The actual amount of that insurance coverage: just $12.6 billion.

You don’t need an advanced degree in calculus or risk analysis to see that something doesn’t add up, and to start feeling a bit…naked. But when it comes to nuclear insurance, naked is the fashion designed for the American public.

A catastrophic accident in the US could cost way more than $12.6 billion. A worst-case scenario study in 1997 by the Brookhaven National Laboratory estimated that a major accident could cost $566 billion in damages and cause 143,000 possible deaths. Another such study, by Sandia National Laboratories in 1982, calculated the possible costs at $314 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that would put both estimates close to the trillion dollar range today. So $12.6 billion wouldn’t cover much.

After Fukushima, which was only the second worst such accident behind the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in the former Soviet Union, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its staff scrambled to reappraise the adequacy of their own safety regimens for nuclear power plants. And they re-examined the sufficiency of the limited insurance available to indemnify the American people against property damage, loss of life and other economic consequences of nuclear accidents. Then the NRC hastened to publish the “lessons learned” from the Japanese catastrophe to show they were on top of things. Though the previously existing US system had been described as virtually fail-safe, federal regulators found that improvements were possible after all and ordered that they be made.

But one not so small thing remained unchanged, post-Fukushima: the tightly capped insurance system. Of course, raising the amount of insurance required to operate nuclear plants would be expensive. The nuclear industry, which provides 20 percent of all of the country’s electrical power, is not eager to incur additional expenses like higher insurance premiums for more coverage. Oh, but the nuclear power industry doesn’t actually pay premiums on most of the insurance coverage that supposedly is available (more about that later.)

Three Mile IslandFirst, a little history. After solving the scientific and technological issues of splitting the atom, the biggest problem the nuclear industry faced in its infancy was obtaining accident insurance coverage. Without insurance, investors were unwilling to provide start-up capital. But the insurance industry was nervous. After all, this was back in the 1950s, and who knew then how safe — or dangerous — this new power source might turn out to be? So insurers were refusing to assume unlimited levels of liability.

But President Dwight D. Eisenhower was determined to develop “Atoms for Peace,” and he worked with a cooperative Congress to remove all roadblocks. Their solution to the insurance obstacle was a new federal law, the Price-Anderson Act of 1957, which simply imposed federally-decreed limits on liability from accidents at non-military nuclear facilities. The law, amended several times since then, allowed the creation of insurance pools to cover accidents. Today the plan has two tiers. The first tier is a $375 million insurance policy for which each nuclear plant must pay premiums ranging between $500,000 and $2 million a year, depending on plant size and other factors. If a plant has an accident and $375 million is not sufficient to cover resulting damages the second tier kicks in and all the other plant operators around the country must chip in up to $111 million each to indemnify victims until the $12.6 billion cap is reached.

By the way, if you live near a nuclear plant, or even many miles away, you cannot buy your own private insurance policy to protect your home against nuclear accidents, thanks to the Price-Anderson law.

The nuclear industry and the insurance industry both understood the hard realities of the risk. In testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on May 24, 2001, John L. Quattrocchi, then senior vice president for underwriting at the American Nuclear Insurers pool, put it bluntly: “The simple fact is there is always a limit on liability — that limit equal to the assets of the company at fault.”

Meanwhile, corporations that own nuclear plants have devised spin-off schemes, erecting legal firewalls to protect the parent company if their limited-liability subsidiary actually operating the plant goes under as the result of an accident. US Nuclear Reactor

Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant suffered a partial meltdown in March, 1979. Victor Gilinsky was the senior sitting member on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when that accident happened. According to Gilinsky, now retired, “There is no insurance for an extreme event.”

Now, as scientists warn of climate change, rising sea levels, stronger hurricanes and a host of other environmental threats related to global warming it might not be unreasonable to re-examine protections afforded the public. Small-scale accidents at nuclear plants continue to happen. A big one, like Fukushima or worse, may have a low probability level. But it isn’t impossible.

True, nuclear plants contribute little or no greenhouse gas emissions to the overburdened atmosphere compared to the coal-fired plants that add so much to global warming. But there is another factor to consider when weighing the nuclear option. Originally licensed for 40 years of operational life, most US nuclear plants are approaching or have already exceeded that period. So far, 73 such plants have been given 20-year extensions, and with retrofitting and extensive upgrades, some are expected to function to an age of 80 years.  Lets all keep our fingers crossed.

 

 

Miles Benson is a correspondent for Link TV’s Earth Focus. He has a distinguished career as a daily print journalist. From 1969 till his retirement in 2005, was a correspondent for the Newhouse Newspaper group, which included 30 daily newspapers. He covered the US Congress for 15 years and then the White House for 16 years, wrote a weekly political column and covered national politics and public policy.

Lawsuit seeks evacuation of Fukushima children


Fukushima *

Fukushima * (Photo credit: Sterneck)

 

Sunday April 14, 2013 1:15 AM

By YURI KAGEYAMA

The Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Their demand: The right to live free of radiation. The plaintiffs who started the legal battle: 14 children.

A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon on this unusual lawsuit, filed on behalf of the children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima city, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of the crippled nuclear plant that spewed radiation when a massive earthquake and tsunami hit it more than two years ago.

The lawsuit argues that Koriyama, a city of 330,000, should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure.

In a culture that frowns upon challenging the authorities, the lawsuit highlights the rift in public opinion created by the baffling range in experts’ views on the health impact of low dose radiation. Although some experts say there is no need for children to be evacuated, parents are worried about the long-term impact on their children, who are more vulnerable to radiation than adults. Consuming contaminated food and water are additional risks.

After the Fukushima accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area or not. The average radiation for Koriyama is far below this cutoff point, but some “hot spots” around the city are above that level.

“This is the level at which there are no major effects on health and people can live there,” said Keita Kawamori, an official with the Japanese Cabinet Office. “Academic experts decided this was the safe level.”

A prominent medical doctor in charge of health safety in Fukushima has repeatedly urged calm, noting damage is measurable only at annual exposure of 100 millisieverts, or 100 times the normal level, and higher.

A lower court rejected the lawsuit’s demands in a December 2011 decision, saying radiation had not reached the 100-millisievert cutoff. The International Commission on Radiological Protection, the academic organization on health and radiation, says risks decline with a drop exposure, but does not believe there is a cutoff below which there is no risk.

An appeal filed is still before Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi Prefecture more than a year later.

After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which emitted more radiation than the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, the Soviet government made it a priority to evacuate women and children from within a 30-kilometer (20-mile) radius of the plant, bigger than the 20-kilometer (12-mile) no-go zone around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

The number of children behind the original lawsuit dwindled to 10 for the appeal, and is now down to one as families left the prefecture voluntarily or the children grew older. Legally in Japan, a city has responsibility for children only through junior high, since high school is not compulsory.

But the case serves as a precedent for other Fukushima children.

Toshio Yanagihara, one of the lawyers, criticized the government as appearing more worried about a population exodus than in saving the children.

“I don’t understand why an economic power like Japan won’t evacuate the children — something even the fascist government did during World War II,” he said, referring to the mass evacuation of children during the 1940s to avoid air bombings. “This is child abuse.”

After Chernobyl, thousands of children got thyroid cancer. Some medical experts say leukemia, heart failure and other diseases that followed may be linked to radiation.

In Fukushima, at least three cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed among children, although there’s no evidence of a link with the nuclear disaster. There are no comparative figures on thyroid cancer in other areas of Japan.

The children in the lawsuit and their families are all anonymous, and details about them are not disclosed, to protect them from possible backlash of ostracism and bullying.

“Why is Japan, our Fukushima, about to repeat the mistakes of Chernobyl?” wrote a mother of one of the children in a statement submitted to the court. “Isn’t it up to us adults to protect our children?”

The trial has attracted scant attention in the mainstream Japanese media but it has drawn support from anti-nuclear protesters, who have periodically held massive rallies.

Among the high-profile supporters are musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, manga artist Tetsuya Chiba and American linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky.

“There is no better measure of the moral health of a society than how it treats the most vulnerable people within it, and none or more vulnerable, or more precious, than children who are the victims of unconscionable actions,” Chomsky wrote in a message.

A 12-year-old, among those who filed the lawsuit but have since left the area, said she was worried.

“Even if I am careful, I may get cancer, and the baby I have may be hurt,” she said in a hand-written statement.

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Blog for the evacuation lawsuit: http://fukushima-evacuation-e.blogspot.jp/

 

 

 

 

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant leaking contaminated water


Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear po...

Reactor control room at Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant in Japan This photo was taken on June 23, 1999 during a tour of the plant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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(Reuters) – As much as 120 tons of radioactive water may have leaked from a storage tank at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, contaminating the surrounding ground, Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Saturday.

The power company has yet to discover the cause of the leak, detected on one of seven tanks that store water used to cool the plants reactors, a spokesman for the company, Masayuki Ono, said at a press briefing.

The company plans to pump 13,000 cubic meters of water remaining in the tank to other vessels over the next two weeks.

Water from the leaking tank, which located 800 meters from the coast, is not expected to reach the sea, Kyodo news wire reported, earlier, citing unidentified officials from the utility.

The company did not say how long the tank had been leaking.

The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant has faced a range of problems with controlling ground water and maintaining the massive cooling system built to keep the reactors stable.

The power company said on Friday said it lost the ability to cool radioactive fuel rods in one of the plant’s reactors for about three hours. It was the second failure of the system to circulate seawater to cool spent fuel rods at the plant in the past three weeks.

The facility was the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in March 2011 when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a tsunami that destroyed back-up generators and disabled its cooling system. Three of the reactors melted down.

The storage tanks, pits excavated at the site in the wake of the disaster, are lined with water proof sheets meant to keep the contaminated water from leaking into the soil

Work to decommission the plant is projected to take decades to complete.

 

Tug-of-War Over Nuclear Future


Fukushima *

 

Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Mar 26 (IPS)  – Pushed and pulled in opposite directions, the future of Japan’s energy plans in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant two years ago is emerging as a fight between national economic advancement and what anti-nuke activists call “the lives of the people”.“The tug-of-war between the government and opponents of nuclear power has become an excruciatingly difficult issue in Japan,” Professor Takao Kashiwage, nuclear technology expert at the prestigious Tokyo Institute of Technology, told IPS.

“The emotional (turbulence) following the devastating consequences of the Fukushima accident is masking a real and objective debate” about the country’s energy needs and its nuclear future, he added.

Kashiwage sits on the official cogeneration energy committee and backs Japanese Prime Minister Shintaro Abe’s energy platform that calls for a re-start of Japan’s nuclear reactors after the implementation of new safety standards that will be established by an independent expert commission in July.

“Japan’s energy security is heavily dependent on nuclear power. To halt this source (that produced around 30 percent of energy needs prior to the accident) completely is too drastic a step for the country,” he explained. Japan currently imports 84 percent of its energy needs.

On the other side of the fence are anti-nuclear activists, who have drawn negative attention to the development of nuclear power plants by Japan’s nine most powerful utility companies, supported by public funds on the basis of creating a secure supply of energy for resource-poor Japan.

Large sums of revenue were poured into cash-strapped localities to host nuclear plants that were touted as “safe”: according to official estimates, a single reactor costs about 10 billion dollars, though activists say the amount is much higher when other expenses, such as support for new facilities and subsidies for hosting local governments, are taken into account.

But, as the Fukushima accident made tragically clear, those projects failed to meet safety requirements such as contingency plans for large-scale evacuation of residents in the event of a crisis.

Activists point to the heavy toll the Mar. 11 disaster took on communities living close to the Fukushima Daiichi reactors as one of the more jolting examples of the tragic human consequences of nuclear power. They have also called attention to the environmental risks of storing radioactive material that could easily poison the surrounding area.

Indeed, life-threatening radiation leaks have already forced entire communities to leave their homes and jobs, with more than 300,000 people still living in temporary housing, scores of families separated and miles of farmland transformed into contaminated wastelands, unable to produce a single edible crop.

Yasuo Fujita, 67, is one of these many nuclear refugees.

His family had lived for several generations in Namie village, located just seven kilometres from the stricken nuclear plant. Shortly after the meltdown, he was forced to give up his beloved sushi shop that he had run for 30 years and move to Koto-ku, a Tokyo ward.

Today Fujita is still waiting for compensation from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to restart his life. “I lost everything in a second because of the Fukushima accident,” he told IPS.

“Despite government plans to rebuild Fukushima within three to four decades, nobody believes they can return. With (scores of) young people now moving away, there is no point in returning even if the government does make the area safe again, a prospect we do not believe in anyway,” Fujita added.

Meanwhile, the announcement last Monday that cooling of the spent fuel rods of three reactors at the Fukushima plant would be suspended due to a power outage created national panic and exposed a key problem in Japan’s nuclear industry: the lack of transparency leading to poor information dissemination and negligence of solid safety procedures.

The ‘Yomiuri’, Japan’s leading daily, noted on Thursday that TEPCO’s public announcement of the problem on Monday evening came too late, and illustrates the company’s “lax safety measures”, including the absence of a back-up plan to deal with accidents.

But as Japan’s massive fuel bills continue to rise for the second straight year – in February liquefied natural gas imports grew 19.1 percent, contributing almost 40 percent of the record 8.2-billion-dollar trade deficit, according to the Finance Ministry – and household utility bills climb 20 percent on average to meet increasing electricity costs, public support for the anti-nuke camp appears to be wavering.

An opinion poll conducted by ‘Asahi’, Japan’s leading national newspaper, in February revealed that 46 percent of respondents were in favour of continuing nuclear power if safety measures are strengthened — higher than the 41 percent who support total abolishment.

Only two of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors – units 3 and 4 of the ?hi nuclear power plant located in the Fukui Prefecture – are operating, while the rest have been closed for maintenance or repairs, bringing nuclear power supply to almost zero.

This is a drastic reduction from pre-Fukushima levels, and a huge set back for national plans to grow the energy source to 50 percent of total supply.

Faced with the stark reality of the impacts of the accident and deep public commitment to avert another disaster, Abe is currently pushing safety measures, including installation of the new Nuclear Regulation Authority, comprised of independent experts, which has already issued seismic warnings against two nuclear power plants.

An upcoming national election in the summer marks an important turning point. If Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party wins, experts contend the coast will be clear to restart idle nuclear plants.

But Aileen Smith, head of Green Action and a leader in the anti-nuclear movement, told IPS that activists will do their best to halt these plans, applying pressure in the form of lawsuits and large public protests and demonstrations.

“The government is talking of restarting idled plants. But the dangerous reality on the ground is such that utility companies applying for permission will face an uphill struggle,” she said.

 

 

Why Japan sticks to its nukes, totally applicable to India as well !


ANALYSIS: A clear majority of Japanese people (73 percent, according to a recent poll) opposes the country’s use of nuclear power. But politically, that sentiment has not changed anything.

By Chico Harlan

The Washington Post

Two years after the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a clear majority of Japanese people (73 percent, according to a recent Yomiuri Shimbun poll) opposes the country’s use of nuclear power.

But, politically, that sentiment has so far proven more negligible than powerful. No Japanese politician yet has capitalized on the anti-nuclear sentiment. And just last December, in the first major election since the Fukushima crisis, Japanese voters returned to power the Liberal Democratic Party, a traditional pro-nuclear group that had largely engineered the nation’s atomic reliance.

There are several reasons why the anti-nuke group punches below its weight, some interrelated. But here’s a list of the top factors:

1. Voters still care most about the economy.

When an economy is foundering, it’s almost always the top election issue — no matter what else is going on. An Asahi poll showed that 48 percent of voters in Japan put the economy as their number one concern for the December 2012 elections, well ahead of issues like energy and security. The LDP won in part because of a relatively fresh plan (of monetary easing and fiscal stimulus) to tackle a two-decade period of deflation.

For the anti-nuke crowd, voter emphasis on the economy is especially challenging, because growth is at odds with a phaseout, according to economic data from four separate institutes used by the government. Those institutes tried to model scenarios where, one, Japan in 2030 relied on nuclear power for 25 percent of its energy and, two, Japan in 2030 was nuclear free. The economy of a nuclear-reliant Japan will be somewhere between 1 to 3.5 percent larger than that of a non-nuclear Japan, the institutes said.

2. The pro-nuclear crowd remains powerful.

The group that supports nuclear power in Japan is significant — and hard for any politician to overlook. It includes energy companies that operate plants; reactor manufacturers such as Toshiba and Mitsubishi; corporations that view nuclear power as an essential cheap source for their domestic factories; banks that hold loans from utility companies; and media outlets that depend on any of the above for advertising.

3. Anti-nuclear factions are fighting among themselves.

Those who oppose nuclear power don’t always consider themselves on the same page. Some want Japan to quit cold turkey. Others prefer a gradual phaseout, where reactors are used as a stopgap until Japan can find alternatives. This difference in opinions has made it hard for politicians to win over the entire crowd at once.

“So it’s difficult for the anti-nuclear group to unite and have a voice,” said Yukio Edano, who served as a cabinet member during the crisis and the energy minister shortly after. This stands in contrast to the pro-nuclear crowd, Edano noted, which has proved politically cohesive.

4. The right politician hasn’t yet come along.

Naoto Kan tried to lead Japan out of the nuclear-power business — but by the time he did, he was already deeply unpopular and had pledged to eventually step down as prime minister.

In the run-up to the 2012 Lower House election, several anti-nuclear parties popped up, but they were either poorly financed, disorganized, or simply ill-conceived. The Tomorrow Party of Japan, for instance, laid out a plan to decommission all reactors (over 10 years) just two weeks before the election. Trying to broaden its support, the party joined hands with a divisive pork-barrel politician, Ichiro Ozawa, who along with his supporters then bolted again after the election. That left the Tomorrow Party with one Diet seat

 

Fukushima is not Chernobyl ? Think Again ! #Sundayreading


Safety and Accidents, at dianuke.org
Sarah Phillips

Sarah D. Phillips is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She is author of Women’s Social Activism in the New Ukraine: Development and the Politics of Differentiation (2008, Indiana U Press) and Disability and Mobile Citizenship in Postsocialist Ukraine (2011, Indiana U Press). Her website is athttp://www.indiana.edu/~medanth/

Article courtesy:Somatosphere

The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused the deaths of approximately 16,000 persons, left more than 6,000 injured and 2,713 missing, destroyed or partially damaged nearly one million buildings, and produced at least $14.5 billion in damages. The earthquake also caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Japan’s eastern coast. After reading the first news reports about what the Japanese call “3.11,” I immediately drew associations between the accident in Fukushima and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 in what was then the Soviet Union. This was only natural, since studying the cultural fallout of Chernobyl has been part of my life’s work as an anthropologist for the past 17 years. Knowing rather little about Japan at the time, I relied on some fuzzy stereotypes about Japanese technological expertise and penchant for tight organization and waited expectantly for rectification efforts to unfold as a model of best practices. I positioned the problem-riddled Chernobyl clean-up, evacuation, and reparation efforts as a foil, assuming that Japan would, in contrast, unroll a state-of-the-art nuclear disaster response for the modern age. After all, surely a country like Japan that relies so heavily on nuclear-generated power has developed thorough, well-rehearsed, and tested responses to any potential nuclear emergency? Thus, I expected the inevitable comparisons between the world’s two worst nuclear accidents to yield more contrasts than parallels.

Fukushima City, view from the train station, Nov. 2012.
Bullet train, symbol of Japanese modernity, entering Fukushima station.

But as reporting on the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP unfolded, an unsettling story of stonewalling and sloppiness emerged that was eerily reminiscent of the Chernobyl catastrophe. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), which operates the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, and the plant’s head, Masao Yoshida, proved to be masters of understatement. Yoshida characterized radiation levels nearly 100 times higher than normal as “higher than the ordinary level,” and he used the wholly inadequate phrase “acute danger” to describe two explosions and the meltdown of three of the reactor cores[1] (how about “catastrophic meltdown necessitating immediate evacuation?”). One is reminded of the first official statement acknowledging the Chernobyl accident, which only appeared in a Kyiv newspaper three days after the disaster, and was hidden on the third page in the Weather section: “From the Cabinet of Ministers of the USSR. An accident has occurred at the Chernobyl atomic electrostation; one of the atomic reactors was damaged. Measures are being taken to liquidate the consequences of the accident. The victims are receiving assistance.”[2]

Recently-released video footage of the early days and weeks of the Japanese crisis reveals that some of the same mistakes made during the Soviet state’s blighted response to Chernobyl were repeated at Fukushima Daiichi. Military helicopters made futile attempts to douse flames inside the damaged reactors with water, a strategy already proven ineffective, dangerous, and potentially counterproductive during the Windscale fire in Great Britain in 1957, and later at Chernobyl. Local Fukushima firefighters were called to the accident scene but not informed of the extremely high levels of radiation—the TEPCO video reveals an official at headquarters to say, “There’s no use in us telling the fire department. That’s a conversation that needs to happen at higher levels.” Recall the six firemen who lost their lives battling the fires at Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4; along with 25 other plant workers and first responders the firefighters for years were the only Chernobyl casualties officially recognized by the Soviet state. The accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima alike have been traced back to lax safety controls and poor plant design or siting, and the emergency response after both disasters included a muddled chain of command, the intentional withholding of vital radiological data and health directives, and the privileging of economic concerns and saving face over the well-being of human beings and the environment. Did we learn nothing from Three Mile, Selafield, Windscale, and Chernobyl? Will the Fukushima accident finally jar us out of complacency, or will the accident be successfully “socially contained,” enabling humankind to “stagger on toward our next disaster?”[3]

Thanks to colleagues at the Japan College of Social Work in Tokyo, during October and November 2012 I visited Japan to participate in interviews, informal meetings, and conference roundtables with Fukushima evacuees, social workers, medical professionals, and community activists. It was an enlightening though sobering experience: many of the Fukushima stories I heard echoed nearly word-for-word narratives I have read and collected among persons affected by the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union. Just like people who survived Chernobyl and the Soviet Union’s “rectification efforts,” Fukushima-affected persons and their advocates complain of government secrecy and misinformation, top-down decision making, generalized disorganization, and the social ostracism of nuclear accident “victims.”

“No one knows what really happened here”

I traveled through northeast Japan with an esteemed group of scholars:  Dr. Yukio Yamaguchi and Dr. Takashi Fujioka, professors at the Japan College of Social Work; Dr. Masumi Shinya, a professor of sociology at East China University of Science and Technology’s School of Social and Public Administration; Dr. Decha Sungkawan, Dean of the Faculty of Social Administration at Thammasat University in Bangkok; and Dr. Charles Figley, professor and Chair of the Tulane University Trauma Institute.

Lt to Rt: Charles Figley, Masumi Shinya, Sarah Phillips, Takashi Fujioka, Decha Sungkawan. At Nihonmatsu Station. Photo by Yukio Yamaguchi.

We traveled by trains and taxis, making research stops in cities like Nihonmatsu and Yamagata City, which received thousands of disaster evacuees, and Otsuchi (Iwate Prefecture), a coastal town devastated by the 3.11 tsunami. Before the disaster Otsuchi had a population of 15,262. At least 800 residents were killed in the tsunami that carried away most of the city’s infrastructure; nearly 500 residents are still missing. Today there are 10,000 people living in Otsuchi, 5,400 of who still live in cramped temporary housing units.

Our guide in Otsuchi was Mr. Ryoichi Usuzawa, a community organizer. Mr. Usuzawa drove us around the city, much of which now consists only of partial concrete foundations where buildings once stood. The entire city administration of Otsuchi (more than 20 persons) drowned in the tsunami—they had been called by the mayor to the town hall at the time of the earthquake. Mr. Usuzawa drove us up a steep hill to an area overlooking the town, just above the now-destroyed Buddhist temple and the adjoining hillside cemetery, which is still intact. On 3.11, hundreds of residents watched from this vantage point as the massive wall of water rolled in and mowed down their town (including their own homes, some with people still inside), the buildings collapsing “like dominos.” The devastation resulted in huge amounts of debris that caused further damage in turn, as tanks of propane gas bobbed along, became entangled in debris, and ignited fires and explosions “bubbling on top with smoke.” Mr. Usuzawa says, “It was like a huge washing machine was spinning the whole town. Everything was moving clockwise.”[4]

Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture, October 2012

One of these hilltop spectators captured the scene on video, and we watched the terrifying footage on Mr. Usuzawa’s laptop as we looked down over the now-leveled city.[5] He explained that hundreds of residents, many of them elderly, fled to the Buddhist temple for refuge from the water and drowned inside. As the tsunami was rolling over Otsuchi, some 200 kilometers away a wall of water invaded the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, destroying the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the surrounding towns. Yet the impact on residents’ health is harder to calculate, because it consists not only of physical destruction but radiation contamination.

As cultural geographer Shiloh Krupar notes, “Embodied knowledge…take[s] on a particular significance in the presence of large-scale technological -environmental disasters…, where the variability and duration of harmful waste and its biological effects are uncertain and never closed.”[6]  Measuring radiation exposure and absorbed dose requires specific, often hard-to-access technologies, and laypersons are dependent on experts and their expert knowledge for interpretation of these measurements. Individuals’ ability to know and assess their risks is severely curtailed when expert knowledge—produced by agents usually beholden to states and powerful industrial interests—is the only form of knowledge recognized as valid, even as states and industry intentionally withhold information on hazards and their biological effects. Meanwhile, embodied self-knowledge is discredited.

Fukushima evacuees and their advocates report egregious examples of misinformation, negligence, and cover-up that have exacerbated their health risks. After the earthquake and tsunami the United States Department of Defense and the Department of Energy conducted environmental and radiological monitoring of air, water, and soil on DOD installations in the region.[7] According to Professor Yukio Yamaguchi of the Japan College of Social Work, when this valuable data was shared with Japanese authorities they shelved it for two weeks instead of immediately informing the population about radiation risks. Further, the Japanese government failed to provide the Japanese public with data from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI)—data predicting the location and extent of radioactive contamination after the nuclear accident—until March 23, nearly two weeks after the disaster. Because the SPEEDI data was not available, some families evacuated themselves to locations that actually were more contaminated than where they were living.[8] Perversely, the Japanese authorities provided the SPEEDI data to the U.S. military on March 14 but waited a full nine days before releasing it to the Japanese people.[9]

As happened in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl accident, after the Fukushima accident the government quickly raised the “acceptable” level of individual radiation exposure. In Japan, the pre-nuclear accident maximum “safe” exposure was one millisievert (mSv)/year.[10] After the Fukushima disaster, suddenly exposure of 20 mSv/year was deemed safe. Some medical professionals went so far as to suggest that 100 mSv/year was a safe level of exposure.[11] Such inconsistencies made it difficult for those living near the Fukushima Daiichi NPP to make informed choices and take actions to minimize their risk of exposure to damaging radionuclides. In this context of uncertainty, a common phrase among Fukushima accident-affected persons is that, “No one knows what really happened here.”

In an age where sophisticated radiological monitoring is possible and information technology facilitates the rapid evaluation and dissemination of radiological data, the Japanese government’s crude “mapping” of the radiation fallout baffles the innocent and informed alike. Environmental contamination after a nuclear explosion or accident is uneven and patchy. We have known this since the 1950s, when radioactive fallout from bombs detonated in Nevada was carried by rain clouds all the way to New York state. Similarly, radiation maps of the area around Chernobyl (not released until years after the disaster) show an irregular contamination pattern around the NPP with “anomalous” hotspots of contamination hundreds of miles away caused by rains —biochemist and journalist Mary Mycio describes it as a “hand” with a dark palm six miles around the plant and 20-30 mile-long “fingers” caused by radiation carried by the wind.[12] Why, in the immediate wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, did the authorities not apply this knowledge? Why was the contamination not mapped according to the actual radiological data? Instead, in a move strangely reminiscent of the initial Chernobyl “mapping” of a 30-kilometer “zone of alienation,” a 20-kilometer “planned evacuation zone”[13] of compulsory evacuation was drawn around the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. The Japanese Cabinet Public Relations Office announced that the cumulative radiation level in those areas could reach 20 mSv/year. People living outside this artificially-drawn zone have been provided no state support to evacuate from their homes, even if the levels of contamination are actually higher there than in some places inside the planned evacuation zone.

Consider for instance the town of Namie. Namie, which was affected by both the tsunami and the NPP accident, is located inside the exclusion zone, and its roughly 20,000 surviving residents were evacuated to the city of Nihonmatsu.[14] However, levels of contamination in Namie are lower than in some towns outside the zone,[15] whose residents have not had equitable access to evacuation assistance, medical care and social services. Evacuees from Namie face their own set of very difficult circumstances in Nihonmatsu: they are tired of living in hastily-built, cramped temporary housing quarters; unemployment, boredom, and feelings of lack of control over the future fuel anomie. Long-term reliance on social welfare is demoralizing, and evacuation is especially frustrating for elderly persons who just want to go home. According to a community leader at NPO Namie in Nihonmatsu, evacuees are experiencing serious psychological problems; now that they are not in “emergency mode,” he said, they increasingly dwell on their memories of the devastating tsunami. Many suffer from survivor guilt, asking themselves why they lived when others perished. Social workers report high levels of depression and anxiety, alcoholism, gambling, and marital discord among residents of temporary housing units.

Temporary housing site for Namie evacuees in Nihonmatsu. Located in a former athletic field, this site accommodates 240 families (550 persons), including 75 children under 15 years old, and 78 solitary elderly persons. Photo by Charles Figley.

Realizing that returning to Namie is only a distant prospect, and concerned about reports of Namie children being bullied in local schools, in fall 2012 a group of community activists founded Namie Elementary School in Nihonmatsu. The school has enrolled just 30 students so far, but organizers hope it will grow and serve to cohere the community of Namie evacuees in Nihonmatsu, who one community leader described as having been “scattered like sesame seeds.”[16] Indeed, loss of community is one of the consequences of 3.11 and the resulting evacuations and resettlements of paramount concern to social workers and NPO leaders. Social work specialists in Japan point out that loss of communities was a major problem after the Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake in 1995, but the lessons of that tragedy have not been applied after 3.11.

Commons area at Namie Elementary School, Nihonmatsu. Photo by Charles Figley.
A map at Namie Elementary School in Nihonmatsu shows where students and teachers used to live in the seaside town of Namie, whose 20,000 surviving residents were evacuated after 3.11.

“Living apart is too difficult”

The experiences of the Nakamura family illustrate the difficulties faced bt many Fukushima accident-affected families. Before 3.11, Miki Nakamura, a nutritionist, lived with her husband and three young daughters in Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, 58 kilometers from the damaged NPP. The Nakamuras evacuated temporarily immediately after the accident. However, being understandably reluctant to uproot their young family, they returned to Fukushima as the new school year began in April. As in other locations close to the damaged nuclear power plant, the schools in Koriyama stayed open even though neither radiological monitoring nor decontamination efforts were underway.[17] During an informal interview in October 2012, Miki Nakamura recalled that she and other parents were told “very firmly” by their children’s schoolteachers that children should continue to attend school; children were advised to wear masks, windbreakers, and hats to protect them from radiation. Trusting in the judgment of the teachers—and in the reassurances issued by the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Secretary General that “there will not be immediate health impacts”—the children in Koriyama continued going to school.

The young families who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in Pripyat—the workers’ city built 2 km from the NPP—would find this tragedy familiar. Although news of the accident began to circulate informally hours after the Chernobyl explosion, the authorities did not warn the 49,000 residents of Pripyat to take precautions until a full 36 hours after the accident. Children enjoyed playing outside on the warm April day, unaware that their young bodies, especially their young thyroid glands, were soaking up radioactive particles. The thyroid gland is the organ most sensitive to radiation exposure; this is particularly true for children and for those with iodine deficiencies. Local health workers were instructed not to distribute prophylactic potassium iodine pills, for fear of “causing panic.” (Subsequently, around 6,000 cases of thyroid cancers—and many more cases of thyroid anomalies—have been documented among children who at the time of the Chernobyl accident were living in contaminated areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.[18]) Incredibly, a similar scenario unfolded after the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Although health workers themselves took prophylactic potassium iodine, it was not given to children.[19]

On March 15, it snowed in Fukushima, and the snow contained radioactive materials. Radioactive particles landed on the surface of the soil. In April, the air dose rate exceeded 3.8 microsieverts (μSv)/hour at “hot-spots” in Koriyama, and 8 microsieverts/hour at some points along the school route.[20]Meanwhile, during the days following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, the Nakamuras’ dosimeter registered radiation levels of 1.5 microsieverts /hour right outside their home. It was not long before the eldest Nakamura daughter (age nine at the time) started having uncontrollable nosebleeds that her mother says “persisted even after going through a box of tissues.” The child’s nosebleeds were the first key factor in the family’s decision to leave Koriyama.

The second factor was the resignation of Professor Toshiso Kosako, an expert on radiation safety at the University of Tokyo and a nuclear advisor to the Japanese Prime Minister. In late April 2011 Kosako resigned in protest of the Japanese government’s decision after the Fukushima Daiichi accident to raise the official acceptable level of radiation exposure in schools from 1 to 20 mSv/year, a decision that allowed “children living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to receive doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers…a level [that is] is far higher than international standards set for the public.”[21] Professor Kosako said he could not endorse this policy change from the point of view of science, or from the point of view of human rights.

The Nakamura family made a difficult decision: Miki and the children would move to Yamagata City, about an hour’s drive across the mountains from Koriyama. Mr. Nakamura would remain behind for his job, and the family would get together on weekends. Thus, Miki Nakamura and her three girls joined approximately 4,200 evacuees from Fukushima prefecture who moved to Yamagata. Like the Nakamuras, around 2,500 of these evacuees are from Fukushima City and the surrounding Nakadori area that were not under mandatory evacuation.[22] As “voluntary” evacuees, these citizens are hardly entitled to the same state entitlements that mandatory evacuees receive. Some voluntary evacuees did receive two-part reparation payments from TEPCO, the first for the months up until December 2012, and the second for the months from January to August 2013.

The financial stress on voluntary evacuees—many of which find themselves running two households (one back home, one in Yamagata)—is enormous. Rent is free for evacuation housing, but families spend approximately 100,000 Yen ($1,110) per month on moving costs, utilities for two residences, and children’s kindergarten and school fees outside their place of official residence. (The latter obstacle compels some voluntary evacuee families to transfer their official place of residence, a decision that produces its own set of complications.) Costs of transportation are also high for these split families, who travel frequently to spend time together; also, unlike mandatory evacuees, voluntary evacuees must cover the costs of their own medical check-ups. Reparations from TEPCO do not even begin to offset these expenditures: the Nakamura family received the first compensation payment of just 400,000 yen for one child, 80,000 yen for each parent “for their unnecessary radiation exposure that could have been avoided,” and another 200,000 yen “for minor and additional costs.” The second payment consisted of only 80,000 yen for a child, 40,000 yen for an adult, and 40,000 yen for additional costs.

Miki Nakamura notes that, lacking appropriate entitlements and compensation, among voluntary evacuees “there are so many children and mothers across the country that live each day by digging into their savings set aside for children’s education and their own retirement.”[23] Over time, despite their continuing concerns about radioactive contamination, the financial and emotional burdens of voluntary evacuation have compelled a number of these families to return home against their better judgment. Miki Nakamura predicts that a number of families will return to Fukushima Prefecture from Yamagata in spring 2013, “not because Fukushima will be safe, but because living apart is too difficult.”

“I am not a doctor but I know my children are sick”

In Yamagata City, the Nakamura girls continue to have health problems such as sore throat, canker sores, swollen lymph nodes, and dark circles under their eyes, which their mother believes to be related to the nuclear accident. The 10-year-old’s nosebleeds continue, but doctors—state employees who likely do not have the freedom to admit a Fukushima accident-related diagnosis—continue to discount radiation effects. One doctor who examined the eldest Nakamura child suggested that the girl’s nosebleeds were “caused by the stress of the mother.”

This readiness to attribute bodily complaints of disaster-affected persons to psychological and emotional stress is all too reminiscent of the diagnoses of “radiophobia” doled out by medical professionals and experts in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl disaster.[24] Not surprisingly, many people in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia who believed that Chernobyl fallout had compromised their health balked at the suggestion that their ailments were caused by “fear of radiation,” not radiation itself. They had good reason to be skeptical. Anthropologist Adriana Petryna’s ethnographic study of the Chernobyl medical assessment and compensation system has revealed it that system to be anything but objective.[25] Petryna documents how the invention and application of radiation-related diagnoses in Soviet medicine were as political and social as they were scientific. Further, only half-hearted attempts were made to systematically collect health data from Chernobyl-affected persons (plant workers, clean-up workers, evacuees), making any firm conclusions about biological effects of radiation exposure versus psychological effects of “radiophobia” impossible.

During 1997 I shadowed medical professionals working at the clinic in Kyiv that houses the “Chernobyl registry.” Persons with a “Chernobyl tie” from across the country (those deemed partially or fully disabled due to Chernobyl’s effects on their health) were offered regular examinations at the clinic—some were required to undergo these checks to retain their benefits—and personnel were supposed to enter patients’ data into the clinic’s computer database. The doctors and nurses I shadowed were harried and underpaid, and saw the data entry task as a nuisance. Often data was never entered, or it was entered helter-skelter. It is well known that after Chernobyl some data concerning individual exposure to radiation (particularly among clean-up workers) was actively destroyed or changed.[26]

I also in 1997 assisted with a WHO-funded study of children’s thyroid health in Chernobyl-contaminated areas whose planned evacuation was scuttled due to lack of funds. The research team exerted a yeoman’s effort, but the desperate conditions of local infrastructure made our tasks extremely difficult. We worked in hospitals without running water or electricity, and thus our ability to do blood draws and perform ultrasounds on children’s thyroids was limited. Local medical personnel were skeptical of our team and the study’s motives and we suspected they actively discouraged sick villagers from participating. Qualitative questionnaires were not tailored to local ways of life. For instance, youngsters who spent hours each day working in the fields and walking long distances to school were never sure how to answer the ill-phrased question, “Do you exercise or do sports regularly?”

Observing these problematic data-collection procedures makes me question research conclusions that purport to definitively assess Chernobyl’s health impacts, and especially those that downplay the medical effects of radiation exposure (e.g. the 2003-2005 Report of the Chernobyl Forum).[27] The same critical eye should be applied to Fukushima accident health studies, since reports from Japan indicate that health monitoring of persons exposed to radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident has been far from systematic or problem-free. The affected population is skeptical that doctors in the state system of medicine can offer objective diagnoses. This distrust means they may be compelled to pay out-of-pocket for private health care, in which case their medical data may not make it into official databases. In the future, these persons will not be eligible for public compensation for their Fukushima accident-related health problems.

Skepticism of official health pronouncements is reflected in people’s desire to have their personal levels of radiation exposure checked. Whole body counters (a device used to identify and measure the radioactive material in the body) are in deficit in Fukushima City, and the waiting list to be checked is some six months long.[28] Even though Yamagata hosts the largest group of Fukushima evacuees in Japan, there is not a single whole body counter in the city.[29] And as with Chernobyl, the chaotic evacuation of residents after the Fukushima accident complicates exposure assessment and health monitoring. Additionally, in early Feburary 2013 at a private meeting of the research and survey committee on residents’ health, it was suggested that the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, the institution entirely responsible for examining radiation and its health effects, has attempted to delay the thyroid check-up for evacuees outside the prefecture.[30]

Not surprisingly, “radiophobia” has made its way into the Fukushima accident lexicon.[31] It becomes convenient and somehow perversely comforting to focus on the psychological impacts of nuclear disasters, with their many “unknowns.” The victim-blaming Miki Nakamura encounters (“the child’s health complaints are caused by the stress of the mother”) would be familiar to many Chernobyl-affected persons I have interviewed in Ukraine. Of course, this is not to discount the real psychosocial stresses associated with evacuation and the multiple forms of Fukushima’s fallout (radioactive, economic, social, psychological), many of which are being tracked by the Fukushima Health Management Survey.[32]

Miki Nakamura has met with other forms of stonewalling in her efforts to monitor her children’s health. Like all children living near the disaster site, the Nakamura girls are entitled to thyroid screenings. After her daughters’ thyroid checks at the Fukushima Prefectural Medical College, Miki received a brief notice in the mail that lacked any details or explanation of the test results. When she phoned the Medical College to ask for an explanation of the test results, personnel told her, “We are so very busy…” and discouraged her from getting a second opinion, which in the words of the doctors, “just causes confusion.” Despite the deficit of whole body counters, Miki  managed to arrange whole body counts for her daughters. However, without regular follow-ups to track the dynamic—whether their counts are going up or down—the information is of limited utility.

Miki Nakamura sums up her frustrations: “I am not a doctor but I know that my children are sick. And I saw that other children from Fukushima and in the greater Kanto region had the same health problems as my daughters, though I do not hear about it anymore…” Recent health studies show that Miki’s concern about her daughters’ thyroid health is far from unfounded. According to the April 2012 Sixth Report of Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey, which included examinations of 38,114 children, 35.3% of those examined were found to have cysts or nodules of up to 5 mm (0.197 inches) on their thyroids. A further 0.5% had nodules larger than 5.1 mm (0.2 inches).[33] Contradicting earlier reports, the National Institute of Radiological Sciences admitted in July 2012 that children from Fukushima had likely received lifetime thyroid doses of radiation.[34] The Health Risk Assessment from the Nuclear Accident after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2013 states that in the most affected regions of Fukushima Prefecture the preliminary estimated radiation effective doses[35] for the first year after the disaster ranged from 12 to 25 mSv. According to the report, in the most contaminated location the estimated increased risks over what would normally be expected are as follows:

  • all solid cancers – around 4% in females exposed as infants;
  • breast cancer – around 6% in females exposed as infants;
  • leukemia – around 7% in males exposed as infants;
  • thyroid cancer – up to 70% in females exposed as infants (the normally expected risk of thyroid cancer in females over lifetime is 0.75% and the additional lifetime risk assessed for females exposed as infants in the most affected location is 0.50%).[36]

“The future is what we are looking at right now”

Miki Nakamura spends time with other evacuee families every day as founder and director the Yamagata Association of Mothers in Evacuation (YAME). The association is a resource base and support system for families like the Nakamuras who are voluntary evacuees often split between two households. YAME has a liaison council to help mothers get necessary information, provides babysitting services and a “mothers’ morning out,” offers free legal consultations, and sponsors a regular “children’s plaza” where mothers can socialize and exchange advice while their children play. Miki Nakamura and her association worked with a local politician to draft the Fukushima Child Victims’ Law, which was passed by the Diet. But this is just a resolution without enforceability, and specific measures to protect victims’ rights (e.g. the right not to return to Fukushima) have not been determined.

As a nutritionist, in a context of radiological uncertainty Miki Nakamura draws on her knowledge of food properties and the complexities of the food supply to regulate her children’s diet. She shares and publishes recipes that contain “radioprotective” ingredients. Foods that contain beta carotene and vitamin C, for example, can help rid the body of radionuclides.[37] One food that people in the Fukushima-affected areas have not enjoyed since 3.11 is persimmons (a crop for which the region is famous), which actively absorb radionuclides and thus are highly contaminated. The Yamagata countryside is adorned with scores of persimmon trees laden with ripe, juicy, entirely inedible fruit. Just as apples have become the key symbol of the Chernobyl accident (the forbidden fruit, original sin, humankind’s folly in seeking to control nature through science)[38], perhaps the quintessential symbol of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will be the persimmon, which in Buddhist thought symbolizes the transformation of humans’ ignorance (the acrid green persimmon) into wisdom (the sweet, ripened fruit).

Loaded persimmon tree in Yamagata City.

Miki Nakamura has lost all trust in the authorities. Before the disaster she always believed the government and she never thought twice about living near a nuclear power plant. Today she demands justice. She said: “The Fukushima disaster is not just an economic problem, but a problem of our children’s future. The future is what we are looking at right now. Our kids have the right to safety and to a good and long, peaceful life. These are not ‘poor kids.’ They have a future. The most important part of reconstruction after the accident is the restoration of people’s trust and sense of security.”

Was nuclear technological failure—the Chernobyl disaster—the “straw that broke the camel’s back” of the Soviet Union?[39] The botched handling of the accident and its aftermath—and especially the central government’s overt failure and disinterest to protect the safety of citizens—confirmed what many citizens strongly believed: their government did not care for them and the system had become thoroughly corrupt and untrustworthy. While widespread protest against nuclear energy and its environmental and health risks was not possible in the authoritarian Soviet state, even in those conditions of a muzzled press and lack of freedom of speech a green movement emerged in response to Chernobyl. Chernobyl’s political fallout was one factor contributing to Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (openness), and in a limited way anti-nuclear sentiment also fueled the Ukrainian independence movement.

Similarly, Japanese citizens have lost trust in the government and in engineers and physicians who previously commanded such respect and authority. Community leaders strongly feel that Japan lags behind other industrialized nations in democratic governance; they are particularly concerned about lack of press freedom. Indeed, in December 2012 the World Audit on corruption, democracy, and freedom of press gave Japan a democracy ranking of 29 (1 is most democratic, 150 least democratic). This puts Japan in the Audit’s “Division 2” list, along with Ghana, Panama, and Israel. Of the 26 OECD countries, Japan ranks 19th in democratic governance.[40]

The sound defeat of the Democratic Party by the Liberal Democratic Party in the national parliamentary elections in December 2012 reflected dissatisfaction with the status quo. But the elections were a referendum on the DP, not nuclear power; the LDP is pro-nuclear and does not plan to scale back nuclear energy production. Indeed, traveling through Japan I was struck by the relative lack of anti-nuclear discourse, even in Fukushima Prefecture. Few politicians criticize nuclear power. A notable exception is Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies who lost a bid for governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture in elections in July 2012. The anti-nuclear Tomorrow of Japan Party—formed less a month before the national parliamentary elections in December 2012—garnered scant voter support and disappeared. Reportedly the party’s calls for nuclear power drawdown failed to gain traction “amid concerns that electrical shortages could hurt the already shrinking economy.”[41]

Indeed, one gets the impression that response to the disaster has centered primarily on short-term economic, not human, concerns. Before the accident at the Fukushima NPP, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30% of its energy needs and was planning to increase that to over 50% within two decades. According to Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, scrapping nuclear power would result in losses of $55.9 billion for power companies, at least four of which would likely face insolvency.[42] With these economic stakes, it is not surprising that TEPCO and the Japanese government have been stingy with information about the disaster, the radioactive fallout, and the potential health consequences. My acquaintances who hoped Japan would abandon nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster fear that the chance to “change the country’s direction” has already passed by.

Haruhiko Fukase, a resident of Yamagata City who worked as a shelter volunteer and coordinator during the evacuation effort, said that the nuclear accident-affected people have been forgotten not just by the international community, but by many of their fellow Japanese citizens. “For people in Tokyo and other big cities,” he said, “the evacuees don’t even register anymore. Their problems have been forgotten.” But for thousands of families, the Fukushima nuclear disaster will never end. Community leaders repeat this refrain: “The reactor is still hot; the situation is still unstable.” Miki Nakamura and like-minded community leaders are not giving up on the democratic process. They continue to speak justice to power. As Nakamura said during the December 2012 Japanese elections, “To give up on Japanese politics is, to me, to give up on Fukushima.”[43]

Fukushima is Chernobyl. Independent of the system (Japanese, Soviet), nuclear technology requires disregard for the public, misleading statements, and obfuscation in multiple domains (medicine, science and technology, governance). As anthropologist Hugh Gusterson notes, “The disaster at Fukushima has generated cracks in what we might call the ‘social containment vessels’ around nuclear energy—the heavily scientized discourses and assumptions that assure us nuclear reactors are safe neighbors.”[44] Comparing the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima shows that “peaceful” nuclear technology is anything but.

I am grateful to Miki Nakamura, Satoko Hirano, Yukio Yamaguchi, Paul Josephson, Marvin Sterling, and Charles Figley for their contributions to this article.

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Movies made after Japan’s nuclear disaster tell stories of its forgotten victims #Sundayreading


Japanese police wearing protective radiation suits search for the bodies of victims of the March 2011 tsunami in the Odaka area of Minami Soma, inside the deserted evacuation zone established for the 20-kilometre radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants. Japanese film director Yojyu Matsubayashi took a more standard documentary approach for his Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape, interviewing people who were displaced in the Fukushima town of Minami Soma. He followed them into temporary shelters in cluttered gymnasiums and accompanied their harried visits to abandoned homes with the gentle patience of a video-journalist. The catastrophe in Japan set off a flurry of independent films telling the stories of regular people who became overnight victims, stories the creators feel are being ignored by mainstream media and often silenced by the authorities.

Japanese police wearing protective radiation suits search for the bodies of victims of the March 2011 tsunami in the Odaka area of Minami Soma, inside the deserted evacuation zone established for the 20-kilometre radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plants. Japanese film director Yojyu Matsubayashi took a more standard documentary approach for his Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape, interviewing people who were displaced in the Fukushima town of Minami Soma. He followed them into temporary shelters in cluttered gymnasiums and accompanied their harried visits to abandoned homes with the gentle patience of a video-journalist. The catastrophe in Japan set off a flurry of independent films telling the stories of regular people who became overnight victims, stories the creators feel are being ignored by mainstream media and often silenced by the authorities.
David Guttenfelder/The Associated Press

TOKYO — The unnerving clicks of dosimeters are constant as people wearing white protective gear quickly visit the radiated no-go zones of decayed farms and empty storefronts. Evacuees huddle on blankets on gymnasium floors, waiting futilely for word of compensation and relocation.

Such scenes fill the flurry of independent films inspired by Japan’s March 2011 catastrophe that tell stories of regular people who became overnight victims — stories the creators feel are being ignored by mainstream media and often silenced by the authorities.

Nearly two years after the quake and tsunami disaster, the films are an attempt by the creative minds of Japan’s movie industry not only to confront the horrors of the worst nuclear disaster since Chornobyl, but also to empower and serve as a legacy for the victims by telling their stories for international audiences.

The impact these films have on the global and Japanese audiences could perhaps even help change Japan, the directors say.

What’s striking is that many of the works convey a prevailing message: The political, scientific and regulatory establishment isn’t telling the whole truth about the nuclear disaster. And much of the public had been in the past ignorant and uncaring about Fukushima.

And so the films were needed, the auteurs say. The people leading Japan were too evasive about the true consequences of the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant — minimizing people’s suffering, playing down health risks and shrugging off accountability for past go-go pro-nuclear government policies.

“Japan’s response is ambiguous and irresponsible. But, meanwhile, time is passing,” said Atsushi Funahashi, director of Nuclear Nation, which documents the story of the residents of Futaba, Fukushima, the town where the crippled nuclear plant is located.

The entire town became a no-go zone — contaminated by radiation in the air, water and ground after the tsunami destroyed the plant’s cooling systems, causing meltdowns in three reactors. Decommissioning the reactors is expected to take decades.

Of all Fukushima communities forced to evacuate, Futaba chose the farthest spot from the nuclear plant — an abandoned high school in Saitama prefecture, near Tokyo. That choice Funahashi feels highlights a keen awareness of the dangers of radiation and distrust of officials as the town had been repeatedly told the plant was safe.

The outburst of post-disaster filmmaking includes Americans living in or visiting Japan, such as Surviving Japanby Christopher Noland, Pray for Japan by Stuart Levy, and In the Grey Zone and A2 by Ian Thomas Ash.

The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom by Lucy Walker, a Briton, was nominated for the 2012 Academy Award for short documentaries.

Both Levy and Noland volunteered in the disaster areas. Ash’s documentaries focus on the plight of the children who continue to live near the nuclear plant and the frightened mothers who suspect the medical authorities are lying about the safety of radiation.

“I believe it is time for Japanese citizens to not just rebuild, but reinvent their country with new leadership,” said Noland, who like many others worries about the children. “I want the people of Japan to know I stand with them.”

Funahashi’s Nuclear Nation, shown at film festivals including Berlin, Seoul and Edinburgh, Scotland, intentionally played out its scenes in real time to communicate the helplessness of the days slipping away for displaced people. Camera close-ups show the cold lunches in boxes being handed out, day after day.

Funahashi is outraged that, so many months later, the Japanese government has yet to properly compensate the 160,000 people who had to leave their homes near Fukushima Dai-ichi. The government set up tiny temporary housing and doled out aid calculated to approximate the minimum wage.

In one moving scene in Nuclear Nation, one of the displaced residents, Masayoshi Watanabe, lights up a cigarette in a car and talks directly into the camera, strangely more movie-like than any Hollywood actor.

“Our town is gone. It’s just land,” he says pensively.

The movie started with 1,400 people in the school building, but that has dwindled lately to about 100. Funahashi is determined to keep filming until the last person leaves.

“The evacuated people are being forgotten,” said Funahashi. “And criminal responsibility is also being forgotten.”

Reputed director Sion Sono has also written and directed the sarcastically titled The Land of Hope, departing from his usual ruthlessly violent avant-garde for a soap-operatic account of an elderly couple who kill themselves after a nuclear catastrophe set in the fictitious future.

Sono’s Himizu, a haunting coming-of-age film set in a surreal Japan hopelessly covered with tsunami debris, is more typical Sono in its raw, dark style, criticizing the adult world as irresponsibly cruel and abusive to this nation’s younger generation that must cope with radiation.

Yojyu Matsubayashi took a more standard documentary approach for his Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape, interviewing people who were displaced in the Fukushima town of Minami Soma.

He followed them into temporary shelters in cluttered gymnasiums and accompanied their harried visits to abandoned homes with the gentle patience of a videojournalist. Japanese mainstream media abandoned the no-go zone, and he felt it was up to freelance reporters like him to tell the true story, especially for the helpless elderly.

“I’ve been making documentaries for some time, but when the nuclear accident happened, I felt I had to be there,” he said. “Once I got there, I knew I had to be there for a long time and express the eternal from that one spot.”

His main message?

He wouldn’t have made a movie if it were all that simple, Matsubayashi said quietly.

“It was human arrogance that led to this disaster, this crisis,” he said. “We thought we could control even nature. And that’s why this happened. Our lives were dependent on electricity from Fukushima. We shouldn’t be making excuses that we didn’t know, that we didn’t care. Maybe that’s why I made this movie.”

Others are finding their work is drawing more attention after Fukushima.

Hitomi Kamanaka, who has devoted her life to documenting radiation issues, such as the struggles over a Japanese nuclear reprocessing plant and sicknesses in Iraq suspected of being caused by uranium bullets, is in the spotlight like never before.

Her 2012 film Living With Internal Exposure compiled the views of four medical experts who studied radiation’s effects in Chornobyl, Hiroshima, Iraq and Fukushima, warning about the health damage that radiation can cause.

Akiyoshi Imazeki began shooting Kalina’s Apple, Forest of Chornobyl in 2003, a film about a girl who falls sick after eating the radiated apples grown on her grandmother’s farm. It was a film he believed in, but he never hoped for massive appeal.

His post-Fukushima 2011 re-edit — with its juxtaposition of pastoral lakes and forests, so much like Fukushima landscapes, with the forlorn faces of children hospitalized for cancer — is striking home with many Japanese.

The film was shot quietly like many Japanese classics, and the cast is entirely Belarusian and Russian. But the dozens of screenings in Fukushima are drawing positive reviews.

“They all cry,” said Imazeki.

Imazeki is convinced the parallels between Fukushima and Chornobyl are striking, and stressed Kalina’s Apple, Forest of Chornobyl dramatizes the tragedy of radiation.

“The invisibility adds to the turmoil,” he said. “Families can no longer live normal happy lives.”

http://www.therecord.com/

 

With no way to process it, US will bury 70,000 tons of nuclear waste


“It also ups the ante for reactor accident danger, as in the case of Fukushima, because MOX fuel has plutonium in it.”

“…So-called MOX fuel, short for mixed-oxide, is used in nuclear warheads and usually consists of a mix of plutonium and uranium.

The stock of used nuclear fuel currently held at 79 temporary locations in 34 US states “is massive, diverse, dispersed, and increasing,” according to the Oak Ridge report…”

Published: 01 February, 2013, 08:05
Edited: 02 February, 2013, 06:31

RT

With two decades to go before it can reprocess spent nuclear fuel, the US will have to bury nearly 70,000 tons of it, a research lab reports. It comes after Congress and the Obama administration defunded a planned nuclear waste repository in 2011.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a facility that does research for the Department of Energy (DOE), said that “about 68,450 [metric tons] or about 98 percent of the total current inventory by mass, can proceed to permanent disposal without the need to ensure retrievability for reuse or research purposes” in its report, published near the end of 2012. The rest of the waste, the report said, could be kept available for research on fuel reprocessing and storage.

The report was fairly obscure until being cited in a DOE document that showed plans to find a new permanent waste dump after Congress and the Obama administration cut funding for the Yucca Mountain repository in 2011.

Reprocessing has little support in Washington due to concerns that spent fuel could fall into the wrong hands. Nevertheless the DOE started looking into reprocessing methods in 2005.

But following the March 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, US officials became wary of recycling radioactive waste. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, co-chaired by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said that “no currently available or reasonably foreseeable reactor and fuel cycle technology developments — including advances in reprocessing and recycling technologies — have the potential to fundamentally alter the waste management challenges the nation confronts over at least the next several decades, if not longer” in a report.

Reprocessing was not taken off the table following the report, though, with American officials saying it was “premature for the United States to commit, as a matter of policy, to ‘closing’ the nuclear fuel cycle given the large uncertainties that exist about the merits and commercial viability of different fuel cycle and technology options.”

The method is seen as a dangerous cash grab by anti-nuclear activists.

Recycling is a euphemism for reprocessing which is one of the worst polluters of the atmosphere and the ocean, and is a direct conduit to proliferation,” Mali Martha Lightfoot, executive director of the Helen Caldicott Foundation, told Forbes. “It is not really a solution to anything except how can the industry get more of our money. It also ups the ante for reactor accident danger, as in the case of Fukushima, because MOX fuel has plutonium in it.”

So-called MOX fuel, short for mixed-oxide, is used in nuclear warheads and usually consists of a mix of plutonium and uranium.

The stock of used nuclear fuel currently held at 79 temporary locations in 34 US states “is massive, diverse, dispersed, and increasing,” according to the Oak Ridge report.

http://rt.com/usa/news/us-bolloxed-nuke-waste-209/

 

#India- wake up—World’s biggest nuke plant may shut: Japan report


by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 25, 2013

The largest nuclear power plant in the world may be forced to shut down under tightened rules proposed by Japan’s new nuclear watchdog aimed at safeguarding against earthquakes, a report said Friday.

Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power‘s vast Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in central Japan could be on the chopping block if the Nuclear Regulation Authority expands the definition of an active fault.

The movement of a fault — a crack in the earth’s crust — can generate massive earthquakes like the one that sparked a tsunami that slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011, setting off the worst atomic crisis in a generation.

The watchdog is planning to define an active fault as one that moved any time within the past 400,000 years, rather than the current 120,000 to 130,000-year limit, an official told AFP, which could spell the end of the TEPCO plant.

“The new guidelines will be put into effect in July, and then we will re-evaluate the safety of each of Japan’s nuclear plants,” said the NRA official, adding no decisions would be made until the new rules were in place.

At least two “non-active” faults underneath the site’s reactors could be ensnared by the new definition, forcing its closure, according to a report in the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Friday.

Other Japanese media have carried similar reports.

A company spokesman said TEPCO was conducting more tests on the faults underneath the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s biggest by generating capacity.

The NRA is conducting or planning to conduct investigations into six other nuclear plants in Japan.

At present only two of the country’s 50 reactors are operational, after the entire stable was shuttered over several months for scheduled safety checks. Public resistance has meant the government has been reluctant to give the go-ahead for their re-starting.

The two reactors that are working are both being investigated by seismologists.

In 2007, the government ordered the temporary closure of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake destroyed hundreds of homes in the area and jolted the sprawling plant, which was close to the quake’s epicentre, leading to a small radiation leak.

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck off Japan’s northeastern coast in 2011 triggered the tsunami that left about 19,000 dead and set off the emergency at Fukushima.

No one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the nuclear catastrophe, but radiation leaks forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and left swathes of agricultural land unfarmabl

 

Whistleblower: Nuclear Disaster in America is waiting to happen


Key federal official warns that the public has been kept in the dark about safety risks.

November 28, 2012  |

Photo Credit: Aleksey Klints/ Shutterstock.com

 This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

The likelihood was very low that an earthquake followed by a tsunami would destroy all four nuclear reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but in March 2011, that’s what happened, and the accident has yet to be contained.

Similarly, the likelihood may be low that an upstream dam will fail, unleashing a flood that will turn any of 34 vulnerable nuclear plants into an American Fukushima.  But knowing that unlikely events sometimes happen nevertheless, the nuclear industry continues to answer the question of how much safety is enough by seeking to suppress or minimize what the public knows about the danger.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has known at least since 1996 that flooding danger from upstream dam failure was a more serious threat than the agency would publicly admit. The NRC failed from 1996 until 2011 to assess the threat even internally.  In July 2011, the NRC staff completed a report finding “that external flooding due to upstream dam failure poses a larger than expected risk to plants and public safety” [emphasis added] but the NRC did not make the 41-page report public.

Instead, the agency made much of another report, issued July 12, 2011 – “Recommendations for Enhancing Reactor Safety in the 21st Century,” sub-titled “The Near-Term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Accident.”  Hardly four months since the continuing accident began in Japan, the premature report had little to say about reactor flooding as a result of upstream dam failure, although an NRC news release in March 2012 would try to suggest otherwise.

Censored Report May Be Crime by NRC  

That 2012 news release accompanied a highly redacted version of the July 2011 report that had recommended a more formal investigation of the unexpectedly higher risks of upstream dam failure to nuclear plants and the public.  In its release, the NRC said it had “started a formal evaluation of potential generic safety implications for dam failures upstream” including “the effects of upstream dam failure on independent spent fuel storage installations.”

Six months later, in September 2012, The NRC’s effort at bland public relations went controversial, when the report’s lead author made a criminal complaint to the NRC’s Inspector General, alleging “Concealment of Significant Nuclear Safety Information by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.”  In a letter dated September 14 and made public the same day, Richard Perkins, an engineer in the NRC’s Division of Risk Analysis, wrote Inspector General Hubert Bell, describing it as “a violation of law” that the Commission:

has intentionally mischaracterized relevant and noteworthy safety information as sensitive, security information in an effort to conceal the information from the public. This action occurred in anticipation of, in preparation for, and as part of the NRC’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request for information concerning the generic issue investigation on Flooding of U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Following Upstream Dam Failure….   

Portions of the publically released version of this report are redacted citing security sensitivities, however, the redacted information is of a general descriptive nature or is strictly relevant to the safety of U.S. nuclear power plants, plant personnel, and members of the public. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff has engaged in an effort to mischaracterize the information as security sensitive in order to justify withholding it from public release using certain exemptions specified in the Freedom of Information Act. …

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff may be motivated to prevent the disclosure of this safety information to the public because it will embarrass the agency. The redacted information includes discussion of, and excerpts from, NRC official agency records that show the NRC has been in possession of relevant, notable, and derogatory safety information for an extended period but failed to properly act on it.

 Concurrently, the NRC concealed the information from the public.

The Inspector General has not yet acted on the complaint.

Most Media Ignore Nuclear Safety Risks

Huffington Post picked up the story immediately as did the Union of Concerned Scientists and a number of online news sites.  The mainstream media showed little or no interest in a story about yet another example of the NRC lying to the public about the safety of nuclear power plants.

An NRC spokesman suggested to HuffPo that the report’s redactions were at least partly at the behest of Homeland Security. A second NRC risk engineer, who requested anonymity, said that Homeland Security had signed off on the report with no redactions.  As HuffPo noted:

If this were truly such a security concern, however, it would be incumbent on the agency to act swiftly to eliminate that threat, the engineer stated. As it is, the engineer suggested, no increased security actions have been undertaken.

This same engineer expressed serious misgivings, shared by others in and out of the NRC, that a nuclear power plant in Greenville, South Carolina, has been at risk from upstream dam failure for years, that the NRC has been aware of the risk, and that the NRC has done nothing to mitigate the risk.   In the redacted report, the NRC blacked out passages about this plant.

Event Unlikely, Would Be Sure Disaster 

South Carolina’s Oconee plant on Lake Keowee has three reactors, located 11 miles downstream from the Jocassee Reservoir, an 8,000 acre lake.  As HuffPo put it:

…the Oconee facility, which is operated by Duke Energy, would suffer almost certain core damage if the Jocassee dam were to fail. And the odds of it failing sometime over the next 20 years, the engineer said, are far greater than the odds of a freak tsunami taking out the defenses of a nuclear plant in Japan….

“Although it is not a given that Jocassee Dam will fail in the next 20 years,” the engineer added, “it is a given that if it does fail, the three reactor plants will melt down and release their radionuclides into the environment.”

When the NRC granted an operating license to the Oconee plant in 1973, danger from upstream dam failure was not even considered, never mind considered a threat against which some protection was needed.   The NRC and the plant’s owner both say the Jocassee Dam is not an immediate safety issue.   Oconee’s initial license was for 40 years.  It is now the second plant in the U.S. that the NRC has granted an extended license for another 20 years.

Union of Concerned Scientists Are Concerned 

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which says it is neither pro-nuke nor anti-nuke, but committed to making nuclear power as safe as possible, has considered the risk factors for Oconee. The NRC wrote in 2009 that “a Jocassee Dam failure is a credible event and in 2011 wrote that “dam failures are common” – and that since 1975 there have been more than 700 dam failures, 148 of them large dams 40 feet or more high.  The Jocassee Dam is 385 feet high.

For a dam like Jocassee, the NRC calculates the chance of failure at 1 in 3,600 per year – or 1 in 180 each year for the extended license.  NRC policy, when enforced, requires nuclear plant owners to mitigate any risk that has a 1 in 250 per years chance of occurring.

Oconee has three nuclear reactors, each of which is larger than the reactors at Fukushima, and so has more lethal radioactive potential.   Duke Energy reported its own upstream dam failure calculations to the NRC no later than 1996 and the NRC has responded by requiring no safety enhancements to address the threat.

Noting that the upstream dam failure risk does not take into account possible earthquakes or terrorist attacks, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote:

The 34 reactors of concern are downstream from a total of more than 50 dams, more than half of which are roughly the size of the Jocassee dam. Assuming the NRC’s failure rate applies to all of those dams, the probability that one will fail in the next 40 years is roughly 25 percent—a 1 in 4 chance.

List of Reactors Potentially at High Risk of Flooding due to Dam Failure

 

Alabama: Browns Ferry, Units 1, 2, 3

Arkansas: Arkansas Nuclear, Units 1, 2

Louisiana: Waterford, Unit 3

Minnesota: Prairie Island, Units 1, 2

Nebraska: Cooper;  Fort Calhoun

New Jersey: Hope Creek, Unit 1;  Salem, Units 1, 2

New York: Indian Point, Units 2, 3

North Carolina: McGuire, Units 1, 2

Pennsylvania: Beaver Valley, Units 1, 2; Peach Bottom, Units 2, 3; Three Mile Island, Unit 1

Tennessee: Sequoyah, Unit 1;  Watts Bar, Unit 1

Texas: South Texas, Units 1, 2

South Carolina: H.B. Robinson, Unit 2;  Oconee, Units 1, 2, 3

Vermont: Vermont Yankee

Virginia: Surrey, Units 1, 2

Washington: Columbia

(Source: Perkins, et al., “Screening Analysis,” July 2011)