Monday, 1 April 2019
Eight years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and two years after the Japanese government lifted evacuation orders in areas of Namie and Iitate, radiation levels remain too high for the safe return of thousands of Japanese evacuees. That is the conclusion of Greenpeace’s latest extensive radiation survey in Namie and Iitate, Fukushima prefecture.
In these areas, Greenpeace says ‘contamination will remain well above international maximum safety recommendations for public radiation exposure of 1 millisievert per year (mSv/y) for many decades’. Greenpeace includes projections on dose rates to mid-21st century, which it says ‘show that they will still be well in excess of the current government’s long-term target levels of 0.23 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h)’.
Greenpeace notes that ‘in 2018, the Japanese government began a process to revise its current long-term decontamination target of 0.23 μSv/h’. It says ‘The major problem is that it is not attainable in many areas. It has been suggested that the new target would be in the1.0 μSv/h range. This is a politically motivated process with the aim of allowing the government to claim success in its decontamination program, which in reality has failed and which excludes the majority of contaminated areas which are forested mountains. Unable to set a date for when radiation exposure would be a maximum of 1 mSv a year in many areas, the government is seeking to shift the goal posts. This is a cynical disregard for public health protection & the human rights of Japanese citizens’.
It adds that in the case of radiation levels in the highly contaminated exclusion zone of Namie ‘it will be at least many decades for some areas, and well into next century for others, before radiation levels start to even approach government targets of 0.23 μSv/h. The Japanese government continues to disregard scientific evidence of cancer and other health risks from low-dose radiation exposure, including in the range of 1-5 mSv/y. Yet the government has not only opened areas of Namie and Iitate where citizens will be exposed to rates equal to this and higher, but is also moving ahead with plans to open even higher radiation areas in the six municipalities of Futaba, Okuma, Namie, Tomioka, Iitate & Katsurao.’
Radiation levels still too high
The results of Greenpeace’s 2018 extensive survey around houses, farmland and forest in the Namie exclusion zone reveal radiation levels that far exceed the government’s long term decontamination target of 0.23 μSv/h. It says ‘ the community of Obori, around 20 km west-northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is targeted as a reconstruction hub by the Japanese government with a target date for lifting evacuation orders in a small area in March 2023. Yet, in all of the survey work conducted by Greenpeace in October 2018, it was this area that showed the most extensive and consistently high radiation levels. In the community of Obori, we took 4,899 measurements with an average of 4.0 μSv/h and a maximum of 24.3 μSv/h. In the Obori hamlet, along a road and path where workers were operating on 23 October 2018, radiation hot spots were measured at 12 μSv/h at 1 meter, 19 μSv/h at 0.5 meters, and 64.9 at 0.1 meters. To put these figures into context, at this one location radiation readings at one meter were 300 times higher than the background level of 0.04 μSv/h in the prefecture before the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident’.
None of the zones, for which Greenpeace has complete data sets of radiation levels, have evidently seen a significant decline in radiation level during the period from 2016-2018. It says ‘explanations for these results include re-contamination through migration of radionuclides from the nearby contaminated forested mountain slopes. The inevitability of re-contamination from the forested mountains, which represent 70% of Iitate, as well as an equal proportion of Namie, is further evidence that the government’s limited decontamination program for thousands of homes has been, and will continue to be, ineffective in reducing the risks to citizens of Fukushima if they were to return to their homes’.
Greenpeace is also concerned about the working conditions of the clean up workers: ‘In areas where some of these decontamination workers are operating, the radiation levels would be considered an emergency if they were inside a nuclear facility’. https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-japan-stateless/2019/03/b12d8f83-frontfksm_en.pdfhttps://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-japan-stateless/2019/03/b12d8f83-frontfksm_en.pdf
The debate over nuclear power and, more recently, over the impacts of Fukushima, has been long running, with a range of views emerging, for example of the scale of the health risk, including outside of Japan: www.beachapedia.org/Radiation_From_Fukushima
However, what the new Greenpeace study reminds us is that, within Japan, the disaster is still happening – still having an impact. We don’t get to hear much about that any more, just the occasional snippet as deaths are admitted: www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-06/first-man-dies-from-radiation-from-fukushima-nuclear-disaster/10208244 Or new radiation hot-spots found: www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-05/uom-frp052418.php Or new health impact data emerges: www.cbsnews.com/news/japan-fukushima-disaster-linked-infant-complex-congenital-heart-disease-health/
We do get to hear a bit more about Japans lackluster approach to developing alternatives to nuclear- the government is dragging its feet and is apparently more concerned about getting some of the closed nuclear plant restarted, despite often strong local opposition. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/06/national/media-national/japan-spends-scant-energy-renewables/#.XIO-EM_7RYc
The current plan (unlikely to be fulfilled) is to get nuclear back to 20-22% by 2023, but also to expand the use of renewable sources from the 82GW in place at the end of 2017 (including 50 GW of hydro), and maybe more like 100 GW in all now, given the recent PV growth, so that they supply 22-24% of Japan’s power by 2030. That is quite a low renewables target compared with some other countries (the UK is already at 33%, Denmark at 54%), but Japan started late in the push to new renewables, which only really got moving after Fukushima. Arguably it has not been trying hard enough. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-14/japan-s-renewable-energy-goals-lag-world-foreign-minister-says The impact of Fukushima evidently hasn’t been sufficient to overcome corporate and bureaucratic inertia. Perhaps the fact that renewables are now getting very cheap may change the situation. But meanwhile the slow, very expensive and maybe hopeless, decontamination process grinds on in the Fukushima area, while many ex-residents wonder when, if ever, it will safe to return. And with it being unclear when all the radioactive debris will go:
The next post in this series will look at the situation at Chernobyl, with new studies suggesting that the incidence of cancer may be increasing, 33 years on…. Meanwhile, see this Chernobyl retrospective: www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00678-w
And also this Fukushima retrospective: https://www.irsn.fr/FR/connaissances/Installations_nucleaires/Les-accidents-nucleaires/accident-fukushima-2011/fukushima-2019/Documents/IRSN-Fukushima-2019-rapport-Shinrai-evacues_201903.pdf