Monday, 2 July 2018

Fukushima radiation risks still high

The nuclear disaster at Fukushima was seven years ago, in March 2011. In the immediate aftermath, over 130,000 people left or were evacuated from the region. Some have now returned. And the government wants more to do so.  However, a comprehensive survey by Greenpeace Japan in the towns of Iitate and Namie in Fukushima prefecture, including the exclusion zone, found radiation levels up to 100 times higher than the international limit for public exposure. They claim that the high radiation levels in these areas pose a significant risk to returning evacuees until at least the 2050’s and maybe well into next century. ‘In all of the areas we surveyed, including where people are permitted to live, the radiation levels are such that if it was in a nuclear facility it would require strict controls. Yet this is public land. Citizens, including children and pregnant women returning to their contaminated homes, are at risk of receiving radiation doses equivalent to one chest X-ray every week. This is unacceptable and a clear violation of their human rights,’ said Jan Vande Putte, radiation specialist with Greenpeace Belgium and leader of the survey project.

Greenpeace Japan conducted the investigations in September and October last year, measuring tens of thousands of data points around homes, forests, roads and farmland in the open areas of Namie and Iitate, as well as inside the closed Namie exclusion zone. The government plans to open up small areas of the zone, including Obori and Tsushima, for human habitation in 2023. The survey shows the decontamination programme to be ineffective, combined with a region that is 70-80% mountainous forest which cannot be decontaminated.

Key finding from the survey:
    Even after decontamination, in four of six houses in Iitate, the average radiation levels were 3 times higher than the government long term target. Some areas showed an increase from the previous year, which could have come from recontamination.
    At a house in Tsushima in the Namie exclusion zone, despite it being used as a test bed for decontamination in 2011-12, a dose of 7 mSv per year is estimated, while the international limit for public exposure in a non-accidental situation is 1 mSv/y. This reveals the ineffectiveness of decontamination work.  
    At a school in Namie town, where the evacuation order was lifted, decontamination had failed to significantly reduce radiation risks, with levels in a nearby forest with an average dose rate of more than 10 mSv per year. Children are particularly at risk from radiation exposure.
    In one zone in Obori, the maximum radiation measured at 1m would give the equivalent of 101 mSv per year or one hundred times the recommended maximum annual limit, assuming a person would stay there for a full year These high levels are a clear threat, in the first instance, to thousands of decontamination workers who will spend many hours in that area.

To put it in context, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) sets a maximum dose of 1 mSv/ year in normal situations for the public, and in the range of 1-20 mSv/y under post-nuclear accident situations, such as that resulting from Fukushima Daiichi. The ICRP recommends that governments select the lower part of the 1–20 mSv/year range for protection of people living in contaminated areas, and ‘to reduce all individual exposures associated with the event to as low as reasonably achievable.’

Based on its study, Greenpeace says ‘This contamination presents a long term risk, and means that the government’s long-term radiation target (1Sv/year which is equivalent to 0.23μSv/hour) are unlikely to be reached before at least the middle of the century in many areas that are currently open and into next century for the exclusion zone of Namie. In an admission of failure, the government has recently initiated a review of its radiation target levels with the aim of raising it even higher. The Government’s policy to effectively force people to return by ending housing and other financial support is not working, with population return rates of 2.5% and 7% in Namie and Iitate respectively as of December 2017’. It noted that ‘in November last year, the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Japan issued four recommendations on Fukushima issues. Member governments (Austria, Portugal, Mexico and Germany) called for Japan to respect the human rights of Fukushima evacuees and adopt strong measures to reduce the radiation risks to citizens, in particular women and children and to fully support self evacuees. Germany called on Japan to return to maximum permissible radiation of 1 mSv per year, while the current government policy in Japan is to permit up to 20 mSv per year. If this recommendation was applied, the Japanese government’s lifting of evacuation orders would have be halted’. Fortunately, some action on that does at last seem to be be likely:

While all that will hopefully play itself out, it is also important to look past nuclear, and its problems and legacies, to the future. Most of Japan’s nuclear plants remain shut down, and although the government would like to start more up, local opposition remains strong, with legal battles over the few restarts, reversing some if them: In theory Japan is aiming to move away from nuclear and expand its use of renewable sources so that they supply 22-24% of its power by 2030, but progress, even given this relatively low target (much less than the UK gets now), is very slow:  and
The result is that Japan is having to import a lot of gas, at massive cost and with significant emissions being produced. In effect, and embarrassingly, it has had to abandon its Kyoto climate pledges. It seems to be sleepwalking on energy policy, with the shaky economy relying on the upcoming Olympics for a boost. So the last thing the government wants is bad news about radiation risks, which might deter visitors. However, even if it admits there are problems in an around Fukushima, that can perhaps be portrayed as being far away and of no consequence as far as the Olympics are concerned. Locally however, it’s a different matter: And it may not in fact just be a local issue Or a trivial one, with hot particles still turning up:
It’s hard to see how it can all be decontaminated. For a harrowing report and video, which shows the clean up so far, with the vast areas of water tanks and top soil in bags, see:

The post-Fukushima clean up programme has been extensive and costly and is nowhere near complete- it will take many decades. Indeed, it may never be. The total cost may be vastly more than the official estimate, perhaps £150bn:¥70-trillion-triple-governments-estimate-think-tank That is money that had to be spent, but would have done so much good in helping Japan head for a sustainable future.  It is nevertheless trying. There is over 100GW of renewable capacity in place, about half of it being PV solar- well suited to Japan. Some of the big projects are quite spectacular: But much more is needed. Maybe something to show the Olympic tourists, and the rest of us, and also the beleaguered Fukushima area residents, that there is hope for the future. Though it may be some way off. But Boris is happy!

No comments:

Post a Comment