Nukewatch Quarterly Summer 2020
A March report by Greenpeace Japan, “Radioactivity on the Move 2020,” is a stark reminder of the daunting and endless radiation hazards caused by the triple reactor meltdown of 2011 at the Fukushima-Daiichi complex.
In Fukushima Prefecture, spring snow melt and heavy rains remobilize stocks of radio-cesium in forests, hill slopes, and floodplains that were heavily contaminated by the radiation disaster, and that then contaminate areas downstream—frustratingly, even areas that were already decontaminated. “… as a result of the contamination in 2011, these uphill forests serve as a long-term source of radioactivity for the areas below. The principle radioactive source, cesium-137, has a half-life of 30 years, and therefore will remain a hazard for around ten half-lives, or 300 years.
Conducted soon after the October 2019 Typhoon Hagibis, which was one of the most powerful typhoons in 100 years, the group’s survey “observed concentrated radiation levels throughout Fukushima Prefecture, including significant radiation hotspots….” Building on its 2016 report “Radiation Reloaded,” Greenpeace’s extensive radiation survey raises alarms about the re-contamination caused by Hagibis, “which released radioactive cesium [downhill] from the forested mountains of Fukushima prefecture which make up 70% of the region, and which cannot feasibly be decontaminated.”
The report paints an accusatory picture of Japan’s government, “Which continues to push its propaganda of normalization in Fukushima,” in order to convince the public in general and evacuees in particular that it is safe to return to their houses. The report notes that “the Japanese government remains committed to policies which aim to pressure tens of thousands of Japanese Internally Displaced Persons to return to their former homes.”
The government’s resettlement push is also motivated by the huge economic investment in hosting the postponed summer Olympics. The games have been put off until July 23, 2012, not because of the radioactive dangers documented and presented to the government by Greenpeace Japan, but because of the coronavirus pandemic.
One example of the government’s recklessness, is its arbitrary setting of radiation exposure allowances. Global standards for radiation exposure are set by the International Commission on Radiation Protection, and the maximum exposure for the general public in Japan was one (1) milliSievert per year (mSv/y) until 2012.
But in April 2012, the government increased the maximum annual exposure twenty-fold, to 20 milliSieverts per year (20 mSv/y). This eye-popping increase of allowable exposure applies across-the-board to infants and children, while girls and women are all known to be more vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation than adult men. Greenpeace says this was done “as part of its strategy to lift evacuations orders.”
The typhoon’s recontamination and resulting levels of potential radiation exposure have caused a “… radiological situation in Fukushima prefecture, specifically in both the open and exclusion zones of Namie, Iitate, and Okuma, [that] leads Greenpeace Japan to conclude that levels remain too high for the safe return of thousands of evacuees to these areas,” the report says. “Namie, Iitate, Okuma and Futaba remain highly contaminated.”
In its consideration of areas where evacuation orders have already been lifted, the report is highly critical. “Japanese government maintains that exposure to 20 mSv/y is acceptable in these lifted evacuation order areas. This is despite clear scientific evidence of the cancer risks from low dose radiation exposure in the 1-5 mSv/y range, which the Japanese government continues to disregard.”
Decontamination efforts have been a large part of the government’s strategy of returning people to areas hit with radioactive fallout. Yet decontamination has been less effective around houses located close to hillside forests, “where decontamination is not possible.” Unfortunately, the report notes, “radioactivity from the non-decontaminated forest might re-contaminate the already decontaminated area below and closer to houses.”
In addition, radioactive particles and organic matter carried down from forests and fields with heavy rains and typhoons “will create continuing, subsequent influxes of radio-cesium in lakes and coastal ecosystems for years and decades to come,” the report notes. “In particular, typhoons cause significant increases in cesium discharges into the Pacific Ocean.”
The survey also discovered high levels of radiation and multiple radiation “hotspots” in Fukushima City, the J-Village sports complex and along the route of the Olympic Torch run. These findings directly challenge the government’s “propaganda narrative” leading up to the Olympic Games, and endanger athletes and everyone else involved with the games.