Today’s nuclear news from Japan begins with a topic that’s smoldered since the day after the tsunami hit. The earthquake and tsunami devastation along the northeast coast of Japan’s main island (Honshu) was the lead news story around the world for 24 hours, and rightly so. But that dramatically changed on March 12, when a hydrogen explosion ripped apart the top story of reactor building #1. Suddenly, the news media’s focus shifted to Fukushima Daiichi and away from the tsunami. Anything associated with Fukushima and/or nuclear risk immediately took center stage. Nuclear accident developments and fear-of-radiation stories were immediately better for the news business than the real and present horrors of the tsunami’s aftermath. In an effort to save his rapidly-decaying political career, Prime Minister Naoto Kan followed the Press’ lead and essentially turned away from tsunami recovery efforts in order to focus on soothing irrational radiation fears. Superstition superseded the serious with respect to Tokyo, the negative impact of which is now apparent. Moldering mountains of debris still go untended spawning toxic bacteria, noxious air, water pollution, and the stench of decay…and we’re not talking about the contaminated debris inside the evacuation zones which continues to get the majority of headlines. It’s a travesty against human-kind. It’s a story that begs to be shouted to the world. But, it isn’t happening. Today’s lead story only makes matters worse…

  • Asahi Shimbun published a hindsight report on disaster coverage beginning March 11. At first, the news was glutted with terrifying images and stories of horror concerning the worst tsunami in modern Japanese history. The Asahi says after but a few days, this focus proceeded into “Information that would help victims deal with the situation without confusion, offering appropriate guidance and raising their hopes. Out of consideration to the people who read the newspapers in evacuation centers, they decided not to [further] describe the damage done by the disaster in detail.” The Asahi wonders if the reporters made they right decision when the article says, “Since that day, we have also been facing harsh criticism. Did our reports on the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accurately communicate the seriousness of the nuclear disaster? Weren’t we too busy following daily {tsunami} developments to write more about the crisis? How could we properly assess and report on the dangers of radiation? How should we write about issues that are not fully understood and problems that are not completely clear? We are still facing these tough challenges daily, and we have been forced to question our actions many times.”The Asahi didn’t focus enough on the accident at Fukushima? They didn’t concentrate enough on the theoretical risks of low level radiation? They spent too much copy space on the tsunami and not enough on the nuclear emergency? What’s going on, here?
  • The City of Fukushima has finally emerged from its state of radio-phobic paralysis and begun full-scale decontamination. Whether or not each and every one of the 110,000 buildings and every centimeter of the hundreds of kilometers of city streets and sidewalks actually needs to be cleansed, everything will be scrubbed. At least the process has begun. (JAIF)
  • Yesterday, a reportedly high level of radioactivity was discovered in a drainage gutter next to a school’s pool in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward. The radiation level in near-contact with the gutter was about 4 microsieverts per hour. The gutter has no drainage outlet, so all run-off had collected and concentrated in and around the trough for many, many months. “We believe the levels detected are localized and would not affect human health, but we will look into our response as soon as possible,” said a ward official in charge of crisis management. School and city officials cordoned-off the pool while deciding what to do. The school’s principal stopped all outside activities for the students, as well. This morning, the ward reported that after removing the sludge from inside and outside the gutter, exposure levels dropped to 0.15 microsieverts. But, the school continues suspension of all physical education classes and has instructed students to stay away from the school’s yard during class breaks, because “approximately ten parents” have called. One mother said, “They say that there is no health threat, but it’s not easy to trust what they say right away. I want authorities to appropriately explain the measures they have taken.” (Mainchi Shimbun)

The above exposure levels are what the health physics community calls “contact” readings. Not actually in contact with the source, but within two inches (5 centimeters) of it. As one moves away from the source, the exposure level drops dramatically. For a highly localized source, the decrease is the inverse square of the change in distance; i.e. a localized (point) reading of 10 msv at 10cm distance drops to 0.1 msv at 100cm distance. Contact readings produce scarier numbers than distance levels and the Japanese now focus on them. For example, from today’s news reports…

  • A level of 4 microsieverts was found at 5cm from the outlet of a second Tokyo school’s drain pipe. (Japan Times)
  • A level of 2.2 microsieverts was discovered 5cm from a third school’s drainage ditch. (Kyodo News)
  • Four other drainpipe outlet “hot spots” were found to be below 1 microsievert at a 5cm distance from the ground, which is higher than the 0.25 microsievert limit being adopted by nearly all Tokyo city wards. (Japan Times)
  • One of Tokyo’s “anti pollution” groups, Katsushika Aozora no Kai, has identified 65 new hot spots across the City. Two readings were above 5 microsieverts while the rest were between 1 & 5 microsieverts. All readings were “1 to 2 centimeters above the ground”. (Mainich Shimbun)