It was only a matter of time… The Mainichi Shimbun and Japan Times have run lead articles which both carry the headline Future cancers from Fukushima may be hidden. The articles are literally a mirror image of each other. Their opening paragraphs read “Even if the worst nuclear accident in 25 years leads to many people developing cancer, we may never find out.” The rationale conforms to international anti-nuclear superstitions created since the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl when WHO reported there had been no increase in cancer rates within the exposed population. This made the 1986 prophecies of a terrible Chernobyl cancer epidemic seem ridiculous, so anti-nuclear think tanks came up with the “hidden cancer” tactic. Here’s how it runs with Fukushima… the Japanese have a lifetime cancer probability of 40%, and the number of cancers discovered in Japan each year run in the hundreds of thousands. A few tens or hundreds of cancers each year due to Fukushima will not show up in statistics and radiation-induced cancers are virtually indistinguishable from other causes. The articles thus conclude Fukushima cancers will be statistically hidden. The source of this new fear of radiation story is the Associated Press. Some of the cited experts are believers in the arbitrary Linear/No Threshold (LNT) concept, and others are straight out of the “prophets of nuclear energy doom” camp.

On the LNT side, Dr. Fred Mettler, a radiologist in the study of health effects from Chernobyl, and Richard Wakeford, of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, agree on the belief that cancers possibly caused by Fukushima will be too infrequent to measure, but cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, Edwin Lyman, of the decidedly anti-nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists, said, “”I think that a prediction of thousands of cancer deaths as a result of the radiation from Fukushima is not out of line.” On a more rational note, Seiji Yasumura of the state-run Fukushima Medical University, and head of the prefecture’s 30-year cancer study of its residents, said people probably received too little radiation from Fukushima to cause cancer, but was immediately downplayed because distrust in the government. Thus, fear-generating statements went unchallenged while a realistic comment was attacked.

Both articles go on to say many officials believe mental health problems caused by excessive fear of radiation are prevalent and posing a bigger concern than actual risk of cancer caused by radiation, but add no-one really knows the cancer risk for low level exposures. However, some rational voices were quoted. Michiaki Kai, professor of environmental health at Oita University of Nursing and Health Sciences, says that based on tests he’s seen with people and their exposure levels, nobody in Fukushima except for some plant workers has been exposed to harmful levels of radiation. The articles also mention UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Council on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) which says direct evidence for low-dose cancers is lacking, and it’s not clear that small doses raise cancer risk at all. Wolfgang Weiss, who chairs the UNSCEAR radiation committee, said, “low-dose risk isn’t proven.” But with this side of the issue buried deep inside the articles, it is unlikely to have little effect on the radiation phobia now gripping the land of the rising sun. Fear of radiation is good for the news media business, and mitigation of those fears will always be downplayed as much as possible.

Now, for this past weekend’s updates…

  • TEPCO’s most recent report on airborne Cesium levels at their property perimeter (main gate) reveals the concentration is no longer detectable. Why isn’t this being reported in the Press?
  • Japan’s Science Ministry says computer simulation indicates that detectable levels of Fukushima Cesium can be found on 8% of the island nation’s land area. This covers some or all land in 13 prefectures. Because winds were blowing out to sea from March 11 to March 14, actual land contamination was minimal until mid-day on the 14th. Almost all of the deposition occurred between then and March 22 as the winds shifted between the south, west and north. The first large inland release was March 14 to March 15 with winds blowing northwest. There were three subsequent release surges, on March 15 (later in the day), March 20, and March 22, respectively. As the winds shifted between north, west and south on those days, a wide swath of deposition occurred. While most of the deposited Cesium concentrations are well below government or international standards, the Japanese Press makes it sound like 8% of Japan is now a dangerous place to live. (Asahi Shimbun) Although “official” sources say the first large release was due to a unit #2 meltdown, they fail to consider that the hydrogen explosion of unit #3 happened March 14, and the unit #4 explosion occurred on March 15, which should be posited as the probable cause of the release. Control room records for unit #2 indicate its fuel damage was much less than unit #1 or unit #3, plus it experienced no hydrogen explosion to cause large release.
  • The sewage constipation problem in Japan continues to increase. The problems are three-fold; fear of detectable levels of radiation, distrust of the government, and local governments caving in to the paranoid outcries of a vocal minority. Case in point is an article in Asahi Shimbun with the headline Sewage  sludge keeps piling up amid radiation concerns. The article partly focuses on the sewage ash pile-up in Yokohama, about 300 kilometers south of Fukushima Daiichi, which serves as a glaring example. Yokohama’s sewage incinerator ash contains measurable concentrations of Fukushima Cesium, but well below government standards for routine disposal at sea. The Mayor has ordered disposal to be halted because of resident protests. Here’s the numbers…in a city of over 3.5 million people, about 100 persons protested the ash disposal over concerns for harming sea life and recieved heavy national news coverage. The protests of this numerically-miniscule vocal minority have constipated their sewage disposal system.
  • More than half of the municipalities asked by the Ministry of the Environment to accept quake and tsunami debris have officially refused to cooperate. Of the 54 municipalities asked to help, 23 said “no” because of the possibility of Fukushima contamination. The volume of unattended debris still moldering along the stricken coasts of Miyagi and Iwate Prefectures is far too great for the local municipalities to handle in a reasonable amount of time by themselves. (Japan Times)
  • The Fukushima government began detailed radiological surveys of the 20km no-go zone on Saturday. The first location is Okuma Town, located between 2 and 3 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi. This is planned to be the “home base” for decontamination efforts over the entire zone. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Sunday, radiological surveys began in Okumamachi, one of the designated centers of decontamination inside the no-go zone. A “model” decontamination program will be set up and implemented later this month. The processes and procedures used in Okumamachi will be used for decontamination of the other 12 municipalities inside the no-go zone and northwest evacuation corridor outside the zone. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced that Japan’s carbon dioxide emissions have risen 4.4% since March 11. This is after two consecutive years of Japan reducing its release of the greenhouse gas by more than 6% per year. The reason, of course, is former Prime Minister Kan’s moratorium on operating undamaged nukes due to his personal Fukushima paranoias and fear of radiation. All replacement power has come from restarting old, environmentally unsound coal plants and extending the capacities of newer coal plants beyond their design limits. When the last 10 nukes now operating are shut down over the next four months, the Japanese carbon release rate will undoubtedly rise
    even more. (Japan Times)