Comment : The real disaster in Japan

Sunday, March 11, 2012, marked the first anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami. While most media pundits focus on radiation fears and apocalyptic “what-if” scenarios relative to the Fukushima accident, I choose to mark this date by charging much of Japan with pseudo-criminal negligence. Public enemy no.1 is governmental. Since the day after the tsunami hit, official focus has centered on a nuclear crisis that has killed no-one and will likely never cause one radiation-related death. Meanwhile, recovery from a disaster that killed 20,000 and left 22 million tons of disease-spawning rubble and debris, has taken a back seat to radiation-based reactions of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Only 17 out of nearly 700 municipalities in Japan have the human decency to assist in the massive tsunami clean-up. In addition, the affected governments fleetingly mention recovery for the sick and homeless spawned by the tsunami, while trumpeting loud and long on the smaller number relative to the Fukushima accident.

What’s more, anti-nuclear protesters and the news media should be held as accomplice’s after-the-fact. Tens of thousands of demonstrators deflect attention from the horrid effects of the tsunami saying it was merely a natural disaster, and scream loud and long about Fukushima Daiichi because it resulted from failed human technology. The news media passively aids and abets this travesty because it’s good for business. Actually, calling the Fukushima accident a disaster is a misnomer…where’s the devastation? Where’s the destruction? Was anyone killed? Will anyone ever capitulate to the long-term effects? The authentic disaster is twofold. The first was the incredible earthquake and unprecedented tsunami it spawned. The second disaster, entirely predicated on government, news media, and anti-nuclear malfeasance, is national radiophobic fixation at the expense of all Tohoku disaster victims.

While there have been no protests about Japan’s plodding slowness with tsunami recovery, here’s updates on this past weekend’s Japanese and international anti-nuclear protests…

  • About 16,000 anti-nuclear protesters gathered in Fukushima Prefecture to protest against nuclear energy.“Our town has turned out to be another Chernobyl,” Masami Yoshizawa, who ran a cattle farm in Namie, 10 kilometers from the plant. Activists carried banners reading: “We will never forgive the nuclear accident.” Yumiko Ono, a 34-year-old graphic designer from Tokyo said, “Fukushima is being forgotten day by day. If we don’t raise our voices right now, another accident could happen. We want to tell the world that the crisis and the hardship is still going on.” (Japan Times)
  • Thousands of protesters gathered in Tokyo and formed a human chain around the Diet (Japanese Parliament). They demanded that nuclear power generation be abandoned. In Shizuoka Prefecture, an estimated 1,100 people gathered to call for the permanent shutdown of Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka Power Station. Some 1,200 people marched in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, to protest the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor and all of Kansai Electric’s now-idled nuclear plants. At Tsuruga, protest group leader Fujio Yamamoto said, “What we need to do, after witnessing how tragic Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident is, is to build a society which does not rely on nuclear plants.” Smaller protests were held in Saga and Aomori Prefectures, and poorly-attended rallies were held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • Thousands of people formed chains of protest of 24,000 in Germany and 30,000 France. Why the protests were held in Germany is a mystery because the government has passed laws to end nuclear energy in the country. Many protesters in France were from other European countries. In the United States, about 200 people attended an anti-nuke rally in California and about 100 protested in New York. In California, the main speaker was a woman from Sendai, Japan, which was devastated by the tsunami. She said nothing about the horrors her community suffered from the tidal waves, but instead focused entirely on the Fukushima accident. “The Japanese government has not disclosed everything about the nuclear accident,” said Kyoko Sugasawa, the 39-year-old housewife from Sendai, “We mothers are very worried that our children are treated like guinea pigs. We feel as if our children are being experimented on.” (Japan Times)

Now for some other Fukushima updates…

  • A team of radiation experts say Tokyo’s risk due to Fukushima contamination is very limited. The team, led by Tokyo University professor Michio Murakami, says exposure for infants has been 0.048 millisieverts for infants, 0.042 mSv for preschoolers, and 0.018 mSv for adults. These levels are more than 20 times below the most limiting standards. These figures conservatively relate to no more than 3 cancers per 100,000 people, and it may well be as low as zero. (NHK World)
  • Shizuoka Prefecture’s Shimada City will accept tsunami rubble for disposal. All test incinerations have shown that there is zero radioactive gas released during the burning and the resulting ash is more than 10 times below the national standard for cesium. (Kyodo News)
  • The total amount of Fukushima releases to the world’s oceans is relatively small compared to nuclear weapons. Fukushima’s radioactive impact on the world’s oceans is 50 to 100 times less than the impact caused by atmospheric nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s. Ken Buessler of Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute says, “Levels of cesium-137 and cesium-134 in the ocean, two primary products of nuclear fission, were elevated, but still below those considered of concern for exposure to humans. They were also well below biological thresholds of concern to the small fish and plankton we sampled, even if these were consumed by humans.” (CNN)
  • An American anti-nuclear activist admits the Fukushima accident has been exaggerated and the facts distorted. A letter sent to fellow nuclear blogger Rod Adams exposes the rhetorical underbelly of the anti-nuclear movement in America, which extends directly to their brethren in Japan. The facts about nuclear energy, its safety and even its positive economic effects were not relevant. The fomenting of fear and the use of misinformation are seen as the appropriate moral strategy of anti-nuclear groups. But, don’t take my word for it…
  • Suddenly, a “fourth disaster” of March 11 has been created by the Press outside Japan. Many people in Japan are increasingly disillusioned about the political establishment’s ability to tell the truth and rise to the occasion. Politicians and bureaucrats have drawn fire for the chaotic response to the Fukushima disaster and many are disappointed.Slow progress in planning for the tsunami-damaged region is deepening the misery of survivors, about 326,000 of whom are still homeless, in deference to the 80,000 evacuated from the vicinity of the Fukushima plant. Before March 11, most Japanese trusted their government to do the right thing. Now, that trust is literally circling the drain. Lost trust in elected officials is posed as the fourth disaster of March 11. (Reuters)
  • Some local Japanese governments have decided to unite in order to promote tsunami debris disposal. The prefectural governors and mayors of 17 municipalities met in Tokyo to start a project to handle tsunami debris disposal for localities outside the Fukushima evacuation zones. They made it clear they intend to accept and dispose of the rubble from the tsunami-hit areas, and call on all other capable municipalities to follow suit. Minister Hosono told them he will provide as much assistance as possible to get reluctant municipalities to join in the effort. (JAIF)
  • Minister Hosono also met with officials from the county around the Fukushima power complex. He proposed a plan to build three temporary contaminated waste facilities in Futaba, Okuma, and Nahara. He added a disposal site would be built in Tomioka for the ash coming from incineration. The eight municipal officials were generally supportive of the proposal, except Futaba Mayor Katsutaka Idogawa who expressed considerable reluctance. He said he needs absolute assurance that the facility will be temporary and not become permanent. In addition, he felt the reasons why his town has been selected are less than clear. All attendees want a firm law guaranteeing that a final disposal site be located outside Fukushima Prefecture itself. This was the first meeting for the eight municipalities to be addressed by Mr. Hosono as a group. The original meeting scheduled for February 26 was cancelled when three of the mayors refused to attend. (Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Some of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture live in a constant state of fear of radiation. One prime example is Yoshiko Ota who keeps her windows shut, never hangs her laundry outdoors. She is so fearful of birth defects that she tells her daughters they can never have children. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.” Not everyone goes to these extremes, but morbid fear of radiation is not uncommon. The fearful generally say they are unsure of what the government or anyone tells them about radiation exposure, and the uncertainty raises their fear. “People are scared to death,” says Wolfgang Weiss, chairman of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, “They are thinking, ‘Tell me. Is it good or bad?’ We can’t tell them. Life is risky.” Experts say that cancer risks rise with an exposure of 100 millsieverts, but aren’t statistically detectable at lower levels. Below 100 mSv, experts can’t say for sure whether it’s safe, only that a link to cancer can’t be proven. Experts also believe that the risk is cumulative; i.e. the radioactivity in one’s body builds up through various activities. Because of this, entrepreneur Kouta Miyazaki says, “Government officials should all come live in Fukushima for several years and bring their families. They’re all staying in places where it’s safe. We’re being told to get radiated and drop dead.” Mayor Shouji Nishida of Date says his community is preparing for the future by relying less on the central government and by adjusting expectations. He believes 5 millisieverts of radiation a year – five times the typical amount of background radiation in Japan – is a realistic goal. “We are defining policies to live and coexist with radiation,” he says. Kunihiko Takeda, a nuclear and ecology expert has been outspoken about the dangers and says people become less afraid after he explains the risks. “They are freed from the state of not knowing. They now know what to do and can make decisions on their own,” he says. (Japan Times)