In spite of an international scientific consensus that the theoretical threshold for negative health effects is 100 millisieverts/yr, and the lowest statistical threshold is 1 sievert/yr, the Japanese government is continually caving to a phobic vocal minority when setting national standards. Although massive public education on the realities of radiation would be cheaper and provide considerably greater benefit to the people of Japan, satisfying unreasonable fear seems to be the politically expedient action of choice. Many of today’s update items serve as examples…

  • The Environmental Ministry has decided to expand the decontamination zone to include all locations showing an exposure level of 1 msv/yr. The previous decon trigger point was 5 msv/yr. Demands made by local governments based on resident’s fear of radiation, have won the day and caused the change. This decision will expand the potential area of decontamination from 1,800km to 13,000 km. (JAIF) The cost of deconning efforts will also increase seven-fold…the price of soothing fears of the unknown.
  • The Ministry has also decided to take all waste incinerator ash and handle disposal themselves. Although temporary disposal methods have shown a superior level of isolation from the environment, local government refusals to identify storage sites have forced the shutdown of several waste incineration plants. Resident’s fears of radiation in the drinking water supplies are at the root of this waste constipation issue. The Environment Ministry says ash burial sites will be identified in the prefectures where the ash has been generated. The national standard for unrestricted ash disposal is 8,000 Becquerels/kilogram (Bq/kg). (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The Ministry of Agriculture standard for Cesium levels in soil for unrestricted farming has been set at 5,000 Bq/kg. For soil Cesium concentrations between 5,000 and 10,000 Bq/kg, farmers are to either plow it into the soil (which mixes it with the non-Cesium soil below the upper 5 cm) or “agitate the earth and wash it away with water”. While the Agriculture Ministry says farmers can “strip and bury topsoil” with concentrations between 5,000-10,000Bq/kg if they wish, it is not recommended. Between 10,000 and 25,000 Bq/kg, the surface of the soil is to be stripped and discarded appropriately. The deeper removal of soil down to 5 centimeters is recommended for Cesium concentrations of more than 25,000 Bq/kg. (JAIF)
  • The annual Taimatsu-akashi Festival is one of the three greatest fire celebrations in Japan and one of the most important events in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture. Every November, 30 torches (10 meters high, weighing three tons) made of locally-grown hay and other wood materials, light up the sky. In regular years, the event gathers approximately 100,000 people. However, this year’s plans have generated a local controversy. In the past, all torches were made from materials generated inside Fukushima Prefecture. But, vocal residents of Sukagawa have brought enough pressure on the City to get all torch materials from other Prefectures. The reason? Fear of Fukushima radiation, of course. When the City announced they will use torch materials from outside the prefecture, another wave of protests hit. This time, it was residents who are literally fed up. They say that fear of radiation has already done enough damage to the Prefecture’s reputation, and the City’s decision sends a message to the world that the people of Fukushima believe their own products to be unsafe. The Sukagawa Tourism Department was literally flooded with protests over the decision. “Fukushima Prefecture is trying to convince the public of the safety of local products. It’s wrong to do something that runs counter to such efforts,” one of them said. (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The IAEA has a team of decontamination experts in Japan. Team leader, Juan Carlos Lentijo of Spain’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority, commends the Japanese for what he has observed. He was troubled, however, upon visiting a school in Date, Fukushima Prefecture. The school authorities have had the school grounds stripped of topsoil down to 5cm, which has reduced the school’s radiation level by a factor of 10. The problem is that all bags of the stripped soil are piled up in the school’s gymnasium. The town’s mayor said they didn’t know what to do with it because there is no legal framework for its disposal, and parent’s fear of radiation has them at a standstill. Lentijo feels the officials are content to wait for Tokyo to make the next move, which might make political sense but does nothing to resolve the disposal issue. IAEA will submit a report on their findings when they leave on October 15 (Saturday). (Japan Times)
  • The Russian State Hermitage has canceled its exhibition of Russian Imperial glass objects at The Museum of Modern Art in Gunma Prefecture because of “radiation fears”. The reason given is that the Museum is within 250km of Fukushima Daiichi, which they feel is too close to be safe. The exhibition has been shown in Sapporo and Tokyo this past summer, without incident. (RT News services)
  • The Mayor of Tokai Village, mid-way between Tokyo and Fukushima, says he wants the Tokai Daini nuclear plant decommissioned. He says the plant is more than thirty years old, which he feels makes it unsafe. He adds his resident’s don’t trust government information any more. (JAIF) We suggest he should be given a tour of the plant and find out that nukes don’t decompose like he seems to believe. Has he ever been there, or is he merely voicing the opinion he feels will get him re-elected?
  • Eisuke Matsui, who works for the Gifu Environmental Medical Research Institute, has been interviewed by German TV. He says low level radiation is far more dangerous than has been reported because he believes mutations will occur in future generations. He also says irradiation of the testicles can cause mutations like “fingers growing out of shoulders”. (ENE News) There is no conclusive evidence to support these claims. Mutations of a monstrous nature (teratogenesis) were believed possible until 20 years ago, but human medical records have since shown the concept was wrong. In fact, radiological teratogenesis is no longer considered a possibility at radiation exposures below the levels that would cause immediate death. The German broadcast is no more than an example of presenting scary superstitions as fact. FYI, Matsui has been a critic of government radiation exposure standards for some time, and a spokesperson for the Japanese anti-nuclear SAY-Peace Project.

In other news…

  • All harvested rice from Fukushima Prefecture has been officially declared safe by the local governments. 20% of this year’s harvest contained detectable levels of Cesium isotopes, but all were below the national standard of 500 Bq/kg. The other 80% has no detectable Cesium. None of the supply came from the 20km no-go zone or the northwest evacuation corridor. (NHK News)
  • Above-normal levels of Strontium-90 isotopes have been discovered in the rooftop sediment of one home in Yokohama, south of Tokyo. The “normal” levels of Strontium-90 across Japan from historic South Pacific nuclear tests is 10-20 Becquerels, but this one sample measured 100 Becquerels. An un-named independent research group tested the sediment for the owner of the home. The Ministry of the Environment says the distance from Fukushima makes it unlikely it came from the accident, however they will be testing soil samples around the home to be sure. Strontium may be similar to Cesium chemically, but it has the property of concentrating in sediments of this type. It is possible the above-normal reading is due to natural concentration of weapon’s fallout, and has been there for years (if not decades) without the resident’s knowledge. Sr-90 has a half-life of ~29 years and remains detectably radioactive for nearly 300 years, so weapon’s fallout 40-50 years ago is still very active. (Kyodo News Service)