Fukushima Commentary 4...11/30/12-1/7/13
Topics include Japan contamination limits too low, Nuclear Regulation Authority seismic judgments, many did not heed tsunami warning, Chernobyl cancer study full of faults, conflict of interest in Japan, and more.
January 7, 2013
Japan’s Contamination Limits Way Too Low
On January 6 the Asahi Shimbun reported on wild mushrooms in Aomori Prefecture, 350 kilometers north of Fukushima Daiichi, have radioactive Cesium levels above the 100 Becquerels per kilogram national standard which could not have come from the nuclear accident. The Cesium is only isotope 137, and there is no isotope 134. If it had come from F. Daiichi both isotopes would be present, says Gakishuin University professor and researcher Yasuyuki Muramatsu. His research on the mushrooms leads him to conclude the Cesium came from other sources more than 20 years ago. If the Cesium had come from F. Daiichi, the two isotopes would have been in roughly equal concentrations. "The fact that no cesium-134 has been detected proves that the contamination happened prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident,’’ Muramatsu, 62, said. “It is from nuclear weapons tests conducted by the Soviet Union and China from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, and from the Chernobyl accident in 1986." In the 1990s, he and his team studied the effects of tiny levels of Cesium that floated in from Chernobyl. They found some mushrooms had more than 100 Bq/kg at the time, but there were no legal limits worthy of making their findings public. No one would have cared 20 years ago.
When Aomori Prefecture’s wild mushroom Cesium levels were found to be 120 Bq/kg in April, a ban was placed on their sale and consumption. Later, domestically-grown mushrooms grown in Aomori City were tested at 107 Bq/kg, so all of the prefecture’s mushrooms were added to the government’s ban on consumption and sales. In all, ten Prefectures have suffered the same government restrictions. An Aomori restaurant owner was forced to stop using Aomori mushrooms in her establishment due to the ban, but she questioned what was happening, “How can the mushrooms be contaminated when the city is so far away from the nuclear power plant?" She has been using more expensive ones shipped in from other parts of Japan that have no mushroom bans. Now, she doesn’t know what to do. Professor Muramatsu says that mushrooms grown in the vicinity of F. Daiichi will surely have accident-spawned Cesium, but he wonders how many other Prefectures like Aomori have restrictions because of levels of non-Fukushima Cesium above the new standards. The Health Ministry says, "We need to observe changes over the long term, and we want to work with relevant organizations to study (this issue)."
They should not only look at Muramatsu’s research, but also seriously reconsider the new national standards on radiological content in foods. Numerous prestigious international research organizations like the IAEA and UNSCEAR recommend the limits on radioactive Cesium levels be 1000 Bq/kg. Before the Fukushima accident, Japan generally followed the international guidelines. Because of public radiation fears broadcast in the Press after the accident, Japan cut the limit in half hoping it would have a calming influence. But the level of fear remained high, so Tokyo lowered the limits to one-tenth of the international standards. One might ask how safe are the international standards? All regulatory limits for radiation exposure are set at least 10 times lower than the hypothetical level at which negative health effects might occur, and this includes internal doses from ingestion of food and drink. The international limits are very safe. Regardless, in the hope of making their politically-vocal radiophobic demographic feel safe, Japan lowered their standards by an additional order of magnitude.
This writer has gone on record saying that Japan’s new radiation standards are unrealistically restrictive. They were not based on scientific evidence. They were created out of perceived political expediency by the regime that was summarily voted out of office last month. Thus, they are flatly arbitrary. Suddenly, we find their limits are below the levels that have safely been the case in Aomori Prefecture for at least two decades…if not considerably longer. I am convinced that as time passes, more and more evidence revealing the ridiculous nature of these too-low limits will be uncovered, not only in food contamination levels but also with their 1 millisievert per year whole body limit unnecessarily keeping Fukushima evacuees from their undamaged homes. Japan has never run a comprehensive natural background study, so they don’t know what is normal for their country and what isn’t. Whole body exposure limits, both internal and external, might be better based on the highest natural background levels where historically-healthy Japanese people have lived healthy lives for decades…centuries…in some cases millennia. The contamination levels in foodstuffs should reflect this naturally-occurring-in-Japan whole body limit. It will take considerable time and effort because they will be starting from zero, if you will, but doing anything less is disrespectful to the Japanese people.
But, what should be done in the while this research is performed? Tokyo’s former political regime went too far and allowed political expediency to confound reason. The new administration should tell the people of Japan that the old governmental regime made a horrible mistake. Japan should raise its food contamination standards back to the 500 Bq/kg level invoked soon after the Fukushima accident, at the very least. They say we should learn from our mistakes. Japan’s new government should learn from this mistake made by their political forerunners.
January 4, 2013
Should Japanese Nukes Be Scrapped Because of NRA Seismic Judgments?
Over the past month, Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority has concluded that geologic anomalies running near and under the Tsuruga and Higashidori nuclear stations might be seismic. The panel members all agreed that the bedrock cracks and “crush zones” could possibly be seismic in origin and may have moved over the past 125,000 years (Japan’s current definition of a seismically-active zone). While the science of geologic investigation stretching that far in the past is necessarily inexact, it is significant that all members of the investigative panel agreed in both counts. It is critical that their conclusions are taken seriously by both the government and the nuclear community. However, it makes no sense to cavalierly have the two nukes in question dismantled because of the possibility itself. Here’s why.
Japan’s nukes are built to the same stringent construction levels as those constructed by General Electric and Westinghouse, the two “turn-key” sources of the technology for all existent Japanese plants. Nuclear plants are never built to merely meet the design standards dictated by where they will be located. They are necessarily built to exceed all safety and siting criteria. GE and Westinghouse have long speculated that their designs would probably survive earthquakes as severe as 9 on the Richter scale. Until March 11, 2011, this assumption had never been put to the test. The Great East Japan Earthquake of 3/11/11 unsuspectingly did just that! Three multi-unit nuclear stations on the Tohoku coast were subject to a quake of 9 on the Richter scale, which was roughly five times more energetic than the 8.3 Richter scale worst-case estimates for the subduction zone. Onagawa station, the one nearest the subduction zone epicenter, survived the massive temblor essentially unscathed. The same can safely be said for the Fukushima Daiini station, 10 kilometers south of F. Daiichi. The records kept by the control room staff and emergency management team at F. Daiichi immediately following the earthquake’s peak also show no indication of damage or integrity compromise to the reactors and their emergency cooling systems. All nukes, even those 40 or more years old, are built to exceed the design requirements because it makes no sense to merely meet them and run the risk of not being allowed to operate. We now know this widely-held construction rule was the case in Japan and it kept the three most-at-risk nuclear stations from earthquake damage on 3/11/11.
The NRA should not forget these things when making decisions as to the operational viability of a nuke station. But, there is even more that should be considered. Perhaps the most important thing has to do with the underlying geology itself. Just what is the seismic potential of discovered anomalies? It took a subduction zone displacement/rupture about 400 kilometers long and 50 kilometers wide, allowing the upper plate to shift as much as 40 meters across the fault plane, to produce the worst Japanese earthquake in 450 years.1,2 It is unlikely that any of the faults, cracks and crush zones relative to any of the nuke sites in Japan could produce such a monstrous earthquake themselves. Based on this, I will make the following suggestion.
First, the NRA should establish the severity of worst-case earthquakes that the seams and/or crush zones relative to Tsuruga and Higashidori can produce. Next, multiply the severity of the hypothetical quakes by a factor of five, for the purpose of reasonable conservatism based on the 3/11/11 earthquake experience. Set that as the site-specific seismic restart criteria for each of the nukes in question. Granted, it will take more work to set site-specific standards than creating generic, nation-wide criteria. But, in this case it makes all the sense in the world. If the in-question structures, as they currently exist, can survive these conservative seismic assumptions, then the plants should pass the restart criteria relative to possible earthquakes despite the underlying geologic anomalies. If an existing unit does not pass the new site-specific standard, then the plant operators should be given the option of either upgrading structural and/or system integrity to exceed the site-specific standards or decommissioning. Japan’s teetering electrical infrastructure and faltering economy seem to demand it.
- Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami Event Recap Report; AON Benfield Limited; London; United Kingdom; August 30, 2011. (PDF download from thoughtfulleadership.aonbenfield.com)
- Estimating insured Losses from the Tohoku, Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: RMS Special Report; Risk management Solutions, Inc.; San Francisco, California; April, 2011. www.rms.com/Publications/2011TohokuReport_041111.pdf
Suggested Japanese Nuclear New Year’s Resolutions
One of the western traditions as New Year’s approaches is to make resolutions, to be kept over the course of the following 365 days. Here are a few nuclear energy resolutions I suggest for Japan…
For the Nuclear Regulatory Authority – (a) Create the new safety regulations based on scientific understanding, and avoid being swayed by political expediency, news media rhetoric, a minority of politically-active voices, or apocalyptic fantasies spawned by international prophets of nuclear energy doom. (b) Make “what is” the critical regulatory criteria, and shun all what-if scenarios predicated on exaggeration and confabulation. (c) Avoid drawing conclusions based on a lack of evidence. Just because one cannot prove something is not happening is no reason to assume that it is happening.
For the new Tokyo government - (a) Allow the NRA to do their job and treat them as the independent body of experts they are supposed to be. (b) Cease the continual lowering of national radiation exposure standards just to soothe the radiophobic fears of a minority of your people. International standards are necessarily set at least an order of magnitude below any level that has actually hurt anyone. Making Japan’s exposure standards as much two to ten times lower than the rest of the world does not make it safer for your public. It only serves to give political credibility to Japan’s radiophobic minority and makes tsunami recovery outside of Fukushima Prefecture unnecessarily difficult.
For the Japanese people - Demand full, unbiased education on the realities of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation. We exist in a naturally radioactive universe. Millions of people world-wide live long, healthy lives in naturally-occurring radiation fields 50 to 100 times higher than the politically-expedient, fear-soothing one millisievert per year exposure standard arbitrarily set by Tokyo. Your government has intentionally kept you in the dark about the realities of radiation since World War II. You have never been provided with an education about radiation exposure in any way, shape or form. All you have been allowed to know concerns the fallout caused by nuclear weapon’s explosions, which is not radiation itself. Exercise your right to know about radiation. Make being educated about radiation a public mandate. If those in office won’t do it, vote them out of office and vote in those who will.
For the Japanese Press – (a) Curtail the practice of incessantly summarizing the Fukushima accident in all articles about Fukushima Daiichi or related to F. Daiichi. The Japanese Press incessantly reiterates how the accident happened in each and every article they post concerning F. Daiichi, radiation, tsunami debris disposal, and just about any other issue they can connect the accident to. The public already knows the scenario, for crying out loud. Does the Press think their readers are stupid? This uncompromising behavior has reached the point of insulting the Japanese public at large. If something new and important emerges about the accident itself, then re-iterating the accident scenario might make sense. In all other cases, leave it at the door! (b) Instead, focus heavily on the continuing lack of success with the disposal of tsunami debris in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures due to fear of the possibility of detectable levels of radiation. The inaction with tsunami debris disposal condoned by the former government in Tokyo should be exchanged for positive action, and the Press should trumpet this issue loud and long. Anything less is a moral disservice to the more than 200,000 people in the two prefectures who remain displaced because of Tokyo’s failure to act.
A “Mindset” That May Have Killed Thousands
This past July, the Chair of the Diet’s Fukushima Accident Investigative Committee, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, said that the “ingrained conventions” of Japanese culture were at least partly to blame for the Fukushima accident. To be precise, his preface to the NAIIC report said, “One could say the true cause of the accident lurked in the ‘Mindset’ that has been developed within our Japanese social structure. It is time for us to face reality and adapt our way of thinking toward a new Japan, with humility, for the sake of our children who are tasked with creating the future.” Dr. Kurokawa was subsequently chastised in the popular Press, both inside and outside Japan, for his opinion. There is no doubt that the tsunami-spawned accident at F. Daiichi could have been avoided if the utility (Tepco) and the government watchdog (NISA) had implemented emergency power reliability upgrades strongly suggested by the international community more than a decade before 3/11/11. Both parties felt “rare-but-not-impossible” tsunamis were too unlikely to invest money into the upgrades. The Press focused on this conflict of interest almost exclusively, so when Kurokawa posted his stunning opinion in the NAIIC report’s preface, it was speculated that he may have been trying to deflect accident culpability away from those already condemned and blame Japan-itself for the accident.
This past week, another startling revelation has come to light which may show that Kurokawa was on to something profound. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office (CAO) ran a survey of more than 11,000 Iwate, Fukushima and Miyagi Prefecture residents who were impacted by the tsunami. The CAO found that 43% did not believe a tsunami was coming after the earthquake of 3/11/11, and did not try to evacuate. Nearly half admitted they decided to not evacuate because there had been no tsunamis following earthquakes of the past. Some others who did not immediately evacuate said it was because they did not know of the tsunami warning due to the electrical blackout that struck the eastern Tohoku region because of the earthquake-itself. The question we should now ask is this - how many of those who died because of the 3/11/11 tsunami made no attempt to flee, and further how many of them would be alive today if they had fled?
Clearly, the CAO survey shows there was a mindset at work with respect to those who did not flee before the tsunami hit. No doubt, many non-evacuators had the “it never happened before” or “I live high enough above sea level” mentality, but another more insidious social paradigm may well-have exacerbated the situation. Japan is a nation of frequent earthquakes. On the whole, it may be the most earthquake-prone country on Earth. Japan has long-prided itself as having the most earthquake-and-tsunami protected population in the world. Great buildings were constructed over many decades to handle severe temblors, and major sea-walls were built to protect towns and cities from giant waves. The consensus opinion was that several-meters-high sea walls were sufficient shields against the worst water surges imaginable, and anyone living more than 20 feet above sea level were absolutely safe. This mindset was dashed to ashes on 3/11/11. For many locations along the Tohoku coast, existing tsunami sea-walls were quite adequate: e.g. the ones at the F. Daini and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear stations. But others were woefully inadequate, such as the several meters-high sea-walls around Sendai City and the one that collapsed at F. Daiichi. Yes, two men were drowned by the tsunami at F. Daiichi, but thousands died at Sendai due to insufficient tsunami prevention. How many of Sendai’s dead decided to not evacuate? How many would be alive today had they heeded the tsunami warnings?
Many decades of strong earthquakes and a few several-meter-high tsunamis along the Japanese coast demonstrated that Japan’s protective measures against the reasonably anticipatable were more than adequate. This necessarily engendered a sense of security that cannot be over-stated…a cultural mindset that may well have caused thousands of needless deaths on March 11, 2011. The words of Dr. Kurokawa flooded through my mind as soon as I read the CAO survey results. Unquestionably, there was a cultural false sense of security that permeated Tohoku’s coastal society relative to tsunamis, and thousands died unnecessarily as a result. This does not in any way diminish Tepco’s and the government’s culpability for the F. Daiichi accident. Their lack of fore-sight made the nuclear accident possible. Yet, we should not cavalierly dismiss Dr. Kurokawa’s “cultural mindset” notion. It surely contributed to the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi. More importantly, it contributed to the massive death toll all along the Tohoku coast due to a “rare-but-not-impossible” tsunami.
Latest Chernobyl Cancer Study Contains Numerous Problems
A published research paper entitled “Radiation and the Risk of Chronic Lymphocytic and other Leukemias among Chernobyl Cleanup Workers”(1) (here-in, The Report) has stirred international interest due to its declaring there is a significantly elevated incidence of leukemia with Chernobyl cleanup workers, especially Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, due to low level radiation (LLR) exposure. Cyber-colleague Rod Adams has detailed The Report’s unconventional conclusion quite well in his November 9 posting(2), but made no judgment as to its veracity. Recently, the Ukrainian Radiation Protection Society revealed problems which taints The Report’s authenticity, including; (a) errors in the estimated values of relative risk, (b) incorrect “fitting” of dose distribution, and (c) large errors in hidden dose calculations based on a questionable methodology.(3) However, this writer has found additional problems in The Report that also bear public exposure.
To provide background: adult leukemia has been extensively studied and documented for many decades. The most common form is called Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), which constitutes about 45% of all adult leukemia cases and is the best-understood of them all. (NIOSH, CDC, NCI, ACS) While the incidence of leukemia in general was elevated with Hiroshima/Nagasaki bomb survivors, there was no increase in CLL. As a result, all scientific organizations rejected the notion of CLL being caused by LLR until the mid-1990s when a few speculative reports were published saying CLL/LLR link might be possible. NIOSH held a public debate on the conjectural papers in 1994, the panelists of which agreed that a CLL/LLR connection was speculative and inconclusive. Another wave of hypothetical reports on the possibility of a CLL/LLR connection began to re-emerge in 2004, resulting in NIOSH/CDC studies which once again found there was nothing conclusive to suggest an actual relationship.
Returning to the topic-at-hand, The Report says “…risks associated with protracted exposures, and associations between radiation and chronic lymphocytic leukemia are not clear.” The Report’s researchers refer to several papers published between 2005 and 2009 as being supportive of this claim. It turns out that only one of the cited references is in any way supportive. None of the rest can be correctly identified as correlative. In particular, The Report references elevated leukemia with LLR exposures to nuclear industry workers. I investigated their posted references of support on nuclear worker data [Cardis (2007), Muirhead (2009), Linet (2009), Jacob (2009), Krestinia (2010), and Richardson (2009)], and found the only one remotely corroborative is Richardson. Richardson contains but a partial sentence which says “…there is not a persuasive basis for the conclusion that CLL is a non-radiogenic form of cancer,”, but it does not say there is evidence for a CLL/LLR connection, either. On the other hand, Muirhead said there was no statistical basis for a CLL/LLR relationship and two others don’t mention CLL at all (Linet; Jacob). Cardis includes CLL in the types cancer studied, but only lung cancer, multiple myeloma and “ill-defined and secondary cancers” were found to have a statistically supportive relationship with LLR…not CLL. All referred papers did say that more study on LLR and leukemia-in-general is needed, but that’s a ubiquitous phrase common to nearly all modern science papers regardless of topic. To make matters worse, The Report also references a 2010 UNSCEAR report on low level radiation exposure and leukemia as being supportive of their “unclear” CLL/LLR claim. UNSCEAR’s report does just the opposite. UNSCEAR 2010 concludes that high-exposure Chernobyl data does not differ from Hiroshima/Nagasaki data which showed no CLL/LLR connection. In addition, UNSCEAR says the low doses experienced by the vast majority of Chernobyl clean-up workers were equivalent to those naturally experienced in China and India which show no increased risk of leukemia. To put it bluntly, UNSCEAR 2010 makes no statement that even remotely supports The Report’s claim of a connection between CLL and LLR. Thus, I must conclude that The Report’s listing of supportive references with respect to its claim of a CLL/LLR relationship being “not clear” is materially incorrect.
Another problem concerns The Report making no mention of a comparison between the frequencies of leukemia in male Chernobyl workers versus its frequency within the non-irradiated male public at large. NCI and NIOSH say the natural occurrence is about 1,500 total leukemia cases per 100,000 individuals over their lifetime (~75 years). The frequency in men is double that of women, so 1,000 leukemias can be reasonably expected among 100,000 men over a typical lifetime. This equates to an incidence in men of about 13.5 leukemias per year in a population of 100,000. With the 20 years of data used in The Report, covering over 110,000 male Chernobyl workers (the “cohort”), there should have been at least 300 total cases of leukemia…but there were only 162 among the Chernobyl worker cohort! Further, the frequency of CLL for men is established at roughly 6.5 per 100,000 per year. Out of 110,000 Chernobyl clean-up workers, roughly 140 should have contracted CLL over the 20 years following the accident in the Ukraine. However, The Report documents only 79 CLLs. Total numbers of any disease in a large body of cases will necessarily fluctuate some 15-20% over time. However, the extreme degree of fluctuation here strongly suggests that there is no statistical possibility which could show a leukemia/LLR or CLL/LLR relationship exists with respect to the Chernobyl workers. Why does The Report fail to make a comparison between typical non-irradiated leukemia statistics and those gleaned from Chernobyl worker records at all? It appears The Report looks at Chernobyl in isolation from all necessarily-related statistics: a critical omission that can only have been intentional.
Two key lessons should be learned here. First, references of support for any paper making a sensational claim that flies in the face of the historical record should be closely examined for correctness before a Journal publishes it. Second, drawing any conclusion on cancer incidence without comparing to the world’s characteristic, cohort-specific rate of cancer incidence is presumptuous, at best.
- NIOSH – National Institute of Occupational Health and safety
- CDC – Center for Disease Control
- NCI – National Cancer Institute
- ACS – American Cancer Society
- UNSCEAR – United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation
- RADRUE – Realistic Analytical Dose Reconstruction with Uncertainty Estimation
- ERR/Gy – Excess Relative Risk per Gray (sievert equivalent)
- “Radiation and the Risk of Chronic Lymphocytic and other Leukemias among Chernobyl Cleanup Workers”; Environmental Health Perspectives; November 8, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1204996
- Adams, Rod; “Out of 110,645 Chernobyl clean-up workers, 19 might have contracted radiation related leukemia”; Atomic Insights; November 9, 2012. http://atomicinsights.com/2012/11/even-in-science-there-is-room-for-an-english-major-who-can-parse-words.html
- “Do leukemia effects at low doses look convincing?”; Ukrainian Radiation Protection Society; December 9, 2012. http://urps-notices.blogspot.com/2012/12/do-look-leukemia-effects-at-low-doses-convincing.html?goback=%2Egde_117546_member_195635885
- Cardis, et el; “The 15-Country Collaborative Study of Cancer Risk among Radiation Workers in the Nuclear Industry: Estimates of Radiation-Related Cancer Risks”; Official Journal of the Radiation Research Society; April, 2007. http://www.rrjournal.org/doi/abs/10.1667/RR0553.1
- Muirhead, et al; “Mortality and cancer incidence following occupational radiation exposure: third analysis of the National Registry for Radiation Workers”; British Journal of Cancer; January 13, 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2634664/
- Linet, et al; “Children’s Exposure to Diagnostic Medical Radiation and Cancer Risk: Epidemiologic and Dosimetric Considerations”; US National Library of Medicine; December 16, 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2814780/
- Richardson, et al; “Ionizing Radiation and Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia”; Environmental Health Perspectives; January, 2005. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1253701/
- Jacob, et al; “Is cancer risk of radiation workers larger than expected?”; US National Library of Medicine: December, 2009. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776242/
- “SEER Fact Sheets: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia”; National Cancer Institute; http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/clyl.html
- “Leukemia – Chronic Lymphocytic”; American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/leukemia-chroniclymphocyticcll/detailedguide/index
- “RADRUE Method for Reconstruction of External Photon Doses to Chernobyl Liquidators in Epidemiological Studies”; US National Library of Medicine; October, 2010. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2930607/
A Phantom Conflict of Interest in Japan
The international Press reports that a “potential conflict of interest” was “buried” in last year’s 600-page congressional investigation into the Fukushima accident. Doctor Hisako Sakiyama, one of the 10 members of the Diet’s investigation team, has told the Associated Press that one sentence in the report shows that Japanese nuclear utilities paid for scientist’s trips to the headquarters of the International Council on Radiation Protection during the years before 3/11/11. Sakiyama is “outraged” about nuclear utility-funding for Japan’s ICRP members and suspects it compromised their objectivity in setting the nation’s new radiological health standards. She feels the standards were set to limit the high cost of evacuations during nuclear accidents. "The assertion of the utilities became the rule. That's ethically unacceptable. People's health is at stake," she said. "The view was twisted so it came out as though there is no clear evidence of the risks, or that we simply don't know." Sakiyama says that Japanese ICRP members believe low-dose radiation is harmless, but the ICRP-itself says the health risk only becomes zero with zero exposure. But, she’s confusing conservative risk assessment with actual health effects, and making a phantom conflict-of-interest issue in the process.
The ICRP has repeatedly stressed that their methodologies used to estimate risk should never be applied to actual health effects. ICRP recommendations for health standards are set significantly below any level of radiation exposure that has ever actually produced negative health impacts. Japan has adopted the ICRP recommendation of one millisievert per year for whole body exposure, in addition to natural background radiation levels. The international “average” for natural background exposure, used by the ICRP, is 2.4 millisieverts per year. Japan’s official “average” natural background is posted at 1.5 mSv/yr. Thus, Japan’s whole body exposure limit is a full mSv/yr. lower that the ICRP recommendation implies. Further, Japan’s limits on food contamination are ten times lower than the ICRP recommendations. How does this indicate a conflict of interest and compromised health standards in order to save money? Simply put…it doesn’t. One sentence in a 600-page document does not eliminate the evidence at-hand. If there were an actual conflict of interest, Japan’s radiation exposure standards would not be less than those recommended by the ICRP.
The ICRP members in Japan who made the trips in question are understandably upset. Scientist Ohtsura Niwa acknowledged that the utilities pay for flights and hotels to ICRP meetings, but he denied that it influences his science. He stands behind his view that radiation worries concerning Fukushima are overblown. He also feels there are powers in the government who want the public to believe the dangers of radiation are worse than reality in order to justify the government’s unnecessary evacuation of thousands around Fukushima Daiichi. Niwa - the only Japanese member to sit on the ICRP’s main committee - spends thousands of dollars per year of his own money on ICRP projects and Fukushima decontamination research, but Sakiyama fails to recognize his personal sacrifice. If she did, her allegation of a “potential conflict of interest” would collapse.
It is important to add that the ICRP takes no stand on any nation’s policy and will not comment on this new controversy. However, the ICRP’s most recent report on recommended radiation standards says, "Health risks from annual radiation exposure of 20 millisieverts, the current level for issuance of orders to evacuate an affected area, are quite small particularly when compared against the risks from other carcinogenic factors." French ICRP member Jauques Lochard says the risk at 20 mSv is low, but he believes it is not zero. On the other hand, Japanese ICRP member Kazuo Sakai says he wants to debunk the generally-accepted view voiced by Lochard and others that cancer incidence follows the “linear/no threshold” model used to set health standards. He calls the model a “mere tool” and has never been shown to be scientifically sound, and that recent research reports indicate low level exposures are completely safe. Sakai admits he worked for Japan’s Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry from 1999-2006. However, his contract made it clear that his science would never be compromised by utility pressure, and he stresses that it never was.
Niwa says he believes the actual negative impacts caused by the low level exposures experienced by Fukushima residents include facing discrimination in marriage elsewhere in Japan due to unfounded fears about radiation and genetic defects. He adds that news reports, such as those about non-cancerous thyroid nodules found in Fukushima children, have amplified fears. Yoshiharu Yonekura, president of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences and another ICRP member, states that thyroid nodule frequencies normally vary and the numbers coming out of Fukushima are to be expected in any closely-monitored population. Yonekura goes further by saying, "Low-dose radiation may be even good for you."
It seems that Ms. Sakiyama’s sensational public allegation of a conflict of interest seems incredible. It does little more than further promote distrust with respect to the nuclear community in Japan. What’s more important – a potentiality based on thin evidence or the actual professional record of those involved?
Japan’s Press fails to make nuclear energy the top election issue
Last month, the Asahi Shimbun polled the 50 major News Media outlets in Japan and found 95% admitting they were antinuclear. After Prime Minister Noda “dissolved” the Diet’s lower house to make way for the national election on December 16, the Press has done its best to make it seem that Japan’s nuclear energy policy issue is the one of greatest importance. The Japanese press at-large reported that new antinuclear parties have a real chance to win enough congressional seats which would keep any single party from winning a majority. This would place the Diet in a coalition state and make the new Prime Minister a compromise figure, all of which would allow antinuclear politicians to have significant influence over Japan’s energy future. However, the Press seems to have failed in their mission to put the nuclear issue at the head of the political pack.
Despite the Press focusing on “third party” antinuclear figures since campaigning officially began this past Monday, it now seems the nuclear-neutral Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) will win a majority of seats in the December 16th election, making a coalition government appear unlikely. New polls run by Kyodo News and Yomiuri Shimbun reveal that the now-ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will experience a demoralizing defeat and the new antinuclear parties will suffer even worse. Currently, the DPJ holds 230 seats in the lower house of the Japanese Diet, which is similar to America’s House of Representatives. However, the new polls show that the DPJ will only win somewhere between 50 and 70 seats. On the other hand, both polls indicate that the LDP could win as many as 300 seats, if not more, making them a clear majority party in the 480-seat house. As a result, DPJ party leader and current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will be swept out of office and replaced by conservative LDP head Shinzo Abe. Most Press outlets were surprised at these results, which contradicted their previous election news emphasis. But, diehards literally die hard. The Mainichi Shimbun, arguably the most ardently antinuclear of Japan’s major newspapers, reported the poll results while adding that the LDP seems poised to win “…despite its lack of commitment to phasing out nuclear power in the wake of last year's Fukushima disaster.” It seems that at least some of the Japanese Press will continue to promote antinuclear issues regardless of public opinion.
The LDP held sway in Tokyo for more than 50 years before the DPJ came into power in the last national election of 2009. It seems that after three years of experience with a strongly-liberal regime, Japan may be poised to bring conservatism back to the political fore-front. One of the new “third parties”, the Japan Restoration Party created by Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara, looks likely to win less than 50 seats – merely a third of the 150 its party leaders have been projecting through the Media. And, the brand-new antinuclear Tomorrow Party, created by Shiga governor Yukiko Kada, can only hope to win no more than 15 seats instead of Ms. Kada’s projections for 50-to-100 repeatedly reported by the news media.
Should the new survey’s results be taken seriously? The Kyodo News poll contacted nearly 125,000 eligible voters, selected randomly from across Japan. The Yomiuri Shimbun randomly telephoned nearly 160,000 “households”. Unlike many other recent News Media polls appealing to only the most politically-determined subscribers, Kyodo and Yomiuri followed scientific protocols and came up with results that fly in the face of the Japanese Press’ intent. Could it be that Japan’s Press has skewed the reality relative to the political direction the public will actually take in two weeks? Is it possible that the future of Japan’s energy policy is not the most important election issue in the public mind? Has the nuclear energy issue been blown out of proportion by the Japanese Press? It seems the answer to all three questions is a qualified “Yes”.
What is a “qualified yes”? Kyodo News reports that some 55% of the people contacted said they had yet to make up their minds about who they will vote for. Yomiuri says 30% of those contacted have not decided as yet. The Asahi Shimbun says there is a 40% rate of undecided voters. Japan has twelve official political parties, a half-dozen of which have a significant number of supporters. Thus it should be expected that a significant percentage of voters need time to wade through the available slate of candidates and issues before making a decision. Campaigning began just this past Monday, so the finding of a significant percentage of undecided voters should come as no surprise. Consider the final month of incessant political campaign ads, phone calls, and internet politicking we experienced in America before the recent national election…concentrated into but two weeks! Japan’s political media-blitzing will surely be omnipresent and oppressive.
Historically, the undecided demographic can be unpredictable, but not numerically earth-shattering. The undecided voters can have a major impact come election day, as they did last month when Barak Obama literally won by a near-landslide. All pre-election guestimates said it was too close to call, so a small percentage “swing” by undecided voters had a huge impact on the American election’s outcome. However, when scientific pre-election polling reveals a powerful likelihood, the undecided demographic has relatively little impact on the outcome. This suggests that the two major poll’s findings may very well be prophetic come December 16th. It looks likely that the LDP will win a majority in the Diet greater than the one now held by PM Noda’s DPJ, and Shinzo Abe will be the new prime minister.
The bottom line seems to be this – focusing on the Japanese who have made up their minds, numbering more than 155,000 eligible voters, it is clear that the people want a return to political conservatism. It is also clear that nuclear energy is not the most important issue in in the public mind, ranking behind the state of the economy, potential tax increases, and the military tensions between Japan and China. What happens to the current regime’s no-nukes policy if-and-when the nuclear-neutral LDP wins the election should be very, very interesting.
What Lessons can American Scientists Learn from Japan?
A fact-finding contingent from America’s National Academy of Sciences is in Japan hoping to realize lessons that will improve nuclear plant safety in the United States. However, a statement made by group head Norman Neureiter makes us wonder about what might be “learned” concerning Japan’s response to low level radiation exposure, “Because after a thing like this in Japan and a damage and human losses and continuing radiation and all of these things, people will have more and more questions about nuclear energy. So, to draw the conclusion from this investigation hopefully useful lessons which can be applied to elsewhere to make sure nothing like this happens again.” Will the NAS team realize what other prestigious investigators have learned – the most severe health effect spawned by the government’s response to Fukushima Daiichi is unnecessary psychological damage?
Case-in-point – A new International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) report on the low level radiation situation in Japan. It says, “The substantial biological, epidemiological, and ethical foundations supporting the basic notion of the nominal risk coefficients used for radiological protection purposes were misunderstood by the public at large in Japan, and the media unfortunately contributed to this misunderstanding. Since the accident, hypothetical estimates of future casualties due to the accident have been made. They oscillated between some tens of cases in the peer reviewed literature to half a million in reports by the media. These alarmist and unfounded theoretical calculations have caused severe emotional distress in the Japanese population." ICRP lays considerable blame on the Japanese news media and internet sources for trumpeting these irrational speculations, making them seem to be reasonable and factual to the people of Japan. This caused considerable misunderstanding which compelled Tokyo to try and soothe public fears by continually lowering national radiation exposure limits, when they would have performed a greater public good by educating Japan about radiological realities.
In addition, ICRP takes Tokyo to task for bewildering their people during the chaotic, over-reactive evacuation sequences following 3/11/11. “People living in the affected areas were confused with the logic behind the restrictions applied to individual doses, in what was a mixture of pre-emergency, emergency and post-emergency protection policies…There seems considerable discrepancy in understanding the dose value of 1 mSv/y. The general public and society at large tend to regard a dose above this value dangerous, and consequently this creates a lot of complications in coping with radiological events.” Needless to say, the Tokyo mandated, over-reactive F. Daiichi evacuations initiated the psychological damage, which was subsequently exacerbated by phobic fears promoted by the Japanese Press.
At this point, we should note a recent conversation between cyber-colleague Rod Adams of Atomic Insights, and noted nuclear professional Ted Rockwell, “In every ‘nuclear disaster’ radiation injured few if any people, whereas overplayed FEAR of radiation had disastrous impact, ruining the lives of thousands. A recent study showed that people who refused to evacuate Chernobyl were happier and outlived the evacuees by 20 years, while the evacuees themselves were depressed and suicidal. There is nothing else that is as central to the issue as that one fact. It should not be skewed by unreasonable premises.” Clearly, the ICRP is not alone in their realization that severe psychological distress fomented by fear of radiation exposure is the most significant health impact of nuclear power plant accidents.
Finally, ICRP stresses the importance of psychological consequences, “The radiation exposure situations created by the accident…seems to be producing serious psychological consequences in the affected population. The psychological consequences include the same type of outcomes observed in other similar situations, such as depression, grieving [for tsunami victims], post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic anxiety, sleep disturbances, severe headaches, and increased smoking and alcohol use. However, in many areas some other outcomes are observable, such as intense anger, despair, long-term anxiety about [personal] health and health of children and, in particular, stigma and discrimination.” ICRP references a recent report by Japan’s Reconstruction Agency which indicates that psychological stress is the biggest ill-health factor for the people of Japan. Perhaps the most significant ICRP statement along these lines is this - “The accident has reconfirmed that psychological consequences are a major outcome of major radiation accidents. While they are health effects in their own right, they are basically ignored in radiological protection recommendations and standards.” (emphasis added)
Will the NAS come to similar conclusions? Will they recommend that post-accident psychological distress should be considered through pro-active public education, and not wait until the next accident happens? We can only hope they do.
- US Scientists find lessons from Fukushima nuclear crisis - http://www.japantoday.com/category/national/view/u-s-scientists-find-lessons-from-fukushima-nuclear-crisis
- Report of ICRP Task Group 84 on Initial Lessons Learned from the Nuclear Power Plant Accident in Japan… - http://www.icrp.org/docs/ICRP%20TG84%20Summary%20Report.pdf
- Fear of radiation has ruined far more lives than exposure to radiation - http://atomicinsights.com/2012/11/fear-of-radiation-has-ruined-far-more-lives-than-radiation-has.html#more-13148