Tag Archives: radiation

New Normal in Japan After Fukushima

Just Keep Smiling

Common Dreams

Fukushima’s disaster task force has started issuing leaflets with a bird character called Kibitan telling children to stay away from pools and ditches where radioactive cesium from the damaged nuclear power plant might have accumulated.

The smiling, round Kibitan explains why radiation is dangerous, urging children to make a habit of washing their hands and gargling their mouths after coming in from the outdoors.

Radiation can make people sick if allowed to get inside their body, says the cartoon bird, which is a variant of the local narcissus flycatcher.

The bird is definitely well-informed on the dangers of radiation, and the autoradiographs of a dead Fukushima flycatcher posted in April by a Japanese photojournalist confirm that.

Below are the photos, from the blog Fukushima Diary.

‘hot’ enough to develop photo paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Ghostly Outline

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cute public safety cartoons in this century are as sinister as Duck and Cover was in the last. But it’s not all bad. You can send away for a pocket geiger on your cell phone.

From here in Rhode Island, it’s hard to vet internet content of blogs from Japan. On American news sites Fukushima is completely off the radar. On Japanese sites like Japan Times and Daily Yomiuri the nuclear crisis is off the front page but continues to develop. Japanese citizen journalists say their government is not giving them the whole truth. The news stream at Uhohjapan2 blog is deeply frightening.

The people of Japan have suffered enough in the wake of the disasters of 2011. They should not be further harmed by panic and despair. But the people of Japan are owed the truth. The world, also, needs to know the true extent of the nuclear contamination from the Fukushima disaster. Nations are rushing to build more nuclear plants, for energy and for war.

During the last presidential debate, when the topic was energy, I noticed an interesting omission from President Obama. He did not say the ‘N’ word. He did not mention nuclear power. Mitt Romney did, at least twice.

President Obama did support nuclear power as part of the mix, but I wonder if the global picture is looking different now. The economic costs and ongoing environmental effects will slow the rush to nuclear.

The Fukushima disaster is not over, but if we are lucky the damage will be limited, and if we are wise we will learn that dangerous, expensive and centralized power is not the way.

No Immediate Threat

Just by comparison, there’s no immediate threat in cigarettes, asbestos, lead paint and small doses of arsenic or mercury. From the Japan Times…

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cesium spikes in Tokyo Bay samples
Contamination linked to Fukushima plant; no immediate threat to health

By JUN HONGO
Staff writer

Sludge samples taken at the mouths of two major rivers emptying into Tokyo Bay showed radioactive cesium contamination linked to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant crisis grew by 1.5 to 13 times since August, a researcher at Kinki University said Monday.

The contamination poses no immediate health risk since no seafood from Tokyo Bay has seen contamination levels exceed the government-set threshold. But close, long-term monitoring of the seabed mud is needed, said Hideo Yamazaki, professor at Kinki University’s Research Institute for Science and Technology.

“Contamination is flowing into the bay from rivers, including the Edogawa River, where cities with high radiation levels like Kashiwa (in Chiba Prefecture) are located upstream,” Yamazaki told The Japan Times.

“Contaminated sludge appears to be . . . accumulating on the bottom at the mouth of the rivers,” he added.

But that’s far away in Japan. No problem here, right? Thomas D. Elias in The Mercury News.com reports from California…

Anyone looking for the most under-reported story of the spring in California need venture no farther than the tall stalks of kelp swaying back and forth just beneath the ocean surface along much of the California coast.

Fish eat kelp; so do small crustaceans near the bottom of the food chain which themselves are later consumed by larger fish that sometimes become food for humans. The largely neglected news story is that it’s been somewhat radioactive off and on for months and it concentrates Iodine 131 isotopes at levels 10,000 times higher than what’s in the surrounding water.

At the same time, steam generator problems have kept the San Onofre nuclear generating station near the Orange-San Diego county line closed for three months, with no reopening in sight as California heads into the summer season of peak electricity consumption. This combination of events ought to have California authorities deeply questioning the state’s heavy reliance on power from both San Onofre and the Diablo Canyon atomic plant on the Central Coast.

There’s no easy way to solve our energy problems, but unless we take it on faith that titanic nuclear plants are unsinkable we have to look at diverse, local and conserving answers.

Protecting Their Children in Fukushima

Much has been said about the cooperation and trust in government shown by the people of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Those were unstoppable natural disasters.

The man-made disaster at Fukushima is proving that parents everywhere are protective of their children..

A huge outcry is erupting in Fukushima over what parents say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation. The issue has prompted unusually direct confrontations in this conflict-averse society, and has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

At issue are updated government guidelines that allow schoolchildren to be exposed to radiation doses that are more than 20 times the previously permissible levels. That dose is equal to the international standard for adult nuclear power plant workers.

Toshiso Kosako, the expert adviser to the prime minister, resigned in tears over the relaxation of radiation standards for children.

The people of Fukushima will not suffer quietly any more.

It’s hard to find information about radiation and children, I believe that is because there is little economic interest in uncovering hazards past and present except among advocates for communities that have been affected. Much of what’s out there is partisan. I’m going to write more about the anti-nuclear position, but in this post all the following references are from .gov websites. Our government has mostly promoted nuclear power and downplayed the risks– which gives these examples even more weight.

A COMPARISON: A study from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health recommends limiting children’s exposure to radiation from diagnostic imaging tests…

Radiation exposure is a concern in both adults and children. However, there are three unique considerations in children.

Children are considerably more sensitive to radiation than adults, as demonstrated in epidemiologic studies of exposed populations.

Children also have a longer life expectancy than adults, resulting in a larger window of opportunity for expressing radiation damage.

Children receive a higher dose than necessary when adult CT settings are used for children.

As a result, the risk for developing a radiation-related cancer can be several times higher for a young child compared with an adult exposed to an identical CT scan.

EPIDEMIOLOGY: The American Journal of Public Health has an article, History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People. (not free to copy, but you can read it in PDF format)

The article does not address effects on children in the vicinity, but does describe a spike in lung cancer cases in uranium miners that began about ten years after Navajo men began to work in the mines. Confounding the issue is the fact that statistically the cancer rate was lower than for whites, because Navajo men on average were light or infrequent smokers compared to the white men studied. The research findings eventually led to better ventilation in the mines, and a drop in new cases of lung cancer. This was not obtained quickly or without effort, it was the result of decades of fighting the denial, inertia and vested interests that allowed mine owners to expose workers to a toxin recognized since the 1930′s.

This is also a reminder that ‘natural background radiation’ is not harmless because it is natural. Workers who spent their days inhaling uranium dust died needlessly for lack of protection.

Other Americans call themselves ‘downwinders’ because they lived in the path of fallout from nuclear testing during the Cold War…

Relatively few Iron County residents were aware of or concerned about nuclear testing when the first mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the western skies and drifted to the northeast in 1951, but the cloud figuratively remains over southern Utah and Nevada to this day. Residents live with every day what the cloud left behind that the eye could not see. There are no southwestern Utah neighborhoods or communities that have not been touched by the tragedy of cancer or birth defects or lingering bitterness over human and financial losses.

The parents of Fukushima are right to mistrust authorities that worldwide have motivations to downplay problems. They are not alone, and they might surprise the world with their determination to seek justice and demand the truth.

Nuclear Safety

This story caught my eye because I’m a nurse now, but years ago worked as a motel maid. I can easily imagine a pregnant, minimum-wage worker making beds or sorting laundry in a motel, with no one aware there might be a hazard. Here’s from Associated Press…

WASHINGTON – Reports of thyroid cancer patients setting off radiation alarms and contaminating hotel rooms are prompting the agency in charge of nuclear safety to consider tighter rules.
A congressional investigation made public Wednesday found that patients sent home after treatment with radioactive iodine have contaminated unsuspecting hotel guests and set off alarms on public transportation.
They’ve come into close contact with vulnerable people, including pregnant women and children, and trash from their homes has triggered radiation detectors at landfills.

My objection to nuclear power is that radioactive material causes cancer and birth defects, is difficult to detect, is lethal in tiny amounts and stays around forever. Radioactive iodine is an old treatment, and patients used to stay in the hospital long enough for the radioactive elements to wash out of their system. But now we kick people out of the hospital asap, and no one was considering the danger to the public.

• A patient who had received a dose of radioactive iodine boarded a bus in New York the same day, triggering radiation detectors as the bus passed through the Lincoln Tunnel heading for Atlantic City, N.J., a casino Mecca. After New Jersey state police found the bus and pulled it over, officers determined that the patient had received medical instructions to avoid public transportation for two days, and ignored them. The 2003 case highlighted that NRC rules don’t require patients to stay off public transportation.

• About 7 percent of outpatients said in the survey they had gone directly to a hotel after their treatment, most of them with their doctors’ knowledge. Hotel stays are a particular concern, since the patient can expose other guests and service workers. In 2007, an Illinois hotel was contaminated after linens from a patient’s room were washed together with other bedding. The incident would probably have gone unreported but for nuclear plant workers who later stayed in the same hotel and set off radiation alarms when they reported to work.

That is terrifying. The nuclear plant workers stayed in a hotel where a patient had stayed, maybe slept on sheets that were washed in the same washer with the patient’s sheets, and they set off alarms. What about the maid who stripped the bed? What about the laundry workers? What about other guests in the hotel?

One thing to learn from this is that financial pressure to discharge people from hospitals as soon as they are medically stable has to be countered by a consideration for what happens in the real world.

Another thing to consider is that it’s human nature to cut corners and do the expedient thing. Radioactive material is long-lived, and unforgiving. Despite all the assurances that nuclear power will always be handled safely, mistakes will be made and humans will make errors. This stuff is too dangerous to be an answer to our energy needs.

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