Fukushima Contamination Vast & Persistent

John LaForge

There is relentless news from the global radiation disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex.
Yet if commercial media don’t ignore it entirely, it tends to downplay the instability plaguing the three destroyed reactors, their leaking waste fuel pools, and the widespread and long-lasting contamination that has begun dramatically to corrupt the food chain.
On May 24, a report from Tokyo Electric Power Co. which owns the complex, declared that earlier estimates of how much radiation had been released to the atmosphere was dramatically wrong. Radiation spewed in the first weeks of the disaster “was almost two and a half times the initial estimate by Japanese safety regulators,” the New York Times reported — sort of. The Times ran the report online and in its New York City edition, but not in the national edition. The “newspaper of record” evidently decided that readers outside Manhattan didn’t have a need to know.
While most media in the U.S. treat the nuclear catastrophe as a nonstarter, a steady stream of news and information from Japan and neighboring countries makes headlines in Asia and around the world.
Twenty years from now, parts of Fukushima Prefecture, will still be too heavily contaminated to inhabit, the government announced April 24 (see blue map).The prefecture is home to the three exploded Fukushima-Daiichi reactors, three other damaged units and 40 years accumulation of deadly waste fuel still stored in unstable pools, some 7 stories in the air. The government had said earlier this April that areas where radiation doses to humans from dispersed contamination exceeded 50 millisieverts per year would remain off-limits to evacuees. Over 100,000 have been displaced.
Radioactive cesium-137 — blown far and wide by the explosions and by the uncontrolled overheating and melting of uranium and plutonium fuel — is broadcast far beyond Fukushima prefecture. Cecile Peneda reports in her new book “Devil’s Tango” that because the cesium peppered across Japan has seeped two inches down into the earth, 29 million cubic meters of contaminated soil must be scraped off of 930 square miles, then placed in containers and managed as radioactive waste. Japan has yet to agree on a way to store this volume of waste that could fill 23 football stadiums.

Food Chain Contamination
Spreading    
    
On May 2, the Japan Times reported that 51 food products from nine Japanese prefectures were found to be poisoned with cesium-137 in excess of newly established “allowable” limits. The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry tested the foods and declared that 2.4 percent of the vegetables, mushrooms, fish and meat it looked at had more than the 100 becquerels-per-kilogram it allows.
Cesium exceeding the previous limit, set in March last year, of 500 becquerels per kilogram was detected in 55 food samples. The new limit of 100 becquerels-per-kilo, which went into effect this April, was exceeded in 282 cases.
Nearly all domestically grown food in Japan is likely contaminated with some meltdown-borne cesium, but foods that tested above the allowed level were found in the prefectures of Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Yamagata, Gunma and Kanagawa. All these Japanese states except Fukushima are well outside the official exclusion zone which extends only 12 miles beyond the six-reactor Fukushima-Daiichi site.
In April this year, cesium contamination of 18,700 becquerels-per-kilo, 37 times what federal authorities allow in fish, was found in salmon from Iitate, a village in Fukushima prefecture. It was the highest level of cesium found in Japan’s fish since the disaster began 14 months ago and that’s saying something.
Contamination of soil, vegetation and water is so widespread in Japan that evacuating all the at-risk populations could collapse the economy, much as Chernobyl did to the former Soviet Union. Fukushima City, 31 miles from the dead zone, is an example of the problem. The city has 500,000 inhabitants — 300,000 children under 15. Federal authorities refused to conduct soil radiation surveys, except for school yards. Residents interviewed for the new documentary “Fukushima Never Again” said the reason for the government’s inaction was to avoid the cost of evacuating half-a-million people.
Shinichi Ishii of the Doro Mito Railroad Union angrily told an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo, “The government talks about denuclearization, decontamination and compensation. They don’t mention evacuation.”
    
Pacific Ocean Contamination
Unprecedented

According to the French Institute for Radiological Protection & Nuclear Safety, at least 27 petabecquerels (27 million billion becquerels) of cesium-137 spewed into the Pacific Ocean between March 21 and mid-July 2011, in “the biggest single outflow of man-made radioactive materials introduced to the marine environment ever seen or recorded.” The consequences have begun to appear in food thousands of miles away.
The global radiation catastrophe spewing from Fukushima has deposited cesium-137 over 600,000 square-miles of the Pacific, according to author Bob Alvarez, a former senior advisor to the Department of Energy. Concentrations of cesium-137 poured into the Pacific Ocean near the reactors peaked at over 50 million times preexisting ocean levels, according to a National Academy of Sciences report in March this year.
The May 28 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that all 15 of the Bluefin tuna captured by researchers off California were poisoned with 10 times the amount of cesium they expected. Because of the unique “signature” of both cesium-137 and Cs-145 in the fish, the findings “are unequivocal: Fukushima was the source,” according to oceanographers who spoke with the Associated Press.
Caught five months after the colossal Fukushima releases, the Bluefin swam in poison seas for about a month before reaching Calif., 6,000 miles away. “Researchers planned to repeat the study with a larger number of samples” next year the AP reported, adding, “The upcoming travelers have been swimming in radioactive waters for a longer period. How this will affect concentrations of contamination remains to be seen.”
Some have seen enough already. “It’s worrisome in that cdsium-137 is leaking,” said Paul Falkowski, a professor at Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, in the New York Times in March 28, last year — before the enormous amounts were known. And, Falkowski predicted, if there is a lot of cesium over an extended period “then you’ll have to worry.”

— John LaForge is on the staff of Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog and anti-war group in Wisconsin.

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