Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report, “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident…” — IPPNW

Here is an excellent analysis of the UNSCEAR Report, “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and tsunami.” This analysis was organized by the German Affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and includes a number international physician groups for social and environmental responsibility and prevention of nuclear war. Quoted below is the conclusion for those of you who want the big picture. I strongly urge you to read the full document in pdf form: Critical Analysis of Unscear2014 (1)

” IV. Conclusion

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is far from over. Despite the declaration of “cold shutdown” by the Japanese government in December of 2011, the crippled reactors have not yet achieved a stable status and even UNSCEAR admits that emissions of radioisotopes are continuing unabated. 188 TEPCO is struggling with an enormous amount of contaminated water, which continues to leak into the surrounding soil and sea. Large quantities of contaminated cooling water are accumulating at the site. Failures in the makeshift cooling systems are occurring repeatedly. The discharge of radioactive waste will most likely continue for a long time.

Both the damaged nuclear reactors and the spent fuel ponds contain vast amounts of radioactivity and are highly vulnerable to further earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and human error. Catastrophic releases of radioactivity could occur at any time and eliminating this risk will take many decades. Moreover, many of Japan’s other nuclear power stations are just as sensitive to seismic catastrophes as the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

Attempts to make reliable forecasts for the next decades seem futile against the backdrop of so much uncertainty. While much of the UNSCEAR report represents useful and important groundwork for future assessments, it does not in any way justify the type of ‘all-clear’ that UNSCEAR is proposing.

It is impossible at this point to come up with an exact prognosis of the effects that the Fukushima nuclear disaster will have on the population in Japan. However, based on the arguments presented in this paper, it has to be stated that the UNSCEAR report represents a systematic underestimation and conjures up an illusion of scientific certainty that obscures the true impact of the nuclear catastrophe on health and the environment.

In its report, UNSCEAR calculates the collective effective doses and absorbed thyroid doses for the Japanese population. However, the admitted uncertainties regarding exposure doses, questionable data selection, faulty assumptions and the fact that ongoing radioactive emissions were not considered undermine the validity of these calculations. The resulting dose estimates are most likely underestimated and do not reflect the true extent of radiation received by the affected population.

By utilizing more neutral sets of data, acknowledging inherent uncertainties in dose estimates, citing the full range of possible exposure rates rather than the best-case scenarios, and by incorporating the latest information about ongoing radioactive emissions, UNSCEAR could have presented a more realistic picture of what effects people can expect from the radioactive fallout in the coming decades, including thyroid cancer, leukemia, solid tumors, non-cancer diseases and genetic defects, all of which have been found in the population affected by the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe.

Even with more realistic data, however, the number of cancer cases induced by Fukushima radioactive fallout may still be considered insignificant to the members of UNSCEAR, especially given the relatively high baseline incidence of cancer in Japan. From a physician’s perspective however, every preventable case of cancer is one too many and the tragic consequences that cancer has on a person’s physical and mental health, as well as the situation of the entire family have to be considered.

To reduce the horrible effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on tens of thousands of families to a statistical problem and to dismiss these individual stories of suffering by stating that “radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi […] is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers”189 is inappropriate for a committee of the United Nations, an organization that prides itself on the Declaration of Universal Human Rights.

Through the combination of a man-made nuclear disaster, corrupt operators, regulatory institutions and politicians, inadequate emergency measures, and finally through the systematic underestimation of radiation doses and expected health effects, the people of Fukushima are being deprived of their right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being.

As physicians, primarily concerned with the health of the people affected by the nuclear disaster, we urge the United Nations General Assembly and the government of Japan to realize that the affected population needs protection from further radiation exposure. In our opinion, the following issues need to be addressed:

»» All available expertise should be used for the tremendous tasks of minimizing ongoing radioactive emissions from the damaged reactors and spent fuel pools and preventing larger emissions in the future.

»» According to UNSCEAR, more than 24,000 workers have worked on the premises of the crippled reactors since the start of the disaster. Tens of thousands more will be required over many decades. In addition to the provision of adequate radiation protection, monitoring and health care for these workers, a national lifetime radiation exposure register for all workers in the nuclear industry is required in Japan. This must include subcontractors as well as utility employees. Individual workers should have ready access to their results.

»» The issue of functioning registries is also important for the civilian population. Currently, the absence of both effective cancer registries in most prefectures in Japan and comprehensive registers of exposed persons with dose estimates that can be used to assess long term health outcomes means that potential impacts will go undetected. Such registries should be created so that future health effects of the radioactive contamination can be properly assessed.

»» It is unacceptable that people are currently being encouraged to return to some areas where they can be expected to receive up to 20 mSv in additional annual radiation exposure. We see no adequate alternative to minimize such unacceptable exposures other than more relocations than have currently occurred. Logistic and financial support for families living in the radioactively affected municipalities who want to move to less contaminated regions should be offered to reduce the risk of future health effects. Evacuees should not be pressured or bribed into returning to contaminated regions.

»» Decontamination on the scale that would be required to sufficiently and sustainably reduce radiation exposures has not proven feasible. Also, radioactive contamination knows no boundaries, and fallout has not been confined to Fukushima Prefecture alone. Parts of Tochigi, Miyagi, Ibaraki, Gunma, Saitama and Chiba have also been contaminated. At present, government programs responding to the nuclear disaster are largely limited
to Fukushima Prefecture. A national approach based on contamination levels, not prefectural boundaries is needed.

»» We ask the United Nations General Assembly and the Japanese Government to study the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mr. Anand Grover, and heed his constructive suggestions.190 The precautionary principle should be employed in radiation protection policies.

The people of Fukushima are not being helped by false claims and premature reassurances that no health effects are to be expected. They need proper information, health monitoring, support and most of all, they need acknowledgment of their right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well being. This should be the guiding principle in evaluating the health effects of the nuclear catastrophe:

“The number of children and grandchildren with cancer in their bones, with leukemia in their blood, or with poison in their lungs might seem statistically small to some, in comparison with natural health hazards. But this is not a natural health hazard – and it is not a statistical issue. The loss of even one human life, or the malformation of even one baby – who may be born long after we are gone – should be of concern to us all. Our children and grandchildren are not merely statistics toward which we can be indifferent.” John F. Kennedy, July 26th, 1963 “

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One thought on “Critical Analysis of the UNSCEAR Report, “Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident…” — IPPNW

  1. Pingback: UN’s UNSCEAR Fukushima radiation report blasted by IPPNW’s Alex Rosen — Nuclear Hotseat interview | Japan Safety : Nuclear Energy Updates

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