*No bliss in this ignorance: The Great Fukushima nuclear coverup — The Ecologist

” The Japanese were kept in the dark from the start of the Fukushima disaster about high radiation levels and their dangers to health, writes Linda Pentz Gunter. In order to proclaim the Fukushima area ‘safe’, the Government increased exposure limits to twenty times the international norm. Soon, many Fukushima refugees will be forced to return home to endure damaging levels of radiation. “

” Dr. Tetsunari Iida is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) in Japan.

As such, one might have expected a recent presentation he gave in the UK within the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, to have focused on Japan’s capacity to replace the electricity once generated by its now mainly shuttered nuclear power plants, with renewable energy.

But Dr lida’s passionate polemic was not about the power of the sun, but the power of propaganda. March 11, 2011 might have been the day the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. But it was also the beginning of the Great Japan Cover-Up.

On the ISEP website, Iida extols the coming of the Fourth Revolution, following on from those in agriculture, industry and IT. “This fourth revolution will be an energy revolution, a green industrial revolution, and a decentralized network revolution”, he writes.

But in person, Iida was most interested in conveying the extent to which the Japanese people were lied to before, during and after the devastating nuclear disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi, precipitated on that same fateful day and by the deadly duo of earthquake and tsunami.

“Shinzo Abe says ‘everything is under control'”, said Iida, speaking at an event hosted by Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Green Cross, and Nuclear Consulting Group in late January. It was headlined by the former Japan Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, who was at the helm when the triple disasters struck.“Yes – under the control of the media!”

A trial for Tepco like post-war Tokyo Trials

The media may have played the willing government handmaiden in reassuring the public with falsehoods, but in July 2012, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded that the disaster was really no accident but “man-made”. It came about, the researchers said, as a result of “collusion” between the government, regulators and the nuclear industry, in this case, Tepco.

“There should be a Tepco trial like the post-war Tokyo Trials”, Iida said, referring to the post World War II war crimes trial in which 28 Japanese were tried, seven of whom were subsequently executed by hanging.

Hope for such accountability – without advocating hanging – is fleeting at best. In 2011, while addressing a conference in Berlin hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, I suggested the Tepco officials should be sent to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, (a body the US still conveniently refuses to recognize) to answer for what clearly amounts to crimes against humanity.

The remark caused a bit of a stir and earnest questions about the mechanism by which Tepco could be brought there. Needless to say, nothing of the kind ever happened, or is likely to.

Instead, the Abe’s government’s preferred tactic is to go full out to restart reactors and move everybody back home as soon as possible, as if nothing serious had happened. Just scoop off a little topsoil, cart it away somewhere else and, Abracadabra! Everything is clean and safe again!

Normalizing radiation, a policy and now a practice

Of course radiological decontamination is not that easy. Nor is it reliable. It is more likepushing contamination from one spot to the next”, as independent nuclear expert, Mycle Schneider describes it. And radiation does not remain obediently in one place, either.

“The mountains and forests that cannot even be vaguely decontaminated, will serve as a permanent source of new contamination, each rainfall washing out radiation and bringing it down from the mountains to the flat lands”, Schneider explained. Birds move around. Animals eat and excrete radioactive plant life. Radiation gets swept out to sea. It is a cycle with no end.

Nevertheless, efforts are underway to repopulate stricken areas, particularly in Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a policy, and now a practice, of ‘normalizing’ radiation standards, to tell people that everything is alright, when clearly, there is no medical or scientific evidence to support this. And it was an approach already firmly and institutionally in place, even on March 11, 2011 as the Fukushima disaster first struck and much of the decision-making was left to individual judgement.

“We were told that evacuating poses a greater risk than radiation,” recalls Hasegawa Kenji, a farmer from Iitate, a village situated 45 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Featured in the Vice documentary ‘Alone In The Zone’, Hasegawa criticized Iitate’s mayor for making what he called a terrible mistake.

“Even when the scientists told the mayor that Iitate was dangerous, he ignored them all. He brought in experts from around the country who preached about how safe it was here. They said we had nothing to worry about. They kept telling us that. Eventually the villagers fell for it and began to relax. And the mayor rejected the idea of evacuating even more. That’s why nobody left, even though the radiation levels were so high.”

The nuclear industry did not tell the public the truth

The confusion surrounding evacuation was so profound that, as Zhang. noted in a September 11, 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Unclear evacuation instructions caused numerous residents to flee to the northwestern zone where radiation levels were even higher.”

All par for the course, said Iida. “I must emphasize, the people in the nuclear industry did not tell the public the truth and keep us informed.”

Next in the ‘normalization’ process came the decision to raise allowable radiation exposure standards to 20 millisieverts of radiation a year, up from the prior level of 2 mSv a year. The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1 mSv a year.

This meant that children were potentially being exposed to the same levels of radiation that are permitted for adult nuclear power plant workers in Europe. Some officials even argued that zones where rates were as high as 100 mSv a year should be considered ‘safe’. Writing on his blog, anti-pollution New Orleans-based attorney, Stuart Smith, observed wryly:

“Instead of taking corrective measures to protect its people, Japan has simply increased internationally recognized exposure limits. It seems that the priority – as we’ve seen in so many other industrial disasters in so many other countries – is to protect industry and limit its liability rather than to ensure the long-term health and well being of the masses. Go figure.”

The great repatriation lie

All of this set the perfect stage for the Great Repatriation Lie. “It’s the big cover-up,” Iida told his Westminster audience. “People are being told it’s quite safe to have a little [radiation] exposure.”

Indeed, at a recent conferences of prefectural governors, young people in particular were urged to return to Fukushima. “If you come to live with us in Fukushima and work there, that will facilitate its post-disaster reconstruction and help you lead a meaningful life”, said Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori.

Young people in Japan, however, appear not to be cooperating. Where evacuees are returning, the majority are senior citizens, who have less to lose from a health perspective and are more traditionally tied to the land and their ancestral burial grounds.

“They want to die where they were born and not in an unfamiliar place”, said Yoshiko Aoki, an evacuee herself who now works with others, and who also spoke at the London conference.

All of this impacts revenue from the inhabitants’ tax which constitutes 24.3% of all local tax sources and is collected by both prefectures and municipalities. It is levied on both individuals and corporations but with the bulk of revenue coming from individuals.

Senior citizens who have retired do not contribute to income tax, so the onus is on governors and mayors to lure as many working people as possible back to their towns and regions in order to effectively finance local public services.

Radioactive areas are hardest hit economically

Late last year, the Asahi Shimbun looked at tax revenues in the 42 municipalities affected by the triple 2011 disasters of earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima meltdowns.

Unsurprisingly, the areas hardest hit by radiological contamination had suffered the biggest economic blows. Those areas free from radioactive fallout could simply rebuild after the tsunami and earthquake, and had consequently recovered economically, some even to better than pre-3/11 levels.

On the other end of the scale, Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, marked the biggest decreasing rate – 72.9 percent – in tax revenues for fiscal 2014″, the Asahi Shimbun reported. “All residents of the town near the crippled nuclear plant remain in evacuation. Although tax payments from companies increased from decontamination work and other public works projects, income taxes paid by residents and fixed asset taxes have declined.”

To return or not to return is the question of the hour – or it will be come March 2017, when the Abe government has announced it will revoke many evacuation orders. At that point, government compensation to evacuees would be lifted, putting them under financial pressure to return. Cue more confusion.

People are confronted, said Iida, with “two extreme views, either that it’s very dangerous or quite safe. So it’s very difficult to decide which is the truth and it has been left up to individuals.”

One of those towns that could be declared ‘safe’ is Tomioka, Japan’s Pripyat, formerly home to close to 16,000 people but now uninhabited.

“It’s like a human experiment, that’s how we feel,” said Aoki in London, herself a former Tomioka resident. “The Governor of Fukushima spoke about a safe Fukushima. We want it to become safe, but our thoughts and reality are not one and the same.”

Observes Kyoto University professor of nuclear physics, Koide Hiroaki, in the Vice film, who has been outspoken for decades against the continued use of nuclear energy:

“Once you enter a radiation controlled area, you aren’t supposed to drink water, let alone eat anything. The idea that somebody”, he pauses, ” … is living in a place like that is unimaginable.”

by Linda Pentz Gunter

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Editorial: Extent of suffering key to compensating Fukushima evacuees — The Asahi Shimbun

” An estimated 100,000 or so people are still living as evacuees as a consequence of the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

This figure comprises about 18,000 evacuees who acted on their own initiative and fled from the 23 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that are outside government-designated evacuation zones. They include people who lived in areas that are not covered by the government-supported compensation program.

The circumstances of their decisions to leave their hometowns are more or less similar to those of the people who fled from areas covered by the evacuation orders. Many of them were concerned about the health of their children or found it difficult to continue their businesses in the affected areas.

But compensation paid to these “voluntary evacuees” by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear plant, ranging from 120,000 yen to 720,000 yen ($1,000 to $6,400) per person, was far smaller than the amounts received by residents of the evacuation areas.

On Feb. 18, a local court handed down a ruling that may open the door to greater relief for these evacuees.

The Kyoto District Court ordered TEPCO to pay about 30 million yen to a man and his wife for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the calamitous accident. The man, who is in his 40s, together with his wife and three children, filed a lawsuit against the utility seeking 180 million yen in damages, claiming he became unable to work because of mental and physical problems caused by the effects of the nuclear disaster.

Concerned about the possibility of his children’s exposure to radiation, the man decided to leave his home with his family. After they fled, the family stayed at hotels and lived in rented accommodation outside the prefecture.

As he had to live in unfamiliar surroundings, the man developed insomnia and depression. The district court acknowledged that the nuclear accident was the cause of these health problems.

Compensation payments to such voluntary evacuees are based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines say compensation payments should be based on three factors: increases in living expenses due to evacuation, mental damages and expenses incurred in fleeing and returning home.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the guidelines, but the family claimed the compensation was insufficient.

In its ruling, the district court argued that the guidelines only show “items and scope of damages that can be classified according to type.”

The ruling showed the view that damages with a causal link to the accident should be compensated for according to the circumstances involved. The basic principle for compensation espoused by the ruling is that the amounts of damages to be paid should be determined according to the circumstances of individual cases instead of being uniform and fixed.

Compensation payments to victims of the nuclear disaster, such as evacuees and affected businesses, come out of a 9 trillion yen treasure chest provided by the government to TEPCO.

With its management priority placed on its own early recovery from the consequences of the accident, however, the electric utility has been trying to terminate the payments as soon as possible and keep the amounts within the framework set by the guidelines. The company’s compensation policy has been criticized for failing to make the benefit of residents a primary consideration.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved as plaintiffs in damages suits filed with 21 district courts and branches around the country. This points to the high level of discontent with the compensation payments that have been paid out.

TEPCO should respond with appropriate sincerity to the demands of victims entitled to compensation and review its compensation policy and procedures.

The courts that are hearing these cases should hand down rulings that give sufficient consideration to the plight of the victims. ”

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NRA commissioner suggests plan to remove all fuel debris at Fukushima plant may not be best option — The Japan Times

A Nuclear Regulation Authority commissioner has suggested that removing all fuel debris from reactors at the meltdown-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may not be the best option.

“I wonder if the situation would be desired that work is still underway to extract fuel debris 70 or 80 years after” the nuclear disaster, NRA Commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa told reporters Friday.

“There are a variety of options, including removing as much fuel debris as possible and solidifying the rest,” he added.

Fuketa and another NRA commissioner, Satoru Tanaka, visited the complex Friday, the last of the commissioners to do so ahead of the fifth anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that triggered to the triple meltdowns at the atomic plant.

His remarks could affect the decommissioning plan drafted by the government and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. Under that scenario, fuel debris is to be disposed of over the course of 30 to 40 years.

Fuketa said that unlike the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, it is “not realistic” to construct concrete buildings to cover reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant because the situation is different.

The commissioner also questioned whether construction of an underground ice wall around the reactor buildings to prevent radioactive water buildup will prove effective. ”

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Research center to use atomic-bomb studies to rebuild Fukushima communities — The Asahi Shimbun

” Universities in Fukushima Prefecture and the atomic-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will deepen collaboration on radiation exposure studies and expand a research network to help rebuilding efforts around the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant.

Hiroshima University, Nagasaki University and Fukushima Medical University will establish a joint research center in Hiroshima in the 2016 academic year, which starts in April.

The education minister approved plans for the center last month, and the facility will be operated on government funds.

Hiroshima University and Nagasaki University both have core facilities that have conducted decades-long studies on radiation. The two schools have dispatched researchers to the Fukushima Medical University since April 2011 for studies on the health effects of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March that year.

The three universities are expected to build research networks and expand cooperation at the new center.

“The study of low-level radiation exposure is growing urgent,” Mitsuo Ochi, president of Hiroshima University, said Feb. 17, when the university presidents signed the agreement to set up the center.

“We would like to fulfill our mission to contribute to Fukushima’s rebuilding efforts based on the results of basic research conducted by our university.”

The center will solicit research themes from across Japan in 10 areas, including assessments of the impact of low-level radiation doses on patients, development of methods to diagnose internal radiation exposure in patients, treatments of patients, and radiation protective agents.

Scientists who respond to the center’s request are expected to work together with researchers of the three universities.

The research center is also expected to cooperate with the Fukushima prefectural government on a program that assesses possible correlations between diseases and radiation doses.

In addition, it plans to offer advice on training people who are tasked to provide health care to those exposed to radiation.

The project also envisages providing assistance for workers who are exposed to radiation levels beyond expectations during the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. ”

by Yohei Izumida

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Five years after Fukushima: How to avoid the next nuclear disaster: Foreign Affairs

” Five years ago next month, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, destroying its long-standing myth of zero-risk nuclear energy. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant revealed significant shortcomings in Japan’s safety culture, which the country has since learned from and has been trying to address. Countries charging ahead with nuclear power should heed these lessons to avoid another Fukushima.

In the years since the accident, the Fukushima plant’s damaged reactors have been stabilized through a makeshift water-cooling system, and releases of radioactivity have been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, after decontamination efforts, some of the over 100,000 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

However, despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant remain poor, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern, and Japan remains decades away from fully decommissioning the mangled reactors. The total economic damage has been estimated at over $100 billion, and none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will ever operate again.

There have been no deaths from the effects of the radiation (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, any increase in cancer rates is expected to be too small to detect). On the other hand, forced evacuation is estimated to have played a role in over 1,000 premature deaths, and according to a World Health Organization health risk assessment, as with Chernobyl, the psychological toll of the disaster is a major concern and potentially outweighs other health consequences.

The disaster prompted many other countries to take stock of their own nuclear programs. The take-home lesson for some, including a majority of the Japanese public, was to move away from nuclear power. For example, Germany vowed to phase out all nuclear power by 2022, Italy voted overwhelmingly not to restart its nuclear program, and Switzerland banned the construction of new reactors.

Other nations were hardly slowed in their expansion of nuclear energy. China, India, and Russia lead the way with, all together, more than 40 reactors under construction and over twice as many planned. In their haste, it seems that many of these countries have not absorbed the key lesson from Fukushima: the importance of a rigorous and all-encompassing safety regime.

Before the Disaster

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agencies did not seem to have sufficient expertise, authority, resources, or independence to adequately protect public safety. In hindsight, the problem appears to be a classic case of regulatory capture, reinforced by the common practices of amakudari (descent from heaven), referring to retired powerful public officials being hired into private sector jobs, and amaagari (ascent to heaven), referring to private sector experts moving into government-related positions.

Moreover, the regulatory body was housed in the very ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy, which created a potential conflict of interest. (To avoid similar issues, in 1975, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was split to separate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from promotional functions.)

An independent regulator is not sufficient, though: a strong culture of safety must also be cultivated throughout the nuclear network—from operators and construction workers up to plant owners—as well as throughout the supply chain. Pride must come not just from the megawatts produced; each entity should prioritize public safety when building or operating nuclear plants and maintain alertness through frequent drills for workers at all levels.

The 2011 meltdown turned a spotlight on the flaws in the safety regime of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It had falsified reports and fudged safety-related inspections long before Fukushima; it had also failed to update its seismic and tsunami safety standards. To be sure, it is difficult to prepare for an event that seems nearly impossible, such as an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan, but a superior safety culture can make a difference—some have argued that that was why the reactors at the Onagawa power station, which were slammed as hard as Fukushima Daiichi, remained intact and were safely shut down.

Praiseworthy Progress

Since the accident, Japan has taken admirable, although incomplete, steps to set up an independent regulator and to improve its safety culture, including by bringing in respected international advisers. Last year, it began gradually to reactivate some of the country’s functioning reactors. Before Fukushima, the more than 50 reactors had provided Japan with some 30 percent of its electrical power, but all were taken offline in the months after the accident.

Of course, Japan is not alone in facing these types of safety-related problems. After dissolving the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the United States, the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy, has faced criticism for the amount of influence the industry wields over its rule-making process. South Korea’s nuclear industry, too, has had problems, including a history of falsifying safety documents.

But most worrying are the developing countries entering the huddle. China leads the way, with plans to triple its nuclear-generating capacity by 2020, but its regulator is neither structurally independent nor well staffed. Because an accident has such massive potential for widespread damage, tight quality control is essential. China’s track record in this regard is not promising. For example, in 1987, the crew constructing a nuclear plant near Hong Kong misread blueprints and initially failed to incorporate a large portion of the requisite protective steel, raising questions about competence and oversight.

Some new powers are more prudent, including the United Arab Emirates, which began creating a solid regulatory framework, with a team of international experts to regularly assess the program’s progress, long before its first reactor comes online in 2017.

Others are more cavalier, such as Vietnam, another one-party state with nuclear ambitions and no precedent for any type of independent regulatory entity. Iran, a seismically active country, also has attracted concern over the safety of its current and future reactors and the lack of independence of its regulator, despite the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). India is another fast-growing nuclear power, with over 25 reactors either under construction or planned. But it is stuck on the question of regulatory independence since a proposed law on regulation, tabled in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, was not passed by the legislature.

Calls for International Atomic Energy Agency reforms that will require more rigorous international safety checks are welcome, but it must not stop there. Generating nuclear energy should be recognized as a serious responsibility, given the scale of damage and suffering when things go wrong—as the world was reminded five years ago. ”

by David Roberts and Norman Neureiter

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Fukushima disaster: Tepco to pay couple in landmark damages case — BBC News

” A court in Japan has ordered the operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant to compensate a couple who fled radiation, even though they lived outside the evacuation zone.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) will pay 30m yen ($265,000; £185,000) for financial losses and poor health.

It is thought to be the first time Tepco has been found liable for people outside the mandatory evacuation area.

In 2011 the plant suffered multiple meltdowns after a quake and tsunami.

After that people who lived within 20km (12 miles) of the plant were ordered to evacuate, but thousands of others voluntarily left their homes and businesses over fears of radiation

Analysts say Thursday’s ruling could pave the way for many more compensation claims from such evacuees.

Depressed and stigmatised

In April 2014 some residents started to return to their homes in the exclusion zone, but many areas remain ghost towns with their former residents in temporary housing.

The sum awarded to the couple, who have not been named but are in their 40s, is also far greater than the 11m yen proposed by a government-established centre to mediate settlements for compensation cases.

According to the written submission, the husband became depressed and developed pleurisy after the evacuation and their children were stigmatised for their association with the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Tepco has already been embroiled in a number of compensation claims. In 2011, the government ordered Tokyo Electric to pay 1m yen to every family within 30km of the plant. ”

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