Fleeing from Fukushima: a nuclear evacuation reality check — Beyond Nuclear International

” (The following is an excerpt from a longer article on the subject of evacuations after severe nuclear accidents. While this section focuses on Fukushima, there are lessons here for all nuclear sites and the likely failure of “on paper” evacuation plans.)

If another severe nuclear accident, such as Windscale (in 1957), Chernobyl (1986) or Fukushima (2011) were to occur, then the most important response, in terms of preventing future cancer epidemics, is evacuation. The other main responses are shelter and stable iodine prophylaxis. Adverse health effects would primarily depend on wind direction and on the nature of the accident.  This article looks primarily at the Fukushima evacuation and its after-effects.

When the Fukushima-Daiichi, Japan nuclear disaster began on March 11, 2011, evacuations were not immediate and some were hampered by the destructive after-effects of the Tsunami and earthquake that precipitated the nuclear crisis.

Once people were evacuated, little, if any, consideration seems to have been given to how long such evacuations would last. For example, the large majority of the 160,000 people who left or were evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture are still living outside the Prefecture. Many are living in makeshift shelters such as shipping containers or prefabricated houses.

At present, the Japanese Government is attempting to force evacuees (by withdrawing state compensation) to return to less contaminated areas, with little success. Currently, seven years after the accident, an area of about 1,000 square kilometers is still subject to evacuation and no entry orders. This compares with the area of 2,700 square kilometers still evacuated and subject to no or restricted entry at Chernobyl, almost 32 years after the accident.

Experience of the Fukushima Evacuation

In 2015 and 2016, I visited Fukushima Prefecture in Japan with international study teams. These study tours were informative as they revealed information about the evacuations that differed from official accounts by TEPCO and the Japanese Government. From many discussions with local mayors, councillors, local health groups and small community groups, the following information was revealed.

The most common figure cited for evacuees is 160,000, of which 80,000 were evacuated by the authorities and the rest left to evacuate on their own, often on foot, cycles and carts. It took about two weeks to evacuate all parts of the initial 20 km (later 30 km) radius evacuation areas around the Fukushima reactors.

The main reason for the delays was that many roads in the Prefecture were jammed with gridlocks which sometimes lasted 24 hours a day, for several days on end on some roads. These traffic jams were partly due to the poor existing road infrastructure and partly due to many road accidents. These jams were of such severity that safety crews for the Fukushima nuclear station had to be moved in and out mostly by helicopter. All public transport by trains and buses ceased. Mobile telephone networks and the internet crashed due to massive demand.

Thousands of people either refused to leave their homelands or returned later. Older farmers often refused to leave their animals behind or be moved from their ancestral lands. In at least a dozen recorded cases, older farmers slaughtered their cow herds rather than leave them behind (dairy cows need to be milked daily): they then committed suicide themselves in several instances.

According to Hachiya et al (2014), the disaster adversely affected the telecommunications system, water supplies, and electricity supplies including radiation monitoring systems. The local hospital system was dysfunctional; hospitals designated as radiation-emergency facilities were unable to operate because of damage from the earthquake and tsunami, and some were located within designated evacuation zones. Emergency personnel, including fire department personnel, were often asked to leave the area.

At hospitals, evacuations were sometimes carried out hurriedly with the unfortunate result that patients died due to intravenous drips being ripped out, medicaments being left behind, the absence of doctors and nurses who had left, and ambulance road accidents. Many hastily-allocated reception centres (often primary schools) were either unable or ill-equipped to deal with seriously ill patients.

Much confusion resulted when school children were being bussed home, while their parents were trying to reach schools to collect their children. Government officials, doctors, nurses, care workers, police, firepersons, ambulance drivers, emergency crews, teachers, and others faced the dilemma of whether to stay at their posts or return to look after their families. In the event, many emergency crews refused to enter evacuation zones for fear of radiation exposure.

Stable iodine was not issued to most people. Official evacuation plans were either non-existent or inadequate and, in the event, next to useless. In many cases, local mayors took the lead and ordered and supervised evacuations in their villages without waiting for orders or in defiance of them. Apparently, the higher up the administrative level, the greater the levels of indecision and lack of responsibility.

In the years after the accident, the longer-lasting effects of the evacuations have become apparent. These include family separations, marital break-ups, widespread depression, and further suicides. These are discussed in a recent publication (Morimatsu et al, 2017) which relates the sad, often eloquent, stories of the Fukushima people. They differ sharply from the accounts disseminated by TEPCO.

Deaths from evacuations at Fukushima

Official Japanese Government data reveal that nearly 2,000 people died from the effects of evacuations necessary to avoid high radiation exposures from the Fukushima disaster, including from suicides.

The uprooting to unfamiliar areas, cutting of family ties, loss of social support networks, disruption, exhaustion, poor physical conditions and disorientation resulted in many people, in particular older people, apparently losing their will to live.

The evacuations also resulted in increased levels of illnesses among evacuees such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus and dyslipidaemia, psychiatric and mental health problems, polycythaemia — a slow growing blood cancer — cardiovascular disease, liver dysfunction, and severe psychological distress.

Increased suicide rates occurred among younger and older people following the Fukushima evacuations, but the trends are unclear. A 2014 Japanese Cabinet Office report stated that, between March 2011 and July 2014, 56 suicides in Fukushima Prefecture were linked to the nuclear accident.

Should evacuations be ordered?

The above account should not be taken as arguments against evacuations as they constitute an important dose-saving and life-saving strategy during emergencies. Instead, the toll from evacuations should be considered part of the overall toll from nuclear accidents.

In future, deaths from evacuation-related ill-heath and suicides should be included in assessments of the fatality numbers from nuclear disasters.

For example, although about 2,000 deaths occurred during and immediately after the evacuations, it can be calculated from UNSCEAR (2013) collective dose estimates that about 5,000 fatal cancers will arise from the radiation exposures at Fukushima, i.e. taking into account the evacuations. Many more fatal cancers would have occurred if the evacuations had not beeCn carried out.

There is an acute planning dilemma here: if evacuations are carried out (even with good planning) then illnesses and deaths will undoubtedly occur. But if they are not carried out, even more people could die. In such situations, it is necessary to identify the real cause of the problem. And here it is the existence of nuclear power plants near large population centres. In such cases, consideration should be given to the early closure of the nuclear power plants, and switching to safer means of electricity generation.

Conclusions

The experiences of Japanese evacuees after Fukushima are distressing to read. Their experiences were terrible, so much so that it requires Governments of large cities with nearby nuclear power plants to reconsider their own situations and to address the question…. what would happen if radioactive fallout heavily contaminated large areas of their city and required millions of residents to leave for long periods of time, for example several decades?

And how long would evacuations need to continue…. weeks, months, years, or decades? The time length of evacuations is usually avoided in the evacuation plans seen so far. In reality, the answer would depend on cesium-137 concentrations in surface soils. The time period could be decades, as the half-life of the principal radionuclide, Cs-137, is 30 years. This raises the possibility of large cities becoming uninhabited ‘ghost’ towns like Tomioka, Okuma, Namie, Futaba, etc in Japan and Pripyat in Ukraine.

This bleak reality is hard to accept or even comprehend. However it is a matter that some governments need to address after Fukushima. It is unsurprising therefore, that after Fukushima, several major European states including Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out their nuclear reactors. ”

by Dr. Ian Fairlie, Beyond Nuclear International

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Tritium Exposé — Fairewinds Energy Education

” Supporters of atomic power, who are not scientists, have been able to broadcast their opinions to the public with hellacious titles such as Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Putting Indian Point Hysteria in Perspective by attorney and lobbyist Jerry Kremer for the Huffington Post. In an effort to combat misinformation and keep you informed, Fairewinds reached out to international radiation expert Dr. Ian Fairlie to clear up the false assurances and scientific denial spread by the nuclear industry and its chums.

Tritium, the radioactive isotope and bi-product of nuclear power generation, is making headlines with notable leaks at 75% of all the reactors in the United States, including Indian Point in New York, and Turkey Point in Florida. Speaking with renowned British scientist, Dr. Ian Fairlie, the Fairewinds Crew confirms the magnitude and true risk of tritium to the human body in its three various forms: tritiated water, tritiated air, and organically bound tritium.

Dr. Fairlie is an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment. He has a degree in radiation biology from Bart’s Hospital in London and did his doctoral studies at Imperial College in London and Princeton University, concerning the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. Ian was formerly with the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs specializing in radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, he was head of the Secretariat to the UK Government’s CERRIE Committee examining radiation risk of internal emitters. Since retiring from government service, he has acted as consultant to the European Parliament. ”

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Fukushima amplifies Murphy’s law — Robert Hunziker, Dissident Voice

” Murphy’s Law has found a permanent home in Fukushima: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

For instance, only recently, radioactive cesium in tunnels at Fukushima suddenly spiked by more than 4,000 times similar measurements from one year ago. This spooky/huge spike in radiation levels hit 482,000 Becquerels per liter. TEPCO intends to investigate the reason behind the enormous anomalous increase.1 “Radiation Spikes in Fukushima Underground Ducts,” NHK World, December 9, 2015. Over the course of a year, 4,000 times anything probably is not good.

Not only that but the barrier constructed at the Fukushima nuclear power plant to hopefully prevent contaminated water from leaking into the ocean is tilting and has developed a crack about 0.3 miles in length along its base. The wall is 0.5 miles long and 98 feet below ground.

An ocean barrier, indeed: “Higher levels of radiation from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident are showing up in the ocean off the west coast of North America, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution reported.”2 Fortunately, so far, the detected levels still remain below U.S. government-established safety limits.

In the meantime, TEPCO battles one of the most perplexing disasters of all-time with an average number of daily workers more than 7,000. The difficulty of procuring workers at the site is beyond imagination. Homeless people are hired off the streets to do the dangerous decontamination work.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The situation better get better really soon because the Olympics are scheduled for 2020, which brings to mind perilous lost corium, the sizzling hot melted core in [Unit] #2, that hopefully, keeping one’s fingers crossed, has not burrowed into the ground, spreading deadly isotopes erratically, ubiquitously throughout. Still, nobody knows where this Missing Corium-Waldo of the Nuclear World is located.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace/Japan accuses the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of downplaying the health risks of the 2011 Fukushima disaster and accuses the agency of acting in concert with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to “normalize” the disaster.3  Hurry, hurry, the Olympics is coming!

One clever approach to the problem of too much radiation is to increase the “allowable limits”: “The permissible annual level of radiation exposure has been dangerously heightened in Japan after the March 11th accident. One (1) millisievert (mSv) has been elevated to 20 mSv for residents in affected areas. The government increased the annual limit for nuclear workers’ radiation exposure from 100 mSv to 250 mSv in ‘emergency situations.”4

When the “permissible level” of radiation was initially moved higher, the Japan Medical Association stated: “The scientific basis for choosing the maximum amount of 20 mSv in the band of 1 to 20 mSv is not clear.”

Furthermore, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility, there is no safe level of radiation. Apropos the Fukushima situation:

“It is unconscionable to increase the allowable dose for children to 20 millisieverts (mSv). Twenty mSv exposes an adult to a 1 in 500 risk of getting cancer; this dose for children exposes them to a 1 in 200 risk of getting cancer. And if they are exposed to this dose for two years, the risk is 1 in 100. There is no way that this level of exposure can be considered ‘safe’ for children.”

Recent studies confirm “exposure to low levels of radiation can cause cancer,” specifically, “No matter whether people are exposed to protracted low doses or to high and acute does, the observed association between dose and solid cancer risk is similar per unit of radiation dose.”5

In sharp contrast to Japan’s position, Chernobyl’s officialdom has a different take on “permissible annual radiation exposure,” specifically: “The radiation limit that excluded people from living in the 30km zone around the Chernobyl nuclear plant exclusion zone was set at 5mSV/year, five years after the nuclear accident. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from within the zone and will never return.” (Greenpeace Japan). Never ever return!

Nuclear disasters don’t go away easily. For example, Chernobyl is already facing a brand new crisis. The durability of the original decaying blighted sarcophagus expires within the next 12 months. However, the new replacement sarcophagus, the world’s biggest-ever metallic dome, will not be accomplished in time as they are short of funds (615million EUR).

In addition to Ukraine’s internal strife with pro-Russian citizens, the country has serious financial difficulties. All of this amounts to one more “spoke in the wheel” against nuclear reactor proliferation (Incidentally, China has 400 reactors on the drawing board). Who knows if and when a crippled reactor ends up in the hands of a financially strapped country? Then what?

Dismally, Ukraine has conceivably become a nuclear holocaust tinderbox in the midst of cannon fire, rumbling tanks, and surface-to-air missiles, for example, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a missile, supposedly by accident, on July 17, 2014, all 298 on board died.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, raising the level of permissible annual radiation exposure does not escape international notice. According to Dr. Ian Fairlie, former head of the Secretariat of the UK Government’s CERRIE Committee on Internal Radiation Risks: “The Japanese government goes so far as to increase the public limit for radiation in Japan from 1 mSv to 20 mSv per year, while its scientists are making efforts to convince the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) to accept this enormous increase.”

But, wait a moment; the Olympic Committee has already designated Tokyo 2020. Is it possible the IOC has the cart ahead of the horse, maybe way ahead?

As for the newly established higher acceptable Japanese limit for radiation: “This is not only unscientific, it is also unconscionable.”6 After all, on a factual basis, “unscientific and unconscionable” are strong indictments.

Yet, the Olympic committee has already approved Tokyo 2020, and people from around the world will be making plans to attend. Withal, if the Olympic Committee is okay with Japan’s capricious radiation conditions, then shouldn’t everybody else be okay with it too? Well….

All of which brings to mind: If Fukushima’s a canary in the mineshaft that exposes nuclear power’s hidden dirty underbelly, meaning, once things go wrong they really go wrong, adhering to Murphy’s Law, then what of the potential consequences of big ole nuke plants in war zones? How would Murphy’s Law apply in a war zone? The most comfortable answer is: Don’t even think about it.

Still, the world’s 430 nuclear reactors are “big fat sitting ducks.” According to former ambassador Murata, nuclear reactors are “the world’s most serious security problem.”

Thus, Fukushima may be more than the poster child of nuclear power’s fragility vis a vis extreme forces of nature; it’s also a surrogate poster child for lurking dangers behind and within terrorism and within war zones when “anything that can go wrong will go wrong,” for example, a downed airliner over Ukraine.

Nuclear Reactors are as Dangerous as Nuclear Weapons (Murata)

Rockets have been fired at nuclear facilities in Israel.  “Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets, stating that it had been attempting to hit the nuclear reactor.  Militants from Hamas’s Qassam Brigades said they had launched long-range M-75 rockets towards Dimona”.7

As mentioned earlier, Ukraine is home to 15 nuclear reactors in the midst of a war zone. What if a missile accidentally, or purposefully, hits a nuclear reactor?  Does Fukushima provide any clues as to the consequences of such a disaster?

Assuming Fukushima is truly a harbinger of how remarkably well nuclear disasters harmonize with, in fact, cohere to Murphy’s Law, it probably implies that “all bets are off.”

Postscript: “The future of the Olympic Games is at stake. It is as a believer in the spirit of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Movement that I am pleading for an honorable retreat, and this, in order for Japan to devote maximum efforts to controlling the Fukushima crisis.”8 “

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