When will Californians wake up to the Risk to Children from Nuclear Radiation?

On March 7, the Inter Press Service (IPS) published my article, “Eight Years on, Fukushima Still Poses Health Risks for Children,” and I am very gratified to learn that it was the second most popular article published in IPS News that week. It also appears that many readers were surprised to learn that removal of the irradiated cores from the three crippled nuclear reactors at Fukushima would take at least forty years.

This revelation reminds me of my conversation with the late Dr. Hans-Peter Durr, former Director of the Max Plunch Institute of Germany, when the Fukushima accident occurred in March 2011. Hans-Peter called me to say that the Fukushima accident was much worse than the government of Japan and TEPCO were disclosing to the public and suggested that I talk to the Prime Minister of Japan on this urgent matter. When I asked Hans-Peter how long it might take to solve the Fukushima accident, he replied that it will take at least forty years.

It shocked me to realize that the consequences of such a human accident would take so long to resolve. For example, twenty years after the complete destruction of Tokyo City during World War II, Tokyo City hosted the 1964 Olympic Games. In contrast, the huge area impacted from the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986 remains desolate 33 years later and will likely remain so for many more decades or even centuries.

World Wars I and II destroyed cities in huge urban areas, yet many of these cities were rebuilt within 20 years. The difference between these catastrophes is due to the fact that while the environmental landscape in cities destroyed by conventional warfare stayed relatively healthy, cities which were impacted by nuclear radiation will remain partly or completely uninhabitable for centuries. Within the “controlled” environment of a nuclear plant facility, spent fuel rods should be kept in a safe place for 100,000 years, and the 250,000 tons of radioactive waste produced worldwide will remain dangerous to all life for thousands of years. I have never thought of such a long time-span which could well extend beyond humanity’s existence on Earth.  This new discovery is what I and many of my readers share.

Based on the following facts related to the Fukushima nuclear accident, I have the following concerns regarding radioactive damage to ocean marine life and related health risks to both the children of Fukushima and/or the West Coast of North America:

  1. It would take at least 40 years (my nuclear scientist colleagues say between 60 to 80 years) to remove the irradiated cores, yet nobody knows the exact location of the irradiated cores, or how to remove them and how long it might take once they are located and a method for removal and containment is determined.
  2. The latest radiation readings by a remote-controlled robot to detect the radioactive level in Reactor 2 was 530 sieverts per hour, the highest since the March 2011 meltdown. Radioactive winds flow toward North America every day and will continue until all radioactivity at Fukushima is contained.
  3. There are approximately 1,000 storage tanks containing 1.1 million tons of high-level radioactive water.  These tanks were built on an emergency basis and are therefore not expected to last 40 years.
  4. There is no space to build additional tanks in the Fukushima area, and sooner or later there will be no choice but to release the contaminated water into the ocean.
  5. And independent assessments indicate that, despite the Japanese government’s best efforts, hundreds of thousands of gallons of irradiated water “leak” out to the Pacific Ocean every day due to the physical impossibility of capturing all the irradiated water in to the referenced storage tanks.
  6. A strong earthquake or the eruption of Mt Fuji are predicted in the near future, and there is considerable uncertainty as to whether the three crippled nuclear reactors would withstand the seismic impacts from such an event. If one or more of the three nuclear reactors collapses, or the respective reactor cores are further impacted by adverse earthquake pressures, an extreme worst-case scenario in addition to the current crisis would be created.

As no scientists would argue with the above facts, I come to my primary concerns:

  1. The cumulative risks from radioactive environmental contamination to young children and women of childbearing age living in the wider Fukushima prefecture and the West Coast of North America continues unabated.
  2. Ongoing radioactive contamination of the sea adjacent to the Fukushima plant results in increased uptake of radionuclides by fish and other sea animals, increasing the risk of long-term seafood contamination to all nations bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Hiroaki Koide, a well-regarded nuclear scientist and former Professor of Kyoto University, said that Japan originally established the legal limit of permissible radiation as 1 ml Sievert per year for the average person, and 20 ml Sievert per year for nuclear research professionals like him.

However, since the Fukushima nuclear accident, the government of Japan officially announced the Nuclear Emergency Countermeasure Declaration [RP1], which voided the prior law. A UN Special Rapporteur criticized Japan for sending evacuees home to radiation exposures 20 times higher than the original limit before the nuclear disaster of 1 ml Sievert per year.

According to a radiation simulation map by the Centre d’Enseignement et de Recherche en Environnement Atmosphérique (CEREA), along with research by Professor Hiroaki Koide, of Kyoto University, radiation levels in the state of California seem to be higher than those of the city of Hokkaido in Japan. As it is understandable that scientists have not yet calculated the cumulative impact of radiation on the West Coast 40 years from now, we therefore need the International Assessment Team to analyze the current situation and to dedicate the best expertise and resources to plan both short- and long-term strategies. It must also be noted that prevailing winds carrying airborne radiation from Fukushima do not stop at the western U.S. coastline. Indeed, this is both a national and global issue.

The confounding task of trying to address a life threatening situation for which there currently is no recognized solution presents obstacles with multiple levels of denial. The first level of denial is deliberate institutional silence.  However, it is specious to argue that because there is no solution, there is little value in talking about it and raising stress and anxiety levels.  When examining the eight years of unabated radioactive leakage from Fukushima, institutional silence from governments and academia concerning measured radiation levels and the foreseeable health impacts must be exposed and challenged.

California currently ranks as the world’s fifth largest economy, with agriculture, science and technology, media and tourism constituting the most dominant sectors. However, California’s continued economic performance can only continue when its land and citizens remain healthy.

It is past time for Californians to take a hard look at the reality of continued exposure from Fukushima and other radioactive sources, and not push the problem on to future generations. To borrow from an American Indian proverb:

We do not inherit our land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.

• First published at Finding The Missing Link web site

Akio Matsumura is Secretary-General of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders for Human Survival and formerly Secretary-General of the Parliamentary Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro. Read other articles by Akio.