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Nearly half of children near Fukushima plant absorbed radiation

2011/08/19 Print Share Article The government document outlining the results of internal exposure examinations conducted in March (The Asahi Shimbun) An official explains the results of internal exposure examinations in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 17. (The Asahi Shimbun) IWAKI, Fukushima Prefecture--A survey of more than 1,000 children and babies living near the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has produced an alarming finding: 45 percent of them suffered internal exposure to radiation following the accident there. Most children absorbed relatively low levels of radiation in their thyroid glands, according to officials who explained the results to residents in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 17. Tests conducted in Iwaki city, Kawamata town and Iitate village between March 24 and 30 found that 26 percent of under-16s absorbed 0.01 microsievert per hour, while 11 percent absorbed 0.02 microsievert per hour. At least one child recorded radiation of 0.10 microsievert per hour, but officials said that level did not pose a health risk. During a one-on-one consultation session, a woman who had received a letter from the government saying her 14-year-old son had an internal exposure reading of 0.01 microsievert per hour asked the officials whether it was safe for her family to continue living in Iwaki. An official responded that radiation levels were low in the city, but said she should be careful of grass and roadside ditches. "The meeting did not answer my questions or eliminate my anxieties at all," she said. She complained that the officials' explanations were no more helpful than what is available on the Internet and other sources of information. Her son, who also attended the meeting, said: "The figure is not zero because my body has taken in radioactive materials. I would like to be told whether I am OK or not." Examinations were conducted on about 1,150 children aged 15 or younger, including babies under 1 year old. Data was obtained for 1,080 children. In 55 percent of cases, no internal exposure was detected. At the time of the tests, the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan said detailed examinations would be required if internal exposure levels reached 0.20 microsievert per hour. The standard was based on the assumption that residents had inhaled radioactive materials gradually over 12 days from March 12, when an explosion shook the nuclear plant and released radioactive materials a day after the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. But the Japan Atomic Energy Agency and other organizations have since found that large amounts of radioactive iodine were released over four or five days from March 12. The finding shows that children's internal organs and tissues may have been exposed to much higher radiation levels during that period than was initially assumed.

Iodine-131, for example has a half-life of around five to seven days, meaning that some children may have been exposed to levels of radiation that would require detailed examination. Radioactive iodine can develop into cancer if large amounts are accumulated in the thyroid gland, and children are particularly vulnerable. The thyroid gland produces hormones related to metabolism and growth from iodine in the body. The Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan is also not planning to reflect the International Atomic Energy Agency's new stricter standards for taking medications to protect thyroid glands from internal exposure. The meeting in Iwaki on Aug. 17 was held after residents pressed the government to provide detailed explanations about the survey. Officials had previously said there would be no health problems, but failed to offer figures to back up that statement. About 50 residents attended the meeting in Iwaki. The Fukushima prefectural government plans to conduct lifelong screening for thyroid gland cancer on about 360,000 children in the prefecture who were 18 or younger on April 1. The inspections will start as early as October, and initial ultrasound examinations will be carried out by March 2014. These children will undergo ultrasonography once every two years until they turn 20 and once every five years for the rest of their lives. When lumps and other suspected symptoms are detected, children will receive detailed examinations, including blood tests. Separate studies of internal exposure started in late June, covering all 2 million residents of Fukushima Prefecture. In preliminary examinations, internal exposure levels were measured using whole-body counters for about 180 residents of Iitate, Kawamata and other areas where high radiation levels were detected. Initial estimates are that all residents' internal radiation levels over several decades will not exceed 1 millisievert per person, officials say.

TEPCO to add more than 4,000 radiation experts
2011/08/19 Print Share Article A resident from Fukushima Prefecture gets checked out for radiation exposure in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 15. (Asahi Shimbun file photo) The government and TEPCO plan to bring in more than 4,000 experts to measure radiation levels and manage workers' exposure to radioactivity to end the crisis at the quake-crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it will need more experts to measure radiation levels not only at the Fukushima plant, but in municipalities around the plant where residents will return once evacuation orders are lifted. Under the plan to bring the nuclear crisis to an end, which was revised on Aug. 17, about 4,000

experts will be trained in radiation measurements and about 250 in exposure management. TEPCO said it will need more measurement experts in addition to the current corps of about 2,500--1,900 at the company and its affiliates who have already received training and 600 from other electric power companies. Separately, about 250 workers will acquire more advanced knowledge and manage workers' exposure to radioactivity within the stricken facility northeast of Tokyo. It is difficult to secure a sufficient number of these experts because they often have to work in areas with high radiation levels. TEPCO is also trying to find electricians and other engineers through the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, which is made up of companies involved in the nuclear power industry.

Professor develops new method for decontaminating soil
BY NOBUTARO KAJI STAFF WRITER 2011/08/21 Print Share Article A simple system that combines washing and sieving contaminated soil to remove radioactive cesium, which could be utilized near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, has been developed by a Kyoto University team. The team, led by associate professor Haruhiko Toyohara, said the system should be of great use especially when decontaminating soil containing little clay, such as the topsoil in a house's garden and parks. The new system will be presented at the September meeting of the Japanese Society of Fisheries Science in Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture. Toyohara experimented with the system using the soil from a park in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, about 60 kilometers west of the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The soil contains 3,000 to 5,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, with the weight of fine clay in the soil comprising only 4 percent of the total. When washing the soil through a sieve using a scrubbing brush, about 88 percent of cesium in the soil was transferred to the water. All cesium in the water was then gathered on the bottom of a container using a chemical agent. When sieving the washed soil to remove fine clay, about 99 percent of the cesium initially contained in the soil was eliminated. The weight of contaminated soil removed through the process--the amount of the soil on the bottom and clay separated by sieving--was reduced to only 5 percent of the total of the original soil.

Nation hit by A-bombs placed big bet on nuclear power
BY YUTAKA SHIOKURA STAFF WRITER 2011/08/21 Print Share Article Workers install the pressure container of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in May 1969. (Asahi Shimbun file photo) The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led to magazine articles and publications that are trying to unravel how two competing images of Japan emerged in modern history--the nation devastated by the atomic bombings in August 1945 going on to become one of the major users of nuclear power plants. One aspect that has emerged in those discussions is the role played by the theory that Japan promoted nuclear energy "just because" it was the victim of an atomic bombing. On the July 23 broadcast of a TV debate program, Italian journalist Pio D'Emilia asked, "Why did a nation that has the legacy of Hiroshima ever allow so easily the construction of nuclear power plants?" A response was given by Michio Ishikawa, a supreme adviser at the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute who was born before August 1945 and who was involved in nuclear power development from the earliest stages after the end of World War II. The gist of Ishikawa's response was that in his generation many nuclear energy researchers were in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped, or in Nagasaki three days later when the second bomb was dropped. All those researchers became involved in nuclear energy on the grounds of "peaceful use" of the technology and to use it to improve people's lives, Ishikawa said. The explanation can be boiled down to one of promoting nuclear energy not in spite of the atomic bombing, but because of it. In the June issue of the magazine Impaction, Mikiyo Kano, a scholar of women's history, discovers such a thinking of "just because" in the arguments of the late Mitsuo Taketani, who was a major proponent of the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In the November 1952 issue of Kaizo magazine, Taketani argued that the Japanese have the greatest right to research a peaceful nuclear energy technology because they are the only victims of an atomic bombing. Some researchers have tried to delve into the psychology that led to the spread of the "just because" theory. In the August issue of the magazine Sekai (World), Toshiyuki Tanaka, a professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute under the Hiroshima City University, wrote, "Because the hibakusha were injured by the atomic bombing, the slogan of 'The object that took your lives can, in fact, not only be used to treat cancer, but is also an energy source that can provide a strong life force' was accepted by them as a message of, in a sense, salvation." Others point to a different psychology at work among the hibakusha.

In the June issue of Shincho 45, the critic Morihide Katayama writes that in the deep roots of the call for peaceful use of nuclear technology lay "a grassroots sense of vengeance." That would be achieved by using the "hatred" held toward the United States for using the atomic bombs on them to skillfully utilize that same nuclear technology. One aspect of that argument is to "repay the loss of war due to science by using that science." The "just because" thinking is also related to the emergence in Japan of the myth that nuclear energy was safe. In the June issue of Gendai Shiso (Modern philosophy), the historian Hisato Nakajima focuses on the process behind the establishment of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. He explained how an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. tried to placate concerns held by local residents that nuclear power plants "were just as dangerous as an atomic bomb." The TEPCO employee apparently gave the following argument to gain consent. "I witnessed the atomic bombing and my older brother was killed by it. For that reason, I understand the dangers of nuclear technology much better than all of you. If someone like me, who lost relatives to the atomic bombing, had even a little concern, I would not be able to comply even if it was company policy." Because Japan was a victim of the atomic bombing, an even stronger myth about nuclear energy safety would be required for residents and those employees working at the plant. Nakajima points to the possibility of such unique historical circumstances to explain how that safety myth developed. The sociology researcher Hiroshi Kainuma is in the spotlight for his book "Fukushima ron" (On Fukushima), which looks into what nuclear energy meant for Fukushima Prefecture. In his book, Kainuma describes nuclear energy as something with the image of being "at the cutting edge of modernity." In explaining what common thread existed between the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants, Kainuma said, "The cutting edge of modernity is the glory of war and growth." He added, "The glory of growth in terms of economic prosperity and democratization and the glory of war in terms of 'liberation from fascism' and 'the liberation of Asia.' Both are modern ideals, and that is the reason people observed overwhelming modernity in both nuclear plants and atomic bombs." This summer the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization, made up of hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, decided on a clear policy of moving away from nuclear energy through the gradual decommissioning of all nuclear reactors. That represents a major turning point for an organization, which since its establishment in 1956, never called for a society that had zero nuclear plants. Japan's history of nuclear energy would likely never have begun without inclusion of the thinking of "just because" the nation was hit by the atomic bombs. To understand that complicated picture, there will likely be a need for a comprehensive reexamination of Japan's modern history, including the period of rapid economic growth and the nuclear strategy of the United States.

Fukushima kids take case to Tokyo, but get no satisfaction 2011/08/19

Children from elementary and junior high schools in disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture meet with government officials in Tokyo on Aug. 17 to talk about their lives since the March 11 nuclear crisis. (Hiroyuki Yamamoto) They came looking for answers, and left feeling brushed off. More than five months have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, and children in disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture are desperate to get their lives back to normal. They took their case to the central government on Aug. 17 and were far from satisfied with the results. Four children from the prefecture, all from elementary and junior high schools, visited the First Members' Office Building of the Lower House in the capital's Chiyoda Ward. Directly addressing government officials tasked with handling the crisis and bureaucrats in the education ministry, the children spoke about the hardships they have endured since the onset of the crisis. "I want government officials to allow my school friends to evacuate to the same area together," said one student, a 13-year-old girl from Miharu who evacuated to Tokyo in June. The girl added that she was deeply saddened at being transferred to another school. She also said she does not understand why people in the prefecture had to experience such tremendous adversity, given that the plant supplied electricity to people in Tokyo. Stumped by the questions from the children, the government officials repeatedly responded, "We will do our best." At a news conference following the meeting, an 11-year-old boy said he didn't understand why the officials did not take their questions seriously, even though they are adults. The children also submitted about 40 letters from other children from the prefecture. One letter read, "Can I bear a healthy child?" and "Until what age can I survive?" while another said, "Dear Prime Minister Naoto Kan, I want all nuclear power plants to be stopped." The 13-year-old girl said she wants to know what the government thinks about the letters. She wanted Kan more than anybody else to attend the meeting, she said. About 300 people from the Tokyo area and other parts of Japan attended the meeting. A 10-year-old boy from Tokyo's Kunitachi, who was accompanied by his mother to the meeting, said, "I was truly touched because the children talked in their own words, and the meeting made me realize that both adults and children have to give more serious thought to the issue."