A United Nations rights investigator has said Japan hasn’t fully served the health needs of residents and workers affected by the nuclear crisis and address their concerns.
Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, said Monday that Japan has over-emphasized optimistic views of radiation risks and conducted limited health checks after a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant caused by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Many plant workers on short-term contracts have no access to permanent health check.
Grover wrapped up his 11-day survey in Fukushima and other areas. He also cited residents’ complaints about the lack of access to their own health-check results.
Japan’s government has been criticized for coverups and delays in disclosing key radiation information, causing deep-rooted public distrust.
Masaharu Tsubokura, M.D., of the University of Tokyo, and colleagues conducted a study to gauge the level of radiation exposure to residents of the city of Minamisoma, located 14 miles north of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. “Release of radioactive material into the air, water, and soil raised concern about internal radiation exposure and the long-term risk of cancer in nearby residents,” they write.
Many residents were evacuated after the meltdown, but by August 2011, approximately half had returned. A voluntary screening program for levels of cesium, known to be representative of total internal radiation exposure, was conducted between September 2011 and March 2012 for all residents ages 6 years or older. Total cesium exposure was converted into committed effective dose (sievert, Sv). Common dose-limit recommendations for the public are 1 mSv or less. A total of 9,498 residents enrolled in the study, 24 percent of the registered population on August 15, 2011. The sample consisted of 1,432 children and 8,066 adults. A total of 3,286 individuals (34.6 percent) had detectable levels of cesium, including 235 children (16.4 percent) and 3,051 adults (37.8 percent). Committed effective doses were less than 1 mSv in all but 1 resident (1.07 mSv).
“To our knowledge, this is the first report on internal exposure to cesium radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant incident. In this sample, exposure levels were low in most adults and children tested and much lower than those reported in studies years after the Chernobyl incident. Even the highest levels of contamination observed are below the thresholds for the administration of Prussian blue [an antidote used in the treatment of cesium poisoning],” the authors write.
The government approved a long-term goal Friday for reducing exposure to radiation in Fukushima Prefecture to levels in line with international standards as part of the policy for reconstruction and recovery from the nuclear crisis.
The Cabinet approved the goal of cutting the annual radiation dose to 1 millisievert or less, excluding exposure to natural radioactivity, in the prefecture hosting the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, but it failed to meet a call to boost subsidies to firms starting firms or expanding operations.
The current evacuation order around the plant is designed to prevent exposure of more than 20 millisieverts of radiation a year, based on information from the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
Kelp along the California coast was found to be contaminated with radioactive material from a nuclear plant damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, according to a recent study.
Researchers at California State University, Long Beach found that the kelp contained radioactive iodine, cesium, xenon and other particles at levels unlikely to be detrimental to human health but much higher than the amounts measured before the disaster.
The levels were also about the same as those measured in British Columbia and Washington state after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion.
The Fukushima nuclear accident released double the amount of cesium-137 into the atmosphere than the government initially estimated, reaching 40 percent of the total emitted during the Chernobyl disaster, a preliminary report said.
The estimate of much higher levels of cesium-137 comes from a worldwide network of sensors. Report coauthor Andreas Stohl, of the Norwegian Institute for Air Research, said the government estimate came only from data in Japan and didn’t include emissions blown out to the Pacific Ocean.
Cesium-137 is considered harmful because it can remain in the environment for decades, releasing cancer-causing radiation. The report did not consider the health implications of the emissions.
Video footage of Tatsuhiko Kodama’s impassioned speech before a Diet committee in July went viral online recently, showing the medical expert’s shocking revelation that the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant spewed some 30 times more radioactive materials than the fallout from the Hiroshima atomic bombing.
Kodama, a professor of systems biology and medicine at the University of Tokyo, used clear-cut terms to get his message across. His ruthless criticism of the government’s slow response has been viewed at least 1 million times.
"It means a significantly large amount of radioactive material was released compared with the atomic bomb," he told the Diet committee.
"What has the Diet been doing as 70,000 people are forced to evacuate and wander outside of their homes?"
The rice harvest is traditionally a time of festivities celebrated even by the Emperor, as farmers reap the rewards of four months of labor in a 2,000-year-old tradition. But not this year, with radiation seeping into the soil.
Farmers growing half of the nation’s rice crop are awaiting the results of tests to see if their produce has been contaminated by radiation from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Rice, used in almost all meals and the key ingredient in sake, is being tested before the harvest starts this month. Radiation exceeding safety levels has so far been found in produce including spinach, tea and beef.
Shigehide Oki, a 61-year-old farmer near Tokyo, this week passed the first hurdle after a preliminary round of tests showed no trace elements of radioactive cesium, the main source of concern. Losing his crop of about 80 tons of rice would "destroy" him, he said.
Responding to fury among parents in Fukushima, Japan’s education minister said Friday that the country would set a lower radiation exposure limit for schoolchildren in areas around a stricken nuclear plant and pay for schools to remove contaminated topsoil from fields and playgrounds.
In recent days, worried parents have spoken out over what they say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation at local schools. The issue has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, which was ravaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The Obama administration has authorized the first evacuations of Americans out of Japan, and said it will charter aircraft to help U.S. citizens wishing to escape elevated radiation levels in the country.
The State Department late Wednesday issued a warning to Americans to avoid travel to Japan and said U.S. citizens in the country should consider leaving. Its authorized departure offers a voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in Tokyo and Yokohama and affects some 600 people.
Senior State Department official Patrick Kennedy said the chartered planes would help private American citizens wishing to leave.
He said people faced less risk in southern Japan, but warned that changing weather and wind conditions could raise radiation levels elsewhere in the coming days.
The Obama administration, taking a tougher stand than Japan on how to deal with a deepening nuclear crisis, urged the evacuation of Americans on Wednesday within a 50-mile radius of a stricken nuclear plant, raising questions about U.S. confidence in Tokyo’s risk assessments.