Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan.
“I was standing on the flight deck, and we felt this warm gust of air, and, suddenly, it was snowing,” Cooper recalled of the day in March 2011 when she and scores of crewmates watched a sudden storm blow toward them from the tsunami-torn coast of Fukushima, Japan.
The tall 24-year-old with a winning smile didn’t know it then, but the snow was caused by the freezing Pacific air mixing with a plume of radioactive steam from the city’s shattered nuclear reactor.
Now, nearly three years after their deployment on a humanitarian mission to Japan’s ravaged coast, Cooper and scores of her fellow crew members on the aircraft carrier and a half-dozen other support ships are battling cancers, thyroid disease, uterine bleeding and other ailments.
“We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow!’ ” Cooper recalled. “I took pictures and video.”
But now “my thyroid is so out of whack that I can lose 60 to 70 pounds in one month and then gain it back the next,” said Cooper, fighting tears. “My menstrual cycle lasts for six months at a time, and I cannot get pregnant. It’s ruined me.”
A pair of greenlings have shown the highest level of radioactive caesium detected in fish and shellfish caught in waters off Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, its operator said Tuesday.
The fishes, captured 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) off the plant on August 1, registered 25,800 becquerels of caesium per kilo, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said — 258 times the level the government deems safe for consumption.
The previous record in fish and shellfish off Fukushima was 18,700 becquerels per kilo detected in cherry salmons, according to the government’s Fisheries Agency.
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.
They scoop up soil from their gardens and dump it in holes dug out in parks and nearby forests, scrub their roofs with soap and refuse to let their children play outside.
Fukushima residents are scrambling to cope with contamination on their own in the absence of a long-term plan from the government.
"Everything and everyone here is paralyzed and we feel left on our own, unsure whether its actually safe for us to stay in the city," said Akiko Itoh, 42, with her four-year old son in her lap.
Even though this city of 300,000 lies outside of the 30-km 20 mile evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, a recent survey showed radiation levels in several spots exceed 13 millisieverts per year, more than six times natural levels.
Small amounts of radioactive cesium were found in the urine of 10 children in the city of Fukushima, confirming their internal exposure to radiation, citizens groups that carried out a survey said Thursday.
The groups, including Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, asked ACRO, a French independent radiation monitoring and sampling laboratory, to conduct tests on its members own children. ACRO conducted tests in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident.
The groups said they couldnt judge whether the level of contamination was large or small, and urged the government to conduct thorough tests on all Fukushima children to find the precise levels of their internal exposure and take necessary measures to avoid any further contamination.
Campaigners in Japan are asking people to grow sunflowers, said to help decontaminate radioactive soil, in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed Marchs massive quake and tsunami.Volunteers are being asked to grow sunflowers this year, then send the seeds to the stricken area where they will be planted next year to help get rid of radioactive contaminants in the plants fallout zone.The campaign, launched by young entrepreneurs and civil servants in Fukushima prefecture last month, aims to cover large areas in yellow blossoms as a symbol of hope and reconstruction and to lure back tourists.
Plenty of Japanese people are worried about their food, so artist Nils Ferber’s conceptual Fukushima Plate, which features a "built-in radioactive meter to visualize your food’s level of contamination," could be pretty useful.
The plate features customizable radiation level settings, because Ferber says, "people perceive the risks and dangers of radioactive radiation very differently."
Japan on Sunday started the first evacuations of homes outside a government exclusion zone after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled one of the country’s nuclear power plants. Some 4,000 residents of Iidate-mura village as well as 1,100 people in Kawamata-cho town, in the quake-hit northeast, began the phased relocations to public housing, hotels and other facilities in nearby cities. Their communities are outside the 20-kilometre radius from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, officially designated as an area of forced evacuation due to health risks from the radiation seeping from the ageing and damaged plant.
The government told people in communities such as Iidate-mura they had to leave, but authorities are unlikely to punish those who choose to stay.
"I am sure all of you have lived in Iidate-mura all your life and never moved," mayor Norio Kanno told a group of residents preparing to leave their homes.
Tests of milk samples taken last week in Spokane, Wash., indicate the presence of radioactive iodine from the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, but at levels far below those at which action would have to be taken, the Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday.
Radioactive materials in liquids are measured in pico-curies per liter, and the sample, taken March 25, showed a reading of 0.8 pico-curies, the agency said. Those numbers, it said, would have to be 5,000 times higher to reach the “intervention level” set by the Food and Drug Administration.
“These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children,” the environmental agency said