Talk given at the Remember Fukushima parliamentary meeting, House of Commons committee room 9, London, 15 March 2017.
Distances from FDNPP (Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant) are ‘as the crow flies’ ie geodesic.
In October 2016 I participated in a study tour of Fukushima, organised by Green Cross Switzerland, the international environmental NGO founded by Mikhail Gorbachev.
This presentation includes some of my photographs from the tour and statements by some of the people I met.
Hundreds of tsunami marker stones, dating back 600 years, or more, can be found along the north east coast of Japan.
In 1896 there was a tsunami of more than 30 meters in height.
And in 1933 another which was 21 meters high.
Despite the heights of these tsunamis, the seawall at the Fukushima Daiichi site was built to a height of only 10 meters.
The 2011 tsunami swept over this cliff.
9 km further up the coast the cliff was cut away to lower the site of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, by 24 meters, so it was closer to sea-level.
This was to save money on pumping the thousands of gallons per day of seawater required to control the temperature of the nuclear fuel inside the reactors.
A millisievert is the unit in which ionising radiation doses are measured.
20 millisieverts per year is the maximum dose of ionising radiation originating from a nuclear power plant to which citizens of Fukushima can now be exposed in a year.
In the rest of Japan, and the rest of the world, the maximum permitted non-occupational dose to a citizen is 1 millisievert per year, as recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).
This raising of the annual threshold to 20 millisieverts per year puts enormous pressure on many of those who evacuated, to return to live in areas which are still contaminated, as the financial support for them to live elsewhere will be terminated in March 2017.
Many feel outraged and betrayed by this loss of financial support.
They do not want to accept the increased risk to their health, and the even greater risk to the health of their children, who are much more sensitive to the effects of ionising radiation.
They feel betrayed by the government as well as by those in the media and scientific and medical communities who downplay the risks and support the policy of raising the radiation exposure threshold to 20 millisieverts per year.
Many people, in Japan and elsewhere, consider this to be a serious breach of human rights.
- Nearly 330,000 people live here
- Heavily contaminated by FDNPP
- But no evacuation order
- Many radiation ‘hotspots’ unidentified, so no warning, or identified but not yet cleared by authorities
- Mothers become ‘citizen scientists’ – measuring radiation in environment and in food in order to protect their children
At 60 km as the crow flies from Fukushima Daiichi, Koriyama City with nearly 330,000 people is still seriously contaminated by radioactive fallout, particularly in public parks where children play.
As in other contaminated areas some people here have become ‘citizen scientists.’
Many are mothers with young children who don’t trust government radiation measurements – or who are concerned about radiation hotspots – which have not been marked or cleared by the authorities.
- Formed 3a! Koriyama Family Club with 5 other mothers
- 3a! supported by Green Cross
- Essential support for mothers concerned re radiation
- Subsidised monthly medical exams for children
- Legal advice
- Information re radiation
- Regular access to uncontaminated food and water
- Annual 4-day ‘respite’ holiday
It is becoming increasingly taboo to express anxiety about radiation in Japan.
When Mrs Noguchi returned from evacuation she founded the 3a! Koriyama Family Club with five other mothers who were concerned about living in a radioactively contaminated environment.
When those who evacuated voluntarily – return – they face stigma for “bringing shame to Koriyama,” so many hide the true reason they left the city.
Mrs Noguchi told us “Our family club will have a very important role to play in preventing returnees from becoming isolated here.”
- young people are more radiosensitive than adults
- babies, fetuses and embryos are at even greater risk
- Females are more radiosensitive than males
- Once inside your body, each isotope mimics a specific mineral and concentrates in the parts of the body which use that mineral
- Strontium-90, mimics calcium
- Cesium-137 mimics potassium
- Iodine-131 concentrates in your thyroid gland
The younger you are, the faster your cells divide so young people are more radiosensitive than adults: babies, fetuses and embryos are at even greater risk. Females are more radiosensitive than males. Low immunity and genetic sensitivity to radiation increase your sensitivity further still.
Once inside your body, each isotope (radioactive element) mimics a specific mineral and concentrates in the parts of the body which use that mineral.
In Belarus and Ukraine, radiogenic illnesses and birth defects continue to arise in over 453,000 children born of parents who were themselves children in 1986.
Many scientists are concerned about what the future holds for those who were – and who continue to be – exposed to radioactivity from inside the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.
Already 183 cases  of confirmed and suspected thyroid cancer have emerged among 360,000 people who were under 18 in 2011.
- Evacuated ‘voluntarily’ to Saitama, 120km away
- Father stayed in Koriyama to work
- Returned to Koriyama in 2014
- Mental health of father and children improved
- But Mrs Endo worried re physical health of her children
- stigma faced by mothers who are concerned re radiation for being ‘worrying mothers’
At the time of the disaster Mie was a baby and her brother was six years old. Mrs. Endo evacuated with her children, to Saitama, 180 km away. Their father stayed behind to continue his work.
But everyone in the family suffered so badly from this prolonged separation that in 2014 Mrs. Endo returned to Koriyama with her children.
Although in many ways the family are much happier now, Mrs. Endo continues to be worried about their physical health.
The lack of health facilities will be a serious problem for those who return to their former homes after six years in evacuation as many medical centres remain closed.
Those who were under the age of 18 at the time of the disaster are provided with a free health exam – once every two years.
Many believe that this is inadequate, as once triggered, thyroid cancers and other radiogenic illnesses can progress rapidly.
The children of 3a! Koriyama are examined once a month by a private doctor who’s fees are subsidised by Green Cross.
In evacuation centres people live in close proximity in these 20 meter-squared prefab cabins.
This proximity is stressful for those who have young children because of noise and the lack of space.
Yet for others it is welcome as it facilitates support.
If, for example, someone falls ill or needs regular medical treatment, such as kidney dialysis, their neighbours are able to help them by calling an ambulance or driving them to a hospital.
When the Japanese government lifts the evacuation order for an area it does so on the basis of average radiation dose levels in that area and assumptions about how people will live there when they return.
In Iitate, for example, sited 40 km north west of Fukushima Daiichi, it’s assumed that when people return, they will spend the majority of their time indoors and only 8 – 12 hours outside. Yet many of these people worked in the forest, typically for many hours in fair weather.
In a recent report  about Iitate, Greenpeace wrote:
“The Japanese government has deliberately decided to create an open-air prison of confinement – to “cleaned” houses and roads where radiation levels are still largely unsafe – and where the vast and untouched radioactive forests continue to pose a significant risk of recontamination of these “decontaminated” areas.”
More than 22 million bags of contaminated topsoil, rubble and plant debris, are piled up around Fukushima. This includes 50% of the farmland of Katsurao.
These storage sites were supposed to be temporary but, after six years, permanent storage locations have yet to be found.
The Japanese government is considering recycling some of this radioactive waste as a building material for structures such as road foundations, coastal wind breaks and sea walls.
It is estimated by the Government that this might save £11.8 billion.
The yard around this house has been stripped of plants and 15cm topsoil. It seems that someone is very keen to ‘decontaminate’ and repair this and other properties which are clearly inside the long-term evacuation zone.
There’s enormous pressure on Fukushima to ‘recover’ in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as several of the events will be hosted in the prefecture.
- “This is where I want to die. I don’t want to die in an unfamiliar place.”
- “If I can keep this life my children may come in ten years to inherit this life here.”
- relieved to return home in February 2015
- 4 years of mandatory evacuation: moved seven times.
“I’ve been blaming Tepco and the government but this did not make me happy. It’s easy to blame someone else.”
- in refugee camp found comfort and connection through making crafts with the other ladies
- has turned her house into community ‘hub’ with a tea-shop and regular fabric handicraft and natural dye workshops
- teaches Daiko drumming to evacuated children from Naraha
- “The biggest change is that we used to live in big families. Now we live in small units so it’s very important to support each other.”
These days Mrs. Takahara considers herself to be partly to blame for the catastrophe as she belongs to a community which directly benefitted from the nuclear power plant, enjoying the abundant electricity, the jobs and the boost to the local economy.
She says she regrets her part in “making the land uninhabitable for the next generation.”
- Cllr. Sato part of anti-nuclear group who warned TEPCO every month, for 25 years, re risk to Fukushima Daiichi NPP from earthquakes & tsunamis.
- Sato one of 14,000 Fukushima plaintiffs vs four TEPCO executives for the crime of ‘professional negligence resulting in death and injury’.
- July 2015, three of the executives were charged
Councillor Sato believes that “Human beings and nuclear power cannot co-exist.”
Since 1988, he has worked with the ‘Phase Out of Nuclear Power’ group in Fukushima.
Until March 2011 the group met with managers at TEPCO – every month, for 25 years – to warn them about the risk to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant from earthquakes and tsunamis.
But their warnings went unheeded.
- Jagged plate glass
- Fallen concrete blocks
- Bunting warning of unsafe building
- High street deserted for nearly 6 years due to high radiation levels
Shattered plate glass is a stark reminder of the violence of the magnitude 9 earthquake.
In February this year, Dr Shuzo Takemoto, Professor of Geophysics at Kyoto University, voiced his concern  about another big earthquake:
“It can hardly be said the Fukushima accident is heading toward a solution.
The problem of Unit 2, where a large volume of nuclear fuels remain … if it should encounter a big earth tremor, it will be destroyed and scatter the remaining nuclear fuel and its debris, making the Tokyo metropolitan area uninhabitable.
The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will then be utterly out of the question.”
 Greenpeace, ‘No Return To Normal: The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster,’ February 2017 http://www.greenpeace.org/japan/Global/japan/pdf/NRN_FINweb4.pdf
 Dr Shuzo Takemoto, professor of Geophysics, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University, February 11, 2017, http://akiomatsumura.com/2017/02/the-potential-catastrophe-of-reactor-2-at-fukushima-daiichi.html?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-potential-catastrophe-of-reactor-2-at-fukushima-daiichi