Fukushima Radiation and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
by Dahr Jamail, Truthout / EcoWatch, 17 July 2017
Former nuclear industry senior vice president Arnie Gunderson, who managed and coordinated projects at 70 U.S. atomic power plants, is appalled at how the Japanese government is handling the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
"The inhumanity of the Japanese government toward the Fukushima disaster refugees is appalling," Gunderson, a licensed reactor operator with 45 years of nuclear power engineering experience and the author of a bestselling book in Japan about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, told Truthout.
He explains that both the Japanese government and the atomic power industry are trying to force almost all of the people who evacuated their homes in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to return "home" before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This March Japan's federal government announced the subsidies that have, up until now, been provided to Fukushima evacuees who were mandated to leave their homes are being withdrawn, which will force many of them to return to their contaminated prefecture out of financial necessity.
And it's not just the Japanese government. The International Olympic Commission is working overtime to normalize the situation as well, even though conditions at Fukushima are anything but normal. The commission even has plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to have baseball and softball games played at Fukushima.
Gunderson believes these developments are happening so that the pro-nuclear Japanese government can claim the Fukushima disaster is "over." However, he noted, "The disaster is not 'over' and 'home' no longer is habitable."
His analysis of what is happening is simple.
"Big banks and large electric utilities and energy companies are putting profit before public health," Gunderson added. "Luckily, my two young grandsons live in the U.S.; if their parents lived instead in Fukushima Prefecture [a prefecture is similar to a state in the U.S.], I would tell them to leave and never go back."
Reports of radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which began when a tsunami generated by Japan's deadly earthquake in 2011 struck the nuclear plant, have been ongoing.
Seven more people who used to live in Fukushima, Japan were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the government announced in June. This brings the number of cases of thyroid cancer of those living in the prefecture at the time the disaster began to at least 152.
While the Japanese government continues to deny any correlation between these cases and the Fukushima disaster, thyroid cancer has long since been known to be caused by radioactive iodine released during nuclear accidents like the one at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. A World Health Organization report released after the disaster started listed cancer as a possible result of the meltdown, and a 2015 study in the journal Epidemiology suggested that children exposed to Fukushima radiation were likely to develop thyroid cancer more frequently.
The 2011 disaster left 310 square miles around the plant uninhabitable, and the area's 160,000 residents were evacuated. This April, officials began welcoming some of them back to their homes, but more than half of the evacuees in a nearby town have already said they would not return to their homes even if evacuation orders were lifted, according to a 2016 government survey.
Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company responsible for cleaning up the disaster, announced this February they were having difficulty locating nuclear fuel debris inside one of the reactors. Radiation inside the plant continues to skyrocket to the point of causing even robots to malfunction.
Cancer cases continue to crop up among children living in towns near Fukushima.
And it's not as if the danger is decreasing. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Earlier this year, radiation levels at the Fukushima plant were at their highest levels since the disaster began.
TEPCO said atmospheric readings of 530 sieverts an hour had been recorded in one of the reactors. The previous highest reading was 73 sieverts an hour back in 2012. A single dose of just one Sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea. Five sieverts would kill half of those exposed within one month, and a dose of 10 sieverts would be fatal to those exposed within weeks.
Dr. Tadahiro Katsuta, an associate professor at Meiji University, Japan, is an official member of the Nuclear Reactor Safety Examination Committee and the Nuclear Fuel Safety Examination Committee of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. Truthout asked him what he was most concerned about regarding the Japanese government's handling of the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima.
"What I regard as the most dangerous, personally, is the fact that the Japanese government has chosen the national prestige and protection of electric power companies over the lives of its own citizens," Katsuta, who wrote the Fukushima update for the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, said.
Gundersen thinks it simply makes no sense to hold the Olympics in Japan.
"Holding the 2020 Olympics in Japan is an effort by the current Japanese government to make these ongoing atomic reactor meltdowns disappear from the public eye," Gunderson said. "I discovered highly radioactive dust on Tokyo street corners in 2016."
According to Gunderson and other nuclear experts Truthout spoke with, the crisis is even worse.
Fukushima and Surrounding Prefectures Radioactively "Contaminated"
"The Japanese government never dedicated enough resources to trying to contain the radiation released by the meltdowns," Gunderson said.
Gunderson said that during his first trip to Japan in 2012, he stated publicly that the cleanup of Fukushima would cost more than a quarter of a trillion dollars, and TEPCO scoffed at his estimate. But now in 2017, TEPCO has reached and announced the same conclusion, but as a result of its inaction in 2011 and 2012, the Pacific Ocean and the beautiful mountain ranges in Fukushima and surrounding prefectures are contaminated.
One of the tactics that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's administration chose to deploy at Fukushima to contain radiation was an underground "ice wall."
"As the 'ice wall' was being designed, I spoke out that it was doomed to fail, and was [an] incredibly expensive diversion," Gunderson said. "There are techniques that could stop water from entering the basements of the destroyed reactors so that the radioactivity would not migrate through the groundwater to the ocean, but the Japanese government continues to resist pursuing them."
Gunderson argues that Japan could and should build a sarcophagus over all three destroyed reactors and wait 100 years to dismantle them. This way, the radioactive exposure will be minimized for Japanese workers, and ongoing radioactive releases to the environment would be minimized as well.
Gunderson also points out that it is equally important that radioactive water continues to run out of the mountain streams into the Pacific, so a thorough cleanup of the mountain ranges should begin right now, but that is a mammoth undertaking that may never succeed.
In addition to his other roles, Arnie Gunderson serves as the chief engineer for Fairewinds Energy Education, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization founded by his wife Maggie. Since founding the organization, Maggie Gunderson has provided paralegal and expert witness services for Fairewinds. Like her husband, she's had an inside view of the nuclear industry: She was an engineering assistant in reload core design for the nuclear vendor Combustion Engineering, and she was in charge of PR for a proposed nuclear reactor site in upstate New York.
When Truthout asked her how she felt about the Abe government's response to Fukushima, she said, "Human health is not a commodity that should be traded for corporate profits or the goals of politicians and those in power as is happening in Japan. The Japanese government is refusing to release accurate health data and is threatening to take away hospital privileges from doctors who diagnose radiation symptoms."
Maggie Gunderson added that her husband also met with a doctor who lost his clinic because he was diagnosing people with radiation sickness, instead of complying with the government's story that their illnesses were due to the psychological stress of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns.
M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and is also a contributing author to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2016. Like the Gundersons, he is critical of the Abe administration's mishandling of Fukushima.
"I am not sure we can expect much better from the Abe administration that has shown so little regard for people's welfare in general and has supported the nuclear industry in the face of clear and widespread opposition," Ramana told Truthout. "As with restarting nuclear power plants, one reason for this decision seems to be to reduce the liability of the nuclear industry, TEPCO in this case. It is also a way for the Abe administration to shore up Japan's image, as a desirable destination for the Olympics and more generally."
"Prime Minister Abe has neither the knowledge about the issue of Fukushima accident nor the interest at all," Katsuta said. "The Abe administration has yet to clearly apologize for its responsibility for promoting the nuclear energy policy."
Instead, according to Katsuta, the Abe administration has lifted evacuation orders in an effort to "erase the memories of the accident."
Fukushima Evacuees "Forced" Back Home