Source: Al Jazeera
In a nuclear crisis that is becoming increasingly serious, Japan’s Nuclear Safety Agency confirmed that radioactive iodine-131 in seawater samples taken near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex that was seriously damaged by the recent tsunami off the coast of Japan is 4,385 times the level permitted by law.
Airborne radiation near the plant has been measured at 4-times government limits.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, the company that operates the crippled plant, has begun releasing more than 11,000 tons of radioactive water that was used to cool the fuel rods into the ocean while it attempts to find the source of radioactive leaks. The water being released is about 100 times more radioactive than legal limits.
Meanwhile, water that is vastly more radioactive continues to gush into the ocean through a large crack in a six-foot deep pit at the nuclear plant. Over the weekend, workers at the plant used sawdust, shredded newspaper and diaper chemicals in a desperate attempt to plug the area, which failed. Water leaking from the pit is about 10,000 times more radioactive than water normally found at a nuclear plant
Thus, radiation from a meltdown in the reactor core of reactor No. 2 is leaking out into the water and soil, with other reactors continuing to experience problems.
Yet scientists and activists question these government and nuclear industry “safe” limits of radiation exposure.
“The U.S. Department of Energy has testified that there is no level of radiation that is so low that it is without health risks,” Jacqueline Cabasso, the Executive Director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told Al Jazeera.
Her foundation monitors and analyzes U.S. nuclear weapons programs and policies and related high technology energy, with a focus on the national nuclear weapons laboratories.
Cabasso explained that natural background radiation exists, “But more than 2,000 nuclear tests have enhanced this background radiation level, so we are already living in an artificially radiated environment due to all the nuclear tests.”
“Karl Morgan, who worked on the Manhattan project, later came out against the nuclear industry when he understood the danger of low levels of ionizing radiation-and he said there is no safe dose of radiation exposure,” Cabasso continued, “That means all this talk about what a worker or the public can withstand on a yearly basis is bogus. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. These so-called safe levels are coming from within the nuclear establishment.”
Risk at low doses
Karl Morgan was an American physicist who was a founder of the field of radiation health physics. After a long career in the Manhattan Project and at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he became a critic of nuclear power and weapons. Morgan, who died in 1999, began to offer court testimony for people who said they had been harmed by the nuclear power industry.
“Nobody is talking about the fact that there is no safe dose of radiation,” Cabasso added, “One of the reasons Morgan said this is because doses are cumulative in the body.”
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a report in 2006 titled Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) report, VII Phase 2. NAS BEIR VII was an expert panel who reviewed available peer reviewed literature and wrote, “the committee concludes that the preponderance of information indicates that there will be some risk, even at low doses.”
The concluding statement of the report reads, “The committee concludes that the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.”
This means that the sum of several very small exposures to radiation has the same effect as one large exposure, since the effects of radiation are cumulative.
For weeks engineers from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) have been working to restore power to the plant and have resorted to having seawater sprayed on radioactive fuel rods that have been at risk of meltdown.
Despite this, Japanese officials conceded to the public on March 31 that the battle to save four crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been lost. On March 29 a US engineer who helped install the reactors at the plant said he believed the radioactive core in unit No. 2 may have melted through the bottom of its containment vessel and on to a concrete floor.
Tepco’s chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, said they had “no choice” but to scrap the No’s 1-4 reactors, but held out hope that the remaining two could continue to operate, despite the fact that he admitted the nuclear disaster could last several months. It is the first time the company has admitted that at least part of the plant will have to be decommissioned.
But the government’s chief spokesman, Yukio Edano, repeated an earlier call for all six reactors at the 40-year-old plant to be decommissioned. “It is very clear looking at the social circumstances,” he said.
Even after a cold shutdown, scrapping the plant will likely take decades, and the site will become a no-man’s land.
Tonnes of nuclear waste sit at the site of the nuclear reactors, and enclosing the reactors by injecting lead and encasing them in concrete would make it safe to work and live a few kilometres away from the site, but is not a long-term solution for the disposal of spent fuel, which will decay and emit fission fragments over tens of thousands of years.
Near the plant, the radiation levels dangerously escalated to 400 milliseiverts/hour. Considering background radiation is on the order of 1 milliseivert per year, this means a yearly background dose every 9 seconds, based on industry and governmental “allowable” radiation exposure limits.
That compares with a national “safety standard” in the U.S. of 250 millisieverts over a year. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says a single dose of 1,000 millisieverts is enough to cause internal hemorrhaging.
Meanwhile, more than 168 citizens organizations in Japan submitted a petition to their government on March 28 calling for an expanded evacuation zone near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site. The groups are also calling for other urgent measures to protect the public health and safety.
Residents of evacuated areas near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have been warned that they may not be able to return to their homes for months as Japan’s nuclear crisis stretched into a third week.
The neighbourhoods near the plant will remain empty “for the long term”, Yukio Edano, the country’s chief cabinet secretary, said on April 1.
Though he did not set a timetable, he said residents would not be able to return permanently “in a matter of days or weeks. It will be longer than that”.
The official evacuation zone remains only 20 kilometres, while the government has encouraged people within 30 kilometres to evacuate.
Yet levels of cesium-137 in the village of Iitate, for example, have been measured at more than twice the levels that prompted the Soviet Union to evacuate people near Chernobyl. Iitate is 40 kilometres northwest of Fukushima.
Radioactive Iodine has already been found in the tap water in all of Tokyo’s 23 wards.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission had already recommended an 80-kilometre evacuation zone for U.S. citizens in Japan.