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Fukushima – A Warning

Posted on May 2nd, 2011 by Stephen Hardy | Print

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011 was a disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nightly the news showed images that looked like they had come from a Hollywood disaster movie. But these images were real, affecting real people and devastating real lives.

Japan is a proud and resilient nation. They will rebuild; they have done it before. In time and with human effort and commitment, life will return to normal. Or will it? The earthquake and tsunami of March 11 is fundamentally different to any disaster Japan has suffered before. It is fundamentally different because none of the previous disasters caused a leak in a nuclear power plant, releasing radiation to contaminate the environment. As a result, there may well be large parts of Japan where life can never return, let alone return to normal.

I won’t discuss the wisdom of building nuclear reactors on the coast of an earthquake and tsunami prone country or whether we should embrace uranium and plutonium to satisfy our growing lust for energy. I’ll leave that topic for another time. What I want to talk about today is what the radioactive material leaking from the damaged Fukushima reactors means for living systems and public health. And I also want to talk about the mixed or downright misleading information coming from the mass media.

On April 12, 2011, the disaster at the Fukushima power plant was categorised at Level 7 by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the highest level for a nuclear accident and the same rating given to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine. While some have argued it does not deserve this Level 7 rating, others have said it is already worse than Chernobyl, or soon will be (1). Either way it is a moot point. The situation is both bad and serious and arguing over the semantics won’t change a thing.

Because you can measure radioactive contamination, it is easy to track. What was frightening was how quickly and how far the radiation leaking from the damaged Fukushima plants spread and how quickly it made its way into the food chain. Within days of the disaster, radioactivity 5 to 7 times higher than the officially permissible levels were detected in milk and spinach near the Fukushima plant. Radioactivity was also detected in Tokyo’s water supply, 230 km away (140 miles).

Radiation from the Fukushima power plant has since gone around the globe. Radioactive isotopes consistent with those released from a damaged nuclear reactor have been detected in rain, water and milk samples across the United States (2).

Water heavily contaminated with radioactivity has also been released into the Pacific Ocean. It is already showing up in fish off the Japanese coast making them unfit to eat. They will remain unfit to eat for years to come. And as the Kuroshio ocean current off the coast of Japan mixes with the North Pacific Current, the Alaskan current and the California current, the radioactivity will ultimately be carried around the world. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), over one billion people rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein (3).

It is important to remember any other pollutant released into the environment will behave in exactly the same way and spread just as widely and as quickly, ending up in the food chain. However because they are not radioactive, we are not aware it is happening.

The head of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), who operate the Fukushima plants, recently admitted it would be at least 3 months before they could stop radiation leaking from the plant into the environment. It will likely take them 9 months to effect a “cold shutdown” of the facility (10). And that’s if things go according to plan. Few expect they will.

The most worrying reports of all are the admissions Uranium and Plutonium were released from the damaged Fukushima plant (4 and 9) and may have been atomised during the explosion of reactor No. 3 on March 13, 2011 and released into the atmosphere (6).

That radioactivity will be released into the air and oceans for months to come means the Fukushima disaster is everyone’s problem. All the air and oceans of the world are connected and fundamental to the food chain. Many of the isotopes released will remain radioactive for years and affect generations to come. The world is not the same place it was before March 11, 2011. If we are to stay healthy in this new world, we will have to be aware of how the world has changed.

The first thing you need to know is not all radioactive isotopes are the same or behave the same way in the body. The potential risks posed by a radioactive isotope depends on three things:

1. The physical, chemical and radiological characteristics of the isotope;
2. How the isotope is taken up by the body, where it goes in the body and how long it stays there;
3. How old you are. Children are at more risk than adults and an unborn foetus, even more.

Radioactive Iodine concentrates in the thyroid gland for example, while radioactive Caesium distributes more evenly throughout the body. That some radioisotopes concentrate in certain organs or as you move up the food chain means the biologically relevant level of contamination may be far more than the simple numbers may suggest.

So discussions about “radiation levels” are unhelpful unless they also include information on the isotopes involved. Some are worse than others; much worse…

We cannot see, smell, taste or feel radioactivity. We therefore need to rely on sensitive instruments and environmental monitoring to see it for us. And we also need to be given the results of this monitoring, together with an accurate and clear explanation of what the results mean. This currently isn’t happening. Fukushima doesn’t make the news anymore and when the subject does come up we are told any radioactivity that is present represents “no danger” to humans. This just isn’t true.

The currently accepted view is there is no safe threshold for internal radioactive contamination and that risk is directly related to dose. Any exposure has the potential to do harm. This is referred to as the “Linear no-threshold” model or LNT (7). It is also very, very important to realise the risk posed by external radiation is not the same as for internal radiation contamination. A sheet of paper will stop the radiation from an external source of Plutonium. However once Plutonium has found its way into your body, especially if inhaled as a fine dust, the cancer risk climbs dramatically (5).

We each receive around 2,400 microsieverts per year of background radiation from space, the Earth and the ingestion of the natural radioactive gas Radon (8). There is no doubt the radioactivity released from the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors will increase the background levels of cancer for generations to come. While we do not know by how much, for those affected it will be a personal tragedy. We need to talk about what to do, not pretend everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? Filtering any rainwater you use; thoroughly washing leafy green vegetables; eating Siberian ginseng; eating low down on the food chain and taking mineral supplements, chelating agents, zeolite, anti-oxidants and Iodine salts – to displace any radioactive Iodine you may ingest, have all been proposed. I believe one of the best defences will be to keep your immune system at the very top of its game, as one of the jobs of your immune system is to monitor for and eliminate early cancers. How do we know this? From many studies, with one of the best known, ironically, coming from Japan (11).

We will discuss how to keep your immune system vigilant, intelligent and strong in subsequent blogs.

Promoting Good Health has just become a much more serious mission.

Until next time, stay happy and healthy!

References

(1) “URGENT: Radiation leakage may eventually exceed that of Chernobyl: TEPCO.” Kyodo News, April 12, 2011.

Available online at: http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/04/84828.html
(2) US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) RADNET. Japanese Nuclear Emergency: Radiation Monitoring. Daily Data Summary.

Available online at: http://www.epa.gov/radiation/data-updates.html
(3) Tidwell, J. H. and Allan, G. L., “Fish as food: Aquaculture’s contribution
Ecological and economic impacts and contributions of fish farming and capture fisheries.
EMBO Reports. November 15; 2 (11): 958-963, 2001.
Available online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1084135/pdf/kve236.pdf
(4) Karlinsky, N and Tanglao, L.; “Japan Nuclear Crisis: Plutonium Leaks From Fukushima Plant ABC News International.

Available online at: http://abcnews.go.com/International/japan-nuclear-crisis-officials-grapple-plutonium-leaks-fukushima/story?id=13244418
(5) Brown, S. C.; Schonbeck, M. F.; McClure, D.; Barón, A. E.; Navidi, W. C.; Byers, T. and Ruttenber, A. J.: “Lung Cancer and Internal Lung Doses among Plutonium Workers at the Rocky Flats Plant: A Case-Control Study.Am. J. Epidemiol., 160 (2), 163-172, 2004.

Available online at: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/2/163.full.pdf+html
(6) Gunderson, A.: “Gunderson Postulates Unit 3 Explosion May Have Been Prompt Criticality in Fuel Pool.” Fairewinds Associates.


Available online at: http://vimeo.com/22865967
(7) “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII – Phase 2
National Academy of Sciences. Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation, National Research Council.
Executive Summary available online at: http://www.nap.edu/nap-cgi/report.cgi?record_id=11340&type=pdfxsum
(8) “Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to the General Assembly.

Available online at: http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/gareport.pdf
(9) guardian.co.uk: “Fukushima soil contains plutonium traces, according to Japanese officials.“


Available online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/29/japan-fukushima-plutonium-traces-soil
(10) ABC News: “TEPCO expects nuclear ‘cold shutdown’ in 6-9 months.“


Available online at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/04/17/3193824.htm
(11) Imai, K,; Matsuyama, S.; Miyake, S.; Suga, K. and Nakachi, K.: “Natural cytotoxic activity of peripheral-blood lymphocytes and cancer incidence: an 11-year follow-up study of a general population.Lancet, 356 (9244), 1795-1799, 2000.

Available online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11117911

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