Fukushima Wildfire Covers Japan in Radioactive Smoke
May 16, 2017 Beyond Nuclear & Deutsche Welle
A raging wildfire in the Fukushima radiation zone not far from the March 2011 Japan nuclear power plant disaster, demonstrates that a nuclear accident has long-term and on-going effects that can worsen over time. The fire, which began on April 21, s being fought from the air with helicopters spraying water. The range of radioactive contamination could be expanded as smoke from the forest fire lofts radioactivity into the air and spreads it to regions that were not contaminated by the nuclear accident.
Efforts to Quench On-going Fire in Fukushima Zone
Hampered by High Radiation Levels from 2011 Nuclear Disaster Beyond Nuclear
TAKOMA PARK, MD (May 2, 2017) -- A raging wildfire in the Fukushima radiation zone not far from the March 2011 Japan nuclear power plant disaster, demonstrates that a nuclear accident has long-term and on-going effects that can worsen over time, says Beyond Nuclear, a leading national anti-nuclear advocacy group.
The fire, which began on April 21 in the mountains outside Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, is in an area where human entry is barred "on principle" because of high radiation levels resulting from the Fukushima nuclear triple meltdowns and explosions. The fire is being fought from the air with helicopters spraying water.
"Just as high radiation levels barred rescuers from retrieving many earthquake and tsunami victims five years ago, today firefighters are being hampered from battling the blaze in the still contaminated area," said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear. "This makes extinguishing these radioactive fires more difficult which can have far reaching effects," he said.
The geographical range of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima disaster could be expanded as smoke from the forest fire lofts radioactivity into the air and spreads it to regions that were not contaminated by the nuclear accident.
"The Chernobyl forest fire experience shows that forest fires in radioactively contaminated areas re-suspend contamination in the area, making it more available to natural processes like absorption by plants, but also spreading contamination to areas of lower or no contamination," said Cindy Folkers, Radiation and Health Specialist at Beyond Nuclear.
The fire could be the first of many. A startling discovery made by Dr. Timothy Mousseau, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, when studying the ecosystems in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, revealed that fallen trees and leaf matter were not decaying at the proper rate, creating a build-up of "tinder" on the forest floor.
"In higher areas of contamination, forest matter fails to decay because creatures responsible for decay like bacteria and fungi, do not function properly in the radioactive environment," Folkers explained. "This 'zombie' forest litter presents an increased forest fire hazard in the radioactive landscape—exactly the place where you don't want fire kindling."
There have already been a number of serious forest fires around Chernobyl in recent years, spreading radioactivity into wider areas. However, there have not been adequate studies to monitor exactly where the radiation goes.
"Forest fires are dangerous enough, but radioactive forest fires raise the stakes for human health and safety because of the added difficulty to reliably monitor where radioactivity is traveling in the smoke," said Gunter.
The Fukushima fire is a reminder that a major nuclear accident is never really over or confined.
"The long-term implications of on-again-off-again fires in radioactive forests are stark including re-contamination of so-called "decontaminated" areas, and re-suspension of radioactive particles thought to be out of the reach of natural processes," said Folkers. "This all points to the impossibility of containing man-made radioactivity from catastrophes like Chernobyl and Fukushima, once it is released. Resettlement in such areas would be unstable at best, with the constant threat of increased exposures and resulting health impacts," Folkers concluded.
For additional information see:
Wildfire rages in highly radioactive Fukushima mountain forest The Mainichi (May 1, 2017)
Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear. Beyond Nuclear: 6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400, Takoma Park, MD 20912. Info@beyondnuclear.org. www.beyondnuclear.org.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes. Refugees Being Ordered to Return to Fukushima
Six years after Fukushima --
Women and Children Still Suffer Most Deutsche Welle
(April 24, 2017) -- The Japanese government is trying to get back to normality after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but the crisis is far from over for women and children, says Greenpeace.
Six years ago, the triple disaster -- earthquake, tsunami and meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant -- took the lives of almost 20,000 people and displaced more than 160,000 people from their homes. More than 80,000 people are still living in temporary accommodation.
The disaster had an enormous impact on all members of the affected communities, but to this day it is women and children who "have borne the brunt of human rights violations resulting from it," according to a report by Greenpeace.
While some injustices faced by women and children were caused by policy failures in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, other women's and children's rights violations are a direct result of the current government's plans to resettle residents to "heavily contaminated areas in Fukushima," says Greenpeace.
In an effort to get back to normality as quickly as possible, the Japanese government is set to lift evacuation orders at the end of March and allow evacuated residents to return to areas close to the Fukushima power plant.
Employees clean an elementary school in Fukushima. It's scheduled to re-open in April.
Greenpeace warned, however, that radiation levels are still dangerously high and called on the government not to "pressure" residents to return to their contaminated homes, under threat of losing financial support. A year after an area is declared safe, the government will stop paying compensation to evacuees.
In March, Japan will also cut housing support for people who decided to move out although they were not under a government evacuation order.
"Cutting off housing support for self-evacuees threatens more than 10,000 households, potentially forcing many people back to contaminated areas against their will," says Kendra Ulrich, Global Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace Japan. Ending compensation payments "even though radiation levels far exceed the long-term targets in many areas […] amounts to economic coercion and is a deliberate violation of the law and survivors' human rights."
The resettlement plans create a dilemma for those who refuse to go back to their former homes but are dependent on financial support, especially single mums. After the disaster, a lot of women separated from or even divorced their husbands, who chose to stay in contaminated regions because of their work, and evacuated with their children.
There are no official numbers on how many families split as a result of the disaster. But the phenomenon is common enough to have a name, "genpatsu rikon" -- literally meaning "atomic divorce".
These mothers evacuated with their children from Fukushima prefecture.
Mothers are now faced with the choice between losing housing support or moving back to unsafe areas. In order to speed up the return of evacuees, the government decontaminated corridors and islands instead of entire areas, effectivley creating "an invisible, open-air prison for citizens to return to," says Greenpeace.
Decontaminated zones often consist of 20-meter strips along roads, around houses and agricultural fields. This poses a health threat as the returnees would be surrounded by contamination.
Mothers are worried about their health and the development of their children. Noriko Kubota, a professor of clinical psychology at Iwaki Meisei University, believes that living in "safe zones" could have a long-lasting negative impact on kids.
"If children need to stay inside and cannot run around outside freely, that would impact their psychological development, more specifically their skills of interacting with each other and controlling their emotions among others," Kubota told DW.
Mothers Sue Government
Women are, however, not only silent victims in this disaster. Thousands of mothers have together filed lawsuits against the Japanese government to fight for the continuation of housing support and fair compensation. They also demand accountability for the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the company running the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Ms Horie is suing the government for fair compensation.
"I never imagined becoming a plaintiff myself. I'm going to court now for my children and for the next generation," Ms Horie told Greenpeace. She moved with her children from Fukushima to Kyoto, where she filed a class action suit together with other mums. "Back then, they said on TV that the accident wouldn't affect our health immediately, but it might affect my kids in the future. That's why I decided to evacuate."
Women who left contaminated areas have been "labeled as neurotic or irrational," says Greenpeace. Their concerns were dismissed both by their partners and the government. The lawsuit is not only about financial compensation but also for moral satisfaction.
"I want to stand in court, knowing that I am right to evacuate my child," says Ms Sonoda, who moved with her child from Fukushima to England. "We are right."
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.