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Worse than Chernobyl: The inner threat of Fukushima crisis

Christopher Busby is an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation and Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk.

Published time: August 20, 2013 07:51
Workers wearing protective suits and masks are seen near tanks of radiation contaminated water at Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Reuters / Issei Kato)

I recently pointed out, this operation has to go on forever - a long sickness, but at least not a sudden death. However, this week begins a new development in the potential sudden death department.

There is a curious and bizarre reversal of the natural at Fukushima: a looking-glass world inversion. Unlike the standard marine catastrophe, for example the Titanic, where the need is to manically pump water out of the ship to stop it sinking, at Fukushima the game is to madly pump water in, in order to stop it melting down and exploding.

Probably because it is now clear that the saturation of the ground from all the pumping water for cooling the several reactors and spent fuel pools has destabilized the foundations of the buildings, TEPCO is bringing forward its operation to try and deal with what is perhaps the most dangerous of the four sites, the spent fuel pond of Reactor 4. For this pond contains a truly enormous amount of radioactive material: 1,331 spent fuel grids amounting to 228.3 tons of Uranium and Plutonium buried inside a swimming pool which has already dried out once and exploded. That explosion blasted a significant, but unknown, quantity of lethally radioactive bits and pieces of fuel element around the site (where I heard they were bulldozed into the ground - who knows?), but it also blew the top off the building, covered the fuel elements under the water with rubble and pieces of crane machinery, and no doubt twisted and melted a large proportion of the remaining spent fuel.


Follow developments at Fukushima on RT's timeline.

The operation involves the kind of game that we are all familiar with in those machines in penny arcades. You know the ones. You stick in some coins. You have levers which manipulate a claw which you position over a teddy bear or a doll and then you let this down, pick the item up and drop it down a chute to win it. In the TEPCO version of this game, you build a crane over the spent fuel tank (or what’s left of it) and manoeuver a grab down into the rubble to deftly pick out a spent fuel assembly, like a 4.5meter long and 24cm square birdcage containing the zirconium metal clad fuel elements, each unit weighing about one third of a ton.

Of course, to make the game more interesting, they are not just sitting there like they were when the tank was being used. They are under water (sea water), covered in debris, corroded, busted, twisted, intertwined and generally impossible to deal with. And here is the really scary thing: if you manage to bust a fuel element, the best outcome is that huge amounts of radioactivity escape into the air and blow over Japan, just like before. The worst outcome is when two of these things get too close, perhaps because in pulling one out it breaks and falls against another one in the tank.  Because then you suddenly have lots of fission, a lot of heat, a meltdown, possibly a big blast like before, and the destruction of the entire cooling pond. Or else the water boils off and the whole thing catches fire.

This photo taken on August 6, 2013 shows local government officials and nuclear experts inspecting a monitoring well where high levels of radioactive materials were detected at Tokyo Electric Power's (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant (Japan out AFP Photo / Japan Pool via JIJI Press)

Then what happens? Not quite Armageddon, but as far as Japan is concerned, almost. I bet they have contingency plans to evacuate the northern island to Korea, China, anywhere. A lot of this radiation will end up in the USA, a long way downwind, admittedly, but then there is an awful lot of radioactivity involved.

Another tank with highly radioactive water at the devastated Fukushima nuclear power plant has leaked, operator TEPCO reported on Tuesday. The contaminated water contains an unprecedented 80 million Becquerels of radiation per liter. The norm is a mere 150 Bq.

Let me lead you through what the spent fuel pond of Reactor 4 contains in the way of radionuclides. I was taken to task after my last article for not listing enough of the radionuclide contaminants. So for the record, though some may find it boring, let me remedy that. It is an impressive list of lethal material:

Strontium-89, Strontium-90, Yttrium-90, Zirconium-95, Niobium-95, Ruthenium-106, Rhodium-106, Antimony-125, Iodine-131, Xenon-133, Caesium-137, Caesium-134, Cerium-144 (loads of this), Protoactinium-147, Europium-154, Plutonium-238, 239, 240, 241, Americium (Yes)-241 and 243, Curium-242,243,244, and of course Uranium 238,235 and 234.

These are the main ones. There are a lot more, and decay daughters of these also. It is a scary amount of invisible death. The total quantity of all these in the spent fuel pool of reactor 4 is about 1021 Becquerels, if we leave out the noble gases and iodines maybe 1020 (that is, 1 with 20 zeroes). Maybe 50 to 100 Chernobyl accidents worth, or more depending on what you believe came out of Chernobyl.

I list these because it should be made quite clear that the concentration of the media on the radio-caesiums and plutoniums and iodines is a very partial story. More discourse manipulation.

What lies within

Which brings me to another aspect of this grim piece of contemporary history. My expertise is in the health effects of internal radionuclides: what happens when these substances I list above get into human beings. Just after the Fukushima catastrophe I made a calculation and a prediction based on the scientific model of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR). I presented it at the German Society for Radioprotection/ ECRR conference in Berlin in May 2011.

This showed that there would be some 200,000 extra cancers in roughly 10 million population in the 200km radius of the site in the next 10 years, and 400,000 over 50 years. The current risk model adhered to and employed by the Japanese government is that of the International Commission of Radiological Protection, the ICRP. This predicts that no detectable cancers will be seen as a result of the “very low doses” received by the population.

This photo taken on August 6, 2013 shows local government officials and nuclear experts inspecting a facility to prevent seeping of contamination water into the sea at Tokyo Electric Power's (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant (Japan out AFP Photo / Japan Pool via JIJI Press)

It is this nonsense that allows them to say it is safe to live in contaminated areas so long as the annual “dose” is lower than about 20mSv and to refuse to evacuate the children from such places. The ECRR has predicted and explained all the increased rates of illness seen after the Chernobyl accident in the contaminated territories and of course predicts that the first effects will be increases in thyroid cancer in children, just like Chernobyl. But the ICRP and those employing its model deny there are such effects in Chernobyl: the problems there are due to vodka, radiophobia etc. Or that the children in Belarus who did develop thyroid cancer were iodine deficient. So in effect, Fukushima is a test of the two models. A test which has now begun.

It was reported recently that a survey of thyroid conditions in young people age 0-18 by Fukushima Medical University found 12 confirmed cases and 15 suspected cases of thyroid cancer in 178,000 individuals screened. This is in a two-year period. The 2005 Japanese national incidence rate for thyroid cancer aged 0-18 is given in a recent peer reviewed report as 0.0 per 100,000. That is to say there are no cases. Let me be generous and say that the annual rate per 100,000 is 0.05. That means in the last two years we would expect 0.18 cases: we actually see at minimum 12 cases but most likely 27 cases.

In epidemiology we calculate the excess risk as 27/0.18 which is 150 times the expected rate. Japan Times tells us “Researchers at Fukushima Medical University, which has been taking the leading role in the study, have said they do not believe the most recent cases are related to the nuclear crisis.” Right, that’s OK then. This must have been a random cluster, unluckily, but coincidentally near Fukushima, a source of radioiodine which is a known cause of thyroid cancer.

The risk model

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, UNSCEAR would agree. Also the World Health Organization (since 1959 part of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] as far as research into radiation and health is concerned). In its preliminary report on Fukushima Health effects, issued in 2012, it states that the maximum thyroid dose was 35mSv and that most received a lot less. On the basis of the ICRP model you would not expect (says radiation and health supremo Dr. Wolfgang Weiss) to see what is clearly happening: an accelerating thyroid cancer epidemic, worse than and earlier than the Chernobyl thyroid cancer epidemic.

It is one more piece of evidence that the current ICRP risk model, employed by the Japanese (and all other world governments) is totally wrong and unsafe and must urgently be abandoned. Internal radiation exposure, as the ECRR approach shows, cannot be assessed by the simple concept of ‘Absorbed Dose’. For those who want a more technical explanation you can see my recent article.

I met Weiss in 2011 at a conference of radiation research in Paris which he was running. At this MELODI conference I took the microphone and told the 650 delegates that the ICRP model was dead in the water and its use continued to kill the people it was intended to protect. I was pursued up the aisle by the Chair, Dr. Sisko Salomaa (of the Finnish Radiation Protection organization STUK), to wrestle the microphone away from the dangerous lunatic Busby.

A worker checks radiation levels on the window of a bus during a media tour at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant (AFP Photo / Pool / Toshifumi Kitamura)

But Weiss, Salomaa, and the other radiation agency apparatchiks well know that the ICRP and the other global radiation protection agencies UNSCEAR, IAEA and WHO are run by people (like themselves) who are not experts on internal radiation pollution and health, and rarely have any real hands-on research expertise. They rely exclusively on the Hiroshima bomb studies which ignored internal radiation, the black rain of uranium that affected the controls outside the city and the control entrants after the bomb.

I have checked out their research publications: it is just the case. Ask them. Their job has been - and still is - to protect, not the public, but the nuclear industry and the military. After Chernobyl, some of them turned up in Kiev when I was there in 2000 and talked down the effects of the radiation. Watch them in action here. By 2005, these Chernobyl cancer effects were turning up in Europe. One study in Sweden by Martin Tondel found an 11 percent excess cancer risk for every 100kBq/sq metre of caesium-137 contamination. Tondel was swiftly dealt with by his boss, Lars Erik Holm, one-time head of ICRP and now Medical Officer of Health of Sweden (Yes).

Again and again, these agencies and their spokespersons have denied what was in front of their very eyes. Billions of dollars are poured into cancer research, research on radiation, but any attempt to carry out epidemiological studies of those exposed to internal radiation, from depleted uranium in Iraq, to Chernobyl contamination, to the shores of the massively-contaminated Baltic Sea have been turned down for funding. I know. I applied with colleagues from Latvia Technical University and from the Karolinska Institute to look at cancer on the shores of the Baltic; no way were we going to be allowed to even get the data, let alone be funded. 

As more evidence emerges from this ghastly inadvertent Fukushima experiment, we will see more and more that we have governments and radiation agencies who are wielding unsafe and incorrect scientific assessments of reality. Additionally, we have what might become one of the most serious global public health events of human history being overseen by a private profit-making company, TEPCO, with no good track record of competence or believability.

And appropriately, in this looking-glass world, in a bizarre echo of these two inversions of justice and democracy, we have a sinking ship that can only be saved by pumping water into it. 

What are we going to do with these people who have let us down, who are letting us down? They all should be put into a court and tried and sent to jail for what are effectively war crimes, in this new war, the invisible genetic poisoning of the planet and its innocent inhabitants. 

Christopher Busby from the European Committee on Radiation Risks for RT

Comments (19)

 

じゅん 12.11.2013 03:17

It is not reported in Japan
Please take the pressure on media organizations and government

 

Truth 29.10.2013 03:06

Look at these nuclear's mercenaries arriving like vultures to spread up their lies. You are pitiful outdated and malevolent, such as the industry that pays you. You will end up paying much for all your crimes.

 

Eamon Watters 29.08.2013 01:38

Dr Busby says: "The 2005 Japanese national incidence rate for thyroid cancer aged 0-18 is given in a recent peer reviewed report as 0.0 per 100,000. "

The only report he can be talking about is the recently released "Cancer Incidence and Incidence Rates in Japan in 2005: Based on Data from 12 Population-based Cancer Registries in the Monitoring of Cancer Incidence in Japan (MCIJ) Project"

And what does it say? For 15-19: 0.5 per 100,000 (male) 0.7 per 100,000 (female)

I think this shows how reliable Busby's work is.

(The report is available online, for those who wish to look)

View all comments (19)
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