Science in Society Archive

Truth about Fukushima

The release of radioactivity from Fukushima is at least as great as from Chernobyl, and a humanitarian disaster on the scale of Chernobyl needs to be averted by acknowledging the truth and taking responsibility for mitigating measures Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Regulators seriously economical with the truth

“Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed to the radioactive material that spewed from Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant…and those who do will never know for sure what caused their disease.” These conclusions, published in the journal Nature [1] are based on two “comprehensive, independent assessments” from UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) and WHO (World Health Organisation), both notorious for downplaying and denying the devastating health impacts of the Chernobyl accident [2] (see Chernobyl Deaths Top a Million Based on Real Evidence, SiS 55). They are now using the same tactics to rule out, a priori, potential health impacts from Fukushima radioactive releases.

According to the draft UNSCEAR report seen by Nature [1], 167 workers at the plant received radiation doses that “slightly raise their risk of developing cancer.”  Actually, six former reactor workers have died since the catastrophe, but UNSCEAR ruled they were unrelated to the accident [3].

“There may be some increase in cancer risk that may not be detectable statistically,” Kiuohiko Mabuchi, head of Chernobyl studies at the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, told Nature. He said that in Chernobyl, where clean-up workers were exposed to much higher dose, 0.1 % of the 110 000 workers surveyed have so far developed leukaemia, although not all of those cases resulted from the accident. In fact, the death rate of the “clean-up workers” at Chernobyl remained high even four years after the accident, and 20 years later, 115 000 (out of 830 000) are dead [2].

WHO, for its part, estimates that most residents of Fukushima and neighbouring Japanese prefectures received absorbed doses below 10 mSv [1]. Residents of Namie town and Iitate village, not evacuated until months after the accident, received 10-50 mSv, though infants in Namie may have been exposed to enough I-131 to have received 100-200 mSv. The government aims to keep public exposure from the accident below 20 mSv, but in the longer term, it wants to decontaminate the region so residents will receive no more than 1 mSv per year from the accident. Thus, people have been exposed within a matter of weeks, 10 to 200 times the legal limit dose for a whole year.

Yet, WHO’s conclusion for Fukushima is the same as for Chernobyl [1]: “A greater health risk may come from the psychological stress created.”

A day later..

A day later, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced that the amount of radioactive material released during the first days of the Fukushima nuclear disaster was almost two and a half times the initial estimate by Japanese safety regulators [4]. The operator said the meltdowns at the three reactors released about 900 000 Terabecquerels (1012 Bq) of radioactive substances into the air during March 2011.

The later estimate was based on measurements suggesting the amount of radioactive iodine I-131 released was much larger than previous estimates. TEPCO said it had initially been unable to accurately judge the amount of radioactive materials released because radiation sensors closest to the plant were disabled in the disaster.

Several days later, ex-Prime Minister Naoto Ken apologized for his role in the Fukushima nuclear crisis [5]. His government’s push for nuclear energy was largely to blame. Ken had stepped down in September 2011 when the government faced fierce criticism over its handling of the crisis and for providing too little information to the public. It was Ken, however, who ordered TEPCO to keep the men on site; otherwise Fukushima would have spiralled out of control, according to a private panel probing the accident.

But the threat remains. Experts are now worried about the state of the spent fuel pool in unit 4, which is unlikely to withstand another earthquake [6]. The severely damaged unit 4 building houses a spent nuclear fuel pool that contains 10 times the amount of Cs-137 released at Chernobyl. Nearly all of the 10 893 spent fuel assemblies at the Fukushima Daiichi plant sit in pools vulnerable to future earthquakes, with altogether 85 times the long-lived radioactivity released at Chernobyl. A letter was sent by 72 Japanese NGOs to the United Nations with an urgent request for immediate action to stabilize unit 4’s spent nuclear fuel. The letter was endorsed by nuclear experts from both Japan and abroad.

Andrew DeWit, professor of political economy at Rikkyo University told Al Jazeera that transparency on the issues of nuclear energy was paramount. And that is precisely what’s lacking, in Japan, and in the world at large.

“We heard it first from the internet”

Miwa Chiwaki from Kodomo Fukushima (Fukushima network to protect children from radiation) said [7] it was in a BBC programme via the internet that people first saw pictures of the explosions at the power station. The Japanese government had information from SPEEDI (System for Prediction of Environment Emergency Dose Information) and they passed the information first to the US government on 14 March and to the Japanese people only on 23 March.

The day after the tsunami struck the Fukushima nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate. In the absence of guidance from Tokyo, the town officials led the residents north, in the belief that the winter winds would blow south and carry away the radioactive plume. They stayed in the Tsushima district for three nights where the children played outside and some parents used the water from a mountain stream to cook rice [8]. But the ill winds from Fukushima had been blowing directly towards them in Tsushima, as it would transpire two months later. SPEEDI had predicted that. But bureaucrats in Tokyo had not seen it their responsibility to make that information public. Japan’s political leaders did not know about the system, and later downplayed the data, fearful of having to enlarge the evacuation zone and acknowledge the severity of the accident.

Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, now living with thousands in temporary housing in another town, condemned the withholding of information as being akin to “murder”.

The true level of contamination is also hidden from people, Chiwaki said [7]. Many mothers queued up with their children in the rain for several hours to receive water rations (while radioactivity was being washed down over them with the rain), in Iitate, villagers were left in very high levels of contamination for a whole month.

“Advisers on radiation control from Fukushima prefecture flocked to the villages,” Chiwaki said, “and, with broad smiles on their faces, told the people that “there is nothing to worry about, you can let your children play outside.”” Three days later, the village was classified “planned evacuation zone”. 

The circumstances of the accident and the real levels of contamination were only revealed piecemeal. A “safety campaign” was initiated on 20 March. Professor Shunichi Yamashita of Nagasaki University was sent around the country, smiling and say things like: “100 mSv? No problem!” “Radiation is only a threat to people who worry about it.” “Smile and you won’t be affected by the radiation.”

Radioactivity, dose and general exposure limits

A great deal of confusion and anxiety is created by the different units used in announcements to the popular media. The unit of radioactivity is a Becquerel, Bq, equal to 1 radioactive disintegration per second, coming directly from a source, a radionuclide in contaminated food or drink, soil or air. Larger units are the kBq (1 000), MBq (106), (GBq (109), TBq (1012), PBq (1015), and EBq (1018).

The unit of absorbed dose (amount of energy absorbed by a unit of material) is the Gray, Gy, equal to 1 Joule/kg. The equivalent or effective dose is the Sievert, Sv (also in units of Joule/kg) is the absorbed dose modified to represent the presumed biological effect. Note that 1 Joule is a very small amount of energy. But unlike ordinary chemical energy, where typically kJ quantities are needed before anything can happen, the energy in ionizing radiation exists in extremely concentrated quanta or packets; hence 1 J of energy would already contain many of these energetic missiles (typically a billion) that target atoms and molecules. This is the major difference between ionizing radiation and ordinary chemical energy.

The Becquerel and the Sievert are not directly convertible, because it depends on the radionuclide involved, which particles or photons it produces per disintegration, and how much energy each of the photons or particles carries. There is a website that tells you how the calculation is done and actually does it for you [9] ( Some useful approximate correspondences are: 

1 mSv of I-131 = 2.06525 x 106 Bq

1 mSv of Cs-137 = 1.30878 x 106 Bq

Radiation exposure considers how long a period over which the dose is absorbed, usually in mSv/year.

The exposure limit in Europe is 1 mSv/year for the public, and the occupational exposure, 20 mSv/year [10]. For USA, the occupational exposure limit is 50 mSv, reduced to 10 % for pregnant women. Dose limit for the public is 1 mSv/year, in addition to a background of o.3 mSv and 0.05 mSv from sources such as medical X-ray [11].

To put these exposure limits in perspective, it is generally recognized that a dose of 1 000 mSi will kill an adult. A whole body dose of 400 mSi will kill about 50 % of people within 60 days of the exposure, mostly from infection, as their immune systems are destroyed [12]. At very low doses, such as what most of us receive every day from background radiation, the cells are able to repair the damage, though the recent discovery of bystander effects indicate that doses as low as tens of mSi are harmful [3]. At higher doses (up to 100 mSi), the cells may not be able to repair the damage, and may either be changed permanently, or die. Most cells that die are replaced with few consequences. Cells changed permanently may give rise to diseases, they may go on to produce abnormal cells when they divide, and may become cancerous.

A comment submitted to the ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) by the Sierra Club in 2006 stated [13]: “Numerous academic researchers, independent scholars, and governmental bodies, such as the U.S. National Academies of Science and National Research Council, have now concluded that the linear no-threshold hypothesis is valid and that there is no “safe” level of radiation exposure.”

Exposure limits and exposure levels in Japan post-Fukushima

The pre-Fukushima legal exposure limit for the public in Japan was 10 mSi/y and 50 mSi/y for occupational exposure [14]. The occupational legal limits were soon scrapped after the accident. At the end of April 2011, the Japanese government released a map based on air surveys done by MEXT (Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology), which revealed that people living in areas not being evacuated will receive radiation doses up to 23.5 times their annual legal limit over the course of the next year [15].

It is important to note that all the exposure limits and projected exposure mentioned so far are for external sources. As the French expert body, Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire (IRSN) pointed out, they take no account of [15, p. 4] “exposure from other pathways such as immersion within the plume and inhalation of particles in the plume during the accident nor the doses already received or to be received from ingestion of contaminated foodstuffs.  The total effective doses to be received (external + internal) could be much higher according to the type of deposit (dry or wet), diet and source of food.”   

In addition, as Director of the Medical Institute of Environment at Gifu in Japan Matsui Eisuke pointed out [16], the government and its professional advisors in measuring exposure have relied mainly on g-rays that are easy to detect. But, in terms of internal radiation exposure, b and a- particles have a far more serious effect. “The government and TEPCO hardly measure such isotopes as b-emitting strontium-90 or a-emitting plutonium-239.”

Exposure due to ingested or inhaled radionuclide is a major problem in radioactive fallout, particularly when prompt evacuation, radioactive monitoring, and remediation have all failed to be carried out, as was the case for both Chernobyl and Fukushima.

IRSN’s assessment of projected doses based on the Japanese map released (see Figure 1), estimated that some 70 000 people including 9 500 children are living in the most contaminated areas outside the initial 20 km evacuation zone projected to receive further doses up to 200 mSv or more. This clearly calls for further evacuation beyond the initial 20 km zone. Under Japanese Food Sanitation Law, 5 000 Bq/kg of radioactive Cs is considered the safe limit in soil [17]. Consequently, large areas of Japan may no longer be suitable for agriculture.

Figure 1  Map of caesium 137 + 134 deposits (Figure 7) superimposed on the map of projected doses for the 1st year (Figure 4) for 3 dose levels only (5, 10 and 20 mSv)

The Japanese government at first raised the legal exposure limit to 20 mSi a year for the public, including children, thereby leaving them in areas from which they would have been barred under the old standard [7]. The limit for children was later scaled back to 1 mSi/y but only applies while they are inside school buildings.

In March 2012, the Japanese government announced a new standard limit for radionuclides in foods to 1 mSv/y, reducing from a previous provisional limit of 5 mSv/y. This translates into a maximum of 100 Bq/kg for regular food items such as meat, vegetables and fish (revised down from 500 Bq just after the Fukushima meltdown), 50 Bq/l for milk and infant food and 10 Bq for drinking water (revised down from 200) [18]. As shown above, this still means an accumulation of internal exposure up to 1 million Bq a year, depending on how fast the radionuclides are cleared from the body. We already know that much lower levels have proven deadly for the children of Belarus (see [19] Apple Pectin for Radioprotection, SiS 55).

According to the German Society for Radiation Protection, a person is normally exposed to about 0.3 mSv per year through ingestion of food and drink; and this should be considered the permissible level of ingested radioactivity. In order not to go beyond this level, the amount of radioactive caesium-137 should not exceed 8 Bq/kg in milk and baby formula and 16 Bq/kg in all other foodstuff. Radioactive iodine with its short half-life should not be permitted in food at all [20].

How much radioactivity was released by the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant?

Although a picture of the radioactivity deposited on land is emerging, the actual levels of radioactivity to which people have been exposed are impossible to tell because there is a lot of uncertainty as to how much radioactivity has been released in the series of explosions in the Fukushima nuclear plant thus far.

TEPCO’s latest press release [21] gave the amounts of radionuclides released between 12 and 31 March 2011 as follows.

Releases into the air:

Noble gas: Approx. 5x1017 Bq
Iodine 131: Approx. 5x1017 Bq
Caesium 134: Approx. 1x1016 Bq
Caesium 137: Approx. 1x1016 Bq

Releases into the ocean:

Iodine-131: Approx. 1.1x1016 Bq
Cesium-134: Approx. 3.5x1015 Bq
Cesium-137: Approx. 3.6x1015 Bq

These add up to a total of 1 038.1 x 1015Bq or 1 038.1 PBq released.

TEPCO admits that the radioactivity measuring equipment were “unavailable due to the accident,” so “further data still need to be collected to review the validity of the evaluation result.” These reported radioactive releases from Fukushima are less than one-tenth those from the Chernobyl accident, a total of some 14 EBq (14 x 1018 Bq), over half of it in noble gases [22].

How reliable are the latest TEPCO results?

Using data from radioactivity measuring posts set up under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) gave estimates of between 360-390 PBq iodine-131 and about 50 PBq of caesium-137 for the period of 12-14 March [23]. According to their calculations, the iodine-131 emissions from Fukushima in those three days amounted to 20 % of the total iodine-131 emissions from Chernobyl (1 760 PBq), while the emissions of caesium-137 in those three days amounted to about 60 % of the total caesium-137 emissions from Chernobyl (85 PBq).

A study led by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) found about 16 700 PBq of xenon-133 (250% of the amount released at Chernobyl) emitted by the Fukushima power plant between 12 and 19 March 2011, the largest release of radioactive Xenon in history [24]. In addition, 35.8 PBq of caesium-137 (42% of the amount released at Chernobyl) was emitted in the same period. The study found that radioactive emissions were first measured right after the earthquake and before the tsunami struck the plant, indicating that the quake itself had already caused substantial damage to the reactors. The NILU report also suggests that the fire in the spent fuel pond of reactor 4 may have been the major contributor to airborne emissions, as emissions decreased significantly after the fire had been brought under control.

The same team of researchers updated their estimates in a paper published online giving estimates of 15 300 PBq of Xenon-133 and 36.6 PBq Cs-137 released into the atmosphere [25], not counting iodine-131 or Cs-134 (which was as much as Cs-137), nor releases into the ocean.  But already, this is nearly 15 times the latest TEPCO estimate for total releases. I shall report separately in detail on this latest independent estimate, which gives a global picture of contamination from the fallout (see [26] Fukushima Fallout Rivals Chernobyl, SiS 55).

Contamination of soil [27]

MEXT conducted soil surveys in 100 locations within 80 km of the Fukushima power plant in June and July of 2011. They found contamination with various radionuclides; the main ones were strontium-90, iodine-131, and caesium-137. Strontium-90, with a half-life of 28 years, is similar to calcium, and is therefore incorporated into bone where it can remain for decades, emitting b-particles and irradiating the bone-marrow, causing leukaemia and other cancers. Strontium-90 was found at concentrations of 1.8-32 Bq/kg at sites outside the 30 kM evacuation zone in Nishigou, Motomiya, Ootama and Ono.

Iodine-131 has a half-life of 8 days. When ingested, it is incorporated like ordinary iodine in the thyroid gland, where it emits b- and g-radiation, causing thyroid cancer especially in children. I-131 was found in milk, drinking water, vegetables and water around Northern Japan. According to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), iodine-131 deposition in Tokyo reached 36 000 Bq/m2  between 22 and 23 March 2011. Soil samples in the municipalities of Nishigou, Izumizaki, Ootama, Shirakawa, Nihonmatsu, Date, Iwaki, Iitate, Ono, Minamisoma and Tamura showed concentrations of I-131 between 2 000 and 1 170 000 Bq/kg. In the municipality of Ono, 40 km southwest of the Fukushima plant, MEXT scientists found up to 7 440 Bq/kg of I-131 in rainwater samples. In August 2011, MEXT scientists still found I-131 concentrations of more than 200 Bq/kg in most of the municipalities, with maximum in Namie and Iitate of 1 300 and 1 100 Bq/kg respectively. Given its short half-life, this high level detected 145 days after the initial fallout on 15 March suggests extremely high initial contamination of the soil > 288 MBq/kg, or additional contamination of the area after the initial fallout. To convert from Bq/kg to Bq/m2, the convention is to multiply by 20 or 65, depending on the depth to which the soil is sampled. A conservative multiplier of 20 would give a value of > 5760 MBq/kg, going way off the top of the scale shown in the map of Fig. 1, which only gives radioactivity due to Cs-137 and Cs-134.

Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years. It is similar to potassium, so its distribution is fairly even throughout the body if ingested. It is mainly a b-emitter, but its decay product barium-137 also produces g-radiation. It can cause solid tumours in virtually all organs. Cs-137 has a biological half-life of 70 days and is excreted through urine like potassium. It therefore accumulates in the bladder and irradiates the adjacent uterus and foetus in pregnant women. IRSN states that around 874 km2 of the area outside the 20 km evacuation zone must be considered highly  contaminated with Cs-137, to an estimated concentration >6MBq/m2, similar to the evacuation zone around the Chernobyl power plant [15] (see Figure 1). In fact, Cs-137 in the Fukushima prefecture even reached up to 30 MBq/m2 north-west of the plant, and up to 10 MBq/m2 in neighbouring prefectures. Soil sample with Cs-137 between 20 000 and 220 000 Bq/kg were found by MEXT scientists in the municipalities of Iitate, Kawamata, Name, Katsurao and Nihonmatsu in April 2011. Even higher values up to 420 000 Bq/kg were recorded later in August 2011. According to IAEA, Cs-137 deposition in Tokyo reached 340 Bq/m2 22-23 March 2011. Radioactive caesium was also found in large quantities in beef, rice, milk, fish, drinking water and other foodstuff.        

Contamination of the marine environment

Massive amounts of radioactive waste water used in cooling the reactors and spent fuel ponds were discharged into the sea, seeped into the soil or ground water or evaporated into the atmosphere [27]. Between 4 and 10 April 2011, TEPCO deliberately released 10 393 tonnes of radioactive water. It constituted the single largest radioactive discharge into the oceans in history. A 1-2 week pulse of radioactivity peaked in the water around the Fukushima plant on 6 April 2011, with ocean concentrations of 68 MBq/m3, and an estimated total release of up to 22 PBq [28, 29]; TEPCO admits 18.1 PBq [21]. After considerable dilution 2-3 months following the peak, surface concentrations were still higher than previously existing by as much as 10 000-fold in coastal waters and as much as 1 000-fold over a 150 000 km2 area of the Pacific up to 600 k east of Japan.   Radioactive Cs was detected in all species of marine organisms ranging from phytoplankton to fish.

The waters northeast of the Fukushima plant are among the major fishing zones in the world, responsible for half of Japan’s seafood. But catch from the Ibaraki prefecture showed such high levels of radioactive isotopes that it had to be discarded as radioactive waste [27]. Radioactive contamination in the ocean does not get diluted away, like other pollutants it gets accumulated in the marine food chain, up to fish consumed by humans. Radioactive caesium in sea bass caught in the North Pacific continually rose from March till September, with a maximum found on 15 September of 670Bq/kg.  Radioactivity not only disperses passively in the ocean by currents and mixing, but is also spread by fish and mammals. The Pacific Bluefin tuna was found to transport Fukushima-derived radionuclides from Japan to California. Fifteen Pacific Bluefin tuna sampled in August 2011 had elevated levels of Cs- 134 (4.0 + 1.4 Bq/kg) and Cs-137 (6.3 + 1.5 Bq/kg).

 Contamination of food and drinking water

Extensive contamination of food and drinking water was documented in the months after the disaster [27].

Outside the evacuation zone in Fukushima prefecture, MEXT survey one week after the earthquake found contaminated vegetables in the municipalities of Iitate, Kawamata, Tamua, Ono, Minamisoma, Iwaki, Tshukidate, Nihonmatsu, Sirakawa, Sukagawa, Ootama, Izumizaki and Saigou. I-131 concentrations were as high as 2.54 MBq/kg and Cs-137 up to 2.65 MBq/kg. One month after meltdown, radioactivity was still above 100 000 Bq/kg for I-131, and 900 000 Bq/kg for Cs-137 in some regions. In Ibaraki prefecture ~100 km south of the Fukushima plant,  spinach was found with I-131 up to 54 100 Bq/kg and Cs-137 up to 1 931 Bq/kg. Other highly contaminated vegetables included mustard, parsley, and Shitake mushrooms, and lesser amounts of radiation were detected in lettuce, onions, tomatoes, strawberries, wheat and barley.

Milk, beef, rice and drinking water were also contaminated. The IAEA warned that levels of I-131 exceeded permissible limits between 17 and 23 March. Even in the northern district of Tokyo, tap water contained 210 Bq/l of I-131.

Seafood and fish caught close to the nuclear plant reached 500 – 1 000 Bq/kg. In April 2011, the Japanese Fishing Ministry found radioactive iodine and caesium in sand lance from Fukushima prefecture each with an activity up to 12 000 Bq/kg. The independent French radioactivity laboratory ACRO found readings of more than 10 000 Bq/kg in algae harvested outside the 20 km evacuation zone. One sample showed levels of 127 000 Bq/kg of I-131, 800 Bq/kg of Cs-134 and 840 Bq/kg of Cs-137.

In the prefecture of Shizuoka ~400 km from Fukushima, local tea leaves were found contaminated with 670 Bq/kg Cs-137, and radioactive Japanese green tea was discovered in France in June 2011.

Emerging health impacts [27]

Employees of the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, rescue- and clean-up workers are the most acutely exposed group. According to the Japanese Atomic Information Forum, radiation levels inside the plant peaked at around 1 000 mSi/h, a dose fatal to humans exposed for more than an hour. While airborne emissions decreased gradually, massive amounts of radiation still remained on site through wash-out in water continually pumped into the plant to cool the reactors. By 1 August 2011, radiation of 10 Sv/h was still detected around the premises. A total of 8 300 workers have been deployed in rescue and clean-up since March. In July, TEPCO announced that 111 workers had been exposed to radiation of more than 100 mSv, some as high as 678 mSv. That did not take into account effects of internal radiation through ingested or inhaled radioisotopes.

An under-cover report broadcast on 4 October 2011 on German TV ZDF revealed  radiation levels as high as 10 Sv/h, and new hotspots were still being discovered [30]. The exposure badges given to the workers routinely registered an error message as the radioactivity went way off-scale. The workers, paid €80-100 a day, were forbidden by contract to talk to reporters and given little information on the radiation levels in the plant. They only discovered that on TV. Some 18 000 workers had gone through the plant by then.

Following the nuclear meltdowns, the Japanese government ordered the evacuation of 200 000 people in an area of about 600 km2. As mentioned above, 70 000 people including 9 500 children were still living in highly contaminated areas outside this evacuation zone 2 months after the accident [15]. IAEA measured radiation levels 16-115 mSv/h (i.e., up to 140-1 007 mSv/y) outside the 20 km evacuation zone. MEXT scientists confirmed these levels in their soil surveys of April 2011. Dose rates recorded in several cities outside the evacuation zone were 2 mSv/h in Nihonmatsu, Tamura, Souma, Minamisoma and Date; more than 5 mSv/h in Namie, and more than 100 mSv/h in Iitate. Four months later in August 2011, MEXT scientists still detected radiation doses up to 34 mSv/h in Namie, up to 16 mSv/h in Iitate, and up to 17.5 mSv/h in Katsurao.

IRSN projected the external exposure of the 70 000 living in the highly contaminated areas outside the 20 km evacuation zone to reach 200 mSv/y or more in the first year [15]. The external collective dose over 4 years of this population was calculated to be 4 400 person-Sv, amounting to 60 % of the collective dose received by the population in the highly contaminated regions around Chernobyl.

MEXT’s calculations confirm those exposure levels. The estimated doses over the

course of a year are up to 235.4 mSv in the town of Namie, 61.7 mSv in Iitate, 24.2 mSv in

Kawamata, 21.2 mSv in Date, 18 mSv in Katsurao, 15.6 mSv in Minamisoma and more than 10 mSv in Fukushima city and Koriyama – both more than 55 km away from the plant. The natural (pre-existing) background radiation level in Japan is 1.48 mSv/y.

These high external sources of exposure have been and will continue to be internalized in food and drink. The devastating impacts of chronic exposure have been documented especially in the multiple diseases and deaths of hundreds of thousands of children as the result of the Chernobyl catastrophe, exacerbated by official denial, suppression, and disinformation [2].

I-131 is one of the most acute causes of cancer in children after a nuclear meltdown. Uptake of radioactive iodine can be prevented by a timely supply of iodine tablets. While such iodine tablets were supplied to the municipalities and evacuation centres during the first few days of the disaster, the order to distribute them was never issued, and hence, with very few exceptions, no iodine tablets were taken by people exposed to radioactive iodine [27]. The may lead to a large number of cases of thyroid cancer, as in the case of Chernobyl [2]. And the signs are ominous.

At the end of March 2011, a group of researchers around Hiroshima professor Satoshi Tashiro tested 1 149 children aged 0 to 15 from Iwaki city Kawamata town and Iitate village. Some 44.5 % showed radioactive contamination of up to 35 mSv in their thyroid gland. In October 2011, the University of Fukushima began with thyroid-examinations on 360 000 children living in the regions affected by radioactive contamination. Matsui Eisuke reported some of the results so far [16]. Between October 2011 and 31 March 2012, 38 114 children 1-18 y in Fukushima prefecture were examined by ultrasonography of the thyroid gland. Cysts were found in more than 35 % of the children. In comparison, in Nagaski where 250 children 7-14 y had been examined since 2000, only 2 (0.8 %) had cysts in their thyroid gland. 

Chiwaki reports that today, centres for measuring levels of radioactivity in food are opening one after another all over Japan, and not just in Fukushima [7]. Parents have banded together to set up organic cafes to stock non-contaminated organic vegetables, and also to demand that school canteens use only uncontaminated ingredients. “It is mainly thanks to independent networks that people have been able to go somewhere else temporarily to take care of their health.”

Evacuation from highly contaminated areas still refused

The government still refuses to evacuate people from the highly contaminated regions [7]. The city of Fukushima organized a planning meeting in the Ônami district that had been recommended for evacuation, and the opening words were:“Evacuation reduces economic activity, so we would opt for decontamination,” in other words, “We won’t let you leave.” The city has designated zones measuring >2 mSv/h for decontamination, and wanted volunteers; but when asked about their decontamination plans, said they have none. In February 2012, an estimated 62 000 people left Fukushima prefecture to seek refuge elsewhere.

In June 2011, pupils from 14 primary and secondary schools from the town of Kôriyama formally demanded that the local authority respect their right to be evacuated and to continue their education in a less contaminated area. But six months later, the demand has been refused.

“We have launched an appeal.” Chiwaki said. Refugees from the evacuation zones leave however they can, sometimes the whole family and sometimes the mother leaves with the children, and the husband stays behind to work and look after the house. Sharp divisions of opinion end in divorce and break up families.

“We have learnt lessons from the experience of Chernobyl and will never give up in our efforts to protect the lives of our children and everyone else. We ask the whole world to give us their support.”

For more information and especially if you can offer help, please contact

Article first published 05/06/12


  1. “Fukushima’s doses tallied”, Geoff Brumfiel, Nature 2012, 423-4, 24 May 2012,
  2. Ho MW. Chernobyl deaths top one million based on real evidence. Science in Society 55 2012.
  3. “Fukushima deaths not cause by radiation, UN says”, George Jahn, Huffington Post, 23 May 2012,
  4. “Utility says it underestimated radiation released in Japan”, New York Times, 24 May 2012,
  5. “Japan ex-PM apologises for Fukushima failure”, Aljazeera, 28 May 2012,
  6. “Fukushima reactor 4 requires urgent intervention; coalition calls for emergency UN action to halt catastrophic release of radiation”, Mike Adams, 6 May 2012,
  7. Chiwaki M. Our struggle for survival continues. Presentation at Scientific and Citizen Forum on Radioprotection – From Chernobyl to Fukushima, 11-13 May 2012, Geneva.
  8. “Japan held nuclear data, leaving evacuees in peril” Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, The New York Times, 8 August 2011,
  9. Rad Pro Calculator Site Description and Details, accessed 1 June 2012,
  10. Radiation exposure, dose limits, European nuclear society, accessed 29 May 2012,
  11. Occupational dose limits, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, accessed 29 May 2012,
  12. Radiation and Risk, Idaho State University, accessed 30 May 2012,
  13. Johnsrud JH. Sierra Club, Radiation Committee, Commenting on behalf of the organisation on The Scope of Radiological Protection, ICRP Consultation, accessed 31 May 2012,
  14. “Japan forsees high radiation over the next year in areas not evacuated”, Alexander Higgins, 28 April 2011,
  15. Assessment on the 66th day of projected external doses for populations living in the north-west fallout zone of the Fukushima nuclear accident, outcome of population evacuation measures, Report DRPH/2011-10, Directorate of Radiological Protection and Human Health, Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, October 2011
  16. 16. Matsui E. Action taken by Japanese scientists and citizens concerned about low-doses internal radiation exposure in Japan. Presentation at Scientific and Citizen Forum on Radioprotection – From Chernobyl to Fukushima, 11-13 May 2012, Geneva.
  17. Yasunari TJ, Stohl A, Hayano RS, Burkhart JF, Eckhardt S and Yssunari T. Cesium-137 deposition and contamination of Japanese soils due to the Fukushima nuclear accident. PNAS 2011, 108, 19530-4.
  18. Food Safety Department, Pharmaceutical & Food Safety Bureau, MHLW, New Standard Limits for Radionuclides in Foods, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, March 2012,
  19. Ho MW. Apple pectin for radioprotection. Science in Society 55 2012.
  20. “Calculated Fatalities from Radiation”, Study by the German Society for Radiation Protection and German IPPNW, Berlin, September 2011 fromRadiation_Reportfoodwatch-IPPNW2011-09-20_ger.pdf
  21. Press release, Tokyo Electric Power Company, 24 May 2012,
  22. Chernobyl Accident 1986, World Nuclear Association, April 2012,
  23. Accident in the Japanese NPP Fukushima: Large emissions of Cesium-137 and Iodine-131. Austrian Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG), March 24th, 2011,
  24. Stohl A et al. Xenon-133 and caesium-137 releases into the atmosphere from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant: determination of the source term, atmospheric dispersion, and deposition“, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 11, 28319-28394, 2011,
  25.  Stohl A, Seibert P, Wotawa G, Arnold D, Burkhart JF, Eckhardt S, Tapia C, Varga and Yasunari TJ. Xenon-133 and caesium-137 releases into the atmosphere from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant: determination of the source term, atmospheric dispersion, and deposition. Atmos Chem Phy 2012, 12, 2313-43.
  26. Ho MW. Fukushima fallout rivals Chernobyl. Science in Society 55 2012.
  27. Rosen A. Effects of the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns on environment and health, 9 March 2012,
  28. Buesseler K, Aoyama M and Fukasawa M. Impacts of the Fukushima nuclear power plants on Marine Radioactivity. Environ Sci Tecnol 2011, 45, 9931-5.
  29. Buesseler KO, Jayne SR, Fisher NS, et al. Fukushima-derived radionuclides in the ocean and biota off Japan. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2012, 109:5984–8.
  30. Fisuke M. Research and activities of scientists and citizens in Japan who are concerned about low dose internal radiation exposures. Presentation at Scientific and Citizen Forum on Radioprotection – From Chernobyl to Fukushima, 11-13 May 2012, Geneva
  31.  “German TV-channel ZDF talks with workers at Fukushima Dai-ichi”,  YouTube, accessed 4 June 2012,

Got something to say about this page? Comment

Comment on this article

Comments may be published. All comments are moderated. Name and email details are required.

Email address:
Your comments:
Anti spam question:
How many legs on a tripod?

There are 5 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

John Barilla Comment left 6th June 2012 15:03:27
What preventive measures would Dr. Ho recommend for Americans and Europeans who may unknowingly be exposed to the Fukushima fallout. Any practical suggestions? It seems to me that would be a good subject for another article.

Mae-Wan Ho Comment left 6th June 2012 15:03:14
John Barilla, we are not medical doctors so this is not medical advice. If you have been following ISIS, you would have found this about green tea compound: Another on appled pectin and other supplements will follow. Obviously you should ask US EPA to carry out regularly monitoring especially of food and water.

Comment left 16th July 2013 01:01:40
--> Naoto KAN not Ken

Sara Shannon Comment left 23rd January 2014 06:06:56
In response to your question re prqctical suggestions for protection from fallout, I would suggest my book: Radiation Protective Foods. by Sara Shannon. It tells how to utilize foods as a shield from absorbing radiation. It was first published in l987 as Diet for the Atomic Age. It is comprehensive and based on medical and scientific research. Have a look at: Or, go to Sara Shannon

John C. Lamb Comment left 21st December 2015 08:08:39
Has any research on nuclear fallout/impacts been done in the area of Hanayama, Miyagi? Sendai would be another large population center of interest to me concerning radiation exposure. Thank you