What Can We Do to Protect Children’s Health?
1. The Current Status of Damage from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident.
The “Nuclear Emergency Declaration” issued after the Fukushima nuclear accident has not been lifted even 10 years after the accident. This is because the situation remains too risky. TEPCO has announced a 40-year decommissioning plan, but even now it doesn’t know where the vast amounts of melted nuclear fuel from the reactors are located. The process of transferring the spent fuel from the damaged fuel cooling pools to the ground level pools has not even progressed halfway. The water used to cool the melted nuclear fuel is highly contaminated, and the amount is increasing on a daily basis because of incoming groundwater. Contaminated water containing tritium and other radionuclides that cannot be removed, even with specialized equipment designed to remove nuclear materials, has now accumulated to over 1.2 million tons, and water storage tanks are crammed onto the TEPCO site. The government and TEPCO want to dilute the radioactive water and release it into the sea, but the local fishermen’s association as well as local governments are strongly opposed to doing so, as they are concerned about the radioactive contamination of the marine products that are their livelihood.
According to TEPCO, approximately 14,000 becquerels of cesium per hour are still being released into the air from the Fukushima nuclear accident site (June 2020). Radioactive materials dispersed outside the plant site as a result of the nuclear accident were collected in the process of decontamination and packed into plastic bags. There are now more than 10 million such bags. Most are still piled up on farmland and vacant fields. In order to reduce the overall volume of the radioactive waste, the government has decided to burn radioactive wood, rice straw and grass that contain levels of radiation between 8000 Bq/kg to 100,000 Bq/kg. As for contaminated soil, the Ministry of the Environment is planning its reuse, and demonstration projects are underway to recycle it for embankments, farmland, and so on. This is nothing other than the redistribution of radioactive material that was collected at great expense, involving much time and energy, all the while exposing workers to danger. These “redistribution projects” will not only put workers at risk once again, but they will also incur high costs. Before the accident, radioactive materials were strictly controlled and confined in reactors and cooling pools, but thanks to the Ministry of the Environment, they are now being widely dispersed in the environment. Incineration and the reuse of contaminated soil are further contributing to the unnecessary and dangerous dispersal of radiation all over Japan.
2. In order to protect the health of children, they themselves need accurate knowledge about the health effects of radiation.
Since the accident, the dispersal of radioactive materials in the environment has created a situation where it is almost impossible to know where radioactive materials can steal into our lives. In addition, there is no guarantee that radioactive materials will not be released again during the decommissioning process, about which nobody has any idea as to how many years it will take to complete. Our children will have no choice but to live with the dangers that all these factors entail. In order to protect themselves from radiation, it is essential for them to understand the effects of radiation on their health.
After the nuclear accident, the Japanese government began to provide radiation safety information on the web pages of various ministries and agencies. It also printed material for distribution at schools, which included statements such as “at doses under 100 millisieverts, the risk of cancer from exposure is so small that it will be hidden by the effects of cancer caused by other factors in the natural environment,” and “the risk posed by exposure at 100 millisieverts is no greater than not eating vegetables.”
The radiation safety information that these publications rely upon is based on the report by the Working Group on Risk Management for Low Dose Exposure that was published by the Cabinet Secretariat in December 2011. A growing number of papers published after the report show that even natural radiation of a few millisieverts per year causes an increase in leukemia and brain tumors in children. The link between not eating enough vegetables and cancer was eventually denied on the National Cancer Center website, where it was initially suggested.
The mechanism of radiation-induced DNA damage in relation to carcinogenesis is also fairly well understood, and large epidemiological studies have shown significant risks even at low doses. In general, current research agrees with the low dose risk model. The material provided by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to schools and to society at large disregards these new findings, especially in relation to the risks of exposure below 100 millisieverts. This attitude is reminiscent of the pre-accident nuclear safety myths that the Japan Government and electric companies spread.
There is no dose (“threshold”) below which radiation is safe. Cancer incidence increases directly in proportion to the dose. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommends that radiation protection be based on the Linear No- Threshold (LNT) model. This means that there is no safe dose of radiation and exposure should be avoided as much as possible.
The adults who caused the accident have a responsibility and obligation to provide the children of Japan with up-to-date and accurate knowledge on the dangers of radiation so that they themselves will be able to protect their health in the future.
We are very grateful to Dr. Norma Field, Emeritus Professor, University of Chicago, and Damien Andrews, for their assistance with the proofreading of these pages.
Created: March 2021
- Why did people worry about thyroid cancer after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident?
- Why should people take iodine tablets (“stable iodine,” “potassium iodide”) in the event of a nuclear accident?
- When should iodine tablets be taken? What is the required dosage?
- Did the people of Fukushima Prefecture take iodine tablets?
- The thyroid examination system in Fukushima Prefecture.
- The high incidence of thyroid cancer in Fukushima Prefecture.
- Is there an association between the level of contamination and thyroid cancer incidence?
- An accurate thyroid cancer case count is essential.
- The decline in thyroid screening rate is a problem.