Tag Archives: Japan

Typhoon Season Could Make the Japanese Nuclear Mess Even More Complicated

 With the typhoon season close at hand,people are wondering whether the  Japanese can get it together fast enough to cover their leaking nuclear plants.They talk about entombing the whole mess, in a sarcophagus like structure which has been compared to building a pyramid. At Chernobyl, the Russians dumped concrete in 600 helicopter runs.  Numerous pilots died after doing a dump. God knows how long this will take in Japan even with assists from a big pump the US is sending.  Does this mean Japanese radiation will be spewing skyward for months or years or what? God forbid, in a typhoon?

The French, as previously noted, are sufficiently concerned to warn women and infants not to drink milk,soft cheeses,and to keep clear of tap water coming from open reservoirs.They don’t want gardeners to water leafy vegetables with rain water.

The US attitude appears to be– no problem. A little radiation isn’t going to hurt anyone.The CDC says not to worry. It’s insignificant.

How do they know how much iodine,cesium 137 or strontium 90 is in the fish caught out of the currents running north past the Fukushima plant up to the Bering Sea, and then down the coast of Alaska where much of our commercial fishing is done.

  The answer is they don’t.The FDA,charged with protecting us, isn’t even bothering to test the fish.

  As Washington’s Blog asks,is this some sort of slick way of raising the radiation standards–by looking the other way.  Or,my guess is it’s  just business as usual by the people who have not been regulating food and drugs over  the years

  Thanks to the Anchorage Daily  News we have a not so pretty picture of our  hot shit government in action. Here are a few excerpts:

DeLancey, the FDA spokeswoman, said those Japanese fishermen were disrupted by the tsunami and are no longer fishing anyway.

As for U.S. fish, she said, “We have not been doing any testing. We’ve been working with NOAA to keep an eye on U.S. waters, to see if there is any cause for alarm, and we do have the capability to begin testing if that does occur.”

Asked to explain what kind of monitoring was taking place in the ocean, DeLancey said, “You would have to talk directly to NOAA … I don’t really want to speak for another agency.”

But NOAA fisheries spokeswoman Kate Naughton declined to answer questions and referred a reporter back to DeLancey and the EPA.

DeLancey said that so far, there’s no reason for concern about Fukushima. The radioactive materials in the water near Fukushima quickly become diluted in the massive volume

 

Radioactive Fish and Birds: Dangers from Japan?

Over the weekend the Japanese Science Ministry released data from midweek showing large amounts of radioactive iodine had been discovered in seawater off the coast. According to NHK, “The detected level of iodine-131 was 79.4 becquerels per liter, twice the legal standard for water discharged from nuclear plants.’’

This information follows other news that has been coming out in dribs and drabs, reporting there is a crack in the plant, and radioactive seawater in the plant and in the ground beneath the plant. While the danger of radioactivity in Japan and elsewhere has generally been played down, these discoveries raise several potentially significant questions both for the Japan itself , for the central and northern Pacific, and in the United States, primarily for Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

The first involves fish.  The Pacific currents running along the  Japanese coast go north up the Asian coast before turning towards the Bering Sea, and on down through the Gulf of Alaska to the U.S. northwest coast. These currents mainly move from West to East. Fish are influenced by these currents, and in particular the great stocks of tuna along the warmer waters on, above, and below the equator and in the central Pacific.

In describing the migratory patterns in its Fish Watch report, NOAA writes:

Pacific albacore (sometimes referred to as `white tuna’)… typically begin an expansive migration in the spring and early summer in waters off Japan that continues through the late summer into inshore waters off the U.S. Pacific coast, and ends in late fall and winter in the western Pacific Ocean…

Almost all of the albacore harvested in U.S. commercial fisheries comes from the Pacific, mainly from waters off Washington and Oregon. Much of this catch is exported to foreign markets including Spain, Japan, and Canada. The rest is sold in U.S. markets, along with imported albacore, primarily from Thailand and Indonesia.

This raises the possibility that radioactive fish might begin turning up in canned and frozen fish products imported into the US from Asian markets, as well as from  from Alaska and thePacific Northwest.

Birds are another issue. Consider this, from the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau – Japan Committee (IWRBJ):

At least 404 species of waterbird are recorded in the Asia-Pacific region. Of these, 243 species, by virtue of their nature, undertake annual migrations between their breeding areas and nonbreeding grounds, along several different flyways. They visit at least 57 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region. A few of these species undertake some of the greatest non-stop flights in the world, covering at least 6,000 km in one step…

Waterbirds play an important role in several spheres of human interest: culturally, socially, scientifically and as a food resource. Several species, such as cranes, swans, geese and ducks, are revered. Waterbirds are an important component of most wetland ecosystems, as they occupy several trophic levels in the food web of wetland nutrient cycles. Birds harvest and regulate the abundance and diversity of several species of wetland flora and fauna. Many species also play a role in the control of agricultural pests, whilst some species are themselves considered pests of certain crops…

Experts and scientists in the United States, appearing on television and in the general press, have assured everyone the radiation hazards are insignificant or minimal at best. But fish and birds can be harbingers of possible problems ahead.

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Japanese Release of Tritium

What do we know for sure about the Japanese nuclear disaster? Not much. This informative article reprinted on Counterpunch.com this morning from the original in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by Barbara Rose  Johnston discusses how industry and government have long worked together to hide the dangers of the nuclear era. It is an excellent piece well worth reading. Here is a brief excerpt dealing with tritium:

This regulation of information has been the case since the nuclear age began, and understanding this helps to illuminate why there is no clear consensus on what Japan’s nuclear disaster means in terms of local and global human health.

Nuclear secrecy in context. In the initial hours after the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electrical Power Company issued statements reporting minor damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. In the days that followed, government and industry officials reported the “venting of hydrogen gas”, but that there was “no threat to health.” This reassurance of health safety was echoed when hydrogen gas explosions occurred at the power plant.

In fact, the hydrogen released is tritium water vapor, a low-level emitter that can be absorbed in a human body through simply breathing, or by drinking contaminated water. Tritium decays by beta emission and has a radioactive half-life of about 12.3 years. As it undergoes radioactive decay, this isotope emits a very low-energy beta particle and transforms to stable, nonradioactive helium. Once tritium enters the body, it disperses quickly, is uniformly distributed, and is excreted through urine within a month or so after ingestion. It produces a low-level exposure and may result in toxic effects to the kidney. As with all ionizing radiation, exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer.

So, then, why no mention of tritium in the government or industry statements? Relatively speaking, the health effects of a low-level emitter like tritium are minor when compared to the other radiogenic and toxic hazards in this nuclear catastrophe. Such omission is a standard industry practice, designed to reassure the public that the normal operating procedures of a nuclear power plant represent no significant threat to human health.

The assertion that low-level exposure to radiation represents no human threat is an artifact of Cold War-era science that was shaped to meet government and industry needs.

During the Cold War, scientific findings on health effects to nuclear fallout that contradicted the official narrative were typically censored. Scientists were not only punished for their work, they were also blacklisted — one example of this was American anthropologist Earle Reynolds whose work for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission was censored in 1953 by the US government. His research showed that Japanese children who were exposed to fallout were not only smaller than their counterparts, but had less resistance to disease in general and were more susceptible to cancer, especially leukemia. The consequences of this censored history was examined in 1994 by the US Advisory Commission on Human Radiation Experimentation, which concluded that the radiation health literature of the Cold War years was a heavily sanitized and scripted version meant to reassure and pacify public protests while achieving military and economic agendas.

Radiation and the Pacific Jet Stream

Will radiation released from Japan’s damaged nuclear plants affect people living in the United States, in Hawaii or on the West Coast? I asked that question of Dr. Ivan Oelrich, a retired nuclear physicist who worked during the last decade with the Federation of American Scientists, toured Japanese reactor sites last August. In an interview this morning he said that detectable radiation around the world may rise, but not “significantly.” When the North Koreans set off a nuclear device, for example, radiation showed up at the monitoring station at Yellowknife, Canada–the spot where radiation levels from Japan probably will be first detected on the mainland–but the amounts remained small.

U.S. and international nuclear regulatory agencies have assured Americans that they will not be affected by the current levels of radiation released in Japan. People along the West Coast might well be apprehensive about the effects of a catastrophic radiation release, however, due to the existence of powerful air current across the Pacific. The question has brought to light one little-noticed historical example of how the Pacific jet stream carried a Japanese attack on the U.S. during World War II.  That incident is described in Wikipedia:

Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese Navy launched over 9,000 fire balloons toward North America. Carried by the recently-discovered Pacific jet stream, they were to sail over the Pacific Ocean and land in North America, where the Japanese hoped they would start forest fires and cause other damage. About three hundred were reported as reaching North America, but little damage was caused. Six people (five children and a woman) became the only deaths due to enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II…Recently released reports by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian military indicate that fire balloons reached as far inland as Saskatchewan.

Japan’s Low-Cost, High Quality Health Care System

Japan’s health system provides health care to its citizens as a matter of right. It earns some of the highest marks on various measures of quality, and costs far less per capita than the U.S. system–and less, even, than most European systems. Frontline examined how the system works as part of its “Sick Around the World” series. 

In October 2007, Frontline interviewed Ikegami, the program chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Keio University School of Medicine, and widely regarded as Japan’s top health economist. As he explains it:

[T]he government is able to control the flow of money….[W]e have multiple payers and multiple providers, but there’s a single-payment system — not a single payer but a single-payment system — so that all payers must abide by the payment system, and all providers must be paid by the system…[T]his is done on a procedure-by-procedure basis and by a drug-by-drug basis, and the way that is done is that a survey is made of the financial situation of the providers.

Each year, the government publishes a directory of what each procedure should cost. Here’s how that plays out when it comes to just one of the drivers of U.S. health care costs: high-priced imaging technology.

Q: Let’s take an example of how these low costs work. In Denver, where I live, if you get an MRI of your neck region it’s $1,200, and the doctor we visited in Japan says he gets $98 for an MRI. So how do you do that?

A: Well, in 2002 the government says that the MRIs, we are paying too much, so in order to be within the total budget, we will cut them by 35 percent.

Q: If I’m a doctor, why don’t I say, “I’m not going to do them; it’s not enough money”?

A: You forgot that we have only one payment system. So if you want to do your MRIs, unless you can get private-pay patients, which is almost impossible in Japan, you go out of business. …

Q:… The price of that MRI is so much cheaper in Japan. Doesn’t he have to pay the same price, $5,000, for an MRI machine like the man in America?

A: Well, it depends on what kind of image density the radiologist wants. And the MRIs that are available in Japan are much less expensive than those that are typically found in the United States.

Q: So the imaging machine is cheaper? … To me that’s another advantage of negotiating low prices: Then the supplying industry has to cut its prices, and the MRI makers met this need.

A: Right. And MRIs have now become very big in [the] export industry.

Q: So the health ministry set a low price, the MRI makers make cheaper machines to help the doctors meet that price, and now Japan is exporting these around the world?

A: Right. … This is a situation where the market does work in health care. …

Here are some other excerpts, which shows how far we are from most other developed countries when it comes to our thinking on health care. The Japanese are charged co-pays for their services, but there is a cieling on these out-of-pocket expenses, which is not only extremely low (by our standards), but also adjusted according to income. Keep in mind, as you read this, that some 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies are related to medical bills, according to a recent study.

Q:  [T]hey’ve got a system that makes sure people don’t go broke paying medical bills.

A: Right. I think the main goal of a public health insurance system is to prevent people [from] going broke.

Q: How many people in Japan go bankrupt because of medical bills?

A: None, or at least there should be none, because first of all, they should be covered, and if they’re not covered, then they can get covered by paying back one year’s premiums. And if they can’t pay back the one year’s premium, then they will be on public assistance….

Q: Do you think the Japanese people feel that everyone in this country should all have a basic package of medical coverage?

A: According to opinion polls, I would not only say basic but egalitarian coverage [for] all. Over 70 percent of the Japanese, when they’re asked that question, say they’re not only in favor of basic coverage, they are in favor of egalitarian coverage.