The Ongoing Danger from Fukushima

At the 67th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, Dr. Helen Caldicott, a co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility pediatrician and anti-nuclear campaigner, reflected on the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima and the continuing threat from its radiation, in an interview with Dennis J. Bernstein.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

DB: I’ve been reading an interview with Yasuteru Yamada. He’s the president of the skilled veterans corps for Fukushima. This is the group of old people who volunteered, essentially, to sacrifice themselves because they had less years to live. And everything about this is extraordinary. You want to, sort of, talk a little bit about what you’re thinking is lately on Fukushima and what’s been happening there?

HC: Well, first of all, that report that was commissioned by the Diet, or the Japanese parliament, which said that the results of Fukushima was human error, a result of the Japanese culture, could just as easily been applied to the American culture. You are not as autocratic … but on the other hand, the whole nuclear enterprise is totally controlled by the weapons makers and designers, and nuclear power people.

Helen Caldicott's book, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer.

And the corruption is vast and they are all interlocked, as they were in Japan. And there is no independent body, none, that is not paid for by the nuclear industry that is overseeing the whole, whole process; both weapons production and nuclear power production that would protect the people of America.

They cut corners continuously, they lie, they don’t inspect the reactors adequately or in time. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t. There have been some very close calls in America. So as I read that report for the Diet on the Japanese situation it really made my blood curdle because I realized that it was just as applicable, or even more so, to the American situation. So I would say that, number one.

Number two, the situation in Fukushima is dire. They are now looking at children under the age of 18 in the Fukushima prefecture, and they’ve examined 38,000 so far. And 36 percent of them, over one-third, have thyroid nodules, cysts and nodules, almost certainly related to their exposure to both external radiation, gamma radiation, but also to inhaling and ingesting in their food, radioactive iodine. And children are extremely sensitive to radiation, 10 to 20 times more so than adults. Little girls twice as sensitive as little boys, we don’t know why.

You would expect solid tumors not to occur, for another, hmmm, 10 to 15 years … and this data is coming within the first year after the accident. So it clearly indicates these children got a whopping dose of I-131 [radioactive Iodine-131]. The nodules were diagnosed by looking at the thyroids by ultra-sound examination. They have not been biopsied. …

should happen,….I will preface this by saying that thyroid nodules in children are, as we’d say in Australia, “as rare as hen’s teeth.” They occur occasionally as congenital abnormalities but they’re virtually, never seen. In my years of pediatric practice, I never saw any thyroid lesions like this. And when they occur they should be biopsied either by sticking a fine needle in and sucking out some cells and looking at them under the microscope. Or taking out the lesion and examining it … to see if they are malignant. This is not being done.

These children are being “followed up.” Which means that they might have another ultra-sound in a couple of years. Some of the bigger lesions are followed more closely. But they’re not being biopsied, therefore, no diagnosis can be made, therefore, if some of them are malignant and almost certainly some are, these children will not be diagnosed, they would require, if they were malignant, … the removal of the thyroid, and follow-up very closely. And some will die. Now, these children who are not being biopsied are really condemned to a certain death, if they are malignant.

I guess I’ve never read anything in the medical literature, so absolutely irresponsible. The parents, I think, are told about the thyroid lesions but don’t see the ultra-sound. The ultra-sound examinations are being done by, in some cases, very unqualified and unskilled people. So that is just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, let’s face it 200 or so radioactive materials and isotopes were released from those reactors. Some have half lives of seconds, and some millions of years.

But, suffice it to say, all cancers, all cancers, and leukemias can be induced by radiation. And these isotopes go to many different organs. Cesium goes to the brain, muscle, testicles, ovaries, where it can induce malignancies. Strontium 90 goes to the bone where it can cause bone cancer or leukemia. Plutonium … goes to the lung where it can cause lung cancer. Lymph glands where it can cause lymphomas, or Hodgkin’s disease. Bone marrow where it’s incorporated in the hemoglobin where it can cause leukemia or bone cancer, liver where it can cause liver cancer.

It causes the placenta where, like thalidomide, it can kill a cell in a fetus that’s going to form the left half of the brain or the right arm. It also deposits in the testicles where it can damage genes in the sperm and damage the very building blocks of life.

 

And these genes, aberrant genes then are passed on generations after generations like cystic fibrosis, diabetes, hemochromatosis [known as iron overload]. There are over two thousand such diseases. And the other thing to notice is once you get these elements into an organ the radiation is persistent. Many of these isotopes last for a long time within the body consistently irradiating small volumes of cells which get a very high dose. And so, therefore, they are very mutagenic, they are very carcinogenic.

And the other thing to notice that the materials, I mean, the theta pollen in Fukushima was so full of cesium it was almost unbelievable. And that was blown all over the place.  Someone tested some dust in a tenth floor apartment in Tokyo recently and there was a lot of cesium 137, 134 in it, uranium 238, 235, and the like, from the Fukushima accident, tenth floor of a Tokyo apartment.

And the food is radioactive, much of it. The rice, much of the rice grown in Japan is grown in the Fukushima prefectures. It’s being harvested with cesium in it so they’re mixing it with non-radioactive rice. Doesn’t matter, you know, it reconcentrates back in the body. Sixty-three percent of the fish caught 100 kilometers from Fukushima have cesium in them. Tuna being caught off the coast of California is carrying cesium from Fukushima. Spinach, the mushrooms are full of cesium and other isotopes, but they’re only just measuring cesium.

Cesium lasts for 600 years, it’s in the soil. Every time it rains it gets washed down from the hills, into the rivers and into the ocean, and concentrating in the food chain consistently. So, therefore, the food will be radioactive for hundreds of years so it’s not just the fact that people have radioactive elements already in their bodies, which will continue to be there for some years, until they’re excreted, finally. But that they will be eating radioactive foods for hundreds of years. The food is not being consistently tested, you can’t taste, smell or see, radioactive elements in the food.

And someone has asked me to write an article about what medically, I would suggest. I mean there are children living now in areas so radioactive that they were evacuated around Chernobyl. Evacuated. … You know, exclusion zones.

I go back to how I felt two days after the accident occurred, it suddenly hit me in the guts. I thought, my God, there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about this, to reverse it, either the accident itself, which is still ongoing and very, very critical. But more, nothing we can do as physicians about the people who will be contaminated. And that’s what the situation is now.

If Building Four collapses, which is very delicate and damaged, from the previous earthquake, on top of Building Four is a cooling pool of spent fuel rods over a hundred tons, it’s a hundred feet above the air. And it’s very damaged. If there’s an earthquake greater than, on the Richter scale of 7.0, they predict Building Four will collapse. Down will come the cooling pool.

The zirconium clouding of the fuel rods will burst into flames reacting with air at very high temperatures. Ten times more cesium and radioactivity will be released from that cooling pool than from Chernobyl. And they are talking now, senior politicians in Japan, about evacuating Tokyo, should that happen. And then it will contaminate enormously the northern hemisphere.

What else can I say Dennis? And what really worries me is the vast cover-up in the media in America, not just America but throughout the world. People are not learning what’s going on.

DB: We are obviously very worried about the mainstream media. We’re speaking with Dr. Helen Caldicott, formerly of the Harvard Medical School. She taught pediatrics. She was a pediatrician before that, and has been since a very important anti-nuclear campaigner going around the world. Her moving documentary [is] “If You Love This Planet.” …

I have just one more question on Fukushima, and it’s sort of somewhat self-serving but I live here in northern California. My partner, J-Ha, is Japanese. Her parents live in Hawaii. She grew up and was born in Hawaii. Should people in Hawaii, should people at the coastline in the U.S. be worried, say in a similar way that Europe was worried and were dosed after Chernobyl?

HC:  Well, you got, in some areas of America, quite a high fall-out initially from Fukushima. The ambient levels of radiation in Seattle went up 40,000 times above normal. There was radioactive iodine in the kelp off Anaheim, where Disneyland is. Because that came … was brought through the currents in the air, and then obviously fell down with the rain.

And as I said tuna caught off the coast of California contained cesium. Now, it’s quite dilute but, you know, the dilution really doesn’t matter. The dilution factor … because if you eat tuna, happen to eat it with some cesium in it, the cesium goes to one of your muscles or into your brain. Because cesium is the potassium analogue, it’s like potassium and our bodily cells are reaching for potassium. You only need a single mutation in a single cell induced by a very small amount of cesium to induce cancer.

But you must also know that the incubation time for cancer is anytime from five to 17 years. And when the cancer arrives, say you get a headache, or lose your vision or something and you actually are diagnosed with a cerebral tumor, it will not be noted. It doesn’t say, “I was made by some cesium in some tuna, 20 years ago.”

So the EPA has stopped testing your air, it should be, because if Building Four collapses, as I said, you will be in serious straits. The EPA is not testing the fish. The fish caught off the West Coast of America should routinely be tested because the currents are now bringing the radiation over to you. It’s still a way off, I think, but the fish swim faster than the currents. And the tuna got here pretty fast. So you need to be cautious and you need to be demanding from your government, the federal government, that they adequately test your food.

However, if Building Four collapses or if there is another hydrogen explosion in units one, two and three, which could happen. I could go into that, but I won’t, and more huge amounts of radiation are released you need to be seriously worried. At the moment just get on with your lives, and if you have eaten some cesium or some strontium 90, or whatever, in your food, well, so be it. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t get it out of your body. There’s nothing you can eat that will remove it. So you just have to hope that you’ll be okay.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. You can get in touch with the author at dbernstein@igc.org.

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7 comments on “The Ongoing Danger from Fukushima

  1. MarkU on said:

    Unfortunately the full impact of radioactive contamination is not felt for many years and the damage in question, higher rates of cancer and birth deformities, are not easy to attribute to a particular source. Don’t expect anything to be done about this anytime soon.

  2. JonnyJames on said:

    Dennis Bernstein has interviewed Dr. Caldicott many times on Flashpoints! Much respect and love to both of them for shedding light on this most serious and grave issue.

  3. Pingback: The Ongoing Danger from Fukushima – Consortium News

  4. elmerfudzie on said:

    Nuclear power is still in it’s infancy. For example, let’s look at another very complex industry; the automobile’s history was one of continuous discovery with many design modifications and correcting flaws. It took every human effort to rid this “beast” of those dangers associated with impact crashes, toxic metals in the combustion stream such as leaded exhaust, internal cadmium parts and horsepower inefficiencies. By the same token, nuclear power can be made safe for the environment, become an endless source of energy and can be retrofitted into replacing existing non nuclear plants such as coal. The sulfur dioxide from coal and environmental impact from it’s cousin, natural gas, has killed hundreds of thousands of people from respiratory disease and cancer with many more to come especially in developing countries. The non radioactive arsenic found in coal is always carcinogenic. If military uses hadn’t entered the picture, a Thorium based (commercial) energy economy would now have been set well in place. These types of reactors are superior over Uranium/Plutonium in many ways, exhibit far less complexity in reactor design, easier waste stream to manage, no military value and a greatly reduced terror concern. In the 1970′s the Japanese government was warned (by DOE experts and others) and many times, about potential tsunami effects on the emergency pump systems at Fukushima. They refused to take action on those recommendations. Back to my point, in the United States, the raw ores used to extract Thorium 232 have a secondary value that maintains a strategic supply of rare earths stockpiles without having to import from potentially hostile countries (whenever will we learn this one). Thorium reactors cannot go super critical. They are fissile and do not require the “always at 100%” fission energy to generate heat, as does U235 or Pt 239 do. Today’s LWR’s require constant vigilance and monitoring of high pressure steam systems and potential nuclear criticality. In fact the heavy radiation shielding required in such reactors are not required for Thorium (an alpha emitter only). So it’s come to pass that a car made today is far safer, more powerful and cost effective than a car designed in 1940. Lastly, clean energy alternatives have many raw material and man power intensive issues that are more difficult to resolve than retrofitting coal, gas and older LWR plants with Thorium. This high energy substance is in quantitative terms, 200x more available than uranium. Fukushima and Chernobyl were 100% man made calamities. In the latter case, one research scientist was breaking every rule in the book regarding neutron modulation in atomic reactors thus resulting in a horrific explosion. Thorium232 pilot reactors have a flawless record and can be easily be “fired up” or shut down, at will. This is a can do country and we can have a safe Thorium energy economy, reprocessing technique and inexpensive final storage of Thorium waste products if we put our minds to it!!

  5. James Johanson on said:

    @elmerfudzie – Couldn’t disagree with you more.

    If Chernobyl and Fukushima haven’t clued us in to the fact that nuclear power is not the answer and we need to move to green energy sources such as wind and solar then I don’t know what will. You say that Thorium reactors have a clean record but it only takes one accident and the consequences for humanity are far too great. Stop nuclear power now! Let’s make the move to renewable energy sources!

    • elmerfudzie on said:

      James, not-so-fast! Please take some time to read up on Thorium Reactors, if you haven’t done so already. No matter what the energy conservation effort, we must include nuclear in the total package of long term fuel options. I tried to use the automobile as a simplified example. In the USA alone, approximately 4,000+ people die annually from crashes and this figure has repeated itself over and over again for the last 50 years. Coal continues to kill and this will intensify as poorer populations grow along with achieving higher standards of living. The south Americans (may) allow the first world to (over) extract every last milligram of Copper and Lithium they have in their national reserves. This possible approval from them will only secure a limited number of electronic devises, solar, and wind manufactured stations. Some countries such as Germany, have the financial where-with-all to finance and maintain solar power, not to mention it’s relatively a small country (topographically speaking), about the size of Illinois and Indiana put together and therefor does not require long power transmission lines. This subject of energy security is ever evolving and extremely complex. Wave power and even genetically altered algae to create straight chain hydrocarbon fuels are just small slices of the whole pie, that will eventually answer the question; how to satisfy the energy needs of a nine billion plus populated world to come.

  6. Riddel on said:

    What are the long term effects of dumping millions of gallons into the ocean? If the effects are negligible then why not just vent the coolant water from all reactors directly into the ocean and save billions?