Chris Busby – 14th March 2016
IAEA marine experts and Japanese scientists collect water samples in coastal waters near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station
The BBC has been excelling itself in its deliberate understatement of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, writes Chris Busby. While calling in pseudo experts to say radiation is all but harmless, it’s ignoring the science that shows that the real health impacts of nuclear fallout are around 1,000 times worse than claimed.
I am so ashamed of the BBC. It seems, as an institution, to be supporting and promulgating an enormous lie about the health effects of radioactive pollution. And not providing any balanced scientific picture.
On the 5th Anniversary of the catastrophe we saw Prof Geraldine Thomas, the nuclear industry’s new public relations star, walk through the abandoned town of Ohkuma inside the Fukushima exclusion zone with BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.
She was described as “One of Britain’s leading experts on the health effects of radiation”. Thomas is of the opinion that there is no danger and the Japanese refugees can come back and live there in the ‘zone’. Her main concern was how untidy it all was: “left to rack and ruin”, she complained, sadly.
At one point Rupert pulled out his Geiger Counter and read the dose of 3 microSieverts per hour. “What does that mean”, he asked, “how much radiation would it give in a year to people who came back here?”
Thomas replied, “About an extra milliSievert a year which is not much considering you get 2mSv a year from natural background. The long term impact on your health would be absolutely nothing.”
Now anyone who has a calculator can easily multiply 3 microSieverts (3 x 10-6 Sv) by 24 hours and 365 days. The answer is 26 mSv (0.026Sv) not “about 1mSv” as the “leading expert on the health effects of radiation” told the dumbfounded viewers.
Any real expert would not have made such a stupid mistake. But this woman is not a real expert, her CV shows she has published almost nothing in the way of original research, so we must ask how it is the BBC come to take her seriously.
Those who hate nothing so much as the truth
This recalled the day the first reactor exploded in 2011. I was in London, and the BBC asked me to come into the studio and comment. Also there was a nuclear industry apologist, Dr Ian Fells. Like Gerry Thomas he was unconcerned about the radiation: the main problem for him was that the lifts would not work. People would have to climb stairs, he complained.
I said then on that first day that this was a serious accident like Chernobyl but he and all the stooges that followed him told the viewers that it was no problem, not like Chernobyl, hydrogen explosion, no breach of containment pressure vessels etc. Some months later, looking back, it is clear I was correct on every point, but I never was invited back to the BBC.
I visited Japan, took sophisticated measuring equipment, obtained vehicle air filters, spoke to the Japanese people and advised them to take Calcium tablets to block the Strontium-90. My vehicle air filter measurements showed clearly that large areas of north east Japan were seriously contaminated including Tokyo.
This was too much for the nuclear industry: I was attacked in the Guardian newspaper by pro-nuclear Pauline-converted George Monbiot in an attempt to destroy my credibility. One other attacker was Geraldine Thomas. What she said then was as madly incorrect then as what she is saying now. But the Guardian would not let me respond.
The important evidence for me in the recent BBC clip is the measurement of dose given by Rupert’s Geiger counter, 3microSieverts per hour (3μSv/h). Normal background in Japan (I know, I measured it there) is about 0.1μSv/h. So in terms of external radiation, Ruperts’s measurement gave 30 times normal background.
Fukushima: we have a very serious problem
Is this a problem for health? You bet it is. The question no-one asked is what is causing the excess dose? The answer is easy: radioactive contamination, principally of Caesium-137. On the basis of well-known physics relationships we can say that 3μSv/h at 1m above ground represents a surface contamination of about 900,000 Bq per square metre of Cs-137. That is, 900,000 disintegrations per second in one square metre of surface.
And note that they were standing on a tarmac road which appeared to be clean. And this is 5 years after the explosions. The material is everywhere, and it is in the form of dust particles which can be inhaled. Invisible sparkling fairy-dust that kills hang in the air above such measurements.
The particles are not just of Caesium-137. They contain other long lived radioactivity, Strontium-90, Plutonium 239, Uranium-235, Uranium 238, Radium-226, Polonium-210, Lead-210, Tritium, isotopes of Rhodium, Ruthenium, Iodine, Cerium, Cobalt 60, the list is long.
The UN definition of radioactively contaminated land is 37,000Bq / square metre, and so, on the basis of the measurement made by the BBC reporter, the town of Ohkuma in the Fukushima zone (and we assume everywhere else in the zone) is still, five years after the incident, more than 20 times the level where the UN would, and the Soviets did, step in and control the population.
But the Japanese government want to send the people back there. It is bribing them with money and housing assistance. It is saying, like Gerry Thomas, that there is no danger. And the BBC is giving this criminal misdirection a credible platform. The argument is based on the current radiation risk model, that of the International Commission on Radiological Protection the ICRP.
Last month, my German colleagues and I published a scientific paper in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Health and Toxicology. It uses real-world data from those exposed to the same substances that were released by Fukushima to show that the ICRP model is wrong by 1,000 times or more.
This is a game changing piece of research. But were we asked to appear on the BBC, or anywhere else? No. What do our findings and calculations suggest will have happened in the five years since the explosions and into the future? Let’s take a look at what has happened since 2011.
And this is only the beginning …
The reactors are still uncontrolled five years after the explosions and continue to release their radioactive contents to the environment despite all attempts to prevent this. Concerning the melted fuel, there is no way to assess the condition or specific whereabouts of the fuel though it is clearly out of the box and in the ground. Robots fail at the extremely high radiation levels found.
Ground water flowing through the plant is becoming contaminated and is being pumped into storage tanks for treatment. High radiation levels and debris have delayed the removal of spent fuel from numbers 1, 2 and 3 reactor buildings. TEPCO plans to remove debris from reactor 3 and this work has begun. Then they are hoping to remove the fuel rods out of reactors 1 and 2 by 2020 and the work on removing debris from these 2 reactors has not begun yet.
Much of the radioactivity goes into the sea, where it travels several hundreds of km. up and down the coast destroying sea life and contaminating intertidal sediment. The radionuclides bind to fine sediment and concentrate in river estuaries and tidal areas like Tokyo Bay.
Here the particles are resuspended and brought ashore to be inhaled by those living within 1km of the coast. From work done by my group for the Irish Government on the contaminated Irish Sea we know that this exposure will increase the rate of cancer in the coastal inhabitants by about 30%.
The releases have not been stopped despite huge amounts of work, thought and action. The treated water is still highly radioactive and cannot yet be released. An ice wall designed to stop the flow of water getting to the plant is still not operational and the Japanese Nuclear regulator still has not given the go-ahead.
‘Son of Fukushima’ waiting to happen
This may be wise because an environment report showed that use of the ground water caused rapid subsidence and can destabilise the structures of the reactors. That is a real problem on site with 3 heavy spent fuel pools still full and largely inaccessible. Collapse of the buildings would lead to coolant loss and a fire or even explosion releasing huge amounts of radioactivity.
So this is one nightmare scenario: ‘Son of Fukushima’. A solid wall at the port side may have slowed the water down but diverting the water may cause problems with the ground water pressure on site and thus also threaten subsidence. Space for storing the radioactive water is running out and it seems likely that this will have to be eventually spilled into the Pacific.
Only 10% of the plant has been cleaned up although there are 8,000 workers on site at any one time, mostly dealing with the contaminated water. Run-off from storms brings more contamination down the rivers from the mountains. There are millions of 1-ton container bags full of radioactive debris and other waste which has been collected in decontamination efforts outside the plant and many of these bags are only likely to last a handful of years before degrading and spilling their contents. Typhoons will spread this highly contaminated contents far and wide.
TEPCO are also burning waste from the plant in a single incinerator. Further afield, contamination efforts to clean up the homes and roads are hampered by the torrential rains that are increasing because of global warming; the rain is bringing large amounts of contaminated soil back into these areas as well as the contaminated leaves and pollen from the forest areas that TEPCO are unable to clean.
Far off the shore there are natural areas that act as nurseries for many species of sea life. It has been found that intertidal marine species such as anemones, sponges, crustaceans, worms and bivalves within 30 km of the damaged reactors have disappeared altogether because of the 300 tons of highly radioactive water a day flowing out of the plant into the sea.
This water contains large amounts of tritium, making it radioactive; the effects of tritium on the larval stages of marine invertebrates has been studied in the UK. It was found at the University of Plymouth that levels involving doses of less than 1mSv of tritium inhibited the development.
Radioactivity from Fukushima has now migrated across the Pacific and is appearing on the West Coast of the USA. The scientific community there, like Gerry Thomas, subscribe to the flawed ICRP model, and since the levels of Caesium-137 measured are low, (maybe 10Bq/cubic metre of sea water), they say that there will be no health effects. But like Thomas they are wrong.
The problem is that ‘dose’ cannot be used to assess risk from internal radioactive particles. Dose is an average over large masses of tissue: but cancer begins in a single cell or local community of cells and these particles from Fukushima cause massive local doses. This is why there have been countless web reports of marine mammals with patchy sores or localised tumours. The question of the ongoing effect of this Fukushima radioactivity on the Pacific biota far from Japan remains open.
The effects on wild creatures in Japan are clear and have been studied. There have been peer-reviewed reports of genetic damage in birds and in insects; a major scientist studying these genetic effects at Fukushima and in the Chernobyl affected areas also is Tim Mousseau.
But whilst he can study plants and animals, no-one can study humans. There is a kind of closure on such data, with the Japanese government controlling it. The government is more interested in getting Fukushima ready for the Olympics and is using financial and cultural pressure to move families back into contaminated zones.
Japan is also exporting radioactive produce, and is using trade agreements to bully countries into accepting these poisons on the basis of the ICRP model. I was in Korea a few months back as an expert witness in a radiation case involving high levels of thyroid cancer near their nuclear sites. I was told about Japan using international trade laws to force its contaminated foods on to the Koreans, who were measuring the radioactivity and sending the stuff back. So watch out for radioactive items from Japan.
So what’s the evidence?
Let’s look at the only real health data which has emerged to see if it gives any support to my original estimate of 400,000 extra cancers in the 200km radius. Prof Tsuda has recently published a paper in the peer reviewed literature identifying 116 thyroid cancers detected over three years by ultrasound scanning of 380,000 0-18 year olds.
The background rate is about 0.3 per 100,000 per year, so in three years we can expect 3.42 thyroid cancers. But 116 were found, an excess of about 112 cases. Geraldine says that these were all found because they looked: but Tsuda’s paper reports that an ultrasound study in Nagasaki (no exposures) found zero cases, and also an early ultrasound study also found zero cases. So Geraldine is wrong. The thyroid doses were reported to be about 10mSv. On the basis of the ICRP model, that gives an error of about 2,000 times.
From the results of our new genetic paper we can safely predict a 100% increase in congenital malformations in the population up to 200km radius. In an advanced technological country like Japan these will be picked up early by ultrasound and aborted, so we will not actually see them, even if there were data we could trust.
What we will see is a fall in the birth rate and increase in the death rate. We know what has been happening and what will happen; we have seen it before in Chernobyl. And just like Chernobyl, the (western) authorities are influenced by or take their lead from the nuclear industry: the ICRP and the International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) which since 1959 has taken over from the World Health Organisation as the responsible authority for radiation and health (Yes, really!).
They keep the lid on the truth using stupid individuals like Geraldine Thomas and, by analogy with New Labour: New BBC. Increasingly I could say ‘New Britain’ as opposed to the Great Britain of my childhood, a country I was proud of where you could trust the BBC. I wonder how the reporters like Rupert can live with themselves presenting these lies.
Fukushima is far from being over, the deaths have only just begun.
The BBC report: bbc.com/news/world-asia-35761141
The study: ‘Genetic Radiation Risks – A Neglected Topic in the Low Dose Dabate‘ by Busby C, Schmitz-Feuerhake I, Pflugbeil S is published in Environmental Health and Toxicology.
Chris Busby is an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation. He qualified in Chemical Physics at the Universities of London and Kent, and worked on the molecular physical chemistry of living cells for the Wellcome Foundation. Professor Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk based in Brussels and has edited many of its publications since its founding in 1998. He has held a number of honorary University positions, including Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Health of the University of Ulster. Busby currently lives in Riga, Latvia. See also: chrisbusbyexposed.org, greenaudit.org and llrc.org.