The path to reconstruction in Fukushima, as seen through fieldwork in Eastern Japan

The path to reconstruction in Fukushima, as seen through fieldwork in Eastern Japan

Jun Takada

Jun Takada (57)

Doctor of Science Professor, Sapporo Medical University

Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan fanned the flames of fear regarding the “danger” of nuclear power. In this he was assisted by left-wing liberals and scholars who were perched firmly on the fence rather than taking sides. These flames were stoked by a large segment of the media, which sparked mass hysteria across Japan in regards to radiation levels and psychological torment in Fukushima Prefecture. Newspapers were still fomenting fear even five months after the earthquake by using meaningless numbers, such as reporting that the cesium in Fukushima was 168 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Yet in 1945, not one person died because of cesium. The dose of radiation from nuclides with half-life of 30 years is so small as to be unworthy of consideration. Radioactivity is inversely proportional to half-life, so radiation from nuclides with a short half-life of seconds or minutes was dangerous. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) is uninformed when it comes to these fundamentals regarding damage caused by nuclear explosions, and the news media simply goes along with what the NISA tells them, showing the depths of their ignorance.

As illustrated by the issue of the masochistic epitaph at the Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima, throughout modern history Japan has averted its eyes from the reality of nuclear power and allowed its national government to be lead about by deceitful “peace movements.”*1 The nuclear accident in Fukushima is no different. Namely, fear of radioactivity (which will not harm the health of a single person) is being encouraged, while movements are being made in the opposite direction that the country and world should be proceeding towards.

Sixty-five years have passed since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the country that stands on the vanguard of radiologic technologies in the fields of energy and medical care is becoming a laughing stock around the world. Although there have been no problems in the past in Germany or Italy,

these countries have already surrendered (just like during World War II) and are now displaying a negative attitude towards nuclear power. Citizens need to open their eyes and deal with this national crisis with a strong spirit ‐ no one has died in Fukushima due to radiation or radioactivity.

In order to accomplish reconstruction, we must take the proper steps based on our knowledge of radiation protection. First of all, we need to build a foundation for the nation’s energy supply by immediately restarting operations at the nuclear power plants that Kan shut down. That is the standpoint of responsible countries like France that respect the opinions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Once this has been done, we need to create short-, middle-, and long-term counter-measures to protect against major tsunamis. Opportunities always come after crises, and right now is a favorable chance to take the lead in developing the world’s safest nuclear energy technologies. We cannot fail unless we give up, and the people of the Heisei period shall not be defeated.

In this essay, I will identify the lies perpetrated by the anti-nuclear peace movements after World War II, reveal the truth about Fukushima (where low doses of radiation will not cause health damage), and indicate a path towards reconstruction.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan acted recklessly

On April 26, 1986, control over the nuclear reaction in the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl (in the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic, which was part of the Soviet Union) was lost, resulting in an explosion. Thirty people died instantly from acute radiation damage, including both plant workers and firefighters. In contrast, the nuclear fission chain reaction at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was shut down automatically before the S waves of the massive magnitude-9.0 earthquake reached the plant on March 11, 2011. As a result of this, control of the nuclear reactors was not lost and no workers at the plant suffered or died from acute radiation exposure.

What went out of control and started acting recklessly in Japan was Naoto Kan, who went on a political rampage to desperately defend his position as prime minister. Of course, a politician incapable of skillfully using the bureaucracy to his advantage was obviously not capable of making proper use of Japan’s radiation protection capabilities or emergency radiation exposure treatment structure. Kan’s uninformed decisions inflicted pain on the citizens of Fukushima Prefecture, stirred up anxiety among the people of Japan, and created topics of conversation that resulted in financial damage caused by misinformation both in Japan and overseas. The human and economic damage that resulted was enormous. The prime minister ‐ who had no desire to protect his country ‐ instead amplified the damage created by the earthquake. One of the results of this was Japan’s nation-wide electricity shortage.

As a scientist who specializes in the subject of radiation protection, I have conducted surveys at the locations of nuclear disasters all over the world. I have continued my investigations while asking myself what nuclear energy is, what threats it poses, and what happened at the sites of nuclear disasters. Throughout this process, I have come to notice a number of unexpected truths. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, I have been involved in research on nuclear protection in order to safeguard the people of Japan.

Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima that occurred as a result of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, I carried out fieldwork in early April, June, July, and August. The low doses of radiation present there simply cannot be compared to the levels found after the accident at the reactor in Chernobyl, and I quickly came to the conclusion that no health hazards will be experienced even by the citizens of Fukushima Prefecture*2. The reasons for this were Japan’s highly earthquake-proof light-water reactors, strong containment vessels, and the lack of the graphite that was the cause of the fire at Chernobyl. It seems likely that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) had implemented inadequate counter-measures against tsunamis, but in the future Japanese engineers will surely be able to develop technologies and measures to better guard against tsunamis. Hints for this can be obtained by looking at how the Onagawa nuclear power plant belonging to the Tohoku Electric Power Company, which was the closest plant to the epicenter of the earthquake, fared.

was also easily affected by this phenomenon, making me wonder what Japanese people have been studying all these years in spite of what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even more that 65 years after the end of World War II, there is still no understanding of the science behind the nuclear bombs that were dropped on these cities, and now during the Heisei period Japan seems to be having an “allergic reaction” to the radioactivity in Fukushima. As long as the epitaph with a masochistic view of history remains in Hiroshima, people will not have the proper spirit. We need to take a good look at genuine miracles and use them to create realistic counter-measures.

We worked hard to accomplish reconstruction in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet people are running away from Fukushima instead of trying to rebuild there. The Kan administration did nothing positive for the citizens of Fukushima Prefecture, instead telling them to abandon their hometowns and go somewhere else. Some intellectuals also dispatch messages that seem tailored to intentionally stir up the fear of the citizens. These “scholars beholden to the government” were hanging on to a prime minister who wasn’t even trusted by his own people. There are also powers that have remained silent on national problems such as the issue of North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens and the rear-end collision incident with a Chinese boat near the Senkaku Islands of September 7, 2010, while continuing to conceal the damage caused by unprecedented nuclear explosions in the Loulan region along the Silk Road (which are significantly more serious than Hiroshima or Nagasaki). After the incidents in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and with the Daigo Fukuryu Maru (a Japanese fishing boat that was exposed to fallout from nuclear testing in the Bikini Atoll), a camouflaged anti-nuclear peace movement appeared and distorted reality in postwar Japan.

The Sword of Damocles and a spirit of patriotism

Our neighboring country of China has completed nuclear arms development and is capable of attacking Japan with nuclear missiles at any time. A single nuclear missile with the power of one megaton would annihilate Tokyo and kill 3.5 million people*3. China has fully deployed 270 megatons of these missiles and created missile sites aimed at Japan and Taiwan in the eastern part of the country, such as in Jilin Province. Media outlets such as the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) and newspapers like the Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun do not mention this Sword of Damocles hanging directly over the Japanese archipelago. Instead, they have been in an uproar over the nuclear accident in Fukushima and the low doses of radiation present there since March 11.

After the incident in which a Chinese fishing boat rammed into a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat near the Senkaku Islands on September 7, 2010, the government attempted to proceed as if the collision was an accident. However, it was actually a deliberate attack. The policy of China ‐ a true imperialist country of the 21st century ‐ is to expand its dominion and territorial waters. The Japanese government tried to conceal this, even though it had an obligation to somehow protect its country. In addition to the government being silent on the greatest threats facing us, a major point is what the media conceals. Media outlets that are not complicit in this suppression, such as the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, are in the minority. When I was a doctoral student in graduate school, I began studying the “black rain” in Hiroshima and surveyed the damage caused by the out-of-control nuclear fission at the reactor in Chernobyl, as well as the nuclear explosion disasters in Kazakhstan, the Bikini Atoll, and Loulan*4. Through my studies, I learned that the worst nuclear damage in history took place along the Silk Road in the Loulan area, which NHK only reports on as a place of ancient charm.

At Loulan, 22 megatons were detonated ‐ the equivalent of 1,375 bombs like the one dropped on Hiroshima. This resulted in the deaths of Uyghur people including soldiers*5. The total amount of radioactivity that was dispersed into the environment by these ground surface nuclear explosions was eight million times the amount at Chernobyl. A conservative estimate says that 190,000 people died; however, leaked confidential documents state that the actual number of deaths may have been 750,000 people. A town on the border of Kazakhstan, located north of the Tian Shan Mountains, was 1,000 kilometers from the site of the explosions. However, this town was exposed to over 100 millisieverts of radiation due to nuclear sand from China on at least two occasions. On this matter, the results of my survey agree with survey results by Kazakhstan.

China’s nuclear explosions began in October 1964 during the Olympic Games in Tokyo and continued until 1996. An estimated 270,000 Japanese tourists were inspired by large-scale programs on NHK to visit the Silk Road*6, and there is no doubt that these tourists have suffered great damage as a result. This information is gradually being collected by the Silk Road Science Project that I am now conducting. Since that time NHK has been complicit in China’s crime of concealing these incidents, which is also a violation of the Broadcast Act.

During that period, radioactive yellow sand fell on Japan as well. Cesium and strontium were brought on the westerlies to the Japanese archipelago, which led to external exposure and also the contamination of drinking water and the entire food chain (including vegetables, milk, and rice). People all over the country suffered internal exposure to radiation in striking numbers. I received a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology for research on internal exposure due to strontium deposits in the skeletal structure, and have been working on the seeds of this research over a three-year plan since 2009.

Cesium accumulated inside muscle has an effective half-life of 100 days in the human body. In contrast, strontium in the skeletal structure is unique in that it has a long effective half-life of 15 years. Leukemia is widespread in the area near the Techa River in the former Soviet Union, which was exposed to large amounts of strontium. Long years of bone analyses from autopsies performed by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences (NIRS) have also shown that a remarkable amount of radioactive strontium was deposited in the skeletal systems of Japanese people born in the decade between 1965 and 1975, as well as the middle and high school children growing up at that time. Based on these radioactivity values, I have calculated the internal exposure of Japanese people ‐ who were 4,000 kilometers away ‐ at between one and seven millisieverts.

The deceptive anti-nuclear movement

Fairly large amounts of radioactive strontium from China are present in the spines of people who are now in their 40s, as well as in the skeletal structures of the Baby Boomer generation that has so energetically participated in anti-nuclear and left-wing movements. Each day, the bone marrow of these people is being exposed to beta radiation. However, I have made the judgment that these people will not develop leukemia as a result of their radiation exposure, since several millisieverts of radioactivity is not enough to have an effect on health. Japan has the world’s longest lifespan, which proves that a few millisieverts of bone marrow exposure poses no threat to health.

I was born in 1954, which was the year that the Daigo Fukuryu Maru was exposed to radiation in the Bikini Atoll. When I was young people often told me not to get wet when it was raining because I would lose my hair, but even to this day I don’t have any bald friends.

The captain of the Fukuryu Maru was exposed to nuclear ash because he approached the boundary of a prohibited area of ocean, knowing that nuclear tests were being conducted there by the U.S. This was an outrageously risky thing to do. All 28 members of the crew were burned by beta radiation before returning to their home port of Yaizu. They received medical treatment in which they were given blood transfusions with blood contaminated with the hepatitis virus, and 17 of them suffered liver damage. Chief wireless operator Aikichi Kuboyama, who suffered the most severe symptoms, died as a result.

I carried out a study in the Marshall Islands, which suffered from similar damage. We know that none of the victims there have had acute hepatitis*7, which exposes the deception that is the source of the Gensuikin (Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs) and anti-nuclear movements in Japan.

There will be no negative effects on health in Fukushima

Scientist Kunihiko Takeda views the fact that the government has raised the yearly exposure limit for the victims of this disaster to 20 millisieverts as a problem. He said, “After the Chernobyl accident, children developed cancer starting four years from exposure.”*8 Although it is not clearly stated, he is referring to thyroid cancer. The problem is that he causes misunderstanding among his readers by leading them to believe that cancer can occur from such low doses of radiation. In the area around Chernobyl, such sickness occurred because the thyroid glands of people were exposed to up to 50 sieverts (although most were exposed to just several sieverts). There were around 100,000 children in Belarus. Among these, four people developed cancer after four years, while a maximum of 13 people developed cancer after nine years. Afterwards, these numbers declined.

In the case of Fukushima, the thyroids of residents have been exposed to low levels of radiation between 1/1,000th to 1/10,000th the amount in Chernobyl. Among the 66 people I examined the maximum dose was eight millisieverts. Based on radioactivity dosage, the risk of Fukushima residents developing thyroid cancer is less than one person per 10 million per year. Since the population of Fukushima Prefecture is two million, thyroid cancer will not result from these low doses. Truly, people with only amateur knowledge of radioactivity need to stop paralyzing the citizens of Fukushima and the entire country with fear. Regarding external exposure of the entire body, the largest dose among those evacuated from the 30-kilometer area around Chernobyl was quite high at 750 millisieverts over a period of seven days*9. In contrast, the dose for people subjected to emergency evacuation from the 20-kilometer area around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, based on my predictions from transitions in the outdoor air dose rate at the time, was a few millisieverts ‐ less than 1/100th the dose at Chernobyl. For that reason, it’s practically a crime to make people from Fukushima and other parts of Japan fear health effects based on the damage that occurred at Chernobyl.

We know that the ovaries of females can be affected at a level of 650 millisieverts or greater, so it’s true that terrible things happened to the people evacuated from the 30-kilometer area around Chernobyl. However, it is possible to affirm that absolutely no such risk is posed to Fukushima or other prefectures.

I believe there are almost no residents of Fukushima Prefecture who have reached the level of 20 millisieverts per year. The estimated dose in Fukushima over 30 days, according to personal dosimeter calculation values from when I carried out my surveys, was 1.0 millisieverts or less in the 20-kilometer area around the plant and its surrounding area from April to May, and also from June to July, while the dose in the area between Aizu and Fukushima City was 0.10 millisieverts or less. From the above, I estimate that the annual external exposure for citizens of Fukushima Prefecture in 2011 will be 10 millisieverts or less, while most people will be exposed to five millisieverts or less.

Scientific evaluations could be obtained by having everyone ‐ from children to adults ‐ wear personal dosimeters. However, the government’s disaster countermeasures office did not do this during the initial period between March and May, when radiation doses were comparatively high. This was a truly careless mistake, especially considering that people in Iitate Village were being advised to take shelter indoors.

From the aforementioned actual values taken by personal dosimeter, my tentative estimate of most Fukushima Prefecture residents’ external exposure to radiation in 2011 is several millisieverts.

We should construct decontamination centers and work towards reconstruction

I have also studied doses in Fukushima regarding internal radioactive exposure, including the doses of radioactive iodine to the thyroid gland as well as those caused by cesium present inside the human body. Up until now I have surveyed over 100 people on a volunteer basis in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, Minamisoma, Iwaki, and Koriyama Cities. The dose to the thyroid glands of the 68 Fukushima Prefecture residents I examined was less than eight millisieverts. In my cesium survey of 52 Fukushima Prefecture residents, including infants and children, conducted up until August, most people had been subjected to internal exposure of less than 0.1 millisieverts. Right now, the internal cesium exposure of all the examined children is 0.1 millisieverts or less. My evaluation method for internal exposure was developed independently using various methods, including joint surveys with Russian scientists carried out at disaster sites in the former Soviet Union*10.

Of course, considering that the impact of radiation on small children is around three times greater than on adults, caution is needed. For example, previous survey results in places like Iitate Village showing the external exposure of adults as three millisieverts would mean the equivalent dose was nine millisieverts ‐ three times greater ‐ for children. We can still say that this is at a safe level. However, because the government is not actually making people wear personal dosimeters, we don’t know what the true values are.

According to radiation protection science in Japan, we can accurately evaluate both internal and external exposure. However, the biggest misstep of the Kan administration was that it did not make use of this scientific ability. As a direct result I believe that great anxiety was caused among many citizens in Fukushima Prefecture and throughout Japan due to excessive and unreliable radiation dose values dreamed up by non-specialists.

In the future, Japan should take responsibility for conducting scientific radiation and health examinations of people who request them like the ones I am conducting for the residents of Fukushima Prefecture. No matter what happens next, we must not treat the citizens of Fukushima Prefecture like guinea pigs. The goal should be to provide peace of mind to each resident by giving him or her accurate information.

We should also immediately begin work on a scientific project to revive agriculture and dairy farming in the 20- to 30-kilometer area around the nuclear power plant. It is this country’s responsibility to decontaminate the soil and bring the amount of cesium in agricultural produce down to or below the standard value, and also to ensure that the yearly individual radiation dose citizens are exposed to is one millisievert or less. If we don’t do these things, the agriculture industry in Fukushima will collapse. I made this proposal during my scientific keynote speech at a Fukushima support symposium held in Tokyo on July 27*11. Immediately after, I also sent this opinion to the Prime Minister’s official residence. My hope is for Yoshihiko Noda, the new prime minister, to adopt a strong stance regarding reconstruction efforts in Fukushima Prefecture. We should construct several soil decontamination centers in the 20-kilometer area around the nuclear power plant and employ local citizens at them. This project would help begin to rebuild the dairy and agriculture industries. We should also be willing to commit as much as one or two trillion yen for this purpose. After all, shouldn’t we be demonstrating Japan’s superior scientific abilities and steadfast will to the world?

We must accomplish reconstruction to show the world the truth that Fukushima is not another Hiroshima or Chernobyl. This would also help to correct the warped attitude that is present in postwar Japan.

[Reference materials (in Japanese)]

  • Takada, Jun. “We must remove the inscription at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.” APA Group 3rd Annual “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest, 2010.
    (高田純 広島平和公園の碑文は撤去すべし、アパグループ第3回「真の近現代史観」懸賞論文優秀賞、2010)
  • Takada, Jun. Nuclear Weapons and Swords. Meiseisha, 2010.(高田純「核と刀」 明成社、2010)
  • Takada, Jun. Fukushima: Lies and Truth. Iryokagakusha, 2011.(高田純「福島 嘘と真実」医療科学社、2011)
  • Takada, Jun. Survey of Areas Exposed to Radiation Throughout the World. Kodansha, 2002.(高田純「世界の放射線被曝地調査」講談社、2002)
  • Takada, Jun. Nuclear Testing in China. Iryokagakusha, 2008.(高田純「中国の核実験」医療科学社、2008)
  • Takada, Jun. A Nuclear Desert and the Risk of Sightseeing on the Silk Road. Iryokagakusha, 2009.
  • Takada, Jun. Nuclear Exposure Disasters. Chuko Shinsho.(高田純「核爆発災害」中公新書)
  • Takeda, Kunihiko. How to Protect Children from Radioactive Contamination. Shufu-to-Seikatsusha, 2011. 
    武田邦彦「子どもを放射能汚染から守りぬく方法」 主婦と生活社、2011)
  • Il’in, Leonid Andreevich. Chernobyl: Lies and Truth. Nagasaki Association for Hibakushas’ Medical Care (NASHIM), 1998.
    (L・A イリーン。チェルノブイリ 嘘と真実 長崎・ヒバクシャ医療国際協力会、1998)
  • Takada, Jun. Nuclear Hazards in the World. Kodansha and Springer, 2005.
  • Takada, Jun. Fukushima support symposium keynote speech. The Association to Support Fukushima with Human Science, 2011.  

(First published in "the fourth "True Interpretations of Modern History " essay contest. on Octorber 1, 2012)