Saturday, June 11, 2011

Democracy Now Interview on Fukushima

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interview Robert Alvarez, former senior policy adviser to the U.S. Secretary of Energy and now a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of the group Green Action.

Excerpts from the interview:

GOODMAN: We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Bob Alvarez, start off by talking about what we know at this point and the fact that just this week we’re hearing there were three nuclear meltdowns. What does this mean?

ROBERT ALVAREZ: Well, I think it means that the accident was much more prompt and severe, and its radiological consequences are going to be—unfold in a more serious way. As you mentioned earlier, the contamination of land nearby, or not so nearby, is proving to be quite extensive. The reports that I’ve seen suggest that land contamination, in terms of areas that are technically uninhabitable because of cesium-137 contamination, is roughly 600 square kilometers, or about 17 times the size of Manhattan Island.


AMY GOODMAN: And a new study is being done by the prefecture, Aileen?

AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Yes, we’re very concerned that a health study is starting at the end of this month. This is concerning the effects of the Fukushima residents, on the prefectural citizens. It’s headed by a Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who’s at the Atomic Bomb Research Institute. He’s the radiological health safety risk management adviser for the prefecture. He’s widely shown on national TV. He speaks widely in the prefecture, always saying there’s absolutely no concern with the levels of radiation in Fukushima. He says that mothers, even mothers exposed to 100 millisieverts, pregnant mothers, will not have any effect, health effect. Remember the number 100. Compared to that, the Soviet Union required a mandatory evacuation during Chernobyl at five millisieverts. This doctor is quoted as saying, "The effects of radiation do not come to people that are happy and laughing. They come to people that are weak-spirited, that brood and fret." This is a direct quote. And he’s heading the study. And so, the citizens in Fukushima are very concerned.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Aileen Mioko Smith, I’d like to get back to the disaster in Japan for a moment. Greenpeace has been reporting that the contamination levels—dangerous contamination levels in the ocean go out as—they found it as far as 50 miles out from the shore. What has been happening with the fishing industry in Japan and the reaction to the possible contamination of huge swaths of the ocean off the coast?

AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Yes, the ocean contamination is very serious. There are estimates that it’s 10 times the release that was—that compared to Chernobyl into the Baltic Sea. So it’s very serious...

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Alvarez, can you talk about this contamination of the oceans?

ROBERT ALVAREZ: Yes. As you know, the Japanese government, in its report to the IAEA, said it had underestimated the amount of radioactivity released to the atmosphere during the first week and that it amounts to roughly 40 million curies of radioactivity. What they failed to mention is that they discharged an equally large amount into the ocean, about 20 million curies, and that the—what they’re counting here is the radioactive iodine and radioactive cesium.

Radioactive cesium is of most concern because it has a half-life of 30 years, it gives off potentially dangerous external penetrating radiation, and it is absorbed into the food chain and other biota as if it were potassium. So as it goes up the food chain, it accumulates, and by the time it reaches people who consume this food, the levels are higher than they originally were when they entered the environment. There is a stretch of ocean floor offshore from the reactor site that’s about 300 kilometers wide—I don’t recall, several kilometers—300 kilometers long, rather, and several kilometers wide of cesium-137. That’s a very, very serious concern because of the fact that this is really a fundamental element of the aquatic food chain for the food supply for the country of Japan....


AMY GOODMAN: Aileen Mioko Smith, can you talk about the changing of what is considered acceptable radiation limits at the schools?

AILEEN MIOKO SMITH: Yes. There’s been a big fight... These levels that they have been allowing, it’s officially still in place. They’re huge levels. Twenty millisieverts is much higher than what triggers a radiation-controlled area inside nuclear power plants. For example, in Japan, workers have been recognized for compensation, getting leukemia or whatever, as low as five, a little bit over five millisieverts. And this standard for children is fourfold that annually. Anyway, we demanded that it be brought down as close to one. They agreed. And then it turns out that what they’re saying is, just during the time they’re a school, they can reach that maximum one. So, of course, you know, a child’s life is at school, going to and from school, etc., so the government is still allowing very high levels for children.


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