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How the GM gangs of India sidestep ethics and safety

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Rice fields and coconut palm orchards, happily agro-ecological, in Goa. Photo: Rahul Goswami, 2017

The intemperate attack on Viva Kermani’s article ‘Let’s be honest about GM crops’ by Shanthu Shantharam in a rejoinder, ‘Genetically-Modified Crops Are The Future, Here’s Why’, has entirely exposed the many limitations of the bio-technology industry and the science it represents. There is the matter of Shantharam’s personally taunting language towards the writer, Kermani, while he has done nothing to take issue with the substantial points she has raised.

But there are the far more weighty matters of the roles and responsibilities of science, of agriculture and the cultivation of food, and of the experiences of society and scientists alike with a type of scientific domain (that is, biotechnology) and the effects of its use. These have either been entirely ignored by Shantharam, as he has done for the roles and responsibilities of science; have been given an importance – in the case of agriculture and the cultivation of food – that is simply not to be found outside North America; been presented as successful only (the effects of the use of bio-technology, as seen by scientists and societies) whereas the 40 years of the existence of this technology are accompanied by 40 years of charlatanry which has ducked behind the worn shield of ‘science’.

Although Kermani is right to take strong objection to the tone (bordering on vilification) of Shantharam’s rejoinder, and has countered his assertions, I find that the position he has publicly taken, through the pages of Swarajya and as a member of a scientific community that is engaged in one domain, stirs pity rather than blanket censure. Scientists are no different from any other member of the society to which they belong, however much academic laurels, handsome stipends and access to the corridors of political power may make it all seem otherwise.

The particular ‘temper’ that scientists are to possess (some do, others don’t) is found much more commonly amongst the real functionaries of a thriving society: municipal workers, factory jobbers, nurses and orderlies, postal clerks and so on. Scientists have, in the western scheme of privilege and reward, been elevated to the uncommon, and thus are prone to suffer in those artificially rarefied realms, asphyxiation. What we have seen is one such example. There are unfortunately far too many, and the system of industrialised ‘science’ means that those far too many are entirely in thrall to their sponsors.

I would like to call Shantharam’s attention to Statute 5 of the International Council for Science (the ICSU). This body is an organisation with global membership of national scientific bodies (there are 122 members representing 142 countries) and international scientific unions (31 members). It is more than likely that the names he has referred to very early into his rejoinder – he has named several national science academies – are members of the ICSU.

The ICSU’s Statute 5 has to do with the Principle of Universality (freedom and responsibility) of science and this states: “The free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being.” The Statute also states that “It requires responsibility at all levels to carry out and communicate scientific work with integrity, respect, fairness, trustworthiness, and transparency, recognising its benefits and possible harms.”

Thus under one of the most important statutes of a leading, if not the most widely subscribed-to, science council, Shantharam’s arrogant claims and taunting manner have no place. Whether from an individual scientist, an institute for scientific advancement in a certain domain, a regulatory body, or a private company whose products are claimed to be science-based, claims and communication of this kind fall afoul, and markedly so, of Statute 5.

The difference between members of the bio-technology industry (and their partners whether in academia or para-statal organisations) and scientists who practice and conduct themselves under the guiding principles of organisations such as the ICSU (and also the International Social Science Council, of like pedigree) is quite simply that society and environment are their universe, and this is a recognition of the most elementary relation that any kind of inquiry – whether it is called ‘science’ or shastra, indigenous knowledge or customary practice – has with such a universe.

Because this elementary relation is rejected (it being inconvenient for industries like bio-technology, but the energy industry – with its nuclear dimension, an ever-threatening one, the trading networks with their inventories of tens of millions of tons of useless goods for which markets are created, are some others) the inquiry into risk and likely return, safety and the consequences of unsafe practices also stand rejected. The replacement behaviour from the overactive advocacies that promote bio-technology, GM seed, crop and food, and industrial agriculture is to repeat, over and over again from as many ‘scientific’ talking heads as can be mustered, that GM is safe and the only alternative.

On the other hand there is not a small roll call of scientists (or those who once were, in the sense that post-modern civilisation believes are scientists) who have gone beyond the peer- and institution-imposed boundaries of their scientific domains to study intently such questions. Their answers have illuminated the enquiries of hundreds of thousands, who are bothered less by the presence of genes and whether they can (or should) be tinkered with and more by the interconnectedness of living systems. David Suzuki is one such scientist and I am not at all surprised that Shantharam dislikes him.

How many more within science and of science can the Shantharams of the bio-tech industry dislike and vilify and with what dwindling array of puny arguments? About four months ago, a new project dealing with the risks of genetically engineered plants was set up in Europe. For its participants, the reasons that impel their new activity are a few but greatly compelling: current regulatory practice for risk assessment in Europe is not sufficient to deal with the real dimensions of potential hazards associated with genetically engineered plants, the existing standards are strongly influenced by the biotech companies and are therefore unacceptable, a manner of risk assessment and the new regulation that should flow from such assessment gives much higher priority to the protection of the environment and consumers. This work is being undertaken by scientists – the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER), the Critical Scientists Switzerland (CSS), GeneWatch UK and Testbiotech.

These are the science groups that European consumers now turn to for guidance and they are a tangible demonstration of the uses of the ‘temper’ that science has long prided itself as possessing. It is also and sadly, a reflection of the state of affairs in India that we have lacked even the most rudimentary dialogue between consumers, regulators and food producers (not industry) on what is meant by safe food, what are the risks of even the current high-input agriculture (and its reckless propagation of deadly agro-chemicals, synthetic fertiliser and pesticide). That this lack is being exploited by the bio-technology and GM corporations who speak through their brigade of talking ‘scientific’ heads to public through rejoinders such as the one Shantharam has written is reprehensible and morally repugnant. (See ‘Enemy of Reason: Behind the Mask of Pro-GMO Neoliberal Ideology’ by Colin Todhunter for another view on the methods of the biotech/GM support corps.)

Crucially, Kermani referred to four high-level reports in her article: the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture’s report on GM crops (which spent several months on hearings and taking written and oral evidence) in 2012; the Jairam Ramesh report of February 2010 on Bt Brinjal; the Sopory Committee Report on regulatory oversight concerning cotton; and the Supreme Court of India’s Technical Expert Committee concerning GM field trials whose final report was released in July 2013.

The findings, conclusions and recommendations of all these, which are referred to by Kermani, have not been touched at all by Shantharam’s rejoinder. Instead he has opted to sling mud in every direction. Thus Jairam Ramesh “colluded with activists”, the Sopory report was not about “regulatory approval of GM crops” – in fact it was entirely about falsification and shocking regulatory oversight – and is “irrelevant”, and the Supreme Court Technical Expert Committee report “is in limbo” – false again, for in February 2016 the Supreme Court asked the Union Government to reply to a contempt petition filed against the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) – the sort of regulatory body that the bio-technology industry subverts and perverts – for allowing field trials of GM crops in violation of the court’s earlier orders.

But in his apoplexy, he has denigrated the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture as having been headed by “a communist”, that its members (there were 21 from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha) were not “scientifically enlightened” and that the report they worked on was “drafted by a virulent anti-GM NGO”. Such a reaction is preposterous. Shantharam’s addiction to adducing founts of authority stop short at a well-established Parliamentary mechanism that is designed to do precisely what the bio-technology and GM industries do not want: public inquiry and the spread of truth.

Europe has all but thrown GM seed and crop out – the only such crop grown in the EU is GM maize in Spain. That too will not last, for European consumers are now educated about the dangers of the make-believe ‘science’ called GM. Kermani’s article ‘Let’s be honest about GM crops’ is one of the many recent contributions to educating the Indian consumer about these dangers, but the bio-technology industry cannot abide such education. How can it? For it has not been touched by honesty and integrity since its misbegotten birth some forty years ago.

Lured by dirty GM, Europe’s politicians betray public

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RG_GMO_quote_20140603Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.

The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.

Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.

RG_EU_GMO_pact_201405This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.

That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).

The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.

This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:

* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.

A year of Fukushima

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Memory and Loss. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year since the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The loss of more than 15,000 lives in Japan. The misery of the survivors and the utter anguish of those who lost loved ones, but could not go back to look for them because of the radiation from the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactors. The criminal negligence of the regulators in Japan and their international counterparts, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The outrage over a national government in Japan that stood by the nuclear industry rather than the victims of Fukushima. The solidarity shown by hundreds of thousands of citizens all over the world, and the determination they have shown to oppose this evil technology. The voices and visual works of hundreds upon hundreds of artists and writers, poets and craftspeople who have expressed in as many forms as they know the need for a nuclear-free world. The monumental money-fuelled obduracy of governments before the demand of their citizens, that they halt forever nuclear power generation. It has been a year since the tsunami and the meltdown at Dai-ichi. We should in this year have had not a single, not one, nuclear power plant left running on the face of the Earth. Back to work.

On this grim anniversary, here is a small compilation of recent news and views, followed by links to information and data sources.

It’s Not Just Fukushima: Mass Disaster Evacuations Challenge Planners – The Fukushima evacuation zone raises the issue of what would happen during an evacuation in heavily populated U.S. metropolises during a nuclear meltdown. In fact, in the U.S., more than four million Americans live within 10  miles of the 63 sites of nuclear power. Plants with at least one operating reactor, according to data compiled by the NRC based on the 2000 census. That number swells when the radius extends outward to 50 miles to affect more than 180 million Americans, and includes major metropolitan areas such as York City, Philadelphia, San Diego. In the wake of the in Japan and subsequent evacuations, could all these people in the U.S. be evacuated–or take some form of protective action – in time in similar circumstances?

Nuclear contamination: a year after Fukushima, why does Brussels still back nuclear power? – One year after the Fukushima disaster hit Japan, nuclear power remains very firmly on the agenda for the European Commission. Corporate Europe Observatory examines how the industry has been lobbying behind the scenes, promising that nuclear power does not pose a risk. The nuclear industry is gearing up to the first anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster by arguing that nuclear power remains central to the EU’s energy needs. Over the last year the industry has repeated key public relations messages that nuclear energy is not only safe, but central to any low carbon, secure energy future. And its vociferous PR campaign and highly effective lobby network, has been welcomed by parts of the European Commission.

Emptiness and Silence. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year on from Fukushima, the policy ramifications are still being felt across the EU, particularly in some member states. While the industry concedes that the accident “had a major impact on the EU institutional agenda,” has been lobbying hard to minimise these impacts, trying to make sure that Fukushima does not compromise the potential for nuclear new build in the EU.

Hundreds of Events Globally Will Mark One-Year Commemoration of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster – Hundreds of thousands of people across the world will be involved in actions around the March 11 commemoration of the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster which began on that date a year ago. Events will be going on throughout the month of March and into April. Beyond Nuclear has put together a Global Calendar of Events, which is frequently updated on it. There is a March Against Nuclear Madness Facebook page.

This is described as an unprecedented response to a catastrophe that is not yet over and may sadly resonate forever. “We are learning more on a daily basis – about the degree of cover-up, the level of radioactive contamination and the dangers still posed by the wrecked reactors and teetering high-level radioactive waste storage pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site.”

Undeterred by Fukushima: Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead with New Reactors – A year after the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it is clear just how little the nuclear lobby and its government supporters have been unsettled by the disaster in Japan. But rejection of nuclear energy is growing among people the world over – and building new reactors makes no sense in economic terms. On the face of things, it would appear that little has changed. Only a few countries, such as Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, are joining Germany in turning their backs on nuclear energy. Indeed, it is primarily Russia and the United States, the two nuclear heavyweights, that are competing in a new atomic race, though this time with technologies geared toward civilian purposes. New nuclear power plants are being built with particular relish in emerging economies, such as China and India, who want to satisfy at least part of their energy needs with uranium.

For the builders and operators of nuclear energy plants, the accident in Japan came at what might be considered a bad time. After years of stagnation, not only the emerging economies of Asia – China, South Korea and India – but also Russia and the United States were beginning to put greater emphasis on nuclear energy. This decision was driven not only by the growing energy needs of the newly industrializing nations, but also by fears related to carbon emissions and climate change.

This prompted the backers of nuclear energy to make frantic attempts to downplay the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, with the aim of nipping the debate about nuclear safety in the bud. For example, John Ritch, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, asserted that the disaster hadn’t cost anyone their life. “Nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima,” Ritch told the BBC in November, “and will continue to mature as the world’s premier non-carbon technology.”

On Resources Research: (1) Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander; (2) Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India; (3) The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?; (4) See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material; (5) See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.

From Japan, Bearing Witness in Debate Over Indian Point – “One quick little cigarette,” Mr. Kitajima, 45, said. The smokes, he reckoned, are an occupational hazard. Last March, unemployed and sitting in a Tokyo cafe with his girlfriend, Mr. Kitajima felt the shudders of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Before long, he found himself working nearly 200 miles away at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was destroyed. “I would say about 90 percent of the workers at the plant smoke,” Mr. Kitajima said. “Stress.”

His job is to read radiation meters worn by the 3,000 people trying to clean up its lethally contaminated remnants. The most dangerous work is done at night, he said, after the main shifts are gone. A crew of 20 men is sent to pick up the irradiated rubble. Practically none of the men have families, much education or regular employment. They have no experience working in nuclear power plants. He compared them to day laborers in America. Within a few months, they accumulate what is regarded as the maximum safe dosage of radiation for four years, Mr. Kitajima said. “Then they bring in new ones,” he said. “Everybody kinds of admits to themselves that these are expendable people.”

Health uncertainties torment residents in Fukushima – Yoshiko Ota keeps her windows shut. She never hangs her laundry outdoors. Fearful of birth defects, she warns her daughters: Never have children. This is life with radiation, nearly one year after a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant began spewing it into Ota’s neighborhood, 60 kilometers away. She’s so worried that she has broken out in hives. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.

“It’s not really OK to live here,” she says. “But we live here.” Ota takes metabolism-enhancing pills in hopes of flushing radiation out of her body. To limit her exposure, she goes out of her way to buy vegetables that are not grown locally. She spends 10,000 yen a month on bottled water to avoid the tap water. She even mail-ordered a special machine to dehusk her family’s rice.

Searching the Wastes. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Released records of nuclear crisis meetings show chaos, confusion over lack of info – Just four hours after the tsunami swept into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan’s leaders knew the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but they kept their knowledge secret for months. Five days into the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears it could turn worse than Chernobyl. The revelations were in 76 documents of 23 meetings released Friday, almost a year after the disaster. The minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings from March 11—the day the earthquake and tsunami struck—until late December were not recorded and had to be reconstructed retroactively.

They illustrate the confusion, lack of information, delayed response and miscommunication among government, affected towns and plant officials, as some ministers expressed sense that nobody was in charge when the plant conditions quickly deteriorated. The minutes quoted an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last only eight hours. “If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown,” the official said during the first meeting that started about four hours after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant March 11, setting off the crisis. Apparently the government tried to play down the severity of the damage. A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was replaced after he slipped out a possibility of meltdown during a news conference March 12.

Containing Fukushima: Saving Japan From Itself (Huffington Post / K.T. Hiraoka) – The disaster at Fukushima last year exposed how entrenched interests among key decision-makers have contaminated Japanese society, endangering the long-term prosperity of Japan. These special interests often do what is right for themselves, as opposed to what is in the best interests of the Japanese people.

In this two-part series, discussion on what has transpired over the past twelve months as a result of decisions made related to the Fukushima disaster (Part I) will lead to a look at decision-making during the crisis in subsequent weeks and months that have passed (Part II). As the current decision-making system in Japan increasingly works to the detriment of Japanese society, what is needed instead is a more transparent, honest, and benevolent decision-making system that listens to the wishes of the people and responds to it.

Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster report shows millions remain at risk – Greenpeace released “Lessons from Fukushima”, a new report which shows that it was not a natural disaster which led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s east coast, but the failures of the Japanese Government, regulators and the nuclear industry. The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world, putting millions at risk. “While triggered by the tragic March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

The matchless Japan Focus has throughout the year kept track of these sources, sincere thanks to them and appreciation for their steadfast work. The journal has provided thoughtful, critical and independent coverage of the incident and its effects.

Local Histories. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Blogs

Fukushima Diary – “Fukushima diary is to warm people to evacuate. so it must be fast. must be before it goes on major media. That’s what I needed just after 311, that’s why I’m doing it now. Should I evacuate or not, that’s what I wanted to know. so the balance is difficult. I try to keep it not over the top but the conclusion is, everyone must evacuate.”
“The public execution has begun in Fukushima, like in Minamisoma. As I hear from people actually working there or living there, I find the situation really desperate. Nothing can be done. Now it’s only in Fukushima but it will be in Chiba, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and everywhere. But even when I talk to my family, it can’t be a conversation. I’m just get out get out get out. and they are like, it’s cold, or it’s sunny, or it’s snowing or just on about meaningless things. Once I talk about their business, it wil start a fight. I guess the situation is too serious for them to accept.”

The Wall Street Journal’s blog “Japan Realtime” offers eclectic commentary on contemporary Japan. The focus is on economic issues but the blog has presented solid original reportage on Fukushima since March. A series of original translations on issues relating to the Tsunami and nuclear crisis from a McGill University translation seminar organized by Prof. Adrienne Hurley. The blog Global Voices features the work of volunteer translators who strive to spread awareness of local perspectives that often end up lost in mainstream reportage. Highlights of the Fukushima coverage include “A Nuclear Gypsy’s Tale”. A collection of links and commentary in French. Twitter stream for Fukushima articles and info in English.

On the Peace Philosophy Centre blog, Asia-Pacific Journal Coordinator Satoko Norimatsu presents a range of hard-hitting criticisms of the Japanese government and TEPCO responses to the Fukushima crisis including original translations of sources not otherwise available in English and extensive Japanese and English language coverage of official, NGO and blog sources.
Ten Thousand Things is a blog Supporting Positive Peace in Japan, the Asia-Pacific and Everywhere which includes extensive coverage of peace and environmental movements. English and Japanese blog specializing in 3.11 economic and financial issues.

NGOs and Informational Websites

Green Action Kyoto, an NGO which has campaigned against nuclear power since the early 1990s, presents a comprehensive and critical blog of Fukushima stories in English drawing on government, media and NGO sources. Greenpeace has presented some of the most critical coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Greenpeace, in February 2012, published a major critical overview of the 3.11 disaster and crisis. The study examines the nuclear meltdown, assesses the dangers of radiation, the fundamental failure of the Japanese nuclear system, and the issues of compensation to victims.

The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre is a longstanding organization that aims to provide information about nuclear energy and its risks to the Japanese public. Their bi-monthly newsletter is a valuable source of information on nuclear issues. They also offer a blog containing video resources and links to important anti-nuclear publications.

The website of Japan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO devoted to phasing out atomic energy. English and Japanese sites. The Japanese website of leading nuclear protest organizer “Shiroto no Ran”. There is a collection of hundreds of anti-nuclear posters at No Nuke Art. The National Network to Protect Children from Radiation (in Japanese). EShift, a Japanese network dedicated to phasing out atomic energy in favor of natural renewables.

Fukushima coverage by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the premier source of socio-scientific views and praxis on the world nuclear industry. Arnie Gunderson’s Fairewinds Associates provides critical analysis of global nuclear issues by a scientist. It has closely followed the Fukushima situation. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a group which aims to provide concise and easily understood commentary on important scientific issues for the general public. The Atomic Age: From Hiroshima to the Present is a resource maintained at the University of Chicago.

Three months after Fukushima – hot particles, rotten fish and studied whitewash

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A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

A coastal community in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture is flooded by tsunami waters after a massive earthquake off Japan's east coast on March 11. Photo: Mainichi

How far will the culpable go to deny the dangers of atomic energy, even when confronted with the evidence day after day for three months? Far enough to shock us over and again, every single one of those days. There has been melt-through – not just meltdown – at Fukushima, widespread contamination by radiation of water, the ifrst medical evidence of the impacts of airborne radiation, and still the nuclear industry and its political partners deals out lies. They do this even when the humanitarian crisis of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami continues.

A variety of news reports have said that the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to take radiation readings at 100 sites around the city and to measure at ground level and near ground level. The city was previously taking readings only from a 19-meter high monitoring station in Tokyo. The action was prompted after citizens began finding higher readings that those released by the city government.

ABC news has reported: “Highly toxic radioactive strontium has been found in groundwater near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. It is the first time the substance has been detected in groundwater near the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors. The operator of the Fukushima plant has also confirmed strontium up to 240 times the legal limit has been found in seawater near the facility. Strontium tends to accumulate in bones and can cause bone cancer and leukaemia. “Last week, soil samples from outside the Fukushima plant also revealed concentrations of strontium.” Fukushima city officials say they will distribute radiation readers to 30,000 children between the ages of four and 15. News reports vary as to when the children will receive the badges.

[See the Japan nuclear emergency page for an archive of news reports, analyses, videos, gtaphics and links on the Fukushima nuclear emergency, and the shorter posting on the nuclear plant crisis.]

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

A woman looks at the damage caused by a tsunami and an earthquake in Ishimaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, after the magnitude 8.9 earthquake struck the area March 13, 2011. Photo: Reuters/Yomiuri Shimbun

The Japanese government has prepared a report on the accident at the Fukushima I nuclear power station (NPS) of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. (TEPCO) and submitted it to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on June 7. According to the Denki Shimbun the findings will be reported at the IAEA ministerial conference due to start on June 20. The 750-page report outlines several facts and observations including the developments of the accident, Japan’s nuclear safety regulatory framework, radiation exposure situations and lessons learned from the accident, and states at the conclusion that “Japan has recognized that a fundamental revision of its nuclear safety preparedness and response is inevitable.” As part of plans for the fundamental revision, the report declares that the Japanese government will separate the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and start reviewing the administration of nuclear safety regulations.

The report consists of 13 themes. In the introduction, it points out that “the situation has become extremely severe” in dealing with the Fukushima I accident, due to the circumstances where the accident had to be dealt with in parallel with reconstruction work following the disaster caused by the great earthquake and tsunami. The report also includes an apology in relation to the nuclear accident, stating, “Japan sincerely regrets causing anxiety for people all over the world about the release of radioactive materials.”

In ‘Silent Crisis in Tohoku’, Ex-SKF and Tokyo Brown Tabby have said that with the rainy and typhoon seasons approaching and temperature rising, there are serious concerns that infectious diseases might spread in the earthquake/tsunami-struck areas. From what? Rotten fish. When the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for fish, the fish started to rot.

Japanese medical personnel check a child for radiation exposure in Fukushima City. Photo: Guardian/EPA

“Conditions are already bad for the residents and evacuees in Tohoku: lots of dust rising from debris and rubble; awful smell of wet and mouldy piles of wooden debris and tatami mats; awful smell of sludge; and now awful smell of rotten fish (mostly from many devastated seafood processing plants) and smell of bird faeces feeding on those rotten fish; and finally the threat of mosquitoes as summer approaches, as well as rats and cockroaches.”

“They have been spraying insecticides and deodorizers in vain, since huge amounts of rotten seafood products are still under piles and piles of rubble. Unless all the debris and rubble, rotten fish and all that are completely removed, there is no stopping the hideous smells and mass breeding of those pests that could transmit diseases.”

On June 12, on a night news program called “Mr. Sunday” (Fuji TV), it was reported that more than 20,000 temporary houses have been built, but only about  45% of them are occupied, because once evacuees move to these temporary houses, all the food supply would be cut off and they would have to pay for utilities even though many of them are still unemployed. In one city in Miyagi Prefecture, the number of drunk driving has doubled, since alcoholism has increased due to mental depression.

Last week, Japan’s government announced a shake-up of the country’s nuclear regulatory agencies that would separate NISA from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which is also responsible for promoting the nuclear industry. The World Socialist Web Site has said that these cosmetic changes will do little to alter the incestuous relationship between Japan’s regulators and energy giants like TEPCO. There is a well-worn path trodden by senior NISA and METI officials from the state bureaucracy into corporate boardrooms. NISA’s response to the latest revelation that eight TEPCO employees had received radiation doses above the legal limit was typical. The agency described the situation as “extremely regrettable” and issued a formal warning to TEPCO—in other words, a slap on the wrist, as it has done on previous occasions.

Anti-nuclear demonstrators march in Cologne, western Germany Saturday March 26, 2011 to protest against nuclear power. Poster in front reads: Fukushima warns: Pull the Plug on all Nuclear Power Plants. White banner behind reads : 'Solidarity with the people in Japan'. Some 200,000 people turned out in Germany's largest cities on Saturday to protest against the use of nuclear power in the wake of Japan's Fukushima reactor disaster, police and organizers said.

The cover-up is not confined to Japan, however. On June 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued an interim report on the Fukushima disaster that listed the most obvious deficiencies in TEPCO’s safety measures but had nothing but praise for the official response. It said the government, regulatory agencies and the company had been “extremely open” in sharing information. TEPCO management at the site had been “exemplary” under arduous conditions. The government’s protection of the public had been “impressive and extremely well organised”.

The purpose of this IAEA whitewash was elaborated quite openly by deputy director general Denis Flory, who told the media: “There is a need to rebuild the confidence of the public towards their government, when their governments have decided to use nuclear energy.” Like Japan’s regulatory authorities, the IAEA is intimately bound up with the nuclear industry, which is expanding internationally and is tasked with regulating energy giants that are driven by profit, not the welfare of ordinary people.

In the US, physician Janette Sherman MD and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano published an essay that talks about a 35% spike in infant mortality in northwest cities that occurred after the Fukushima meltdown, and may well be the result of fallout from the stricken nuclear plant. The eight cities included in the report are San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Portland, Seattle, and Boise, and the time frame of the report included the ten weeks immediately following the disaster.

“There is and should be concern about younger people being exposed, and the Japanese government will be giving out radiation monitors to children,” Dr MV Ramana, a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University who specialises in issues of nuclear safety, told Al Jazeera. Dr Ramana explained that he believes the primary radiation threat continues to be mostly for residents living within 50km of the plant, but added: “There are going to be areas outside of the Japanese government’s 20km mandatory evacuation zone where radiation is higher. So that could mean evacuation zones in those areas as well.”

Arnold Gundersen, who has 39 years of nuclear power engineering experience, managing and coordinating projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, points out that far more radiation has been released than has been reported. “They recalculated the amount of radiation released, but the news is really not talking about this,” he said. “The new calculations show that within the first week of the accident, they released 2.3 times as much radiation as they thought they released in the first 80 days.” According to Gundersen, the exposed reactors and fuel cores are continuing to release microns of caesium, strontium, and plutonium isotopes. These are referred to as “hot particles”.

Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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08 February 2017: A month short of six years after the 11 March Fukushima disaster began unfolding, the situation at the nuclear power plant has entered a new phase of danger, one which modern industrial civilisation has no experience with and very little knowledge about.

The highest radiation level at Fukushima is now much higher than the highest ever measured at Chernobyl, which was 300 sieverts per hour, an inconceivably high dose which can kill a person almost instantly. Radiation is usually measured in thousandths of a sievert, called millisieverts. For example, most people receive around 2.4 millisieverts per year from background radiation, or only 0.0002739726 per hour.

But a radiation level of 530 sieverts per hour has just been measured at Fukushima’s number 2 reactor. This new record at Fukushima is 70% higher than that of Chernobyl. (The highest level previously measured at Fukushima was 73 sieverts per hour, in March 2012.) The leakage of highly radioactive water has been continuing every day, a daily flow of radioactively contaminated groundwater into the ocean. The estimates are of about 300,000 litres per day of relatively low-level radioactive waste water. But there are storage tanks with 800,000 tons of highly radioactive water, as every day about 100 tons of water are poured on the three melted down cores.

18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Street lights shine in the abandoned town of Iitate, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. Residents were forced to evacuate the town after radiation levels from the leaking plant exceeded those inside the exclusion zone. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.

Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.

In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

Police on duty at a roadblock at the edge of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Namie, in northeast Japan. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.

Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.

An earthquake-damaged grave is seen at a cemetery in the abandoned town of Katsurao, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. The town was abandoned when radiation levels became unsafe for long term exposure. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.

“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.

At a Tokyo market, a smartphone shows radiation test results by the grower of a package of Maitake mushrooms, showing them as free of radioactive contamination. Many consumers worry about the safety of food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures, although produce and fish found to be above government-set limits for contamination are barred from the market. Mushrooms, for example, harvested in and around Fukushima are frequently found to be contaminated and barred from the market. Sept. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.

Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Japan. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

More updates, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Written by makanaka

March 17, 2011 at 22:20

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