International environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace claims that Japanese government radiation monitoring stations in the city of Fukushima are seriously underestimating residual radiation levels and public health risks in and around Fukushima.
Seventeen months after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, in a press statement today, Greenpeace stated that radiation measurements made by the Japanese authorities in the area around the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant are unreliable. Greenpeace said that Fukushima residents risked exposure to thirteen times the legal limit for radiation.
According to Greenpeace, radiation levels above 3 microsieverts per hour were recorded in parks and schools in the city of Fukushima, whilst the limit is a mere 0.23 microsieverts per hour reports 20 minutes. The city of Fukushima is located about fifty kilometres (about 31 miles) from the nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi which was severely damaged as a result of an earthquake and subsequent tsunami which struck on March 11, 2011.
Greenpeace discovered that official Japanese government monitoring stations were systematically underestimating radiation risks for city residents whilst decontamination work was sporadic and insufficient. Areas which had already been evacuated had received more attention than still heavily populated city areas, Greenpeace said in their statement.
In excess of three-quarters of the 40 government monitoring posts checked by the environmental organisation in Fukushima City were reading lesser radiation levels than their immediate surroundings. The Greenpeace radiation survey recorded contamination levels within 25 metres of the monitoring stations were up to six times higher than at the posts themselves.
A false sense of security
“Official monitoring stations are placed in areas the authorities have decontaminated, however, our monitoring shows that just a few steps away the radiation levels rise significantly,” said Dr. Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International radiation expert. “We fear that these stations give the public a false sense of security.”
According to Teule, in some cases official monitoring stations were protected by surrounding metal or concrete structures leading to their recording far more optimistic radiation levels than was actually the case at street level.
“Decontamination can make a significant difference to radiation levels, but there seems to be little progress in the cleanup work, and many hot spots remain throughout Fukushima City,” said Teule. “The decontamination of children’s playgrounds and other areas needed to protect the most vulnerable, have not progressed sufficiently despite more than a year and a half passing since the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi.”
As part of their survey, Greenpeace also checked areas in Iitate, close to Fukushima city, where the community has been divided into different levels of risk to prepare residents for a return to their homes after decontamination. Greenpeace’s radiation monitoring team discovered radiation levels up to 5 microSieverts per hour (uSv/h) recorded in a residential area of Kusano village indicating that the cleanup had been insufficient. Even higher radiation hot-spots of 13 uSv/h were recorded at a factory that was allowed to resume operations in September 2012. The range of figures recorded represent 60 to 160 times the normal background radiations levels (0.07μSv per hour) which existed before the Fukushima disaster, according to Greenpeace.
“In contrast to Fukushima city, we saw many decontamination workers throughout Iitate, but given the mountainous and heavily forested nature of the region, these efforts are misguided at best as the cleanup is very difficult, and the risk of re-contamination high,” said Kazue Suzuki, a Greenpeace Japan nuclear campaigner.
“People cannot return to their lives in Iitate if their homes, businesses or farms are contaminated. One home or office may be cleaned up, but it is very unlikely that the whole area will be freed of radiation risks within the next few years, making it very difficult for people to rebuild their communities,” said Suzuki.
“The Government continues to downplay radiation risks and give false hope to victims of this nuclear disaster, when it should be making the sad, but necessarily hard decisions affected communities need to move on with their lives, and compensating them fairly,” concluded Suzuki.
More money and resources needed
Greenpeace has urged the Japanese Government to allocate more money and resources as a matter of urgency to protect public health, and to concentrate on decontaminating heavily populated areas, such as Fukushima city, rather than attempting to clean up highly contaminated, evacuated areas, where decontamination efforts may prove to be insufficient.
Following a magnitude 9 earthquake and a giant tsunami, the Fukushima nuclear accident, the worst since Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986, caused significant radioactive emissions to escape into the atmosphere, water and land in the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, located 220 kilometres (137 miles) northeast of Tokyo. As a consequence of the radiation leakage and subsequent contamination, hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes.