Fukushima – 2 years on

Two years after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the triple-meltdown catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011, the entire population of Okuma remains evacuated. The town, which is inside the no-go zone designated by the central government, has relocated its administrative operations to the city of Aizuwakamatsu.

No one will be able to return home for at least six years due to the radioactive fallout. The mayor of Okuma, Toshitsuna Watanabe, said this is unavoidable as the annual dose exceeds 50 millisieverts in 95 percent of the town.

The decommissioning of the crippled Tepco plant, areas of which are still too deadly to get near, is still expected to take decades.

In order to improve the evacuees living environment, Watanabe has called for the building of “temporary towns” for evacuees to be accelerated, with younger generations living close to public housing used mainly by elderly people.

However local people are concerned that any temporary site may become final if it is built before final sites are decided. “It would be ideal for the eight municipalities of the prefecture’s Futaba district (including Okuma) to present a grand design for a future together,” Watanabe said, noting such a merger only seems natural, “although this is not realistic at present because the municipalities don’t see eye to eye.”

A major problem is to find both temporary and permanent storage solutions for radioactive soil. The lack of agreement on temporary storage sites is being compounded by the total absence of final disposal sites.“Legislation should be passed to ensure the tainted soil is removed from the prefecture,” he said.

The mayor urged the central government and Tepco to take responsibility for decontamination and enable people to live in the town again. “Basically, the residents hope to return home,” he said.

In other Fukushima related news a new report from the World Health Organization estimates that for Fukushima residents exposed to the radiation leak, the risk of developing cancer has increased only slightly. In fact catching a flight out of Fukushima in the wake of the nuclear disaster two years ago would have given you a larger dose of radiation than staying put.

People had been most worried about an increase in thyroid cancer, due to exposure to radioactive iodine. The report says the risk has increased by 70 per cent, but in practice this only adds 0.5 per cent to the existing risk. This would mean that a woman’s lifetime risk of getting thyroid cancer might rise from 0.75 to 1.25 if she had been exposed as an infant. The margin of increase for other cancers was much lower.

In January it was announced that two people who were 18 or younger when the triple-meltdown crisis started at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic complex in March 2011 have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, bringing the total cases to three. However, professor Shinichi Suzuki of Fukushima Medical University said it was too early to link the cases to the nuclear disaster, because it took at least four to five years for thyroid cancer to be detected after the Chernobyl meltdown calamity that started in 1986.

Radioactive iodine released in fallout tends to accumulate in thyroid glands, particularly in young people. In the Chernobyl disaster, a noticeable increase in thyroid cancer cases was detected among children in the affected area.

According to a research team at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences Radiation levels in the thyroid glands of 1-year-old children living around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are estimated to be less than 30 millisieverts in most cases.This is lower than the 50 millisievert threshold set by the International Atomic Energy Agency in calling for iodine to be taken to prevent thyroid exposure.

“The finding is a relief for the residents around the complex, but the data do not reflect the actions of each resident” when the plant was damaged on March 11, 2011, said Osamu Kurihara, senior researcher at the institute.

Sources The Japan Times, WHO

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