I’m mad as hell so allow me to interject a bit of personal vitriol here. In Tokyo where I live, I recently had a conversation with a reputable Canadian university professor who questioned whether further research into the Fukushima disaster wasn’t beating a dead horse. If only that were true. A year earlier at that same university (where I work as a moderately paid but insecure contracted teacher– and gratefully subsidize the full time professors who enjoy the benefits of an academic apartheid) a different and particularly snooty British professor chastised me for writing articles about Fukushima. Apparently criticizing Japan is not good for the university image! At another university where I work most professors are mum on the topic– their policy is simply to ban articles on Fukushima from their in-house journal: blatant censorship. What a bunch of incredible hypocrites and cowards.
Enter Majia H. Nadesan, communications professor in the area of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, an exception to the rule of bought and paid for academicians, a person of honesty, wisdom, no little amount of courage and a holistic understanding of nature.
Her newest book, “Fukushima And The Privatization Of Risk,” is a strong reminder that the Pandora’s Box of nuclear gremlins released into the world during the past two centuries is damaging the genomic integrity of homo sapiens and other species. Though you and I might survive Fukushima’s radiation (or die younger than we should have), future generations of humans and earthy organisms may suffer transgenerational mutations that could ultimately lead to extinction. Of course, humanity has already triggered the Earth’s sixth great extinction episode due to habitat destruction, poaching, pollution, war, etc.
Nuclear Winter In The Heartland
When I was a curious and curly haired boy I vividly recall the day when our teacher informed us about the danger of nuclear war with the Soviets. I was emotionally upset by what I learned. Walking home in the blustery weather, dark clouds on the horizon formed a cold front and puddles covered in thin sheets of ice were broken beneath my feet, and my heart turned hard. What was the point of all the niceties and rituals of life if we were going to die in a nuclear war?
Eventually I learned to repress and forget those thoughts in order to survive, and life went on without a big bang.
On March 11, 2011 during the afternoon while I was at home in Tokyo, I felt a larger than normal tremor, which kept building in intensity, and went on for four or five minutes. Today the flood of bad news emanating from the Fukushima nuclear disaster flows unrelentingly from the magnitude 9 earthquake that occurred on that day. The numerical measurements and scale of radiation released from the accident are unprecedented and catastrophic (3).
- Fukushima nuclear power plant no. 1 (FNPP#1) (in Japanese “dai-ichi” meaning “no. 1”) is leaking upwards of 160 billion becquerels of radiation into the ocean every day (4);
- Not including the initial releases, nearly 45 trillion becquerels of radiation were released into the air and water just during a recent two year period (5);
- There is much debate about what effect the huge amount of radiation released is having on the health of the Pacific Ocean and its biota. The radioactive plume of doom has already reached the North American western shores (6) and will likely reach the Atlantic Ocean (7). Some scientists say the radiation is diluting and in general not a dire threat to biota or humans who consume seafood (8; 9), although these reports should be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism (10; 11). Some medical researchers say that the above ground nuclear tests alone have resulted in millions of deaths (as will be discussed);
- There is a growing amount of data that indicate the ongoing radiation releases are bioaccumulating up the food chain. In conjunction with other forms of pollution that threaten oceanic and terrestrial health this could be contributing to disease and death of various ocean biota (12);
- Although US officials downplay radiation traveling from Japan along currents toward the US west coast, levels of cesium in seawater may range from 30 to 100 becquerels per cubic meter, not a trivial amount considering bioaccumulation and magnification rates in sealife and that it may be ongoing for a practically unlimited period of time (13);
- In Japan fish are contaminated with radiation (14) while US west coast seaweed has shown signs of Fukushima contamination (15). Tokyo drinking water has detectable amounts of radiation and recently it was found that half of children tested there had cesium in their urine (16);
- While Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) slowly removes the fuel rods from the Unit 4 fuel pool (we wish them luck in a very risky operation), everyone agrees that getting to units 1, 2, and 3 is currently impossible with human workers given that the fuel (corium) is melted below the reactor containers and continues to be intensely radioactive. As far as I know, no one has come up with a plan to deal with the corium, and the idea of creating a concrete sarcophagus over the plant as was built in Chernobyl has been dismissed by many experts. Fukushima is built on soft, artificial “fill” ground which would allow the radiation to leak from beneath the reactors to the ocean. Radiation continues to leak with no end in sight;
- In Japan the passage of the ambiguous and vaguely worded “Secrets” law threatens freedom of press, thereby criminalizing honest reporting of the ongoing nuclear crisis (17; 18; 19; 20). This resurrects phantoms of Japan’s past militarism, Orwell’s 1984 and Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago of Interogators now stalking Japan’s archipelago of iPhones and teen idol dimbots. What seems like a harsh and desperate measure from the atavistic cronies in the majority Liberal Democratic Party may actually succeed given the lack of organized political or public opposition.
Privatizing Risk: Internalizing Profits, Externalizing Costs
Nadesan’s slim volume is written in a scholarly but readable style and offers an authoritative interpretation for the academic, environmental and nuclear politics specialist, and the keenly interested general reader. Although under 150 pages the book has an admirable 512 citations, which render it well argued, if not rock solid, in analysis and conclusion. The book is precise in use and introduction of difficult scientific concepts and vocabulary yet cuts to the bone of the subject. Nadesan sorts through the mass of data now available from scientific and media sources in order to guide the reader to the most relevant and significant information. Wrestling with an inherently complicated topic that is prone to misunderstanding, Nadesan fulfills a badly needed service to offer clarity and scholarly precision to the subject.
The book unfolds in three stages:
- A concise history of the nuclear weapons and energy project which exposes the fatal link between the two ventures and how Japan’s nuclear power program emerged from that context;
- A coherent time line of the chaotic and complex events that occurred during the March, 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster;
- Radiation risks from Fukushima and other sources and how they will affect human, wildlife and environmental health and integrity.
Forgive Us Our Criminal Transgressions As We Have Committed Criminal Transgressions Unto The Earth: Lead Us Not Into Denial, But Deliver Us From Extinction
I wrote to Dr. Nadesan and asked what compelled her to face the Fukushima Hydra. Obviously she would have been concerned with the health impacts from the nuclear disaster as Fukushima radiation continues to contaminate the western US (where she lives) as it is transported by wind and water.
“I was working on a book titled Dispossession that examines the financial crisis and the BP oil spill when the Daiichi disaster occurred. What struck me is that all three disasters were managed using the same propaganda techniques, which were designed to minimize public perceptions of risk and criminal transgression.
In all three cases, the disasters’ risks escalated because of a failure of leadership. The BP oil disaster risks were escalated by the unprecedented use of Corexit. The financial crisis still has not been resolved because of the failure to address the derivatives and fraud at the heart of the crisis. The American economy still suffers from the decision to bailout the banks, while leaving citizens to fend as best they can. The Fukushima Daiichi crisis risks continue to escalate because of a failure to acknowledge the scale of disaster and evacuate/mitigate appropriately. Across these cases, risks have been shifted to the general populace because of a prioritization of the interests of those responsible for the crises.
I added a chapter on Fukushima to the Dispossession project, but soon realized the story demanded a full book. Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk evolved as a focused look at how risks during the ongoing disaster have been denied, trivialized, and externalized. I emphasized the genetic effects of radiation because I’ve considerable background writing about environmental health and genomics. My three previous books on autism and biopolitics (the politics of life) offer detailed accounts of the fundamental openness and vulnerability of the human genome. Ionizing radiation, I soon learned, is among the most genotoxic substances known, but the biological effects have historically been highly contested by the global nuclear-military-industry complex. The interests of this complex continue to be prioritized over human health and welfare” (personal communication, December, 2013).
The Fukushima Disaster
Nothing epitomizes the notion of privatization of risk better than the Japanese government’s failure to evacuate residents who were in harm’s way when the Fukushima nuclear reactors exploded and melted down on and after March 11, 2011. Nadesan writes that the government prioritized “managing panic” rather than decisively acting on a “data-driven evacuation of citizens.” Giving that wa (harmony) is a social virtue in Japanese society, it was figured that long term effects from cancer would be preferable over the embarrassment of admitting that a terrible mistake had been made. “[T]he true risks for Fukushima residents and others exposed to Fukushima fallout will only be realized in the future.” Ah, there’s the rub, “no immediate danger” as government spokesman Edano loved to repeat at the time.
The process of bioaccumulation of radiation from the food and water supply can take up to several decades to kill a person, and by then the accident will have been long forgotten with the epidemiological data hidden in a morass of scientific fraud and bureaucratic unaccountability. Even in the best cases of medical science it is nearly impossible to prove cause and effect until it is too late. By the time all data is collected the cohorts are already dead. Such data could be valuable to build a case against nuclear energy, but even with Chernobyl there is still a huge amount of denial by the nuclear establishment of the ill effects on populations.
What happened at Fukushima was nothing new. Limited liability corporations in conjunction with crony politicos have been poisoning the planet and its people for a long, long time. We homo sapiens (the wise species) put up with a heck of a lot of abuse. Nadesan writes that:
“The privatization of risk is a global social trend occurring in myriad ways as risk is shifted from organized entities– such as government and corporations– to private citizens.”
With Fukushima, we have an industrial accident of unprecedented scale, which the powers-that-be cannot sweep under the rug. The issue is plagued with uncertainty and fear, due to the great “scale of emissions” “extent of fallout and deposition patterns” as well as uncertainty about the continued amount of radioactive releases from the FNPP#1.
The reactor buildings themselves are unapproachable by human workers. Bring in the reptilian robot workers from Mars! In fact, Tepco is desperate for workers and hiring old men and foreigners.
The key debate is about the health effects of radiation with authorities in Japan and the US assuring us that the amounts most people are exposed to is nothing to get riled up about. After all, you could slip on ice and bump your head, get run over by a truck or be struck down by a lightening bolt as well.
Nadesan cites an important report from a Tokyo University MD who notes that Fukushima released the equivalent of 29.6 Hiroshima atomic bombs. That is a statistic you would think garner some attention. Yet the internet trolls at the Japan Times comment section love to point out that radiation is in bananas, and bananas are safe and delicious. The same paid disinformation agents who are employed by the CIA, the US government, corporations and the nuclear industry would not want to live in Fukushima, work at the FNPP or move back into the evacuation zone, themselves. Hypocrites, cowards, liars and frauds.
Nadesan asks “[w]hat health risks face citizens of Japan and elsewhere impacted by the dispersion of fallout through weather patterns and ocean current?” Yet even the critical minded Asahi Newspaper was informing readers that “eating more cesium” than usual was not dangerous. Well, that was in early 2012 and since then such ridiculous claims are less commonly heard, and most people are more skeptical of the authorities’ claims of food safety. I live in Tokyo and can say that shoppers will tend to buy foods from outside the Tohoku (northeastern) region, especially if it says “Fukushima” on the label. This is obvious given the low prices of produce sold from that region, and the higher prices of products from the more distant Kyushu island of Japan (where demand but also transport costs drive up prices). Although the government does not clearly explain the risks of consuming radioactive food and water, most people have a vague sense about the danger.
Nadesan points out, and I concur from people I have talked to in Japan, that most are only vaguely aware of the effects from bio-accumulation to themselves and the intergenerational damage to the human genome, which damages the health and viability of descendants. I did not understand the nuances of genomic disruptions and dangers until I read this book. Still, the nuclear agenda has come under attack from a wide variety of conscientious sources, including journalists, scientists and doctors. When the World Health Organization tried to downplay the effects of radiation from Fukushima not everyone bought the toxic goods they were selling (21).
The Nuclear Weapons/Power Cartel: Destroying the World One Missile DU Munition And Dirty Bomb Nuclear Power Plant At A Time
Nadesan points out that “[n]uclear power has from its beginnings been tied closely to nuclear weapons production…. despite engineering challenges, prohibitive costs, and public discomfort about radiation, the major industrial powers launched their nuclear energy programs.”
US President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech in 1953, was “a masterpiece of inversion, transforming the horrors of nuclear weapons into the productive, peaceful promise of nuclear energy” and was the treacherous launch pad for the world’s most deadly technology. Atoms for Peace lead to Japan’s adoption of the “Atomic Energy Basic Law” two years later.
At the same time the official promoters and apologists for nuclear energy, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), was created in association with the the Food and Agricultural Organization, FAO, a part of the United Nations. How ironic that the IAEA’s work has contaminated the world food supply with radiation spewed from the nuclear power operators. Nadesan writes that the “IAEA endows research at institutes through grants, a practice that began in 1960 and continues today.” The IAEA sees no problems with a nuclear accident here, a catastrophe there, and promotes the “peaceful uses of nuclear energy” without any shame. We need nuclear energy like we need a hole in the head.
I wonder what George Orwell would have said about nuclear power given the cognitive dissonance (a favorite literary device of his) that is required for its implementation. The hubris of the promoters of science and technology often allows them to sacrifice safety and sanity in exchange for material rewards. For example, for 1.4 trillion dollars, just half the cost of the War in Iraq, a genocidal and completely unwarranted attack that killed and displaced millions and destroyed an entire country, enough wind turbines could be built to meet US electricity demands (22). Renewable energy would be the ethical choice in this case.
The double-think, hypocrisy and denial of the dangers of the nuclear agenda were apparent during the Cold War, and it is purported by some analysts that the entire Cold War itself was a conspiracy to oppress the world’s peoples under two comparatively oppressive systems, communism (Stalin’s mass murder regime) and capitalism (USA’s global military empire). That issue aside, Nadesan states that it “was clear that the spread of commercial nuclear energy would increase the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation.” This is no small insight. The very technology that was claimed to bring liberating energy and prosperity to the world also enabled the nuclear arms race and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.
Today, exporters of nuclear technology such the US, France and Japan also claim to fight “terrorism.” War is Peace when the now totally discredited beacons of peace and democracy are actually the true promoters and supporters of terrorism. What could be more terroristic than the US and France in tearing up the Middle East, or Japan damaging one of the world most important ecosystems, the Pacific Ocean! “BRIC” countries mistakenly to join the nuclear arms and energy bizarre so as not lose geopolitical and economic advantage.
Nuclear power has never been only a form of “peaceful” energy production. Nadesan notes that in Japan nuclear power is about “promoting multiple forms of security.” This process began shortly after the end of WWII when the CIA and a shrewd businessman named Matsutaro Shoriki transformed the Yomiuri shimbun (newspaper) into a propaganda rag in order to persuade the bombed out and shell shocked Japanese public to adapt the very sinister technology that had laid waste to their country.
Previous to Eisenhower’s reign, President Harry S. Truman carried out a massive “soft power…. Campaign for Truth” in order combat communism. This was a US “cultural offensive” that involved “Japanese intellectuals” of which Shoriki was but one, albeit very important, agent (23).
Nadesan outlines how it was not by coincidence that Japan’s first law to legalize nuclear energy production and the LDP, Japan’s major political party, were born the same year, spawned out of a CIA incubator. Years later, the very reactors to meltdown at Fukushima were also American made, the flawed Mark 1 reactor design produced by General Electric (who in collusion with the US government, intentionally carried out an engineering fraud when defects became known in the 1970s but were papered over with duct tape and Elmer’s Glue!). Today GE is integrated with the Japanese corporation, Hitachi.
Not all can be blamed on the USA, however. Nadesan points out “that TEPCO’s nuclear power plants have been plagued with scandals” throughout most of the time of their operation, especially in recent decades as the reactors have aged. She delineates the pattern of criminal negligence on the part of the company to put profits before people and the environment. Even after the 2011 accident “[n]uclear energy was prioritized over the myriad economic and social risks caused by the Fukushima disaster.”
The Nuclear Ace Up The Sleeve Deception
According to the logic of nuclear warfare game theory, Japan’s obsession, especially driven by the political philosophy of the LDP, is to sacrifice, in “kamikaze” fashion, the ecological health and sustainability of the physical nation in exchange for the “security” of holding the barely concealed Ace-up-the-sleeve nuclear weapon capability deterrent.
Japan is the only country to develop a stockpile of weapons grade plutonium– sufficient to equip 5,000 nuclear warheads– which also is technically considered to be a non-nuclear weapons country (similarly Israel is presumed to have hundreds of nuclear weapons already built but has never officially declared their existence or signed the non proliferation treaty).
Nadesan writes that “Japan’s status as nuclear weapons-capable is loudly broadcast through its uranium reprocessing and enrichment capabilities, plutonium stockpiles, and advanced aeronautical capabilities.” Indeed, Japan has “risked accident, terrorism, and international criticism for pursuing plutonium stockpiles” in conjunction with their nuclear fuel reprocessing allies in France and Britain.
Given that it is impossible to provide reliable security for a nuclear reactor in a cost efficient manner, it is clear that nuclear power is the greatest threat to a nations’ security. In Japan’s case, the earthquake that destroyed no less than four reactors and spewed massive radiation into the environment was the “terrorist” at work. But any sitting reactor acts as a ticking time bomb, a veritable doomsday machine with a bull’s eye target painted on its side just waiting for a super high-tech drone attack from an enemy. In this case the sane and ethical option would be to adopt photo voltaic panels which are infinitely safer and fast becoming cheaper.
Fukushima’s Deadly Legacy
Given the well financed campaign by the nuclear industry to downplay nuclear disasters, Nadesan’s analysis of radiation risks is indispensable.
The era of atmospheric testing of nuclear devices (A la Slim Pickens’ beloved mushroom cloud) which occurred mainly in the 1950s, totaled over 500 above ground detonations. This became a cause for grave concern among conscientious scientists and the public.
The 1956 U.S. Academy of Science report, “Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation” (aka the “BEAR” report) is cited by Nadesan “to demonstrate that geneticists warned decades ago of the potential for significant intergenerational health and reproductive risk from nuclear weapons and energy-sourced radiation exposure, but their warnings were discounted” due to “perceived national security benefits” by the nuclear priesthood of scientists and policy makers.
The BEAR report– which was written by highly credentialed scientists that were nevertheless under attack from the nuclear-military proponent sector– states after careful consideration that “even very small amounts of radiation unquestionably have the power to injure hereditary materials” in humans and other organisms. Nadesan summarizes some of the main points of BEAR:
“Radiations cause mutations. Mutations affect those hereditary traits which a person passes on to his children and subsequent generations….
Practically all radiation-induced mutations which have effects large enough to be detected are harmful. A small but not negligible part of this harm would appear in the first generation of the offspring of the person who received the radiation. Most of the harm, however, would remain unnoticed, for a shorter or longer time, in the genetic constitution of the successive generations of offspring….
Any radiation dose, however small, can induce some mutations….
Like radiation-induced mutations, nearly all spontaneous mutations with detectable effects are harmful….
Additional radiation (i.e., radiation over and above the irreducible minimum due to natural causes) produces additional mutations (over and above spontaneous mutations)….
What counts, from the point of view of genetic damage, is not the rate [of exposure to radiation]; it is the total accumulated dose to reproductive cells of the individual from the beginning of his life up to the time the child is conceived….”
Nadesan highlights radiation effects on children and cites the work of Ernest Sternglass who in 1969 “publicized his research by arguing…that radioactive fallout from atmospheric testing had caused the death of 375,000 infants” and “countless fetal deaths” from 1951 to 1966.
In addition to data cited by Nadesan, Epstein reported that a “2002 U.S. Centers for Disease Control report calculated that fallout caused 15,000 U.S. cancer deaths, a figure some believed was a gross underestimate. The following year, a blue ribbon European panel reported 61,600,000 cancer deaths worldwide from fallout” (24).
Bertell makes a bolder estimate that “[u]p to 1,300 million [1.3 billion!] people have been killed, maimed or diseased by nuclear power since it’s inception. The industry’s figures massively underestimate the real cost of nuclear power, in an attempt to hide its victims from the world” (25).
Nadesan cites the former head of the UN, Kofi Annan who “calculated that at least 7,000,000 people were adversely impacted by the [Chernobyl] disaster.”
The Dangers Of Ionizing Radiation
One of the arguments often marshaled by nuclear apologists is that natural background radiation is not bad for you, ergo radiation released from nuclear fission processes is also safe.
However, Nadesan points out that “mitochondrial DNA is particularly vulnerable to disruption by ionizing radiation, even among people acculturated to relatively high levels of natural (not human produced) background exposure.” She found that in one study “children exposed to higher than ordinary gamma radiation…. found a 12 percent increase in childhood leukemia for every millisievert of natural gamma-radiation dose to bone marrow.” Iran is often mentioned by nuclear apologists as evidence that high background radiation is totally safe, and yet a study found that “higher rates of mitochondrial DNA mutations correlated with higher background exposure” and affected the genomic integrity of future generations of offspring.
In other words, neither natural background radiation nor manmade forms are safe: “common forms of exposure to ionizing radiation can cause cancer and leukemia and…genetic damage can be transmitted across generations.”
There is mounting evidence that radioactive pollution in the global environment plays “a causative role in childhood diseases such as autism and congenital heart disease” and that novel genetic mutations caused by radiation “may have significant transgenerational effects.” One researcher cited by Nadesan notes that “[g]enomic instability is an all-embracing term to describe the increased rate of acquisition of alternations in the genome.” The cellular process of life is open to “multiple pathways” for disruption and the perpetuation of “induced instability” from radiation.
In an important report from 2006, Nadesan concludes of its findings that “radiation exposure that overwhelms repair mechanisms can result in a cascade of genomic events posing long-term adverse effects for biological health and reproduction.”
Nadesan concludes her chapter on radiation effects with this disturbing indictment of the current health regime:
“[C]urrent risk models may under-predict the incidents and range of diseases caused by radiation exposure, within the individuals live span and across generations of their progeny. Bio-accumulation in organs, bio-magnification in predators, synergy effects, and the vulnerabilities produced by increased rates of transgenerational genetic mutations present significant challenges to the ecological validity of contemporary dose-effect models.”
This is a major scandal given that the establishment risk models focus on immediate doses to the individual rather than their descendants. That is what is called the Externalization Of Risk and what I call the Futurization Of Murder as we are exposed to “increasingly radiotoxic environments.”
Conclusion: Time To Loudly Ring The Warning Bell
Nadesan poses a question to thoughtful readers as well as to the lackey politicians tied to the nuclear industry, who claim to care about human and environmental welfare, and economic prosperity.
“A nuclear disaster such as Fukushima produces risks that are truly cataclysmic, but also immeasurable. How does one measure the range of diseases that will be caused and/or exacerbated by an increase of exposure to radioisotopes in the air , drinking water, precipitation, and food, especially across generations?”
But how can this be? By the very fact that radiation risks are largely immeasurable, the powers-that-be can hide behind plausible deniability, and go on their merry way even if their own children may come to suffer from Fukushima induced diseases. The warning bell has been rung loudly, but is there still time to save the planet? Nadesan poignantly asks:
“How many more bells will ring before humanity has destroyed its ecosystem and genome beyond repair?”
Thank you Professor Nadesan. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming: News at 11:00 followed by the late late show starring Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Have a pleasant evening, and remember: “yeeehaw.”
Richard Wilcox holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Studies from a social science, holistic perspective. He teaches at a number of universities in the Tokyo, Japan area. His articles on environmental topics including the Fukushima nuclear disaster are archived at http://wilcoxrb99.wordpress.com/ and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Majia Holmer Nadesan, Fukushima And The Privatization Of Risk. 2013, 149 pp. (Palgrave/Pivot).