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Cutting Through Fukushima Fog: Radiation in U.S.?

By       Message Bernard Weiner     Permalink
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Japan (a buffer to China's ambitions in Asia) is a key ally of the United States, and the U.S. has exercised a hands-off approach to Fukushima matters for most of the past three years. In the days right after the earthquake/tsunami in 2011, the U.S. Navy provided humanitarian and logistics help, including observations and damage reports to the Japanese government from helicopters over the wrecked reactors and nearby farms and villages. The U.S. offered to provide more onsite help, an offer that was rejected by Tepco. Other countries offered onsite help as well, with the same response. Clearly, Tepco did not want its citizens and stockholders to know how bad things really were at Dai-ichi. 

But some news did get out in public. According to recently revealed U.S. Navy documents, http://ecowatch.com/2014/02/26/navy-knew-fukushima-contaminated-uss-reagan/ more than 70 sailors on the Navy helicopters or among those who serviced those copters on the aircraft carrier USS Reagan suffered major radiation exposure, even after the ship was moved 100 miles away from Fukushima. The sailors' health complaints are consistent with victims who have suffered major radiation exposure. Neither the Japanese nor South Korean nor Guam governments would permit the Reagan to dock as it was radioactively "hot." The affected members of the crew have an ongoing civil suit for one-billion-dollar damages pending against Tepco.  http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/11/sailors-devastated-by-fukushima-radiation/

For the past three years, those interested in getting updated news from Fukushima have had to rely on bits and pieces of information in search of a coherent puzzle-picture. Just a few examples where further research would be required.

** There was reporting about a massive die-off of starfish all across the Pacific. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/28/starfish-dying-wasting-disease-mystery/4208859/ Was this weird event because of the warming of global oceans or was this possibly related to the reported 300,000 gallons of radioactive water pouring daily into the Pacific from the leaking reactor pools? Or was it a rare virus? There also were reports of Pacific dead zones in what were traditionally rich fishing areas; could this be connected to Fukushima? 

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** There were reports of bluefish tuna from the Fukushima area caught in the waters off San Diego in Southern California with high levels of radiation. A connection? (See the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, which concludes:"We report unequivocal evidence that Pacific bluefish tuna, Thunnus orientalis, transported Fukushima-derived radionuclides across the entire North Pacific Ocean"Other large, highly migratory marine animals make extensive use of waters around Japan, and these animals may also be transport vectors of Fukushima-derived radionuclides to distant regions of the North and South Pacific Oceans." ( http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/05/22/1204859109.abstract / )

** According to Oceanus Magazine, the total amount of cesium-137 that was released into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than the amount that found its way into the oceans from the Chernobyl disaster and by the atmospheric nuclear-weapons tests from the 1950s-'60s. http://www.whoi.edu/cms/files/Radioisotopes_in_the_Ocean_167804.pdf  

** Fukushima radiation could affect seafood for many generations, because of the food chain of fish and other marine fauna: plankton and vegetation are eaten by small fish, which are eaten by slightly larger fish, which are eaten by larger fish, and so on. One study reports: "Even if only one-hundreth of the radioactivity"were to enter the recirculation pattern, the collective whole body ingestion dose over many generations would"be sufficient to kill more than 1,000,000 people." ( http://www.npsag.org/publications/download.aspx?id=1158&pid=89 )

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Since no institutional body is in charge at Dai-ichi other than the utility company that has a clear conflict of interest, how to sort out the scary truths from the scary fictions?


Since most of my family and friends reside in the American West, my immediate worry-focus was on how the West Coast of North America was faring when it came to radiation by air and water. In the days immediately following the March 2011 explosions at Dai-ichi, there were scattered reports of higher-than-normal radiation in the air and grasses and cows milk of Western North America, but after that early period, it's been mostly a blank.  

Willy nilly, those of us trying to follow the Fukushima story were forced to become freelance investigative reporters because, so far as we could tell, there were no news outlets or governmental agencies that were passing on any ongoing, reliable information about Fukushima's possible effects on the West Coast of America and Canada; certainly no agency was taking a holistic view of what might be happening in the air and water. (Experts can't even agree on the existence of radiation monitoring. A Woods Hole scientist and a nuclear engineering professor at UC-Berkeley both concluded that there is no systematic radiation testing in the U.S. for air, food and water. But local and state public-health officials point to something called "RadNet," ( http://www.epa.gov/radnet/ ) a system of air monitors at 11 California locations.)

I started my information-hunt in October of last year in San Francisco. At that time, I wrote a four-page citizen letter to our local Public Health Department as well as to the Public Utilities Commission, the governmental body responsible for public health and safety with regard to drinking water. I made no accusations and provided no definitive subjective opinions; my goal was to ask questions, to find out if there was ongoing monitoring and testing and, if so, what the results were. In short, was there anybody at the monitoring switch? At the bottom of the letter, I cc'd copies sent to a variety of local, statewide and federal politicians and governmental bodies. 

Two months went by with -- surprise! -- no response at all.

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Working with a number of friends and fellow activists, calling ourselves the Bay Area Radiation Group, we then rewrote the original letter in December of 2013 to make it tighter and more focused, and sent it off to named members of the Public Utilities Commission, and to various environmental institutions (the federal EPA, Sierra Club, etc.). Further, instead of just my name, I included under my signature that I was co-editor of a website, ( crisispapers.org ) as a way of alerting these officials that the story could make its way into internet conversation. 


Well, lo and behold, the S.F. Public Utilities Commission on January of 2014 finally responded to the original letter, with a narrow, highly-spun reply, which can be summed up roughly as: "All is in order. We're monitoring the water. RadNet monitors the air. We've got it covered. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along, please." 

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)

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