Fukushima has just about completely fallen off the front pages. This is not because the nuclear power plants have stopped spewing radiation into the environment or because the situation is no longer dangerous. The only thing that's been controlled is the media's coverage of the disaster.
That leaves a lot of us wondering just how hazardous is the fallout from Fukushima. The EPA has a program of monitoring air, milk and water for various radionuclides. In March they stepped up the sampling but as if May 3rd they went back to taking samples every three months. The stated reason is that declining levels of radiation make it unnecessary.
The official line is that " radiation levels detected by RadNet monitors and sampling have been very low, are well below any level of public health concern." It's an interesting statement because it implies that there is a level of radiation that is harmless. That's simply not true. Very small amounts of the radionuclides produced by nuclear accidents are harmful. There is no safe level of radiation and especially not the kinds that spill out of nuclear power plants.
You have to look at the history of the science of Health Physics to understand how and why the information about results of Fukushima are false, misleading and dangerous.
The first standards for safe levels of radiation exposure were based on the health effects seen in survivors of the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But those studies had some serious flaws.
The Hiroshima Life Span Study didn't begin until seven years after the bomb was dropped. Everyone that died in the first seven years was excluded from the study. People were considered part of the exposed population only if they were in the city when the bomb exploded. The control group, the group that was considered unaffected by the radiation, was people who moved in after the bomb went off. The amount of radiation people inhaled or ingested was never considered.
So if, for example, a person was outside the city when the bomb dropped but went back the day after to dig through the radioactive rubble, they are considered part of the unexposed control group. Cancers that occurred in the control group weren't counted as caused by radiation. Only the number of cancers in the exposed group that were above and beyond the "control" group were counted. This seriously flawed study has been used for decades to set safetly levels.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors haven't been the only people exposed to radiation. Workers at nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons facilities are constantly exposed to low-levels of radiation. In 1963 John Gofman was hired by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to study the effects of radiation. He was the Director/Founder of the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory Division of Biology and Medicine.
Gofman and his partner on the project, Art Tamplin, came to the conclusion that safety standards were woefully inadequate. The AEC pulled his funding and tried to get Gofman to stop talking about the dangers of low level radiation but the man refused to shut up. In the 1982 book Nuclear Witnesses, Insiders Speak Out he said, " Licensing a nuclear power plant is in my view, licensing random premeditated murder."
Workers at nuclear facilities are the perfect candidates for studying the effects of long-term exposure to low-level radiation. They get medical exams before they begin working. The amount of radiation they're exposed to is monitored and they all have social security numbers which allow them to be tracked long after they've left the job.
That last part is key to understanding the problem. The health effects of low-level radiation exposure can take twenty and even thirty years to show up. It's one of the reasons that people can dismiss the effects.
We tend to notice when something hits suddenly, like the flu. But illnesses like cancer have long latency periods. It can take decades for the cancer to show up.
The AEC hired Thomas Mancuso, an epidemiologist, to put an end to all the controversy about low-level radiation. Forget whatever theory guys like Gofman might put forward about cell damage and radiation. Forget what they found in laboratories. Hard facts would put all of those concerns to rest. So they asked Mancuso to study the health of nuclear workers over twenty-five to thirty years.
Mancuso didn't come up with the answers that the AEC wanted to hear. He found that long-term exposure to low-level radiation was, in fact, much more dangerous than anyone expected. His funding was pulled. They put an end to the study.
So when the EPA says that the radiation we're seeing from Fukushima is not a problem you have to wonder what they're basing that statement on. In 2006 The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) report, VII Phase 2. The report contains this statement , "The committee concludes that the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans." No threshold dose means there is no safe level of radiation exposure.
Joseph Mangano studied infant mortality rates in the populations near nuclear power plants. He found that rates of childhood cancer typically went up about one percent a year until the nuclear power plant was closed. Once the nuclear power plant closed, infant mortality rates plummeted by 20% to 25%. He looked at eight nuclear power plant closings and every single time it was accompanied by a crop of healthy babies.(Improvements in Local Infant Health After Nuclear Power Reactor Closing," Journal of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology, Spring 2000.)