Fukushima five years later: back to normal?
by David BOILLEY, Chair of the Association for the Control of Radioactivity in the West (ACRO) and NTW member, commissionned by GreenPeace Belgium
-The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant (FDNPP) ranked at Level 7 (the highest level) of the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) is widely recognized as man-made. It contaminated a vast territory in Japan and was responsible of the displacement of about 160 000 persons according to official statistics and contaminated territories that were not evacuated are also strongly affected by the disaster. The crippled reactors are still discharging radioelements into the environment and tainted water piles up in tanks without any solution in sight. TepCO has yet to fully stabilize the power station and its priority is still to reduce the threat. The possibility of the consequences of another natural disaster can’t be ignored, as the crippled reactors are more fragile than usual reactors and their containment vessels are leaking. They might not be able to sustain an earthquake or a tsunami, which would lead to a new massive release of radioelements.
-Evacuees: The total number of evacuees is not well known, nevertheless about 160000 people fled from contaminated territories according to official statistics (who either forced to evacuate during emergency phase or evacuated on their own). Five years later the number of nuclear displaced persons is still about 100 000 as evacuation orders have been only lifted in three places. Behind these figures there are individuals whose life was disrupted. Major nuclear disasters are firstly human disasters leading to the displacement of many people who lose everything from dwellings, family life, social relationship and future.
-Radiation protection: This report shows that both evacuation and return policies are based on a lax interpretation of the international recommendations that are not very binding. 20 mSv per year corresponds to the highest value of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) reference interval in case of existing situation that includes post-accident. ICRP recommends lowering with time the reference level to 1 mSv per year. Consequently, Japanese authorities have adopted this value as a long-term target, without a precise agenda for compliance.
30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, international radiological protection rules and practices are not adapted for populations living in contaminated territories. They are extremely confusing and impossible to enforce, allowing authorities to adapt rules to their own advantage rather than the affected populations. Rule should be binding in terms of limits, temporal evolution and operational quantities.
-Food contamination: Regarding the food issue, Japanese authorities initially failed to foresee the scale of problems with contaminated food and crops and were repeatedly caught by surprise in the following months. As a consequence, many people’s trust in the government was eroded and the population concerned about food safety reconsidered their relationship to the state and food. Government’s policy was focused on food safety but it did not address how to generate a climate of trustworthiness about food. Enforcing technical standards alone is not sufficient to overcome consumer mistrust. The challenge is to bring together food safety and the peace of mind that comes with it.
-What future for evacuated territories? Decontamination is not very effective and generated huge amount of waste for which all proposed solutions failed because of the opposition of the populations. Handling radioactive waste is a difficult issue in all countries that have accumulated significant amounts, but after a severe nuclear accident, it is even more difficult as volumes are enourmous. 20 millions cubic meters are expected in Fukushima prefecture and the projected storage centre will cover 16km2. Decontamination proved to be deceiving as dose rates have not significantly fallen compared to what can be observed in the forest. Nevetheless authorities keep encouraging inhabitants to come back.
-Residents are reluctant to come back: So far, evacuation orders were lifted in parts of Tamura and Kawauchi, and in Naraha in 2015; all these areas lying within the less contaminated parts of the 20km evacuation zone and evacuation recommendations around scattered hotspots are also completely lifted. But residents are reluctant to come back and contaminated areas are facing aging and depopulation problems.Facts prove that return to normalcy is impossible after a large-scale nuclear disaster such as the ones that occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima. United Nation’s guidelines on internally displaced persons urge authorities to ensure the full participation of internally displaced persons in the planning and management of their return or resettlement and reintegration. But in Japan their participation is reduced to “explanation meetings” usually organized behind closed doors without any presence of media, NGOs, legal or independent experts and thus leaving evacuees with little recourse. Affected communities see no end to the severe hardship they are facing and are suffering. To stay or to flee, to come back or to relocate are difficult choices in a no-win situation. Number of people suffering from psychological disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder is larger thant usual among both evacuated and non-evacuated people.
The impact of the accident still continues and responses that can be accepted by the affected populations are urgently required. Residents in the affected areas are still struggling to recover from the effects of the accident. They continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of radiation exposure, the dissolution of families, disruption of their lives and the environmental contamination of vast areas of land.
After a nuclear disaster, many residents distrust authorities and official experts that failed to protect them. But recovery paths require a good coordination between authorities and the populations, which means new ways for deliberation and decision. Beyond the pain of the affected persons, a nuclear disaster also shakes the ground of democracy. Japanese citizens have proved to be resourceful about the measurement of radioactivity. Citizen mapping was done all over and food monitoring prompted authorities, producers and retailers to strengthen their controls and finally led to a decrease of intake of radioelements. Why such an open process that proved to be effective is not possible when deciding about the fate of contaminated territories and affected populations?
Link to the full report: http://fukushima.eu.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Fukushima_back_to_normal_ACRO_2016.pdf