This article is the second of a four-part series covering the May 4 press conference held at Rissho Kosei-Kai Buddhist Center of New York. Panelists discussed radiological health concerns that prevail one year after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster that occurred on March 11, 2011.
In part one of this series, nuclear science expert Hiroaki Koide gave eye-opening testimony regarding the destruction at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and the resulting radiological contamination that has spread throughout Japan as well as the rest of the world.
This installment focuses on the presentations by Dr. Junro Fuse, an internist at and the head of Kosugi Medical Clinic near Tokyo and Dr. Ken Nakayama, an orthopedic surgeon in Japan.
In June 2011, Dr. Fuse (pronounced foo-say) began to use social media as a way to inform the general public on the risks associated with radiation exposure. In the days following the disastrous events of 3/11, Dr. Nakayama entered the exclusion zone in Fukushima for three days as a member of the government’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team to rescue patients abandoned at a hospital. In December of last year, the two doctors spoke at a press conference in Osaka in opposition to the government policy for incinerating rubble from the earthquake and tsunami.
At Friday’s press conference, Dr. Fuse and Dr. Nakayama discussed the medical symptoms of internal exposure to radiation, the issues within the Japanese medical community to protect citizens from the disaster, health risks associated the burning of radioactive tsunami debris, and the current food safety standards in Japan.
With his first slide, which read, “There is no immediate effect on the body or the health,” Dr. Fuse began his presentation, stating that the restrictions the Japanese government has placed on information about internal exposure to radiation “has led to the general population losing its sense of danger, its sense of warning.”
Dr. Fuse fears the public is not aware of immediate issues that will have an impact on health. “Ever since the accident occurred, the government has been insistent [that there are no immediate health effects], and there has not been any detailed information emerging from TV or newspapers, etc.,” says Dr. Fuse. “Numbers that are released by the government are very different from the numbers that have been published by third-party organizations outside of Japan. It’s hard to interpret this any other way than to say they are underreporting or underestimating the numbers.”
As a result, Dr. Fuse says, the medical community in Japan has been largely silent about radiation concerns. “Doctors in Japan are not trained in internal exposure,” says Dr. Fuse, saying this is especially true with doctors who specialize in treating thyroid disorders. “They are going along with the message from the government . . . that everything is safe.”
“Internal exposure is the accumulation of what is absorbed through the mouth through food and through respiration. The European Committee on Radiation Risk has stated that they believe the risk from internal exposure is between 200 and 600 times greater than the risk from external exposure. The damage that results from internal exposure is not limited to malignant cancers, but also to the breakdown of the immune system and so forth. But the Japanese government has very low evaluation of the risks and diseases that result from internal exposure.”
This exposure, Dr. Fuse stresses, is not limited to people in the area surrounding the crippled plant in Northeastern Japan.
“We actually do have hot spots in the Tokyo metropolitan area that have led to these physiological disorders,” says Dr. Fuse, stating that this is true in both children and adults. “Some of the disorders that have been observed are things like diarrhea, eczema, and so forth. We are expecting to see not only thyroid disorders in children, but also cancers, circulatory disorders, diabetes, and other disorders.”
These hot spots, which Dr. Fuse describes as “areas of high concentrations of radiation in ‘islands’ which are created by wind and rain, primarily, and other meteorological factors,” are spread about the Kanto area (Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Gunma).
According to numbers released by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, the amount of radiation in the town of Nihonmatsu in Fukushima Prefecture is shown as 300 kBq per square meter. “Nevertheless, this has not been designated as an evacuation site,” says Dr. Fuse. “What’s happening is that people are carrying out their lives as normal. This is one piece of evidence that’s showing how the government is under measuring the levels of radiation. This fact is not reported by the mass media.”
Dr. Nakayama added that in addition to allowing citizens to live in areas that should be considered evacuation zones, the Japanese government is lax in its standards of food safety.
“The Japanese government views the internal exposure problem very lightly and does not treat it as a problem,” says Dr. Nakayama, who presented detailed statistics on Japan’s food safety criteria, comparing them to that of Belarus.
“The new food safety standard that has come out allows for 100 Bq per kilogram of food, including rice and for water and milk, . . . 10 and 50 Bq, respectively,” says Dr. Nakayama.
Belarus’s standard for water is the same as in Japan’s, but its standard for milk is lower, at 37 Bq. The primary staple in the Belarus diet is bread, which the government allows 40 Bq, compared to the 100 Bq for rice allowed by the Japanese government.
To put it into perspective, Dr. Nakayama points out, “If you were to ingest 10 Bq a day, you would accumulate 1400 Bq in 600 days. That would result in anomalies in the EKG.” Therefore, Dr. Nakayama considers the Japanese government’s standard of food safety too loose. “Fifty percent of the food in circulation is contaminated,” says Dr. Nakayama.
In addition to the dangers of living in a contaminated area and ingesting contaminated food, Dr. Nakayama says the population of Japan must now deal with the way debris is processed.
“Roughly five billion pounds of debris have been estimated to have been generated by the tsunami,” says Dr. Nakayama. “What the Japanese government proposes to do is burn that if possible, and if it’s not possible to burn it, then to use it as landfill.”
Using a diagram, Dr. Nakayama describes the results of an experimental incineration done at a test plant in Japan, starting out with an amount of debris measuring 343,445 Bq.
“Roughly 32% of the vaporized material is released,” says Dr. Nakayama. “It seems the Japanese government is attempting to recapitulate the Fukushima Daiichi accident. That released radioactive material then diffuses over the whole earth. They’re then attempting to pour the fly ash, the results from the combustion, into landfills, which will lead to a huge contamination of ocean water. Completely beyond comprehension. The result of this contamination is not restricted to Japan It’s spreading all around the world.”
In response to a question about why the media are reluctant to disseminate accurate information regarding internal radiation and the burning of contaminated debris, Dr. Nakayama says, “I’m not an expert on mass media, so forgive me for that. But I know at least the Japanese mass media can’t operate without sponsors. Unfortunately most of the Japanese mass media have as one of their most powerful sponsors in Tokyo Electric. So you can’t say bad things about the person who’s feeding you. We need to change that system under which mass media work. I don’t know if that’s possible or not, but the result of that is we are relying now on new media, on social media, Facebook. And that’s what we think the new form of media has to be.”
To ensure everyone’s safety, Dr. Nakayama is adamant that others realize the worldwide impact of the post-3/11 practices in Japan, stressing that “there be transparency about information with regards to the nuclear disaster,” says Dr. Nakayama. “We need to spread understanding about internal exposure and build diagnostic skills. Because the scale of the nuclear disaster is worldwide, we need to address it on a worldwide level.”
Part 3 of the series will feature the presentation by Dr. Andy Kanter, MD, MPH, President of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Kanter gives a detailed analysis of the dispersion of radiation in post-nuclear accident scenarios and puts the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster into local perspective.