Fukushima Forever: Food Safety and Government Failings

Photo by Greenpeace

Originally published at the Daily Censored for Project Censored.

On Saturday June 18, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPO) which operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plants, released a new report admitting the plant was grossly unprepared for the disaster. The report states workers had to borrow air compressors, batteries, and cables from local contractors all the while scavenge for protective gear and emergency manuals from buildings three miles away.

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled four of the six reactors at the site and damaged critical cooling systems. TEPO has also recently admitted meltdowns have occurred in three of the six reactors. Containment pools are still leaking and spilling into the ocean. In addition, the pools in reactor buildings 1, 3 and 4 are still without circulation equipment and are being cooled with outside water injections.

Every day, the media trickles out an article or two on the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima. The steady drip, drip of news stories have been mostly reassuring. For example, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Friday June 17, a day before releasing the new TEPO disaster response report, TEPO executives were expressing confidence in their containment progress. Here is a small excerpt from The Yomiuri Shimbu:

“Tokyo Electric Power Co. executives expressed confidence over containing the crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant as the utility released a revised timetable for stabilizing damaged reactors, but emphasized the situation at the crippled plant remained serious.

…Progress has been made in key areas, such as cooling pools storing spent nuclear fuel rods, including better-than-expected gains in setting up a device to circulate water in a spent fuel pool in the No. 2 reactor building. Executive Vice President Sakae Muto said, “We’ll be able to finish the job on schedule.””

A quick search of Yomiuri Online also finds another recent article on the Fukushima disaster which downplays any global impact on food. In general, TEPO, the IAEA, and other nuclear industry representatives have been releasing a steady trickle of optimistic reports alongside a few confessions in which the Japanese government or TEPO admit to misstatements and mistakes made. Listening to TEPO and the government agencies one might be led to believe the clean-up is on track and everyone is safe and no one is endangered.

The first thing everyone should remember about the Fukushima disaster is that it is still an ongoing crisis. It’s not over by a long shot. While the executives at TEPO and governments are expressing reassuring statements, three reactors are still in meltdown, the site is running out of space to contain the radioactive water, and there are leaks all over the place that TEPO has been unable to find, let alone fix.

Many people would like to know what will be the global impact from this disaster. The truth is, we will not know for a long time to come, if ever. In spite of the Japanese government’s, the IAEA, and the nuclear regulatory bodies’ reassuring announcements, increased radiation levels have been found in food not only in Japan but the United States as well.

In Japan, it has been widely reported that Iodine has been found in milk with levels five times higher than safely limits. In addition, Iodine and Cesium has been found in spinach, chrysanthemum greens, leeks and a few other foods at 27 times the acceptable limits. Many people might be surprised to learn Japan has yet to officially test the seafood, although they plan on doing so soon.

However, in April, Greenpeace tested the seaweed in the waters around Fukushima and have found contamination levels were 50 times higher than the safety limits. In addition, Greenpeace discovered the contamination was spreading to a much wider area than the Japanese authorities had originally projected.

Earlier this month, leading natural and organic food researcher and writer Steven Hoffman wrote a startling article on the contamination in the U.S. Hoffman reports, “In limited testing conducted by states and independent labs since the accident, radioactive iodine and cesium—both toxic to human health—have appeared at elevated levels in milk and vegetables produced in California. Radiation has also been detected in milk sold in Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Vermont and Washington since the accident.”

Hoffman continues,

“…On May 25, the University of California Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering (UCB)—one of the few organizations testing food, soil, air and water in the U.S.—reported that it had detected the highest level of radioactive cesium 137 in nearly a month in raw milk samples taken from a dairy in Sonoma County where the cows are grass fed. UCB also reported elevated levels of cesium 134 and cesium 137 in pasteurized, homogenized milk samples with a “best by” date of May 26 from a Bay Area organic dairy “where the farmers are encouraged to feed their cows local grass.”

Holy Cow! I live in Sonoma County and buy local organic milk. Yet, until I started researching this paper, I heard nothing of this study. I went over to the main county newspaper, the Press Democrat, and did a search with the key words “Sonoma, milk, radiation, organic, Berkeley, and a few other words and found no results. Here is the deal, if we know when a minor spike in radiative isotopes our way, we might not serve out children organic, grass fed milk. This, of course, hurts one of the most important industries Sonoma county relies on, natural and organic dairy.

Hoffman points out that the State of California did a similar study at a CalPoly dairy farm in San Luis Obispo and found trace amounts of radioactive cesium 134 and cesium 137. Yet, the FDA has determined the U.S. food supply is at not risk from radiation,  and therefore no tests or studies are needed. This has led the mainstream media to remain mostly silent about the elevated levels of radiation in our milk and vegetables.

In late March, Physicians for Social Responsibility put out a press release which stated, “There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources.  Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  “Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water.”

Aside from the global impact on food, the Fukushima crisis has had a global impact on the way people think about nuclear power. Nations around the world have called for a scaling back or even a complete phasing out of nuclear power. Most notably, German has announced a complete phase out of nuclear power. However, the Obama administration is pushing forward with his plans to build more nuclear reactors, including new mini nuku reactors.

All the while our aging nuclear plants gave been grossly under regulated. Today, June 20, Associated Press published the results of a year-long investigation into the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The investigation concludes “Federal regulators have been working closely with the nuclear power industry to keep the nation’s aging reactors operating within safety standards by repeatedly weakening those standards, or simply failing to enforce them.”

The Associated Press provides several explicit examples,

“When valves leaked, more leakage was allowed – up to 20 times the original limit. When rampant cracking caused radioactive leaks from steam generator tubing, an easier test of the tubes was devised, so plants could meet standards.

Failed cables. Busted seals. Broken nozzles, clogged screens, cracked concrete, dented containers, corroded metals and rusty underground pipes – all of these and thousands of other problems linked to aging were uncovered in the AP’s yearlong investigation. And all of them could escalate dangers in the event of an accident.”

Today’s Associated Press report does not paint a reassuring picture. Especially since the Republicans in Congress intend to eliminate the Environmental Protect Agency and further ease  the regulations and safety standards of all industries, including the nuclear power industry.

From my experience, when it comes to governments and corporations, the unknown is often far more frightening than what is known. It is clear TEPO, the governments in Japan and the U.S., along with the corporate controlled mainstream media are not telling us a great deal about the true global impact of Fukushima disaster. This fact should cause outrage in Americans, considering the fact that this ongoing tragedy could literally impact our lives forever.

Nuclear skull by Greenpeace

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