Tag Archives: Radiation

12/4/2011 AFP: India's uranium mines cast a health shadow

12/4/2011 AFP: India’s uranium mines cast a health shadow By Ammu Kannampilly: Gudiya Das whines as flies settle on her face, waiting for her mother to swat them while she lies on a cot in Ichra, one in a cluster of villages around India’s only functioning uranium mines. The 12-year-old, whose skeletal frame makes her look about half her age, was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy when she was a year old. “Back then there were 33 disabled kids here, now there are more than a hundred,” her father, Chhatua Das told AFP in his home in Jaduguda valley in the eastern state of Jharkhand. For Das and his wife Lakshmi, who have lost six children before the age of one, there is only one possible culprit — the nearby mines run by the state-owned Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL).

“I know there is some connection between the mining and what’s happened to my daughter,” Lakshmi told AFP. “It’s because of the uranium in the water here.”

Environmental groups say the mining company is polluting the groundwater by dumping radioactive waste inside three so-called tailings ponds that hold the sludge produced by the mining process — a charge vehemently denied by UCIL.

UCIL opened its first mine in Jaduguda in 1967, and has built six more since then, providing work for thousands of local villagers in what was a deeply impoverished area.

With starting salaries of 14,000 rupees ($280) a month, jobs with the mining firm are highly coveted and bring a level of economic prosperity that adds a conflicting layer of complexity to the health risk issue.

Jharkhand is one of India’s poorest states, with more than 40% of the population living on less than $2 a day, according to 2007 World Bank figures.

Ghanshyam Birulee, founder of the Jharkhand Organisation Against Radiation, believes the financial benefits are meaningless when weighed against what his group says is an alarming rise in stillbirths, birth defects, and adults and children diagnosed with cancer, kidney disease, and tuberculosis.

“How did these illnesses suddenly become so commonplace here? It’s because our valley has become a dumping ground for all this nuclear trash,” Birulee said.

“Jaduguda” means “magic fields” in the local language Sadri.

“These days it feels like there’s black magic at work here,” said Birulee, a former apprentice at UCIL who lost both his parents to cancer.

“When people first started getting sick, they thought it was because of witches or evil spirits. We had never seen anything like this,” he told AFP.

UCIL firmly denies any links between its operations and any health issues in Jaduguda.

“The grade of ore is very low, so the level of radioactivity is also very low. If you are 100-120 metres away from the periphery of the tailings ponds, you face no risk,” said A.K. Sarangi, deputy general manager for strategic planning at UCIL.

“We acquired land for several people here and tried to help them move, but they refused. Their intention is to extract as much money as possible from the company now,” Sarangi said.

The company cites a 1998 government-funded study that found no water contamination and rejected the idea that illnesses in Jaduguda could be ascribed to radiation exposure.

Critics say the study, carried out by the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, was tainted by association with the nuclear industry, and cite a 2007 report by the non-profit Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD).

That report showed a far greater incidence of congenital abnormality, sterility, and cancer among people living within 2.5 kilometres (1.5 miles) of the mines than those living 35 kilometres away.

Mothers in villages close to the mine sites were also twice as likely to have a child with congenital deformities, it said.

The IDPD is an affiliate of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize winning organisation, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

The health risks associated with exposure to uranium are well-known. According to the US department of energy, sustained exposure can result in kidney damage and an increased risk of cancer.

A few years ago, the US environmental protection agency noted high levels of radiation in homes and drinking water sources in parts of Arizona state occupied by Navajo people, many of whom worked in the mines operating there from 1944 to 1986.

Developed nations like the United States and Australia employ strict environmental standards to limit the amount of uranium released into the air by mines and processing plants.

They also require mining waste to be disposed of in a manner that limits emissions and keeps groundwater clean, by erecting fences around tailings ponds and building earthen covers to prevent any seepage into the soil.

UCIL officials insist that their mines are in complete compliance with international requirements, and that emission levels are within the accepted limits.

“We have built fences around the tailings ponds, but villagers still cut through them in parts,” to take shortcuts across the land, Sarangi said.

“It is a huge area, it is just not possible to guard it all the time.”

Asha Kaibart lives in a small house about 200 metres from a tailings pond.

Seventeen years ago her son Anil started to have trouble with his eyes. A few years later the same thing happened to his younger sister Sumitra. Doctors said both had sustained severe damage to their optic nerves.

Today, at 29, Anil is totally blind. He and Sumitra rarely leave the house anymore, according to their father Situ, a former UCIL miner.

“I am sure waste from the company mixes with the water we use to bathe,” Asha said, pointing to a small lake nearby.

Birulee says companies like UCIL simply abdicate responsibility, refusing to help families like the Kaibarts and “threatening anyone who supports us” — a charge that UCIL spokesperson Pinaki Roy rejected outright.

“Such allegations pain us. Our social responsibility is very important to us. After all, at least one member of each family here is working for us,” Roy said.

11/11/2011 Mystery Radiation Detected 'Across Europe'

11/11/2011 Mystery Radiation Detected ‘Across Europe’ by Lee Ferran: The hunt is on for the source of low level radiation detected in the atmosphere “across Europe” over the past weeks, nuclear officials said today. Trace amounts of iodine-131, a type of radiation created during the operation of nuclear reactors or in the detonation of a nuclear weapon, were detected as early as three weeks ago by Austrian authorities and then two weeks ago by the Czech Republic’s State Office for Nuclear Safety. Today the International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement revealing similar detections had been made “in other locations across Europe.”

The IAEA said the current levels of iodine-131 are far too low to warrant a public health risk, but the agency still does not know the origin of the apparent leak and an official with the agency would not say where else it has been detected. Considering iodine-131 has a radioactive decay half-life of about eight days, continued detection means the leak occurred over a period of several days at least and is possibly ongoing.

The IAEA said it does not believe the radiation was left over from the nuclear disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March and the Czech Republic’s State Office for Nuclear Safety said it was unlikely to have been caused by an incident at any nuclear plant’s core. A meltdown there, the Czech agency said, would have released several other radioactive isotopes in addition to iodine-131.

The IAEA has been unable to determine from which country the radiation is emanating, and both Czech and Austrian officials said it was unlikely their countries were the source. Austrian officials said in a statement that a study of the dispersal cloud indicated the radiation is most likely coming from somewhere in southeastern Europe.

In addition to nuclear plants, iodine-131 is used in many hospitals and by radiopharmacutical manufacturers as it can be used to help treat thyroid problems in small doses.

“Anywhere spent nuclear fuel is handled, there is a chance that… iodine-131 will escape into the environment,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.

10/14/2011 NY Times ASIA PACIFIC: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo

Toshiyuki Hattori, who runs a sewage plant in Tokyo, surrounded by sacks of radioactive sludge. By HIROKO TABUCHI 10/14/2011 New York Times: Citizens’ Testing Finds 20 Hot Spots Around Tokyo: TOKYO — Takeo Hayashida signed on with a citizens’ group to test for radiation near his son’s baseball field in Tokyo after government officials told him they had no plans to check for fallout from the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Like Japan’s central government, local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.

Then came the test result: the level of radioactive cesium in a patch of dirt just yards from where his 11-year-old son, Koshiro, played baseball was equal to those in some contaminated areas around Chernobyl.

The patch of ground was one of more than 20 spots in and around the nation’s capital that the citizens’ group, and the respected nuclear research center they worked with, found were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.

It has been clear since the early days of the nuclear accident, the world’s second worst after Chernobyl, that that the vagaries of wind and rain had scattered worrisome amounts of radioactive materials in unexpected patterns far outside the evacuation zone 12 miles around the stricken plant. But reports that substantial amounts of cesium had accumulated as far away as Tokyo have raised new concerns about how far the contamination had spread, possibly settling in areas where the government has not even considered looking.

The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation. It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.

“Radioactive substances are entering people’s bodies from the air, from the food. It’s everywhere,” said Kiyoshi Toda, a radiation expert at Nagasaki University’s faculty of environmental studies and a medical doctor. “But the government doesn’t even try to inform the public how much radiation they’re exposed to.”

The reports of hot spots do not indicate how widespread contamination is in the capital; more sampling would be needed to determine that. But they raise the prospect that people living near concentrated amounts of cesium are being exposed to levels of radiation above accepted international standards meant to protect people from cancer and other illnesses.

Japanese nuclear experts and activists have begun agitating for more comprehensive testing in Tokyo and elsewhere, and a cleanup if necessary. Robert Alvarez, a nuclear expert and a former special assistant to the United States secretary of energy, echoed those calls, saying the citizens’ groups’ measurements “raise major and unprecedented concerns about the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

The government has not ignored citizens’ pleas entirely; it recently completed aerial testing in eastern Japan, including Tokyo. But several experts and activists say the tests are unlikely to be sensitive enough to be useful in finding micro hot spots such as those found by the citizens’ group.

Kaoru Noguchi, head of Tokyo’s health and safety section, however, argues that the testing already done is sufficient. Because Tokyo is so developed, she says, radioactive material was much more likely to have fallen on concrete, then washed away. She also said exposure was likely to be limited.

“Nobody stands in one spot all day,” she said. “And nobody eats dirt.”

Tokyo residents knew soon after the March 11 accident, when a tsunami knocked out the crucial cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, that they were being exposed to radioactive materials. Researchers detected a spike in radiation levels on March 15. Then as rain drizzled down on the evening of March 21, radioactive material again fell on the city.

In the following week, however, radioactivity in the air and water dropped rapidly. Most in the city put aside their jitters, some openly scornful of those — mostly foreigners — who had fled Tokyo in the early days of the disaster.

But not everyone was convinced. Some Tokyo residents bought dosimeters. The Tokyo citizens’ group, the Radiation Defense Project, which grew out of a Facebook discussion page, decided to be more proactive. In consultation with the Yokohama-based Isotope Research Institute, members collected soil samples from near their own homes and submitted them for testing.

Some of the results were shocking: the sample that Mr. Hayashida collected under shrubs near his neighborhood baseball field in the Edogawa ward measured nearly 138,000 becquerels per square meter of radioactive cesium 137, which can damage cells and lead to an increased risk of cancer.

Of the 132 areas tested, 22 were above 37,000 becquerels per square meter, the level at which zones were considered contaminated at Chernobyl.

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said most residents near Chernobyl were undoubtedly much worse off, surrounded by widespread contamination rather than isolated hot spots. But he said the 37,000 figure remained a good reference point for mandatory cleanup because regular exposure to such contamination could result in a dosage of more than one millisievert per year, the maximum recommended for the public by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

The most contaminated spot in the Radiation Defense survey, near a church, was well above the level of the 1.5 million becquerels per square meter that required mandatory resettlement at Chernobyl. The level is so much higher than other results in the study that it raises the possibility of testing error, but micro hot spots are not unheard of after nuclear disasters.

Japan’s relatively tame mainstream media, which is more likely to report on government pronouncements than grass-roots movements, mainly ignored the citizens’ group’s findings.

“Everybody just wants to believe that this is Fukushima’s problem,” said Kota Kinoshita, one of the group’s leaders and a former television journalist. “But if the government is not serious about finding out, how can we trust them?”

Hideo Yamazaki, an expert in environmental analysis at Kinki University in western Japan, did his own survey of the city and said he, too, discovered high levels in the area where the baseball field is located.

“These results are highly localized, so there is no cause for panic,” he said. “Still, there are steps the government could be taking, like decontaminating the highest spots.”

Since then, there have been other suggestions that hot spots were more widespread than originally imagined.

Last month, a local government in a Tokyo ward found a pile of composted leaves at a school that measured 849 becquerels per kilogram of cesium 137, over two times Japan’s legally permissible level for compost.

And on Wednesday, civilians who tested the roof of an apartment building in the nearby city of Yokohama — farther from Fukushima than Tokyo — found high quantities of radioactive strontium. (There was also one false alarm this week when sky-high readings were reported in the Setagaya ward in Tokyo; the government later said they were probably caused by bottles of radium, once widely used to make paint.)

The government’s own aerial testing showed that although almost all of Tokyo had relatively little contamination, two areas showed elevated readings. One was in a mountainous area at the western edge of the Tokyo metropolitan region, and the other was over three wards of the city — including the one where the baseball field is situated.

The metropolitan government said it had started preparations to begin monitoring food products from the nearby mountains, but acknowledged that food had been shipped from that area for months.

Mr. Hayashida, who discovered the high level at the baseball field, said that he was not waiting any longer for government assurances. He moved his family to Okayama, about 370 miles to the southwest.

“Perhaps we could have stayed in Tokyo with no problems,” he said. “But I choose a future with no radiation fears.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting from Washington, and Kantaro Suzuki from Tokyo.

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster

10/8/2011 The Economist: Radiation in Japan Hot spots and blind spots – The mounting human costs of Japan’s nuclear disaster: CREST the hill into the village of Iitate, and the reading on a radiation dosimeter surges eightfold—even with the car windows shut. “Don’t worry, I’ve been coming here for months and I’m still alive,” chuckles Chohei Sato, chief of the village council, as he rolls down the window and inhales cheerfully. He pulls off the road, gets out of the car and buries the dosimeter in the grass. The reading doubles again.

Iitate is located 45km (28 miles) from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant hit by a tsunami on March 11th this year. In the mountains above the town, the forests are turning the colour of autumn. But their beauty is deceptive. Every time a gust of wind blows, Mr Sato says it shakes invisible particles of radioactive caesium off the trees and showers them over the village. Radiation levels in the hills are so high that villagers dare not go near them. Mr Sato cannot bury his father’s bones, which he keeps in an urn in his abandoned farmhouse, because of the dangers of going up the hill to the graveyard.

Iitate had the misfortune to be caught by a wind that carried radioactive particles (including plutonium) much farther than anybody initially expected after the nuclear disaster. Almost all the 6,000 residents have been evacuated, albeit belatedly, because it took the government months to decide that some villages outside a 30km radius of the plant warranted special attention. Now it offers an extreme example of how difficult it will be to recover from the disaster.

That is mainly because of the enormous spread of radiation. Recently the government said it needed to clear about 2,419 square kilometres of contaminated soil—an area larger than greater Tokyo—that received an annual radiation dose of at least five millisieverts, or over 0.5 microsieverts an hour. That covered an area far beyond the official 30km restriction zone (see map). Besides pressure- hosing urban areas, this would involve removing about 5cm of topsoil from local farms as well as all the dead leaves in caesium-laden forests.

However, Iitate’s experience suggests the government may be underestimating the task. Villagers have removed 5cm of topsoil from one patch of land, but because radioactive particles continue to blow from the surrounding trees, the level of radiation remains high—about one microsievert an hour—even if lower than in nearby areas. Without cutting down the forests, Mr Sato reckons there will be a permanent risk of contamination. So far, nobody has any idea where any contaminated soil will be dumped.

The second problem is children’s health. On September 30th the government lifted an evacuation advisory warning to communities within a 20-30km radius of the plant. The aim was partly to show that the authorities were steadily bringing the crippled reactors under control.

But these areas are still riddled with radiation hot spots, including schools and public parks, which will need to be cleaned before public confidence is restored. Parents say they are particularly concerned about bringing their children back because the health effects of radiation on the young are so unclear. What is more, caesium particles tend to lurk in the grass, which means radiation is more of a risk at toddler height than for adults. In Iitate, Mihori Takahashi, a mother of two, “believes only half of what the doctors say” and says she never wants to bring her children back. That, in itself, may be a curse. “The revival of this town depends on the children returning,” says Mr Sato.

And even if people return, Mr Sato worries how they will make a living. These are farming villages, but it will take years to remove the stigma attached to food grown in Fukushima, he reckons. He is furious with Tokyo Electric Power, operator of the plant, for failing to acknowledge the long-term impacts of the disaster. He says it is a way of scrimping on compensation payouts.

One way to help overcome these problems would be to persuade people to accept relaxed safety standards. A government panel is due to propose lifting the advisory dose limit above one millisievert per year. This week in Tokyo, Wade Allison, a physics professor at Oxford University, argued that Japan’s dose limit could safely be raised to 100 millisieverts, based on current health statistics. Outside Mr Sato’s house, however, a reading of the equivalent of 150 millisieverts a year left your correspondent strangely reluctant to inhale.

Video: Fukushima Now Radiating Everyone: 'Unspeakable' Reality 'Will Impact All Of Humanity'

9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes

9/8/2011 Guardian UK: Japan disaster: Fukushima residents return to visit their homes: Six months after radiation leaks from the nuclear plant led to their evacuation, residents of nearby towns briefly return by Justin McCurry in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture: Takashige Kowata thought he was prepared for the worst when he opened the door to his house for the first time in six months. But the trauma of seeing his family home abandoned amid the panic of a nuclear meltdown was compounded when he noticed a broken bathroom window.

“It looks like we have been burgled,” the 63-year-old says, still too shaken to establish what is missing. “I can’t believe that someone is capable of stealing from the victims of a disaster.”

The intruders would have committed their crime with ease: Kowata’s spacious house and garden lie about a mile from the scene of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which has turned large swaths of nearby land into an official no-go zone.

He was one of 80,000 people living within a 12-mile (20km) radius of the nuclear plant who were told to evacuate by the government in the hours after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake launched a tsunami that crashed through its protective seawall and triggered meltdown in three of its six reactors.

Kowata and more than 200 of his neighbours have been allowed to make a brief visit home to collect as many belongings as they can carry. It is a homecoming that many accept is likely to be their last.

Dressed in protective suits, masks and goggles, they have been given just two hours to survey the damage to the houses they have been barred from entering since the triple disaster struck north-east Japan on the afternoon of 11 March.

Months of radiation leaks from Fukushima Daiichi have rendered Okuma and the nearby town of Futaba uninhabitable for years, perhaps decades.

According to a recent government report, the annual cumulative radiation dose in one district of Okuma is estimated at 508.1 millisieverts, more than 500 times the acceptable yearly level and, experts believe, high enough to increase the risk of cancer.

“We’ve been told that we can’t return home because of the radiation,” says Kinuko Yamada, a 53-year-old woman who is making the trip with her husband. “I hope we can go back, but it could be 20 to 30 years before that happens. I’ll probably be dead by then.”

Radiation levels in the town are so high that decontamination could take years, or not succeed at all. Residents have so far been allowed just this one brief visit, organised by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and nuclear safety officials. The Guardian was the only foreign media permitted to accompany them.

Evidence of the area’s dismal place in the history of Japan’s nuclear power industry becomes visible soon after the convoy of buses passes through the police checkpoint.

All traces of ordinary life have been cast in eerie suspension: roadsides are overgrown with grass and weeds; shops and restaurants lie empty, and grand farmhouses – evacuated in the hours following the accident, when Tepco officials were considering abandoning the plant – stand quiet and deserted. Toppled walls and scattered roof tiles are reminders of the staggering force of the quake that caused the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The only sound is the chirping of late-summer cicadas and the occasional beep of a Geiger counter. A scrawny black dog wanders into the road, sizes up his human visitors and scampers back into the woods.

And just visible above a line of trees is the roof of one of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactor buildings. As our bus drives past, radiation levels inside surge to 61 microsieverts an hour (compared to the typical Japanese average of 0.34 microsieverts).Elsewhere inside the exclusion zone, at least 1,000 cattle are roaming wild after escaping from their farm homesteads, according to local authorities. Most pets, and tens of thousands of cows, pigs and chickens have starved to death.

A few days after residents returned to their homes, police officers and firefighters resumed the search for almost 200 tsunami victims in the area still listed as missing.

Some residents are reluctant to openly criticise Tepco, a major local employer. “I never worried about the nuclear plant before the tsunami,” says one of Kowata’s neighbours, a woman in her 60s who declines to give her name.

“When we left on 11 March we thought we would be back in a week or 10 days. Then the reactor buildings started exploding and we were more cautious, but even so I never thought it would be as bad as this. The power plant put food on the table around here … I can’t find the words to describe how I feel.

“I’m going to take back some valuables and our ancestors’ spirit tablets – my parents are both dead. The earthquake left our family Buddhist altar in pieces, so I brought some flowers to place in front of it.”

Her garden, usually a blaze of colour at this time of year, is a tangle of weeds and wild grass. “I spotted a few flowers blooming among the grass,” she says. “I love flowers and told them I was sorry for not being able to look after them properly.”

Inside, the doors have come away from their hinges and the walls have been pushed up by the force of the quake. “It’s terrible,” she says. “The kind of shock from which you can never recover. I want to come back, but it might be better for my peace of mind to stop hoping.”

However, Kowata, a former local government official who witnessed the arrival of MOX (mixed oxide) nuclear fuel at Fukushima Daiichi last year, makes no attempt to hide his bitterness towards Tepco.

He has lived in this neighbourhood all his life and had only just built a new house, which he shared with four other members of his family. His father, like many other elderly tsunami survivors, died soon after being evacuated.

“I don’t know how much Tepco and the government will give us as compensation, and in any case it will take a long time to arrive,” says Kowata, who is living in rented accommodation in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a town farther inland.

“We can’t wait around for them to take action. The nuclear accident is a man-made disaster.

“The government and Tepco kept telling us that this kind of thing could not possibly happen. Tepco hasn’t changed when it comes to covering up trouble.”

Just two hours after they arrived, Okuma’s residents must board buses to take them back outside the exclusion zone to be screened for radiation.

They emerge from their homes gripping plastic bags bulging with clothes, valuables, heirlooms, children’s toys and photo albums.

Kowata gathers his belongings, walks out of his front door and turns the key one last time. “As far as I am concerned, this is the last time I will see my home,” he says. “The house itself isn’t very old … it’s a great shame.”

Halfway down the driveway he turns and fixes his gaze on the home he is leaving behind.

“I wanted to say thank you one last time. Now it’s time to move on.”

Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation

US EPA Pacific Southwest, Region 9 Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, Tribal Nations: Addressing Uranium Contamination in the Navajo Nation: The lands of the Navajo Nation include 27,000 square miles spread over three states in the Four Corners area. The unique geology of these lands makes them rich in uranium, a radioactive ore in high demand after the development of atomic power and weapons at the close of World War II in the 1940s. From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. Many Navajo people worked the mines, often living and raising families in close proximity to the mines and mills.

Today the mines are closed, but a legacy of uranium contamination remains, including over 500 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) as well as homes and drinking water sources with elevated levels of radiation. Potential health effects include lung cancer from inhalation of radioactive particles, as well as bone cancer and impaired kidney function from exposure to radionuclides in drinking water.

EPA maintains a strong partnership with the Navajo Nation and, since 1994, the Superfund Program has provided technical assistance and funding to assess potentially contaminated sites and develop a response. In August 2007, the Superfund Program compiled a Comprehensive Database and Atlas with the most complete assessment to date of all known uranium mines on the Navajo Nation. Working with the Navajo Nation, EPA also used its Superfund authority to clean up four residential yards and one home next to the highest priority abandoned uranium mine, Northeast Church Rock Mine, at a cost of more than $2 million.

At the request of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in October 2007, EPA, along with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Indian Health Service (IHS) developed a coordinated Five-Year Plan to address uranium contamination in consultation with Navajo Nation EPA. EPA regularly reports back to the Committee and to the Navajo Nation on its progress (PDF) (2 pp, 489K) in implementing the Five-Year Plan. (The Progress Report was updated in August 2010 (PDF) (2 pp, 2.9M) .)

The Five-Year Plan is the first coordinated approach created by the five federal agencies. This landmark plan outlines a strategy for cleanup and details the cleanup process for the Navajo Nation over the next five years.

EPA is addressing the most urgent risks on the reservation — uranium contaminated water sources and structures. Approximately 30 percent of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources with uranium contamination. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of consuming contaminated water.

EPA will also continue to use its Superfund authority to address contaminated structures. EPA has already assessed about 200 structures and yards and targeted at least 27 structures and ten yards for remediation as a precaution.

Over the course of the Five-year Plan, EPA will focus on the problems posed by abandoned uranium mines, completing a tiered assessment of over 500 mines and taking actions to address the highest priority mines. As mines that pose risks are discovered, EPA may use Superfund authorities, including the National Priorities List, enforcement against responsible parties, or emergency response to require cleanup. At the Northeast Church Rock Mine, the highest-risk mine on the Reservation, EPA is requiring the owner to conduct a cleanup that is protective of nearby residents. EPA is working with the community to ensure the remainder of the site is cleaned up.

Although the legacy of uranium mining is widespread and will take many years to address completely, the collaborative effort of EPA, other federal agencies and the Navajo Nation will bring an unprecedented level of support and protection for the people at risk from these sites. Much work remains to be done, and EPA is committed to working with the Navajo Nation to remove the most immediate contamination risks and to find permanent solutions to the remaining contamination on Navajo lands.

Related Information
Superfund Site Overview

Region 9 Tribal Program

Contact Information

Dana Barton
US EPA, SFD 6-3
75 Hawthorne St.
San Francisco, CA 94105
Telephone: (415) 972-3087
Toll Free 1(800) 231-3075
Fax (415) 947-3528

Lillie Lane (hozhoogo_nasha@yahoo.com)
Navajo Nation EPA
P.O. Box 339
Window Rock, Arizona 86515
928-871-6092

8/8/2011 NY Times: Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril

8/8/2011 NY Times: Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril By NORIMITSU ONISHI and MARTIN FACKLER: FUKUSHIMA, Japan — The day after a giant tsunami set off the continuing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, thousands of residents at the nearby town of Namie gathered to evacuate. Given no guidance from Tokyo, town officials led the residents north, believing that winter winds would be blowing south and carrying away any radioactive emissions. For three nights, while hydrogen explosions at four of the reactors spewed radiation into the air, they stayed in a district called Tsushima where the children played outside and some parents used water from a mountain stream to prepare rice.

The winds, in fact, had been blowing directly toward Tsushima — and town officials would learn two months later that a government computer system designed to predict the spread of radioactive releases had been showing just that. But the forecasts were left unpublicized by bureaucrats in Tokyo, operating in a culture that sought to avoid responsibility and, above all, criticism. Japan’s political leaders at first did not know about the system and later played down the data, apparently fearful of having to significantly enlarge the evacuation zone — and acknowledge the accident’s severity.

“From the 12th to the 15th we were in a location with one of the highest levels of radiation,” said Tamotsu Baba, the mayor of Namie, which is about five miles from the nuclear plant. He and thousands from Namie now live in temporary housing in another town, Nihonmatsu. “We are extremely worried about internal exposure to radiation.” The withholding of information, he said, was akin to “murder.”

In interviews and public statements, some current and former government officials have admitted that Japanese authorities engaged in a pattern of withholding damaging information and denying facts of the nuclear disaster — in order, some of them said, to limit the size of costly and disruptive evacuations in land-scarce Japan and to avoid public questioning of the politically powerful nuclear industry. As the nuclear plant continues to release radiation, some of which has slipped into the nation’s food supply, public anger is growing at what many here see as an official campaign to play down the scope of the accident and the potential health risks.

Seiki Soramoto, a lawmaker and former nuclear engineer to whom Prime Minister Naoto Kan turned for advice during the crisis, blamed the government for withholding forecasts from the computer system, known as the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information, or Speedi.

“In the end, it was the prime minister’s office that hid the Speedi data,” he said. “Because they didn’t have the knowledge to know what the data meant, and thus they did not know what to say to the public, they thought only of their own safety, and decided it was easier just not to announce it.”

In an interview, Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of the nuclear crisis, dismissed accusations that political considerations had delayed the release of the early Speedi data. He said that they were not disclosed because they were incomplete and inaccurate, and that he was presented with the data for the first time only on March 23.

“And on that day, we made them public,” said Mr. Hosono, who was one of the prime minister’s closest advisers in the early days of the crisis before being named nuclear disaster minister. “As for before that, I myself am not sure. In the days before that, which were a matter of life and death for Japan as a nation, I wasn’t taking part in what was happening with Speedi.”

The computer forecasts were among many pieces of information the authorities initially withheld from the public. Meltdowns at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors went officially unacknowledged for months. In one of the most damning admissions, nuclear regulators said in early June that inspectors had found tellurium 132, which experts call telltale evidence of reactor meltdowns, a day after the tsunami — but did not tell the public for nearly three months. For months after the disaster, the government flip-flopped on the level of radiation permissible on school grounds, causing continuing confusion and anguish about the safety of schoolchildren here in Fukushima.

Too Late: The timing of many admissions — coming around late May and early June, when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited Japan and before Japan was scheduled to deliver a report on the accident at an I.A.E.A. conference — suggested to critics that Japan’s nuclear establishment was coming clean only because it could no longer hide the scope of the accident. On July 4, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a group of nuclear scholars and industry executives, said, “It is extremely regrettable that this sort of important information was not released to the public until three months after the fact, and only then in materials for a conference overseas.”

The group added that the authorities had yet to disclose information like the water level and temperature inside reactor pressure vessels that would yield a fuller picture of the damage. Other experts have said the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, known as Tepco, have yet to reveal plant data that could shed light on whether the reactors’ cooling systems were actually knocked out solely by the 45-foot-tall tsunami, as officials have maintained, or whether damage from the earthquake also played a role, a finding that could raise doubts about the safety of other nuclear plants in a nation as seismically active as Japan.

Government officials insist that they did not knowingly imperil the public. “As a principle, the government has never acted in such a way as to sacrifice the public’s health or safety,” said Mr. Hosono, the nuclear disaster minister.

Here in the prefecture’s capital and elsewhere, workers are removing the surface soil from schoolyards contaminated with radioactive particles from the nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of children are being kept inside school buildings this hot summer, where some wear masks even though the windows are kept shut. Many will soon be wearing individual dosimeters to track their exposure to radiation.

At Elementary School No. 4 here, sixth graders were recently playing shogi and go, traditional board games, inside. Nao Miyabashi, 11, whose family fled here from Namie, said she was afraid of radiation. She tried not to get caught in the rain. She gargled and washed her hands as soon as she got home. “I want to play outside,” she said.

About 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation, according to a recent announcement by the government, which added that the levels were too low to warrant further examination. Many experts both in and outside Japan are questioning the government’s assessment, pointing out that in Chernobyl, most of those who went on to suffer from thyroid cancer were children living near that plant at the time of the accident.

Critics inside and outside the Kan administration argue that some of the exposure could have been prevented if officials had released the data sooner.

On the evening of March 15, Mr. Kan called Mr. Soramoto, who used to design nuclear plants for Toshiba, to ask for his help in managing the escalating crisis. Mr. Soramoto formed an impromptu advisory group, which included his former professor at the University of Tokyo, Toshiso Kosako, a top Japanese expert on radiation measurement.

Mr. Kosako, who studied the Soviet response to the Chernobyl crisis, said he was stunned at how little the leaders in the prime minister’s office knew about the resources available to them. He quickly advised the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, to use Speedi, which used measurements of radioactive releases, as well as weather and topographical data, to predict where radioactive materials could travel after being released into the atmosphere.

Speedi had been designed in the 1980s to make forecasts of radiation dispersal that, according to the prime minister’s office’s own nuclear disaster manuals, were supposed to be made available at least to local officials and rescue workers in order to guide evacuees away from radioactive plumes.

And indeed, Speedi had been churning out maps and other data hourly since the first hours after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. But the Education Ministry had not provided the data to the prime minister’s office because, it said, the information was incomplete. The tsunami had knocked out sensors at the plant: without measurements of how much radiation was actually being released by the plant, they said, it was impossible to measure how far the radioactive plume was stretching.

“Without knowing the strength of the releases, there was no way we could take responsibility if evacuations were ordered,” said Keiji Miyamoto of the Education Ministry’s nuclear safety division, which administers Speedi.

The government had initially resorted to drawing rings around the plant, evacuating everyone within a radius of first 1.9 miles, then 6.2 miles and then 12.4 miles, widening the rings as the scale of the disaster became clearer.

But even with incomplete data, Mr. Kosako said he urged the government to use Speedi by making educated guesses as to the levels of radiation release, which would have still yielded usable maps to guide evacuation plans. In fact, the ministry had done precisely that, running simulations on Speedi’s computers of radiation releases. Some of the maps clearly showed a plume of nuclear contamination extending to the northwest of the plant, beyond the areas that were initially evacuated.

However, Mr. Kosako said, the prime minister’s office refused to release the results even after it was made aware of Speedi, because officials there did not want to take responsibility for costly evacuations if their estimates were later called into question.

A wider evacuation zone would have meant uprooting hundreds of thousands of people and finding places for them to live in an already crowded country. Particularly in the early days after the earthquake, roads were blocked and trains were not running. These considerations made the government desperate to limit evacuations beyond the 80,000 people already moved from areas around the plant, as well as to avoid compensation payments to still more evacuees, according to current and former officials interviewed.

Mr. Kosako said the top advisers to the prime minister repeatedly ignored his frantic requests to make the Speedi maps public, and he resigned in April over fears that children were being exposed to dangerous radiation levels.

Some advisers to the prime minister argue that the system was not that useful in predicting the radiation plume’s direction. Shunsuke Kondo, who heads the Atomic Energy Commission, an advisory body in the Cabinet Office, said that the maps Speedi produced in the first days were inconsistent, and changed several times a day depending on wind direction.

“Why release something if it was not useful?” said Mr. Kondo, also a retired professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Tokyo. “Someone on the ground in Fukushima, looking at which way the wind was blowing, would have known just as much.”

Mr. Kosako and others, however, say the Speedi maps would have been extremely useful in the hands of someone who knew how to sort through the system’s reams of data. He said the Speedi readings were so complex, and some of the predictions of the spread of radiation contamination so alarming, that three separate government agencies — the Education Ministry and the two nuclear regulators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and Nuclear Safety Commission — passed the data to one another like a hot potato, with none of them wanting to accept responsibility for its results.

In interviews, officials at the ministry and the agency each pointed fingers, saying that the other agency was responsible for Speedi. The head of the commission declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Baba, the mayor of Namie, said that if the Speedi data had been made available sooner, townspeople would have naturally chosen to flee to safer areas. “But we didn’t have the information,” he said. “That’s frustrating.”

Evacuees now staying in temporary prefabricated homes in Nihonmatsu said that, believing they were safe in Tsushima, they took few precautions. Yoko Nozawa, 70, said that because of the lack of toilets, they resorted to pits in the ground, where doses of radiation were most likely higher.

“We were in the worst place, but didn’t know it,” Ms. Nozawa said. “Children were playing outside.”

A neighbor, Hiroyuki Oto, 31, said he was working at the plant for a Tepco subcontractor at the time of the earthquake and was now in temporary lodging with his wife and three young children, after also staying in Tsushima. “The effects might emerge only years from now,” he said of the exposure to radiation. “I’m worried about my kids.”

Seeds of Mistrust: Mr. Hosono, the minister charged with dealing with the nuclear crisis, has said that certain information, including the Speedi data, had been withheld for fear of “creating a panic.” In an interview, Mr. Hosono — who now holds nearly daily news conferences with Tepco officials and nuclear regulators — said that the government had “changed its thinking” and was trying to release information as fast as possible.

Critics, as well as the increasingly skeptical public, seem unconvinced. They compare the response to the Minamata case in the 1950s, a national scandal in which bureaucrats and industry officials colluded to protect economic growth by hiding the fact that a chemical factory was releasing mercury into Minamata Bay in western Japan. The mercury led to neurological illnesses in thousands of people living in the region and was captured in wrenching photographs of stricken victims.

“If they wanted to protect people, they had to release information immediately,” said Reiko Seki, a sociologist at Rikkyo University in Tokyo and an expert on the cover-up of the Minamata case. “Despite the experience with Minamata, they didn’t release Speedi.”

In Koriyama, a city about 40 miles west of the nuclear plant, a group of parents said they had stopped believing in government reassurances and recently did something unthinkable in a conservative, rural area: they sued. Though their suit seeks to force Koriyama to relocate their children to a safer area, their real aim is to challenge the nation’s handling of evacuations and the public health crisis.

After the nuclear disaster, the government raised the legal exposure limit to radiation from one to 20 millisieverts a year for people, including children — effectively allowing them to continue living in communities from which they would have been barred under the old standard. The limit was later scaled back to one millisievert per year, but applied only to children while they were inside school buildings.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Toshio Yanagihara, said the authorities were withholding information to deflect attention from the nuclear accident’s health consequences, which will become clear only years later.

“Because the effects don’t emerge immediately, they can claim later on that cigarettes or coffee caused the cancer,” he said.

The Japanese government is considering monitoring the long-term health of Fukushima residents and taking appropriate measures in the future, said Yasuhiro Sonoda, a lawmaker and parliamentary secretary of the Cabinet Office. The mayor of Koriyama, Masao Hara, said he did not believe that the government’s radiation standards were unsafe. He said it was “unrealistic” to evacuate the city’s 33,000 elementary and junior high school students.

But Koriyama went further than the government’s mandates, removing the surface soil from its schools before national directives and imposing tougher inspection standards than those set by the country’s education officials.

“The Japanese people, after all, have a high level of knowledge,” the mayor said, “so I think information should be disclosed correctly and quickly so that the people can make judgments, especially the people here in Fukushima.”

Norimitsu Onishi reported from Fukushima, and Martin Fackler from Tokyo. Ken Belson and Kantaro Suzuki contributed reporting from Tokyo.

6/11/2011 Forgotten People – Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University Mapping Project

Forgotten People – Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University Mapping Project: Please check out the links for maps showing proposed uranium haul       routes from the Grand Canyon thru the Navajo Nation AND a map showing the proximity of abandoned uranium mines to water sources. Huxley College, WWU rocks!                     Forgotten People-Huxley College Mapping Project.                                                                   

5/1/2011 Boston Globe: A nuclear cautionary tale turns 25

A nuclear cautionary tale turns 25. By Katharine Whittemore Globe Correspondent / May 1, 2011 “They’re safer than samovars!” Soviet propagandists once crowed about the country’s nuclear power plants. “We could build one on Red Square.” That’s how things rolled before Chernobyl, recalls Arkady Filin. And as one of 600,000 “liquidators,” or cleanup workers, sent in after the April 26, 1986, disaster — who dropped, from helicopters, tons of sand and lead atop the molten core, then built a concrete sarcophagus over the reactor and plowed under countless acres of radioactive topsoil, all the while soaking up immense doses themselves — he’s realistic (Chekhovian?) about what happened.  “People who weren’t there are always curious,” says Filin, who appears in a gut-punching oral history called “Voices from Chernobyl’’ by Svetlana Alexievich (Dalkey Archive, 1997). But “it’s impossible to live constantly in fear,” he adds. “[A] person can’t do it, so a little time goes by and normal human life resumes.” A little time has gone by, but lately normal life feels not so normal. We are thinking hard about nuclear power again, in rising panic about radiation contamination. It’s all a terrible coincidence, isn’t it? This spring marks the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe — just as the severity of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant gets rated at the highest level. The level, that is, of Chernobyl.

Many (including President Obama) still plug for nuclear power amid our falling stores of fossil fuels, but trust me, it’s hard to go there after you read about the event that brought Ukraine and Belarus to its knees. Then again, the genie’s out of the bottle; the European Nuclear Society currently lists 442 power plants in 30 countries. Five are operating right here in New England. Are they all safe as samovars? As long as there is human error (see: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island), you have to say no. As long as there are natural disasters (see: earthquakes, Japan), no again.

So let’s brave the Chernobyl literature, and see what it really means to live with a calamity. I chose to focus on titles published after 1991, when the Soviet Union fell. That’s because later authors had access to declassified material and could craft a fuller story. The best of these is 1993’s “Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl’’ by Piers Paul Read (Random House). Read, the author of “Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors,’’ is a robust narrator who provides unblinking, abundant context from the Soviet archives and his own interviews. His chronicle of the dying victims in Hospital No. 6 in Moscow left me utterly shaken.

Read also parses the factors of the accident and stresses that the fault must be spread broadly. Workers were paid bonuses to finish the reactor ahead of schedule, and thus took shortcuts. Equipment and materials were often substandard. The Communist Party, broke and on its last legs, forced the men to also build hay storage facilities, distracting them from their first priority. It’s the tragic trifecta: hubris, error, scarcity.

“Chernobyl is the catastrophe of the Russian mind-set,” explains historian Aleksandr Revalskiy in “Voices from Chernobyl.’’ Maybe, but you must honor the sacrificial heroics of those same Russians. If the workers and liquidators hadn’t sacrificed their health and their lives by shoveling burning graphite into pits and fixing valves in radiation-laced water, the scourge might have spread to all of Europe. “Voices’’ teems with piteous details: how thousands of the 200,000 residents, just before evacuation, wrote their names on fences, houses, asphalt. How one of the hunters hired to shoot radiation-exposed dogs and cats (the fear was they’d stray outside the contaminated zone) says, “[I]t’s better to kill from far away so your eyes don’t meet.”

There may be few dogs or cats left in what has become Europe’s largest de facto nature sanctuary. But in the 30-kilometer Chernobyl Zone of Alienation around the plant, there are eagles, bears, moose, lynx, storks, wild boars, and more. Surprisingly, it turns out that humans are a greater threat to animals than cesium and strontium. With us gone, nature thrives, as you learn from Mary Mycio’s eerily gripping “Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl’’ (Joseph Henry, 2005).

But aren’t there six-eyed mutants or something? Actually, no, though animal reproduction rates are lower. And pine trees grow out like bushes, rather than up. Mycio, a Ukrainian-American biologist, also tells us about the 3,000-plus workers (all part-time, it’s the law) who maintain the zone. They’re able to be here because much of the radiation-contaminated material has since been buried. In fact, shockingly, tourists can now visit certain areas. And in 300 years, your descendants can move back to the inner 30-kilometer region. As for The Ten, as the 10-kilometer hot spot by the reactor is called, people can live there one day too. In 24,110 years.

Katharine Whittemore is a freelance writer based in Northampton. She can be reached at katharine.whittemore@comcast.net.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.