Essay248 The Greatest Damage From the Great East Japan Earthquake is Caused by Harmful Rumors and Misinformation

Seiji Fuji

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) minister of the environment, who asked for decontamination down the level of one millisievert per year, has a heavy responsibility

Two years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake. On March 9, the front page of the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper contained an article entitled, “Difficulties accomplishing decontamination plans: impacts on citizens returning home.” It read:
In four cities, towns, and villages where work has begun in Fukushima, efforts are drastically delayed. For example, residential land in Iitate Village remains at 1% of the FY2012 plan. It will be difficult to achieve the goal of completing decontamination by March of next year. The early-stage return by citizens may be delayed, which seems likely to have large impacts on resettlement and reconstruction.
The fundamental reason that decontamination plans have only been carried out to this extent is that Goshi Hosono, who was minister of the environment in November 2011, declared the national government would be responsible for decontamination in areas with one millisievert of radiation per year or greater, rather than adhering to the Ministry of the Environment’s standard of five millisieverts per year. He had no scientific basis for doing this; the standard should have been relaxed because it was a state of emergency.
In my essays, I have for a long time questioned the validity of the one-millisievert standard. There are areas throughout the world with high levels of natural radiation. For example, the average yearly radiation dose in Ramsar, Iran is 10.2 millisieverts. In Guarapari, Brazil the average dose is 5.5 millisieverts. However, no health damage has confirmed for the residents of these regions.
In December of last year (in 2012), the United Nations Scientific Committee released a report that said there are no examples of health effects caused by exposure to radiation of 100 millisieverts or less. This report also said no health damage has been caused by the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Radiation has two types of effects on the human body: definite effects and probable effects. The definite effects include that the cells of a human body directly exposed to radiation will die, the number of white blood cells will decrease, and reproductive capability will decline. The threshold for these definite effects is 250 millisieverts – no effects are seen below this dose. The issue for low radiation doses at or below 250 millisieverts is the probable effects. For low doses, cells do not die. Yet DNA is damaged, and the probability of malignant transformations increases. But there are many things that cause cancer beside radiation. Due to the other primary factors of cancer, the scientific conclusion is that it is impossible to judge whether radiation of 100 millisieverts or lower actually impacts the human body.
The mass media does affect people; it is responsible for the number of people who are aware that receiving three CT scans is the equivalent of 20 millisieverts, and for the people today that are extremely sensitive only to the Fukushima accident. The mass media, which constantly makes reports that are uniformly pessimistic, has deluded many citizens. According to a paper from England, by far the greatest cause of cancer is tobacco. This is followed by factors such as obesity, alcohol, and sunlight. Radiation, such as natural radiation, is lower than all of these factors. In the past nuclear testing was carried out in the atmosphere that contaminated the whole world with radiation far greater than the current level. In particular, one theory says that nuclear testing in Lop Nor, China killed hundreds of thousands of people in East Turkistan. It is ridiculous for people to say they are worried about radioactivity from the nuclear accident in Fukushima while smoking cigarettes.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan were the first places in the world to receive damage due to the dropping of atomic bombs. Many people died because they were directly exposed to radiation from the nuclear explosions. A large number of people also experienced after-effects because they entered these areas directly after the bombs for purposes such as relief work, and were exposed to strong radiation there. But reconstruction took place in Hiroshima and Nagasaki without performing decontamination, and these cities are now extremely prosperous.
Decontamination is not being carried out because there are not enough temporary locations to store the contaminated soil that is the result of decontamination work. Why is this so? Since the final disposal sites have yet to be determined, nearby citizens are against the idea of temporary storage locations due to the worry that they will become permanent locations. The real issue is the extent of the radiation dose at which decontamination is required. For soil with a low annual dose from 20 to 50 millisieverts, the dose can be greatly reduced just by replacing topsoil with soil from farther underground. A massive amount of money is necessary just for transporting soil without large doses to temporary storage locations. Afterwards, the soil is simply left in these places for no purpose. All of these things began from the careless words of Minister Hosono.


Nothing can be accomplished if all risks are to be avoided

The front page of the morning edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun on the same day (March 9) featured an article entitled, "Acknowledgement of the Tsuruga active fault: the probability of decommissioning Unit 2." It read:
In a survey of the faults (fracture zone) inside the premises of the Japan Atomic Power Company's Tsuruga Power Station (Fukui Prefecture), on March 8 an inspection meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) acknowledged that the fault directly underneath the Unit 2 reactor building is actually an active fault. Because this is in opposition to the national government's earthquake-resistance guidelines, in which important facilities cannot be built directly above active faults, the NRA has officially decided on a policy of not allowing operations to be restarted at the nuclear power plant.
In conventional inspection guidelines related to anti-earthquake designs for nuclear power plants, the term "active fault" refers to faults that have moved in the past 120,000 to 130,000 years. However, the NRA's plan is to expand this to faults that have moved in the past 400,000 years. My way of thinking is that this judgment is overly biased towards the side of safety, in which the aim is to take on absolutely no risks. I could accept this if the fault had moved within the past several thousand years, but is it really necessary to decommission a nuclear power plant – for which massive amounts of money and dozens of years of time are required – that was being operated with no problems, just because of the small probability that the fault (which moved once, hundreds of thousands of years in the past) will become active?
In this world, there is no such thing as zero risks; everything involves a certain amount of danger. In the first place, during the recent accident in Fukushima, the plant was automatically shut down when the P-wave sensor functioned to detect the earthquake. The accident occurred because all electrical power was cut off due to the tsunami, and the nuclear reactors could not be cooled. Shutting down a nuclear power plant just means that power generation equipment has been stopped. If all electrical power was lost for some reason, such as a tsunami like the one that hit Fukushima, meltdowns would occur in the same way if the coolant pumps (which suppress the decay heat of the fuel rods in the nuclear reactors) stopped working. In other words, the amount of risk doesn't vary whether the control rods are inserted to shut down a nuclear power plant, or whether the power generators are being operated. It is absurd to buy electricity generated via thermal power to cool our nuclear reactors – without even producing electricity – even though the danger is exactly the same.
Risk control based on calculations of probability is required to determine political measures and other matters. Still, the mass media is just like a dog – while it is holding one bone, it is incapable of picking up another. When it drops one bone, it immediately picks up something else. In this way, when interest in one topic begins to fade, the media outlets are only concerned with gaining ratings. They continually report on things in a dramatic manner every single year, without calculating the total damage caused to society by their reports.
In 2001 there was the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) scare. In 2002 all hotels in Japan refused to accept Chinese and Taiwanese tourists because of SARS (APA Hotel was the only one that took in Taiwanese tourists, which inspired great gratitude). In 2003 there was the uproar about faked grades of Hida Beef. In 2004 there was a panic in which all revolving doors in Japan were removed due to revolving door accidents. In 2005 there was a great tumult about avian influenza, yet the only person who died was a poultry farmer in Kyoto who committed suicide. In 2006 there was an uproar caused by whistleblowing in Fujiya, just because it had used milk in its products that was past the expiration date determined by its in-house regulations. In 2007 there was a wave of criticism related to ingredients in products including Shiroi Koibito, Sasayaki Okami, and Akafuku. In 2008 a major turmoil was caused by Toshio Tamogami, who was dismissed because he wrote an essay saying that Japan is a good country, which was in opposition to the government's view (the Murayama Statement). Then in 2009 the media stirred up anxiety by reporting on people in white clothing who entered airplanes in an ostentatious manner due to the new strains of pandemic influenza.
The mass media has made countless numbers of dramatic, irresponsible reports such as these, despite the fact that almost no actual damage has taken place. It has inspired uneasiness each year, and has created many harmful rumors and spread a great deal of misinformation. Tens of thousands of people die each year between these uproars by catching cold, tumbling down staircases, running into things and falling over, and committing suicide. Yet the news does not cover these incidents. If a dog bites a person, it's not newsworthy. But if a person bites a dog, it is.
The mass media should reflect on how much damage it has caused through misinformation in its reports. In the towns of the past, skilled doctors would help children who were in pain feel better just by patting them on the back and saying, "It's okay. You're all right." These days, even healthy children are made sick by the many examinations they are subjected to and medicines they are made to drink.


All news reports should consistently use the unit of sieverts for radiation doses

Of course, the Great East Japan Earthquake was a natural disaster. But the accident at the nuclear plant in Fukushima was a man-made calamity caused by the DPJ government. This accident occurred when it seemed like Prime Minister Naoto Kan would have to step down due to the issue of political contributions from foreign nationals. This accident was worsened due to the random, nonsensical instructions fired off by Kan in order to use the disaster as an opportunity to maintain his political power. The initial instructions for evacuation were within two kilometers of the plant. This was immediately changed in a confused way to three, then 10, then 20 kilometers. Moreover, even though the evacuations should have been based on the state of radioactive contamination according to the direction of the wind, the area for evacuation was determined by drawing a uniform, concentric circle around the plant. Some people evacuated downwind, and many elderly persons and people with serious illnesses from hospitals and retirement homes have died due to stress and other factors when they were forced to evacuate in a sudden way.
The evacuation zone was set according to the range that was thought to exceed the annual standard for total radiation doses. But this is a yearly standard; there would be no problem if the evacuations had been delayed by a week or a month. Looking at the risk of developing cancer due to radiation and the risk of sudden environmental changes caused by evacuation – setting aside the premises of the nuclear reactor – for most people the judgment could have been made that evacuation was not necessary. It is awful that pets and livestock that could not be evacuated have died from starvation. Not one person has reached the level of 250 millisieverts, which as I mentioned previously is the threshold for definite effects. Despite this, major health hazards have been caused by the sudden, coerced evacuations.
The sins of the mass media are profound. Compared to the criterion for probable effects (100 millisieverts), both the Ministry of the Environment’s figure of five millisieverts and the standard of one millisievert are small values that pose no problems. Media reports should consistently use the unit of sieverts when talking about radiation doses. The media outlets should also report on the fact that there are no issues at or under 100 millisieverts, as announced by the UN Scientific Committee, using the unit of 0.1 sieverts. Yet the mass media utilizes the unit of microsieverts, which are one-millionth of the size of sieverts, to inspire fear. Reports are also made on the incomprehensible concept of “becquerels” (the strength of radiation produced by radioactive materials). In this way, many people have come to worry about radiation in an excessive way. Furthermore, many local governments are no longer able to take in disposed rubble because of opposition from citizens who have been stirred up by the media.
Right now, opposition merely for the sake of antagonism is being made by the former left-wing powers. This impacts many things; decontamination is being carried out even though there is no chance of health damage, rubble cannot be disposed of, and terrible, harmful rumors are being spread about products from the affected areas.


Japan, which possesses technologies and experience, has the duty of creating safe nuclear power plants

On March 13, immediately after the earthquake, I gave a speech on reconstruction in the areas hit by the tsunami in which I proposed the construction of “disaster prevention condominiums” as an alternative to building breakwaters or moving residences and work sites to higher ground. The condominiums would be located along the ocean where people have lived up until now at intervals of 200 meters, and would be six stories tall or higher. The external stairs would always be open. When people heard the sound of the waves moving near when a tsunami was coming – or even when they could already see the tsunami – they could run to safety on the roofs of these condominiums. People who want to live in detached houses could build them near these condominiums, and could immediately evacuate to the roofs if a tsunami occurred. The first and second floors of the disaster prevention condominiums would be parking areas, and the third and higher floors would be residences.
When one attempts to build breakwaters higher than tsunamis, views of the ocean scenery are obstructed and people feel like they are living in a prison. They would probably cost astronomical amounts of money to build, too. However, constructing disaster prevention condominiums in necessary locations could be done for much less money, even when providing assistance for around half of the amount. They could be used from the moment they were completed, and earnings could be secured by renting the condominiums out. Still, no condominiums of this type have been constructed anywhere.
The DPJ administration declared that it would aim to fully abolish nuclear power by the 2030s. Because of this, the re-starting of operations at shut-down nuclear power plants has been delayed. To make up for this, an extra three to four trillion yen is required as fuel costs for the increased amount of thermal power generation. Moreover, electric power companies are forced to purchase electricity that was produced through inefficient solar and wind power – types of alternative energy that are not suitable for Japan’s climate – at high prices. Therefore, they are compelled to take on vast expenses. These costs are transformed into expensive power rates that are paid by the citizens. The trade balance has also gone into the red, and valuable foreign money (national wealth) is being lost.
Now that the Shinzo Abe government has been established, it should put a total stop to the bizarre political measures that were determined in the past. It should execute required policies while performing risk control that is based on a scientific foundation and calculations of probability.
As I stated previously, the UN Scientific Committee announced in December of last year that no health effects are caused by exposure at or below 0.1 sieverts. For the immediate future, the areas to be decontaminated should be limited to 0.02 to 0.05 sieverts per year. If that were done, most places would not need to be decontaminated. In some areas that exceed 0.02 sieverts, people spend a lot of time inside where there are low levels of radiation. Consequently, the annual total exposure dose would be 0.01 sieverts or less. And for places with large amounts of radiation, in many locations it is likely that the target could be met just by replacing the topsoil (in this way there would be no costs associated with collecting the contaminated soil and taking it to a temporary storage location). By all rights decontamination should not be performed in places exceeding 0.05 sieverts; rather, people should be prohibited from entering these areas until the dose falls.
There are still some zones that people are restricted from entering or living in, such as those where people cannot reside or those where people are not allowed to return to their homes. But if new standards were created, these zones would be mostly unnecessary. Now that two years have gone by, iodine and other substances with short half lives have already vanished. The half life of cesium-134, which was released in the largest quantities, is two years, so its radiation dose has been reduced by half. People who are still worried should be fully taught correct knowledge so that they can be concerned in appropriate ways based on scientific evidence. For example, they would be made to feel peace of mind if they wore dosimeters and took their own measurements.
Right now, almost all of Japan’s nuclear power plants have not resumed operations due to the strict standards – which are rare throughout the world, and can be rightly described as masochistic – of the NRA. Japan must not allow the accident at the nuclear plant in Fukushima to become a historical issue. If we built new nuclear plants near the ocean that were deep underground, they could be cooled even if there was no electricity, and could be safely backfilled if an emergency occurred. For that reason, we should steadily build such plants and export them overseas as well. Our country has the world’s most cutting-edge nuclear power technologies, and has also gained experience through the recent Fukushima accident. Therefore, it is Japan’s duty to develop safe nuclear power plants and spread them throughout the world. I feel that we should carry out atomic energy policies based on this viewpoint and with a global outlook

11:59 p.m.,March 11,2013(Monday)