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Monday, August 26, 2013

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH YOICHI SHIMATSU : In The Belly Of The Beast Called FUKUSHIMA


Veteran Investigator and former Japan Times Editor Yoichi Shimatsu braves high radiation levels in the exclusion zone and defies Japanese government thugs to deliver this report from ground-zero at Fukushima

The 5th Estate
By Yoichi Shimatzu
08/18/2012

Your recent “unauthorized” trip to Fukushima was obviously difficult and entailed a certain amount of risk, both from the Japanese authorities and from the radiation exposure.  When and why did you decide to go?

Regional utility companies have been lobbying to restart Japan's nuclear power plants, which were all shut down for stress tests on seismic safety. Then the national government approved resumption of operations at the Ohi plant on the Japan Sea coast despite the fact that it has yet to clear stress test criteria. Active fault lines surround Ohi, and countermeasures including a higher seawall and stronger foundations have yet to be constructed. The post-Fukushima nuclear safety campaign is a farce.


TEPCO Fukushima No.2 nuclear plant, on the shore just 10 km south of the melted down reactors of plant No.1, was damaged by quake and the area remains highly radioactive

Also gearing up for restart are the operators of quake-damaged nuclear plants Tepco Fukushima No.2, located 10 km south of the melted-down reactors at Fukushima No.1, and Onagawa, 100 km northeast of Fukushima, where an ongoing cover-up of serious damage has been covered up by the Tohoku power company, the nuclear safety commission and the IAEA. 


The village road to Fukushima Exclusion Zone

The global nuclear industry is presenting falsified data to regulatory agencies, the media and NGOs in its drive to double the number of nuclear power plants around the world, notably in Southeast Asia and India as well as the UK and Eastern Europe. Hitachi is partnered with GE, and Toshiba is the major shareholder in Westinghouse, so the nuclear power is a global industry that makes massive payoffs to politicians, bureaucrats, regulators, the media and NGOs.

Given the complicity of regulators and public-interest NGOs, there's only one way to prove that the nuclear experts are lying through their teeth about safe radiation levels, and that is to go into the belly of the beast, which means entering the Fukushima Exclusion Zone. So once the rainy season ended in mid-July, I went.


Inside the Exclusion Zone: J-Village sports center is now the site of a temporary worker's camp directly adjoining Fukushima No.2
 
Was the level of destruction reported by the “mainstream media” more or less than what you found?

The mass media is led by the nose on tours of sanitized areas inside nuclear power plants, and consequently repeat what they hear like a flock of parrots. At the south gate of Fukushima No.2, right on the exclusion line, my dosimeter picked up a reading of 0.78 milliSieverts, which is high enough to kill anyone living there within six months. Incredibly, people were staying in cabins nearby, with their laundry flapping in the wind. A rice paddy, just inside the exclusion zone, measured more than 1 mSv. 

Meanwhile over the public address system, I suppose for my benefit being the only outsider in the town, a female announcer said that the measurement throughout the area was 0.24 mSv. The official figures are off by a factor of 3-to-4, not counting even higher hotspots like drainpipes. While levels are lower in more distant regions, radiation is pervasive through the main islands of Japan and moving up through the food chain.


The main gate of Fukushima No.2. The truck  is one of hundreds hauling radioactive waste from the Fukushima No.2 plant to a dump site in the mountains
 
Did you find any civilians inside the exclusion area, and if so were you able to speak with them?

There were thousands of temporary nuclear workers staying inside trailer homes in a soccer stadium and on tennis courts. Conversations were hasty because of the surveillance system and a manager did spot me, but a couple of workers quickly told similar stories. Most are young married men with one child, who've been unable to find any other work in Japan's economic recession. The pay is low, not as you would think, because so many young men are desperate for income. Most of the workers come from the poorer former colonial regions of Okinawa and Hokkaido, and some usually work as cleaners hosing down the insides of oil tankers. They're used to toxic working conditions, but none are prepared for or told about the hazards of radiation exposure.


A dump truck enters a quake-cracked tunnel. Whenever a truck passes, the radiation level doubles to about 0..28 milliSieverts

A manager with a major contractor told me, off-record of course, that workers who show any signs of radiation-related symptoms, like teeth falling out, hair loss or heart palpitations, are immediately fired and expelled from the province. No other industry will hire them in their poor state of health, and so dozens have committed suicide. Some workers are hired for just two days every three months, and their job lasts only 15 minutes - inside the damaged reactor buildings. Any longer and they would be dead. From what was being described, Fukushima nuclear has got to be the worst labor violations in the world today, up there with the most horrific in human history - brutal and inhumane, it would not be an exaggeration to say it's murderous.


Construction workers dismantle a quake-hit home. The blue tarp indicates radioactive waste to be disposed of at a low-level dump site
 
We just ran a story on “mutant” butterflies in the exclusion zone.  Did you witness any unusual animal or plant oddities or did the zone appear relatively normal aside from increased radiation levels?

I was keeping an eye out for mutants. A lot of animal species have gone extinct over the past year, for example rare types of dragonflies. Last summer, there were a lot of dead sea slugs, hardy bottom dwellers with circulation systems and thick hides, washed ashore. The beaches are barren and lifeless now except for small crabs and mussels, though there are still fish in the sea. A vast kill-off seems to have already happened.


Roadside dandelions register a dangerously high 0.84 mSv reading

As for mutations, in a cove near the exclusion line, I was curious about some very tall flowers. Rising up to my shoulder, they included an unfamiliar purple species and black-eyed susans, the latter the size of a dinner plate and petals as wide as two or three fingers. I felt like a Lilliputian walking in an English garden. When I asked a surviving farmer if these flowers were unusually large, he replied: "They've been like that, they are natural - we don't plant them." This means that radiation has been leaking for decades and mutated these species long ago.


Wreckage from the tsunami is radioactive. Timbers like these are burned in urban incinerators with emitted smoke reaching the jetstream and flowing to North America

You have seen images of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, were there any similarities?

I am quite familiar with Chernobyl, Semipalatinsk and Nevada Ground Zero. Those test sites were in sparsely inhabited arid areas. Fukushima, by contrast, is by the ocean, wet in all seasons, and the air is humid. This means that radioactive isotopes, which are salts, are more easily conveyed in the moisture, and therefore are quickly absorbed through respiration, drinking, eating and by one's clothing. The population density of Japan also means that local residents cannot be easily evacuated or accommodated. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the USA have huge territories, but Japan is small and overcrowded. So a lot of residents have to stay put in heavily irradiated areas of the northeast known as Tohoku. These stay-behinds realize the threat, but have no other options. In anything, the government is reopening towns inside the Exclusion Zone to rid itself of having to support the evacuees. This is beyond cruel, it's sadistic. 


The fishing buoy is measured at a very high 1.22 mSv

Are the Japanese authorities and TEPCO accounts of the damage and radiation levels consistent with what you found?

The government ministries and TEPCO consistently, invariably lie. Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and the Bikini Atoll irradiation of the Lucky Dragon trawler in the early 1950s, the pro-nuclear lobby has woven a fantastical claim of nuclear safety and peaceful uses, when in fact nuclear energy has always been about atomic weapons development.

Fukushima is the only area in Japan with uranium ore deposits, and for that reason the Imperial Army set up mining and research facilities there as early as the 1930s. When I was camping out in the mountains above the Fukushima nuclear plants, local residents told me that there are dozens of hidden facilities in the forests. If anyone goes near, they are accosted, questioned and turned back by a secret security force, which is neither with the police or the military. It's been going on for decades. My high readings by streams below hydro dams indicate that these facilities were once used to produce and extract tritium from water that was neutron-bombarded by uranium in the surrounding rock.

The severity of the blasts and fires on March 14-16 at Fukushima No.1 indicate that highly enriched uranium was being processed there. The blasts were much too powerful to be fueled by hydrogen. Those were probably caused by tritium reactions with isotopes from the meltdowns. The government has not reported on cesium-137 content in the fallout, which is a sure indicator of the presence of weapons-grade uranium, meaning civilian power plants were being used to enrich uranium. 


Fishermen are idled because the local fish are beyond legal radiation limits

I saw several American workers from GE and what appear to be Department of Energy personnel in an urban district south of the Exclusion Zone. The U.S. government has been secretly cooperating with Japan's nuclear weapons program, which by the way is illegal under the Japanese law and its Constitution, a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and also a step that basically nullifies the American nuclear umbrella under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. This covert and illegal weapons-development cooperation started under the Bush administration and is continued by the Obama White House. 

Are the Japanese authorities barring journalists from visiting Fukushima?

I happened to visit the Onagawa plant on the morning of a press conference. The staff eagerly invited me into the lobby, but when I told them I have not been an accredited journalist in Japan since 13 years earlier, they escorted me to the exit. Journalists are paid there by their publishers, who receive advertising revenues from the utilities companies, and therefore reporters are made to repeat the lies. In contrast, independent reporters and investigators are treated like burglars.


Evacuees in temporary shelters like these are being pressured by the government to return to their irradiated homes inside the Exclusion Zone

When I got out of the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, the security force caught up with me at a five-corner junction. A plainclothesman jumped out of an unmarked car and demanded: "Are you here to do interviews".  My reply was that everyone in that area was either gone or dead, so interviews are impossible. He told me to register at the town hall if I planned to do interviews.  My repartee was that I would definitely register on my next visit with a list of interview questions. His jaw dropped: "You plan to come back?" Dazed, he went back to his car.

That's press freedom - outside the Exclusion Zone. And I wasn't even there as a journalist.

You mentioned earlier a rather unorthodox technique of dealing with your radiation exposure, could you tell us about it? There was a report awhile back that the Japanese government was instructing the population that smiling would ward off the bad effects of radiation exposure… did you see any evidence of this? Were people following this directive?

Radiation dosages are cumulative, so reducing exposure - externally and internally - is the key to survival. When working inside Fukushima, which I've done on many sojourns since the 3.11 disaster, it is important to stick to a regimen, consisting of protective clothing, avoidance of direct physical contact with irradiated water, not eating obviously contaminated food, taking acidic beverages to remove alkali radioactive salts from the body, detox procedures during and after exposure using citrus soaps, and cancer-suppression with immune-boosting, tumor-fighting herbals. I've done a lot of field research into the few herbs that are effective against exposure, and they have been working well enough for me to repeatedly return and, in fact, my body's radiation level was lower than normal within a week of leaving Japan. I provide this knowledge and herbs to people living in the Fukushima zone free of charge, thanks to the help of friends and supporters. 

The Japanese government's unspoken policy, to be frank, is not to save lives but to intensify economic hardships for the victims - local residents and nuclear workers - so that they become penniless, fall into unbearable debt, suffer deprivation and finally end it all by committing suicide, preferably entire families. Suicide is not a question of personal depression, it is the exit strategy hatched by government policy - just as it was for Okinawans in the final days of World War II, the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Minamata mercury sufferers. Sacrifice of a subgroup is supposedly required for the national welfare when, in truth, it is solely done for the industrial elite to keep its privileges intact. 

Though on paper sovereignty is based on the people, the stark reality remains a caste society in which the most vulnerable people are scorned and systematically destroyed - while the upper class, better society, the educated and the investors pretend like nothing is happening. The expensive drinking establishments in Tokyo and Sendai are packed, and the towns near the Fukushima nuclear plants lack any low-cost restaurants but there are still hundreds of bars open for the nuclear industry managers and construction executives to enjoy their evenings. I suppose it's the same everywhere in the world. Hypocrisy rules.


In 1977 Ishihara Shintaro, then Minister of the Environment and now a leading nuclear booster, apologized to Minamata victims after using his position of authority to attempt to discredit their quest for compensation. He said that many Minamata sufferers were “fakes” and that their court petition “looked like it had been written by a moron”

Do you believe the exclusion zone should be expanded?

To include all of Japan? The entire archipelago is contaminated. On this most recent journey, I hiked up mountains in Fukushima, in the Kanto region near Tokyo and southernmost Kyushu to take measurements. Radiation was streaming in with the clouds and mists from the Pacific Trench, where much of the Fukushima radiation settles. The remainder, by the way, flows to North America along the North Pacific Current. The upper atmosphere is seriously contaminated worldwide, and the plankton in the waters of the Pacific is radioactive enough to wipe out invertebrates like squid and sea urchin, which are the prime feed stock for fish and sea mammals. Nuclear power is threatening life on Earth, and the IAEA, a U.N. agency, wants to build more. 

Are there any recommendations that you would have for civilians living close to the exclusion zone?

People who have been left behind are subsistence farmers or fishermen, who have to fend for themselves, since the government has yet to pay any compensation and TEPCO made its application process nearly impossible to comprehend for anyone other than a CPA. Residents have no choice but to tend their gardens and go fishing for their protein. I am working with some volunteers to develop a program to teach soil decontamination and to test fish and vegetables for exposure levels. It's slow going because most of the NGOs are connected with government ministries and, in subtle ways, are collaborating with the cover-up. Most nuclear-equipped utility companies donate lots of money to NGOs, and when a nuclear disaster occurs, the non-profits are obliged to keep their mouths shut and their eyes blindfolded. So they end up giving away past-expiry date food and old clothes, while pocketing the millions in donations for their administrative costs and executive bank accounts. It's all window-dressing, corruption being just another disaster atop the natural catastrophes and nuclear crisis.

Are there any other observations you would like to report?

Nowhere on this planet is it safe from radiation spewing out of Fukushima, and the threat will not go away for at least three or more generations. Despite the handwriting on the wall, the monstrous bureaucracy that protects the nuclear industry is determined to expand the number of nuclear plants worldwide. Every nuclear plant releases unacceptable levels of radiation into the water and atmosphere, and the actual amount is never disclosed to the public. The only solution to shut down the nuclear industry, before it shuts down your grandchildren. The American Declaration of Independence opens with a clause about the legitimate right of a people to depose an unrepresentative and tyrannical government. The global nuclear dictatorship must be overthrown. 


Yoichi Shimatsu is director of Above & Beyond, a Hong Kong-based environmental consultancy that specializes in promoting sustainable land use and herbal therapy. His team of science and medical advisors were active in the public health and agriculture response to the outbreaks of SARS Corona virus and avian influenza in Hong Kong and Thailand. He is former editor of the Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo and has since been a freelance science writer. 



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