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Fukushima two years later: Basic guide

March 11, 2013

by Janette D. Sherman, M. D.

March 11 will make the second anniversary of the triple catastrophes that occurred in Japan: the earthquake, the tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima. Over the last two years people are asking whether the Fukushima nuclear disaster is worse than what occurred in 1986 in Chernobyl.

We must speak out and demand closure of all nuclear power plants.

Unless the principles of physics, chemistry and biology are cancelled, the effects that have been documented in the various populations exposed to the radioactive releases from Chernobyl will occur in those exposed to Fukushima releases. Let us consider “Science 101”:


No nukes march Japan by Reuters
Perpetuating the Japanese government’s efforts to quell fears rather than assess and mitigate the effects of the Fukushima meltdown, a government-backed scientist said last month: “Since the accident in Fukushima, no health effects from radiation have been observed, although we have heard reports some people fell ill due to stress from living as evacuees and due to worries and fears about radiation.” But these demonstrators are not convinced. As he spoke, it was announced at Fukushima that three children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. – Photo: Reuters
When uranium is split as in a reactor – or bomb – it releases great amounts of heat and energy as well as multiple radioactive decay products. Once released, the process of decay cannot be stopped. It takes approximately 10 half-lives for an isotope to fully decay. Given that the half-life of radioactive cesium and strontium is some 30 years, three centuries will pass before the levels return to normal. Incineration of contaminated materials is occurring in Japan, but burning, whether in an incinerator or a forest fire spreads the pollution.


All elements, radioactive or not, belong to groups best shown in the Periodic Table of Elements. Radioactive strontium belongs to the same chemical family as calcium and, like calcium, becomes deposited in human bones and teeth of children and the unborn as well as in animals, fish and birds. Like potassium, radioactive cesium is deposited in muscle – of all animals: fish, birds and humans – while radioactive iodine is taken up by the thyroid gland, causing the greatest damage in unborn and young animals. These chemicals damage as they release high-energy radiation that causes damage to the surrounding tissues, including mutations.


As radioactive isotopes are spread over land and water, they become deposited – but in a non-uniform manner, depending upon wind direction, weather and elevation.

Life process in plants results in the up-take of radioactivity, which is released as plants die or become dormant and leaves fall to the ground to seep into the soil to be taken up again the next season. In the interim, fruit, vegetables and grains eaten by livestock and people become contaminated.

Japanese woman cries on brief visit to home in evacuation zone near Fukushima 021212 by Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters
A woman cries during a brief visit to her home in the evacuation zone near the Fukushima reactors a year after the disaster. “A year on, we are really not seeing basic health services being offered in an accessible way and we are not seeing accurate, consistent, non-contradictory information being disclosed to people on a regular basis,” observed a Human Rights Watch researcher. – Photo: Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters
As isotopes fall upon both fresh and seawater, they are absorbed by plankton, crustaceans, fish, mammals, plants etc. and spread throughout the food chain.

After Chernobyl, not all life systems were examined, but of those that were – wild and domestic animals, birds, insects, plants, fungi, fish, trees and humans – all were damaged, many permanently. Thus, what happens to animals and plants with short-term life spans is predictive of those with longer ones.

Moller and Mousseau and others have done field research in both Chernobyl and Fukushima. They document adverse effects seen in organisms with short life spans such as birds, rodents and insects, which have completed as many as 25 generations. Those effects are much worse than has been reported in humans, who are now entering their third generation since Chernobyl.

As after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the U.S., adverse effects suffered by those exposed to Fukushima fallout has been attributed to “stress.” Certainly such disasters result in stress, but the adverse effects in multiple animal and plant species cannot be due to psychological stress.

Isotopes in soil, water, food, plants or animals cannot be detected by sight, taste or smell. Radiation measuring devices can detect the alpha, beta and gamma emissions, but only if they are performed. And they are useful only if the information is released to the public.

Radiation from Fukushima, as with Chernobyl, was detected around the world. Radioisotopes have massively contaminated the Pacific Ocean, and nuclear radiation from Fukushima has been linked to adverse effects in the U.S.

Unless the principles of physics, chemistry and biology are cancelled, the effects that have been documented in the various populations exposed to the radioactive releases from Chernobyl will occur in those exposed to Fukushima releases.

The uniqueness of Japan bears mention. Japan is a small country with a large, dense population. Population around the Fukushima nuclear plants is greater than around Chernobyl. Now two years later, the Fukushima plants are still leaking. Consider too, the Fukushima area was and is a major crop producer, and the level of radioactive cesium in vegetables and fish continues to increase.

Since we are discussing a basic guide to understanding, let us also consider:


Twenty years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, the cost to Ukraine, Russia and Belarus exceeded $500 billion. That does not include the 950 million Euro “sarcophagus” that is under construction, to be transported over the top of the reactor by 2015. Nor does it include the cost of a disposal site for the reactor’s fuel, which will be more difficult to remove since the recent collapse of that reactor’s roof.

Maurice Enis is one of 100 USS Ronald Reagan crewmen suing TEPCO for radiation health effects 0313 by Lynne Peeples
Former Navy quartermaster Maurice Enis is one of 100 crewmen of the USS Ronald Reagan, the aircraft carrier that spent about 80 days off Fukushima on a rescue mission two years ago, suing TEPCO for adverse health effects since working in radioactive plumes after the Fukushima disaster. He has lumps on his jaw, between his eyes and on his thigh, stomach ulcers and lung problems, and is losing weight and hair. He’s been honorably discharged and has no way to pay for medical care. – Photo: Lynne Peeples
As of this writing, the Fukushima reactors are not fully stabilized and the cost of cleanup for Japan has been estimated in the hundreds of billions and will take decades to centuries to accomplish. It is unknown if it can ever be decontaminated.

The San Onofre reactor, easily viewed when driving between San Diego and Los Angeles, located near an earthquake fault, has had a series of mechanical problems. It is estimated that it will cost some $3.7 billion to de-commission all three reactor units. The 50-kilometer (31-mile) area around San Onofre is populated by some 2.4 million people in over 50 towns and cities and includes all of Camp Pendleton. San Onofre, like the Diablo Canyon reactor, are on the Pacific Ocean, subject to tsunami flooding.


It is impossible to separate politics from economics, as is very obvious by the flood of money flowing to the U.S. government. Must we leave these decisions to be made only by those who control the flow of information, money and power, many of whom have no knowledge of the scientific principles and facts, which have been well documented for decades?


Seldom taught in the fields of finance, commerce and much of technology, ethics considerations are not accessible to those who have made these costly, irreversible, life-endangering decisions. Who indeed is to decide who lives, gets sick, has birth defects or dies a premature death?

We must speak out and demand closure of all nuclear power plants. Please, contact your local, state and national representative and write to your local newspapers.

Janette D. Sherman, M.D., a physician, toxicologist and author, concentrating on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause cancer and birth defects, is consulting editor for “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature,” a comprehensive presentation of all the available information concerning the health and environmental effects of the low dose radioactive contaminants. Originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 for $150, she has had it republished for wide distribution at only $10. See Dr. Sherman has worked in radiation and biologic research at the University of California nuclear facility and at the U.S. Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory at the Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco. Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education and patient awareness. She can be reached at


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