In the last few months, in TEPCO’s haste to declare the plants in a state of “cold shut down”, it has been reported that poor quality materials and techniques have been used at the plant.
There have been many failures in the handling of this situation. But perhaps the greatest relate to the government’s duty of care to protect Japanese citizens. The government failed to act on information about radioactive plumes. In doing so it exposed many communities to harmful radiation, and many evacuated into even higher radioactive areas.
In addition, the government has declared the “safe” allowable limits for radiation exposure can be changed from the internationally accepted levels of 1 mSv to 20 mSv a year. Women and children are particularly sensitive to radiation exposure. Subjecting children to 20mSv a year for five years will result in about 1 in 30 developing cancer.
After Chernobyl anyone likely to be exposed to more than 5 mSv a year was evacuated, and those in areas of 1-5 mSv were offered relocation and bans were placed on eating locally produced food.
Finally, there is an ongoing culture of poor monitoring, poor information release and cover up. It continues to significantly under report radiation levels, claiming total radiation releases at approximately half the level of observed releases detected by world wide Nuclear Test Ban Treaty monitoring sites. Current radioactivity levels are measured at 1 metre off the ground, not at ground level where children play and where radioactivity levels are significantly higher.
From a public health perspective the Japanese government continues to fail to protect its people, particularly its children. To quote Tilman Ruff, Associate Professor at the Nossal Institute for Global Health, “At this point, the single most important public health measure to minimi[s]e the health harm over the long term is much wider evacuation.”
Can Japan do better than Chernobyl? We shall see.