Finding meaning in the changing face of matter

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“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment,  precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

‐Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, January, 1998

“Some will argue that if no effect is found there isn’t a problem…but the fact that you can’t measure a risk in an epidemiological study doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there.”

David Brenner, Director of the Center for Radiological Research, Columbia University

The response taken by the global nuclear industry in response to the Fukushima crisis seem to stand in stark contrast to both of these statements.

Japanese scientist Shunichi Yamashita is the Japanese leading spokesperson on the effects of nuclear radiation.

Some Japanese have started to call Dr. Shunichi “Damashita” Yamashita – Yamashita “who tricked”, Vice President of Fukushima Medical University.

Yamashita who is 59, is currently researching the effects of the Fukushima catastrophe — though his efforts are meeting with much resistance from local residents.

This came to a head in June while on a government-sponsored lecture circuit to use Yamashita to calm public fears, but many think he went too far.

REPORTER AILEEN MIOKO SMITH:Yes, we’re very concerned that a health study is starting at the end of this month.

This is concerning the effects of the Fukushima residents, on the prefectural citizens. It’s headed by a Dr. Shunichi Yamashita, who’s at the Atomic Bomb Research Institute. He’s the radiological health safety risk management adviser for the prefecture. He’s widely shown on national TV.

He speaks widely in the prefecture, always saying there’s absolutely no concern with the levels of radiation in Fukushima.

He says that mothers, even mothers exposed to 100 millisieverts, pregnant mothers, will not have any effect, health effect. Remember the number 100.

Compared to that, the Soviet Union required a mandatory evacuation during Chernobyl at five millisieverts.

This doctor is quoted as saying, “The effects of radiation do not come to people that are happy and laughing. They come to people that are weak-spirited, that brood and fret.”

This is a direct quote. And he’s heading the study.

And so, the citizens in Fukushima are very concerned.

SPIEGEL interviewed Yamashita about the expected effects of exposure in Fukushima and his plans to conduct one of the largest scientific studies even undertaken in the region.

SPIEGEL: The government of the Fukushima prefecture has invited you to inform people in the affected region about radiation risks. Right at the beginning, you said: “The effects of radiation do not come to people who are happy and laughing, they come to people who are weak-spirited.” What did you mean by that?

Yamashita: That was on March 20 during the first meeting. I was really shocked. The people were so serious, nobody laughed at all.

SPIEGEL: What kind of health risk from the radiation will the people around the plant in Fukushima have to face?

Yamashita: I do not think there will be any direct effect of the radiation for the population. The doses are too small.

SPIEGEL: So you don’t think there will be any cases of cancer or cancer deaths?

Yamashita: Based on the data, we have to assume that. Of course, the situation is different for the workers in the plant.

It seems that most politicians and nuclear proponents are willing to accept one unsatisfactory extreme or another, and feel that it is ‘small-minded’ to be so unyielding as to still disagree.

Society  is not perceived as important institution that should have responsibility or legitimized power to participate in nuclear power regulation issues.

The public perception of the risk of producing electricity from nuclear energy, spent fuel and waste storage and disposal are vastly different from the perceptions held by those within the nuclear industry.  In fact there is little differentiation in public perceptions of an old design for a nuclear station and a new one

Often the perception held by the nuclear industry is in direct contrast with the reality felt by ‘outsiders’, which quickly fuels a ‘we’ vs ‘them’ mentality.  The public quickly comes to distrust anything and everything laced with proclamations and downplaying the concerns of the public through the use of calculations and probability.

These tensions are very evident in today’s world, and should not be downplayed so easily, but the fact remains that to deal with the current and future problems facing the nuclear industry cannot be faced with such adversity, and will only delay any real change from occurring.

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