What are officials hiding about Fukushima?

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      After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, Soviet officials were vilified for hiding the impacts from the public.

      But when Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident took place last March, public officials in Japan and Canada alike jumped straight into Chernobyl-style damage-control mode, dismissing any worries about impacts.

      Now evidence has emerged that the radiation in Canada was worse than Canadian officials ever let on.

      A Health Canada monitoring station in Calgary detected radioactive material in rainwater that exceeded Canadian guidelines during the month of March, according to Health Canada data obtained by the Georgia Straight.

      Canadian government officials didn’t disclose the high radiation readings to the public. Instead, they repeatedly insisted that fallout drifting to Canada was negligible and posed no health concerns.

      In fact, the data shows rainwater in Calgary last March had an average of 8.18 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine, easily exceeding the Canadian guideline of six becquerels per litre for drinking water.

      “It’s above the recommended level [for drinking water],” Eric Pellerin, chief of Health Canada’s radiation-surveillance division, admitted in a phone interview from Ottawa. “At any time you sample it, it should not exceed the guideline.”

      Radioactive-iodine levels also spiked in March in Vancouver (which saw an average of 0.69 becquerels per litre), Winnipeg (which saw 0.64 becquerels per litre) and Ottawa (which saw 1.67 becquerels per litre), the data shows.

      These levels didn’t exceed the Canadian guidelines, but the level discovered in Ottawa did surpass the more stringent ceiling for drinking water used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is 54 times less than the six becquerels per litre of iodine-131 (a radioactive isotope) allowed in this country.

      Health Canada provided the data only after repeated requests from the Straight. It isn’t posted on Health Canada’s web page devoted to the impacts of Fukushima.

      Instead, Health Canada maintains on that page that the radioactive fallout from Fukushima was “smaller than the normal day to day fluctuations from background radiation” and “did not pose any health risk to Canadians”.

      Pellerin said he doesn’t know why Health Canada didn’t make the data public. “I can’t answer that. The communication aspect could be improved,” he said.

      In a statement emailed to the Straight along with the data, Health Canada played down the radiation in the Calgary rainwater: “Since rainwater is typically not a primary source of drinking water, and the concentration measured was very low (8 Bq/L), this measurement is not considered a health risk.”

      Health Canada’s rainwater data reveals deficiencies in how Ottawa monitors radiation in terms of public safety. Even at the height of the Fukushima crisis, rainwater in Canada was tested for radiation only at the end of each month, after a network of monitoring stations sent samples to Ottawa.

      As a result, the spikes in radiation last March were only discovered in early April, after rainwater samples were sent to Ottawa for testing.

      It’s also impossible to know how high radiation got on specific days in March because each day’s rainwater was added to the previous samples for that month.

      In contrast, the EPA tested rainwater for radiation every day and reported the data daily on its website.

      Health Canada’s data on rainwater is also puzzling for another reason. It sharply contrasts with the data collected by SFU associate professor of chemistry Krzysztof Starosta. He found iodine-131 levels in rainwater in Burnaby spiked to 13 becquerels per litre in the days after Fukushima. That’s many times higher than the levels detected in Vancouver by Health Canada.

      The rainwater data is just one example of failings in how Canada monitored radiation from Fukushima. The accident has exposed a pattern of nonchalance and seeming willful ignorance on the part of Canadian health authorities when it comes to the dangers of nuclear power.

      Drinking water is another example. In Vancouver, the city did its first test of the drinking-water supply on March 16, a few days after the Fukushima accident on March 11. No radiation was detected in that day’s sample. But this was to be expected because it took until March 18 and 19 for the radioactive plume from Fukushima to first hit the west coast of Canada.

      Instead of continuing with frequent monitoring, the city didn’t do another radiation test until March 25—nine days after the first test. On March 25, testing detected alpha radiation at 0.11 becquerels per litre in the drinking water at the city’s Seymour-reservoir intake.

      Alpha radiation comes from isotopes like plutonium-238 and is the most dangerous form of radiation when ingested or inhaled.

      The level at the Seymour intake was lower than the current Canadian and World Health Organization guideline of 0.5 becquerels per litre in drinking water. On the other hand, the WHO guideline used to be 0.1 Bq per litre before it was adjusted higher in the mid-2000s.

      That nine-day hole between March 16 and 25 is exactly when SFU prof Starosta found massive radiation spikes in rainwater in Burnaby.

      Did the alpha radiation ever surpass the ceiling? We can’t say for sure. Because of the long gap between tests, it’s not clear how high radiation levels may have gotten and for how long. When the city tested its drinking water again on March 28, the alpha radiation was no longer detectable.

      Food is another big question mark. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency briefly tested Japanese food imports from the area around Fukushima, but it dropped those measures in June. Canada now relies on Japanese authorities to screen contaminated food.

      But Japan’s food inspections have proven to be highly controversial since Fukushima. The country has no centralized food-inspection system, and poor monitoring after Fukushima allowed food contaminated with radiation to be sold to Japanese consumers.

      Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear that the radiation has spread much farther across Japan than government officials have acknowledged. Citizen monitoring groups have found 22 “hot spots” in Tokyo where radiation levels are higher than the level at which zones were considered contaminated near Chernobyl, the New York Times reported on October 14.

      The CFIA also told the Straight it has no plans to monitor food products from the Pacific Ocean fishery. You’d think this would be a concern, because many fish caught in the Pacific still have large amounts of radiation months after the accident, according to data reported on the website of the Japanese government fisheries agency.

      In September, 21 Japanese fish catches exceeded the Japanese radiation ceiling—the same number as in August. Two catches in September exceeded the ceiling for radioactive cesium by more than four times.

      Even fish caught far from Japan are contaminated. One sample of skipjack tuna caught 440 kilometres from Japan in late September had a cesium reading of 13.9 becquerels per kilogram, according to the Japanese fishery data.

      That’s below the Japanese ceiling of 500 Bq per kilogram, but it could still pose a health risk, especially when added to radioactive exposure from other fish or water.

      This is because there’s no safe level of radiation. The scientific consensus is that even small amounts are unsafe. For example, the Canadian radiation ceiling is set at a level that causes about 500 lifetime cancers per million people over 70 years of exposure, according to Health Canada’s website. That’s 17,000 lifetime cancers spread over 33 million Canadians.

      Months after Fukushima, radiation levels in the ocean waters off Japan have remained persistently high, despite government assurances that they’d dwindle, the New York Times reported on September 28.

      Ken Buesseler, a scientist at Massachusetts’s Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told the paper that Fukushima was by far the largest accidental release of radioactive material into ocean waters—exceeding, by a magnitude of 100, the Chernobyl contamination of the Black Sea.

      Despite all this, the CFIA has already announced it has no plans to conduct radiation tests next year on salmon returning to B.C. waters that may have migrated near Japan.

      Have there already been health impacts from Fukushima? It’s much too early to say. B.C. infant-mortality statistics don’t show any rise in deaths after Fukushima.

      On the other hand, there is a statistically significant 33-percent correlation between infant deaths in Seattle so far this year and levels of iodine-131 detected in rainwater at the U.S. government monitoring station in nearby Olympia, Washington. (Radioactive iodine was detected over a period of five weeks in the rainwater in Olympia, so for calculation purposes, it was assumed that the level of iodine was zero the rest of the year.)

      The correlation is only moderate and could still just be a coincidence. But it does suggest a need for more monitoring of health impacts. Unfortunately, the poor Canadian government data on radiation in rainwater here makes it impossible to see if such a correlation exists in Canada.

      And with the lackadaisical attitude of public officials in Canada, we have to wonder if they will bother to study longer-term health impacts. Canada’s lack of monitoring isn’t all that surprising when you consider that it is a major exporter of nuclear technology and uranium. But it is reminiscent of Chernobyl.

      Japan, Germany, and Switzerland have announced they’ll phase out nuclear power. Meanwhile, Canada is doing the opposite. In August, a federally appointed review panel cleared Ontario to build two new nuclear reactors, saying they pose no environmental risk.

      And Canada still hopes to win contracts for its nuclear industry in countries such as China and Jordan, which have announced plans to build new nuclear reactors.

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      Oct 20, 2011 at 6:08am

      Thanks for the update. I guess the only question now is, Just how badly did west-coast Canadians fare during the radiation peak? The coming decades will show us. Any health information regarding what one can do to minimize any radiation damage? Foods to eat and avoid? Dietary changes? What can Canada do to move away from nuclear energy, at least in its currently engineered form? Are there any tight estimates about how many hundreds of kilos of radioactives got vapourized into the air in Japan, and global distribution patterns? Where do I buy a ticket to Mars?


      Oct 20, 2011 at 7:03am

      It's nice to read

      'Japan, Germany, and Switzerland have announced they’ll phase out nuclear power.'

      but I think you meant ITALY instead of Japan.

      still - thanks for this extensive report

      Vivianne Brault

      Oct 20, 2011 at 7:35am

      Why am I not suprised by this ???

      Jeff Barkley

      Oct 20, 2011 at 9:27am

      I have been trying to get people to pay attention to this since it happened. Most don't believe it because the MSM don't talk about it. How high are levels of radiation on our roofs? How high are levels near drains? How high are levels in our milk (the cows eat the grass that is covered in rainwater)?

      All we get is fascism. Nuclear corporations have "lobbied" our governments to keep quiet. They don't care about the health of our children, all they care about is making more money on nuclear power. Nuclear power is NOT safe and its NOT clean. The whole industry does nothing but lie about the dangers.

      How many people realize that TEPCO has not even tried to put more concrete below the meltdowns, as was done at Chernobyl, to prevent the molten fuel from reaching groundwater? They explained it in a Japanese newspaper as something that they were not doing because "it would impact their share value".

      One of the things the Occupy movement has to do is stop all construction of all nuclear plants and make sure the old ones are shut down. Even if that is done, it will be a huge job trying to store the existing radioactive waste for thousands of years without killing everyone on the planet.

      Soon we will not be able to eat ANYTHING from the oceans. Our farmland is getting fallout every time it rains. Meanwhile our paid off, corrupt, fascist governments do nothing but cover for the corporations....

      Ray Masalas

      Oct 20, 2011 at 11:23am

      Where do I start? Alex, I'm glad someone is talking fallout here, but you're really underplaying how much our government is lying. What about Toronto hitting 20,000 CPM in July? What about milk in San Francisco hitting 2400% above the limit or Philadelphia rain water at 3300% above the limit? How about Health Canada refusing to test farmers soil in Newfoundland? Vancouver had an infant mortality spike too. The coroner blamed the parents. Anybody seen Autopsy results? You seem to be under the impression that we're getting less radiation now. These 3 china syndromes are steaming away 24/7 and 75% blows east. It's been detected in Iceland and Scotland for those who think this is only hitting the west coast. We are over 215 days of constant release. Chernobyl was sealed in 18 days. Chernobyl had 160 tons of fuel, no Mox fuel. 50 tons went up. Fukushima has 3700 tons of fuel + MOX. No one will say how much went up in the 4 explosions. All the worlds radiation plume models have been turned off. Why do you think that is? After reading 4000 pages of info on the greatest disaster in world history, I can safely tell you it's at least 10 times as bad as you think. Probably more. People in Oshawa wouldn't be happy with 2 more reactors if they knew how much they were getting from Japan. Chalk River had a meltdow in 1952 and another in 1958. Both were dumped in the Ottawa River The Ottawa valley has the highest cancer rate in Canada and 4X normal background. Chalk River has also been leaking into the Ottawa river since the 60's, yet they just extended the licence of the oldest nuke plant on earth, even though it had a 3.2 earthquake right under the plant this summer. We're in big trouble folks, and our government is maximizing the damage by withholding info, so they can keep selling Uranium and building multi billion dollar mega-projects for there buddies. Stay out of the rain, gang and start thinking about a small greenhouse in your backyard. We are on our own and blind, thanks to our government and media. {Present company excluded}.


      Oct 20, 2011 at 1:01pm

      There is no limit to silly junk science based antinuclear campaign at the Straight.

      " He found iodine-131 levels in rainwater in Burnaby spiked to 13 becquerels per litre in the days after Fukushima. That’s many times higher than the levels detected in Vancouver by Health Canada "

      Gee I know nobody is likely to be drinking a litre of rain water in Burnaby but, didy'all know that a banana measures out at 15 becquerels.

      Didy'all know that an individual standing at the front gates at Fukushima would get far less radiation exposure than the average citizen gets in low cancer rate Ramsar Iran.

      The low information antinuke types who seem to own the editorial board here at the Straight should for once actually read one of their own articles


      Then wonder if their silly opposition to a fossil to nuke conversion is worth the pollution deaths of three million folks worldwide every year the conversion is delayed and the deaths of billions more when we hit the fast approaching climate precipice.

      With a fossil to nuclear conversion over ten years well within our idle industrial capacity, rates of return of 40% per annum to the nation as a whole, and a fossil to renewable conversion utterly impossible financially, industrially, and politically, it is Big Oil funded mainstream media and low information types like those at the Straight that are leading us to disaster.

      Salty one

      Oct 20, 2011 at 2:15pm

      What about Canadian stocks of fish that migrate back and forth through Japanese waters that are impacted by the nuclear disaster?

      Steven Kaasgaard

      Oct 20, 2011 at 4:06pm

      At last somebody here in the North American press (local) grows a pair and breaks the silence on this gigantic cover up of the environmental story of the century. Even that wannabee 'Green' Elizabeth May has been surprisingly silent on this one?!

      Thank you! thank you! thank you! Georgia Straight of Vancouver!

      Steven Kaasgaard

      WildGreens, Canada


      Oct 20, 2011 at 5:18pm

      Maybe Harper will get the CBC to do another one of their "it's just a conspiracy theory (and the people who believe it are insane)" documentaries.