Arquivo da tag: Fukushima

Usina Nuclear de Angra 3 e a Operação Lava Jato (JC)

Para o físico Heitor Scalambrini Costa, denúncias de propinas na construção da usina e objeções técnicas quanto à obsolescência dos equipamentos tecnologicamente defasados, são fatos graves que devem ser apurados com urgência

Apesar de toda a movimentação no cenário internacional acerca dos problemas e riscos de instalações nucleares, que ficou exacerbada após o desastre de Fukushima (11/3/2011), surpreende a posição das autoridades do Ministério de Minas e Energia, dos “lobistas” da área nuclear,das empreiteiras e fornecedoras de equipamentos ― pois todos continuam insistindo na instalação de mais quatro usinas nucleares no país até 2030, sendo duas delas no Nordeste brasileiro. Além da construção de Angra 3 ― já aprovada.

No caso de Angra 3, a estimativa de custos da obra era de R$ 7,2 bilhões, em 2008; pulou para R$ 10,4 bilhões,no final de 2010;em julho de 2013, de acordo com a Eletronuclear, superava os R$ 13 bilhões; e, até 2018, ano de sua conclusão, devem alcançar R$ 14,9 bilhões. Obviamente a duplicação nos custos de construção desta usina nuclear impactam decisivamente o preço médio de venda de eletricidade no país.

A história da indústria nuclear no Brasil mostra que ela sempre foi ― e continua sendo ― uma indústria altamente dependente de subsídios públicos. Sem dúvida, são perversas as condições de financiamento de Angra 3, com subsídios governamentais ocultos, a serem posteriormente disfarçados nas contas de luz. E quem vai pagar essa conta seremos nós, os usuários, que já pagamos uma das mais altas tarifas de energia elétrica do mundo.

Com a Operação Lava Jato, deflagrada em março de 2014, para investigar um grande esquema de lavagem e desvio de dinheiro envolvendo a Petrobras, grandes empreiteiras do país e diversos políticos, começam a ter desnudados os reais interesses, nada republicanos, da decisão de construção das grandes obras energéticas, como a usina hidroelétrica de Belo Monte e a usina nuclear Angra 3.

Desde a decisão de construí-la no âmbito do conturbado acordo nuclear Brasil-Alemanha, a usina de Angra 3foi cercada de mistério, controvérsias, incertezas e falta de transparência, comuns no setor nuclear brasileiro.

As obras civis da usina foram licitadas à Construtora Andrade Gutierrez mediante contrato assinado em 16 de junho de 1983(governo Figueiredo, 1979-1985). Em abril de 1986, as obras foram paralisadas por falta de recursos, alto custo e dúvidas quanto à conveniência e riscos desta fonte de energia. Mesmo assim a construtora recebeu durante décadas um pagamento de aproximadamente US$ 20 milhões/ano.

Depois de 23 anos parada, as obras de Angra 3 foram retomadas em 2009 (governo Lula, 2003-2010). O governo Lula optou por não fazer licitações, e revalidou a concorrência ganha pela construtora Andrade Gutierrez, em 1983. Embora não tenha feito novas licitações, a Eletronuclear negociou atualizações de valores com todos os fornecedores e prestadores de serviços. A obra e seus equipamentos ficaram bem mais caros. Em dólares, seu valor pulou de US$ 1,8 bilhão para aproximadamente cerca de US$ 3,3 bilhões.

Diante da decisão de manter o contrato com a Andrade Gutierrez, construtoras concorrentes, especialmente a Camargo Corrêa, tentaram em vão convencer o governo a rever sua decisão, alegando que neste período houve uma revolução tecnológica que reduziu em até 40% o custo de obras civis de usinas nucleares. Também o plenário do Tribunal de Contas da União, em setembro de 2008, ao avaliar o assunto não impediu a revalidação dos contratos. Porém considerou que Angra 3 apresentava “indícios de irregularidade grave” sem recomendar, todavia, a paralisação do empreendimento.

O contrato das obras civis não foi o único a ser tirado do congelador pelo governo Lula. Para o fornecimento de bens e serviços importados foi definida a fabricante Areva, empresa resultante da fusão entre a alemã Siemens KWU e a francesa Framatome. A rigor, a Areva nem assinou o contrato. Ela foi escolhida porque herdou da KWU o acordo original.

Já os contratos da montagem foram assinados em 2 de setembro de 2014 com os seguintes consórcios: consórcio ANGRA 3, para a realização dos serviços de montagens eletromecânicas dos sistemas associados ao circuito primário da usina (sistemas associados ao circuito de geração de vapor por fonte nuclear),constituído pela empresas Construtora Queiroz Galvão S.A., EBE – Empresa Brasileira de Engenharia S.A. e Techint Engenharia S.A. E consórcio UNA 3, para a execução das montagens associadas aos sistemas convencionais da usina, constituído pelas empresas Construtora Andrade Gutierrez S.A., Construtora Norberto Odebrecht S.A., Construções e Comércio Camargo Corrêa S.A. e UTC Engenharia S.A.

O atual planejamento da Eletronuclear prevê a entrada em operação de Angra 3 em maio de 2018. Mas esta meta deverá ser revista depois de a obra ser praticamente paralisada no final de abril de 2014, devido à alegação de dívidas não pagas a empreiteira (governo Dilma, 2011-2014).

Depois de todos estes percalços, para uma obra tão polêmica, tomamos conhecimento das denúncias feitas por um dos executivos da empreiteira Camargo Correa, que passou a colaborar com as investigações da Operação Lava Jato e relatou aos procuradores, durante negociações para o acordo de delação premiada, uma suposta propina para o ex-ministro das Minas e Energia, Edson Lobão, na contratação da Camargo Correa para a execução de obras da usina de Angra 3.

Caso se confirmem tais acusações ficará claro para a sociedade brasileira que os reais interesses pela construção de Angra 3 e de mais 4 usinas nucleares tiveram como principal motivação as altas somas que autoridades públicas receberam como suborno. É bom lembrar que neste caso o ministro Lobão tinha poder de comando sobre a empresa pública responsável pela obra, a Eletronuclear ― subsidiária da Eletrobrás.

A partir deste episódio não podemos mais ignorar as objeções técnicas, como as denúncias com relação à obsolescência dos equipamentos tecnologicamente defasados (comprometendo o seu funcionamento e aumentando o risco de um desastre nuclear). Nem as denúncias de que o custo desta obra poderia encarecer durante a sua construção ― o que,de fato, já aconteceu.Tampouco o questionamento sobre o empréstimo realizado pela Caixa Econômica Federal, para a construção de Angra 3.

A expectativa é que todas as denúncias sejam investigadas e apuradas as responsabilidades. O fato em si é gravíssimo, e suficiente para a interrupção das atividades nucleares no país, em particular a construção de Angra 3, com o congelamento de novas instalações. Não se pode admitir que a decisão de construir centrais nucleares no país tenha sido feita em um mero balcão de negócios.

Heitor Scalambrini Costa é graduado em Física pela Universidade de Campinas/SP, mestrado em Ciências e Tecnologias Nucleares na Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, e doutorado em Energética – Université dAix-Marseille III (Droit, Econ. et Sciences (1992). Atualmente é professor associado da Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.

Anúncios

Los rayos cósmicos confirman que se fundió el corazón de Fukushima (El País)

Un detector de muones muestra el interior de dos reactores accidentados en Japón

, 23 MAR 2015 – 17:04 CET

Imagen proporcionada por Tepco sobre estos trabajos de detección.

Mientras Chernóbil todavía lucha para cubrir los restos de la tragediacon un segundo sarcófago, en Fukushima aún dan los primeros pasos para controlar por completo y desmantelar los reactores accidentados en 2011, una tarea que durará unas cuatro décadas. Al margen de las interminables fugas de agua que traen de cabeza a los responsables de la central, el principal objetivo es determinar la situación exacta del combustible radiactivo que quedó fuera de control durante varios días, provocando la mayor catástrofe atómica en lustros. Ahora, gracias a los rayos cósmicos, tenemos la confirmación de que el núcleo del reactor 1 de Fukushima se fundió por completo y que también se derritió, parcialmente, el combustible del reactor 2.

Los trabajos de desmantelamiento de la central ya han costado 1.450 millones a Japón

Esas barras de uranio derretidas generan tanto peligro que no ha sido posible entrar hasta el corazón de los reactores accidentados para determinar exactamente su estado. Las mediciones indirectas indicaban que estábamos en un escenario de fusión de los núcleos pero una nueva técnica que se sirve de la física de partículas ha ayudado a radiografiar, por el momento, dos de los reactores accidentados. Se trata de un detector de muones, unas partículas elementales que surgen cuando penetran en la atmósfera los rayos cósmicos, y que llegan por miles hasta la superficie de la Tierra. Estas partículas que frenan al chocar con objetos muy densos, como el combustible nuclear, y se pueden detectar con una suerte de placas de radiografía colocadas a los lados del reactor.

Al atravesar todo el invento, los muones han mostrado que no queda nada de combustible en el corazón del reactor número 1. Es decir, mientras el núcleo estuvo sin refrigerar con agua durante el accidente, las barras de uranio se derritieron por completo, cayendo por el fondo de la vasija que las contenía. Por eso no salen en la fotografía que han conseguido los físicos de varias universidades japonesas, que han desarrollado esta técnica junto a científicos del Laboratorio de Los Álamos y la empresa Toshiba, responsable de los trabajos de desmantelamiento de Fukushima.

Como la plancha detectora de los muones se coloca a ras de suelo, la imagen que ha devuelto de este reactor solo permite saber que el combustible se fundió y ya no está en su sitio, pero no ayuda a saber cuál es su situación en el sótano del reactor o si ha comprometido por el suelo la robusta contención que separa el núcleo del exterior. Posteriormente, Tepco ha dado a conocer el resultado de este examen en el reactor 2, que ha mostrado una descomposición parcial del núcleo al comparar la imagen con la de un reactor en condiciones normales.

Los científicos no pueden saber hasta dónde ha caído el núcleo fundido del reactor

“Los resultados reafirman nuestra idea previa de que una cantidad considerable de combustible se había fundido en el interior”, explicó Hiroshi Miyano, uno de los científicos, a AFP.  “Pero no hay evidencia de que el combustible se haya derretido a través de los edificios de contención y alcanzado el exterior”. Para asegurarse, el siguiente paso será el uso de robots que se cuelen por todos los rincones de los edificios.

Hoy se ha conocido el gasto que ha supuesto hasta el momento el desmantelamiento de Fukushima para los japoneses: 1.450 millones de euros de las arcas públicas, según un informe gubernamental que recoge la agencia Kyodo. Poco más de un tercio de ese dinero se ha gastado en los esfuerzos por controlar las continuas filtraciones y fugas de agua que inundan todo el entorno de la central.

Should the Japanese give nuclear power another chance? (Science Daily)

Date: October 23, 2014

Source: ResearchSEA

Summary: On September 9, 2014, the Japan Times reported an increasing number of suicides coming from the survivors of the March 2011 disaster. In Minami Soma Hospital, which is located 23 km away from the power plant, the number of patients experiencing stress has also increased since the disaster. What’s more, many of the survivors are now jobless and therefore facing an uncertain future.


On September 9, 2014, the Japan Times reported an increasing number of suicides coming from the survivors of the March 2011 disaster. In Minami Soma Hospital, which is located 23 km away from the power plant, the number of patients experiencing stress has also increased since the disaster. What’s more, many of the survivors are now jobless and therefore facing an uncertain future.

This is not the first time that nuclear power has victimized the Japanese people. In 1945, atomic bombs exploded in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, creating massive fears about nuclear power in the Japanese population. It took 20 years for the public to erase the trauma of these events. It was then — in the mid 1960s(?) — that the Fukushima Daiichii Nuclear Power Plant was built.

According to Professor Tetsuo Sawada, Assistant Professor in the Laboratory of Nuclear Reactors at Tokyo University, it took a lot of effort to assure people that nuclear power was safe and beneficial. The first step was a legal step: In 1955, the Japanese government passed a law decreeing that nuclear power could only be used for peaceful purposes.

“But that law was not enough to assure people to accept the establishment of nuclear power,” said Prof. Sawada.

He explained that the economy plays an important role in public acceptance of nuclear power. Through the establishment of nuclear power plants, more jobs were created, which boosted the economy of the Fukushima region at that time.

“Before the Fukushima disaster, we could find many pro-nuclear people in the area of nuclear power plants since it gave them money,” said Prof. Sawada.

Now, more than forty years have passed and the public’s former confidence has evolved into feelings of fear about nuclear power and distrust toward the government.

According to a study conducted by Noriko Iwai from the Japanese General Social Survey Research Center, the Fukushima nuclear accident has heightened people’s perception of disaster risks, fears of nuclear accident, and recognition of pollution, and has changed public opinion on nuclear energy policy.

“Distance from nuclear plants and the perception of earthquake risk interactively correlate with opinions on nuclear issues: among people whose evaluation of earthquake risk is low, those who live nearer to the plants are more likely to object to the abolishment of nuclear plants,” said Iwai.

This finding is in line with the perception of Sokyu Genyu, a chief priest in Fukujuji temple, Miharu Town, Fukushima Prefecture. As a member of the Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, he argued that both the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants should be shut down in response to the objection of 80% of Fukushima residents.

However, the Japanese government, local scientists and international authorities have announced that Fukushima is safe. Radiation levels are below 1mSv/y, a number that, according to them, we should not be worried about. But the public do not believe in numbers.

But Genyu was not saying that these numbers are scientifically false. Rather, he argues that the problem lies more in the realm of social psychology. Despite the announcement about low-radiation levels, the Japanese people are still afraid of radiation.

“It is reasonable for local residents in Fukushima to speak out very emotionally. Within three months of the disaster, six people had committed sucide. They were homeless and jobless, ” said Genyu.

It is heart-breaking to know that victims of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident died not because of radiation, but instead because of depression. Besides the increasing number of suicides, the number ofpatients suffering from cerebrovascular disease (strokes)has also risen. In Minami-Soma Hospital, the population of stroke patients increased by more than 100% after the disaster.

Local doctors and scientists are now actively educating students in Fukushima, convincing them that the radiation will not affect their health.

Dr. Masaharu Tsubokura, a practicing doctor at Minami-Soma Hospital, has been informing students that Fukushima is safe. But sadly, their responses are mostly negative and full of apathy.

“I think the Fukushima disaster is not about nuclear radiation but is rather a matter of public trust in the technology ,” said Dr. Tsubokura.

Dr. Tsubokura has given dosimeters, a device used to measure radiation, to children living in Minami-Soma city. But apparently, this was not enough to eliminate people’s fears.

In 2012, Professor Ryogo Hayano, a physicist from the University of Tokyo, joined Dr. Tsubokura in Minami-Soma Hospital and invented BABYSCAN technology, a whole-body scanning to measure radiation in small children as well as to allay the fears of Fukushima parents.

“BABYSCAN is unnecessary but necessary. It is unnecessary because we know that the radiation is low. But it is necessary to assure parents that their children are going to be okay,” said Prof. Hayano.

After witnessing the fears of the Fukushima people, Prof. Hayano thinks that nuclear power is no longer appropriate for Japan. He believes that the government should shut down nuclear power plants.

“As a scientist, I know that nuclear power is safe and cheap. But looking at the public’s fear in Fukushima, I think it should be phased out,” said Prof. Hayano.

But, does the government care about the public when it comes to politics?

It has only been three years since the disaster and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been keen to revive the country’s nuclear power plants. The operations of more than 50 nuclear power plants in Japan have been suspended because of the Daiichi power plant meltdown.

Last month, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the reopening of a power plant in Sendai for 2015.

Three years since Japan’s disaster: Communities remain scattered and suffering (Science Daily)

Date: June 3, 2014

Source: Taylor & Francis

Summary: While western eyes are focused on the ongoing problems of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor site, thousands of people are still evacuated from their homes in north-eastern Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. Many are in temporary accommodation and frustrated by a lack of central government foresight and responsiveness to their concerns.

While western eyes are focused on the ongoing problems of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor site, thousands of people are still evacuated from their homes in north-eastern Japan following the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency. Many are in temporary accommodation and frustrated by a lack of central government foresight and responsiveness to their concerns.

With the exception of the ongoing problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor, outside of the Tohoku region of Japan, the after effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, and the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster, are no longer front page news. The hard work of recovery is the everyday reality in the region, and for planning schools and consultants across the country the rebuilding of Tohoku dominates practice and study.

But while physical reconstruction takes place, progress is not smooth. Many victims of the disasters and members of the wider public feel that the government is more interested in feeding the construction industry than addressing the complex challenges of rebuilding sustainable communities. This is a region that was already suffering from the challenges of an aging population, the exodus of young people to Tokyo and the decline of traditional fisheries-based industries. In the worst cases people are facing the invidious choice of returning to areas that are still saturated with radioactive fallout or never going home.

The frustration is reflected in four short pieces in Planning Theory and Practice’s Interface Section from architecture, design and planning practitioners working with communities in four different parts of Tohoku.

Christian Dimmer, Assistant Professor at Tokyo University and founder of TPF2 — Tohoku Planning Forum which links innovative redevelopment schemes in the region says:

“The current Japanese government’s obsession with big construction projects, like mega-seawalls that have already been shown to be not likely to be effective, is leading to really innovative community solutions being marginalized, the voices of communities being ignored, and sustainability cast aside.”

According to community planner and academic, Kayo Murakami — who edits this Interface section: “The troubles of the Tohoku reconstruction are not just a concern for Japan. They highlight some of the fundamental challenges for disaster recovery and building sustainable communities, in which people are really involved, all over the world.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Kayo Murakami, David Murakami Wood, Hiroshi Tomita, Satoshi Miyake, Rieko Shiraki, Kayo Murakami, Koji Itonaga, Christian Dimmer. Planning innovation and post-disaster reconstruction: The case of Tohoku, Japan/Reconstruction of tsunami-devastated fishing villages in the Tohoku region of Japan and the challenges for planning/Post-disaster reconstruction in Iwate and new planning chalPlanning Theory & Practice, 2014; 15 (2): 237 DOI:10.1080/14649357.2014.902909

Japanese Town: Half the survivors of mega-earthquake, tsunami, have PTSD symptoms (Science Daily)

Date: March 6, 2014

Source: Brigham Young University

Summary: A new study shows that more than half the survivors in one Japanese town exhibited ‘clinically concerning’ symptoms of PTSD following the country’s mega-earthquake and tsunami. Two-thirds of survivors also reported symptoms of depression. Having work to do has proven important in increasing resilience.

Though just two of Hirono’s 5,418 residents lost their lives in Japan’s mega-earthquake and tsunami, a new study shows that the survivors are struggling to keep their sanity.

One year after the quake, Brigham Young University professor Niwako Yamawaki and scholars from Saga University evaluated the mental health of 241 Hirono citizens. More than half of the people evaluated experienced “clinically concerning” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Two-thirds of the sample reported symptoms of depression.

Those rates exceed levels seen in the aftermath of other natural disasters, but what happened in Japan wasn’t just a natural disaster. Leaked radiation from nuclear power plants forced residents of Hirono to relocate to temporary housing far from home.

“This was the world’s fourth-biggest recorded earthquake, and also the tsunami and nuclear plant and losing their homes — boom boom boom boom within such a short time,” said Yamawaki, a psychology professor at BYU. “The prevalence one year after is still much higher than other studies of disasters that we found even though some time had passed.”

Yamawaki got the idea for this study while shoveling mud from a damaged Japanese home one month after the tsunami flooded coastal towns. She had just arrived for a previously scheduled fellowship at Saga University. During her off-time, she traveled to the affected area and volunteered in the clean-up effort. One seemingly stoic homeowner broke down in tears when Yamawaki and her husband thanked her for the chance to help.

“She said ‘This is the first time I have cried since the disaster happened,'” Yamawaki said. “She just said ‘Thank you. Thank you for letting me cry.'”

Back at Saga University, Yamawaki collaborated with Hiroko Kukihara to conduct a study on the mental health and resilience of survivors. Their report appears in the journal Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

Participants in the study lived in temporary housing provided by the Japanese government when Hirono was evacuated. With an average age of 58, the people are noticeably older than the populations of normal Japanese towns. Yamawaki suspects that young people were more likely to permanently relocate elsewhere in Japan following the disaster.

The researchers didn’t just measure the rates of mental illness; they also performed a statistical analysis to learn what fostered resilience among the survivors. Eating right, exercising regularly and going to work all promoted resilience and served as a buffer against mental illness.

“Having something to do after a disaster really gives a sense of normalcy, even volunteer work,” Yamawaki said.

As the researchers got to know survivors, they heard from so many that they missed seeing their former neighbors. The mass relocation outside the radiation zone broke up many neighborhood ties.

“Japanese are very collectivistic people and their identity is so intertwined with neighbors,” Yamawaki said. “Breaking up the community has so much impact on them.”

While it’s hard to fathom the scope of the devastation in the coastal region of Fukushima, most survivors believe something like this will happen again. If so, this new study provides a blueprint for how to help them put their lives back together again.

Journal Reference:

  1. Hiroko Kukihara, Niwako Yamawaki, Kumi Uchiyama, Shoichi Arai, Etsuo Horikawa. Trauma, depression, and resilience of earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster survivors of Hirono, Fukushima, Japan.Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/pcn.12159

Fukushima Forever (Huff Post)

Charles Perrow

Posted: 09/20/2013 2:49 pm

Recent disclosures of tons of radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima reactors spilling into the ocean are just the latest evidence of the continuing incompetence of the Japanese utility, TEPCO. The announcement that the Japanese government will step in is also not reassuring since it was the Japanese government that failed to regulate the utility for decades. But, bad as it is, the current contamination of the ocean should be the least of our worries. The radioactive poisons are expected to form a plume that will be carried by currents to coast of North America. But the effects will be small, adding an unfortunate bit to our background radiation. Fish swimming through the plume will be affected, but we can avoid eating them.

Much more serious is the danger that the spent fuel rod pool at the top of the nuclear plant number four will collapse in a storm or an earthquake, or in a failed attempt to carefully remove each of the 1,535 rods and safely transport them to the common storage pool 50 meters away. Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.

Fukushima is just the latest episode in a dangerous dance with radiation that has been going on for 68 years. Since the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 we have repeatedly let loose plutonium and other radioactive substances on our planet, and authorities have repeatedly denied or trivialized their dangers. The authorities include national governments (the U.S., Japan, the Soviet Union/ Russia, England, France and Germany); the worldwide nuclear power industry; and some scientists both in and outside of these governments and the nuclear power industry. Denials and trivialization have continued with Fukushima. (Documentation of the following observations can be found in my piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, upon which this article is based.) (Perrow 2013)

In 1945, shortly after the bombing of two Japanese cities, the New York Times headline read: “Survey Rules Out Nagasaki Dangers”; soon after the 2011 Fukushima disaster it read “Experts Foresee No Detectable Health Impact from Fukushima Radiation.” In between these two we had experts reassuring us about the nuclear bomb tests, plutonium plant disasters at Windscale in northern England and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, and the nuclear power plant accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine, as well as the normal operation of nuclear power plants.

Initially the U.S. Government denied that low-level radiation experienced by thousands of Japanese people in and near the two cities was dangerous. In 1953, the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission insisted that low-level exposure to radiation “can be continued indefinitely without any detectable bodily change.” Biologists and other scientists took exception to this, and a 1956 report by the National Academy of Scientists, examining data from Japan and from residents of the Marshall Islands exposed to nuclear test fallout, successfully established that all radiation was harmful. The Atomic Energy Commission then promoted a statistical or population approach that minimized the danger: the damage would be so small that it would hardly be detectable in a large population and could be due to any number of other causes. Nevertheless, the Radiation Research Foundation detected it in 1,900 excess deaths among the Japanese exposed to the two bombs. (The Department of Homeland Security estimated only 430 cancer deaths).

Besides the uproar about the worldwide fallout from testing nuclear weapons, another problem with nuclear fission soon emerged: a fire in a British plant making plutonium for nuclear weapons sent radioactive material over a large area of Cumbria, resulting in an estimated 240 premature cancer deaths, though the link is still disputed. The event was not made public and no evacuations were ordered. Also kept secret, for over 25 years, was a much larger explosion and fire, also in 1957, at the Chelyabinsk nuclear weapons processing plant in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union. One estimate is that 272,000 people were irradiated; lakes and streams were contaminated; 7,500 people were evacuated; and some areas still are uninhabitable. The CIA knew of it immediately, but they too kept it secret. If a plutonium plant could do that much damage it would be a powerful argument for not building nuclear weapons.

Powerful arguments were needed, due to the fallout from the fallout from bombs and tests. Peaceful use became the mantra. Project Plowshares, initiated in 1958, conducted 27 “peaceful nuclear explosions” from 1961 until the costs as well as public pressure from unforeseen consequences ended the program in 1975. The Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission indicated Plowshares’ close relationship to the increasing opposition to nuclear weapons, saying that peaceful applications of nuclear explosives would “create a climate of world opinion that is more favorable to weapons development and tests” (emphasis supplied). A Pentagon official was equally blunt, saying in 1953, “The atomic bomb will be accepted far more readily if at the same time atomic energy is being used for constructive ends.” The minutes of a National Security Council in 1953 spoke of destroying the taboo associated with nuclear weapons and “dissipating” the feeling that we could not use an A-bomb.

More useful than peaceful nuclear explosions were nuclear power plants, which would produce the plutonium necessary for atomic weapons as well as legitimating them. Nuclear power plants, the daughter of the weapons program — actually its “bad seed” –f was born and soon saw first fruit with the1979 Three Mile Island accident. Increases in cancer were found but the Columbia University study declared that the level of radiation from TMI was too low to have caused them, and the “stress” hypothesis made its first appearance as the explanation for rises in cancer. Another university study disputed this, arguing that radiation caused the increase, and since a victim suit was involved, it went to a Federal judge who ruled in favor of stress. A third, larger study found “slight” increases in cancer mortality and increased risk breast and other cancers, but found “no consistent evidence” of a “significant impact.” Indeed, it would be hard to find such an impact when so many other things can cause cancer, and it is so widespread. Indeed, since stress can cause it, there is ample ambiguity that can be mobilized to defend nuclear power plants.

Ambiguity was mobilized by the Soviet Union after the 1987 Chernobyl disaster. Medical studies by Russian scientists were suppressed, and doctors were told not to use the designation of leukemia in health reports. Only after a few years had elapsed did any serious studies acknowledge that the radiation was serious. The Soviet Union forcefully argued that the large drops in life expectancy in the affected areas were due to not just stress, but lifestyle changes. The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), charged with both promoting nuclear power and helping make it safe, agreed, and mentioned such things as obesity, smoking, and even unprotected sex, arguing that the affected population should not be treated as “victims” but as “survivors.” The count of premature deaths has varied widely, ranging from 4,000 in the contaminated areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia from UN agencies, while Greenpeace puts it at 200,000. We also have the controversial worldwide estimate of 985,000 from Russian scientists with access to thousands of publications from the affected regions.

Even when nuclear power plants are running normally they are expected to release some radiation, but so little as to be harmless. Numerous studies have now challenged that. When eight U.S. nuclear plants in the U.S. were closed in 1987 they provided the opportunity for a field test. Two years later strontium-90 levels in local milk declined sharply, as did birth defects and death rates of infants within 40 miles of the plants. A 2007 study of all German nuclear power plants saw childhood leukemia for children living less than 3 miles from the plants more than double, but the researchers held that the plants could not cause it because their radiation levels were so low. Similar results were found for a French study, with a similar conclusion; it could not be low-level radiation, though they had no other explanation. A meta-study published in 2007 of 136 reactor sites in seven countries, extended to include children up to age 9, found childhood leukemia increases of 14 percent to 21 percent.

Epidemiological studies of children and adults living near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will face the same obstacles as earlier studies. About 40 percent of the aging population of Japan will die of some form of cancer; how can one be sure it was not caused by one of the multiple other causes? It took decades for the effects of the atomic bombs and Chernobyl to clearly emblazon the word “CANCER” on these events. Almost all scientists finally agree that the dose effects are linear, that is, any radiation added to natural background radiation, even low-levels of radiation, is harmful. But how harmful?

University professors have declared that the health effects of Fukushima are “negligible,” will cause “close to no deaths,” and that much of the damage was “really psychological.” Extensive and expensive follow-up on citizens from the Fukushima area, the experts say, is not worth it. There is doubt a direct link will ever be definitively made, one expert said. The head of the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, said: “There’s no opportunity for conducting epidemiological studies that have any chance of success….The doses are just too low.” We have heard this in 1945, at TMi, at Chernobyl, and for normally running power plants. It is surprising that respected scientists refuse to make another test of such an important null hypothesis: that there are no discernible effects of low-level radiation.

Not surprisingly, a nuclear power trade group announced shortly after the March, 2011 meltdown at Fukushima (the meltdown started with the earthquake, well before the tsunami hit), that “no health effects are expected” as a result of the events. UN agencies agree with them and the U.S. Council. The leading UN organization on the effects of radiation concluded “Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.” The World Health Organization stated that while people in the United States receive about 6.5 millisieverts per year from sources including background radiation and medical procedures, only two Japanese communities had effective dose rates of 10 to 50 millisieverts, a bit more than normal.

However, other data contradict the WHO and other UN agencies. The Japanese science and technology ministry (MEXT) indicated that a child in one community would have an exposure 100 times the natural background radiation in Japan, rather than a bit more than normal. A hospital reported that more than half of the 527 children examined six months after the disaster had internal exposure to cesium-137, an isotope that poses great risk to human health. A French radiological institute found ambient dose rates 20 to 40 times that of background radiation and in the most contaminated areas the rates were even 10 times those elevated dose rates. The Institute predicts and excess cancer rate of 2 percent in the first year alone. Experts not associated with the nuclear industry or the UN agencies currently have estimated from 1,000 to 3,000 cancer deaths. Nearly two years after the disaster the WHO was still declaring that any increase in human disease “is likely to remain below detectable levels.” (It is worth noting that the WHO still only releases reports on radiation impacts in consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.)

In March 2013, the Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey reported examining 133,000 children using new, highly sensitive ultrasound equipment. The survey found that 41 percent of the children examined had cysts of up to 2 centimeters in size and lumps measuring up to 5 millimeters on their thyroid glands, presumably from inhaled and ingested radioactive iodine. However, as we might expect from our chronicle, the survey found no cause for alarm because the cysts and lumps were too small to warrant further examination. The defense ministry also conducted an ultrasound examination of children from three other prefectures distant from Fukushima and found somewhat higher percentages of small cysts and lumps, adding to the argument that radiation was not the cause. But others point out that radiation effects would not be expected to be limited to what is designated as the contaminated area; that these cysts and lumps, signs of possible thyroid cancer, have appeared alarmingly soon after exposure; that they should be followed up since it takes a few years for cancer to show up and thyroid cancer is rare in children; and that a control group far from Japan should be tested with the same ultrasound technics.

The denial that Fukushima has any significant health impacts echoes the denials of the atomic bomb effects in 1945; the secrecy surrounding Windscale and Chelyabinsk; the studies suggesting that the fallout from Three Mile Island was, in fact, serious; and the multiple denials regarding Chernobyl (that it happened, that it was serious, and that it is still serious).

As of June, 2013, according to a report in The Japan Times, 12 of 175,499 children tested had tested positive for possible thyroid cancer, and 15 more were deemed at high risk of developing the disease. For a disease that is rare, this is high number. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is still trying to get us to ignore the bad seed. June 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy granted $1.7 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to address the “difficulties in gaining the broad social acceptance” of nuclear power.

Perrow, Charles. 2013. “Nuclear denial: From Hiroshima to Fukushima.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 69(5):56-67.

GENERAL OVERVIEW OF THE EFFECTS OF NUCLEAR TESTING (CTBTO)

The material contained in this chapter is based on official government sources as well as information provided by research institutions, policy organizations, peer-reviewed journals and eye witness accounts. 

http://www.ctbto.org/nuclear-testing/the-effects-of-nuclear-testing/

The CTBTO remains neutral in any ongoing disputes related to compensation for veterans of the nuclear test programmes.  

Nuclear weapons have been tested in all environments since 1945: in the atmosphere, underground and underwater. Tests have been carried out onboard barges, on top of towers, suspended from balloons, on the Earth’s surface, more than 600 metres underwater and over 200 metres underground. Nuclear test bombs have also been dropped by aircraft and fired by rockets up to 320 km into the atmosphere.

The National Resources Defense Council estimated the total yield of all nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980 at 510 megatons (Mt). Atmospheric tests alone accounted for 428 mt, equivalent to over 29,000 Hiroshima size bombs.

Frigate Bird nuclear test explosion seen through the periscope of the submarine USS Carbonero (SS-337), Johnston Atoll, Central Pacific Ocean, 1962.

The first nuclear test was carried out by the United States in July 1945, followed by the Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. The National Resources Defense Council estimated the total yield of all nuclear tests conducted between 1945 and 1980 at 510 megatons (Mt). Atmospheric tests alone accounted for 428 mt, equivalent to over 29,000 Hiroshima size bombs.

The amount of radioactivity generated by a nuclear explosion can vary considerably depending upon a number of factors. These include the size of the weapon and the location of the burst. An explosion at ground level may be expected to generate more dust and other radioactive particulate matters than an air burst. The dispersion of radioactive material is also dependent upon weather conditions.

Large amounts of radionuclides dispersed into the atmosphere

Levels of radiocarbon (C14) in the atmosphere 1945 – 2000. Image credit: Hokanomono.

The 2000 Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to the General Assemblystates that:
“The main man-made contribution to the exposure of the world’s population [to radiation] has come from the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, from 1945 to 1980. Each nuclear test resulted in unrestrained release into the environment of substantial quantities of radioactive materials, which were widely dispersed in  the atmosphere and deposited everywhere on the Earth’s surface.”

The first nuclear test was carried out by the United States in July 1945, followed by the Soviet Union in 1949, the United Kingdom in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964.

Different types of nuclear tests: (1) atmospheric test; (2) underground test; (3) upper atmospheric test; and (4) underwater test.

Concern over bone-seeking radionuclides and the first mitigating steps

Prior to 1950, only limited consideration was given to the health impacts of worldwide dispersion of radioactivity from nuclear testing. Public protests in the 1950s and concerns about the radionuclide strontium-90 (see Chart 1) and its effect on mother’s milk and babies’ teeth were instrumental in the conclusion of the Partial Test Ban Treaty (PTBT) in 1963. The PTBT banned nuclear testing in the atmosphere, outer space and under water, but not underground, and was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. However, France and China did not sign and conducted atmospheric tests until 1974 and 1980 respectively.

Although underground testing mitigated the problem of radiation doses from short-lived radionuclides such as iodine-131, large amounts of plutonium, iodine-129 and caesium-135 (See Chart 1) were released underground. In addition, exposure occurred beyond the test site if radioactive gases leaked or were vented.

Scientist arranging mice for radiation exposure investigations around 1944. (While conducting these experiments, the carcinogenesis of urethane was discovered).

Gradual increase in knowledge about dangers of radiation exposure

Over the past century, there has been a gradual accumulation of knowledge about the hazards of radioactivity. It was recognized early on that exposure to a sufficient radiation dosage could cause injuries to internal organs, as well as to the skin and the eyes.

According to the 2000 Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation to the UN General Assembly, radiation exposure can damage living cells, killing some and modifying others. The destruction of a sufficient number of cells will inflict noticeable harm on organs which may result in death. If altered cells are not repaired, the resulting modification will be passed on to further cells and may eventually lead to cancer. Modified cells that transmit hereditary information to the offspring of the exposed individual might cause hereditary disorders. Vegetation can also be contaminated when fallout is directly deposited on external surfaces of plants and absorbed through the roots. Furthermore, people can be exposed when they eat meat and milk from animals grazing on contaminated vegetation.

Radiation exposure has been associated with most forms of leukaemia, as well as cancer of the thyroid, lung and breast.

girl who lost her hair after being exposed to radiation from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

Studies reveal link between nuclear weapon testing and cancer

The American Cancer Society’s website explains how ionizing radiation, which refers to several types of particles and rays given off by radioactive materials, is one of the few scientifically proven carcinogens in human beings. Radiation exposure has been associated with most forms of leukaemia, as well as cancer of the thyroid, lung and breast. The time that may elapse between radiation exposure and cancer development can be anything between 10 and 40 years. Degrees of exposure regarded as tolerable in the 1950s are now recognized internationally as unsafe.

An article featured in Volume 94 of American Scientist onFallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risksstates that a number of studies of biological samples (including bone, thyroid glands and other tissues) have provided increasing proof that specific radionuclides in fallout are implicated in fallout-related cancers.

It is difficult to assess the number of deaths that might be attributed to radiation exposure from nuclear testing. Some studies and evaluations, including an assessment by Arjun Makhijani on the health effects of nuclear weapon complexes, estimate that cancer fatalities due to the global radiation doses from the atmospheric nuclear testing programmes of the five nuclear-weapon States amount to hundreds of thousands. A 1991 study by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)estimated that the radiation and radioactive materials from atmospheric testing taken in by people up until the year 2000 would cause 430,000 cancer deaths, some of which had already occurred by the time the results were published. The study predicted that roughly 2.4 million people could eventually die from cancer as a result of atmospheric testing.

CHART 1 – EFFECTS OF RADIONUCLIDES

Radionuclide Half-life* Health hazards
Xenon
(Xe)
6.7 hours Inhalation in excessive concentrations can result in dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death. At low oxygen concentrations, unconsciousness and death may occur in seconds without warning.
Americium-241
(241Am)
432 years Moves rapidly through the body after ingestion and is concentrated within the bones for a long period of time. During this storage americium will slowly decay and release radioactive particles and rays. These rays can cause alteration of genetic materials and bone cancer.
Iodine-131
(131I)
8 days When present in high levels in the environment from radioactive fallout, I-131 can be absorbed through contaminated food. It also accumulates in the thyroid gland, where it can destroy all or part of the thyroid. May cause damage to the thyroid as it decays. Thyroid cancer may occur.
Caesium-137
(137Cs)
30 years After entering the body, caesium is distributed fairly uniformly through the body, with higher concentration in muscle tissue and lower concentration in bones. Can cause gonadal irradiation and genetic damage.
Krypton-85
(85Kr)
10.76 years Inhalation in excessive concentrations can result in dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and death.
Strontium-90
(90Sr)
28 years A small amount of strontium 90 is deposited in bones and bone marrow, blood and soft tissues when ingested. Can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukaemia.
Plutonium-239
(239Pu)
24,400 years Released when a plutonium weapon is exploded. Ingestion of even a miniscule quantity is a serious health hazard and can cause lung, bone, and liver cancer. The highest doses are to the lungs, the bone marrow, bone surfaces, and liver.
Tritium
(3H)
12 years Easily ingested. Can be inhaled as a gas in the air or absorbed through the skin. Enters soft tissues and organs. Exposure to tritium increases the risk of developing cancer. Beta radiation emitted by tritium can cause lung cancer.

* ( i.e. amount of time it takes for half of the quantity of a radioactive material to decay)

Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911 for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. The curie unit is named after Marie and Pierre Curie, who conducted pioneering research on radiation.

Measuring radiation doses and biological risks

Scientists use different terms when measuring radiation. The terms can either refer to radiation from a radioactive source, the radiation dose absorbed by a person, or the risk that a person will suffer health effects from exposure to radiation. When a person is exposed to radiation, energy is deposited in the body’s tissues. The amount of energy deposited per unit of weight of human tissue is called the absorbed dose. This is measured using the rad or the SI Gy. The rad, which stands for radiation absorbed dose, has largely been replaced by the Gy. One Gy is equal to 100 rad.

The curie (symbol Ci) is a unit of radioactivity. It has largely been replaced by the Becquerel, which is the unit of radioactivity. One Becquerel is defined as the number of atoms which decay per second in a sample. The curie unit is named after Marie and Pierre Curie, who conducted pioneering research on radiation.

A person’s biological risk (i.e. the risk that a person will suffer health effects from an exposure to radiation) is measured using the conventional unit rem or the SI unit Sv.

CHART 2. EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT LEVELS OF RADIATION

Radiation dose in rems Health impact
5-20 Possible chromosomal damage.
20-100 Temporary reduction in number of white blood cells. Mild nausea and vomiting. Loss of appetite. Fatigue, which may last up to four weeks. Greater susceptibility to infection. Greater long-term risk of leukaemia and lymphoma is possible.
100-200 Mild radiation sickness within a few hours: vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue; reduced resistance to infection. Hair loss. In sufficient amounts, I-131 can destroy all or part of the thyroid gland, leading to thyroid abnormalities or cancer. Temporary male sterility.
200-300 Serious radiation sickness effects as in 100-200 rem. Body cells that divide rapidly can also be destroyed. These include blood cells, gastrointestinal tract cells, reproductive cells, and hair cells. DNA of surviving cells is also damaged.
300-400 Serious radiation sickness. Bone marrow and intestine destruction. Haemorraging of the mouth.
400-1000 Acute illness, possible heart failure. Bone marrow almost completely destroyed. Permanent female sterility probable.
1000-5000 Acute illness, nerve cells and small blood vessels are destroyed. Death can occur in days.