Deformed daisies from Fukushima disaster site gain Internet fame
By Lisa Reddy
Monday, 13 July, 2015
Photos of flowers on Twitter and Instagram may be as commonplace as sunsets and selfies, but one Japanese amateur photographer has captured something a bit more unique than a beautiful bloom.
Twitter user @san_kaido posted a photo of mutated yellow daisies last month, found in Nasushiobara City, around 70 miles from Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster. The photos show daisies with fused yellow centres and with the petals growing out the side of the flower.
The daisies are not the first deformed plants found after the disaster. In 2013, the Daily Mail posted photos of mutated vegetables and fruit, attributing the apparent abnormalities to high levels of radiation found in the groundwater.
This 2012 video from Japan shows monkeys, apparently still unaffected by nuclear radiation. It says about itself:
Snow monkeys soak in hot springs of Japan
In winter Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, warm up in natural hot springs. David Levene visits Japan’s Jigokudani Monkey Park in Nagano, the only place in the wild where you can view the monkeys as they relax in the steaming water – while the monkey babies show more interest in playing with tourists’ camera equipment.
Seeking answers, Tohoku University Prof. Manabu Fukumoto has been examining the blood and other factors of slaughtered cattle and wild animals caught by hunters mainly within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant.
Over a four-year period, 300 cows, 60 pigs and 200 Japanese monkeys were checked. “Studying animals that lived in areas with high levels of radioactive material will help shed light on how radiation affects people,” Fukumoto said. “In fact, they provide us with a wealth of information.”
Fukumoto discovered that cesium levels in the organs of calves were 1.5 times higher than in those of their mothers. “Calves are known to have excellent metabolism, but it was a surprise to learn that radiation could accumulate so easily,” the 64-year-old professor said. “We have to pinpoint the cause.”
Eggs and sperm will be harvested from such cows for in vitro fertilization. Resulting offspring will then be screened for irregularities in their DNA.
The professor is a pathologist who studied the effects of internal radiation exposure on people who had ingested radioactive substances. After the Fukushima accident, his wife was struck with grief when the government started slaughtering cattle. “If anyone can ensure their deaths weren’t in vain, I know it’s you,” she told him.
Since he was nearing 65, the professor had been contemplating retirement. “I felt I had to prove my mettle as a Japanese researcher,” Fukumoto explained.
No longer spending all day peering through microscopes, he now strives to gather samples around the nuclear plant. The professor was convinced that “this is the quickest way to resolve questions regarding long-term radiation exposure.”
The beginning of such talks reflects an improvement in relations between the two biggest Asian economies.
Ties had deteriorated after the Japanese government bought a major part of the Japanese-administered Diaoyu Islands – known as Senkaku in Japan – in the East China Sea, from a private Japanese owner in 2012. The islands are claimed by China.
Both countries’ leaders have met twice since November, indicating a thaw in their tense relations.
The sale and use of Japanese food products has dropped sharply at department stores, supermarkets and restaurants in China since the import ban went into effect.
Japan says several measures taken by South Korea violate the WTO’s sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) agreement and Seoul has failed to justify its trade restrictions as required, the WTO said in a statement.
Under WTO rules, South Korea has 60 days in which to deal with Japan’s concerns in bilateral talks. After that Japan could ask the WTO to adjudicate on the matter.
“In upcoming talks with Japan, we plan to explain fully that the import ban is necessary for people’s safety, and actively deal with Japan over the issue they raised based upon WTO’s dispute settlement procedures,” South Korea’s trade, agriculture, foreign affairs and other related ministries said in a joint statement.
“We’ve urged the South Korean government to lift the ban, but we expect it is unlikely to be dropped quickly,” Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said in a statement on Thursday.
Last October, the Japanese representative at the WTO committee said contamination levels in more than 99 percent of food items were below standard limits, and strict measures prevented the sale or export of any food exceeding those limits.
South Korea’s representative told the same meeting that its restrictions were in line with WTO rules, but Japan had not provided it with sufficient data for an objective and science-based risk assessment.
The average annual value of South Korean imports of Japanese fish and seafood was $96 million in 2012-2014, less than half the average of $213 million in 2006 through 2010, according to data from the International Trade Center in Geneva.
Ex-Futaba mayor sues state, Tepco over Fukushima nuclear disaster — The Japan Times: here.
Tepco to sell large portion of uranium reserves — Enformable Nuclear News: here.
Fukushima may end free housing for voluntary nuclear evacuees in 2017 — The Japan Times: here.
Survey: Large majority of Fukushima evacuees have family members with health problems — The Asahi Shimbun: here.
Fukushima thyroid examination May 2015: 103 Thyroid cancer cases confirmed, 5 in the second-round screening — Fukushima Voice: here.
Huge spike in neurological diseases in Japan after Fukushima; 600% rise in disorders among evacuees: here.
Japan still aims to start removing fuel debris from stricken reactors in 2021 — The Japan Times: here.
Risk of hydrogen explosion from leaking containers at Fukushima plant — The Asahi Shimbun: here.
Fukushima pressure relief system failed at reactor 2 after disaster, Tepco reveals: here.
IAEA report on Fukushima slams lack of tsunami preparedness despite awareness of threat — The Japan Times: here.
Spent-nuclear fuel issues plague restarts — The Japan Times: here.
Letters from Mitsuhei Murata, former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, to Caroline Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Washington Post: here.
The Horrors of Fukushima — Mitsuhei Murata, April 20, 2015: here.
FUKUSHIMA – In 30 to 40 years from now, a majority of the young people living in 12 radiation-contaminated municipalities in Fukushima do not plan to be living in the same place where they experienced the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned: here.
Plan to end rent subsidies for some Fukushima evacuees under fresh fire: here.
The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. are planning to push back the start of removing spent fuel at the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex by two to three years from the current schedule, according to government sources: here.
7,000 Tochigi residents seek compensation over Fukushima nuclear disaster — The Japan Times: here.
Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster — Truthdig book review: here.
Free traders and traitors, bankers and thieves
Are at it once again WTO just didn’t cut it
So now there’s no telling when
They’ll pass this latest treaty
From behind closed doors
And win another battle
In the transnational class wars
They want Fast Track Authority
So they can get the job done right
By which they mean no discussion
Don’t even pretend to put up a fight
As they take from us our government’s
Ability to regulate
What happens within the borders
Of what they used to call the state
In what they used to call democracy
The idea that people have a say
In whether we should be building windmills
Or fracking our lives away
Whether banking regulations
Are a good idea or not
Whether the food on your kitchen table
Comes from a Monsanto plot
Whether the poor should die
Or have affordable medication
Whether human life is less important
Than your corporation
Whether this world is a commons
Or just a free trade bill
That we need about as much
As another oil spill
So let’s do like we do in the WC
And flush the TPP
They say it’ll help the economy
And they’ve said all that before
Like when they implemented NAFTA
The US lost a million jobs
Of this there is no doubt
And in Mexico, small farmers
Were almost completely wiped out
SOPA, PIPA, ACTA
They couldn’t get them passed
So now they’ve snuck them all into TPP
Try running that one up the mast
In the back rooms no one knows
Which corporation speaks
Except when secret documents
Get sent to WikiLeaks
And it’s only from the whistleblowers
We even know it’s there
One for Asia, one for Europe
Free trade everywhere
Free trade, free pollution
Freedom for the billionaires
Enslavement for the rest of us
But hey, they got theirs
Amari: Japan will not compromise alone on TPP
Apr. 14, 2015
Trade negotiators from Japan and the US will resume working-level talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership in Tokyo on Wednesday.
They are hoping to reach a bilateral agreement before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets President Barack Obama in Washington on April 28th.
But the Japanese minister in charge of the free-trade pact says Tokyo will not make one-sided concessions ahead of the summit.
Akira Amari said Japan does not consider the summit a deadline. He said he wants to focus on narrowing the gaps between the 2 sides to smooth the way for higher-level talks.
Amari said US negotiators would be mistaken if they believe that Japan will make compromises during the next 2 weeks.
But the Japanese minister said he is willing to meet with his US counterpart after the working-level talks to make further efforts at ironing out differences.
Ma stresses need to regain trust in food safety
Apr. 14, 2015
Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has stressed the need to restore Taiwanese consumers’ confidence in Japanese foods.
Ma made the comment in a news conference with the Japanese media in Taiwan on Tuesday, one day after Taiwan announced that it would tighten regulations on food imports from Japan, beginning as early as May.
The rules will include the provision of place-of-origin labels for Japanese food products. This is to make sure the products are free of radioactive contamination.
At the news conference, Ma referred to a revelation last month that foods from the 5 prefectures subject to the existing ban are being imported to Taiwan.
Ma said that consumers’ trust regarding the place of origin of Japanese foods must be restored. He said that if the trust is not regained soon, it could influence future business.
The president added that the import regulations will be neither too lax nor too strict, compared with other countries. He indicated that the regulations were determined by studying measures taken by other nations.
USA petition: Urgent! Block Fast Track of Trans Pacific Partnership NOW, Say NO to Radioactive Food from Japan: here.
Taiwan banned Japanese food imports from five prefectures including Fukushima in March 2011, a few weeks after the triple meltdown occurred and radioactive particles were detected in some imports.
Starting Friday, all food imports from Japan will be required to carry certificates proving that they are not from the five banned areas, while some will also need “radiation inspection certificates,” according to the Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare.
In March, Taiwanese authorities recalled hundreds of Japanese food items that had falsified labels hiding the fact that they came from regions affected by radioactive fallout, they said.
“The measures are necessary to . . . protect Taiwanese consumers’ health and welfare. The government and (food) companies should work together to provide safe food products,” the ministry said in a statement.
Japanese food products are popular in Taiwan. The local Apple Daily newspaper reported that stocks of some best-selling chocolates and prepackaged french fries could run out within three months due to delays caused by the new requirements.
Taiwan and Japan maintain close trade ties even though Tokyo switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1972.
Taiwan is the third-largest export market for Japanese foods and agricultural products, after Hong Kong and the United States, with ¥83.7 billion worth of shipments last year.
Taiwan’s government has been stepping up food safety measures after the nation was rocked by a string of food scandals in recent years.”
Birds Are in a Tailspin Four Years After Fukushima
Like the proverbial canary in a coalmine, avian abundances may paint a grim picture of the effects of nuclear disasters on wildlife
The first time Tim Mousseau went to count birds in Fukushima, Japan, radiation levels in the regions he visited were as high as 1,000 times the normal background. It was July 2011, four months after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent partial meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the nation was still recovering from massive infrastructure damage. Still, when Mousseau and his research partner rented a car and drove up from Tokyo, they encountered little resistance on the road.
“I knew we had to get there and capture as best we could the early effects [of radioactive contamination] that nobody had really looked for,” he remembers thinking after seeing news of the Fukushima disaster. “Ultimately we realized that our best possible approach for that first year was simply to start doing bird counts.”
Now, after four years surveying bird populations in 400 sites around Fukushima-Daiichi, Mousseau and his team have assembled a grim portrait of the disaster’s impact on local wildlife, using bird populations as a model system. Even though radioactivity has dropped throughout the region, their data show that bird species and abundances are in sharp decline, and the situation is getting worse every year.
“At first only a few species showed significant signs of the radiation’s effects,” Mousseau says. “Now if you go down and around the bend maybe five or ten kilometers [from a safe zone] to where it’s much, much hotter, it’s dead silent. You’ll see one or two birds if you’re lucky.”
Mousseau’s team conducted almost 2,400 bird counts in total and gathered data on 57 species, each of which showed specific sensitivity to background radiation. Thirty of the species showed population declines during the study period, the team report in the March issue of the Journal of Ornithology. Among these, resident birds such as the carrion crow and the Eurasian tree sparrow demonstrated higher susceptibility than migratory species, which didn’t arrive in the region until a few weeks after the partial meltdown in early March.
Nuclear accidents are rare in human history, so we have very little data about such radiation’s direct effects on wildlife. Mousseau has spent the past 15 years drawing comparisons between nuclear events to help build up our knowledge base and fill in the gaps. For instance, while there are no official published records of the Chernobyl disaster’s early impact on wildlife, plenty of work has been done in recent years to assess Chernobyl’s ecosystem post-accident, from local birds to forest fungi.
When Mousseau returned to Fukushima in 2012, he began capturing birds in irradiated zones that had patches of bleach-white feathers. It was a familiar sign: “The first time I went to Chernobyl in 2000 to collect birds, 20 percent of the birds [we captured] at one particularly contaminated farm had little patches of white feathers here and there—some large, some small, sometimes in a pattern and other times just irregular.”
His team thinks these white patches are the result of radiation-induced oxidative stress, which depletes birds’ reserves of the antioxidants that control coloration in their feathers and other body parts. In Chernobyl, the patches have a high coincidence with other known symptoms of radiation exposure, including cataracts, tumors, asymmetries, developmental abnormalities, reduced fertility and smaller brain size.
By 2013, the birds Mousseau was counting in Fukushima had white patches big enough to be seen through binoculars.
Presented together, Mousseau thinks such data sets on Chernobyl and Fukushima could offer significant evidence for radiation’s prolonged, cumulative effects on wildlife at different stages after a nuclear disaster. But other experts have a completely different take on the available information.
“I’m not convinced about the oxidative stress hypothesis, full stop,” says Jim Smith, editor and lead author of Chernobyl: Catastrophe and Consequences and an expert on pollution in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. “The radiation levels in both Fukushima and Chernobyl are currently low-dose, and the antioxidant capacity of a cell is way, way bigger than the oxidizing capacity of the radiation at those levels,” he says. This would mean the white feather patches—and perhaps the overall bird declines—are being caused by something other than radiation.
Birds’ feathers often change color as a byproduct of aging, much like our hair color changes as we get older. They also get replaced in molt cycles a few times a year and require new doses of melanin every time to retain their pigment. According to Yale evolutionary ornithologist Richard Prum, this opens the door for pigment mutations to occur quite regularly—whether or not a bird lives in or passes through a radiation zone.
“It’s a bit like fixing a car: the problem may be obvious, but there are lots of moving parts,” says Prum, who studies the evolution of avian plumage coloration. “Melanin stress can manifest in the same way—such as white feathers—under a variety of circumstances, and the causes behind it can be very diverse. Just this winter I saw four species with abnormal white pigmentation visit my feeder at home, but I’m not too worried about radiation levels in New Haven.”
Prum says he had heard the ecosystem at Chernobyl was doing quite well, an opinion defended by Mousseau’s critics. Back at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., Smith primarily studies aquatic invertebrates, and in some of Chernobyl’s most contaminated lakes he has actually observed increased levels of biodiversity following the accident.
“Many of the literature studies on animals find it difficult to distinguish between the early effects of high doses shortly after the accident and later effects of much lower subsequent doses,” Smith says. “Plus some of them don’t properly account for the ecosystem impacts of removal of humans.”
Back in 2000, Robert Baker and Ron Chesser of Texas Tech University published a paper characterizing Chernobyl as a wildlife preserve, established thanks to the absence of humans since the accident. …
Mousseau acknowledges that his research methods deviate from those of “old-school radiation biologists,” whose work has typically measured responses to radiation based on Geiger counter readings of individual animals. Not caring about the exact levels of radioactivity, as Mousseau says he does not, understandably ruffles some feathers.
“We’re strictly motivated by measurements of ecological and evolutionary response,” Mousseau says. “Our extraordinary evidence relates to these censuses, these massively replicated bionic inventories across a landscape scale and in both locations, and that has not been done in any rigorous way by any of these other groups.
“The data are not anecdotal, they’re real and rigorous,” he adds. “They’re replicated in space and time. How you interpret them is up for grabs, and certainly a lot more experimentation needs to be done in order to better appreciate the mechanism associated with these declines.” For their part, Mousseau’s team hopes next to understand why different bird species in their data appear to demonstrate varying levels of radioactive sensitivity. They’re headed to Chernobyl again next week, and back to Fukushima in July.
Update 5/1: James Smith’s affiliation has been corrected; he is a professor at the University of Portsmouth.
Fukushima No. 1 workers with high radiation doses up 1.5-fold — The Japan Times: here.
Soil underneath a slide at the park in the north-west of the Japanese capital showed radiation readings of up to 480 microsieverts per hour, the local administrative office said.
Anyone directly exposed to this level would absorb in two hours the maximum dose of radiation Japan recommends in a year.
“Many children play in the park daily, so the ward office should explain the situation,” Kyodo News quoted a 62-year-old local woman as saying.
The radiation level is over 2000 times that at which the national government requires soil cleaning in areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, where reactors melted down after the March 2011 tsunami.
That standard, however, is for measurements taken at 0.5 to 1.0 metres above ground, while officials in Tokyo’s Toshima ward checked the ground itself.
Officials were made aware of the contamination after a local resident reported it on Monday and say they do not think it is connected to the disaster at Fukushima.
“Because the area in which we detect radioactivity is very limited, and readings in surrounding parts are normal, we suspect radioactive materials of some kind are buried there,” local mayor Yukio Takano said in a statement.
The park was built in 2013, two years after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, a local official said, on what was previously a parking lot for Tokyo’s sanitation department.
Top soil at the lot was replaced before the land was turned into a park, said the Toshima official.