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Fukushima Update: Why We Should (Still) Be Worried

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Specific health effects from internal radiation exposure correlate with where radioisotopes land in the body. Bertell explains: “For example, radionuclides lodged in the bones can damage bone marrow and cause bone cancers or leukemia, while radionuclides lodged in the lungs can cause respiratory diseases. Generalized whole body exposure to radiation can be expressed as a stress related to a person’s hereditary medical weakness. Individual breakdown usually occurs at our weakest point.” In other words, the impact of radiation exposure also depends very much on each individual’s level of health and genetic make-up.

Fukushima’s Unending Fallout

Fetuses in utero, infants, and young children —all of whom have quickly dividing cells—as well as the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to radiation exposure. “Official” sources like the Environmental Protection Agency and the  UC Berkeley Nuclear Engineering Air Monitoring Station consistently  downplaythe health effects of the fallout. In fact, the EPA was so confident that Fukushima fallout would not be a problem for U.S. citizens that it stopped its specific monitoring of fallout from Fukushima less than two months after the meltdowns began.

But neglecting to monitor the fallout will not make it go away. In fact, another enormous problem with radioactive contamination is that it  bioaccumulates in the environment, which means it concentrates as it moves up the food chain. (Think of mercury in fish.) Because many radionuclides are so long-lived, this can be a problem for a very long time. For example, the U.K. is only now  considering lifting restrictions on the remaining 334 sheep farms in Wales that are still prohibited from selling any meat because of contamination from the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986.

In this  video, FFAN member Kimberly Roberson points out that the first disaster at Fukushima Daiichi following the earthquake and tsunami was accidental: “However, by burning the millions of tons of radioactive rubble, it’s going to provide a brand new humanitarian crisis.” She observes that this crisis—“transgenerational DNA damage that’s passed well into the future”—is additional and intentional, and that everything possible must be done to stop it.

Roberson’s point is well taken. However, the desperate yearning among the Japanese to get past this disaster combined with the uncharted territory of dealing with a triple-whammy catastrophe of this magnitude—earthquake, tsunami, and three nuclear meltdowns—seems to be clouding their vision. The truth is, a nuclear disaster offers no easy or good choices. But some, like vaporizing the radionuclides throughout the atmosphere, will unnecessarily prolong the danger to the people and environment of Japan and spread the pain far and wide.

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