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A Basic Primer

Fukushima: Two Years Later

by JANETTE SHERMAN, MD

Over the last two years, questions arise as to whether the Fukushima nuclear disaster is worse than Chernobyl. Unless the principles of physics, chemistry and biology are cancelled, the effects that have been documented in the various populations exposed to the radioactive releases from Chernobyl will occur in those exposed to Fukushima releases. This is not new information – it has been known for decades.

Let us consider “Science 101.”

Physics

When uranium is split as in a reactor, or bomb, it releases great amounts of heat, and energy, as well as multiple radioactive decay products. Once released the process of decay cannot be stopped. It takes approximately 10 half-lives for an isotope to fully decay.  Given that the half-life of cesium is some 30 years, it will be three centuries before the levels return to normal.

Incineration of contaminated materials is occurring in Japan, but burning, whether in an incinerator or a forest fire spreads the pollution.  Isotopes in soil, water, food, plants or animals cannot be detected by sight, taste, or smell.  Radiation measuring devices can detect the alpha, beta and gamma emissions, but only if they are performed, and are useful only if the information is released to the public.

Chemistry

All elements, radioactive or not, belong to groups best shown in the Periodic Table of Elements.  Radioactive strontium belongs to the same chemical family as calcium, and like calcium becomes deposited in the bones and teeth of children as well as in animals, fish and birds.  Like potassium, radioactive cesium is deposited in muscle – of all animals – fish, birds, and humans, while radioactive iodine, is taken up by the thyroid gland, causing the greatest damage in unborn and young animals.  These chemicals damage as they release high-energy radiation that causes damage to the surrounding tissues, including mutations.

Biology

As radioactive isotopes re spread over land and water, they become deposited – but in a non-uniform manner, depending upon wind direction, weather, and elevation.
Life process in plants results in the up-take of radioactivity, which is released as plants die, or become dormant, and leaves fall to the ground, to seep into the soil to be take up again the next season.  In the interim, fruit, vegetables and grains eaten by livestock and people becomes contaminated.

As isotopes fall upon both fresh and seawater, they are absorbed by plankton, crustaceans, fish, mammals, etc., and spread throughout the food chain.

After Chernobyl, not all life systems were examined, but of those that were – wild and domestic animals, birds, insects, plants, fungi, fish, trees, and humans, all were damaged, many permanently. Thus what happens to animals and plants with short-term life spans is predictive of those with longer ones.

Moller and Mousseau have done field research in both Chernobyl and Fukushima.  They document adverse effects seen in organisms with short life spans such as birds, rodents and insects (which have completed as many as 25 generations) that is much worse than has been reported in humans (who are now entering their 3rd generation since Chernobyl.)

The uniqueness of Japan bears mention. Japan is a small country with a large, dense population.  The population density around the Fukushima nuclear plants is greater than around Chernobyl.  Now two years later, the Fukushima plants are still leaking.  Consider too, the area Fukushima area was/is a major crop producing area, and the level of radioactive cesium in vegetables, and fish continues to increase.

Janette D. Sherman, M. D. is the author of Life’s Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer and Chemical Exposure and Disease, and is a specialist in internal medicine and toxicology. She edited the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and Nature, written by A. V. Yablokov, V. B., Nesterenko and A. V. Nesterenko, published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009.  Her primary interest is the prevention of illness through public education.  She can be reached at:  toxdoc.js@verizon.net and www.janettesherman.com