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Visiting the end of the world
Incredibly moving article by Scott Ludlam, Australian Greens Senator, after visiting Fukushima and meeting with Japanese people across the area.
Australian uranium is devastating Japan by fueling the reactors that failed causing this terrible destruction of life, health, and the environment. First quickly and brutally at the start of the accident, now slowly and surely leaching into the groundwater, contaminating the food supply, threatening Japan's fishing industry, coating schoolyards, gardens, crops, and peoples houses in radioactive dust measurable in dangerous levels.
"Several hundred thousand people now live with the subliminal impacts of chronic low level radiation exposure, which the government has addressed by raising the allowable 'safe' dose 20-fold.
More than a third of children tested already have abnormal growths on their thyroid glands, an immediate consequence of exposure to radioiodine. The effects of long-term exposure to caesium and other longer lived isotopes will take much longer to manifest: the subtle violation of a whole population's DNA; rising incidence of fatal and non-fatal cancers; slow outbreaks of diseases with no name.
It won't be immediate, it won't occur in neat categories, and most of the health impacts will never be documented or attributed. Ionising radiation is sub-microscopic cellular bombardment, forcing genetic repair mechanisms into overdrive. It shortens lives." Scott Ludlam
Scott Ludlam l ABC.net.au 24 August, 2012
The rice paddy on the edge of Iitate village is 30km back from the coast, framed by steep forested hills, and we stop here briefly because the scene is so strangely heraldic.
At first glance, this looks like any other rural Japanese town in late summer, but it isn't any more. The precise geometries of the fields are softened with neglect and waist-high weeds. Two empty police cars sit out front of the vacant community hall. A work team of several dozen men in white masks and overalls tends a slow assemblage of earthmoving equipment out in the field - but this isn't agriculture.
Iitate village is dead, evacuated after the wind swung to the north-west in the days following the tsunami that smashed hundreds of kilometres of Tohoku coastline into oblivion.
The workers today are harvesting caesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years. They're carefully stripping the top 50cm of soil from the abandoned field, dumping it in neat windrows wrapped in blue plastic.
Our counters silently log a gamma dose of about 3.7 μSv per hour, 13 times the normal background level. Radiocaesium is found only in the wake of bomb fallout or downwind of failed nuclear reactors. Broken uranium atoms from Kakadu and central South Australia, fissioned under a hail of exquisitely tuned neutron bombardment into uneven fragments of iodine, strontium, xenon. It is everywhere now, invisible, sucked into the pores of the soil itself.
At a lonely intersection gone weedy and planted with warning signs, we record 9.2 μSv/hr in the undergrowth. In the days after the disaster, with three reactor cores exposed to the air, levels within the plant spiked 100,000 times higher. Workers in close proximity suffered lifetime radiation doses in a few hours.