RWS - News Director / Executive Producer
Dr. Karen Dwyer - Clamshell Alliance
Rob Abston - PLAN
Janet Keating - Executive Director OVEC
Steve Horn - DeSmog Blog
0. BLOOD SWEAT and TEARS AWARD
TRIBUTE TO MEREDITH OCKMAN
HON. LOIS FRANKEL
in the house of representatives
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Ms. FRANKEL of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor Meredith
Ockman, recipient of the Palm Beach County National Organization for
Women (NOW) Blood, Sweat, and Tears Award and tireless advocate for
justice and equality.
Meredith, who currently serves as Vice President for Florida NOW, has
truly dedicated her career to community service. She has worked with
Compass: The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of the Palm Beaches to
teach safe sex education, and has bravely defended women seeking
abortion care from harassment and intimidation.
Her impact includes grassroots advocacy as well. She organized
participants for the March for Women's Lives, and has served NOW in
several capacities, including as Legislative Director for Florida NOW
and President of Palm Beach County NOW.
With her limited spare time, Meredith volunteers with several
organizations and is the President of the Women's Health Foundation of
South Florida. In honor of her tireless efforts on behalf of South
Florida women, I am pleased to recognize Meredith Ockman for her
amazing achievements and wish her continued success.
1. Amendment 1 stands for Clean Water
Senate President Don Gaetz disapproves of the Land and Water Legacy Amendment — Amendment 1 on your November ballot — on Big Gubmint grounds. As a spokesman put it, he "believes the amendment is based on a core belief that more land of some kind somewhere needs to be controlled by the government and not private landholders."
Gaetz needs to read the amendment again. What it actually does is save the beautiful and wild places people come to Florida for in the first place: the creeks peaceful as dawn, ancient cypress stands, lands where bear and panther roam, and springs which, as Marjory Stoneman Douglas said, are like "bowls of liquid light."
The state would have to dedicate 33 percent of document stamp revenues, collected on real estate sales, to acquiring sensitive lands. It's not a new tax; it doesn't impinge on your freedom — unless your idea of "freedom" is wholesale destruction of nature. It simply ensures funding for the old bipartisan Florida Forever program, instead of leaving it to the whims of the Legislature and the governor.
Your elected officials jealously guard their whim-privileges. House Speaker Will Weatherford also dislikes Amendment 1: "Legislating via constitutional amendments doesn't work in California," he tweeted, "and it won't work here!"
Funnily enough, just 18 months ago Florida's Republican leadership larded the 2012 ballot with no fewer than seven amendments, trying to restrict women's reproductive rights, cripple Obamacare and weaken the separation of church and state.
While there's a principled argument to be made against stuffing the state Constitution with amendments, the speaker isn't making it; he's merely ginning up the tea party tendency by invoking the dreaded Democratic Socialist Republic of California, font of such abominations as emission controls and renewable energy.
Gaetz, Weatherford and their profit-uber-alles allies in the Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries should listen not only to the citizens (more than 700,000 of whom signed the Legacy Amendment petition) but their legislative colleagues, many of whom have taken to sounding like born-again greens: lamenting dead manatees in the Indian River Lagoon, expressing outrage over compromised drinking water in Southeast Florida, and promising action on the toxic algae choking the St. Johns, the Santa Fe and the Caloosahatchee. Some have gone so far as to suggest doing something about leaky septic tanks.
Even Gov. Rick Scott seems to have undergone a Damascene conversion, going around saying he wants to heal our springs, save Apalachicola Bay oysters and fix the Everglades.
It is, of course, an election year.
If that LED light bulb has finally switched on in their brains, good. Still, I wouldn't break out the organic champagne just yet: These are among the same legislators who gleefully shut down the Department of Community Affairs — the agency which stopped a habitat-destroying marina in Taylor County and refused to approve high-rises on barrier islands in the gulf — the same legislators who behaved with uncharacteristic but welcome good sense in 2010 when they passed a bill mandating septic tank inspection every five years, then, after the tea party commenced to caterwauling about government intrusion, turned tail and repealed it two years later.
This is the same governor who fired a slew of scientists from the Department of Environmental Protection and installed development-friendly types who tried to declare that dry pine uplands were really wetlands — until a judge stopped them — the same governor who thought it a fine idea to raise money for conservation lands by selling off conservation lands.
Okay, maybe they've evolved. The trouble is, they keep telling us they don't believe in evolution.
The big talk about springs cleanup and genuine water quality standards starts to smell like nothing more than campaign-season, er, manure. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi (also up for re-election) are spending taxpayer money to join a lawsuit against cleaning up Chesapeake Bay. That's right: Florida is weighing on the side of Big Ag, Big Development and an outfit called (I am not making this up) the Fertilizer Institute.
They argue that if the Environmental Protection Agency can force polluters to clean up the junk they've been dumping into the largest (and once the most productive) estuary in the United States, why, EPA might make Louisiana get those dioxins out of the Mississippi. Or insist Florida stops using Lake Okeechobee as a sewer.
I mean, what's more important: clean water or states' rights?
Pro tip: If you want to test the governor's and the legislators' commitment to Florida's environment, follow HB 703, recently filed by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Patronis, the polluters' BFF, thinks it would be a fine idea to privatize drinking water, give developers precedence over local governments, forbid municipalities to protect wetlands and refuse to follow federal regulations designed to address sea level rise.
Thank God real people aren't waiting for politicians to get a clue. In addition to working hard to get Amendment 1 on November's ballot, more than 100 citizens' groups drafted a "Clean Water Declaration," which states: "The people of Florida, the state government, and the industries that benefit from Florida's natural resources" must stop pollution at the source, fight "overconsumption and privatization."
The declaration, however commonsensical, can't force Florida politicians to do the right thing. Amendment 1 can. Put Florida's leaders on notice: You can't be for dirty water in Maryland and clean water in Florida; you can't take money from polluters and tell us you're an environmentalist; you can't swear you love this state, then turn around and try to destroy it.
Diane Roberts is a member of the Florida Wildlife Federation board. The author of "Dream State," a memoir of Florida, she teaches at Florida State University. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.
2. US Sinks to 46th in Global Press Freedom Rankings
By Oliver Knox, Yahoo! News - 17 February 14
he United States did not live up to the promise of the First Amendment last year, "far from it," sinking to 46th in global press freedom rankings, a respected international nonprofit group said Wednesday.
The U.S. plummeted 13 slots to 46th overall "amid increased efforts to track down whistle-blowers and the sources of leaks," Reporters Without Borders warned in an annual report.
"The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest," the organization said.
The group, known by its French initials, RSF, also cited the Department of Justice's seizure of Associated Press telephone records and a court's pressure on New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against a CIA staffer accused of leaking classified information.
"The whistle-blower is clearly the enemy in the U.S.," Delphine Halgand, who heads the RSF outpost in Washington, told Yahoo News. "Eight whistle-blowers have been charged under the Obama administration, the highest number of any administration, of all other administrations combined."
It's "a clear strategy of the administration" to "avoid any other version than the official version on what the administration is doing," Halgand said.
Overall, RSF said in its report, "countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it."
"Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result," the group said.
So who does a better job than the U.S. of protecting press freedoms?
Here, in order of rank, starting with No. 1 Finland: Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden, Estonia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Jamaica, Canada, Poland, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Namibia, Belgium, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Uruguay, Ghana, Australia, Belize, Portugal, Suriname, Lithuania, Britain, Slovenia, Spain, Antigua and Barbuda, Latvia, El Salvador, France, Samoa, Botswana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Papua New Guinea and Romania.
Italy was 49th. Israel was 96th. Afghanistan was 128th. Russia was 148th. China was 175th.
Leak follows recent reports of skyrocketing groundwater contamination
- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Highly radioactive water flowed into the ground from a storage tank at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant on Wednesday, in what officials said was the largest contamination leak in roughly six months.
The water, reading high levels of radiation, overflowed from a large storage tank after a valve that had been mistakenly left open allowed excessive amounts of contaminated water into the tank.
The overflow was discovered Wednesday night, but before the valve was closed the tank is estimated to have spilled 100 metric tons of water containing 230 million becquerels per liter of "beta-emitting radioactive isotopes, including strontium 90."
The water quickly seeped into the ground, TEPCO officials said, but claimed that it was "unlikely to have reached the ocean."
Last week, TEPCO, which has been criticized repeatedly for its mishandling of the nuclear catastrophe, announced that samples taken from a groundwater well near the plant contained a record-breaking 54,000 becquerels per liter of the radioactive substance cesium, a number which doubles all previous records of cesium in groundwater near the plant.
It was also recently revealed that the company was withholding vital data that showed surging levels of the highly radioactive strontium-90 in a separate groundwater well.
4. Tokyo (CNN) -- A large amount of radioactive water has leaked from a holding tank at Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, its operator said Thursday.
The leak of an estimated 100 metric tons of highly contaminated water was discovered late Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said in a statement.
The tainted water flowed over a barrier around the tank and is being absorbed into the ground, TEPCO said. The plant has shut off the inflow of water into the tank and the leaking has stopped, it added.
The company doesn't believe that there was any leakage of the radioactive water into the nearby Pacific Ocean.
Since the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan in March 2011 set off meltdowns at three of the reactors at the nuclear plant, TEPCO has been storing the enormous volumes of water contaminated at the site in a steadily growing collection of containers.
The company has struggled to manage the vast amounts of radioactive water, with a number of leaks reported last year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government vowed to step in to deal with the toxic water crisis at the plant that caused concern in Japan and abroad about the scale of the problem faced by TEPCO.
The leak reported Thursday is one of the largest since TEPCO reported last summer that about 300 tons of radioactive water had leaked from a tank.
CNN first learned about the latest incident on Twitter.
5. Next week we will be starting a new segment - Each week during the LEGISLATIVE SESSION - We will feature a weekly UNION REPORT from TALLAHASSEE - In solidarity with our Union Brothers and Sisters
6. Duke Energy will try to make ratepayers pay to clean up coal ash disaster - 19 Feb
Duke Energy’s executives want you to know they’re sorry for the tens of thousands of tons of coal ash they spilled into the Dan River in the third-largest disaster of its kind in US history. They’re sorry for the water that officials now admit is tainted with arsenic and is unsafe even to touch, no less for swimming, boating or fishing.
They’re sorry for the little animals — the clams, mussels and crustaceans — that form the base of the river’s ecosystem and are suffocating in a river of sludge. They’re sorry for the big ones — the birds, fish and turtles – that eat those little things. And most of all they’re sorry to the people living near the Dan who depend on all of it, directly or indirectly, for much of their local economy (and, as anyone who’s ever lived near a river knows, for much more than that.)
They’re just not sorry enough to pay to clean it up.
After all, why would Duke ask its executives or investors to pay to clean the mess they created when they can do what they always do when they screw something up: get their customers to foot the bill.
According to the Associated Press, George Everett, Duke’s director of environmental and legislative affairs, told state legislators on Monday:
that the company is sorry for the spill and will be accountable. Any costs incurred because of the cleanup will likely be passed on to ratepayers, not shareholders, he said.
“We have paid absolutely no attention to costs, to this point,” Everett said, responding to a lawmaker’s question about who will pay. “We’re focused on stopping the discharge and initiating the remediation of the river. But when costs do come into play, when we’ve had a chance to determine what those costs are, it’s usually our customers who pay our costs of operation.”
It takes audacity to say with one breath “we will be accountable” and also “but we won’t pay for it.”
If an intruder kicked in your front door, vandalized your home, got caught, and sent you the bill to repair the damages, would Everett call that “acountability” as well?
Sadly, hypocrisy won’t surprise many Duke customers. This is standard operating procedure for the country’s largest utility.
When Duke decided to shut a nuclear reactor in Florida that it broke during a botched repair job, and when it scuttled plans to build another that had run billions of dollars over budget, it was “accountable” for those mistakes too — it charged its Florida customers over $3 billion to pay for it all.
As if all of this weren’t hard enough to swallow, Duke bragged to its investors yesterday about how its profits jumped 58 % in the last quarter of 2013, thanks to rate hikes to its customers in multiple states. It’s not like they can’t afford to follow the basic lesson we all learned in kindergarten and clean up their own mess.
Perhaps wary of further political backlash if Duke announced it intended to charge ratepayers for the cleanup with the spill still so fresh in everyone’s minds, the company’s CEO, Lynn Good, told The Charlotte Observer yesterday that no, Duke would pay for it all!
But given Duke’s history of dishonesty around this spill — and, quite frankly, most everything else — Ms. Good hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt. More likely, Duke is trying to appease the public with some vague promises of accountability, wait until the scandal passes, then ask regulators at the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) to let Duke charge customers for its mess once national media interest has cooled and fewer people are paying attention.
The worst part? Duke will probably get away with it. The NCUC is appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, former Duke employee of 28 years. The other McCrory’s Administration agency charged with regulating Duke, the Department of Natural Resources (DENR), helped Duke sweep its coal ash problem under the rug. That agency is now under federal investigation.
If the NCUC is as beholden to Duke as DENR was, we can expect that they will let the company get whatever it wants. And that means a year or two from now, North Carolinians will be emptying out their pockets to pay for Duke’s mess.
But don’t worry. Duke’s sorry.
7. Former general: Forget the sword; Jesus will return with an AR-15
from the Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — A former Army general believes that when Jesus returns, he’s gonna be packin’ heat.
Retired Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, now the Family Research Council’s executive vice president, says the Son of God will be armed with an AR-15 assault rifle when he returns, in a speech at the Pro-Family Legislators Conference in Dallas.
“[Jesus is] coming back as a warrior, carrying a sword,” Boykin said. “And I believe now, I’ve checked this out — I believe that sword he’ll be carryin’ when he comes back is an AR-15.”
Many in the audience laughed and some applauded, according to audio of the speech released Tuesday.
“Now I want you to think about this: Where did the 2nd Amendment come from? Where did the 2nd Amendment come from? I ask my students this; I ask men’s groups. I ask, ‘Where did the 21nd Amendment come from?’”
Boykin, in a somewhat comic voice, replied: “ ‘From the Founding Fathers! It’s in the Constitution!’
“Well, yeah, I know that. But where did the whole concept come from? It came from Jesus.”
The speech, made in November, was broadcast courtesy of Wallbuilders Live, whose mission, according to its site, is to “educate people of faith with an understanding of the role of faith in our Nation’s history.”
As an officer in the Army’s elite Delta Force, Boykin participated in many of the United States’ high-profile missions throughout that 1980s and ’90s, including the failed rescue attempt of U.S. hostages in Iran and the apprehension of Manuel Noriega in Panama. He helped advise Attorney General Janet Reno regarding the stand-off at Waco, Texas, with the Branch Davidians.
(from Stars and Stripes) an obviously unimpeachable source
WASHINGTON — On March 11, 2011, an enormous plate of the Earth’s surface plunged more than 160 feet toward the deep-sea Japan Trench — about the height of a 10-story building — releasing so much energy that, two years later, scientists could still measure a nearly half-degree centigrade temperature increase along the Tohoku-Oki fault. What had been at "sea level" for millennia was, in an instant, plummeting toward the depths.
On the nearby islands that form the nation of Japan, the massive movement of the Earth’s crust caused the fourth largest earthquake ever measured, hitting a magnitude of 9.0 and shaking buildings throughout the entire length of Japan’s main island.
The ground shook below Japanese feet for roughly six minutes. Centered off the coastal city of Sendai, 230 miles from Tokyo, the quake would have devastated most nations. But Japan, a nation built on faults and volcanic mountains, has the toughest seismic building codes in the world, and few buildings toppled.
Forty minutes after the earthquake, towers of water slammed Japan’s Pacific coastline, with the largest wave reaching the Sendai region at a height of 133 feet. Combined, the earthquake and tsunami claimed about 19,000 lives, destroyed or severely damaged nearly 1 million buildings, left 4.4 million households without electricity, and created the nation’s worst catastrophe since World War II.
These events were only the prelude to what has come to be known as the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, which ignited a series of radiation horrors that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is still struggling to cope with nearly three years later.
Today — just a few weeks before the three-year anniversary of the disaster — the radiation problem is not contained in and around the Fukushima plant operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Thousands of gallons of radioactive water have leaked into the Pacific, or have been stored in containers that Japanese authorities know will not survive intact for years — much less for the decades of their radioactive timeline. But the water-storage challenge is simply the most public struggle the Japanese government and Tepco are confronting.
They now face a series of radiation challenges that no nation in the world is prepared to cope with — least of all, perhaps, the United States.
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..
In December 2013, I visited Fukushima prefecture, where government-hired contractors were charged with personally bagging 250,000 tons of low-level radioactive topsoil and piling these bags outdoors in 30 locations around the prefecture - and where local citizens were left to ensure that these bags do not break, leak or fall over. Stored atop manmade plateaus built on nearby mountains and around people’s homes and rice fields, the bags are temporary and designed to withstand the environment for five years.
But, then, after that? Therein, as they say, lies the rub.
During my visit, Tokyo Medical University professor Shinzo Kimura, his associate Yukako Komasa, and I piled into a vehicle and headed into the Iwaki City mountains in Fukushima prefecture. We navigated some rough dirt roads until we encountered a large sign in Japanese that read: "Temporary Disposal Area for Contaminated Soil."
Yoshiro Yanai, whose construction company is under contract with the Japanese government to remove the soil, was ahead of us, leading the way in his truck. Yanai explained that all the soil we drove over was "clean," meaning it was imported from outside the radioactive zones to make the road. About five minutes into the drive, we pulled up to an almost incomprehensible sight: Crews of construction workers manned 18-wheeler diesel flatbeds mounted with four-story tall cranes, which lifted 40,000 tons of radioactive soil. The cranes moved identical blue plastic bags — each containing one ton of earth — and neatly stacked them, one by one, along the plateau.
The dirt was extracted from radioactive farms and gardens in an area outside the immediate "hot" zone encircling the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Workers hauled this soil through the sea-level plains and pine-covered Fukushima foothills and up the mountain, where they ultimately sealed it in the blue "weatherproof" bags guaranteed to hold the contents safely inside for five years. Some of the soil was bagged in 2011 — months after the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant — so the clock is already ticking on bag integrity.
The thousands of bags neatly stacked on this plateau will eventually be loaded back onto the trucks and hauled to a permanent burial place — that is, as soon as the Tokyo bosses can figure out where that will even be.
In total, 250,000 tons of soil are bagged and stacked in 30 locations throughout Fukushima prefecture. But not all the bags are up on a mountain, conveniently removed from the Japanese population. Thousands of bags are in the middle of communities, waiting to be relocated.
One evening in December 2013, an elderly man named Toshio Okoshi showed me around his village in the Shidamyo district of Fukushima. He took me to a vantage point where I could see piles of thousands of blue bags, from village to village, rice field to rice field, home to home.
Upon taking in the sight, I yelped so loud that Okoshi had to adjust his hearing aid. He explained that the region’s village have been abandoned by the young — with elderly like himself left to farm the rice, hoping its radiation levels will be low enough to allow commercial marketing. "Our only hope," he told me, "is that we will restore farming so that the young will return and bring life back to Shidamyo."
In Shidamyo, about 140 elderly residents are left to manage 45,000 tons of blue-bagged waste, ensuring that the bags don’t spill or break before they are trucked up the mountain.
Though Tepco and the Japanese government have been at pains to downplay the ongoing dangers related to the Fukushima power plant, containment water leaks in October and November 2013 doubled, and oceanographic studies showed that cesium-137, which has a 30-year half-life, has leached into the sea and is being carried on Pacific currents.
On Feb. 8, 2014, Tepco conceded it had grossly understated the levels of strontium-90 in emitted water: The radiation is five times higher than previously stated. A variety of laboratories along the California, Oregon, and Washington coastlines have begun routine testing of Pacific and sea-life samples, looking for cesium-137 and strontium-90. So far, the labs have not found anything dangerous.
The Japanese government and Tepco have considered everything from creating a wall of ice to contain the nuclear plant (to stop the flow of contaminated water) to mass burial of gallons of radioactive water — but concrete plans have yet to be presented that would actually solve the waste problem. In January 2014, Reuters reported that Tepco, desperate to find cleanup workers willing to brave the Fukushima power plant crisis, is recruiting from among the homeless population of Tokyo.
All over the world waste disposal is the primary conundrum facing the nuclear power industry: Though there are more than 400 nuclear plants in some 30 countries, there is no repository anywhere in the world for high-level nuclear waste and few sites or standards apply to lower-level radioactive substances like the soils of Fukushima.
Japan is learning that cleaning up a mess requires moving trash to a dump.
But where does a nation dump hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive trash and millions of gallons of isotope-emitting water?
Since March 2011, the Japanese government, along with every local governance sector in the affected region, has struggled to cope with a seemingly unending series of questions and controversies related to the economy, radiation, land use, displaced people, and the overall stability of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station.
Koji Omi, the former Japanese minister of science and technology policy, said that Tepco successfully shut off all its 11 nuclear reactors before the tsunami slammed into them; however, the towering wave destroyed the Fukushima plant’s cooling system, causing a nuclear meltdown. After the water receded, clouds of radioactive steam and dust spewed into the air and onto the soil of the Fukushima district. On March 15, just four days after the disaster shook the prefecture, one of the nuclear reactors exploded, raining radioactive iodine and forcing mass evacuations of all 160,000 residents living within a 20-kilometer distance from the plant.
Kimiko and Fumio Iwakura owned a house and garden 10 kilometers from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, and they stayed put through the earthquake and tsunami. Before the government issued local evacuations some 18 days after the meltdown, the Iwakuras had been exposed to 80 millisieverts per hour (mSv) of radiation — the measure of how the human body absorbs radiation. By comparison, a routine X-ray for a broken bone emits about 3 mSv and the concrete sarcophagus that has encased the storied Chernobyl reactor since its 1986 meltdown emits 5 mSv. The World Health Organization estimates that at its worst meltdown point, the Chernobyl reactor emitted 5,000 mSv per hour, causing terminal radiation sickness in all the exposed workers. And what does the WHO deem to be safe exposure? 3 mSv per year — 2.4 mSv of which is accounted for in the existing radiation found in the environment.
Ultimately, the prefectural government relocated the Iwakura family to a shelter in Nihonmatsu City, high in the mountains of western Fukushima, where they remain still today, three years after the disaster.
The Iwakuras are gray-haired, friendly people in their early 60’s who spent six months living a nomadic existence, forced to abandon their ancestral farm for one emergency shelter after another, eventually ending up in a mobile home that is strikingly reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina FEMA housing. They are a jobless, homeless couple with nothing more substantial than their two-room, cramped steel shelter, set alongside identical homes for other evacuees.
As of November 2013, nearly 95,000 evacuees remain displaced, some having managed to establish new jobs, houses, and friendships. But because most of the evacuees were, like the Iwakuras, over 60 or farmers, the majority have had a terrible time rebuilding their lives.
Japanese nuclear authorities say that the area within 30 kilometers of the power plant was showered between March 12 and March 24, 2011 with enough radioactive iodine to deliver a dose as high as 10,000 mSv per hour to every child.
Epidemiologist Eriko Sase, who has appointments with both Harvard and the University of Tokyo, estimates that those who are the most psychologically devastated are the mothers who did not leave the hard-hit areas right after the tsunami, but stayed with their children in Futaba, Iwaki, and other suburbs and towns. The government estimates that these youth will have double the risk of developing thyroid cancer compared to their peers in Tokyo, Sase said.
But people did not understand the gravity of these dangers at the time of the nuclear accident, and Tepco and government authorities were slow to reveal the scale of the radiation devastation.
The Iwakuras were hunkered down in a community center with neighbors long after the power plant exploded, feeling safe until Kimura, the Tokyo Medical University professor, showed up, measured radiation dosimetry in and around their shelter, and told them that they had to leave.
"Kimura-san was our lifesaver," Kimiko insisted. Fumio added that, "After the incident we didn’t have any communication: No TV, no Internet. So we hadn’t imagined that we were in a dense radiation level." After they were tested the following day, on March 30, 2011, they were forced to evacuate.
Fumio Iwakura calls the suburb they came from Namie-machi (or Namie-town), and says some 21,000 people inhabited the area. "My own house is solid, it’s strong. But we cannot return," he said, fighting tears. "That feeling I cannot express — it’s difficult to say. ... We are just having a temporary rest now," he said, forcing a joke. Fumio’s livelihood was in his suburb. A handyman by trade, his clients and his business were both in Namie. Now, he has nothing.
Last December I sat with the Iwakuras in their home, where we gathered around the kotatsu table that stood just inches from the ground, while Kimiko prepared something of a feast on a propane stovetop. After eating, Fumio rose from the floor, where he had been sitting, his legs folded beneath the low table, and pointed to his Japanese maps taped across the wall.
These renderings tracked the vast 13,800-square-kilometer region of Fukushima, which included the now-abandoned Futaba zone closest to the power plant and the Iwaki City area — 350,000 people live in this 1,200-square-kilometer tract of land, which includes a dense urban core, rings of village-like suburbs, and the mountain forest in which we were perched at that very moment. He had spent many hours staring at these maps, writing down radiation-detection levels, and dragging his finger gently over the place he once called home.
"That map contains many mixed feelings," Kimiko said. "All the feelings we have are concentrated in those maps. Now we can go back to Namie-town for very short periods of time. It’s abandoned. We have to cut all the weeds and deal with the mice and other animals." The duo grew agitated describing how all sort of rodents, feral cats, snakes and birds have invaded homes across Namie.
For the time being, however, the Iwakuras showed no signs of radiation-related illness. And for that, they said, they have Kimura to thank.
Today, Kimura runs a small clinic in Iwaki City dedicated to monitoring radiation and teaching people how to test their food, water, housing, and land. He has invented a device called "Food Light" for cooks, which measures the radiation levels of all ingredients before preparing meals.
The young bespectacled physician estimates that much of the land within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant cannot safely be reoccupied for at least 165 years — a bleak future the Abe government has never shared with the evacuees.
Now working with Kimura is Yukako Komasa, a petite former NHK broadcast journalist who saw the tsunami devastation, quit her job, and enrolled in public-health training at the University of Tokyo. Kimura was formerly an official with the Ministry of Health. Now an independent academic, Kimura splits his time between Tokyo, Fukushima, and Chernobyl in faraway Ukraine. There is a tinge of zealotry in Kimura. Since the Fukushima explosion, his research and clinical pace have accelerated so that his wife has filed for divorce, separating him from their children. Though there are other researchers concentrating on the site, his decisions have left him to feel as if he is the only one. Kimura has chosen to live on the edges of the forbidden zone, "so I am able to share the pain," of the locals. "Why am I so desperate?" he asked. "Because I am all alone — the only researcher here to help Fukushima — so I can’t rest."
One of the most stunning parts of this trip was that — upon seeing these blue bags piled high and wide — I realized that no country would do better than Japan. And, in fact, many might perform worse. No nation is equipped to handle the human displacement, anxiety, and waste-disposal crisis Japan now faces.
Where in the United States of America would a power company or government authority safely bury 250,000 tons of radioactive soil, millions of gallons of high-radiation water, and the detritus of abandoned homes and farms across thousands of acres of land? How would the U.S. government alert families like the Iwakuras, hunkered down after an earthquake and tsunami without electricity or any connection to the outside world? How would it compassionately relocate 160,000 people and help them rebuild their lives?
The United States has one deep cavern site outside Carlsbad, N.M., which houses highly radioactive waste from weapons programs. And in parched clay land near Andrews, Texas, a private company buries very low-level waste, such as the uniforms worn by lab technicians. There is no location in America designated to handle the sorts of water, soil, and radioactive detritus that Japan is now struggling to cope with.
After the Fukushima Dai-ichi explosion, all the country’s nuclear plants were shut down, returning the nation to its pre-2002 state of near total dependence on fuels purchased from outside the country — a tremendous burden on the national commodity exchange rate and trade balance. In 2013 Japan imported nearly $80 billion worth of fossil fuels, more than double the pre-tsunami level.
As the third anniversary of Japan’s greatest post-WWII catastrophe looms, it behooves Americans to pay close attention: Consider the questions that now stymie scientists and government authorities, and think about just how ready and wise we are in the good old USA.
Laurie Garrett is senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer.
9. 15 American Crises
1. Corporatism – Firmly establish that money is not speech, corporations are not people and only people have Constitutional rights. End corporate influence over the political process. End corporate welfare that enriches the few and instead treat government investment as something that all profit from, ensure corporations pay their fair share by ending corporate loopholes and tax subsidies and put in place a global tax so that off-shoring of money does not avoid taxes. Protect people and the environment from damage by corporations and end corporate trade agreements and partnerships that undermine consumer, labor and environmental protections.
2. Wars and Militarism – End wars and occupations, end private for-profit military contractors and end the weapons export industry. War crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace must be addressed and those responsible held accountable under international law. Reduce the national security state and demilitarize the police.
3. Human Rights – End exploitation of people in the US and abroad. End discrimination in all forms (race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity), guarantee equal civil rights, and the right of people to travel across borders to work and live. Make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights a reality.
4. Worker Rights and Jobs – Guarantee that all working-age people have the right to safe, just, non-discriminatory and dignified working conditions, a sustainable living wage, paid leave and economic protection. Put in place policies that allow worker owned and managed businesses, e.g. worker-owned cooperatives, so workers can build wealth and have greater control over their economic lives.
5. Government – Guarantee that all processes of the three branches of government are be accountable to international law, transparent and follow the rule of law. Respect the civil rights of government employees. Create a work environment in government that empowers service to people, participation, honesty and integrity and that protects whistleblowers. Build policies and infrastructure that allow people to participate in decision making.
6. Elections – Guarantee that all citizens 18 and older have the right to vote without barriers and establish universal voter registration. Guarantee that all candidates have the right to be heard in open debates and to run with low-threshold ballot access laws. Count all votes in a transparent method open to the public. Institute new voting systems so that more than majority views are represented, e.g. proportional representation; and voting systems that avoid voting based on fear of the greater evil, e.g. instant run-off or ranked choice voting. Create a level playing field by funding public elections with public dollars and clean election laws. Require that all donations directly and indirectly to elections should be transparent, i.e. no anonymous funding of elections.
7. Criminal Justice and Prisons – end stop and frisk and other racial profiling police practices and respect constitutional rights against search and seizure, right to counsel and against self-incrimination. End the drug war and adopt a public health, evidence-based drug policy that respects individual rights and does not rely on law enforcement. End private for-profit prisons, end mandatory sentencing, recognize prisoners have the right to humane and just conditions with a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration into society and abolish the death penalty. Police need to protect the right to peaceably assemble to redress grievances and the right to Freedom of Speech without infiltration or other police practices that undermine those rights.
8. Healthcare – Create a national, universal and publicly financed comprehensive health system, i.e. improved Medicare for All, which provides full health coverage throughout life with no out-of-pocket costs. Promote wellness in public policy. Recognize that health is a human right not a commodity.
9. Education – Guarantee that all people have the right to a high quality, publicly-funded and broad education from pre-school through vocational training or university.
10. Housing – Guarantee that all people have the right to affordable and safe housing. End predatory mortgage and foreclosure practices.
11. Environment – Adopt policies which effectively create a carbon-free and nuclear free energy economy and that respect the rights of nature. Confront climate change with a rapid and comprehensive transition to an energy efficient, wind, solar and other renewable source-based economy that ends the wasteful use of energy. End the extractive economy and move toward a circular system where there is no waste and everything is re-used. Remake land use planning to support a healthy environment.
12. Finance and the Economy – Break up the too big to fail banks, develop public banks in every state and major city, encourage community banks and credit unions, create local stock exchanges to allow investment in local communities and create microfinance loans to encourage entrepreneurship and support local businesses. Re-make the Federal Reserve into a transparent, democratic institution that responds to the needs of the economy and not to the needs of big banks. Put limits on the discrepancy between worker and executive pay. End policies which foster a wealth divide and move to a localized and democratic financial system. Guarantee that people’s deposits are protected and that the public does not pay for financial institutions that fail. Reform taxes so that they are progressive and provide goods, monetary gain and services for the people including creating a guaranteed national income.
13. Media – End the concentration of media by a small number of corporations. Democratize the media by recognizing that the airwaves and the internet are public goods and recognize independent and citizen’s media as legitimate media outlets. Require that media be accurate and accountable to the people and that the internet be accessible to all people, respect people’s privacy and promote the sharing of information.
14. Food and Water – Create systems that protect the land and water, create local, affordable and sustainable food networks, encourage community supported agriculture and farmer’s markets and diversify local food supplies so that food does not depend on transit over long distances. Encourage organic food production free of chemicals and end genetically modified foods. Guarantee the right to produce and harvest seeds. Stop commodification of water and guarantee access to water as a public good.
15. Transportation – Provide affordable, clean and convenient public transportation and safe spaces for pedestrian and non-automobile travel. Develop land use planning that creates walkable and bikeable communities, with mass transit so that people do not depend on automobiles. Improve travel by train, rapid transit and commuter rails, so people are not dependent on air travel and automobiles.