Saturday, April 09, 2011

Radiation, Japan and the Marshall Islands

Radiation, Japan and the Marshall Islands
by Glenn Alcalay
8 April 2011

When the dangerous dust and gases settle and we discover just how much radiation escaped the damaged Fukushima reactors and spent fuel rods, we may never know how many people are being exposed to radiation from the burning fuel rods and reactor cores or how much exposure they will receive over time. Minute and above-background traces of iodine-131 are already showing up in Tokyo's water supply - 150 miles southwest of the leaking reactors - and in milk and spinach (with a dash of cesium-137) from 75 miles away. The Japanese government has recently warned pregnant women and children to avoid drinking Tokyo tap water, and I-131 levels 1,200 above background levels were recorded in seawater near the reactors.

Aside from sharing the dubious distinction of having been at the receiving end of America's nuclear weapons, Japan and the Marshall Islands now share another dubious distinction. The unleashed isotopes of concern from the damaged Japanese reactors - iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239 - are well known to the Marshall Islanders living downwind of the testing sites at Bikini and Enewetak atolls in the Central Pacific following 67 A- and H-bombs exploded there between 1946 and 1958. In fact, it is precisely these isotopes that continue to haunt the 80,000 Marshallese 53 years after the last thermonuclear test in the megaton range shook their pristine coral atolls and contaminated their fragile marine ecosystems.

In fact, it was the irradiated downwind Marshallese on Rongelap and Utrik in 1954 caught in the Bravo fallout - and I-131 - that taught the world about the thyroid effect from the uptake of radioactive iodine.

The United States' largest (fusion) hydrogen bomb, Bravo, was 1,000 times the Hiroshima atomic (fission) bomb and deposited a liberal sprinkling of these and a potent potpourri of 300 other radionuclides over a wide swath of the Central Pacific and the inhabited atolls in the Marshalls' archipelago in March 1954 during "Operation Castle."

The Rongelap islanders 120 miles downwind from Bikini received 190 rems, or 1.9 Sieverts (Sv) of whole-body gamma dose before being evacuated. The Utrik people 320 miles downwind received 15 rems (150 mSv) before their evacuation.[1] Many of the on-site nuclear workers at Fukushima have already exceeded the Utrik dose in multiples.

Also entrapped within the thermonuclear maelstrom from Bravo was the not-so-Lucky Dragon (Fukuryu Maru) Japanese fishing trawler, with its crew of 23, fishing for tuna near Bikini. [2]

As the heavily exposed fishermen's health quickly deteriorated after Bravo, the radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died of a liver illness six months after his exposure; his is now a household name in Japan and is associated with the "Bikini bomb."[3]

Meanwhile, the Japanese fishing industry was rocked when Geiger counters registered "talking fish" (what the Japanese called the clicking sound of the contaminated fish being monitored) among the 800 pounds of tuna catch of the Lucky Dragon in Yaizu and in local fish markets. Much of the Japanese tuna at the time was caught by a fleet of 1,000 fishing boats operating in the fertile tuna waters near the United States' Pacific Proving Ground in the Marshalls. more truthout

No comments: