UN Human Rights Report On Fukushima Finds Considerable Problems

The UN Human Rights Council report issued this month in an advanced edition spells out many issues that exist after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. While most focus on the aftermath of the March 2011 nuclear events, some aspects apply to those impacted by just the quake and tsunami. This statement towards the end sums up the disconnect and problems currently going on:

The Special Rapporteur urges the government to adopt implementing measures to the Victims Protection Law and provide funding for relocation, housing, employment, education and other essential support needed by those who chose to evacuate, stay or return to any area where radiation exceeds 1mSv/year. These measures should include relief packages reflecting the cost of rebuilding lives.”

Some notable aspects of the report are the breadth of issues it addresses. Many of the problems reported by those impacted were discussed, as were many of the problems we have tried to call attention to. Challenges with this kind of report are that it is a diplomatic effort, the polite language may seem frustrating to those who see the need for more decisive action. The Human Rights Council does have some ability to apply pressure to the Japanese government through diplomatic channels. The airing of these problems is a good first step towards solving the problems, though considerable work will obviously be needed by many parties to force the change needed in the Japanese government to assure each individual’s human rights are respected and supported. (Japan’s response to the UN report at the end of this article)

One of the key things the report investigated was the health issue. This issue weaves itself into almost every other action taken or not taken due to the risk of radiation exposure. The report made quite clear that arbitrarily high radiation exposure thresholds set by the Japanese government were not acceptable and that the benefit of business and government expediences does not trump the need to properly protect the public from harm.

The report clearly states that 20 mSv/yr is not an acceptable level of radiation exposure, even on a temporary basis for the public. It also states that 1mSv/yr should be the threshold and that zero exposure above natural background should be sought since scientific evidence shows there is no low threshold where no harm is done. This is in clear conflict with the current situation in Japan where the government is reopening areas well above 1mSv/yr and where hot spots exist far from the evacuation zone. Our ongoing investigation into the radiation levels around the region show that there are many places above the background levels and above the 1mSv/year ICRP level.

The report confirms the right to voluntary evacuation. This concept is critical to those needing relocation assistance or to eventually be compensated for their property losses. Government actions to allow people to return to contaminated areas pose the risk that this provision could prevent some from being able to seek safety if the government deems their home location “livable” but the person or experts do not. The right for an individual to decide for themselves if return is safe or not and to be able to access assistance based on that is core to the human rights of those caught in the disaster through no fault of their own.

Some of the more notable conclusions:

1. That Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are not the only reference material or study of radiation damage to health. Much of the reference material on Chernobyl being used was “inconclusive” while other evidence showed widespread health problems. More resources should be used to understand potential health risks.

2. Thyroid cancer is not the only health risk. A wider array of health risks should be screened for including leukemia, endocrine disorders, haematopoietic, circulatory and digestive system problems.

4. A wider health survey program to screen for early detection of medical problems should be conducted on a national level for anyone potentially exposed as exposures occurred both in and outside of Fukushima.

5. Individuals should have the right to seek second opinions or decide their care protocol. The report specifically asked that the Japan Thyroid Assn mandate that doctors not treat any patients subject to the Fukushima Health Survey be removed.

6. A number of deficiencies in screening were of concern including the long delay before people were given radiation screenings or thyroid counts, the extremely low participation rate in the Fukushima Health Survey and survey protocols that left people with potential thyroid cancers unable to seek rechecks for two years.

7. ICRP’s 1 mSv/year exposure level should be the maximum people are exposed to and should be attempted to be below that or to natural background radiation levels. This conflicts with most of Japan’s official policies on decontamination and reopening areas in the evacuation zone.

8. People have a right to information. The UN report admonished the Japanese government for not giving people truthful information in a timely manner. They specifically cited the withholding of SPEEDI radiation data that caused many to relocate to areas of higher radiation unknowingly.

9. The government should have distributed protective iodine tablets. Confusion and debate about the politics of doing so prevented many from getting protective iodine within the window it could have been useful.

10. Evacuation zones were arbitrary using a circular zone around the plant rather than being based on where the radiation was going. Many were not aware of the disaster until they were told to evacuate. “Voluntary” evacuation zones were not set up for long amounts of time leaving many exposed in highly contaminated areas for up to a month.

11. Delays in the government response and extremely low participation in the Fukushima Health Survey have created a lack of quality information on exposure and potential health problems making future problems harder to accurately predict. A number of critical pieces of information were not included in aspects of the Fukushima Health Survey making it inaccurate as a prediction tool.

12. Screening should include urine tests for those under 16, internal body scans for all and testing for internal strontium contamination. The UN report also criticized the lack of whole body counter machines in the region making it hard for people to obtain testing.

13. The lack of trust in government food testing is cited as a considerable problem, people do not trust the government efforts that were lax and attempted to downplay the contaminated food supply. The report urges community testing resources over the current monolithic government testing that lacks transparency.

14. The lack of safe outdoor play areas and the stresses on families due to the disaster has created problems for children that need to be corrected. The report suggests more mental health services and more programs that get children out of contaminated areas, even if only temporarily.

15. Many children screened fell into the A2 category where they were known to have thryoid abnormalities. The Heath Survey wants to wait 2 years to test them again. Medical concerns about cancers that can grow faster than that give rise to the need for much sooner follow up screening.

16. PTSD and stress disorders were high among TMI and Chernobyl survivors. The UN urged more be done to assure people have access to mental health services.

17. Current government health monitoring of those who were pregnant during 2011 in the region does not include any follow up or tracking of the health of the fetus or the offspring. There is a documented issue of potential health problems for offspring.

18. The maximum dose rate for living or working after Chernobyl was 1mSv/year, Japan is using a 20 mSv/year level both in and outside the evacuation zone. The UN report found this inappropriate and urged it to be changed. ICRP documents that there is no threshold for radiation exposure and any dose increases cancer risks.

19. The UN report made this all quite clear. Anyone who has looked at the radiation readings around parts of Fukushima can see there are areas over the 1mSv/year level. The report says this: “evacuees should be recommended to return only when the radiation dose has been reduced as far as possible and to levels below 1 mSv/year. In the meantime, the Government should continue providing financial support and subsidies to all evacuees so that they can make a voluntary decision to return to their homes or remain evacuated.”

20. Hot spots and variances between radiation levels at monitoring stations and elsewhere nearby are creating a false sense of security and do not reflect the real contamination situation on the ground. Isolated decontamination efforts have seen areas re-contaminated by weather and water movement.

21. TEPCO’s government ownership has allowed them to evade liability and shoved costs back on the people. The current compensation process for people to try to regain losses from TEPCO is too cumbersome.

22. Victims should have the right to voluntarily evacuate. Covered areas should be any location where the radiation is over 1mSv/year and anyone impacted by that should have access to free, life-long health screening and medical treatment relating to radiation exposure for all affected persons.

23. This statement in the report shows the need for change and how the system is not working currently: “The Special Rapporteur urges the government to adopt implementing measures to the Victims Protection Law and provide funding for relocation, housing, employment, education and other essential support needed by those who chose to evacuate, stay or return to any area where radiation exceeds 1mSv/year. These measures should include relief packages reflecting the cost of rebuilding lives.”

Some other useful mentions:

  • 1.6×1017 Bq. 160,000,000,000,000,000 (1.6×1017) Bq of iodine 131 was released to the environment by Fukushima Daiichi
  • 573 deaths have been certified as related to the nuclear disaster.
  • Japan has ratified a number of international human rights treaties making them potentially subject to the report requirements.

 

Japan gave a verbal response to the UN Human Rights Report late last week. The video can be found here with the applicable section at about 48:00 into the video. The Japanese response is in English.

Below is a brief synopsis of Japan’s reply to the UN Human Rights Report:

  • Reconstruction & recovery act is cited as trying to make recovery as quick as possible.
  • Claimed the health management survey is of “great importance”.
  • Japan claims there was a “misunderstanding of facts” so these are their explanations.
  • Fukushima prefecture is running the health survey with the national government giving the funding, so far 80 billion yen. Residents of the evacuation zones are part of the health survey.
  • Listed the already known components of the health survey, thyroid testing, health questionnaire and some documentation of pregnancies.
  • Claimed health survey is based on “consensus of scientific and medical experts” then cites UNSCEAR as a source. Claims this takes into account the latest views of “experts”.
  • Elderly evacuees including those in temp housing are receiving a nursing care subsidy in some cases.
  • Mental health care workers visit homes and temp housing (did not elaborate any details or quantity).
  • Mentioned school councilors to provide mental health care to children.
  • Japan plans to establish guidelines for evacuees in case of future disasters.
  • Cited the NRA’s new nuclear standards as the response for the lack of transparency cited by the UN.
  • Cited the ability for public comment on NRA rules as a response to the lack of transparency

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