Fire near Fukushima nuclear site could spread radiation further


Efforts to quench on-going fire in Fukushima zone hampered by high radiation levels from 2011 nuclear disaster

Never over nuclear accident continues to spread radiation 

TAKOMA PARK, MD, May 2, 2017 --A raging wildfire in the Fukushima radiation zone not far from the March 2011 Japan nuclear power plant disaster, demonstrates that a nuclear accident has long-term and on-going effects that can worsen over time, says Beyond Nuclear, a leading national anti-nuclear advocacy group. 

The fire, which began on April 21 in the mountains outside Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, is in an area where human entry is barred “on principle” because of high radiation levels resulting from the Fukushima nuclear triple meltdowns and explosions. The fire is being fought from the air with helicopters spraying water.

“Just as high radiation levels barred rescuers from retrieving many earthquake and tsunami victims five years ago, today firefighters are being hampered from battling the blaze in the still contaminated area,” said Paul Gunter, Director of Reactor Oversight at Beyond Nuclear. “This makes extinguishing these radioactive fires more difficult which can have far reaching effects,” he said. 

The geographical range of radioactive contamination from the Fukushima disaster could be expanded as smoke from the forest fire lofts radioactivity into the air and spreads it to regions that were not contaminated by the nuclear accident. 

“The Chernobyl forest fire experience shows that forest fires in radioactively contaminated areas re-suspend contamination in the area, making it more available to natural processes like absorption by plants, but also spreading contamination to areas of lower or no contamination,” said Cindy Folkers, Radiation and Health Specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

The fire could be the first of many. A startling discovery made by Dr. Timothy Mousseau, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, when studying the ecosystems in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, revealed that fallen trees and leaf matter were not decaying at the proper rate, creating a build-up of “tinder” on the forest floor.

“In higher areas of contamination, forest matter fails to decay because creatures responsible for decay like bacteria and fungi, do not function properly in the radioactive environment,” Folkers explained. “This ‘zombie’ forest litter presents an increased forest fire hazard in the radioactive landscape—exactly the place where you don’t want fire kindling.”

There have already been a number of serious forest fires around Chernobyl in recent years, spreading radioactivity into wider areas. However, there have not been adequate studies to monitor exactly where the radiation goes.

“Forest fires are dangerous enough, but radioactive forest fires raise the stakes for human health and safety because of the added difficulty to reliably monitor where radioactivity is traveling in the smoke,” said Gunter.   

The Fukushima fire is a reminder that a major nuclear accident is never really over or confined.

“The long-term implications of on-again-off-again fires in radioactive forests are stark including re-contamination of so-called “decontaminated” areas, and re-suspension of radioactive particles thought to be out of the reach of natural processes,” said Folkers. 

“This all points to the impossibility of containing man-made radioactivity from catastrophes like Chernobyl and Fukushima, once it is released. Resettlement in such areas would be unstable at best, with the constant threat of increased exposures and resulting health impacts,” Folkers concluded. 

Download the press release in PDF.

For additional information see:

The Mainichi link

Common Dreams link



Chernobyl dogs headed to St. Louis, MO

Beyond Nuclear board member, Lucas Hixson, co-founder of the Clean Futures Fund, is working to both study and re-home stray dogs living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The strays are descendants of dogs abandoned by their owners when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster struck on April 26, 1986. In addition to rescuing some dogs directly, as shown in this St. Louis KMOV television segment, the Fund is raising money to bring veterinarians to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to administer rabies shots and spay and neuter the animals. For more, see Dogs of Chernobyl.


Victory! South African court decision rules nuclear power plans unconstitutional and illegal

Secret plans to build new nuclear reactors in South Africa that were never subjected to an open, transparent and public process, have been quashed by a judge in Cape Town in a major victory for anti-nuclear and environmental groups there. David Fig, a leading academic and advocate against nuclear energy, wrote this analysis for The Conversation. The opening paragraphs are below. Read the full article here.

On 26 April 2017, coincidentally the 31st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the Cape High Court presented its judgement on the case brought by Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern Africa Faith-Communities’ Environmental Institute. The two NGOs were challenging the way in which the state has determined that we should be purchasing 9600 megawatts of extra nuclear power. The judge, Lee Bozalek, used terms like ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘illegal’ to refer to the state’s behaviour and declared invalid the steps taken by the state. 

What has been deemed illegal are the state’s determinations that the nuclear build go ahead, its handing over of the procurement process to Eskom, the regulator NERSA’s automatic endorsement of the state’s plans, and the secretive agreement with Russia and two others with the US and South Korea on nuclear co-operation. Eskom’s request for information from nuclear vendors, a step taken to prepare the procurement, which ends on 28 April, is also invalid. 

Government will have to start again on all these procedures if it is serious about going ahead with the nuclear build. To do so legally, it will have to open up the process to detailed public scrutiny. The regulator will have to have a series of public hearings before the country can endorse its historically highest ever spend on infrastructure estimated at well over R1 trillion. The international agreements will have to be brought before the scrutiny of parliament.  Continued.


Nuclear Free Future: Nuclear Sabre-Rattling - From Korea to Yucca Mountain

Margaret Harrington and co-host Ben Shulman-Reed, researcher with Fairewinds Energy Education, speak with Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Watchdog with Beyond Nuclear, about nuclear escalation on "Nuclear Free Future," an ongoing series on Channel 17/Town Meeting Television in Burlington, Vermont. The discussion covers not only the nuclear escalation in the Korean Peninsula but the continuous nuclear weapons buildup, including nuclear waste, uranium mining, and nuclear weapons testing. Watch the episode here.


The final mission for Cassini

As reported by investigative journalist and Beyond Nuclear board member, Karl Grossman, and published at Enformable (founded and run by Beyond Nuclear board member Lucas Hixson):

Despite protests around the world, the Cassini space probe-containing more deadly plutonium than had ever been used on a space device-was launched 20 years ago. And this past weekend-on Earth Day-the probe and its plutonium were sent crashing into Saturn.

Grossman literally wrote the book about Cassini and related nuclear power in space subject matter, The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat to Our Planet