By Dr. Mercola
On March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake and tsunami rocked Japan, and fatally crippled TEPCO's Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Exactly how much radiation has poured out, contaminating not only cleanup crews but also residents in surrounding areas, remains unclear, as does the risk posed to the rest of the world from nuclear fallout.
One thing is clear: this disaster is far from over… and emerging evidence suggests the impacts may be far worse than we are being led to believe.
Radiation Levels at Fukushima Now at Record Highs
It's been over 1 year since the damage occurred, but it's just now being reported that samples from the basement of reactor number 1 revealed radiation levels that reached up to 10,300 millisievert (mSv) an hour, which is enough to make a person sick within minutes, and kill them shortly thereafter. To put this in perspective, the workers at this site reach their annual allowed radiation dose in 20 seconds.1
Needless to say, workers cannot go anywhere near the site, so robots must be used, and it's estimated that complete demolition of the plant will take four decades and require new cleanup technologies to be completed.
Adding to the already precarious situation, another of the reactor buildings – which houses 1,331 spent and 204 unused nuclear fuel assemblies, each of which contains approximately 50-70 nuclear rods2 – is now tilting and the walls are bulging outward. If another earthquake occurs or the building collapses, large amounts of radiation could be released into the environment.
Obviously, the situation is still incredibly volatile, so it is a mystery why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only conducted accelerated sampling from March to June 2011. When their tests reportedly showed that the radiation levels remained "well below any level of public health concern and were consistently declining," they switched back to their routine radiation monitoring.3
But according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, radiation-contaminated debris from Japan may take up to three years before it reaches the U.S. West Coast:4
"Based on computer modeling of ocean currents, debris from the tsunami produced by the Tohoku earthquake was projected to spread eastward from Japan in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre. Approximately two to three years after the event, the debris plume likely will reach the U.S. West Coast, dumping debris on California beaches and the beaches of British Columbia, Alaska, and Baja California.
Although much of the radioactive release from Fukushima Dai-ichi is believed to have occurred after the tsunami, there is the possibility that some of the tsunami debris might also be contaminated with radiation."
They point out that although the ocean currents have a slow flow, there is still a threat posed because radioactive contaminants are incredibly persistent in the environment:
"Although these currents have the potential for bringing radiation from Japan's Fukushima Dai- ichi nuclear accident to U.S. waters, their flow is slow, and no radiation above background levels has yet been detected in marine waters under U.S. jurisdiction. Regardless of the slow flow, radioactive contaminants with long half-lives (e.g., cesium-137, with a half-life of about 30 years) could still pose concerns if transported over long distances by ocean currents."
Strangely, in the report they make mention of managing arriving debris in order to return items of potential personal, symbolic and cultural value, but do not discuss the radiation implications…
Case in point, 15 bluefin tuna caught near San Diego, California in August 2011 were found to contain Fukushima-derived radiation, including caesium-137 and caesium-134, at levels 10 times higher than those detected in previous years. The researchers noted:5
"These findings indicate that Pacific bluefin tuna can rapidly transport radionuclides from a point source in Japan to distant ecoregions and demonstrate the importance of migratory animals as transport vectors of radionuclides. Other large, highly migratory marine animals make extensive use of waters around Japan, and these animals may also be transport vectors of Fukushima-derived radionuclides to distant regions of the North and South Pacific Oceans."
Is Fukushima Worse Than Chernobyl?
When the Chernobyl reactor melted down in 1986, approximately 134 plant workers and firefighters were exposed to high doses of radiation – 800 to 16,000 mSv – and developed acute radiation sickness. Of those 134 workers, 28 died within 3 months of exposure.
In total, more than 160,000 children and 146,000 cleanup workers became victims of radiation poisoning as a result of living and working in that radiotoxic environment, raising the incidence of birth defects, leukemia, anemia, cancers, thyroid disease, liver and bone marrow degeneration, and overall severely compromised immune systems.
These, however, are only estimates, and according to some data, Chernobyl deaths may actually top 1 million.6 Fukushima is the largest nuclear disaster since, but there are many similarities popping up. For one, as the Institute of Science in Society (ISIS) points out:7
"From the beginning, the official nuclear safety experts were at pains to minimize the projected health impacts, as they are doing now for the Fukushima accident."
According to ISIS, with Chernobyl, they underestimated related deaths by:
- Underestimating the level of radiation by averaging exposure over a large region, such as an entire country, so high exposure doses and health statistics of the most contaminated areas are lumped together with the less and least exposed
- Ignoring internal sources of radiation due to inhalation and ingestion of radioactive material from fallout
- Using an obsolete and erroneous model of linear energy transfer due to external sources of ionizing radiation
- Not counting diseases and conditions other than cancers
- Overestimating the natural background radiation; today's "background" has been greatly increased by discharges from nuclear activities including tests of nuclear weapons, use of depleted uranium, and uranium mining
- Suppressing and withholding information from the public
Writing in Forbes, Jeff McMahon also pointed out what appear to be strategies to minimize public perceptions of the real risks of the Fukushima radiation:8
"Covering the story, I watched the government pursue what appeared to be two strategies to minimize public alarm:
- It framed the data with reassurances like this oft-repeated sentence from the EPA: 'The level detected is far below a level of public health concern.' The question, of course, is whose concern.
- The EPA seemed to be timing its data releases to avoid media coverage. It released its most alarming data set late on a Friday – data that showed radioactive fallout in the drinking water of more than a dozen U.S. cities."
And again, while downplaying the risks of contaminated U.S. seafood, the Congressional Research Service goes into great detail on the magnitude of radiation that entered the ocean water following the disaster:9
"Seawater was monitored by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) near the discharge points of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant following the March 2011 events. Water with a dose rate of greater than 1,000 millisievert per hour was confirmed by TEPCO on April 2, 2011, in a pit located next to Fukushima Dai-ichi's Unit 2 seawater inlet point.
A cracked sidewall of this pit was leaking water from the pit directly into the ocean. Analyses of seawater taken from near the discharge from Fukushima Dai-ichi Units 1-4 yielded readings of 130,000 Becquerels/liter (Bq/l) of iodine-131 (half-life of about 8 days), 32,000 Bq/l of cesium-137 (half-life of about 30 years), and 31,000 Bq/l of cesium-134 (half-life of about 2 years).
…Experts cite this incident as the largest recorded accidental release of radiation to the ocean.
…It is unknown whether marine organisms that migrate through or near Japanese waters to locations where they might subsequently be harvested by U.S. fishermen (possibly some albacore tuna or salmon in the North Pacific) might have been exposed to radiation in or near Japanese waters, or might have consumed prey that had accumulated radioactive contaminants."
Did 14,000 Americans Already Die from Fukushima Radiation?
Meanwhile, a report published in the International Journal of Health Services suggests that up to 14,000 deaths related to Fukushima may have already occurred in the United States:10
"Deaths rose 4.46 percent from 2010 to 2011 in the 14 weeks after the arrival of Japanese fallout, compared with a 2.34 percent increase in the prior 14 weeks. The number of infant deaths after Fukushima rose 1.80 percent, compared with a previous 8.37 percent decrease. Projecting these figures for the entire United States yields 13,983 total deaths and 822 infant deaths in excess of the expected.
…Recent assessments have suggested that the amount of radioactivity released from Fukushima equals or exceeds that released from Chernobyl. Given the continuing emission of radioisotopes from the melted reactors, the high density of population around the plant, and the close proximity to food sources, we can expect that morbidity and mortality will be high in Japan.
…Adverse health effects may also be expected in the United States, even though exposures have been far below those in Japan. Low-dose radiation exposure, previously assumed to be harmless, has been linked with elevated disease rates in children born to women who underwent pelvic X-rays while pregnant, Americans exposed to atomic bomb fallout, nuclear plant workers, and, for leukemia, children exposed to very low doses after Chernobyl. In addition to physical diseases is loss of cognitive ability in adolescents following low-dose ionizing radiation in utero."
The Potential Dangers of Low-Dose Radiation
If the levels of radiation that reach the U.S. are, in fact, low, this may still pose a formidable threat to human health and the environment. In 2010, the United National Scientific Committee released a report on the effects of low-dose radiation, noting the following (the report uses the term 'low dose' to mean doses of radiation below 200 mGy – a computed tomography (CT) scan delivers about 10 mGy):11
- There is strong evidence of "statistically significant" elevations of risk of solid tumors and leukemia above doses of 100 – 200 milligray (mGy)
- Findings of elevated incidence of circulatory disease in populations irradiated at high doses are raising some concern
- There is "increasing evidence" of radiation exposure leading to increased incidence of cataracts
- Radiation exposure of the developing embryo or fetus during pregnancy can also contribute to the appearance of non-cancer diseases in children. In addition to the induction of congenital mal-formations, the central nervous system is particularly affected12 … Mainly on the basis of animal studies and some observations following high-dose exposures of pregnant women, the Committee considers that there is a threshold for these effects at about 100 mGy.
- There is emerging evidence from recent epidemiological studies indicating elevated risks of non- cancer diseases below doses of 1 to 2 Gy, and in some cases much lower.
Although this report was released in 2010, scientists are just now going to review it to help assess the true effects of Fukushima.13 There is also a phenomenon known as the "bystander effect," which multiplies the dose and harm from radiation exposures. According to Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, cells that have not been exposed to radiation can be harmed by nearby cells that have. Writing for ISIS, Dr. Ho explains:14
"…low dose radiation is all the more dangerous because it does not kill the targeted cell, but allows its influence to spread widely to adjacent cells, thus multiplying the radiation effect (about 100 fold) …a wide range of bystander effects in cells not directly exposed to ionizing radiation have been found, which are the same as or similar to those in the cells that were exposed, including cell death and chromosomal instability."
Currently, there is a considerable push to understand bystander effects, genomic instability, and adaptive response after radiation exposure in low doses… but it is now clear that bystander effects do occur and are a general phenomenon induced by all types of radiation.15
What Can You do to Minimize Your Risks of Radiation Exposure?
First and foremost, if you live in an area with elevated levels in drinking water, be sure you either find an alternative source of water – such as your nearest natural spring16 – or filter it with a high-quality filter. When it comes to radiation, reverse osmosis is effective at removing most particles from your water.
If you're looking for strategies to help prevent damage caused by radiation exposure, researchers noted in the International Journal of Low Radiation17 that the most active molecular form of vitamin D – D3 (also known as calcitriol) – may offer protection against a variety of radiation-induced damages, including even those caused by background radiation or a low-level nuclear incident.
The protective mechanisms are so strong that researchers suggested vitamin D3 should be considered among the prime (if not the primary) non-pharmacological agents to protect against sub-lethal low radiation damage and, particularly, radiation-induced cancer.
Spirulina – a blue-green algae – might be another useful alternative to protect against the effects of radiation. Spirulina was actually used to treat children exposed to chronic low levels of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
According to a scientific review of spirulina's benefits:18
"Up to very recently, the interest in Spirulina was mainly in its nutritive value. Currently, however, numerous people are looking into the possible therapeutic effects of Spirulina. Many pre-clinical studies and a few clinical studies suggest several therapeutic effects ranging from reduction of cholesterol and cancer to enhancing the immune system, increasing intestinal lactobacilli, reducing nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation protection."
But what is it about this blue-green algae that gives it this radiation-protective capacity? Spirulina has a 16 percent phycocyanin content – a blue pigment that is attached to its photosynthetic membranes. Phycocyanin is also a nitrogen storage molecule. The nitrogen atoms can form a complex with heavy metals such as radioactive cesium and stronium, hence "cleansing" these radioactive metals from your body.
Turmeric contains a broad spectrum of water, fat and alcohol-soluble components, all of which may contribute to reducing damage associated with both external radiation and internalized radioisotope exposures. It accomplishes this primarily through reducing oxidative stress to cellular structures, particularly DNA.
Research demonstrates that it has significant radioprotective properties, and of particular importance in selecting a turmeric product is that it be certified organic to ensure it has not been gamma irradiated (ironic?) with radioactive cobalt-60 in the USDA-approved process known as "cold pasteurization." Conventional spices are commonly exposed to as high as 30 Kilograys of gamma radiation, or the equivalent of 990 million chest x-rays worth of radiation. The irradiation of herbs produces formic acid, formaldehyde and unique radiolytic byproducts with carcinogenic properties.
I interviewed Ori Hofmekler for an alternative viewpoint with regard to how you can decrease the risk to your health from radiation. Ori makes some compelling arguments for the use of a high-quality whey protein concentrate to help protect against absorbing radioactive minerals.
One of the reasons for using sweet whey is because whey protein contains all the precursors that help your body produce glutathione, which is one of the best ways to detoxify these toxins. The other reason is it's the highest source of all minerals and trace minerals that exist in nature. It has every possible mineral and trace elements – including organic sodium – that your body needs in the most bioactive form.
Other Herbs and Supplements
In general, the following foods, herbs and supplements may also help support your overall health in the event of radiation exposure:
Ginseng Kelp and other seaweeds (high in natural iodine) Zeolites (to neutralize radiation) or bentonite clays Ashwaganda (an adaptogenic herb) Fulvic Acid Reishi mushrooms (strong immune support) High-dose vitamin C Magnesium Selenium Coconut oil, which supports optimal thyroid health Astaxanthin (has some protective function against ionizing radiation) Chlorella (contains chlorophyll, which will increase your resistance to radiation)
For additional research on natural substances with experimentally confirmed radioprotective properties you can visit GreenMedInfo.com's Radiation Disaster Associated Toxicity page,19 which has indexed 146 substances of potential value.