Internal vs External radiation — in ten out of ten children tested in Fukushima City

The subtitles of articles reporting on the results of testing the urine of children in Fukushima City, which is outside the evacuation zone of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power stations, say that radiation was found in 10 children.  But the important number here is the proportion of  those tested who showed signs of internal radiation from radioactive isotopes thought to be harmful to growing children:  that’s 10 out of 10; or 100 per cent of those tested.

All ten children surveyed, aged between six and 16, tested positively for trace amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137 as part of a study conducted by a local citizens’ group and a non-government organisation.

The children live in Fukushima city, located around 37 miles from the stricken power plant . .

(from an article in the June 30th, 2011 Telegraph:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8611312/Radiation-traces-found-in-Fukushima-children.html )

The Guardian, too, featured an article on the tests and their significance:  “Fukushima children test positive for internal radiation exposure”; it’s significant, I think, that it used the term “internal radiation.”   The measured radiation contamination figures usually reported in the press, and the values against which they are compared, are usually only external radiation, although the term “external radiation” is generally not used, and so the reader doesn’t think of it as distinguished from any other kind of radiation.  That is, a certain value is given as the measured radiation, and that measured value is compared to the amount a person would receive from a chest or dental x-ray, from background radiation, or from additional cosmic radiation in a transatlantic flight.

I wrote in an earlier post that the kinds of comparisons one runs across in the news are not meaningful when air or food contamination is involved.  Here’s the reason:  Internal radiation is significantly different:  depending on how a radioactive particle enters a human body (inhalation, eating/drinking), the particle might stay in the body for many years, and the exposure of dividing cells could be much more direct than radiation exposure from sources outside the human body.  I posted a very informative interview produced by Fairewinds about it awhile ago, on my Energy and Environment page (https://mattersofproportion.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/health-effects-of-radiation-fallout-from-japans-fukushima-accident-among-others-some-subtleties-some-practical-things-you-can-do/ )

The url for the article in the Guardian about the results and significance of the tests on urine of children well outside the evacuation zone is here:    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/30/fukushima-children-radiation-tests-caesium?INTCMP=SRCH

The two articles I have posted urls for above are from two prominent and reliable UK news sources; the news is also reported in the Australian press.  So far, I haven’t seen this in the US media — well, except for financial blogs.  The Wall Street Journal blog Japan Real Time has a good piece on it:  http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2011/07/01/more-fukushima-worries-internal-contamination/ .

Lots of other financial blogs on hedge funds and investment advice are reporting it, too. Why would they be so interested, when the US mainstream press doesn’t seem to be?   Perhaps it’s because these financial blogs pride themselves on getting past the spin, to find the information about potentially significant consequences that others might not have yet.  (They deal in information arbitrage, after all. )

And there has been concern about spin in the UK concerning the effects of Fukushima. One of the top (i.e., most viewed) stories last week was about the spin control that two agencies in the UK government, in collusion with nuclear industry manufacturers and pro-nuclear advocacy groups,  rushed to put on the news about the Fukushima accident while it was still breaking news.  The news story was based on emails obtained by the journalists investigating the story;  one of the companies that the UK government contacted was Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse (now owned by Japan’s Toshiba), a company I used to work for.  Emails flew between industry leaders in the US & Europe and UK government agencies about formulating the same talking points and then getting them out in multiple locations, as though from speakers giving their opinions independently of each other.   It’s not fun to think about such things occurring;  the government should be thinking about protecting the health and safety of its citizens instead of trying to control bad news that might negatively impact the image of commercial nuclear power plants.  It would be nice if industry professionals thought that way, too; certainly their professional and corporate codes of ethical conduct call for it.  The thing is, as you read the emails, you realize that they probably did not think that what they were doing was inappropriate, much less ethically questionable.  And that’s pretty scary.

That article, from the June 30th Guardian, is here:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/30/british-government-plan-play-down-fukushima?intcmp=239  It includes a link to the emails on which the article is based.

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