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Japan Faces The Same Whitewashing by the IAEA As Russia Did

By Theodora Filis

The general expectation, by most people, is that organizations within the UN dealing with the dangers caused by nuclear disasters will focus on human health and safety.

However, due to the whitewashing of nuclear disasters by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the past, one must ask if the WHO and the IAEA are advocates of the nuclear industry rather than nuclear safety.

The WHO, part of the United Nations, is not allowed to independently investigate the results of nuclear accidents, or anything nuclear for that matter, not even future effects without the permission of the IAEA. This legally binding agreement with the IAEA has been around since 1959. The WHO reports to the Development Group while the IAEA reports directly to the UN Security Council and holds absolute power over the entire nuclear industry.

The Chernobyl explosion, on 26 April 1986, led to the substantial airborne release and subsequent ground deposition of a radionuclide mixture that resulted in the long term radioactive contamination of more than 200,000 square kilometres of European territory, most within the borders of what is now Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

Although the accident occurred nearly two decades ago, controversy still surrounds the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The IAEA claims Chernobyl was responsible for “only 31 direct deaths, and maybe 2000 avoidable thyroid cancers in irradiated children." Today, nearly five million people continue to live in areas contaminated by the accident dealing with the environmental, health, social and economic consequences.

In September, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, announced the IAEA would provide assistance with decontamination plans around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, which was seriously damaged after an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, sparking the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

In October, IAEA said it was sending twelve international experts to Japan to assist the country with clean-up efforts. Experts “will go to several locations in the Fukushima Prefecture and conduct meetings in Tokyo with Japanese officials to provide assistance to Japan in its plans to manage remediation efforts (and) review the country’s remediation strategies, plans and work,” the IAEA said in a statement.

The mission, requested by the Japanese government, was to be led by Juan Carlos Lentijo, head of radiation protection at the Spanish nuclear regulatory authority. A preliminary report and press conference were to be planned at the end of the proposed mission.

However, on March 21, after returning from a short visit to Japan, the IAEA Director Yukiya Amano said, “Since the accident, I have tried to address some widespread misconceptions in the media about the IAEA's role in nuclear safety. These misunderstandings fueled some criticism of the Agency's response, which was not always justified. I explained that we are not a "nuclear safety watchdog" and that responsibility for nuclear safety lies with our Member States.”

Six months on, emergency crews are still struggling to stop radiation seeping out from the Fukushima plant, while tens of thousands of people remain evacuated from homes, farms and businesses in a 20-kilometre (12-mile) radius around the site.

Amano concluded, “The Agency's role in nuclear safety may need to be re-examined, along with the role of our Safety Standards."

To date, Japan has no assistance from the IAEA.  

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