The recent headlines coming out of Japan raise serious concerns for the workers who are being exposed to high levels of radiation. Many people around the world are just now beginning to ask themselves, ‘what will happen to those workers’ and ‘what will the experience and the aftermath of their exposure mean to themselves and their families’.
Exposure of any type of radiation, especially of this magnitude, is not only a concern for the workers, but for the residents. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released information on their website, ‘Radiation Doses in Perspective,’ to give people a sense of what this type of exposure may mean for the people of Japan (http://www.epa.gov/radiation/understand/perspective.html).
According to reports, the government of Japan has established a 20km exclusion zone and evacuated tens of thousands of people. Those living up to 30km away have been told to stay indoors to minimize exposure. Though the U.S. State Department released a statement on March 16, 2011, warning American citizens of the potential risk of radiation exposure and asking that they leave Japan, many residents as well as U.S. military have remained. (http://www.businessinsider.com/state-department-us-citizens-leave-japan-2011-3).
The issue of power plants and the vicinity to residents all across the U.S. is now becoming a highly publicized topic of major concern, as citizens begin to question how a natural disaster of this magnitude would impact the millions of residents who live within a 20kn radius of nuclear plants here.
Days since this crisis, news reports continue to unfold. According to a Press Release that was issued today over the Dow Jones Newswire, “the safety of U.S. nuclear facilities has come under question in recent days as the nuclear crisis at Japan’s Fukushima plant reveal weaknesses in nuclear plant technology and operations. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Wednesday to conduct a major safety review of the 104 nuclear reactors operating in the US.”
The statement goes on to say, “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been aware of (the) reporting lapses since at least 2009. In that time, the commission identified 24 instances, between December 2009 and September 2010, in which nuclear plants did not report the emerging defects under Part 21.”
These instances pose “a substantial safety hazard” and prevent federal regulators from spotting manufacturer defects that could surface at other plants around the country, the inspector general said.
Because US plants are failing to report defects as a result of confusion over the law, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not imposed violations or civil penalties. It has not imposed any civil penalties or significant enforcement actions for the reporting failures in at least eight years, the inspector said.”
There are two main issues here: there is concern for the brave workers and their safety and the concerns for community of residents. A secondary level of concern arises, when you begin to question what the companies know about exposure of any type to their workers, whether they are reporting these risks to the people who work for them, and whether the companies have known about defective or faulty equipment that could result in injury for some time. We can continue to speculate as to whether nuclear plants within the U.S. pose any type of serious threat to the community or its citizens, and the debate can continue to go either way.
But the fact that the U.S. is addressing these concerns as a whole and looking into whether the concerns raised are viable is a step forward. Should companies turn out to know about the potential dangers and yet continue to put people within their communities at risk, is something that needs to be addressed. Should their concerns be valid, there should be steps in place to protect the citizens, and I hope with the government’s involvement, this will be the case, and this disaster will serve as a warning to our country and to corporations who put money over the lives of their workers.
In my work, I see everyday working people, who have been exposed to toxic substances, whether I am representing clients in an asbestos exposure case, or a product liability case. When a corporation understands the dangers posed to their employees, yet continue to expose their workers without notice, is unconscionable.
Today there are 23 GE Mark I nuclear reactors operating in the U.S., including the Oyster Creek, New Jersey plant. Additionally, newer GE Mark II boiling-water reactors operate in both Limerick and Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. GE insists that these reactors have a track record of performing safely and properly; yet, concern continues to grow. My hopes are that these are just merely concerns that do not become a reality.
I would like to extend my condolences and support to Japan and the entire Pacific Rim, during this time as they proceed to recover from the earthquake and tsunami that rattled their country. The initial reports and news that follows covering the nuclear plant, present a devastating picture, for the people of Japan and for our future, should we not properly heed these warnings.
Here are some additional resources as the concerns for Japan and its citizens continues: