After Fukushima, fish tales

by Alex Roslin
January 14, 2012
The Montreal Gazette

After the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, authorities in Canada said people living here were safe and faced no health risks from the fallout from Fukushima.

They said most of the radiation from the crippled Japanese nuclear power plant would fall into the ocean, where it would be diluted and not pose any danger.

Dr. Dale Dewar wasn’t convinced. Dewar, a family physician in Wynyard, Sask., doesn’t eat a lot of seafood herself, but when her grandchildren come to visit, she carefully checks seafood labels.

She wants to make sure she isn’t serving them anything that might come from the western Pacific Ocean.

Dewar, the executive director of Physicians for Global Survival, a Canadian anti-nuclear group, says the Canadian government has downplayed the radiation risks from Fukushima and is doing little to monitor them.

“We suspect we’re going to see more cancers, decreased fetal viability, decreased fertility, increased metabolic defects – and we expect them to be generational,” she said.

And evidence has emerged that the impacts of the disaster on the Pacific Ocean are worse than expected.

Since a tsunami and earthquake destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last March, radioactive cesium has consistently been found in 60 to 80 per cent of Japanese fishing catches each month tested by Japan’s Fisheries Agency.

In November, 65 per cent of the catches tested positive for cesium (a radioactive material created by nuclear reactors), according to a Gazette analysis of data on the fisheries agency’s website. Cesium is a long-lived radionuclide that persists in the environment and increases the risk of cancer, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which says the most common form of radioactive cesium has a half-life of 30 years.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which monitors food safety, says it is aware of the numbers but says the amounts of cesium detected are small.

“Approximately 60 per cent of fish have shown to have detectable levels of radionuclides,” it said in an emailed statement.

“The majority of exported fish to Canada are caught much farther from the coast of Japan, and the Japanese testing has shown that these fish have not been contaminated with high levels of radionuclides.”

But the Japanese data shows elevated levels of contamination in several seafood species that Japan has exported to Canada in recent years.

In November, 18 per cent of cod exceeded a new radiation ceiling for food to be implemented in Japan in April – along with 21 per cent of eel, 22 per cent of sole and 33 per cent of seaweed.

Overall, one in five of the 1,100 catches tested in November exceeded the new ceiling of 100 becquerels per kilogram. (Canada’s ceiling for radiation in food is much higher: 1,000 becquerels per kilo.)


[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]

Dirty Data: The Internet's Giant Carbon Footprint

By Alex Roslin
The Montreal Gazette
Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's Saturday night, and you want to catch the latest summer blockbuster. You do a quick Google search to find the venue and right time, and off you go to enjoy some mindless fun.
Meanwhile, your Internet search has just helped kill the planet. Depending on how long you took and what sites you visited, your search caused the emission of one to 10 grams of carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Sure, it’s not a lot on its own – but add up all of the more than one billion daily Google searches, throw in 60 million Facebook status updates each day, 50 million daily tweets and 250 billion emails per day, and you’re seriously helping to melt some Greenland glaciers.
The Internet has long promised a more efficient and greener world. We save on paper and mailing by sending an email. We can telecommute instead of driving to work. We can have a meeting by teleconference instead of flying to another city.
But all that Googling and Facebooking has spawned mind-boggling amounts of information. If all the data on the Internet was printed in books and stacked, it would stretch from Earth to Pluto 10 times, the Guardian newspaper has reported.
And the stack of books is growing more quickly than NASA’s fastest rocket.
Ironically, despite the web’s green promise, this explosion of data has turned the Internet into one of the planet’s fastest-growing sources of carbon emissions. The Internet now consumes two to three per cent of the world’s electricity.
If the Internet was a country, it would be the planet’s fifth-biggest consumer of power, ahead of India and Germany. The Internet’s power needs now rival those of the aviation industry and are expected to nearly double by 2020.
“The Internet pollutes, but people don’t understand why it pollutes. It’s very, very power-hungry, and we have to reduce its carbon footprint,” said Mohamed Cheriet, a green IT expert and professor in the engineering and automation department at Montreal’s École de Technologie Supérieure.

[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]

Afghanistan's Kandahar Airfield an Alleged Heroin Hotbed

by Alex Roslin and Shaun McCanna
The Georgia Straight
December 29, 2011

[Note: This story was done in collaboration with the Canadian Centre for Investigative Reporting and was supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundations. The CCIR’s Bilbo Poynter contributed additional reporting.]

Toor Jan was clearly nervous when he arrived at the guesthouse in Kandahar, Afghanistan. “If my boss found out I did this, he will shoot me,” the young heroin dealer told the Georgia Straight in an interview.
Toor Jan (not his real name) described last March how he sold large amounts of heroin to Afghan translators working at two NATO bases in Kandahar who, in turn, resold the heroin to NATO soldiers.
Toor Jan said he and his partner were selling from 270 grams to one kilogram of heroin weekly to the translators working at Kandahar Airfield—until recently headquarters of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan—and at Kandahar City’s Camp Nathan Smith, former home of the Canadian provincial reconstruction team.
It’s enough to get 2,700 to 10,000 users high. The street value in Vancouver would be $54,000 to $200,000.
It works out to about 14 to 52 kilograms annually, worth up to approximately $10.4 million. (Toor Jan said his boss employs two other teams of dealers who sell similar amounts of heroin to translators at the NATO bases.) In comparison, Canadian police seize only about 70 kilos of heroin in an average year in all of Canada.
Toor Jan said he had heard that some foreign contractors also buy heroin and are involved in smuggling it through Kandahar’s airport but that they “normally deal with other people, not with small guys like us”.

[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]

What Are Officials Hiding About Fukushima?

by Alex Roslin
The Georgia Straight
October 20, 2011
[Note: This story shared in a nomination for an investigative reporting award from the Canadian Association of Journalists in 2012.]

But when Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident took place last March, public officials in Japan and Canada alike jumped straight into Chernobyl-style damage-control mode, dismissing any worries about impacts.
Now evidence has emerged that the radiation in Canada was worse than Canadian officials ever let on.
A Health Canada monitoring station in Calgary detected radioactive material in rainwater that exceeded Canadian guidelines during the month of March, according to Health Canada data obtained by the Georgia Straight.
Canadian government officials didn’t disclose the high radiation readings to the public. Instead, they repeatedly insisted that fallout drifting to Canada was negligible and posed no health concerns.
In fact, the data shows rainwater in Calgary last March had an average of 8.18 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine, easily exceeding the Canadian guideline of six becquerels per litre for drinking water.
“It’s above the recommended level [for drinking water],” Eric Pellerin, chief of Health Canada’s radiation-surveillance division, admitted in a phone interview from Ottawa. “At any time you sample it, it should not exceed the guideline.”

[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]

"Safe" Radiation Levels After Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Challenged by Citizens

by Alex Roslin
The Georgia Straight
August 25, 2011

After Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, John Disney couldn’t help but worry. He was acting band manager of the Old Massett Village Council on the north tip of Graham Island in Haida Gwaii.
Canadian health officials were saying the radioactive fallout posed no health risk to Canadians. But Disney wasn’t convinced.
He sent samples of water, goat’s milk, and seaweed to a lab in Saskatoon for tests. The lab found 1.1 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine in rainwater collected on March 28.
The lab told him the Canadian ceiling for iodine-131 in drinking water is six becquerels per litre. The rainwater wasn’t at the limit yet, but the sudden rise—over previously undetectable levels—worried Disney. He put out an alert to his community of 700, giving the numbers and advising residents to avoid drinking rainwater.
“It [the iodine level] was coming up fast, and I didn’t know where it was going,” he said by cellphone from Old Massett (also known as Haida Village). “Quite a lot of people around here are on rainwater [drinking] systems.”
The responses from Health Canada and Environment Canada were scathing. “They said I didn’t know what I was doing and that there was nothing to worry about. I’ve got half the world telling me I’m an idiot,” Disney said.

[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]

Japan’s Fukushima Catastrophe Brings Big Radiation Spikes to B.C.

by Alex Roslin
The Georgia Straight
August 4, 2011

After Japan’s Fukushima catastrophe, Canadian government officials reassured jittery Canadians that the radioactive plume billowing from the destroyed nuclear reactors posed zero health risks in this country.
In fact, there was reason to worry. Health Canada detected large spikes in radioactive material from Fukushima in Canadian air in March and April at monitoring stations across the country.
On March 18, seven days after an earthquake and tsunami triggered eventual nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the first radioactive material wafted over the Victoria suburb of Sidney on Vancouver Island.
For 22 days, a Health Canada monitoring station in Sidney detected iodine-131 levels in the air that were up to 300 times above the normal background levels. Radioactive iodine levels shot up as high as nearly 1,000 times background levels in the air at Resolute Bay, Nunavut.

[Read the entire story here, and visit my investigative journalism blog here.]