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A first-hand account of Japan’s nuclear crisis

March 16, 2011

On March 12, 2011, the day after northeastern Japan was struck by an 8.9 Richter-scale earthquake and tsunami, IPPNW began to receive first-person, detailed updates about the crisis at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant from Dr. Katsumi Furitsu, a specialist in radiation biology and medical genetics based in Osaka, and a member of the board of the International Campaign to Ban Uranium Weapons. Katsumi’s reports, arriving several times a day, have provided information and insights into the worsening situation on the ground — information sometimes in stark contrast with what has been reported in the Japanese and global media. In this posting we are sharing all of Katsumi’s messages to date, arranged in reverse chronological order, with her most recent at the top. We will post new messages on the blog as they arrive. A text document containing all the messages will be updated each day and made available for download on the Disaster in Japan section of this blog.

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From: Katsumi Furitsu
Date: March 16, 2011 8:24:38 AM EDT
To: IPPNWFORUM <ippnwforum@googlegroups.com>

The following are some updates:

#The smoke/seam from reactor No. 3:

The company said that the smoke/steam from the reactor No. 3 came from the spent fuel pond (not from a possible leak from the containment).

The cooling system of the pond is out of order and the temperature of the water is getting higher to make steam. As you know, the building of this reactor already is broken down and there is no cover/ceiling over the spent fuel pond. It is open to the air now.

Then, they are planning to drop sea water from helicopters and fill the pond with water to stop the damage of spent-fuel rods.

A team of “Defense Force” started the training to do the task. They are ready to start now.

However, the radiation level over the pond is still high. It was measured “far more than 50 mSv/h”. (They actually measured it by a helicopter.) So, they decided not to pursue this operation today. There is no guarantee that the radiation level would become lower tomorrow, though. (The government has decided yesterday to set up the maximum exposure level at an emergency situation from 100 to 250 mSv, as I wrote you yesterday.)

#The reactor No. 4:

The government has just ordered the “riot police” to go to the site as they have a special car which has a “high pressure injection system”. (I do not know the proper words for such a car in English. I suppose a car which might be usually used against “riot”….or sometimes against a demonstration, as some of you might know?) They will try to fill the spent fuel with water using the special car. The defense force will lend protective suits to the “riot police”. They will start to work tomorrow morning.

#The result of the radiation level measurement today:

Today, a team from the Ministry of Education and Science, measured around the 20-60 km zone:

about 20km: 0.33 mSv/h

30-60 km: 0.0253 – 0.0125 mSv/h

The government and media emphasized, “the level is not a immediate danger for the people’s health, though it might be problem to live in such area continuously for a year.”

(I agree that it is not an “immediate danger” but it could contribute to cause “late affect” as cancer, leukemia or other disease. It depends on the duration of exposure.)

They do not provide us, people, any information about the concentration of radioactive noble gas, iodine, cesium and so on.

Peace,
Katsumi

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Date: March 15, 2011 10:29:49 PM EDT
To: IPPNWFORUM <ippnwforum@googlegroups.com>

The Chief Cabinet Secretary has announces:

What we saw in the vide image was smoke/steam from the reactor No. 3.

The radiation level at the gate increased rapidly from around 600-800 micro Sv/h to mSv/h level for a while around 10:00 am.

However, it is getting down at 10:54.

They think that the steam might be coming from a possible leak of the containment of the reactor No. 3, as it happened at the reactor No. 2 yesterday.

The government has been making great effort and some staff from the government has been working at the site together with the company.

So, it was not from a fire of reactor No. 4.

Katsumi

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Date: March 15, 2011 10:07:03 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] Re: the fire seems to be continuing

The company also mentioned that 4 fire engines were sent to the site from the local fire station.

The company also said that the plant workers even cannot confirm the situation because of the high radiation level.

I am really surprised that the local fire station is still working…..well it should be working…..but, I really hope that they are well equipped for the task at such dangerous situation. It reminds me the firemen at the Chernobyl site who worked just at the time of the accident. You all might know what happened to them.

I really hope my imagination would be just an imagination and not real….

Katsumi

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Date: March 15, 2011 9:45:10 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] the fire seems to be continuing

It is something like a nightmare…

We are now seeing the video of the Fukushima-I plant site, which was taken from the distance of 30 km.

The image is not clear, though.

We can see white smoke from one of the reactor buildings.

It might be reactor No. 4…..the water temperature of the spent fuel pond with non-spent-fuel-rods-complex might be getting higher or it might be already boiling and in a possible worse scenario, some part of fuels are above the water surface and starting to “melt”…

I am not a specialist of this kind of technical things. So, I should not make comment on this, though.

The site, especially close to the building of No. 4 is now in the very high level of radiation.

It is not easy to extinguish fire. They might send a special unit to do the proper work at the site as they did in chernobyl……

Please note that it is only my personal “imagination”……

The company have just started to explain the situation:

They are saying that they themselves cannot recognize/confirm the real situation because of the highly contaminated situation inside the site. It seems that the smoke can be seen around No. 3 or No. 4. They are insisting that they do not make any comment as making comments based on speculation might cause more confusion.

…………

We are physicians. When we treat such serious patients, we usually think about the worst scenario and try to do everything what we could do as soon as possible…..before the situation would get worse. I really would like to believe that they, the company and government, has been working in the same way.

I wonder what we can to protect people……now…..

Katsumi

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Date: March 15, 2011 5:55:28 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] another fire/ No.4

The company has just announced that there was another fire at the reactor No. 4 early in this morning!

We do not have further information now. Hydrogen explosion again??

Katsumi

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Date: March 15, 2011 4:51:06 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] some updates

Dear all,

I am sorry, but I could not follow in detail the situation since yesterday afternoon.

We, some grassroots groups, went to visit the main office of the electric poser company in our region (Kansai, the area including Osaka) to request them to stop all of their nuclear power plants as soon as possible. There are around 10 nuclear power plants about 100 km from Osaka. We requested them to learn the lessons from the disaster which is now happening in Fukushima. We know there is no place in Japan which is completely free from the possible danger of the earthquake and the problems of nuclear power plants.

Anyway…..as far as I have followed the news and statements from the government and company:

#The problem of spent fuel pond in the reactor No.4 is serious:

-They cannot decide yet what the actual cause and process of the fire at the reactor No. 4. Fortunately, the fire stopped spontaneously after some hours.

- They found that the temperature of the water of the spent fuel cooling pond is increasing from 40 to 84 degree centigrade as the cooling system is now out of order. After that they cannot measure the temperature as the meter was out of order. They think this situation might link to the fire and explosion at the plant.

- The hydrogen explosion might happen at the building (hydrogen was generated from the situation of spent fuel pond?). They found two big “holes” (8m x 8m)at the wall and the ceiling.

- The situation of the spent fuel pond is now focused. They considered an idea to pour water using a helicopter from the “hole” on the ceiling. However, the hole is not just above the cooling pond and they has gave up the idea.

- They are still seeking to solve the problem.

- They also reported: the fuel rods complex which was to put into the core vessel is in the pond (it is not a spent fuel) ,as they were just before starting to run the reactor when the earthquake happened.

- They also reported that the radiation level inside the building is too hight for workers to work. That is way they are thinking to pour water from outside the building.

#The level of radiation slightly elevated in the morning yesterday, on March 15, in the south area from the plant including Tokyo (around 200km from the Fukushima plant). It seems to come from the explosion at the reactor No.2.

Tokyo (Shinjuku):0.81 (around 200 km)
Tokyo(Utunomiya-shi): 1.318 (around 200 km)
Saitama city:1.22 (around 200km)
Fukushima Iwaki: 23.72 (around 50 km)

The increase depends on the direction of the wind.

#They are now worrying about also the increasing temperature and possible decrease of cooling water of the cooling ponds of reactor No. 5 and 6.

# They reported some data about the measurement at the site:
at the gate: 9:00, March 15: 11930 micro Sv/h
15:30               : 596.4  micro Sv/h

inside the site: most recent?, March 16: 200-300micro Sv/h

The government is emphasizing the level is decreasing now.

#The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare decided to re-consider the “maximum permissive dose” for nuclear workers at the emergency situation. It is 100mSv at the time of “emergency situation for lifesaving”, now in japan. (In usual situation, it is 100 mSv per 5 years, at the maximum limit of 50mSv per year.) However, they has decided to set up the “maximum permissive dose at emergency situation” 250mSv that is 2.5 times as higher than the present limit. They say that under this level, 250mSv, any acute symptoms would not occur. (I do not agree with their idea, though. They might decide it as they think it impossible to manege this critical situation without letting workers work under such a hight level of radiation.)

…………………….

I think you can now read some other detailed media coverage or reports from specialists on these situations even in English, though.

It is really hard for us to see the situation of people who have been suffering from the disaster of earthquake and tsunami, and in addition to it, they have to evacuate again or ordered to keep inside building. They cannot even try to find out their loved ones who are still under such huge wrecks.

Some (or many) people are now trying to leave from the 30 km zone.

I am sorry for I do not cover all the disaster and suffering of the people in the affected areas, but only focusing the issue of nuclear power plants.

I hope you can follow the whole situation, which I could not write here, from the media coverage.

Best,
Katsumi

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Date: March 14, 2011 10:27:16 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] a fire in the reactor No. 4

The government is now announcing:

There is a fire in the reactor No. 4, which was not running at the time of the earthquake.

It seems to happen by hydrogen explosion. They are now working on extinguishing the fire.

The radiation level measured inside the site:
between reactor No. 2 and 3: 30 mSv/h (note it is not micro Sv/h !!)
near the reactor No. 3: 400 mSv/h
near the reactor No. 4: 100 mSv/h

Now, the government is officially saying that the level at the site of the plant is “actually harmful” for people (workers at the site).  The workers, except in charge of cooling the plants, were ordered to evacuate.

The people within 20 km ordered again to evacuate completely.

The people within 20- 30 km ordered to be stay inside building.

Katsumi

P.S. An additional information from the news:

The fuel cooling ponds of both (?) reactor No. 1 and 3 are now left without any over after the explosion of the building. It is under the open air. The cooling system is already out of order so it is not actually a “cooling pond”. Unbelievable situation, but seems reality.

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Date: March 14, 2011 8:05:42 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] 8,217 micro Sv/h is measured after 2hours from the explosion

The company has just reported:The measurement at the gate of the plant was 8,217 micro Sv/h.

It was about two hours after the explosion at the reactor No.2.

It is also reported that about the half of the fuel rods are now above the cooling water surface.

(It was totally above the water surface for some hours during the night, though.)

Katsumi

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Date: March 14, 2011 7:22:02 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] a part of containment has broken

The government has just announced:

There was an explosion at the No.2 reactor.

The “Wetwell” (suppression pool- see the figure in a document which Xanthe sent us yesterday) seems to break. The pressure inside the pool has gone down from 3 to 1 atmospheric air pressure.

The radiation level at somewhere at the plant  (probably at the gate again?) increased to 965.5 micro Sv/h (later it went down a little bit, they said).

The company has ordered a part of workers to evacuate out side of the plant.

As you can understand, it means a part of containment itself has broken. This is a quite serious situation. The most important barrier to retain the nuclear materials has broken.

I have no words…. the people in the badly affected area by earthquake and tsunami are facing to the danger of nuclear plant.

The government has announced again that the radiation level is not “an immediate danger for public health”.

Katsumi

_____

Date: March 14, 2011 12:09:45 PM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] reactor No. 2/ “heating an empty bathtub”

Dear all,

The electric power company has just had a press conference:

They started to pour the sea water into the core vessel and the level of water surface went up to the half of the fuel rods.

However, they came to fail to pour the water about two hours ago because of a high pressure inside the core vessel. They say that a valve to reduce the pressure has closed. Then the water surface level went down to the “down scale” again and the whole fuel rods are left without cooling water now (as “heating an empty bathtub”). They does not deny the fuel rods has meltdown.

They are now trying to open some other valve to reduce the pressure.

The radiation level at the boarder of the plant was once measured as high as 3,130 maicro Sv/h.

I am sorry for such a complicated explanation.

The situation is really unstable and complicated…..it is critical situation anyway.

Katsumi

_____
Date: March 14, 2011 7:32:50 AM EDT
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] running on the “edge of cliff”

Dear all,

Now the No. 2 reactor is getting into a critical situation.

The company and government announced early in the afternoon that all the cooling system is out of order.

After that the cooling water level inside the fuel vessel went lower. Then they tried to cool the core with sea water, but they could not do so from some reason. Now, it is reported that whole body of the collective fuel rods are above the water surface (or no water anymore in the fuel vessel containmnet?). They say that the fuel rods might be “melting”.

I do not want to believe the situation, though……

They are thinking to cool the containment anyway.

When have written this message to this point, the announcer of the TV news program has suddenly reported, “The government has just announced that they successfully started to pour the fuel vessel with sea water!”

The situation is still unstable. Hydrogen gas might be accumulating inside the plant building….

We will continue to follow the situation carefully.

Best,
Katsumi

_____
Date: March 13, 2011 10:47:41 PM EDT
Subject: Re: [IPPNWFORUM] reactor situation

It is said that there are still 600 people within 20 km, most of them are old people or patients, their families and medical staff. It was not easy for them to evacuate soon.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary is now announcing that the company has reported that the containment is (seems to be) intact.

It is reported that no increased level of radiation is measured at this moment at the boarder of the site.

Katsumi

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Date: March 13, 2011 10:30:26 PM EDT
Subject: Re: [IPPNWFORUM] reactor situation

They are now announcing the news: just about 20 min ago, the hydrogen explosion happened at the reactor No.3; the situation is just as the No. 1 reactor.

The building of the reactor has broken. We can see on TV the walls and the ceiling have fallen.

We do not have any further information at this moment. We only hope the core containment would be intact….

Katsumi

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Date: March 12, 2011 11:44:00 PM EST
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] all the three running reactors are going though the similar process

The media has reported that the Tokyo Electric Power Company has just decided to release the air from the containment of the No. 2 reactor of Fukushima-I site to the environment to reduce the pressure inside.

Therefore, all of the three reactors (No. 1-3) at the Fukushima-I site, which were running at the time of the earthquake, have been going through the same process.

About 210,000 people in total are already ordered to evacuate from the 20 km zone(180,000) from the Fukushima-I site and 10 km zone (30,000) from the Fukushima-II site. (You might remember that about 120,000 people are evacuated from the 30km zone of the Chernobyl power plant.)

However, it is not still clear that how many of them, 210,000 people, could evacuate.

Katsumi

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Date: March 12, 2011 6:35:44 PM EST
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] some update

Dear Jeff and all,

Thank you for the response and advice.

I do not think that people (children) have already taken iodine. (I know it is most ideal to take iodine before being exposed to radioactive iodine.)

Can you imagine the situation over there? People have such a disaster of earthquake already and, in addition to it, they are facing to the serious danger of nuclear power plants. It is not a “simple” nuclear-power-plant-accident. The traffic is cut off in some places. All the life line is actually stopped. Some people might already got injured……

We ourselves have some friends who live within 3 km from the plant, but we cannot make contact with them since the earthquake happened. We do not know whether they are safe or not even without the problems of nuclear power plants. We only pray for their safety

It is said that a team from the National Institute of Radiological Science was sent (or will be sent?) to the area.

I really hope they will make a proper decision to protect people.

(I am personally feeling frustration that I cannot do anything directly right now.)

The news has just reported that they found 160 people are exposed, but another news has reported 15 people are exposed and getting some treatment of decontamination. However, we do not know how they diagnosed the people are exposed.

The chief cabinet secretary, Mr. Makieda, has just announced that 9 people are contaminated. He said, “the ‘count’ of surface radiation was 1800-40000 cpm.” (They seem to use a most simple radiation detector and checked the surface contamination of people’s clothes. They do not have any information of internal exposure.) He emphasized again and agin that “the contamination level is not harmful to people”.

As far as I understand from the media news, they have just pour sea water into the containment vessel, but not circulate it at this moment. However, the situation is not clear to me. If they circulate the sea water, they have to release the contaminated water into the sea….

Yes, the cooling system has not yet recovered, as far as I understand.

The bad news is that the same process has been going on in another reactor (No.3 reactor) at the same “Fukushima-I” reactor site. They have just decided to release the air inside the containment to the environment again.

It is a release of radioactive materials to the environment to avoid the worse scenario.

We have to follow the things carefully.

Peace,
Katsumi

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Date: March 12, 2011 1:47:22 PM EST
Subject: cooling with sea water Re: [IPPNWFORUM] update

Dear all,

The government and the company announced that the plant-building was broken (by phreatic eruption) but the containment and the reactor vessel are intact.

It is said that the phreatic eruption inside the building (outside of the containment) occurred under the high temperature because of the failure of core-cooling-system.

The fuel rods inside the reactor vessel has actually “melted down” to some extent without proper cooling system (the level of cooling water was getting lower).

They decided to cool the reactor vessel and the containment vessel with sea water with boron. The media has reported that a team of the defense force is pumping the sea water and pour into the container now.

As you know, it is unusual decision (or last choice for them) to use sea water for cooling. They seem to decided not to continue to use the reactor after the settlement of critical situation.

It is also reported that the radiation level around the plant is getting lower now.

However, people have already been exposed to radioactive materials to some extent as Ryoma informed. (It is reported that a person with “positive contamination” was exposed at the point 3.7km from the reactor while he/she was getting out of 10km zone. Evacuation zone is now extended to 20km, though.)

We do not know the actual situation of exposure. We have to follow up the situation carefully.

Peace,
Katsumi

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Date: March 12, 2011 3:43:29 AM EST
Subject: Fwd: getting worse…….Re: [IPPNWFORUM] the core is starting to melt down

The news is reporting that the radiation level near the plant (?) is measured 1,015 micro Sv/h.

Katsumi
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Date: March 12, 2011 3:21:17 AM EST
Subject: getting worse…….Re: [IPPNWFORUM] the core is starting to melt down

The reactor (Fikushima I) exploded!

The walls and ceiling have fallen down.

It is just like Chernobyl……

Katsumi

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Date: March 12, 2011 1:49:48 AM EST
Subject: Re: [IPPNWFORUM] the core is starting to melt down

They have just announced that they “successfully” opened the valve to reduce pressure of the containment.

They said that pressure inside is getting lower now.

I really hope that the situation is getting better. They are releasing radioactive materials into the environment, though.

Katsumi
_____

Date: March 12, 2011 1:29:04 AM EST
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] the core is starting to melt down

Dear all,

The news just says that Cs 134 has just been detected surrounding the plant building.

The official nuclear safety committee has announced that it means the core may be starting to “melt”.

The government decided to release the air from the containment this morning to reduce the pressure inside. However, it has become clear that they could not open the valve properly and could not actually reduce the pressure.

Then, the cooling water level is getting lower and the upper part of the fuel rods (about 170cm) has come out from the surface of water.

The temperature of the core is getting higher over 2700 degree centigrade.

The radiation level at the gate of the plant is measured to be 90 times as higher than background.

Not all the people from 10km zone has yet evacuated.

I am afraid that the situation is similar to TMI or worse…..

We cannot access to any further information now……

Katsumi
_____

Date: March 11, 2011 5:54:29 PM EST
Subject: [IPPNWFORUM] Fwd: [MASE] Japan News Update

Dear all,

You might already know the following news.

There is already radioactive leakage from the container of the core.

The TV news has just said radiation level in front of the gate of the plant increased up to the level of 8 times higher than the “normal level” (back ground? or limit?).

Best,

Katsumi Furitsu in Osaka

Thousands evacuated amid nuclear leak fears
Updated 49 minutes ago

Japan dispatched around 160 military personnel, sending its chemical corps and an aircraft on a “fact finding mission” to the nuclear plant. (Reuters/Kyodo)
•    Related Story: Residents near nuclear plant told to evacuate
•    Related Story: DFAT issues Japan travel warning
•    Related Story: Japan death toll could top 1,000
•    Related Story: Record quake unleashes tsunami on Japan
•    Related Story: Millions stranded in Tokyo subway shutdown

The Japanese government has declared an atomic emergency because of the “possibility” of a radioactive leak from a nuclear reactor in the quake disaster zone.

But operators of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have warned that radiation could already have leaked.

This morning Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan said thousands of people living within 10 kilometres of the nuclear plant must evacuate.

The amount of radiation reached around 1,000 times the normal level in the No. 1 reactor’s control room, the Kyodo news agency reported the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency as saying.

Trade minister Banri Kaieda earlier said authorities were nearing a decision to release radioactive steam from the troubled nuclear reactor in a bid to ease a pressure build-up after its cooling system was damaged by the massive earthquake.

“Pressure has risen in the container of the reactor and we are trying to deal with it, “a spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power, which operates the plant, said.

The government had earlier said no radiation leaks were detected among its reactors after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck on Friday, Japan’s biggest on record, triggering huge tsunamis.

The plant had shut down after the quake, but a reactor cooling system failure had led to the evacuation instruction, a situation the government said was “under control”.

Japan has dispatched around 160 military personnel, sending its chemical corps and an aircraft on a “fact finding mission” to the nuclear plant, Kyodo said.

Prime minister Naoto Kan had earlier said no radiation leaks had been detected from Japan’s nuclear power stations after the massive quake struck the country.

The IAEA’s Incident and Emergency Centre had said that the four nuclear power plants closest to the quake which occurred near the east coast of Honshu, Japan, had been “safely shut down”.

According to the industry ministry, a total of 11 nuclear reactors automatically shut down at the Onagawa plant, the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants and the Tokai No. 2 plant after the strongest recorded earthquake in the country’s history.

A fire that broke out in the turbine building of Onagawa nuclear plant in Miyagi Prefecture had been extinguished, the government said. Operator Tohoku Electric Power said there were no indications of a radioactive leak.

Miyagi prefecture was one of the areas worst hit by the tsunami.

Millions of households were without power in north-eastern Japan, according to Tohoku Electric.

Japan – located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where continental plates meet and create a string of volcanoes and seismic hot spots – records 20 per cent of the world’s major earthquakes.

As an industrial powerhouse nation poor in energy resources, Japan also draws about 30 per cent of its total power from its 53 nuclear plants.

4 Comments
  1. March 22, 2011 3:12 pm

    Dear Dr. Furitsu,
    I’ve read some excerpts from you during the IPPNW Conference about Chernobyl during April 12th till April 15th 1996, in Vienna. I’ve quoted some of your saying on my blog:
    http://tekknorg.wordpress.com/2011/03/22/iaea-uncesco-icrp-playing-down-radiation-in-fukushima-and-chernobyl-is-scientifically-valid/
    I have to thank you from all my heart for your work and report and especially the critic about RERF.
    A IPPNW member, here in Germany, will take part be at the opposition’s party SPD hearing about Chernobyl in April, next month.

    with kind regards,

Trackbacks

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