MANILA, Philippines - Despite assurances to the contrary, there is a serious threat to Filipino health and environment as a result of radiation from the nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima, Japan, said a toxicology expert in the country.
Dr. Romeo F. Quijano, professor at the University of the Philippines-Manila's Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, said: "There is already a significant breach in the reactor core containment facilities, both immediate and secondary. There is no doubt that significant amounts of radioactivity had already been released into the open environment, exposing thousands of people within several kilometers radius. It is highly probable that this radiation pollution will worsen in the next few days and will most likely reach the Philippines."
Quijano said this threat should not be downplayed, but must be addressed "with truth and precaution and not misinformation."
"There is already a partial meltdown and it is not far-fetched that a complete meltdown will occur, if it has not already occurred by the time this article is circulated," said Quijano, president of the Pesticide Action Network Philippines, in a statement released to the media on March 17.
He called as "gross misrepresentation of facts" the claim of government officials that radiation from Japan will not reach the Philippines and will not pose significant health risks.
Because the direction of the winds may change, Quijano said the radiation plumes may reach the country.
"The claim by Philippine authorities that the radioactive cloud will not reach the Philippines because the prevailing wind direction from the nuclear plant is way towards the Central Pacific is no reassurance because wind direction can change at any moment," Quijano explained.
The toxicology expert also said that the radioactive elements "will inevitably affect practically the entire planet after some time."
Philippines is safe: PNRI
Meantime, the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) said on Friday that the Philippines is still safe from the effects of a radioactive plume from Fukushima, Japan because it is being blown away from the country.
PNRI Director Alumanda dela Rosa said the latest wind trajectory from the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) showed that the wind is blowing eastward away from the Philippines. She noted that wind trajectory from Japan has not changed since Sunday.
She said that based on the latest calculation "there is no risk of the Philippines being affected by the radioactive plume."
"The public is advised not to be unduly alarmed of being exposed to radiation," she said.
Tokyo not safe?
Earlier this week, radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reached Japan's capital Tokyo, but radiation levels were pronounced "safe" by the Japanese government.
"It must be emphasized that, theoretically, no level of radioactivity is 'safe.' While these levels are still quite low compared to levels known to be clearly associated with various illnesses due to exposure to radiation, there is a real risk that over time, additional cases of cancer, birth defects, immune disorders, and other illnesses would occur among the population exposed to these low level radiation, especially the more susceptible population groups such as women and children," he said.
Quijano also opined that it is possible that radiation levels may be higher than what is officially reported, and that the situation in the nuclear power plant in Fukushima "is getting much worse."
Call for action
Quijano called on the Philippine government to lay off all efforts to revive the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) started during the Marcos government.
"The probability of a similar catastrophe occurring if the BNPP is revived should not be taken for granted," he said, citing the country's vulnerability to earthquakes and the BNPP's location on the slopes of a volcano.
"The reopening of the BNPP would not benefit the Filipino people but instead would expose us to unnecessary risks and potentially horrendous consequences," he said.
Quijano also recommended that the privatization of the power industry be reversed, and that sustainable, safe, and appropriate energy sources be built.
He also said there should be a disaster preparedness program in place to deal with the effects in the country of the Japan nuclear power plant disaster.
"The government claims to have a radiological preparedness plan but an 'alert zero' declaration indicates an inappropriate plan with erroneous assumptions and interpretation of facts. Rather than downplaying the seriousness of the situation and nonchalantly dismissing the risks, the government should expand its radiation monitoring, immediately mobilize resources and implement precautionary measures to prevent or at least mitigate the potential effects of radioactive contamination," he said.