Tokyo Electric Power Co via Getty Images
Workers remove nuclear fuel rods from a pool at No. 4 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on Nov. 18, 2013 in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan.
March 8, 2012 -
When people fled Fukushima and other parts of Japan a year ago, thousands of pets were left behind. While many pets have since been reunited with their owners, a horrific situation still exists in the no-go 12.5-mile radiation zone around the damaged nuclear plants. There, homeless dogs and cats are still wandering around the area, according to World Vets founder and CEO Cathy King. She told Discovery News that "a lot of these animals have since been rescued out, but some remain." The problem demonstrates how difficult recovery has been after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. The resulting tsunami and nuclear woes devastated the area. Animal support teams from all over the world descended upon the region and are still trying to improve the situation.
As animal rescuers from around the world made preparations the week of March 11 , 2011, local pet groups took immediate action. United Kennel Club Japan director Yasunori Hoso shared that "we left our headquarters in Kyoto, and built a shelter in Kanagawa prefecture. Since then, we have rescued over 800 pets from the tsunami-stricken areas of Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures in the Tohoku area." Many regions throughout Japan were affected by the quake, which actually moved Honshu 8 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis anywhere from 4 to 10 inches. In this photo, World Vets veterinarian Kazumasu Sasaki examines a dog in Sendai.
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"We have rescued over 700 animals, but an estimated 400 are still in our shelter unable to reconcile with their owners." Chako Ki of the United Kennel Club told Discovery News. The time and energy required for this effort is enormous. Many veterinarians are performing all kinds of care without pay.
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"Thousands of people were living in evacuation shelters where pets were not allowed," King explained. "People would not leave dangerous situations because of their pets." King said her team and others provided these animals with basic supplies and needs. "In other areas, we had veterinarians who were helping to decontaminate pets that had come from the areas of high radiation," she said. "There was also the issue of many Americans living in Japan who were making emergency evacuations due to the radiation and were not able to get their pets on outgoing flights." Photo: Sasaki is shown unloading rescued dogs in Japan, a country where dogs and cats are often highly regarded.
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Many pets lived in cars outside of the evacuation shelters that did not allow animals. That predicament has since improved, as people moved out of the shelters, Hoso said. Pets were also left behind after their owners evacuated from an evacuation zone within the 12.5-mile radius from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors. "Three hundred and fifty dogs and cats in our shelter are aging, sick, or untamed, making them difficult to be adopted," Hoso said.
Rescuers had to coordinate quickly, working with all available help. "Now, almost a year later, there are new animal issues evolving," King said. "Overpopulation of dogs and especially cats has become an issue with the numbers of street animals increasing. In addition, people who were once able to care for their pets are struggling because of hardships caused by the disaster." She said that there was a free spay/neuter clinic held in one of the hardest hit areas of Iwate Prefecture. Requests for veterinary products to help affected animals are also still pouring in. Photo: A cat sits on a sofa at a damaged store. NEWS: Japan's 'Cat Island' Survived Quake
Pet rescuers, such as this World Vets veterinarian holding a saved dog, are proud of their work, but much is left to be done. Of the pets still in shelters after the quake and tsunami, Hoso said, "They have a warm home and their stomachs are full in our shelter. However, there are still many pets abandoned." "Despite this, we are running out of space and need to create another shelter soon in order to save these animals," Hoso said. NEWS: Three Positive Outcomes From Fukushima
In the wake of the deadly tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 and severely damaged a nuclear reactor, Japanese officials say the levels of radiation are safe for everyone outside the reactor area itself. But as radioactive water from the plant nears the West Coast of North America -- the water is expected to hit in 2014 -- can we be sure it's safe?
The nuclear reactor continues to leak radioactive water due to poor management, while Japanese subcontractors at the plant have admitted they intentionally under-reported radiation and that dozens of farms around Fukushima that were initially deemed safe by the government actually had unsafe levels of radioactive cesium.
Fukushima locals also claim they're seeing cancer at higher rates and the Japanese government is covering up the scale of the problem.
So what do independent estimates say? The first measures come from the U.S. government. The FDA has stepped up its monitoring of radiation in seafood due to the Fukushima incident.
“Since the time FDA began its targeted testing of Japanese imports following the Fukushima incident, FDA has only found one sample of food -- a ginger powder -- that contained detectable levels of cesium, but those levels were far below FDA’s [safety levels] and posed no public health concern,” FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman told FoxNews.com.
“We are actively watching for information that could implicate U.S. food and are always ready to take further action,” she said.
Meanwhile, the EPA keeps track of radiation within U.S. borders and presents the data online in nearly real time through RadNet, a nationwide system of monitors.
“RadNet sample analyses and monitoring results of precipitation, drinking water, and milk provide baseline data on background levels of radiation,” the EPA said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
The agency does not monitor radiation levels at sea, however, and in a statement pointed to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which relies on Japanese government data.
Independent estimates confirm that radiated particles at sea are relatively low. One measurement comes from researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
“I stood on a ship two miles from the Fukushima reactors in June 2011 and as recently as May 2013, and it was safe to be there (I carry radiation detectors with me),” Ken Buesseler a Senior Scientist at the WHOI, has reported. He also tested radioactivity in the water.
“Although radioactive isotopes in the samples and on the ship were measurable back in our lab, it was low enough to be safe to handle samples without any precautions,” he has said.
In Japan, more than 100 volunteer-run radioactivity testing sites have also started up, which would likely notice a sharp uptick in radioactivity.
Doug Dasher, who studies radioecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said it remains possible that there will be minor effects for people on the U.S. West Coast, despite the low test results.
“No acute effects resulting in mortality or damage to organs … would be expected,” he told FoxNews.com. But he added that more subtle effects might occur.
“Longer term chronic effects, cancer or genetic effects… odds are statistically low, if the concentrations in the models remain within the projections, cannot be said to be zero.”
Additional leakage from Fukushima could increase the odds, he said.
“The estimates [of radiation] vary substantially and do not, at least so far, account for the continued leakage from the Fukushima site to the marine environment,” he said.
Scientists also warn that if an another earthquake or other natural disaster occurs while the Fukushima nuclear plant is still being decommissioned, that could have catastrophic consequences. To help the decommissioning happen smoothly, the U.S. government has supported the cleanup by sending 34 experts and over 17,000 pounds of equipment to Japan.
In the end, some experts say, Japanese near the Fukushima reactor have reason to worry -- a World Health Organization report found that the likelihood of a Japanese infant living near Fukushima getting thyroid cancer over her lifetime is expected to increase from the standard 0.75 percent to 1.25 percent -- but Americans do not.
“There should be no concern among Americans, of any age or location,” Gilbert Ross, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, told FoxNews.com.
“If you want to list health concerns that Americans should worry about, start with the real killers -- drunk driving and smoking,” Ross said.
“If you went down a list of things people really should worry about, you would never even get to a concern about radiation leakage from Fukushima.”
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