“We don’t know when this will end”: 10 years after Fukushima | Earthquake News


The effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident will be felt for decades into the future, say local and international activists on the 10th anniversary of the triple disaster in Japan in March 2011, contradicting the official speech of the Japanese government according to which the crisis has largely been overcome.

Memories of that day in March 10 years ago remain fresh for those who lived it.

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the northeastern coast of Japan – the strongest on record – was first followed by a massive tsunami, and then by the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the nuclear power plant. Fukushima Daiichi which was built on the coast and destroyed by the power of the wave. Almost 20,000 people in the northeast of the country have lost their lives.

A decade later, most Japanese in the Tohoku region were able to live their lives, but in areas near Fukushima Daiichi, where radioactive particles contaminated the earth, recovery has not been so rapid.

“The buildings could be repaired after the earthquake and tsunami,” said Ayumi Iida, an NGO worker. “Only the nuclear disaster is not over. We don’t know when this will end.

Following the nuclear accident, the government ordered residents of neighboring towns to leave and established radiation exclusion zones around the plant. Nearly 165,000 residents were evacuated at its peak in 2012.

Aerial view of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant two weeks after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami [File: Air Photo Service/Handout via Reuters]

Decontamination efforts have reopened most areas and allowed people to return home. But there are still nearly 37,000 people on the Fukushima evacuee list and many of them say they have no intention of returning.

Iida is a spokesperson for a group called NPO Mothers’ Radiation Lab Fukushima Tarachine, a grassroots organization created by residents after the disaster to protect the health and livelihoods of children living in the area who had been exposed to radiation and other potential sources of damage.

Iida, a young mother who lives in the coastal town of Iwaki, about 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the destroyed factory, told Al Jazeera English that she is trying to protect her children by getting supplies from areas far away from Japan, finding playgrounds with the lowest levels of radioactivity and having her children screened for signs of thyroid cancer every year.

“Our children must be at the heart of the future of everything here,” she said.

Long term exposure

Although the past 10 years have not seen a significant spike in cancers among the population of Fukushima or other clear signs of radiation-related illnesses – unlike Chernobyl which emitted 10 times more radiation – experts warn that there are still many reasons for concern as the exposure accumulates over time.

Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist for Greenpeace Germany, says even now radiation levels in many parts of the former exclusion zones remain uncomfortably high.

“The level of contamination is such that if these radiation levels were found in a laboratory inside a controlled nuclear installation, it would require intervention at least from the management of the plant, and it would have to be shut down and decontaminated. “, did he declare.

Like many other observers, Burnie dismisses claims that the Fukushima crisis is “under control” (as former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in 2013).

A doctor performs a thyroid exam at the Iwaki Citizens Radiation Measurement Center – TARACHINE in Iwaki City. The non-profit organization offers free thyroid exams for children in the Fukushima region [File: Damir Sagolj/REUTERS]

“As long as you have this level of contamination in an uncontrolled environment – forests, hills, riverbanks, farmland – you can’t say the situation is under control from a radiological standpoint,” he said. -he declares.

Mary Olson, founder of the US-based Gender + Radiation Impact Project, points out that the concerns of a young mother like Iida are not irrelevant. Although she notes that scientific research on the issue remains underfunded and incomplete, there is some evidence to suggest that women may also be more susceptible to cancer caused by radiation than men.

“Men get cancer. It’s not that the radiation is safe for them, ”she said, referring to a long-term study of Hiroshima survivors. “But women in the younger age group got twice as much.”

She also notes – as most nuclear scientists do – that while greater radiation exposure carries a greater risk to human health, there is no absolutely “safe” minimum level.

“Fatal cancer can come from just one radioactive emission,” she said.

On the other hand, in the same way that climatologists admit that a typhoon or hurricane cannot be attributed to the effects of climate change, there is no way to determine whether individual cases of cancer in Fukushima or elsewhere. are directly caused by radiation exposure. .

The effect can only be statistically measured by comparing, for example, the number of cancer cases per 100,000 population in a place like Fukushima with another part of Japan.

Little transparency

Many activists claim that the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have no real interest in funding and carrying out such health impact studies in Fukushima as the responses they receive could be politically unhelpful. practices for an energy policy that continues to favor nuclear energy. .

“Their behavior is not trustworthy,” said Ayumi Fukakusa, climate justice and energy activist for Friends of the Earth Japan, of her government.

As for the radiological risks to health, she maintains that “the problem is that the government is not really doing research on this subject. Cancer cases have increased in children… but they never admit the correlation or causation ”.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the area around the Fukushima factory immediately after the collapses. While many have returned following the reopening of areas, others fear the risk of radiation is too high [File: Damir Sagolj/Reuters]

Fukakusa also expresses a complaint that is common even among those who are more sympathetic to the government’s position – the feeling that officials have done an extremely poor job of transparency, as well as providing local people with credible information about the situation. radiation health risks that could enable them to make more informed decisions about their future lives.

“The important thing is that the government and TEPCO fully disclose the risks and information about the situation,” Fukakusa said. “They must be honest with the local population, who must be fully consulted regarding resettlement and return. [to the former radiation exclusion zones]. “

Ten years after the disaster, life has returned to roughly normal in many areas of Fukushima Prefecture. In some inland towns such as Fukushima Town or Koriyama, there is little or no visible signs of the nuclear accident.

Emiko Fujioka, general secretary of the Fukushima Beacon for Global Citizens Network, says these days it’s mostly only evacuees from former radiation exclusion zones who still think about it frequently.

“There is a big gap between the people of Fukushima [city] and evacuated now, ”she said.

In the absence of scientific advice from government authorities, communities have long been divided between those who fear radiation contamination and those who dismiss the risk – sometimes considering their own neighbors or family members. as unduly alarmist.

In a somewhat similar fashion to the current COVID-19 pandemic, local opinion tends to diverge between those who are horrified by the potential health risks and those who are angry at the possible economic damage that could be. caused to the community by those who continue to highlight the dangers.

A dismantled sign in Futaba near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, destroyed by the tsunami. It reads: “Nuclear energy – energy for a better future”. The entire city was evacuated in the aftermath of the disaster [File: Toru Hanai/REUTERS]

For Ayumi Iida, the young mother who worries about the health of her children and those of her neighbors, there is also a broader concern for a world that still sees nuclear energy as a more source of energy. respectful of the environment”.

“This time we had a nuclear accident in Fukushima, but we don’t know where the next nuclear accident will be,” she concludes.

“This should not be seen as an energy and environmental issue only for the Japanese, but it should be considered by people around the world.”





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