Fukushima children scanned for radiation

In just 10 days’ time, two years will have passed since the magnitude-9.03 earthquake off the coast of Northeastern Japan shook the country to its core. The resulting tsunami killed thousands of people living in coastal areas and knocked out power to cooling systems at the now infamous Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which ultimately led to the incident that has been cited by many as the worse nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. People living nearby were ordered to evacuate, and thousands more from surrounding areas fled for fear of being exposed to radiation. Many have never returned.

Despite some areas of Fukushima remaining unsafe to enter, with a population of nearly 2 million, life goes on in the troubled prefecture. Kids go to school; parents go to work; people are doing their best to get back to normal.

According to one former Fukushima resident, however, there is something very much amiss in the prefecture. An uncomfortable air of forced self-assurance pervades many towns, and the general message of “all is well” is repeated ad nauseam, with those who go against the grain met with disdain and reproach.

In an article published by influential social commentary website Blogos, Satoshi Nakajima, a computer engineer whose credentials include having worked for Japan’s own NTT Communications and being the chief architect on Microsoft’s Windows 95 and 98 operating systems, recently discussed the state of things in Fukushima Prefecture two years after the disaster.

Quoting a message posted to Kodomofukushima, a support group for those with young children and have been affected by the events at Fukushima Daiichi, Nakajima points to worrying trends in the region, suggesting that it is falling into a “wartime-like” state where people must join the general consensus or risk being seen as potentially harmful to society.

A translation of the message Nakajima quotes is as follows:

“Despite evacuating Fukushima in the summer and coming to live in Yamagata Prefecture, I make occasional trips back to the area. I have come to be feel quite alarmed by the way of thinking and the overall feeling in the air within Fukushima, and I feel that these attitudes have become more and more common in recent times. From doctors and hospital staff to schools and city officials, the message being repeated over and over is that Fukushima is safe, so much so that I have come to feel that, if I didn’t go along with it and join in this way of thinking, then I would simply not be welcome there.

“The message being passed around is that worrying too much about radiation and the safety of our children actually has a negative effect on them, and that by removing their children from the area mothers run the risk of breaking up their families. People have begun saying ‘For the sake of my child’s health, I’m not going to think about radiation any more.’

“Those who have questions or doubts regarding the information given to them by the government and local authorities come to be thought of as intentionally going against the system. Meanwhile, the people who dare to speak of moving away for their own safety are often considered to be selfish, egotistical beings who are doing little more than abandoning  their home towns. I feel like we are all being led in one, incredibly restrictive, direction. We find ourselves in the bizarre situation where those who – without bias or intent – simply want to know more about the current situation and what will happen next, or to learn from the events of the past and go forward, are seen as individuals to be wary of. Thinking independently, experiencing things first-hand, raising issues or making suggestions that go against the grain; it almost feels like all of these things have come to be prohibited.”

Although this may not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the entire population of Fukushima, it is worrying to think even one individual has come to feel this way. In his article, Nakajima likens the situation that of an almost totalitarian state, wherein one either adheres to the commonly held belief set or is seen as a potential threat:

“The government has created an environment wherein people are going about their daily lives, all the time wondering whether their child will develop cancer or leukemia, yet conditioned not to breathe a word about it. It’s like living in wartime Japan again.”

fukushima

Pointing to the government’s failure to take full responsibility for the nuclear disaster, Nakajima tells of how officials have changed their definitions for what is “safe” when it comes to exposure to radiation, saying: “We cannot put our faith in a government that is telling us ‘there is no immediate harm,’ when, prior to the accident, entry into areas with the same amount of radiation would have been prohibited.”

With hundreds of people still existing in a state of limbo and only just coming to terms with the fact that it may not be possible to return to the homes that they initially thought they would be leaving only temporarily, it would be impossible to suggest that the Fukushima disaster is even close to over. Despite this situation, many members of the Japanese parliament continue to stress the need to restart idling reactors elsewhere in the country, something that Nakajima among others is far from on board with.

“The accident has already happened. At this time, people ought to be told, ‘Those living in areas with yearly radiation levels of five millisieverts or more must evacuate, and those in areas with one millisievert or more may choose to leave if they wish.’ The government (TEPCO) should accept responsibility and buy the land that these people once called home, and help them to find jobs and settle elsewhere. A government that cannot fulfill these basic responsibilities is not qualified to restart nuclear reactors.”

As someone who called the region home for five years between July 2006 and 2011, this writer will always have a special place in his heart for Fukushima. So to think that this beautiful prefecture’s people may be – as the above ex-resident suggests in her message to the support group – feeling pressured to conform to the view that all is well and to gradually convince themselves of that fact is saddening to say the very least. But with friends, family and jobs in the region and no desire to leave everything they have worked to build up behind, what choice do these people have other than to assure themselves that everything is under control and that they are quite safe within Fukushima? After all, what quality of life can a person hope to have if they spend their every waking hour fearing for their physical wellbeing?

But if there is even an ounce of truth to the above account and it is the case that those who simply ask questions and demand more of their leaders come close to being ostracized, then I would hope that, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the worst crisis that Japan has seen since World War II, the world will once again return its attention to Fukushima and ask what is being done to help its surviving residents, and to consider how the effects of the nuclear disaster linger even today.

Source: ハムスター速報

Title image via Tami’s Style (Japanese) Inset image via ハムスター速報