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Asia

Japanese government criticized for downplaying the effects of radiation

While the minister in charge of the Fukushima nuclear power plant is trying to get cooling systems running so some residents can return home, experts fear the government is downplaying the effects of radiation exposure.

Experts warn the effects of radiation are worse than the government is letting on

Experts warn the effects of radiation are worse than the government is letting on

Japan will be fighting with the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster for decades to come. Many Japanese fear an outbreak of illnesses caused by radiation, most of which do not show for years after radiation exposure, as was the case after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. All the while, Japan’s new minister for nuclear power plants, Goshi Hosono, is busy taking care of the dilapidated Fukushima 1 plant. He says he is busy doing all he can so that he can announce on July 17 that "the cooling systems have been stabilized in the nuclear reactors. That is the first step as outlined by TEPCO." The reason, he says, is: "If the experts emphasize the improbability of a hydrogen explosion, then the government will allow the people who can to return."

Measurements within the 20-kilometer exclusion zone have shown that radiation in the southern part of the zone is lower at times than permitted ceilings; yet, in the northern part of the zone, values are much higher. The Japanese government is now considering reducing the radius of the exclusion zone where it is safe to let people return to their homes.

Goshi Hosono is working to get the cooling systems repaired at the dilapidated Fukushima 1 plant

Goshi Hosono hopes to have the cooling systems repaired soon at the dilapidated Fukushima 1 plant

'Lies' and 'downplaying'

Doctor and radiation expert, Shuntaro Hida, cautions against the government’s "lies" and "downplaying" and criticizes the government for not being transparent enough about the effects of radiation on human health. He believes the public has been misled when it comes to the evacuation zone and permitted safety levels of radiation. He says it is not the level of radiation which is important, but rather "the radioactive particles which accumulate inside the human body - the amount of which plays an insignificant role."

Shuntaro Hida is one of the few radiation experts in Japan who is strongly cautioning that health problems caused by radiation can be very severe. As an expert, and especially as a survivor of the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Hida knows the effects. Shuntaro Hida expects to see similar diseases after Fukushima’s nuclear disaster and he is worried that the government is now making the same mistake that it did at the end of during World War II by not confronting the facts of radiation exposure. He says, "After the end of World War II, the Americans forbade the Japanese from openly speaking of the suffering caused by the atomic bombs. But 20, 30, 40 years later, many people started developing cancer. And what many don’t know: radiation exposure not only causes cancer, it also kills people by simply taking away their energy. Though there is no medical explanation for it, we are convinced that radiation took away from many people the will to live."

Workers in protective suits install a partition plate to prevent radioactive water from flowing into the sea

Workers in protective suits install a partition plate to prevent radioactive water from flowing into the sea

Keeping track

A team of experts is keeping records of the radiation levels since the beginning of the meltdown. For this, they have designed a questionnaire to be filled out by all residents of Fukushima and the surrounding area. In a lecture held at Fukushima Medical University, Professor Tatsuya Nemoto told residents and professionals: "It is very important that the residents of Fukushima remember where they have been since March 11. They have to write that down."

Those affected by radiation are bussed off to a clinic near Tokyo. One woman says "I felt more at ease once the testing was done. But it would make more sense to have the testing done right in Fukushima – that would allow people to find out more quickly whether or not they have been contaminated."

Discrimination

Though food is also tested for contamination using strict guidelines (the same of those of the EU), some people are still nervous. One elderly woman, who is now living with her family in Minami-Soma after being evacuated from the exclusion zone, says, "of course I am worried, but I am old. I am more worried about my grandchildren. In the media there is talk of radiation possibly causing cancer." Another woman from the neighboring village of Litate is also concerned. She says she is not concerned with her own health as much as with that of her children and grandchildren. "I am worried about how people will act toward me and whether or not I will be able to see my grandchildren or if my daughter-in-law will keep me from them so I don’t become infected, like a Hibakusha."

The victims of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki have experienced discrimination

The victims of radiation from the atomic bomb in Nagasaki have experienced discrimination

Shuntaro Hida says many radiation patients, people known as Hibakusha in Japanese, experience discrimination in Japan. "That was one of the worst things that the Hibakusha had to experience after Hiroshima. Today, three generations later, there is still discrimination." He says he often receives telephone calls about weddings being cancelled because it gets out that grandparents of the bride or groom were victims of radiation from the nuclear strike on Japan in 1945. He is worried that the victims of radiation released as a consequence of the Fukushima nuclear meltdown will start facing similar forms of discrimination.

Author: Peter Kujath / sb
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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