Japan: hibakusha warn nation and world of Fukushima threat

Three workers received burn lesions on their legs when they were exposed to highly radioactive water in the basement of the turbine building at reactor Number 3 at Japan’s stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant March 26, but news accounts were typically confused. Various sources put the radiation level the three had been exposed to at anywhere between 170 and 6.000 millisieverts (per hour, presumably), with 250 being the permissible level for workers. Some sources also said the workers likely suffered “beta ray burns.” Two of the workers have apparently been hospitalized after the three underwent examination at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba Prefecture. White smoke was again seen over the plant that morning. Officials said new readings showed Tokyo’s tap water was back to radiaiton levels acceptable for infants, but elevated levels were now detected in the neighboring prefectures of Chiba and Saitama. (NHK World, NHK World, March 26; AP, WSJ, March 25; AP, March 24)

The voices of aging hibakusha—survivors of the August 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—have started to make their way into the international media regarding the Fukushima disaster. Sunao Tsuboi, who was 20 when he suffered radiation burns at Hiroshima, said: “Nuclear technology cannot coexist with human beings. We need to turn our value system upside down. Life is more important than the economy.”

“The government repeatedly says that the level of radiation that has leaked from the Fukushima plant is not dangerous,” Tsuboi added. “But for those of us who understand what it’s like to be irradiated, it’s very dangerous. People must be told that the after effects last for years, decades. We’ve lived through it.”

Hashizume Bun, the 80-year-old author of The Day the Sun Fell: I was 14 years old in Hiroshima, was less than 1.5 kilometers from the hypocenter of the explosion. “I’ve had health problems ever since,” said Bun, who has spoken in 70 countries about her ordeal. “I still have radioactive elements in my body.”

“I had three sons, and now have four grandchildren. Every time one of them is sick, we’re afraid. This is what awaits the victims of Fukushima, I hope that the Fukushima incident will reverse the global shift towards nuclearization” she said, referring to the anticipated “renaissance” of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels. “If we don’t stop this, the world will end up completely irradiated. Nuclear technology is uncontrollable and has no borders.” (AFP, March 25)

Japan’s roughly 227,000 hibakusha have suffered higher cancer rates as a result of the fallout from the twin bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—as well as being ostracized as social outcasts, due to the mistaken belief that they could still contaminate others years after the blasts. “The hibakusha faced an extreme degree of discrimination based on unfounded ideas,” said Koichiro Maeda, director of Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum. “If the public was given a clear explanation of the effects of radiation, this problem would no longer exist.” He fears that workers and residents facing irradiation at Fukushima could suffer a similar fate. Those exposed probably number in the thousands. Passengers arriving from Japan at South Korean airports are being tested for radiation exposure.

Activists around the world are frustrated at the garbled and contradictory accounts of the situation at Fukushima from officials and media alike. “There is incredible information control and manipulation going on at this critical time,” said Satoko Norimatsu, the head of the Vancouver-based Peace Philosophy Centre, an anti-nuclear group. (The Independent, March 24)

See our last posts on the Fukushima disaster and the legacy of World War II.

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  1. Nuclear Energy
    The two mottos to keep on hammering:

    Nuclear energy means you never stop saying you’re sorry.
    Atomic energy means you never stop saying you’re sorry.