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Japan

Two Years Later, How Fukushima Tore Apart Lives Of The Lucky Ones

Those who managed to survive the March 11, 2011 disaster that killed nearly 19,000 have suffered from both physical and social fallout.

Two years after the disaster, contamination risks in Fukushima are still worrying
Two years after the disaster, contamination risks in Fukushima are still worrying

FUKUSHIMA - People worried that the residents from Fukushima would be discriminated against. And indeed, weddings were cancelled because the bride was from the nuclear evacuation zone, plant workers were denied apartments, friendships were broken.

The phenomenon doesn’t seem to be widely spread, but it does exists. It is one of the reasons why evacuees are still hesitant to come back to their homes in this contaminated region, even after part of the evacuation zone has been reopened.

“For me, I’m ready to come home,” says Junkichi Nagasaka, 62, who is currently living in temporary housing in Minamisoma, a city in northeastern Japan that suffered major damage from the March 11 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Nagasaka’s house is in a field that until July 2012 was in the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the Fukushima nuclear plant. The contamination risk doesn’t really worry him. “But my wife doesn’t want to come home, though.”

Toshiyuki Takeuchi of the Janic organization, which helps victims of the Fukushima disaster, says couples have been torn apart in the aftermath of the disaster. “The father works in Fukushima and wants to come back. The mother is worried about her children’s health so she refuses. This could definitely lead to divorce.”

Age has nothing to do with it. Fusai Kuroki, 76, lives in Minamisoma and refuses to go back to her house, where radioactive levels reach 1.5 micro Sievert per hour. “I’m too frightened.”

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Fukushima in 2013 - Photo: jetalone

These different perceptions show how hard it is to evaluate the sanitary risks of radioactive contamination. “Every child below the age of 18 has had a thyroid test,” says Hiroyuki Chubachi from the Beans Fukushima children’s organization. “A lot of them presented anomalies, cysts or nodules, but since it is the first time such testing has been done, we cannot really say if it’s linked to the nuclear disaster or not.”

Chernobyl comparisons

Tomoyoshi Oikawa, assistant director of the Minamisoma Hospital, agrees. “In Chernobyl, the problems linked to the nuclear meltdown only appeared four or five years later.”

The authorities are doing everything to minimize the danger. In a Feb 2013 report, the World Health Organization said there was an increased cancer risk in the regions closest to the Fukushima nuclear Plant. The report said there was a 70% increased thyroid cancer risk for females exposed as infants. The Japanese government responded by saying the report overestimated the risks and was unnecessarily stoking fears.

Those who stayed in the region are starting a new life despite the invisible danger. “Today, children are hesitant to play with snow or sand and they know they can’t go in the woods,” says Chubachi. But schools are progressively starting to lift the ban on outside play during recess. “This had to be done, because kindergarten teachers were starting to notice a rise in obesity, stress and a slowdown in the children’s development.”

In the village of Iitate, a village that was evacuated after the nuclear disaster, the town hall has been giving talks on contamination in primary schools and middle schools. Every food produced in the region is strictly controlled and banned if it is over 100 Becquerels per kilogram. No one here drinks tap water.

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Geopolitics

Utter Pessimism, What Israelis And Palestinians Share In Common

Right now, according to a joint survey of Israelis and Palestinians, hopes for a peaceful solution of coexistence simply don't exist. The recent spate of violence is confirmation of the deepest kind of pessimism on both sides for any solution other than domination of the other.

An old Palestinian protester waves Palestinian flag while he confronts the Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the village of Beit Dajan near the West Bank city of Nablus.

A Palestinian protester confronts Israeli soldiers during the demonstration against Israeli settlements in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan on Jan. 6.

Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — Just before the latest outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, a survey of public opinion among the two peoples provided a key to understanding the current situation unfolding before our eyes.

It was a joint study, entitled "Palestinian-Israeli Pulse", carried out by two research centers, one Israeli, the other Palestinian, which for years have been regularly asking the same questions to both sides.

The result is disastrous: not only is the support for the two-state solution — Israel and Palestine side by side — at its lowest point in two decades, but there is now a significant share of opinion on both sides that favors a "non-democratic" solution, i.e., a single state controlled by either the Israelis or Palestinians.

This captures the absolute sense of pessimism commonly felt regarding the chances of the two-state option ever being realized, which currently appears to be our grim reality today. But the results are also an expression of the growing acceptance on both sides that it is inconceivable for either state to live without dominating the other — and therefore impossible to live in peace.

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