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

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.”

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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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]


Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.


"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.



On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.


Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger

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