Deadly Clean-Up: Will Fukushima Workers Start Dying Within Weeks?

Concerns are growing for the health of the some 600 people, so-called liquidators, struggling to stop deadly radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Many are resigned to the fact they could be dead within weeks.

Japanese radiation suits
Japanese radiation suits
Philippe Mesmer

Words can barely describe the working conditions of "liquidators' at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Around 600 workers are responsible for resolving the innumerable problems of the dilapidated facility, laboring in conditions that are permanently dangerous and potentially mortally dangerous. Seventeen of these workers, operating amid the elevated radioactivity levels and intense heat of the damaged reactors, have already been seriously contaminated.

On March 31, it was discovered that many of these workers had not been equipped with a dosemeter indicating the dose of radiation they were receiving in real time. This oversight is against the law, and prompted the Ministry of Health to look into the safety measures taken by the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the owner and operator of the site.

The company had already admitted to a delay in transmitting information about radiation levels to technicians working in one of their reactors. This delay could have caused the serious contamination of three workers on March 24.

In addition to this information, there have also been revelations regarding the living conditions of technicians, who are for the most part TEPCO subcontractors, as well as firefighters and soldiers from the self-defense forces.

The details of their work schedule was unveiled on March 29 in Tokyo by Kazuma Yokota, a member of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, after he spent five days at the site.

Yokota said that workers, who for the most part are replaced every week, receive only two meals per day: breakfast and dinner. After waking at about 6 a.m., they are given two-dozen granola bars and 180 ml packs ​​of vegetable juice. In the evening, each worker is given rice and some tinned chicken or fish. Until March 22, they received only one 1.5 liter bottle of water per day.

At the site, hands are washed with alcohol and there are no showering facilities. Workers sleep in rooms or in hallways, where radioactivity may reach 2 to 3 millisieverts (mSv), per hour. In France, the accepted level for the general public is 1 mSv per year. They wrap themselves in blankets that contain lead to help limit their exposure to radiation. Cell phones do not work, preventing all contact with families, who are often located in shelters far from the plant.

Yokota's eyewitness account prompted a reaction from Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda, who is also a member of the team set up by the government and TEPCO to manage the Fukushima crisis.

"The technicians, but also firefighters and soldiers are working in an extremely hostile environment," he said. "We need to improve their meal and rest conditions."

His reaction, albeit belated, adds to growing concerns for the health of the people attempting to bring Fukushima under control. Having been exposed to high levels of radiation for long periods of time, they face serious health problems, such as the loss of the body's ability to produce blood cells. Several hospitals in Tokyo have asked that the workers provide samples of their hematopoietic stem cells so that they can be re-injected with them later on, if needed.

The areas surrounding the plant have not been spared either. In the 12.5 mile exclusion zone, where the expansion of the area has been debated, the police charged with collecting the bodies of victims of the tsunami work in protective suits. They sometimes need to stop their work because the levels of radioactivity are too high. "We find bodies everywhere, in cars, in rivers, in the rubble and on the streets," one of them said. These bodies have been exposed to such a high level of radioactivity that they can't be burned, because the resulting smoke and ash retains radioactive particles.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Surian Soosay

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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