meltdown. But now the truth is coming out.
David McNeill reports from
The Independent (
August 29, 2010
Yoshio Ichida is recalling the worst day of his 53 years: 11
March, when the sea swallowed up his home and killed his
huge quake hit and barely made it to the open sea in his
boat in the 40 minutes before the 15-metre tsunami that
followed. When he got back to port, his neighbourhood and
nearly everything else was gone. "Nobody can remember
anything like this," he says.
Now living in a refugee centre in the ruined coastal city of
Soma, Mr Ichida has mourned the 100 local fishermen killed
in the disaster and is trying to rebuild his life with his
colleagues. Every morning, they arrive at the ruined
fisheries co-operative building in Soma port and prepare for
work. Then they stare out at the irradiated sea, and wait.
"Some day we know we'll be allowed to fish again. We all
want to believe that."
This nation has recovered from worse natural - and manmade -
catastrophes. But it is the triple meltdown and its
aftermath at the
coast from Soma that has elevated
unknowable, terrain. Across the northeast, millions of
people are living with its consequences and searching for a
consensus on a safe radiation level that does not exist.
Experts give bewilderingly different assessments of its dangers.
Some scientists say
Chernobyl accident, with which it shares a maximum level-7
rating on the sliding scale of nuclear disasters. One of the
most prominent of them is Dr Helen Caldicott, an Australian
physician and long time anti-nuclear activist who warns of
"horrors to come" in
Chris Busby, a professor at the
for his alarmist views, generated controversy during a
visit last month when he said the disaster would result in
more than 1 million deaths. "
radionuclides all over
in one go. So
On the other side of the nuclear fence are the industry
friendly scientists who insist that the crisis is under
control and radiation levels are mostly safe. "I believe the
operator] are doing their best," said Naoto Sekimura, vice-
dean of the
plant that a radioactive disaster was "unlikely" and that
they should stay "calm", an assessment he has since had to reverse.
Slowly, steadily, and often well behind the curve, the
government has worsened its prognosis of the disaster. Last
Friday, scientists affiliated with the Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency said the plant had released 15,000
terabecquerels of cancer-causing Cesium, equivalent to about
168 times the 1945 atomic bombing of
that ushered in the nuclear age. (Professor Busby says the
release is at least 72,000 times worse than
Caught in a blizzard of often conflicting information, many
Japanese instinctively grope for the beacons they know. Mr
Ichida and his colleagues say they no longer trust the
nuclear industry or the officials who assured them the
radiation testing and believe they will soon be allowed back to sea.
That's a mistake, say sceptics, who note a consistent
pattern of official lying, foot-dragging and concealment.
Last week, officials finally admitted something long argued
by its critics: that thousands of people with homes near the
crippled nuclear plant may not be able to return for a
generation or more. "We can't rule out the possibility that
there will be some areas where it will be hard for residents
to return to their homes for a long time," said Yukio Edano,
the government's top government spokesman. "We are very sorry."
Last Friday, hundreds of former residents from Futaba and
Okuma, the towns nearest the plant, were allowed to visit
their homes - perhaps for the last time - to pick up
belongings. Wearing masks and radiation suits, they drove
through the 20km contaminated zone around the plant, where
hundreds of animals have died and rotted in the sun, to find
kitchens and living rooms partly reclaimed by nature. "It's
hard to believe we ever lived here," one former resident told NHK.
Several other areas northwest of the plant have become
atomic ghost towns after being ordered to evacuate - too
late, say many residents, who believe they absorbed
dangerous quantities of radiation in the weeks after the
accident. "We've no idea when we can come back," says
Katsuzo Shoji, who farmed rice and cabbages and kept a small
herd of cattle near Iitate, a picturesque village about 40km
from the plant.
Although it is outside the exclusion zone, the village's
mountainous topography meant radiation, carried by wind and
rain, lingered, poisoning crops, water and school playgrounds.
The young, the wealthy, mothers and pregnant women left for
since evacuated, after the government accepted that safe
radiation limits had been exceeded.
Mr Shoji, 75, went from shock to rage, then despair when the
government told him he would have to destroy his vegetables,
kill his six cows and move with his wife Fumi, 73, to an
maybe 10 years but some say that's far too optimistic," he
says, crying. "Maybe I'll be able to come home to die." He
was given initial compensation of one million yen (Â£7,900)
by Tepco, topped up with 350,000 yen from the government.
It is the fate of people outside the evacuation zones,
however, that causes the most bitter controversy. Parents in
Fukushima City, 63km from the plant, have banded together to
demand that the government do more to protect about 100,000
children. Schools have banned soccer and other outdoor
sports. Windows are kept closed. "We've just been left to
fend for ourselves," says Machiko Sato, a grandmother who
lives in the city. "It makes me so angry."
Many parents have already sent their children to live with
relatives or friends hundreds of kilometres away. Some want
the government to evacuate the entire two million population
able to evacuate," says anti-nuclear activist Aileen Mioko
Smith, who works with the parents. "In other words, if they
evacuate they want the government to support them."
So far, at least, the authorities say that is not necessary.
The official line is that the accident at the plant is
winding down and radiation levels outside of the exclusion
zone and designated "hot spots" are safe.
But many experts warn that the crisis is just beginning.
Professor Tim Mousseau, a biological scientist who has spent
more than a decade researching the genetic impact of
numbers of insects and spiders had shrunk inside the
irradiated zone, and the bird population showed evidence of
genetic defects, including smaller brain sizes.
"The truth is that we don't have sufficient data to provide
accurate information on the long-term impact," he says.
"What we can say, though, is that there are very likely to
be very significant long-term health impact from prolonged
In Soma, Mr Ichida says all the talk about radiation is
confusing. "All we want to do is get back to work. There are
many different ways to die, and having nothing to do is one
Â£188bn to rebuild following the earthquake, tsunami and
impact, but thetotal cost is thought to be about £144bn.
plant up to a dose of 250mSv (millisieverts).
countries the maximum annual dosage for a worker is 20mSv.
The allowed dose for someone living close to a nuclear plant
is 1mSv a year.
scientists predict that one million lives will be lost to
the day of the disaster because of state security, but
Greenpeace estimates that 200,000 have died from radiation-
linked cancers in the 25 years since the accident.
zone around the plant
at 30km - 25 years later it is still largely in place.
disaster largely because of the amount it will need to pay
out, about Â£10,000 a person
victims of the disaster were offered about Â£6 each in 1986
Humanitarian Affairs reported bilateral aid worth $95m
president, Leonid Kuchma, complained that his country was
still waiting for international help.