Fukushima’s invisible victims

It’s been a while since we last discussed the Fukushima Daiichi triple meltdown.  That is not for lack of issues; it is primarily for lack of any meaningful progress in the ongoingdisaster.

We have just passed the fifth observance of the first catastrophic day, March 11, 2011 and pretty much all of nuclear safety expert Arnie Gundersen’s grim predictions of what we would learn in the aftermath have come to pass.

What Arnie could not have predicted iin 2011 is how unwilling both TEPCO and Japan’s government officials have been to learn from this disaster, and how persistent the effort would be to suppress important radiological and epidemiological information.

Without accountability, deaths of citizens who lived near the doomed reactors following the triple meltdown have simply been attributed to the stress of evacuation, and supposedly no one has been harmed by radiation.  In an unbelievable extrapolation of a convenient myth, there has been a major government effort, supported by the atomic power industry, to increase allowable levels of radiation exposure and dismiss the need for future costly evacuations as harmful and unnecessary.

It was only a little over a week ago, that anyone in an official position at TEPCO was finally held accountable under the law.   I find it unbelievable that only three individuals can be held responsible for the cascade of unaddressed design flaws, corruption, lax regulation, human error and human arrogance that all contributed to making a bad situation much, much worse.

Now we are learning of an even more egregious breach of the public trust and social justice at Fukushima.

Individuals who have exhibited symptoms of radiation poisoning and other illnesses are apparently being shunned by some of their neighbors and dismissed by the medical establishment without appropriate care and without acknowledgment in their medical records.

This mistreatment specific to radiation victims is apparently not without precedent in Japanese history.

On his current speaking tour of Japan, Arnie Gundersen has had the privilege of speaking with a small group of survivors of the 1945 bombing at Hiroshima who share a unique perspective on what may lie ahead for the people of Fukushima

Hiroshima survivor, Tomiko Matsumoto, 85, recalls being a schoolgirl following that inhuman bombing.  Of the 80 students at her school, only thirty survived the blast.  Tomiko could be said to have been one of the “lucky” ones, but mere survival is a pretty poor kind of ‘luck.’

Still traumatized by the mental and physical horrors of the blast experience, she recalls that there was no proper care provided for the injured who were regarded with suspicion and hostility by their neighbors and callous indifference or unfeeling curiosity by their occupiers, upon whom they depended for any care that they could get.

The discrimination must have been the hardest for a young girl with no surviving family to bear:

“I was shocked because I was discriminated against by Hiroshima people. We lived together in the same place and Hiroshima people know what happened but they discriminated against each other. ..I was shocked.”

“There were so many different kinds of discrimination. People said that girls who survived the bomb shouldn’t get married. Also they refused to hire the survivors, not only because of the scars, but because they were so weak. Survivors did not have 100 percent energy.”

“There was a survivor’s certificate and medical treatment was free. But the other people were jealous. Jealous people, mentally discriminated. So, I didn’t want to show the health book sometimes, so I paid. Some of the people, even though they had the health book, were afraid of discrimination, so they didn’t even apply for the health book. They thought discrimination was worse than paying for health care.”

The mistreatment and insensitivity experienced by survivors continued into Tomiko’s adulthood. She was the victim of employment discrimination and personal shame.

Though she was lucky enough to bear children, both of her daughters are sterile and one suffers from anemia. Doctors have dismissed the possibility that the family’s health issues might be linked to her exposure to radiation from the atomic bomb blast.

It may be precisely because of their uniquely traumatic history of nuclear attack that modern Japanese society is ill-prepared to challenge the current meme being promoted by TEPCO and the Abe government, that no one was harmed by the triple meltdown at Fukushima and there is no cause for concern about using atomic power as an energy source.

Having emerged from beneath the cloud of WWII, they want to view themselves  under the lens of success and progress, not to revisit the shameful legacy of nuclear radiation sickness that they had hoped to leave behind.

Sadly, neither TEPCO nor the Abe government and functionaries right down to the regional level can be trusted to reveal the truth about radiation from Fukushima Daiichi and how it’s shadow has now been irreversibly cast over the Prefecture, marring the future of Japan.

So survivors of Fukushima, like those of Hiroshima before them are left to face unfolding health issues and despair in the friendless vacuum of their own thoughts and care.

(I am pleased to be a non-technical member of the Fairewinds Energy Education crew, but my posts on GMD are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fairewinds.)

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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