10 Sep 2011

IS JAPAN STILL A SAFE COUNTRY TO LIVE IN ? Soon after the Fukushima Dai No 1 meltdowns, Emperor Akihito delivered a televised address to his people.  The almost archaically formal speech was so rare, that it was compared to the historic radio broadcast by his father, Hiroito, that announced Japan’s surrender after the atomic bombing of Hirohima and Nagsaki in August 1945.  The Emperor prompted an era of national reform and rebuilding. Six months later, the nuclear emergency may be over. But another disaster is becoming apparent: a psychological CRISIS OF DOUBT AND DEPRESSION that could prove more destabilizing than a nything that came before. Many residents are deeply distrustful of their government and, seem to be looking for an outsider’s judgment on that question.

IT HAPPENED AT CHERNOBYL TOO. Twenty years after the 1986 reactor explosion in Chernobyl, the World Health Organization (WHO) said psychological distress was the largest public health problem unleashed by the accident: “Populations in the affected areas exhibit strongly negative attitudes in self-assessments of health and wellbeing and a strong sense of lack of control over their own lives. Associated with these perceptions is an exaggerated sense of the dangers to health of exposure to radiation.” Russian doctors have said survivors were “poisoned by information”.  In Japan, However, it would be more accurate to say that people are “contaminated by uncertainty”.

WORD-OF-MOUTH NEWS THE MOST WORRISOME. Each day for most of the past six months, there has been a steady drip, drip, drip news: cesium found in the breast milk of seven mothers; strontium discovered inside the city limits; 45% of children in one survey testing positive for thyroid exposure. There are reports of suicides by desperate farmers and lonely evacuees, contaminated beef smuggled on to the market, and warnings that this autumn’s rice crop may have to be abandoned.

JAPANESE TOP- SHRINK ALSO WORRIED Satoshi Takahashi, one of Japan’s leading clinical Psychologists predicts the mental fallout of the Fukushima meltdown will be worse than the physical impact. He adds: “Individuals are being forced to make decisions about what is safe to eat and where is safe to live, because the government is not telling them; Japanese people are not good at that…Unlike an earthquake, he says, the survivors do not suffer post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) that soldiers experience, such as insomnia, shaking, and flashbacks; Instead, the fear of radiation creates a slow, creeping, invisible pressure that can lead to prolonged depression…Some people say they want to die. Others become more dependent on alcohol. Many more complain of listlessness.”

FOOD SHOPPING IN JAPAN IS AN ADVENTURE NOW In a country long famous for safety, hygiene and raw food, millions of people are now being asked to accept a small but persistently higher health risk, long-term contamination of their homes, gardens, streets and schools; and food that is now deemed safer if it is prepackaged, and from as far away from Fukushima as possible.  In the supermarket, where people used to shop for fresh produce, they now look for cooked-food, a shopper lamented:  “the older the food, the safer now…We are misinformed, WE ARE MISINFORMED! Our problem is (entrenched) in our society. We have to fight against it. And that seems as hard as the fight against those reactors(the nuclear industry)”.  She then expressed fears for her son, anger at the government, and deep distrust of the (hollow ringing)“reassuring voices” she was hearing in the traditional media.

A ZEN MONK TRYING TO BE HELPFUL Abe, a Zen monk who owns a temple just outside Fukushima city says his greatest concern is the mental well-being of his followers, and is committed to the “fight against radiation…There is a lot of information but huge uncertainty. That makes everyone uneasy. The politicians, bureaucrats and academics cannot agree on anything, so how can people feel reassured? We need positive action, but we don’t know what to believe….Many locals are farmers, who are despairing about their contaminated soil…Young people are leaving. In the past six months, there has been an increase in suicides. There will be more. If you don’t give people hope, they lose their reason for living.”  Abe allows people to dump the irradiated soil from their gardens on the hillside behind his temple, where it will be buried and covered with zeolite. He is also planning to decontaminate the forests with high pressure sprays so the leaves are less of a hazard when they fall in the autumn.  Strange how clerics often promise a lot, but seldom deliver.  When they enumerate action needed they really mean: Somebody do it!  Let me be you leader!

FUKUSHIMA DAI NO 1 WORKERS and contracted workers, were likewise in the dark.  One of the workers, let us call him ” T-san” was evacuated from the plant after the earthquake struck and returned almost two weeks later to join the containment operation. T-san said: “They didn’t tell us anything…Nobody mentioned a meltdown. We didn’t get any critical accident training or instructions. But we all knew the situation was very bad. I thought this might be my final mission. I know it sounds a little silly, but I felt like a “kamikaze” (WWII suicide pilot) who was prepared to sacrifice everything for my family and my country.” Since March, he estimates he has been exposed to 50 mSv of radiation. Under the government’s previous guidelines, this was the maximum allowed for an entire year.  At least 6 workers are known to have received upwards of 250mSv.  A pretty heavy, perhaps lethal dose!

TYPES OF “TRANSURANICS”(radionuclides) ALREADY DETECTED The Fukushima Dai No.1 explosions/spews of 12 Mar. 2011, scattered deadly , persistent, radiation like the debris from a firework display.  Such radioactive particles, were spewed according to wind direction, and the weight of the particles. Each has a different impact on the body. First and farthest to spread was Gas-light iodine 131, which tends to accumulate in the thyroid gland, but decays quickly, it was quickly detected as far away as Tokyo. Next came particles of cesium 134 and 137, which affect the bladder and liver with a half-life of about 30 years, – this contaminated the soil, water and trees of most of Fukushima as well as chunks of Miyagi, Chiba and Tokyo and remains the biggest problem. Then there is Strontium, which tends to accumulate in the bones and cause leukemia, It is heavier and spread less widely, but it has been found in 64 locations, including Fukushima city. The heaviest radionuclide, plutonium – with a half-life of tens of thousands of years has been detected in small quantities inside the plant perimeter, and may have been leaked or discharged into the Pacific Ocean along with more than 10,000 tons of heavily contaminated water.  OOPS! THERE GOES THEIR FOOD CHAIN, AND PERHAPS THE WORLD’S FISH AS WELL.

WHAT IS AN EXPECTANT MOTHER TO DO? Among them, is Mari Ishimori, another evacuee in Tokyo, who is due in Oct 2011. She is struggling to balance health concerns for her unborn baby, and pressure from her in-laws to return to her husband in Fukushima. It though Fukushima is a conservative rural area, many wives, are now arguing with their husbands. As  a dutiful expectant mother, as soon as she heard about the accident at the plant, she fled. “I love my husband, but I will never return to Fukushima…I want my child to have a normal childhood. But if we were in Fukushima,  I could never raise my child as I did; That’s hard!  I’m not sure if my husband and I will live together again.”  So Ishimori is now alone. Her first concerns are for the child she expects; so, she avoids eating fish, meat or eggs, and is deeply skeptical about official safety assurances. She adds: “I don’t trust anything they say. Tokyo Electric and the government have told us so many lies.”

ANOTHER MOM-TO-BE Sachiko Matsuyama (29) lived just 25 Km from the disaster, and discovered  two days before the Fukuhima meltdowns, that she was expecting her third child;  Since then, her life has been turned upside down, first by a desperate escape from the disaster zone, then by a growing worry about the effects of the radiation on the highly vulnerable fetus growing inside her.  Now, each time she goes to the hospital for a checkup, she is filled with anxiety that the ultrasound might reveal a deformity, so she counts and recounts the fingers and toes. The doctors have reassured her there is no sign of abnormality, but they won’t know for sure until the birth in November, and perhaps not for years later. For Masuyama, the worry has become so all-consuming, that she has considered abortion and suicide. “For the first two months after the disaster, I was focused only on survival… I became, depressed and so worried that I stopped eating. I wanted to die.”

NEW “LEPERS” OF JAPAN: THE “HIBAKUSHA”  Unfortunately,  deep prejudice, born out of ignorance, is being endured/suffered by the “hibakusha” (nuclear survivors)  whose children are sometimes treated as though they bear the contamination in their genes. The discrimination is well documented. Some are refused employment. Others are rejected as marriage partners because of medically unproven fears that their offspring may be born with deformities. Even so, the Hibakusha are also revered as “survivors and repositories of knowledge” about the very real risks or radiation. After the disaster, they were among the first to demand a greater sense of crisis even as the government was offering soothingly ambiguous words about there being “no immediate health impact”. – IN TEXAS WE SAY: NO SWEAT! – LIKE HELL!

TODAY IN JAPAN LOOKS ARE DECEPTIVE Watch the bullet train speed through a frame of distant mountains and sharp blue skies and this seems to be postcard-perfect Japan. But look more closely at the people, and you will see that many families now own Geiger Counters (dosimeters) to check their exposure. DVD chain stores have started to rent them along with the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Inside hundreds of school playgrounds, bulldozers are scraping off the top a foot of dirt to reduce contamination from the soil. Local newspapers and TV bulletins carry daily radiation updates with a breakdown for every neighborhood. Strange activities indeed!

IN LAND-RICH COUNTRIES people might want to just move away from the radiation source, but that is next to impossible when living on a crowded archipelago, with a rigid job market; Even so, thousands have fled, but most people in the disaster area will have to stay simply because they have no real choice.  Life in Japan might be easier if there existed credible  guidance from scientists and politicians, Unfortunately such is not the case. The country has just got its seventh prime minister in five years. Academia, and the Media opinion have been tainted by the evident/powerful influence of the nuclear industry; As a result, residents continue to flounder in their greatest worries: Contamination, and the daily need to suppress the “Fight or Flee” dilemma – One of man’s toughest choices since time immemorial.  WOULD I CHOOSE TO LIVE IN JAPAN TODAY?  No way!,  no-how!

My sincerest appreciation for a well written, empathetic and comprehensive story written by Jonathan Watts, for the  This is my abbreviated version with added commentary. For the full story use link below.




September 10, 2011 at 3:42 AM Comments (24)