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article imageFukushima two years on — The plight of 300,000 displaced Japanese

By Robert Myles     Mar 8, 2013 in World
Monday March 11 is the second anniversary of the tsunami which inundated Japan’s eastern seaboard causing an estimated 16,000 deaths and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a legacy that will last for generations.
Two years ago, next week, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Pacific, off Japan’s east coast, caused a wall of water 43 feet high to smash into the Fukushima nuclear power plant north of Tokyo. The tsunami knocked out the nuclear plant’s main power supply and destroyed back-up generators, reports Reuters. This triggered a failure in the plant’s cooling system. The result was a meltdown of three of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant, the consequences of which will last generations.
The legacy of Fukushima is now being felt thousands of miles away on the other side of the Pacific. Along the western seaboard of the United States and Canada, warnings abound concerning the dangers of handling the flotsam from Fukushima washing up on the shoreline.
Fukushima debris washed up on Montague Island  Alaska
Fukushima debris washed up on Montague Island, Alaska
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Yesterday, the French language Tribune de Genève quoted a spokesman for environmental organisation Robin des Bois, "At a minimum, the tsunami would have ejected into the Pacific Ocean the same amount as Japan might have been expected to discharge into the sea over a period of 3200 years.”
But for those directly affected by the Fukushima meltdowns, the Japanese who lived near the failed nuclear plant, two years on from the disaster, there will no quick end to their plight of either having lost their homes or being unable to return to areas evacuated.
As France 24 reports, in addition to the fatalities caused by the tsunami, hundreds of thousands of Japanese were made homeless when their houses were destroyed. Other residents were evacuated from a safety zone surrounding the stricken nuclear power plant.
Japanese towns  villages & cities around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant exclusion zone. The 20 ...
Japanese towns, villages & cities around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant exclusion zone. The 20 km & 30 km areas had evacuation & sheltering orders. Additional administrative districts that had an evacuation order are highlighted.
Wikimedia Commons
Two years after the Fukushima disaster, nearly one third of a million survivors remain displaced from towns and villages around Fukushima and live in makeshift camps. There is little likelihood that they will be returning home any time soon as radiation levels remain dangerously high. Some estimates put the timescale for building new housing at ten years.
And there was worse news for Fukushima survivors this week.
Environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace continues to monitor radiation levels in the city of Fukushima and the surrounding towns and villages. Heinz Smital, a nuclear expert attached to Greenpeace Germany was interviewed by Die Welt this week and what he had to say painted a bleak picture for Fukushima’s former residents.
According to Smital, radiation levels in Fukushima remain “very high”. Some measurements recorded by Greenpeace on the ground were 200 times higher than background radiation levels before the Fukushima plant was overwhelmed. Smital accepted that whilst there have been strenuous efforts to clean up, the reality was that radiation levels have remained stubbornly high — too high for any semblance of normality to return to the area.
Greenpeace has consistently been at odds with official Japanese government radiation measurements for the Fukushima area. Greenpeace is concerned that the Japanese official figures are misleading former residents into thinking they could swiftly return to evacuated homes and districts.
False hopes, Smital felt, were also being raised since the clean-up has focused on highly contaminated evacuated areas with less effort being put into reducing radiation levels in districts still populated. He expressed “grave concerns” about former residents returning to areas of high contamination and agreed that it was more likely that former residents would not be allowed to move back to these areas at all.
The tendency, Smital says, is for the health risks of radiation to be played down, in part, due to the Fukushima disaster being too big to contemplate. Wholesale decontamination is simply not possible, involving as it would, vast areas of farmland, woodland, watercourses and mountains. This has resulted in Fukushima victims being ‘encouraged’ to an acceptance of living in areas where radiation is too high.
As if the Fukushima victims' suffering wasn’t already enough, Smital also highlighted the difficulties survivors faced in obtaining compensation. He spoke of application forms “almost like books” and quoted the example of one man who had written 15,000 letters in two years. Already dispirited, he said, many Fukushima survivors simply give up which suits the power company since it doesn’t have to pay out compensation.
So what of the future? The answer is no-one really knows. As Chernobyl demonstrated, a nuclear disaster can have repercussions decades afterwards, not just in the immediate area but thousands of miles away. Whilst by no stretch can it be compared to the suffering of Fukushima survivors, in the United Kingdom, 10,000 upland sheep farms faced animal movement restrictions after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The final restrictions on movements of sheep were only lifted on June 1, 2012, 26 years after Chernobyl.
For the Fukushima survivors, the fear is that their long wait for a safe return to their homes and homelands has barely begun.
Related article: Unseen dangers from the Japanese tsunami may linger for decades
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