Fukushima Nuclear Crisis Deserves More International Attention

Japan must address the humanitarian and environmental impact of the Fukushima nuclear fallout with greater transparency and sincerity.

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On April 1, 2014, the Japanese government lifted the evacuation order on Miyakoji district of Tamura, 12 miles away from the ground zero of Fukushima nuclear disaster, which happened three years ago amidst an apocalyptical earthquake and tsunami hit.

This step taken by the Japanese government seemingly demonstrates the nation’s positive motion toward full recovery. But this might be a premature, politically loaded, and disguised rush to reach a closure for the displaced and traumatized residents of the disaster-struck regions.

In the past three years, the situation in Fukushima has kept unfolding much as a man-made humanitarian crisis rather than a natural disaster. Over 300,000 people were evacuated because of the nuclear plant meltdowns, and now there are 267,000 of them still live in temporary shelters.

They are already the survivors of an overstretched evacuation process, since many have died due to unbearable living conditions, exhaustion, lack of medical resources and suicide. According to a survey released by the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun on September 9, 2013, more people had died because of the evacuation process than were killed by the earthquake and tsunami in the Fukushima region.

For those tens of thousands of Fukushima evacuees living in temporary housing units, life is on the edge: psychological disorder, alcoholism and physical ailments are increasing. And yet, the Japanese authorities and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the owner of Fukushima nuclear plant cold-shouldered the displaced.

Except TEPCO, all other companies involved in Fukushima nuclear plant engineering, supply and operation, such as GE, Toshiba, and Hitachi have all been largely exonerated from legal and financial responsibilities for the nuclear fallout. As a result, the disaster struck people, whose properties have become radioactive and livelihood has been eliminated, only receive financial compensation that is far from adequate.

Under reparation burden, TEPCO has been nationalized, and the compensation liability has been gradually transferred to Japan’s taxpayers’ pockets. It seems that, to alleviate compensation burden, TEPCO and the Japanese authorities rush the decontamination process and introduce resettlement prematurely.

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By any standard, many areas around Fukushima nuclear plant, which are claimed to be safe by the officials, are actually still under hazardous environmental threat. TEPCO is using water to cool down the melted uranium fuel rods, but this ad hoc measure is generating 400 tons of radioactive water every day, and now there are over 436,000 tons stored in gigantic tanks on the site of the nuclear plant.

This unsustainable radioactive management measure is building another nuclear “time bomb.” In August 2013 and February 2014, two leak accidents occurred to the storage tanks. Each time, hundreds tons of highly radioactive water trickled out into the soil and the sea. In the sea near Fukushima, fish testing at 124 times over radiation limit was caught.

Pale grass blue butterfly mutations were found in three generations of the species within the fallout zone. The underground water system may also have been contaminated. If evacuees are resettled back, there is hardly any livelihood they can pursue.

As a proverb goes, the darkest place is under the candlestick. A mix of honor, loyalty, and saving face in Japan’s social tradition gives rise to a culture of cover-up shrouding the humanitarian crisis in Japan. Outside of the focal length of international scrutiny, Japan, a developed democratic country, is abusing the basic survival and development rights of its people, and evading the due social and environmental responsibilities.

Japan, unfortunately, has been awarded as the host of 2020 Summer Olympics. The host city, Tokyo, is 148 miles away from the Fukushima nuclear plant. Nevertheless, the international community should take this opportunity to mount higher pressure on Japan to address the humanitarian and environmental impact of the Fukushima nuclear fallout with greater transparency and sincerity.

Liang Pan is a graduate student at New York University. He specializes in political communication and international relations.