Still Searching for Answers

by denise wong

One year later, where is the real information about Fukushima? 

In the one year aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake, Japanese citizens are still searching for answers in the face of crisis. That is, in the wake of tragedy, the Japanese government’s “leadership” more closely resembles an espionage clusterfuck, suggesting a divestment in the health of those most continually affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

By now, most of the world is familiar with the March 11th catastrophe: the Tohoku Earthquake claimed about 22,000 lives after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, particularly Fukushima Prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located. The resultant nuclear meltdown, which released consequential amounts of radioactive material into the environment, has been continuously identified as the worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl.

Clearly this is not an easy situation to repair. Thousands have been displaced while the government struggles to clean up a literally deadly disaster site. However, its understandably sparse restoration efforts appear more like negligence when considering the lack of transparency authorities have exhibited throughout the recovery phase.

For one, the government has failed to follow through on expert recommendations that would address radiation in Fukushima’s unique environment. For instance, Fukushima is comprised of 71 percent woodlands, which exacerbates radiation levels when radioactive soil washes into residential areas due to rainfall. Contaminated rainfall also aggregates in street gutters and is absorbed by the leaves of certain shrubs. Moreover, there exists the perpetual danger of consuming food and water with dangerous amounts of radioactivity. But according to a report by Health24, officials have not evacuated children and pregnant women, in spite of repeated expert counsel to do so.

In fact, officials have also stated that it is unnecessary to evacuate certain regions that fall below the 20-millisievert annual limit of radiation, despite contrary findings by local residents, who are conducting their own radioactivity tests due to government distrust.

Therein lies the more shocking problem: local residents and farmers are now conducting radiation tests and publishing their results because of a growing belief that the government disingenuously downplays the severity of the situation in Fukushima.

According to the New York Times, along with the discovery of tainted beef in July, one incident in particular heavily prompted local producers to disregard official information and take matters into their own hands; farmers in Onami, a small farming town near the power plant, debunked the government’s flawed conclusion that much of the food cultivated in the region was safe to consume.

The authorities’ methodology lucidly displays their inaccuracy: the authorities’ assessment of food grown in Onami only tested two of its 154 rice farms. Officials have also acknowledged the fallibility of randomly sampled tests, considering that perilous levels of radiation are much more concentrated in some areas of Fukushima than in others. Of course, many are also questioning why farming is even being allowed in the highly unsafe region in the first place; prefecture officials have reported that about 20 percent of the farms in Fukushima are contaminated with Cesium, though allegedly only 30 surpass the Japanese government’s safety levels.

A comprehensive, unified report on the levels of radiation in the area is yet to materialize, though one is presently in the works. According to Business Week, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation is currently working to publish an international and independent analysis of the Fukushima disaster and its repercussions. Given the substantial discrepancies in the global and domestic reports of radioactive material (Business Week estimates that studies by the government-operated Tokyo Electric Power Co. reported up to 77 percent less radioactive emissions than have overseas assessments), this study is evidently necessary. In fact, inconsistencies in the government’s official numbers have aroused public suspicion ever since the immediate aftermath of the quake. But Business Week also reports that the report will not be ready until May 2013, indicating that it will be more than a year until Fukushima residents can definitively know how hazardous their prefecture is.

But in the midst of all this confusion, one question remains: one year later, where is the real information about Fukushima?

Those more sympathetic to the government argue that overseas agencies sensationalize their reports on Japan’s radiation levels. Anti-nuclear activists utilize the situation to further their agendas, while media outlets, particularly those who have covered the story in-depth, hyper-exaggerate the circumstances in order to draw in viewers.

This issue is problematic, but those who claim that reports have been sensationalized miss the point. The figures put out by the government have been discrepant, the methodology has been faulty, and there are clear political reasons why the government would want to leave the situation be. Skepticism is healthy, but there are otherwise no reasons not to believe more urgent international reports.

Many in Fukushima believe the government’s inaction aims to maintain order and avoid compensating many of the agricultural businesses negatively impacted by the disaster. According to the Times, agricultural officials have even openly recognized that offering more details would frighten away consumers, and that if farming ceased in an area due to radiation, it would take years before the public allowed it to start there again.

The situation of Fukushima is a public health issue, but it is also a political, human rights issue about government unaccountability. What Fukushima needs now from the API community (and Americans in general) is not only philanthropy, but international pressure. As Americans, we saw similar mismanagement during Hurricane Katrina and during 9/11. As APIs, we are witnessing the little people being screwed over by their government. Those similitudes should motivate us to act.

Even though the facts are still nebulous, there is no way for Japan to navigate unless its authorities cut the bullshit and clear the fog. The monster needs to be silenced before it continues to grow.