One year ago, triggered by the Great Tohoku Earthquake, three operating nuclear power plants and one huge spent fuel pool from a fourth, non-operating plant, released immeasurable and catastrophic amounts of radiation into the air, onto the soil, into the groundwater and ultimately the sea nearby the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The nearby Fukushima Daini plants came very close to suffering three additional meltdowns as well. Almost 100,000 people were evacuated, many after having already been irradiated, and most will never return to their homes.
The victimization of the Fukushima residents, and refugees has been intense. As the nuclear plants melted down over the course of a week following the 3/11 earthquake they were lied to repeatedly to avoid having them “panic.” While dwelling in the uncertainty of those lies, they were exposed to radiation that was spewing from the plant, and falling-out from above after a series of hydrogen explosions blew reactor building after reactor building apart, creating huge plumes of radionuclides. It has since come out that information about the trajectory and danger of these plumes was deliberately held from them, again to prevent them from panicking.
Many of these same people lost family or loved ones to the earthquake and the tsunami, but their mourning and losses were delayed because of the ongoing threat of nuclear radiation. They were denied closure for their losses having to maintain their focus on the present and to try to ascertain the current dangers that faced them and their families. Huge numbers of them were then evacuated from their homes, now contaminated with the radiation that they were not informed of to stem their possible panic.
Now these people live as refugees. Many have come to grasp that they will not be returning to live in their homes again, although they have not been given the respect of being told this directly by those in authority who certainly understand this to be the case. Living in limbo, the traumas and stresses of broken lives cannot give way to the process of healing and move towards a new stability for themselves and their families. The communities in which they lived will never be whole, or in proximity of one another, again. For many this is the community that they, and generations of ancestors, have lived in for centuries. They are, and they feel, isolated and abandoned.
TEPCO and the government of Japan knew that the three plants were melting down almost immediately. They knew that #1 was melting by the end of the first day of the crisis, and knew that the nuclear fuel in three plants had melted, and that the spent fuel pool of #4 was releasing radiation, by the end of the week yet they denied this—and lied about it—for three months. The whole world, but primarily the people who’s lives and families were directly uprooted by these events, were deliberately deceived.
So we have an immense cohort of people who have been irradiated, lied to, and permanently (though not explicitly) removed from their homes and communities for the rest of their lives. They are victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, separately from being victims of the Great Tohoku Earthquake and tsunami. Their lives have been pulled apart and they are now scattered, some families living in separate places from each other—parents separated from children, spouses separated from each other—and left to sort these multiple traumas out for themselves. This as many are still in mourning for dead relatives and friends swept out to sea.
Here was the first, and most profound, victimization. For many it was accompanied by discrimination by people living in areas where the refugees have relocated, treating them as though they carry contagion: cars being vandalized, children being bullied in new schools. It is an immense and crushing burden to bear. But now, even more is being added: the Fukushima victims are being victimized again.
Almost from the start, and now reaching a loud chorus, are the claims both here in Japan and also abroad that the unrealistic fears and anxieties of these victims are the real cause of their physical and mental health problems.
Following on the work of those who minimize the radiological impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster claiming that depression and anxiety took a much larger toll on the affected population than radiation, some experts have advised that worrying about radiation will have a much bigger impact on the health of the Fukushima victims than the radiation itself. From early apologist declarations like that of Canadian journalist (and hormesis proponent) Lawrence Solomon who wrote ten days after the disaster that, “The only evidence that exists as to the health of humans who have been irradiated at low levels points to a benefit, not a harm. Difficult though it may be to overcome the fear of radiation that has been drubbed into us since childhood, there is no scientific proof whatsoever to view the radiation emitted from the Fukushima plant as dangerous to the Japanese population,” to more recent statements like that by National Public Radio (USA) correspondent Richard Harris who told his nationwide audience this month that “trauma, not radiation” is the key concern in Japan, the people of Fukushima have been fed a steady diet of self-blame.