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Fukushima Today

Throughout the world, the name Fukushima has become synonymous with nuclear disaster and running for the hills. Yet, Fukushima may be one of the least understood disasters in modern times, as nobody knows how to fix neither the problem nor the true dimension of the damage. Thus, Fukushima is in uncharted territory, a total nuclear meltdown that dances to its own rhythm. Similar to an overly concerned parent, TEPCO merely monitors but makes big mistakes along the way.

Over time, bits and pieces of information about Fukushima Prefecture come to surface. For example, Arkadiusz Podniesinski, the noted documentary photographer of Chernobyl, recently visited Fukushima. His photos and commentary depict a scenario of ruination and anxiety, a sense of hopelessness for the future.

Ominously, the broken down Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant looms in the background of everybody’s life, like the seemingly indestructible iconic image of destruction itself, Godzilla with its signature “atomic breath.”

Podniesinski’s commentary clearly identifies the blame for the nuclear accident, namely: “It is not earthquakes or tsunami that are to blame for the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, but humans. The report produced by the Japanese parliamentary committee investigating the disaster leaves no doubt about this. The disaster could have been foreseen and prevented. As in the Chernobyl case, it was a human, not technology, that was mainly responsible for the disaster,” Photographer and Filmmaker Arkadiusz Podniesinski Visits Fukushima, Axis of Logic, Dec. 27, 2015.

Four years after the fact, more than 120,000 residents are not able to return home. Radiation zones have been established with the color red demarcating the highest levels of radioactive contamination, the Red Zone, meaning > 50 mSv/y. There is no decontamination work in Red Zones. It is unlikely that residents will ever return, although the Abe government claims otherwise.

Radiation is accumulative. As a general rule, a person can only survive for one hour with exposure of 1 Sv/hour or 1,000 mSv/hour. The recommended lifetime human dosage of radiation should be less than 500 mSv. A chest x-ray produces 0.10 mSv. The standard limit for nuclear workers worldwide is 20 mSv/year (Source: Radiation Survival Cheat Sheet). However, Fukushima, because of the emergency, allows workers to receive up to 100-mSv exposure before they must leave the site

Within Fukushima, Orange Zones are designated as less contaminated but still uninhabitable because radiation levels run 20-50 mSv/y, but decontamination work is underway. Residents are allowed to visit homes for short duration only during the daytime. However, as it happens, very few people are seen. Most of the former residents do not want to go back and the wooden houses in many of the towns and villages are severely dilapidated.

The lowest radiation areas are designated the Green Zone (< 20 mSv/y), where decontamination work is complete and evacuation orders are to be lifted.

Enormous black sealed bags filled with radioactive soil and all kinds of sizzling waste are stacked across the countryside, as approximately 20,000 workers thoroughly cleanse soil, rooftops, streets, and gutters. House-by-house, workers scrub rooftops and walls by hand.

The radioactive-contained black bags are trucked outside of towns to the far outskirts where thousands upon thousands upon thousands of big black bags are stacked. An aerial view of these temporary storage sites appears like gigantic quilts of rectangular shapes neatly, geometrically spread across the landscape for as far as the eye can see. The government claims the radioactive-contained black bags will be gone from the countryside within 30 years, but where to?

The formidable decontamination process is not without potential drawbacks. The primary areas of decontamination surround homes, farmland, and 10-metre strips along roads. As such, forests, mountains and other terrain are left untouched, which may, in turn, eventually wash radioactive isotopes back onto the decontaminated areas because of heavy rainfall or forest fires carrying radioactive isotopes. According to Podniesinski, that happened twice in Chernobyl within the past year alone.

In order to visit towns within the “No-Go” zone or the Red Zone, a separate permit is required for each town. Applicants must have a legitimate reason to obtain a permit and streets are heavily guarded. Podniesinski spent two weeks in Fukushima getting to know the right people to make contacts to get a permit. Because of his extensive background and numerous visits to Chernobyl, he was finally granted a permit.

Podniesinski, wearing a whitish translucent gown as protective clothing, blue over-boots, a mask, and dosimeter, was allowed to visit the town of Futaba in the No-Go Zone. Futaba, former population 6,113, borders the Fukushima power station and is one of the towns with too much radiation to consider decontamination at the present time, and maybe forever.

The town was a commercial fishing and agricultural center known for its carnations, an important agricultural business for the region. On the morning of March 12th, 2011 the town was suddenly evacuated en masse. Interestingly, according to photos, the Futaba town hall is a modern 4-story red brick structure with wide windows and sharp black trimming that would appear natural in any mid-sized American city but yet out of character for in an older Japanese town, which served as the center of ancient Futaba District during the Edo period, 1603-1868.

A banner hanging over the main street reads: “Nuclear Energy is the Energy of a Bright Future.” Podniesinski was invited to tour Futaba with Mitsuru and Kikuyo Tani, aged 74 and 71. They took him to their former home which they visit once a month for a couple of hours to see if the roof is leaking and whether windows are damaged in order to make minor repairs. Their monthly trip is purely sentimental. Futaba is their home of origin, but in their hearts, they know it is nothing but a memory of a past that lingers forever, never to return.

Futaba is where time stood still all of a sudden. Nothing has changed since that fateful day. Photos show buildings slowly deteriorating and automobiles covered with shrubbery and vines. It’s like a scene from the hit TV series “The Walking Dead,” where zombies rather than radiation terrorize the town, leaving an empty imprint of lifelessness, a dreary vacuous town that eerily haunts within the impress on a still photo, as if the world stopped spinning altogether.

Podniesinski’s photo of Kikuyo Tani dressed in a surgical-type white gown rolled up around blue over-boots, skin-tight gloves, hair net and face mask seated at the entrance to her home captures an expression of deep resignation, as she drearily and blankly stares out into space, a forlornness that only still photography can convey. Her forehead and piercing eyes are the only real life from within an otherwise haunting photo that emerges as lifeless.

In another riveting photo in the town, a life-sized three-dimensional Colonel Sanders dressed in his trademark all-white suit proudly stands next to a KFC in an empty mall where the photo seizes the moment, an eerie stillness, an abandoned shopping cart and liter covering the floor, evidence that people dropped whatever they were doing and ran, and ran with groceries left for the ages.

The herculean cleanup of Fukushima Prefecture involves 105 cities, towns, and villages. Unlike Chernobyl where authorities declared a 1,000 square mile no-habitation zone and resettlement of 350,000 people, thus allowing radiation to dissipate over decades-to-centuries, Japan is attempting to remake Fukushima back into its old self. But, radioactive material collected in millions of black bags is a vexing problem for the ages.

In that regard, Japanese authorities have commissioned construction of a massive landfill just outside of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, expected to contain 16-to-22 million bags of debris, enough to fill 15 baseball stadiums. Unfortunately, bags filled with radioactivity are more than a mere headache; they are more like a severe migraine. A truck can carry 6-8 of the huge bags at a time, and with so many, it could take decades to move the material. Adding to the lingering problem of transporting and storing radioactive waste, over time, the bags will likely deteriorate and need to be replaced with fresh bags. It is an endless cycle.

Handling radioactive waste in Japan may become generational employment, similar to how second and third generation workers eventually completed the grand cathedrals of Europe, like Notre Dame de Paris with a cornerstone laid in 1163 resulting in major construction completed circa 1250.

32 Million Japanese Affected by Fukushima

According to 2015 Fukushima Report released March 11, 2015 by Green Cross/Geneva founded by former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, thirty-two million people in Japan are negatively affected by the nuclear disaster.

The Green Cross criteria is based upon direct exposure to radiation as well as people influenced by stress factors due to the disaster, all of whom are at risk of long-term and short-term consequences, including neuropsychological and/or cancer disorders.

“According to estimates, 80 percent of the released radiation was deposited in the ocean and the other 20 percent was mostly dispersed within a 50 km radius to the northwest of the power plant in the Fukushima Prefecture. While the expected cancer risks to humans caused by the radiation released over the Pacific Ocean are small, trace amounts of radiation have already reached the North American continent and, in particular, parts of the northern West Coast of the United States. The risk of cancer overall will increase, especially for those individuals who were still children at the time of the accident. Their health will be at risk over their entire lifetime as a result of the radiation released by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant,” (Green Cross Switzerland, Media Release, Zurich, March 11, 2015).
The 2015 Fukushima Report was prepared under the direction of Prof. Jonathan M. Samet, Director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California (USC), at the initiative of Green Cross Switzerland.

Yet, proponents of nuclear power, including several distinguished climate scientists, promote more nuclear to solve the world’s greenhouse gas problems, claiming nuclear accidents are so rare as to be low risk. But, that logic misses an important point. When nuclear disaster does strike, it lasts a lifetime, affecting millions upon millions. It only takes one disaster like a Chernobyl or a Fukushima to be equivalent to untold thousands of disasters by renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
As for a lifetime of radiation misery, one only need visit one of a couple hundred homes for Chernobyl children hidden in the back woods of Belarus. They all have physical if not mental defects or both. Because of one nuclear accident, 6,000 children are born every year in Ukraine with genetic heart defects; the country experiences a 250% increase in congenital birth deformities; 85% of Belarusian children carry “genetic markers” that could affect health at any time; UNICEF found children’s disease rates off the map, for example, a 63% increase in disorders of the bone, muscle and connective tissue; more than one million children still live in contaminated zones. Belarusian doctors have seen a dramatic increase in cancers, including a 200% increase in breast cancer, a 100% increase in leukemia, and a 2,400% increase in incidence of thyroid cancer. All from only one nuclear disaster! (Source: Chernobyl Children International)

Meanwhile, China plans on building 400 nuclear power plants along waterways and coastlines where water is plentiful, thus cooling radioactive power. Imagine the fateful range of possibilities!

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Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.

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