Survey on People’s Health Urgently Necessary

–Local people spend anxious days amidst invisible radiation contamination caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident–

By Miyatake Maki

 Four months have passed since the East Japan Great Earthquake and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. Although the Fundamental Law on Rehabilitation was enacted, it failed to include as main pillars of the law the reconstruction of victims’ lives and the compensation for the nuclear accident victims.
 Min-Iren is calling on the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to compensate for damage inflicted on the victims of the nuclear disaster. Now, what can we do to understand the anxiety of the people of Fukushima and support their lives, who have become refugees from invisible but harmful radiation?

“If only there had not been the nuclear power plant…”
 Yuko (alias, in her twenties) is a mother of a one-year-old boy, who evacuated from Namie Town, Futaba-gun of Fukushima Prefecture, which has been designated as the planned evacuation zone. The entire town is now officially off-limit.
 She now lives in an apartment house in Kanto region. TEPCO provided 1 million yen; the government, 50,000 yen and she also received 350,000 yen as relief money and 20,000 from the town government of Namie. However, her future as a refugee is uncertain. Though she wants to send her son to a day-care center and try to find work, she cannot feel at ease.
 Around at 6:00 a.m. the following day of the earthquake and tsunamis, she heard a loudspeaker announcement outside, saying, “A nuclear power plant accident occurred. Evacuate immediately.” Joining her friend Kaoru’s family, Yuko left home in a car. Thinking that it would be only about a week’s time before she would be back home, she only took with her a packet each of diapers, baby wipes and a set of change of clothes for her baby and herself, and left home shortly before 7:00.
 When they arrived at Tsushima Community Hall, which had been designated as an evacuation center, the place was already packed full of people. So they moved to another community hall in Kawamata Town.
 And on March 29, with her baby boy, Yuko moved to Saitama Super Arena, a football stadium made into an evacuation center in Saitama Prefecture. Then they had to move to another evacuation center in Saitama, which was eventually closed in the middle of May, and finally they were settled in the current apartment.
 What Yuko is worried most is the effect of radiation. It was revealed that Tsushima Community Hall and its vicinity, where they first reached to take shelter after the earthquake, was already contaminated with high-level of radiation at that time. Yuko says, “I am concerned about the effect of internal irradiation not only about myself, but about my child.”

Money cannot dispel people’s fear
 On June 20, the Examination Committee of Nuclear Conflict Damages of the Ministry of Education and Science decided that it would “provide 100,000 yen monthly per person for 6 months since the outbreak of the accident as compensation payment for mental distress of a victim who is forced to lead an evacuation life as a result of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.” But money only cannot atone for the victims’ health problems or anxieties. “They are making a fool of us,” says Yuko, expressing her anger. “Money cannot dispel our fear. There is no way of knowing how much our bodies have been contaminated by radiation. Why does the government not try to conduct a comprehensive investigation? We are full of uncertainty and anxiety.”
 Yuko is now in daily communication by phone with her friend Kaoru, who has a five-year-old child and is leading an evacuation life in Fukushima City. However long they discuss and talk over their anxiety, they cannot dispel their fear about radioactivity and internal irradiation. But they are still in frequent contact with each other, desperate for exchanging whatever little information they obtain.
 Every time she learns by the city’s publication about high-level of radiation detected in her community, she is gnawed by possible damage on her family’s health. “Why does the government not take measures to evacuate us out of the prefecture? Why is it trying to obscure the fact about possible damage on our health?” Her discontent with the government and TEPCO is growing stronger.

Min-Iren’s symposium on the nuclear power plant problems
 On June 18, Min-Iren held a public symposium, entitled, “Our lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident: How can we protect the life and living of the local people and nuclear power plant workers?” The symposium drew standing-room-only crowds — over 270 people took part.
 Dr. Konishi Kyoji, Chair of the Radiation Exposure Accident Task Force of Min-Iren opened the symposium, saying, “Let us make this forum a place where all of us will share the recognition of the need to wage a long-term struggle to make Japan nuclear power plant-free, by changing Japan’s energy policy through deeply engaging with the health problems of local people and power plant workers.” His remarks were followed by the presentations by the three panelists.
 Mr. Fukao Masayuki (former professor at Shizuoka University) spoke out of his experience of researching nuclear reactors. He pointed out the problem that there was no way to dispose of spent uranium fuel, after it is used in nuclear power plants. He also emphasized the need to shift from relying on non-renewable energies such as oil, coal or uranium, to an expanded use of renewable energy resources, including wind and solar powers.
 Dr. Kikima Hajime, a medical doctor and former Chair of Min-Iren’s Radiation Exposure Problem Commission spoke from the viewpoint of how to protect the life and living of the local people. He proposed, “Let each of us hold a survey meter (radiation dosage meter) and know the actual situation of radiation contamination.” He also called on the participants to conduct the measurement in different communities and create a map showing the contaminated areas, and to acquire knowledge on how to protect their own health.
 He emphasized that the dosage of children, who are in the growth process and most vulnerable to the effect of radiation, should be curtailed to minimum. Referring to the fact that there were several hot spots in Fukushima City or Koriyama City, which were not designated as evacuation zones, he said, “In order to reduce the radiation buildup among children and to prompt egestion, it is effective to take shelter regularly out of the contaminated areas.”
 Dr. Hirano Harukazu of Koyo Coop Hospital in Fukui spoke as a medical doctor of Min-Iren working in Fukui Prefecture, which has the largest concentration of nuclear power plants in the world, with a theme, “How to protect workers of nuclear power plants.” He revealed a very grave situation of radiation exposure of subcontract workers of nuclear power plants, which is very often and easily concealed from the public. “TEPCO has consistently ignored warnings on its sloppy safety control and radiation protection. It is a serious problem that the government’s standards on radiation control has been revised as a stopgap measure,” he stressed.

Movement to support the disaster victims and abolish nuclear power plants
 Following the presentation by the three panelists, special remarks were made by the speakers working on the spot: Dr. Matsumoto Jun, President of Fukushima Min-Iren, Mr. Sato Hachiro, Village Assembly member of Iitate Village and Mr. Kori Toshihiko, farmer in Minami-Soma City. Many people also spoke from the floor.
 A worker of Fukushima Min-Iren said in a broken voice, “For a few months after the accident, I made my wife and newly born baby evacuate outside Fukushima Prefecture. I lived a painful life, not being able to hug my own baby in my arms. Now we are back together to live in Fukushima, but I wonder if I was right. Sometime in the future, my child may question me, ‘Why did you bring me back to Fukushima at that time?’ and I may regret it too late.”
 President Fujisue Mamoru of Min-Iren said, “Our task is to save and firmly support the victims, and to get rid of all nuclear power plants from Japan. From all corners of Japan, including where no nuclear power plants exist, let us mobilize people’s opinion and press the electric power companies in each region to abolish nuclear power plants.”

Health survey on all people of Fukushima Prefecture called for
 Mayor Baba Tamotsu of Namie Town, in his appearance in a program “Sunday Scramble” of TV Asahi on June 19, urged the Japanese government to take the following 3 measures: (1) To conduct a full-scale nationwide health survey on the people in evacuation; (2) To support the life of the people in evacuation outside Fukushima Prefecture; (3) To accelerate the provision of compensation by the government and TEPCO.
 What Yuko wants now are exactly the same as Mayor Baba requested. “I am willing to be used as a guinea pig. The health survey on the Fukushima people, including those who have evacuated outside the prefecture, should be conducted as soon as possible,” she said.
 The citizens of Namie Town cannot foresee when they will be allowed to go home even temporarily. They cannot collect not only what they have treasured, but also their daily essentials. Already 4 months have passed since they left home without any belongings and entered into a life in evacuation.
 Min-Iren published a pamphlet entitled, “Our lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and our tasks.” Another publication by Min-Iren is a booklet, “Record of my actions.” Min-Iren encourages people to use it to keep record of their diet, whereabouts they were and what they did, ever since the nuclear accident occurred. If some health problem should appear in the future, the booklet would help people in investigating into whether they are attributable to the radiation exposure. Min-Iren is trying to distribute this booklet widely to be used not only by the Fukushima citizens but also by the people in neighboring prefectures and volunteer workers who have come to help the victims. Now the government is strongly called for to carry out a comprehensive health survey on the people of Fukushima prefecture, including those who are in evacuation outside the prefecture.