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A year after Fukushima meltdown, residents kept in the dark about fallout

Kiyomi Yokota with his two daughters at his home in Koriyama City, approximately 60 kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant
Kiyomi Yokota with his two daughters at his home in Koriyama City, approximately 60 kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Katsuo Takahashi for Human Rights Watch

A year after the nuclear plant explosion rocked Fukushima, Kiyomi Yokota still worries about the health of his two girls, ages 3 and 8. He and his family live in Koriyama City, approximately 60 kilometres away from the plant. While the radiation hotline staff ensure him "there is no problem," tests he carried out himself reveal dangerously high radiation levels, reports Human Rights Watch.

Like Yokota, many residents of Fukushima Prefecture still lack basic information and clear answers about the level of radiation in their food and environment, Human Rights Watch said in a multimedia report released to mark the one-year anniversary of the blasts.

"One year later Fukushima residents have a right to know if the food they are eating is safe and if their children continue to be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation," said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch.

Although the explosion at the Daiichi plant is considered the most severe radiation crisis worldwide since Chernobyl, Human Rights Watch has documented many instances of local residents unable to have their children tested for radiation exposure, and the government providing contradictory information about the impact of radiation on human health.

"We measured the radiation level of our field and our house ourselves, and that is how we became aware that the level was dangerous for us," said Yokota.

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with individuals in four cities around the mandatory evacuation zone, looking at their access to healthcare and information, living conditions, and impact on their livelihood.

Food safety was a particular concern of the interviewees, Human Rights Watch noted. While the prefecture government has assured residents that food is tested before it is brought to markets, it hasn't set up a systematic process for measuring radiation levels in food from the area and communicating the results to the public, Human Rights Watch said.

"On the one hand the government will announce that tap water is safe for everyone to drink, and on the other it will suggest that children drink only bottled water. Parents can't get a clear answer on what the level of risk really is," Doi said.

Plans to decontaminate affected zones are estimated to cost 1 trillion Yen (US$13 billion), but the government has not created a detailed plan to show where, when, and how decontamination will take place. These steps have been seen as inadequate by many Fukushima residents, who are also asking for compensation for lost homes and livelihoods, and for damage to their health.

The 11 March 2011 earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan created a tsunami that travelled inland. The tsunami cut electrical power to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and flooded rooms containing emergency backup generators, leading to the a meltdown of three reactors that released radiation into the surrounding community.

Although the government announced that all areas outside of the evacuation zone were safe, officials in Tokyo have documented elevated levels more than 200 kilometres from the plant that were equal to those within the exclusion zone.

Rather than deal head-on with the government, Yokota's solution is to move. "I really want to move away from here because I worry about increasing the risk of future disease for my daughters. I would like to escape from here if I have enough money," he said.

Find out what other residents are doing in Human Rights Watch's multimedia release here.
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