Nuclear industry apologists, pundits, vested interests, and public relations professionals would love you to believe that the Fukushima Daiichi was not really catastrophic. Even the Washington Post recently published an editorial (PDF at Beyond Nuclear) with the misleading and callous statement:
“Following the scary but ultimately non-catastrophic Fukushima nuclear crisis…”
which has lead to outrage from good people who know better. I am not sure what motivated the Washington Post to publish such a trivializing misrepresentation, but it certainly had nothing to do with understanding the facts.
Fukushima most certainly has been a catastrophic event due to the multiple meltdowns and the massive amounts of radiation spewed forth into the world. Here are some numbers and facts regarding very real effects to date caused radioactive catastrophe:
- 573 people died due to the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, not the quake or tsunami
Many people were forced to evacuate their homes, businesses, hospitals, schools – and hundreds have already perished due to the accident. These numbers are rising as the Japanese government examines more cases. These hundreds of victims would have been alive today if the catastrophe were just the quake and tsunami, and did not involve the man-made nuclear disaster. Nuclear industry apologists like to spin this as “nobody died from radiation” however this is quite misleading. Many experts expect up to a million additional cancer and other deaths from radiation during coming decades as a result of exposure.
- 160,000+ livelihoods have been destroyed by the nuclear catastrophe
Radiation forced huge numbers of people to evacuate contaminated regions in Japan, in many cases destroying generations-old family land, farms, businesses, entire cities, towns and villages, schools, ancestral graveyards – entire livelihoods have been completely destroyed on a massive scale. As opposed to victims of the quake and tsunami, these survivors cannot go back home and must throw away everything that they have owned and built. Insensitive nuclear apologists try to frame this as “merely a displacement”, but for anyone familiar with Japanese culture this is a horrible torturous destruction.
- 8% of Japan’s land is poisoned by radioactive cesium
Though most of the radioactive poison went into the ocean, eight percent of Japan’s land has been blanketed by radioactive cesium and other carcinogens. According to Asahi Asia & Japan Watch,
“Spanning 13 prefectures, the affected area has accumulated more than 10,000 becquerels of cesium 134 and 137 per square meter, according to the science ministry.”
“Some 8 percent of Japan’s land area, or more than 30,000 square kilometers, has been contaminated with radioactive cesium from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”
- Farming industries have been destroyed
Even far from the exclusion zone, thousands of farmers have lost their ability to grow rice, raise cattle, grow vegetables, fruit, gather mushrooms, and other farming related industries. Companies that relied on these now radioactive farms in many cases have failed or had to move to different areas. Even farms that have not suffered contamination directly are stigmatized – nobody wants to risk their children to possible radioactive poisoning. In many cases, these farms have been in families for many generations and the blow of having the family farms wrenched away is devastating.
- Fishing industries have been destroyed
Like farming, generations-old fishing villages have been devastated as radiation contaminated fishing zones prevent these fishermen and their associated industries from recovering from the devastation of the quake and tsunami. Contamination is getting stuck in the seafloor, not flowing away. As the radioactive poisons travel up the food chain, it is concentrated into larger fish such as tuna, so important to Japan’s fishing industries.
- One of the world’s largest utilities has been virtually bankrupt
TEPCO, formerly the world’s largest electric power utility, has been virtually bankrupt and nationalized due to the Fukushima nuclear radiation catastrophe. The financial effects of this disaster alone will strain Japan’s entire economy for years to come.
The list above is merely what has happened to date. Moving forward, there is no clear understanding of where long term exposure to radiation from the catastrophe will lead. Experts in the field are highly divided over the effects of low level radiation and some predict up to a million or more unnecessary fatalities related to exposure over the coming decades.
Further forward, it is unclear how long term exposure will affect future generations. In Belarus, for example, large numbers of children are born with birth defects in Chernobyl effected areas. Will we see similar tragedy in Japan? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, I hope that the Washington Post’s editorial board and many other journalists, editors, pundits, bloggers who have similarly tried to trivialize the Fukushima nuclear catastrophic disaster, will reconsider their callous treatment of a truly horrific event.