Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a new phenomenon is on the rise: atomic divorce. Abigail Haworth reports on the unbearable pressures and prejudices being faced by those caught in the radiation zone
The stress on family life for all two million people across Fukushima has been immense. Marital discord has become so widespread that the phenomenon of couples breaking up has a name: genpatsu rikon or “atomic divorce”.
There are no statistics yet, but Noriko Kubota, a professor of clinical psychology at the local Iwaki Meisei University, confirms there are many cases. “People are living with constant low-level anxiety. They don’t have the emotional strength to mend their relationships when cracks appear,” she explains. Couples are being torn apart over such issues as whether to stay in the area or leave, what to believe about the dangers of radiation, whether it is safe to get pregnant and the best methods to protect children. “When people disagree over such sensitive matters, there’s often no middle way,” adds Kubota, who also runs a counselling service.
Moreover, now that what Kubota calls the “disaster honeymoon period” of people uniting to help each other in the immediate aftermath is over, long-term psychological trauma is setting in. “We are starting to see more cases of suicide, depression, alcoholism, gambling and domestic violence across the area,” says the psychologist. The young are not immune either. In late 2012, Fukushima’s children topped Japan’s obesity rankings for the first time due to apparent comfort eating and inordinate amounts of time spent indoors avoiding contamination. “From the point of view of mental health, this is a very critical time,” says Kubota.
A Tokyo maternity hospital advised a new mother not to let her Fukushima-based parents visit their new grandchild, “just to be safe”. Prejudice against women is the most pervasive: many negative comments in the media and on websites insinuate that Fukushima women are “damaged goods”. Even some people who are supposedly on the side of radiation victims are prepared to throw them on the reproductive scrap heap.
Last year, prominent anti-nuclear activist Hobun Ikeya, the head of the Ecosystem Conservation Society of Japan, said at a public meeting: “People from Fukushima should not marry because the deformity rate of their babies will skyrocket.”
Read more at After Fukushima: families on the edge of meltdown