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Social Fallout: Marginalization After the Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown via Japan Focus

Robert Jacobs
On March 1, 1954 a Japanese tuna trawler was at sea in the Marshall Islands. Quite unexpectedly grey ash began to fall like snow and covered the boat and crew. It was not snow; it was radioactive fallout from a nuclear test that had been conducted by the United States hours earlier 90 miles from the exclusion zone proclaimed by the US. This nuclear explosion, known as the Bravo Test, was the first detonation of a deliverable hydrogen bomb. The 15 megaton bomb, approximately 1,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, was the largest explosion in human history at the time. It would render several of the atolls that make up the Marshall Islands uninhabitable. March 1st is now called Nuclear Victims and Survivors Remembrance Day in the Marshall Islands. However, for the crew members of the trawler it was a mystery.

Two weeks later the trawler pulled into port in Yaizu in Northeast Japan. The crew members were all sick with radiation poisoning, whose symptoms included pain, nausea, dizziness, burns and diarrhea and one, radio operator Kuboyama Aikichi, died six months later. News of the incident spread around the world and the word “fallout” entered the public vocabulary. The boat was named the Daigo Fukuryū maru: the Lucky Dragon #5. The Japanese kanji character “fuku” means fortunate or lucky.1
The Japanese word fuku has recently returned to the newspapers of the world. This time it is in the name of the nuclear power plants that have melted down as a result of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. Fukushima, the prefecture in which the meltdown occurred, means “fortunate island.” In both of these instances it has come to carry a much darker connotation.

Tsunami waters engulf the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, March 11, 2011
As the world now knows, three nuclear power plants in Japan’s Northeast fully melted down and radiation then passed through their primary containment. Enormous amounts of radiation have entered into the environment—into the air, the sea, and the groundwater. This radiation is already having a devastating effect on the local ecosystem (link) and perhaps far beyond (link), and it will continue to impact all who dwell therein for decades to come. But there is a secondary impact, just as invisible as the radiation that the communities of Northern Japan will have to contend with: the social and cultural fallout of radiation exposure. Having studied the history of communities exposed to radiation in the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Micronesia for many years with Australian scholar Mick Broderick, it is easy to see some of the difficulties that lie ahead for survivors and evacuees from Fukushima.2

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