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From Minamata to Fukushima — The Japanese Nuclear Crisis Isn’t Over Yet

From Minamata to Fukushima — The Japanese Nuclear Crisis Isn’t Over Yet

Posted: 11/14/11 08:34 AM ET

For me, the saddest stories are about needless human suffering, suffering caused by greed, hate, or more maddeningly, the inability of responsible people to act responsively. Minamata is that kind of story, encapsulated in a single and truly iconic photograph, by W. Eugene Smith. You might remember it as well, a picture of a young woman deformed as a result of industrial mercury poisoning, being bathed by her mother, who regards her with beatific and transcending love.

For those too young to remember, a Japanese factory polluted the Bay of Minamata, which caused illness, death and deformity in a nearby fishing village. This continued for more than thirty years, while the cause was covered up by both the factory owners and local officials. Smith’s photographs, which appeared in Life Magazine in the early 1970′s, finally brought change. He had gone to Minamata to live for two years with his Japanese wife, and while he was there company thugs attacked him, permanently damaging the vision in one of his eyes. The very worst thing was that even though Tomoko Uemura’s photograph brought relief, change and compensation to other victims, her family was ostracized and her father later regretted that he had allowed Smith to take the photo. She died in 1977, at the age of 21.

I have been thinking about Minamata, because something similar is happening in Japan today. We all know that radiation sickness is a slow-motion phenomenon, but in the aftermath of the 3/11 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disasters, we have lost interest in what is happening on the ground in Japan. We mustn’t–the world community must stay involved.

Continue reading at From Minamata to Fukushima — The Japanese Nuclear Crisis Isn’t Over Yet

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