A Lesson from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident via Japan Focus

This Fukushima experience demonstrates that no evacuation plan could prepare a community for a major nuclear power accident like this or the one that occurred at Chernobyl. Evacuation drills will never ensure order when a nuclear accident causes mass panic, brought about in part because we cannot see, smell or touch radiation. Fear leads to confusion, disorientation and inevitably irrational behavior.

Between March 1 and December 31 last year, 21,000 people died in Fukushima Prefecture. This was 9,000 more than in the previous year. Official reports put the number of deaths due to the earthquake and tsunami at 3,400. The remaining 6,600 deaths resulted from the devastating effects of the aftermath of the earthquake and the nuclear power accident. Many people committed suicide, like the 64-year-old farmer, who had produced organic cabbages for more than 30 years in Sugagawa, 70 km away. He took his life on March 24.

Prior to the disaster, Fukushima Prefecture had 150,000 hectares of rice and vegetable fields and 80,000 farming households. As the seventh largest agricultural prefecture in Japan, 40 per cent of its production was rice, with fruits such as peaches, pears and cherries making up the remainder. The area was also known for good quality fish, like bonito and saury, as well as dairy farms and mushroom forests in the mountains. The nuclear explosion subjected the entire region, as well as areas far beyond, to radiation levels equivalent to 20 times that inflicted on Hiroshima by the atomic bomb. Radiation continues to permeate the surrounds. The damage to the agricultural and fishery industries is beyond speculation. In addition to the initial destruction, “hot spots” – places contaminated with high levels of radiation, such as the village of Iidate – outside the 20km zone continue to cause great concern. It is most unlikely that those who lived within the 20km zone or in these hot-spot areas will ever be able to return to their homes and resume their interrupted lives.

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