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Victims of Fukushima nuclear radiation, on both sides of the Pacific

Fukushima heroes on both sides of the Pacific still fighting effects of radiation, stress and guilt, Following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami of 2011, selfless Japanese workers battled nuclear-reactor meltdown, and thousands of US troops provided disaster relief. Today, many are counting the cost to their mental and physical health, SCMP, BY ROB GILHOOLY, 25 JAN 2018 Christmas Day saw dozens of masked men descend on Futaba, in the northeast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. They moved deliberately along deserted streets, clearing triffid-like undergrowth and preparing to demolish derelict buildings. Their arrival marked the beginning of an estimated four-year government-led project to clean up Futaba, which has succumbed to nature since its residents deserted almost seven years ago.

Futaba is one of two towns (the other being neighbouring Okuma) on which sits the 350-hectare Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which experienced multiple reactor meltdowns and explosions in March 2011, contaminating huge swathes of land and forcing the evacuation of 160,000 residents – all the result of the magnitude-nine undersea Tohoku earthquake and the devastating mega-tsunami that hit on March 11, claiming up to 21,000 lives.

Despite 96 per cent of Futaba still being officially designated as uninhabitable due to high radiation levels, the government has set spring 2022 as the return date for its 6,000 or so residents. That the government has also built a 1,600-hectare facility to store up to 22 million cubic metres of nuclear waste in the town has led to doubts that many will return.

I find it difficult to believe anyone would want to go back,” says Ryuta Idogawa, 33, a former employee at Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), and one of the so-called “Fukushima 50” – a hardcore of station workers who remained on-site after 750 others had been evacuated, battling to bring the melting reactors under control at great risk to their own safety.

“They say time heals,” Idogawa adds, “but that depends how deep the wounds are.”

On the other side of the world, members of a different and larger group of people than the Fukushima 50 are suffering health problems, ostensibly as a result of the disaster. For more than seven weeks following the catastrophe, the United States mounted a massive disaster relief mission, dubbed Operation Tomodachi (the Japanese word means “friend”). The initiative directly or indirectly involved 24,000 US service personnel, 189 aircraft and 24 naval ships, at a total cost US$90 million.

While the mission was lauded a success by the US and Japanese governments, during Operation Tomodachi, thousands of US sailors were inadvertently exposed to a plume of radiation that passed over their ships, which were anchored off the Pacific coast of Japan. Since then, several hundred have developed life-changing illnesses, such as degenerative diseases, tumours and leukaemia, and defects have been detected in foetuses of some pregnant women. All are a result, they claim, of being irradiated by the plume.

According to one report, 24 sailors, who were in their late teens or 20s at the time, are living with a variety of cancers. At least six have died since 2011, while others suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“Unlike the nuclear plant workers, these sailors had no protective clothing, in fact some of them literally had no shirts on their backs because they had given all their clothing away to people they saved from the tsunami waves,” says Charles Bonner, a lawyer at one of three law offices representing 402 sailors who have filed a US$5 billion lawsuit against Tepco and General Electric Co, a suit that has been given the go-ahead to be heard in a US federal court. (Fukushima Daiichi’s Reactor No. 1 – the plant’s oldest reactor – was built by American manufacturer General Electric Co.)

“And because they had given away all their bottled water to tsunami survivors, they were drinking desalinated water that also had been contaminated,” Bonner continues. “I do not doubt the psychological impact of the disasters on the plant workers, but at least they had masks and protective clothing, as required by law. The sailors, however, knew nothing of their exposure and were literally marinated in the radiation.”……….

lawyer Bonner says that while his team represents more than 400 sailors, there were a further 69,600 American citizens – military and civilian – potentially affected by the radiation, and who have yet to join the class lawsuit.

He also expresses indignation at the Royal Society study and the viewpoint of cancer expert Thomas, insisting that the health of the young US service men and women aboard the ships was endangered and in many cases compromised by Operation Tomodachi. “[The sailors] were certified by the Navy as healthy and fit, so why are they getting cancer and other illnesses?” he asks. “That can only be because they were exposed to radiation. It can’t just be a coincidence.”…….. http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/long-reads/article/2130359/fukushima-heroes-both-sides-pacific-still

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January 26, 2018 - Posted by | health, Japan, USA

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