When Minako Fujiwara tells the story of her dog which died last June, she still gets sad.
“Hair around the dog’s neck came off and its skin turned black,” the 56-year-old told DW. Similar symptoms were also detected in animals in Chernobyl following the nuclear catastrophe there in 1986. Fujiwara’s family had to leave the dog behind when they were ordered to leave the town of Namie, located nine kilometres (5.6 miles) north of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The pet probably died of high radiation.
Fujiwara has so far not experienced any health problems except for high blood pressure. But Shunji Sekine, a physician in Namie, believes the radiation will eventually have a negative impact on public health.
In his medical practice in the city of Nihonmatsu, where around 230 relocated families are situated in a settlement, Sekine has been examining the thyroid glands of Namie citizens on a daily basis ever since the nuclear incident three years ago.
“Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to the uptake in radioactive iodine in their thyroid,” the 71-year-old doctor told DW.
High number of cancer cases
“Although comprehensive studies are missing, I see a connection between nuclear accidents and the occurrence of cancer,” said the retired physician who specializes in thyroid and breast cancer, adding that there are simply too many cases.
According to official figures, 33 cancer cases have been identified in about a quarter of a million children and teenagers since the beginning of February.
This translates into 13 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants, a figure almost four times higher than the world average for all age groups. Nevertheless, the government of the Prefecture of Fukushima refuses to publish any relevant details about the prevalence of cancer. Information requests made by Sekine pertaining to previous cancer cases among children and the degree of contamination remain unanswered, with authorities citing data protection laws.
But Shunichi Yamashita, Japan’s top thyroid expert and health advisor to the prefectural government, plays down the issue. “We still need to conduct further investigations, and the time is not yet ripe for making any statement on this issue,” he said.
But the city of Namie does not want to wait for government support – and once again become victims of a state blackout. Only four days after the explosion of the nuclear reactor, orders were given to evacuate the town of Tsushima in the northwest. This led to the refugees being transported through the invisible radioactive cloud, resulting in even more exposure to contamination than if they had stayed at home. Officials in Tokyo knew this from their computer models. But they remained silent, as they feared a widespread panic.
This traumatic experience has led Namie to collect as much data as possible on the effects of radiation, says local health inspector Norio Konno. “We want to be able to properly monitor the physical condition of our residents,” he said. In case compensation claims were to be filed against plant operator Tepco, evidence is needed that will stand up in a court of law.
This is why Namie decided to provide a full-body scanner to the residents of the Nihonmatsu settlement. All people under 40 years of age can use the device once a year to measure the amount of cesium 134 and 137 in their bodies. By comparison, the Japanese state offers this service only once every two years. … ”