Firsthand accounts from Fukushima survivors and others afflicted by the nuclear sector
From Nos Voisins Lontains 3.11 (Our Faraway Neighbors 3.11)
Where are the voices of nuclear victims? It is becoming increasingly difficult to hear them. In denial of the harmful consequences of atomic plants, there is an attempt, for example, to downplay and minimize the damage caused by nuclear accidents and more generally the nuclear risk, limiting it merely to the number of deaths.
But there is a far wider web of suffering, especially because nuclear power accidents often do not cause instant, headline-grabbing deaths, but later ones, after a long latency period. This makes them harder to quantify and more easily dismissed.
In the context of the revival of nuclear power in France and Japan, it seems important to return to the field and listen to the voices of the victims. To that end, Nos Voisins Lontains 3.11 has created a new YouTube Channel — Voix des victimes du nucléaire (Voices of the nuclear victims).
In this series, the NGO Nos Voisins Lointains 3.11 (Our Faraway Neighbours 3.11) proposes to broadcast their voices with English subtitles. We are not presenting only the voices of the Fukushima nuclear accident victims, but also more widely the words of the victims of all nuclear uses, military or civil.
We hope that the courage and perseverance of these people will allow the warning voices of so many Cassandras to be heard far and wide, piercing the curse of the powerful nuclear industry and the political powers that support it.
The first video message is from Akiko Morimatsu. You can watch her testimony below. The transcript of her remarks follows.
My name is Akiko MORIMATSU.
The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 was followed by the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. What happened to us, the residents of Fukushima? What damage did the people living near the plant suffer? I would like to tell you about it in a concrete way.
On March 11, 2011, I was living in Koriyama, a town in Fukushima Prefecture, located about 60 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. There were four of us. Me, my husband and two children. A 5-month-old girl and a 3-year-old boy.
First of all, I would like to tell you that when a nuclear accident occurs, regardless of our age or sex, whether we are for or against nuclear power, we are all confronted with the problem of exposure to radioactivity. Radiation is invisible and colourless. There is no pain or tingling on the skin. And there is the issue of low-dose radiation exposure. At a great distance, you are exposed to low doses of radiation. Besides the fact that radiation cannot be perceived by the senses, people do not die instantly.
In this context, we, living 60km from the plant, lost our home in the Great Earthquake, and then after this natural disaster, we suffered a man-made disaster: the nuclear accident.
Of course, we did not hear the explosions at the nuclear power plant, nor did we see the damaged plant buildings directly. We only learned about the accident through the news on TV. Apart from that, there was no way to know that an accident with explosions took place. There was no way of knowing the exact situation of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, nor how much radiation we would be exposed to. We didn’t know how much radiation we had to endure, because neither the state authorities nor the operator TEPCO provided accurate information. We, the people living near the plant, had to make many decisions in this ignorance.
I’m going to tell you about the most difficult thing I have had to do in the last 12 years since the accident. After the explosions at the nuclear power plant, we were well aware of the explosions… But we, who were 60 km away from the plant, were not evacuated by force. Apart from the evacuation order, there was also a confinement order. Gradually, within a radius of 2 km, then 3 km around the nuclear power plant, the population was forcibly evacuated. The circular mandatory evacuation zone gradually expanded. And from 20 to 30 km from the power plant, there was the order to stay indoors. That was the order given by the government. But we, 60 km away, did not receive the confinement order. We were not evacuated either. We were left on our own without any protection.
In this situation, I learned from the TV that the tap water, the drinking water, was contaminated. The first information I got was about the tap water in Kanamachi in Tokyo. They had found radioactive substances in the water. It was on a television program.
The Kanamachi water treatment plant was 200 km from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. We were only 60 km from the plant. Within the 200 km radius, the radioactivity increased, and with the rain radioactive substances contaminated the drinking water. Since the tap water at 200 km from the plant was contaminated, the water at 60 km had to be contaminated without any doubt. So, we learned about the radioactive contamination of our drinking water from the TV news.
Up to that point, it was known that radioactive material had been dispersed, but at 60km, there were no orders to evacuate or to stay indoors. There were repeated statements from the Prime Minister’s Office that there would be no immediate impact on health. The issue of exposure was indeed on our minds. But when I found out that the water in Tokyo was contaminated, and that the water in Fukushima was also contaminated, I realised that I was unknowingly drinking radioactive water. But even after learning this fact, I had to continue drinking the water. And so did my two children, aged 5 months and 3 years. My 5-month-old daughter was clinging to life through breast milk from a mother who was drinking contaminated water.
We also heard on the news that there had been a huge radioactive fallout in and around Fukushima, that shipments of leafy vegetables had been suspended, that farmers were going to lose their livelihoods, and that there had been suicides of desperate farmers. They had lost all hope in the future of their profession. All this we heard on TV.
So, we learned that there really was radioactive contamination. I learned that the farmers had milked the cows, but since shipping was no longer possible, they had to dump the milk in the fields.
As a nursing mother in Fukushima, I thought that we were also mammals like the cows. We humans were also exposed to high doses of radioactivity in the air, and we had to drink tap water, knowing that it was polluted.
I heard about the biological concentration. Milk was even more radioactive than water. That’s why the milk had to be thrown away. Yet I was drinking radioactive water, I was breastfeeding my 5-month-old daughter, and my milk concentrated the radioactivity.
I didn’t want to be exposed to radiation myself, and of course I didn’t want my five-month-old child to be exposed to radiation. But we were totally denied the right to choose to refuse exposure. Above all, a baby can’t say she doesn’t want to drink breast milk because it is contaminated. My three-year-old son brought me a glass when he was thirsty, saying “mummy, give me a glass of water”. Knowing that the tap water was contaminated, I was obliged to give him this water.
This is my experience.
The will to avoid exposure, the right to avoid exposure, are fundamental rights to protect life. Their violation is the most serious of all the damages caused by the nuclear accident. I think this issue should be at the heart of the nuclear debate.
I am not the only one who gave poisoned water to our children. Many people living in the area affected by the nuclear disaster had the same experience.
In order to avoid repeating these experiences and to improve the radioprotection policy, I would like you all to think together about the real damage caused by a nuclear accident, starting with whether you can drink radio-contaminated water. I think that this would naturally lead to a certain conclusion.
The most serious damage I suffered from the nuclear accident was that I was subjected to radiation exposure that was not chosen and was avoidable.
This is the most serious damage to which I would strongly like to draw your attention.
Headline photo of Akiko Morimatsu and her son in Geneva at the UN courtesy of Nos Voisins Lontains 3.11.
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