Beyond Nuclear International

The 3/11 kitten that wasn’t

The “forbidden life” of those caring for abandoned animals in Fukushima

By Linda Pentz Gunter

For a while, it was an iconic photo of the March 11, 2011 triple disaster in Japan. The bedraggled, mud-soaked kitten clinging to a boot, practically begging to be rescued. The picture was everywhere on the internet. Had the kitten been caught in the tsunami? Was it a victim of the earthquake? Or was it one of the many abandoned animals left behind when more than 160,000 people fled the radioactivity released by the deadly Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster?

Simple internet searches yielded no apparent source for the photo. It fell into an unspoken rights-free virtual world where many of us used it to exemplify the desperation of Japan’s triple tragedy.

And then it turned out that the kitten wasn’t in Japan at all. Thanks to some shoe-leather sleuthing by a site called, we learned that the picture was actually taken during flooding in Hoi An, Vietnam. (And no, the boot man didn’t take the kitten with him, but his explanation can be found here.)

Of course countless animals like this kitten were indeed abandoned in Japan due to the natural disasters and the forced exile of those living too close to the stricken nuclear plant. Some international rescue groups did go in to try to help, but early on found conditions and access restrictions challenging if not prohibitive.

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Atomic Homefront

Update: Atomic Homefront is now available to book for screenings and educational use. Please find information on the Women Make Movies website.

New film, and a wealth of reporting, reveal a US community living with radioactive waste in their homes

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Compelling people stories is what we look for here at Beyond Nuclear International, and that is exactly what Atomic Homefront, the new documentary from Rebecca Cammisa, delivers. There is a lot of crying in Atomic Homefront, and with good reason. But these are tears of outrage as well as sorrow and loss. At the center of the film lies the undeniable yet shocking revelation: people in the USA are living with dangerous levels of radioactive waste in their homes. The company responsible, and even the federal government knew. And they did nothing. Worse, they rebuffed and rejected efforts by residents to get at the truth and force cleanup and reparation.

The radiation in question is not radon — a known phenomenon in homes that is usually tested for. It’s about the oldest radioactive waste from the Atomic Age. And it’s about deceit and denial. As one audience member at a public meeting shown in the film says: “I’ve been here ten minutes and I heard about it for two days and this is nuts!” The film’s viewing audience is likewise shocked, but, as a fellow meeting participant reposts wearily, “welcome to the party, pal.”

That moment comes in the midst of an already several years-long struggle by residents — mostly women — who decided to take on the environmental disaster that is the widespread radioactive contamination in their greater St. Louis communities. The radioactive waste got there because, during the Cold War, a St. Louis-based firm, Mallinckrodt, processed uranium from the Belgian Congo as part of the Manhattan Project. The radioactive waste they produced was illegally dumped in what was then surrounding countryside and at the West Lake Landfill, currently owned by a company called Republic Services.

But radioactive waste does not stay put, and countryside does not remain undeveloped. The radioactive waste seeped into creeks, and spread into parks and even homes. Alarmingly, there is now a creeping underground fire at the West Lake Landfill that threatens the nuclear waste dumped there as well.

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The Great Train Photo Robbery

Despite one newspaper’s effort, Japan can’t make its radioactive waste “disappear.”

From information provided by Kurumi Sugita, Jon Goman, and Fukushima 311 Voices.

After the disastrous events of the March 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear meltdown in Japan, France-based Kurumi Sugita, a retired Japanese social anthropologist, and her American partner, Jon Goman, started a website for the French citizens group, Nos Voisins Lontains, 311 (Our Far Away Neighbors 311.) At first published only in French, it is now also published in English and Japanese at Fukushima 311 Voices.

In a particularly revelatory article last October, the pair highlighted the extent to which efforts to “normalize” the devastating consequences of the nuclear disaster are pervasive in Japan.


Tomioka train station when it was still closed due to high radiation levels

They detailed how the Mainichi Shimbun ran a story about the reopening of a stretch of railway line that had been closed since the Fukushima accident. The photo that accompanied the piece showed a train in the background. But the foreground of the picture was dominated by row after row of black trash bags filled with radioactive waste.   (Shown in headline photo at the top of the article.)

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Stark health findings for Fukushima monkeys

A shocking update

March 16, 2018

In a documentary by NHK — Radioactive Forest — scientists reveal their shocking findings about the fate of wildlife around Fukushima. While the NHK commentary is highly conservative, the content of the film speaks for itself. Towards the end, we learn of a study by Dr. Manabu Fukumoto of Macaque moneys, begun in 2013. Fukumoto found that the bone marrows of monkeys living in the radioactively contaminated Fukushima zone are producing almost no blood cells. Instead, the bone marrow has turned almost entirely into white-looking fat.

Bone marrow comparison

At left, bone marrow of a macaque living in Fukushima zone. At right, normal macaque bone marrow. (Radioactive Forest, NHK.)

This phenomenon was directly correlated to higher levels of cesium in muscle. Fukumoto found a “disturbing” measurement of 13,000 becquerels per kilogram in monkey thigh muscle, extremely high. This has ominous implications for leukemias in monkeys — and later also humans — given the Macaque DNA is only separated from ours by 7%.

By Cindy Folkers

Seven years after the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster began, forcing evacuations of at least 160,000 people, research has uncovered significant health impacts affecting monkeys living in the area and exposed to the radiological contamination of their habitat.

Shin-ichi Hayama, a wild animal veterinarian, has been studying the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), or snow monkey, since before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Now, his research has shown that monkeys in Fukushima have significantly low white and red blood cell counts as well as a reduced growth rate for body weight and smaller head sizes.

Hayama, who began his macaque research in 2008, had access to monkeys culled by Fukushima City as a crop protection measure. He continued his work after the Fukushima nuclear explosions. As a result, he is uniquely positioned to discover how low, chronic radiation exposure can affect generations of monkeys.


Japanese Macaque monkeys share close DNA with humans

The macaque is an old world monkey native to Japan, living in the coldest climates of all of the non-human primates. Like humans, macaques enjoy a good soak in the mountain hot springs in the region. It is even said that they have developed a “hot tub culture” and enjoy time at the pools to get warm during winter.

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Firefighters’ remorse

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Remorse (Munen in Japanese) is a short animated film directed by Hidenobu Fukumoto (whose pen name is Ikumasa Teppei), an illustrator from Hiroshima Prefecture. It tells the story of volunteer firefighters and the townspeople of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture during the time of the triple March 11, 2011 disasters when an earthquake and tsunami were followed by explosions and then meltdowns at the 4-unit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

When the earthquake and tsunami struck, the firefighters at first went about their traditional task of search and rescue. But these efforts were tragically curtailed by the dangerous levels of radiation released by the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Once they too had to evacuate, those trapped by the earthquake and tsunami in areas of high radiation had to be abandoned.

“Remorse” shows how many firefighters continue to feel haunted by “the feelings of the people who died under the debris believing that help would arrive.”

The film also brings home how nuclear power, in the time of a crisis, simply adds to the danger and impedes rescue.

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Japanese Mother Speaks Out

Warns that Fukushima nuclear disaster is far from over

By Linda Pentz Gunter (with special thanks to Kurumi Sugita)

Yoko Shimozawa is a young Japanese mother who evacuated from Tokyo three years after the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, due to concerns for her young daughter’s health.

Despite a massive campaign of information suppression in Japan, Ms. Shimozawa decided to take to the streets to sound the warning against efforts to downplay and effectively “normalize” radiation exposure in Japan. The text below is an excerpt in English of what she had to say. The video of her speech is viewable on Facebook — she begins speaking in English 38 seconds in.

Mais protesting

“I am standing here to tell you that the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe is not over.

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