Fukushima Residents Suffer Discrimination At Refugee Shelters
Japanese residents who fled the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are being rejected by shelters and evacuation centres for fear they may be radioactive and contaminate others. These displaced people-”nuclear refugees” had to leave their homes, their farms, their animals, because of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant number 1 now will require an official certificate proving they are not contaminated in order to have shelters accept them, as they are expected to accommodate all the homeless.
Radiation Fears and Distrust Push Thousands From Homes
Many are already traumatized by the tsunami that swept away entire towns in northern Japan, leaving more than 15,000 dead or missing. They tell tales of gruelling journeys, of post-disaster shortages, of scrounging for gasoline, and arriving with only the clothes on their backs.
They are driven not just by suspicion of the government but also by a deep fear of radiation, in a nation where the word conjures images of the atomic devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As they flee, they enter a life in limbo, camped out on gym floors with hundreds of others, uncertain when or if they will ever be able to return to their homes.
Each shelter set-up to accommodate the displaced “nuclear refugees” around Fukushima Prefecture, where the plants are, unlike the areas further North ravaged by the tsunami, is equipped with radiation detection equipment at its entrance and serves as an entry checkpoint for people. These are staffed with health officials in plastic body suits and masks who scan new arrivals with Geiger counters to check for radiation.
Scanning For Radiation At A Temporary Scanning Centre For Residents Living In Fukushima Prefecture, Japan
Japanese experts have stated that Fukushima evacuees are not a threat to others. Kosuke Yamagishi of the medical department of the prefecture of Fukushima stated that ordinary people from the area are not dangerous unless they are employees of the Daiichi plant.
Ichiro Yamaguchi, head of the Testing Station in Yamagata also confirmed regular evacuees are registering only low-levels of radiation. But the people are fearful, and it is this fear that is leading to discrimination against Fukushima residents.
An eight-year old child who lived 20 kms. from the nuclear site was refused entry into a Fukushima hospital and their appointment at the hospital had been cancelled as she had no non-radioactivity certification; her shocked father told Japan’s Mainichi newspaper.
However, officials at evacuation centres are sticking to their guns:
Tens of thousands have been forced to leave an area of a 20-km radius around the Fukushima Daiichi plant or being confined to their homes in an are of 10 kms further. “How can you stay at home if you have to go out to get drinking water?” asked Kumiko Kowata, 45, a homemaker, after the earthquake knocked out water supplies to her home. The exodus has also been spurred by private companies in towns near the plants who chartered buses to help their employees and families flee to the shelter in Yamagata, even as the government has played down the effects. Many believe that the situation at the plants was twice as bad as authorities and the government were admitting. “We might be overreacting, but we also know Tokyo Electric” — the plants’ operator — “is not telling us everything,” says Hitoshi Suzuki, a 34-year-old construction worker.
Munehiro Okamoto, 36, who works for a drug making company, led a convoy of four cars and 15 people, and one golden retriever, to Yamagata from Namei, a town right by the Fukushima Daiichi plant. He described a situation in which the parents feared that their children would get radiation sickness. He said the group would reach a city, stop, then fear that it was not far enough, and resume their journey westward. “We didn’t want to keep panicking and moving on and then stopping again,” he said.
Prime Minister adviser Kenichi Matsumoto, told the press that the region surrounding the Fukushima central plant could be uninhabitable for 10 or 20 years+. But if Fukushima Daiichi becomes another Three-Mile Island or Chernobyl then they may never go back. In the meantime, people are furious at being refused shelter and medical services on the assumption that they are contaminated.