Thursday March 09, 2017

Fukushima: 6 years after Japan's worst nuclear disaster

Nature takes over homes and businesses inside the radiation contamination  exclusion zone close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Feb. 22, 2016, in Namie, Fukushima, Japan.

Nature takes over homes and businesses inside the radiation contamination exclusion zone close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Feb. 22, 2016, in Namie, Fukushima, Japan. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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It was nearly six years ago, March 11, 2011, when a massive earthquake rocked Japan. The 9.0 magnitude quake was the most powerful ever recorded in that country — the fourth largest ever in the world

And the quake triggered a massive tsunami across Fukushima prefecture — home of the Daiichi nuclear power plant. 

CBC Radio's White Coat Black Art host, Dr. Brian Goldman just returned from Fukushima where he spoke with residents to find out what life has been like in the years after the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown.

He tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti that life has come back to normal, unless you are in the exclusion zone. 

In some places, houses and businesses are abandoned.

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A lone tree sits on the tsunami scarred landscape, inside the exclusion zone, close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. ( Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

"I saw many dump sites containing bags upon bags of contaminated soil, and dark green bags and then green tarps over them," Goldman explains.

In Naraha, 20 km from the power plant, there is no timetable to remove the waste.

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Dump site near Naraha with bags of radiation contaminated soil. There are many such sites in the region. (Dr. Brian Goldman/CBC)

Goldman was quick to notice radiation meters everywhere — large cylindrical, electronic meters with a digital reading at the top.

"The very presence of radiation meters tells you that they're concerned about it, and it's a constant visual reminder," Goldman remarks.

While radiation levels appeared to be low, Goldman warns "radiation is invisible."

When it comes to residual health effects in the region, local health-care workers on the ground tell Goldman they've seen increased rates of heart disease, stress, mental health issues.

Mio Takano - Fukishima

Mio Takano stands beside a radiation meter located beside the Takano Hospital in Hirono, 22 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. (Dr. Brian Goldman/CBC)

"It's hard to say whether it's due to the disaster, the evacuation or the economic impact," Goldman says.

He points out that authorities in the region have been dealing with a significant increase in reported rates of certain kinds of cancer.

Ryoji Okoshi, a 70-year-old retired journalist who is also a farmer from an area about 70 kms away from Fukushima nuclear plant, was never ordered or advised to evacuate. So Ryoji carried on with life, growing his own food and living off the land that he has sustained for much of his life.

He had no reason to feel he was in danger.

But then at a regular medical exam in 2014, a physician at the Fukushima Collaborative Clinic was concerned about radiation and decided to include thyroid tests.

"So, I had it done, and a 10-mm nodule was found." Ryoji tells Goldman he was evenutally diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

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Ryoji Okoshi was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that he believes was caused by radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. (Dr. Brian Goldman/CBC)

According to Canadian Cancer Society figures, this year, 6,800 Canadians will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and 210 will die of it, Goldman tells Tremonti. He adds that radiation exposure can lead to thryoid cancer.  

Ryjoji feels let down from authorities he believed were protecting him and his family

"What troubled me was that during construction of the power plant, there were numerous oversights — putting the auxiliary power supply seaward, installing machines imported from the U.S. as is. This was utter nonsense," he tells Goldman

"So why on earth was the nuclear power plant built on the sea coast in this day and age of technical advancements? And based on a prediction that a tsunami would not exceed 10 metres?" Ryoji asks.

"This truly ignored the human factor. This is unacceptable."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Josh Bloch, with help from freelance journalist Chie Matsumoto in Japan.