Three years after the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, high radiation levels still prevent some 160,000 Japanese from returning to their homes in a contaminated area of 30,000 square kilometers.
On March 11, 2011 the region of Fukushima was hit by the worst nuclear accident after Chernobyl, following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami, resulting in the meltdown of three reactors and damage to the nuclear plant. In early October 2014, Green Cross Switzerland organized an educational trip to Japan offering an insight into the area of radioactive contamination around Fukushima.
Members of parliament and government representatives from Brazil, Great Britain, Canada and Switzerland, as well as media representatives from these countries got a first-hand look at the impact of the nuclear disaster on the country, the people and the energy policies. The group also visited the evacuated city of Tomioka, which is divided into three different restricted zones, and met with the local population who has initiated and established family clubs to improve social conditions in the Fukushima Prefecture thanks to the assistance of Green Cross.
The reconstruction time after natural catastrophes is normally much shorter than after nuclear accidents. It took some five years after the devastating 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean to rebuild the most of the infrastructure. When nuclear accidents or other manmade disasters occur where vast areas are contaminated, it is difficult to reestablish normal living conditions. In Chernobyl, nearly 30 years after the catastrophe, 10 million people still suffer from various physical and psychological health effects. Since the nuclear accident in Fukushima, eight percent of the land in Japan has been radioactively contaminated. Some 160,000 people had to be evacuated from the contaminated area of around 30,000 square kilometers. And as the catastrophe has not been resolved yet with the nuclear power plant still leaking radioactivity, even three years later it is impossible to estimate the full dimension of this disaster and all the consequences for the population and the environment.
After returning from the visit, Paul Walker, Director of the Environmental Security and Sustainability Programme at Green Cross International, commented: “I was particularly struck during our recent Green Cross study tour to Japan and Fukushima by the ongoing socio-economic impact which the nuclear disaster has caused. Over eight percent of Japan’s territory has now been impacted by the March 2011 catastrophe. With radiation levels still dangerously high, it will take a long time, possibly centuries before people can re-enter the contaminated zones and return to their home towns.”
Marie-Laure Vercambre, Director of the Water for Life and Peace Programme at Green Cross International also participated in the visit. She said: “The discussions we had with the local people sadly confirmed the numerous facets of the consequences of a nuclear plant accident. The social, environmental, economic and psychological impact is huge and will last. Anyone trying to form an opinion on nuclear energy should take these risks and impacts into account.”
To assist the population living in the contaminated areas, Green Cross, through its Social and Medical Care Programme directed by Maria Vitagliano, draws from the experience gained in working with the victims of the Chernobyl disaster in order to help the local population and alleviate the consequences of nuclear contamination. Since 2011 Green Cross Japan and Green Cross Switzerland have jointly organized summer camps away from the contaminated zones and arranged family clubs for children and adolescents from the affected regions.
These activities have been offered to children, adolescents and mothers from the Fukushima Prefecture. In the wake of the nuclear disaster, emergency accommodations were set up in these two cities to house a large part of the people evacuated from the heavily contaminated areas of Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka. Summer camps in an uncontaminated, healthful environment in Japan offer children and adolescents the opportunity to spend carefree time with other kids, playing sports and games and enjoying the outdoors. The camps also cultivate solidarity among the children and help them heal physically and mentally. Three summer camps for youngsters aged 12 to 19 have already been arranged since 2011. The family clubs allow to share information and knowledge about how to deal with exposure to radiation and to stimulate contact between the victims to prevent families from falling into isolation.
Green Cross Switzerland – as part of the network of Green Cross International – continues to provide urgently needed medical, social and technical assistance in areas where severe nuclear accidents have occurred previously (Chernobyl, Mayak, Fukushima, uranium mines in Central Asia). With its project experience and expertise in this field, the organization is well equipped to offer politically viable technical solutions to dismantle shutdown nuclear plants and provide support and advice for the transport of nuclear materials and the storage of radioactive waste, while keeping people and the environment safe.
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For further information about the study trip to Fukushima, please contact:
Green Cross Switzerland
Phone: +41 43 499 13 10
Mobile: +41 79 620 18 14