Fukushima through the eyes of the victims

Child Evacuees of Fukushima Prefecture


Children of the Tsunami was broadcast on BBC2 on 1st March 2012, the programme allowed the children who had been affected by the Tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed, to tell the World how their lives had changed forever. The Tsunami that struck off the coast of Japan on March 11th 2011 just before the end of the schools day destroyed dozens of schools along a two hundred mile stretch of the coastline, all the schools except Okawa primary school were evacuated. Okawa primary school was located 2 miles inland (100 miles south of Fukushima Nuclear Power plant) near the Kitami River and out of all the schools was located furthest inland. In total 74 pupils and 9 teachers died leaving many, especially parents, asking why so many died there.

Naomi is one of these parents she spent 6 months searching for her daughter 12 years old Kohoru, whose headless body was discovered by fishermen. Following the discovery of her daughter’s body Naomi continues to search for the remaining 4 children and 1 teacher that remain unaccounted for.

Soma a boy of 10 told how he was one of seventeen children in his class and only four survived. Soma said “our school was by the river and behind it was a big hill, why didn’t the teachers take us up the hill where it was safe?” Fuka a girl of 10 talked about her best friend Manno she kept saying “it was her birthday” she goes onto say that she can’t understand why nature is so cruel and why it had to take Manno away.

Large numbers of the evacuees are now living in Minamasota close to the edge of the exclusion zone their lives have changed beyond all recognition, the psychological effects linked to the disaster are clear to see with many struggling to deal with the aftermath of the disaster and fear about the future is rife.

Mutsumi lives in emergency housing with her Mum and 2 younger sisters, her mother says Mutsumi is concerned about the future; she’s asked “will I be able to have babies or marry?” Mutsumi say’s “we have to have babies to carry on living” and Ioka who lives in the evacuation zone says her family’s terrified of what the future holds.

David MacNeill reports that although compensation is available for the victims of this disaster those who evacuated voluntarily to reduce their exposure to radiation are excluded from the scheme, however, a one off payment of $1,043 has been offered to some of these. For those that were relocated by TEPCO financial support was made in an initial payment of $13,045 with the promise of further compensation in the future, the application form for compensation was so long and complicated that many haven’t claimed what is rightfully theirs

The real injustice is the fact that nuclear power was allowed to be sold to these people as clean, safe, and the answer to their energy needs, and how the nuclear industry has built up a system where polluters make huge profits, yet when it all went wrong, the responsibility to deal with the aftermath was thrown on the people of the area (MacNeil 2012).

BBC2: The Children of the Tsunami 01/03/2012

MacNeil, D. 2012: The Fight For Compenstation: Tales From The Disaster Zone. In: Lessons From Fukushima. Greenpeace.org available on-line at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2012/Fukushima/Lessons-from-Fukushima.pdf accessed 09/03/2012

Image, Anonymous: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-T4MHllfFZF4/ThkuqEjxYqI/AAAAAAAAABU/XIR-YIH8Who/s640/Young+evacuees+from+Futaba-cho%252C+Fukushima+Prefecture%252C+Japan.jpeg

Are Race and Racism responsible for the Katrina Crisis?

 Hurricane Katrina developed over the Bahamas on the 23rd August 2005 creating a mild Category 1 hurricane, causing relative flooding. The storm developed into a Category 5 hurricane on August 29th, ripping through the U.S. Gulf Coast region and  destroyed the civilisation and infrastructure within the city of New Orleans. The hurricane accumulated a cost of $75 billion in damages (White et al., 2007). The Ninth Ward in particular, a 98% black populated area in New Orleans was one of the worst affected areas and unfortunately remains in the same state of devastation that Hurricane Katrina left it in, in August 2005.

Ninth Ward Destruction of Civilisation.

Prior to the hurricane, the city of New Orleans had a population of 480,000. 70% of this population were African American, and 30% of this population were living below the federal poverty line (Manning, 2006). Unfortunately due to low socio-economic characteristics of African-America citizens within New Orleans, many were unable to evacuate the city before the hurricane took place. Those who could not evacuate were told to take refuge in the Louisiana Superdome, yet the government did not expect the numbers to reach as high as 20,000 people.

Local citizens taking refuge in the Superdome.

The media displayed stories of murders, sexual assault, carjacking and terrorist shootings at rescue workers, carried out by African Americans within the Superdome (Manning, 2006). For carrying out these crimes the black citizens were not worthy of being saved, which could possibly describe the immediate inaction of the American government. The stories published encouraged the government to keep those in the Superdome captivated for as long as possible, preventing supplies and possible rescuers from entering the dome.  For days citizens were without adequate electricity, sanitation and food supplies (BBC News, 2005), with seven people dying due to the inability to cope with such conditions. The only bodies found were caused by either suicide or natural deaths (Solnit, 2009). Yet the government expected hundreds of murders, by the ‘so-called’ criminals. They even sent massive refrigerator trucks to collect the corpses.

Body being taken away from the Superdome by a refrigerated truck.

As a geographer, the concept of racism appears within many realms of society, and can be expressed through different scales. The accumulation of such racism can be manipulated and enforced substantially by the media, and the stories that they publish. The repercussions of the hurricane have increased expressions of global racism substantially, due to the climax of narrow-minded views and stories expressed about the Superdome refugees. BondGraham (2007) states that ‘Katrina was not a freak event’, it has been imminent for a long time. In fact the eradication of unfortunate neighbourhoods like the Ninth Ward has been an anticipated dream for many of New Orleans’ privileged communities. The event sparked the public expression of hatred of many white citizens against black citizens. In fact more recently, ‘Katrina’s Hidden Race War’ has been publicized. After the hurricane struck and people began to leave the city, there were 12 shooting cases that were carried out unprocessed by the police. White citizens aimed fire at black citizens, with the belief that the black citizens were looters. The shooters have been filmed admitting their criminality, and triumphant with their doings. The criminals have not yet been arrested for their offences even after the publication of their confessions. There seems to be no care or sympathy portrayed by the American police force.

The video below discusses this in more detail:


BBC News. (2005). Refugees tell tales of horror. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4207944.stm. Last accessed 04.03.12.

D, BondGraham. (2007). The New Orleans that race built: racism, disaster and urban spatial relationships. Souls: A critical journal of black politics, culture and society. 9 (1), 4-18.

Manning, M. (2006). Race, Class, and the Katrina Crisis. Working USA. 9 (2), 155-160.

Picture 1: Jewell Parkerr Hodes.  http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/books/ninth-ward/the-real-ninth-ward/. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 2: Marcelo Monte Cino Blog.  http://marcelomontecino.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 3: Ben Sklar Photography.  http://bensklar.photoshelter.com/image/I0000zdwpcGoru9A. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Solnit, R. (2009). Four years on, Katrina remains cursed by rumour, cliché, lies and racism. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/26/katrina-racism-us-media. Last accessed 03.03.12.

Video 1: Video Nation, Youtube. youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r1X_G7cWak. Last accessed on 06.03.12

White, I. et al. (2007). Feeling the pain of my people: Hurricane Katrina, Racial Inequality, and the Psyche of Black America. Journal of Black Studies. 37 (4), 523-538.

The Legacy of Fukushima


Source: Anonymous

So how have the Tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, affected the lives of people living in the area? The people of Fukushima prefecture have been affected by tragedy in many ways & not all of them are immediately obvious to the rest of us, not only have they had to deal with the loss of loved ones and their homes, they‘ve also had to deal with loss of jobs, community and a way of life that may never be the same again! Through our work as Geographers we can help others understand the devastating effects that events such as these are having, not only on the people in the immediate vicinity, but also how they affect the rest of the World, and ultimately that no matter who we are, we’re responsible for the future of our planet.

Problems facing the people of the region will be on-going for many generations, on top of health problems associated with exposure to radiation; victims are at risk of psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and schizophrenia (Lancet, 2011). Children living in the region have all been issued with dosimeters by Tokyo University as part of a study to establish the effects of long term exposure to radiation (BBC2, 2012), and although studies were carried out following Chernobyl the effects of low dose radiation especially in children remain undetermined (Akabayashi, 2011).

Approximately 80,000 people are still waiting to hear whether or not they’ll be allowed to return home, many of them feel this will never happen and feel that their lives are in limbo (BBC2, 2012). Kakuchi, 2011, claims people no longer trusted the Government or TEPCO (the company that ran Fukushima nuclear power plant) because they weren’t informed immediately when the power plant went into meltdown, exposing everyone to unnecessary health risks.

Locally grown food can no longer be used following contamination, and even food on local supermarket shelves has been contaminated (Kakuchi, 2011). Minori a child evacuee living in Minamosota on the edge of the exclusion zone,  20kms from Fukushima nuclear power plant, says her parents don’t buy anything that’s grown in Fukushima,  its contaminated, she says her parents want to move further away, however there aren’t any flats available just emergency housing (BBC2, 2012).

Others struggle to deal with devastating loses they have suffered as a result of this disaster and even children are exhibiting signs of psychological stress such as, Toshiyoki a four year old who hasn’t talked since the Tsunami took place, although he was a capable linguist before the event. (BBC2, 2012)

For these people life has changed forever; Japan had convinced them that nuclear power was safe (Kakuchi, 2011) and a clean alternative to fossil fuels (anonymous 28/03/2012) and as anonymous, 2012 stated “this should give the World pause for thought” what does the future hold? Should we rely on nuclear power to secure our energy needs for the future or are the risks just too great?

For details on the Tsunami and nuclear disaster see my earlier post entitled: The Human Cost of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Disaster

Akabayashi, A, 2011: Fukushima Research Needs World’s Support. Science, 333, pp. 696

Anonymous. 2012: Japan’s nuclear disaster: a long half-life. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/28/japan-nuclear-disaster-fukushima-editorial accessed 01/03/2012

BBC2. 01/03/2012: The children of the Tsunami

Kakuchi, S. 2011: Japanese mothers rise up against nuclear power. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/22/japanese-mothers-rise-nuclear-power accessed 01/03/2012

Image, Anonymous:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_children_get_to_play_outside_for_the_first_time_in_5_months.jpg#filelinks

The Human cost of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Source: Anonymous

At 2.46pm on March 11th 2011 an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck off the eastern coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami that according to Russia Today reached 23m in height, later estimates claimed the waves reached 15m. When the earthquake struck four nuclear power plants including Fukushima-Daiichi automatically shut down. Diesel backup generators that were supposed to kick in when power was lost didn’t survive the tsunami leaving the emergency batteries to run the plant, within eight hours these batteries had failed leaving the nuclear plant with no way of cooling itself (Biello. D, 2011) within three days the reactors were in meltdown and explosions began to destroy the reactor buildings (Greenpeace, 2011). By the 12/03/2011 Japan’s Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency had shut down another 11 nuclear plants for growing fears over safety (Russia Today).

Fukushima is located 160Km north of Japan, an exclusion zone of 20Kms was set up around the Fukushima plant, people were told to avoid drinking tap water and keep their mouths, noses and exposed skin covered whilst outside and wash thoroughly on returning home.  By the 15/03/2011 over 200,000 people had been evacuated from the area with 160,000 believed to have been exposed to high levels of radiation, only 600 remained in the area. (Russia Today)

Following a 4th blast on 15th March staff from the nuclear plant were evacuated, leaving behind just 50 individuals all over the age of 60 to continue with attempts to cool the reactors (This World: Inside the Meltdown: BBC 2, 23/2/2012)

The latest figures suggest that over 20,000 people died as a result of the disaster and 100,000 plus have had to leave their homes where many families have lived for numerous generations. Between the 26th and 30th March 2011 Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission screened 1080 children under 15, from the Japanese Fukushima prefecture (Migagi, Iwaite and Fukushima) for thyroid exposure to radiation and found 45% of these children tested positive. (Russia Today)

Radiation levels at their peak reached alarming levels, levels in seawater reached 4500 times’ normal levels, and on 5th April 2011 according to TEPCO (the company who ran Fukushima) levels of Iodine-131 (8 day half-life) (Argonne National Laboratory) was at 7.5 million times the legal limit and Cesium-137 (30.7 years half-life) (Centre for Disease control and prevention) was at 1.1 million times the legal limit. It is believed that it will be 20 – 30 years before residents will be allowed to return to their homes due to the length of time it’ll take radiation levels to drop to safe levels; on 10/05/2011 residents from 52 households were allowed to return home to collect personal belongings, many opted to collect items of sentimental value such as photographs. (Russia Today)

So what does the future hold for the people of Fukushima and surrounding areas? Although TEPCO were reported to be paying up to $12,000 to each of the 50,000 families that lived within the 30Km exclusion zone can this ever compensate them for their loss? Or, the future health problems they are likely to encounter? (Russia Today)

Biello. D,2011: Anatomy of a nuclear crisis: A chronology of Fukushima http://e360.yale.edu/feature/anatomy_of_a_nuclear_crisis_a_chronology_of_fukushima/2385/  accessed 23/02/12

Greenpeace 2011: Fukushima nuclear disaster timeline: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2012/Fukushima/Fact%20Sheets/Fukushima_Timeline.pdf accessed 23/02/12

BBC 2 2012: Inside the Meltdown: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cpd2m/This_World_Inside_the_Meltdown/http://rt.com/news/japan-tsunami-reconstruction-photos-111/ accessed 24/02/12

Argonne National Laboratory, EVS, Human Health Facts, 2005 http://www.evs.anl.gov/pub/doc/Iodine.pdf accessed 25/02/12

Centre for Disease control and prevention: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/isotopes/cesium.asp accessed 25/02/12


Anonymous, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_I_reactor_units_3_and_4_by_Digital_Globe.jpg?uselang=en-gb accessed 24/02/12

How the Costa Concordia has affected the Environment

As initial rescue attempts have come to a close, attention now focuses on the environment and its aftermath. On the 13th of January the 114,500 tonne Costa Concordia collided with rocks and submerged. The shipwreck has led to concerns over the environment and worry of oil polluting the oceans.

If fuel leaks from the Costa Concordia it could result in similar effects as the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Martijn Schuttevaer stated that ‘Smit’ a Dutch company has already started extracting oil from the cruise liner; however, people are unaware at how long the removal of the oil will take. Oil extraction has been delayed due to severe weather conditions and environmentalists fear it could take up to ten months. The fuel stored in the ship was extremely low quality and contained large amounts of tar. This has caused great fear to ecosystems and Tuscany coastlines.

Yearly, thousands of people take vacations on cruise ships visiting significant beauty spots around the globe. Close to the Costa Concordia shipwreck is Europe’s Largest Marine Sanctuary. The Island of Giglio is part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park. The National Park contains 56,800 hectors of protected sea and also a large area of land. Environmental correspondent Richard Black stated that if oil does seep out of the cruise ship then it could threaten one of Europe’s leading fish supplies which include tuna, barracudas and crabs. In addition an oil spill could affect lizards and birds located on the National Park. The protected area is also a major attraction for dolphins, whales and turtles.  There is no justice for the wildlife located in the National Park, if an oil spill happened then it would threaten habitats and cause species to diverse elsewhere.

Furthermore, there is great fear of the effects the Costa Concordia will cause to the sea bed when removed.  The shipwreck would have damaged the majority of ecosystems due to the lack of light entering the sea bed. Decreases in grass and plant life will result in declines of oxygen in the ocean causing many ecosystems to die. This is a great injustice for plants and animals that have been affected by the Costa Concordia. Due to the lack of voice of ecosystems it highlights their lack of rights leaving it to Environmentalists to heighten their say.

There is also great injustice for local Italians if an oil spill did occur.  Many local fishermen would lose out on trade due declines in cod, scampi and lobster. It could be questioned how local Italians would be repaid for their loss in income due to the Costa Concordia capsizing. The Italian Mayor Sergio Ortelli is greatly concerned that the shipwreck would cause a decrease in tourism which is a key to the areas gross domestic product.  Many tourists maybe put off from visiting due to the capsized ship destroying the natural beauty and cultural heritage. It is clear to see that many Italians living on the coastlines could be forced into unemployment due to loss of jobs in tourism.