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Fukushima: An Ongoing Warning to the World

By Amy Goodman

TOKYO—“I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world,” wrote the journalist Wilfred Burchett from Hiroshima. His story, headlined, “The Atomic Plague” appeared in the London Daily Express on Sept. 5, 1945. Burchett violated the U.S. military blockade of Hiroshima, and was the first Western journalist to visit that devastated city. He wrote: “Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”

Jump ahead 66 years, to March 11, 2011, and 600 miles north, to Fukushima and the Great East Japan Earthquake, which caused the tsunami. As we now know, the initial onslaught that left 19,000 people dead or missing was just the beginning. What began as a natural disaster quickly cascaded into a man-made one, as system after system failed at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three of the six reactors suffered meltdowns, releasing deadly radiation into the atmosphere and the ocean.

Three years later, Japan is still reeling from the impact of the disaster. More than 340,000 people became nuclear refugees, forced to abandon their homes and their livelihoods. Filmmaker Atsushi Funahashi directed the documentary “Nuclear Nation: The Fukushima Refugees Story.” In it, he follows refugees from the town of Futaba, where the Fukushima Daiichi plant is based, in the first year after the disaster. The government relocated them to an abandoned school near Tokyo, where they live in cramped, shared common areas, many families to a room, and are provided three box lunches per day. I asked Funahashi what prospects these 1,400 people had. “There’s none, pretty much. The only thing the government is saying is that [for] at least six years from the accident, you cannot go back to your own town,” he told me.
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