Japan's radiation catastrophe was made in Australia

Discussion in 'Indo Pacific & East Asia' started by LETHALFORCE, Sep 16, 2012.

  1. LETHALFORCE

    LETHALFORCE Moderator Moderator

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    Japan's radiation catastrophe was made in Australia

    THE signs that things are not as they should be start gently enough: weeds appear in fields, the roadside vegetation covers signs and there are few people about. The country looks peaceful, green and sleepy - then the radiation monitor two seats away wakes up and starts clicking.
    I am on a bus heading along a narrow and winding road towards the Fukushima exclusion zone. The trip has been organised by a Japanese medical group and my fellow travellers are doctors, academics and radiation health specialists from around the world. They have come to see and hear the story behind the headlines and to bring their considerable expertise to support the continuing relief and response efforts.
    In March last year, the Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex was shattered by the earthquake and tsunami that tore through Japan's east coast. The world held its breath as images of emergency workers in radiation suits, bewildered and fearful locals, and grainy aerial footage of an increasingly vulnerable reactor dominated our screens and newspapers, and while the headlines might have faded, the radiation, dislocation and complexity has not.
    Fukushima means ''fortunate island'' but the region's luck melted down alongside the reactor.
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    Last September, a United Nations special report detailed some of the impacts: ''hundreds of billions of dollars of property damage'', ''serious radioactive contamination of water, agriculture, fisheries'' and ''grave stress and mental trauma''.
    To this day, about 150,000 people cannot return to their homes. Lives have been utterly disrupted and Fukushima remains a profound environmental and social tragedy.
    A grandmother who was moved away from the exclusion zone hosts us in her new home. The clusters of caravan-park style cabins are a long way from her former village life. Her eyes light up and her years drop down when she speaks of her three grandchildren and the three great-grandchildren due later this year. But then she is asked how often she sees them and the light fades. The interpreter stumbles, the room falls silent and we all look down and feel sad and strangely ashamed.
    A doctor at a nearby medical centre tells of how more than 6000 doctors, nurses and patients were relocated there from the adjacent exclusion zone. The hill behind is criss-crossed with red tape that marks the progress of decontamination work.
    When asked by a German doctor, the doctor confirms that while they now have iodine tablets in the hospital, they weren't equipped with them when the disaster struck. ''Then it was too late,'' she says. ''Yes,'' he confirms, ''then it was too late.''
    We visit a local organic farmer - one of the first in the area to have bravely returned to his land. Beside the farmer's house is a cedar tree that is 1200 years old. His ancestors had the honour of supplying rice to the Shogun feudal lords - now the rice from those same fields is radioactive. I sit by a pond in his rice paddy as he explains his hope that if the ducks eat enough worms and grubs they might remove the radiation from his soil. No one has the heart to contradict him.
    On deserted roads we pass skeletal abandoned greenhouses, increasingly wild fields, empty houses and rotting sheds. Long dormant vehicles have grass in the wheel arches and the landscape is dotted with recently removed contaminated soil wrapped like round hay bales in blue plastic. Traffic cones and stern signage to deter looting block the smaller side roads, and police and relocated residents share patrols to keep thieves away.
    But the biggest thief is invisible. Radiation has robbed this region of much of its past, present and future. Radiation hits hardest at growing cells and many parents are understandably concerned and have moved. The old remain and in the absence of the young their years show.
    The manager of the local store shows us sophisticated point-of-sale radiation monitoring equipment and warns us against eating wild mushrooms.
    A doctor speaks of the lack of community confidence in the official radiation data and declares that another nuclear accident would be ''the ruin of Japan'', and all the while the radiation monitor on the bus keeps clicking.
    And each click counts the decay of a piece of rock dug up in Australia. In October 2011, a formal Australian government statement confirmed ''that Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors''.
    Australian uranium fuelled Fukushima. Australian uranium is now radioactive fallout that is contaminating Japan and beyond and the response of the Australian government and the Australian uranium producers and their industry association has been profoundly and shamefully deficient.
    Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks of business as usual, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson talks of the ''unfortunate incident'' and the more bullish of the uranium miners have called the crisis a ''sideshow''. There can be no atomic business as usual in the shadow of Fukushima. The nuclear debate is live in Japan and now needs to come alive in Australia. We need a genuine assessment of the costs and consequences of our uranium trade. To fail to learn from this tragedy is deeply disrespectful and increases the chance of Australian uranium fuelling future Fukushimas.
    â– Dave Sweeney is nuclear-free campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.


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