A few hours after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi began to leak radiation into the environment reportedly first from the Unit 1 reactor shortly after 17:00 when radioactive steam was released from the primary circuit into the secondary containment area to reduce mounting pressure. Radioactive material has been released from the Fukushima containment vessels as the result of deliberate venting to reduce gaseous pressure, deliberate discharge of coolant water into the sea, and accidental or uncontrolled events.
Japan rapidly approaches the anniversary of the March 11 disaster, the nuclear power industry, which just over a year ago supplied a third of its power, is virtually in paralysis. The Japanese government has been unable to control the spread of radioactive material into the nation’s food, water, and materials. Radioactive material has been detected in a range of produce, including spinach, tea leaves, milk, fish and beef, up to 200 miles from the nuclear plant. Inside the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant, all farming has been abandoned.
This week, Japanese officials have confirmed that some areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant like the town of Futaba, to the northwest of the plant that was wrecked last year by a massive tsunami will likely remain permanently off-limits.
A final report by the environment ministry, expected in the coming weeks, is expected to declare as permanently off-limits to human habitation any area with contamination of more than 50 millisieverts per year. This in contrast to the Japanese governments stance in August 2011, when they believed that it might take “more than 20 years before residents could safely return to areas with current radiation readings of 200 millisieverts per year, and a decade for areas at 100 millisieverts per year”.
A survey in Iitate has also shown that the local citizens not only face the worry of health effects from the disaster, but also the desperate loneliness of living in separate locations, one-third of all surveyed families live apart from their children, while 50.1 percent live away from other family members (including elderly parents) with whom they lived before the disaster.
Iitate was designated by the government as an emergency evacuation preparation zone on April 22, 2011, approximately a month and a half after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
“Stress is causing disputes among many evacuated residents,” Iitate Mayor Norio Kanno told the Mainichi in a recent interview. “Depression and the collapse of families are increasing. There are conflicts between family members, people from different generations, and people who want to return and those who can’t go back,” Kanno said.
“Many residents feel that they have been forced to evacuate because of a man-made disaster, not a natural calamity,” says Kanno. “Before, when bad weather or other problems occurred, everyone was on the same boat — so people had the will to help each other. In the case of a natural disaster, people know that even if there are difficulties at the beginning, they can eventually start all over again even from scratch. However, when one is fighting against radiation pollution, starting a new life three, or even five years later is not easy. That is one of the characteristics of (the invisible damage caused by) radiation.”