The Japanese government has lifted the evacuation order for a portion of Tamura, about 12 miles from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
This allows about several hundred residents to return home.
Fukushima Contamination Zones Repopulated Too Soon
Government officials plan to lift evacuation orders for six additional villages in July.
Surface soil, grass and plants that had been contaminated with airborne radiation from the Fukushima meltdown in March of 2011 have been removed, and exteriors of buildings have been hosed down. This is not enough.
Radiation Levels Still Dangerous
Radiation levels remain about ten times the normal background in the area. People returning to this area will be exposed to low-level radiation.
As someone exposed to low-level radiation as a child, I well know the health effects of this kind of exposure. I now deal with both autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto’s) and parathyroid disease caused by a childhood spent downwind of the Hanford nuclear facility.
People have trouble understanding the fact that even if the danger isn’t immediate, it is real. Anyone living more than 23 years exposed to the radiation levels currently in the city of Tamura (in Fukushima) will face a significant increase in cancer risk (as reported by the Japan Times, according to the World Health Organization). Twenty three years may seem like a long time, but even in this transient world, many of us stay in one community for decades. Experts are concerned that if returning residents drink contaminated water or eat vegetables and meat grown in the area, they will be subject to further exposure, which could further increase cancer risk.
Children, and those with weakened immune systems, are at even greater risk than healthy adults.
Why the Rush?
Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists asserts that Japanese officials may be encouraging repopulation of contaminated zones in order to stop paying compensation to evacuees.
I Offer Another Option
While the health impacts of long-term low dose exposure will not be seen right away, I fear the worst for these residents who return to contaminated villages. It would seem to me a far more humane and reasonable approach for Japanese officials to construct new towns outside contamination zones to give displaced residents the choice of returning to contaminated villages or starting anew outside exposure zones.
With a choice and the truth about the risks of long-term low dose exposure, particularly to children, these displaced Fukushima residents would finally receive a modicum of justice.