by Xinhua Writers Fei Liena, Feng Wuyong, Yangjun
BEIJING, May 23 (Xinhua) -- In front of the local government of Iidate Village in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture stands a big radiation measuring device. On its spotless dashboard flashes a red number: 0.38 microsieverts/hour.
The spot is about 40 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the monstrous earthquake-triggered tsunami in March 2011.
Looking at the display, Yoichi Tao, a volunteer with a physics background, smiled in mockery. "The figure is too low," he said, pointing to a humble measuring device not far away. "This is a measuring equipment we set up ourselves," he said. "The figure of radiation is eight to 10 times of the official one."
Tao's feeling presents a stark contrast to the Japanese government's official statements, which claimed that the crisis was "totally under control" and that "any negative impact of radioactive water on the environment is completely blocked."
Tao was suspicious and angry, and the like-minded are many. Some of them suffer from radioactive-related diseases, and some are seeking help but having nobody to turn to.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, as well as the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On the latter, various investigations and commemorations have never ceased over the past three decades. Yet on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, probes have always been wrapped in an ominous cloak for the past five years.
How many years are needed to handle the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident? What are the exact ecological impacts on the environment? How much progress has been made in the decontamination process? How should the nuclear waste be disposed of?
As regards those questions, many experts around the world give a similar answer:" It's hard to tell, as we don't have enough information."
RADIATION EXPOSURE: HIGH
Why are the radiation measuring figures 10 times different? "This shining measuring device was set up by the government later than us," explained Tao. "It dispatched the military to wipe out the nearby nuclear radiation on the ground in advance, so the official figure looks very low. That's how the government did it."
However, concealing the truth will not lead people's memory to oblivion, but arouse anger.
A joint opinion poll conducted by The Asahi Shimbun, a national daily, and the Fukushima local press in 2015 showed that over 70 percent of the Fukushima residents were unsatisfied with the government's response. One focal point is the local children's poor health, especially thyroid cancer, possibly triggered by nuclear radiation.
Toshihide Tsuda, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Japan's Okayama University, found that the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima Prefecture was 20 to 50 times higher than the national average as of 2014, three years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
His finding, however, fell on deaf ears of the central and local authorities. The Fukushima prefectural government attributed the phenomenon to a surge of "over-diagnosis." The local government insisted that the cancer incidents and nuclear radiation were not related.
The International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, a global organization, sent a message to the Japanese government this January expressing worry over the high incidence of thyroid cancer among children in the Fukushima region and offering as a professional organization to support the investigation on this matter. However, its offer has been gracefully declined by the Japanese government.
At the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the parents of the children who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fukushima formed a mutual help group to demand that the government provide convincing evidence that their children's sufferings were not related to the nuclear accident.
WILLINGNESS TO FORGET
In an editorial published on the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, French newspaper "Le Monde" said the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is "eager to turn over the page of Fukushima" and has shown a "willingness to forget."
The Japanese government admitted in August 2013 that at least 300 tons of highly-contaminated water flowed freely into the Pacific Ocean every day and the problem might linger for ages.
However, in September the same year, when Japan was bidding for the 2020 Olympic Games, Abe told the international community that the crisis was "totally under control."
It has also been revealed this February that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukishima nuclear power plant, had knowledge of multiple meltdowns at the plant's reactors following the tsunami, but intentionally withheld that information until months later.
Yuko Yoshida, secretary-general of Japan Women's Network for Chernobyl Health Survey and Health-Care Support for the Victims, noticed the different attitudes of the Japanese media reporting the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents.
She pointed out that during the past three decades, mainstream Japanese media have been constantly fixing their eyes on Chernobyl. Yet after Fukushima, they have basically refrained from in-depth investigation and reporting on the health hazards caused by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Similar attitudes existed in the research community. Professor Valery Stepanenko, a leading Russian specialist in medical and environmental dosimetry and radiation safety, told Xinhua that he asked his Japanese counterparts why Japan had not performed a retrospective analysis of the radiation doses received by the population, but the Japanese scholars were either silent or vague about it.
"As a result, doses of iodine tablets received by children at that time remain unknown, but they are very important for proper follow-up treatment," Stepanenko said.
FEAR OF IMAGE DAMAGE
According to Ken Buesseler, a senior researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a U.S. private non-profit organization, the Japanese government has not been doing a good job communicating with the public.
Information disclosure needs to be improved, so that the general public would know more about the level of nuclear contamination and its influence on health, he suggested.
The expert, who has been studying the Fukushima nuclear accident's impact on maritime environment since 2011, told Xinhua that the impact was unprecedented, as 80 percent of the leaked radioactive substance has flown to the sea.
However, the Japanese government has kept claiming that everything is "completely under control" and that any negative impact on the environment "is completely blocked."
Observers from around the world have pointed out that the Japanese side has deliberately toned down the nuclear accident's long-term impact on health, food safety and the environment. Adding to Tokyo's worry are concerns that the image of Japan would be stained and the safety of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be questioned.
However, underestimating the long-term impact of the accident could lead to slack supervision on affected food, and might also produce unrealistic optimism in the Japanese government that could result in careless handling of the aftermath, experts warned.
According to Chen Xiaoqiu, deputy chief engineer with the Radioactive Safety Center of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, remedial efforts include restoring the environment, cleaning up nuclear contamination and processing nuclear waste and studying the biological survival environment and the radiation impact on human bodies.
Given Japan's handling of the incident, an independent investigation initiated by international experts is necessary to reveal the truth of the disaster whose aftermath spills well beyond the Japanese border, said Buesseler.