Foreign Affairs / Forgotten News / Laura Owen

Forgotten News: Japan Disaster

In March 2011 Japan’s most powerful earthquake since records began struck the north-east coast, triggering a gigantic tsunami and causing a state of emergency to be declared. The shock was so powerful it lowered the coastline by a metre and nudged Japan two metres closer to the United States. Residents near nuclear plants were evacuated as fears of leaks spread leading some to compare the situation to the Chernobyl disaster. Coverage of this shocking and upsetting natural disaster was certainly extensive.

Less than a year on however and the news on Japan is seemingly silent. Never are we told what the current situation is or how people are coping. Everything is not back to normal. The situation is alarming. Not only are high levels of radiation still being discovered but it seems lessons from the disaster have not been learnt.

Fears of radiation are everywhere near Fukushima. Men, women and children wander the streets with masks and carry umbrellas to protect against black radioactive rain. They no longer shop for fresh food – “the older the safer now”, says one Twitter user.  Health concerns are also widespread with people having to readjust and accept radiation levels which were previously considered unsafe. This is not tolerable and should be making the international news.

In addition, it is easy to question whether the Japanese government are taking the aftermath of the disaster seriously. Japanese news has reported the possibility of Japan opening their tsunami hit nuclear disaster site as a tourist destination. The government’s time, money and efforts would be better spent testing radiation levels and continuing relief efforts. Even then, there is no certainty that things will improve but at least it is a start. The unsettling thing about this kind of radiation is that it can be years before its true effects are known.

The debris-covered streets are now clean and the demolished buildings mostly rebuilt but the scars from the tremor remain.  The government must realise the mistakes it has made in the aftermath of the disaster and work to improve the situation. In time, life will hopefully readjust and find some sort of equilibrium.

Laura Owen 26.01.2012

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