Two years on, the people of Fukushima suffer in nuclear shadow
By Kyoko Hasegawa, AFPFUKUSHIMA, Japan -- Mikio Nihei's family is split by his need to work and their fear of radiation from a nuclear disaster that some warn could leave part of Japan a hollow shell for generations.
March 12, 2013, 11:16 am TWN
A week after a towering tsunami smashed into the atomic power plant on the Fukushima coast, sparking meltdowns in some reactors, Nihei sent his family away from the clouds of radiation many believed were pouring forth.
But Japan's fragile economy means Nihei feels unable to leave his job in a car parts factory in Fukushima City, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the nuclear plant, so he stayed behind in the family home when his wife and two daughters — now three and five — fled for Tokyo.
Now he sees them only every four weeks.
“I don't know how long this situation will continue,” Nihei, 38, told AFP in a house decorated with photographs of his daughters and letters they have written for him.
“I can go see them in Tokyo only once a month as travel expenses are high ... It's tough to keep going in this double life, economically and mentally.”
The world's worst nuclear disaster in a generation is officially recorded as having killed no one. But the human cost has been high.
More than 100,000 people were forcibly evacuated from their homes in a 20-kilometer (12-mile) exclusion zone around the crippled plant. Tens of thousands more — like the Niheis — left a wider area, worried about the health dangers from radiation they could neither see nor smell.
Many take little comfort from pronouncements by government scientists or international bodies, who say the amount of radiation they are being exposed to is unlikely to cause them any harm.
The International Commission of Radiological Protection recommends a dosage limit of one millisievert per year from all sources of radiation, but says exposure to less than 100 millisieverts per year presents no statistically significant increase in cancer risk.
A single CT hospital scan delivers around 10 millisieverts, according to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Japan.
But, say campaigners, any amount of reassurances cannot mitigate the ever-present fear and little understood threat.