Sunday 26 March 2017

Fukushima evacuees denied care over radiation concern

Evacuees gather around a fireplace at a shelter in Minamisanriku
Evacuees gather around a fireplace at a shelter in Minamisanriku

Julian Ryall in Tokyo

HUNDREDS of people evacuated from towns and villages close to the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant are being turned away by medical clinics and shelters over fears of radioactive contagion.

Hospitals and temporary refuges are demanding that evacuees provide them with certificates confirming that they have not been exposed to radiation.

The situation at the plant remains critical, with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency saying that radioactive iodine-131 at more than 3,350 times permitted levels had been found in a sample of seawater taken from near the plant.

The water is the most highly contaminated sample yet taken from the sea and indicates that radiation from the core of one or more of the reactors, where fuel rods have partially melted, is leaking into the Pacific.

A spokesman for the agency said the radioactivity posed no immediate threat to human health because fishing had been banned close to the plant and iodine would be "significantly diluted" before it came into contact with marine species and entered the food chain.

Takayuki Okamura, who lives in Minamisoma, said his eight- year-old daughter was refused treatment for a skin rash by a clinic in Fukushima City, where the family is in a shelter after abandoning their home, which is 18 miles from the nuclear plant.

"Just being forced to live in a shelter causes us anxiety," said Mr Okamura (49).

"The institution's refusal to treat my daughter came as a great shock."

Medical experts have condemned those who turn away evacuees. "This is a knee-jerk reaction based on the fear that these people are going to harm you," said Dr Robert Gale, a haematologist at Imperial College, London, who is advising the Japanese government on health issues.

"If someone has been contaminated externally, such as on their shoes or clothes, then precautions can be taken, such as by removing those garments to stop the contamination from getting into a hospital," he said. "That is very easy to do, but unfortunately I'm not surprised this sort of thing is happening."

Prejudice against people who live near the plant recalls the ostracism experienced by survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Many suffered discrimination when they tried to rent housing, find employment or marriage partners.

More than 65 years ago, Dr Gale pointed out, far less was known about the effects of radiation on the human body. He said it was "completely irrational" to turn evacuees away.

Masataka Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the plant, has been admitted to a hospital to be treated for hypertension and dizziness.

TEPCO is reportedly offering up to Y400,000 (€3,417) a day for anyone willing to work at the plant. Employees are being described in the Japanese media as modern-day samurai or "suicide squads". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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