Friends, I am sorry, but I am not sharing any faces or names. I want to protect these women. Nonetheless I can tell you they are more beautiful than any temple…
Radioactivity and the radiation it produces is invisible. I am here in Japan, and after leaving Fukushima Prefecture have begun our speaking tour. Steve Leeper has called on his networks via YMCA and consumer coops to host events, and his ally, Mori-Jushoku has reached out to his Buddhist communities. We have a brisk schedule with one to three events a day spanning five Prefectures. Arnie Gundersen (www.fairewinds.org) is also touring. Some legs we are together, others we diverge.
People who have fled Fukushima turn up at our events…and side-gatherings are organized for me to meet with mothers and grandmothers who have moved out of contaminated areas. These meetings are called Tea Parties and are somewhat of a snowball! Word is spreading. I have met with Moms in Fukushima City, near Okayama, Onomichi, Kyoto, Maizuru, Osaka, and now in Tokyo…often a Mom says a friend of hers met with me already.
These refugees from Tepco’s radioactivity are often in conflict. Many have left family members behind, in some cases suffering ridicule and derision from their relatives for leaving. There is a choice-point now that they have left; do they now fade into anonymity? Or do they stand up to say “see me” and fight for justice. Many are engaged in legal battles to win compensation. Some are now effectively homeless and relying on the help of service organizations, churches and help from family. Many are women whose husbands do not support their choice to move their children to less contaminated areas. Divorce due to Daiichi is not uncommon. The children (often with us in these sessions) are beautiful.
In the field of physics they say that the act of viewing an event changes it. Here I will tell you that being seen, witnessed, also changes events. These two: seeing, and being seen, are not the same. A large part of what I can offer the radiation refugees is the simple act of being their witness.
I met a representative of a service organization that has done interviews with families that were directly exposed when Daiichi 1, 2 and 3 melted down…and by contamination since 2011. When the report comes out, it will say that 80% of the large number of families they have spoken to have health problems NOW. When this report becomes available, NIRS will share it. For now, I will simply say: cancer is not the only harm that comes from radiation exposure.
For me, as a woman who suffered an acute radiation exposure at work at the age of 25 (1984), this is not news. This trip has been a personal gift to me insofar as I have never talked about the immediate and near-term problems I suffered after my exposure, but listening to these women I often say “Yes, that happened to me too. I understand.” And listening now to more than 50 victims’ stories across Japan, I can say to them, “Yes, I have heard others tell the same stories.”
Immediate harm includes decimation of the digestive tract, immune system, sensory function (primarily eyes but also sometimes taste and smell), reproductive function and physical depression. Some report becoming reactive to chemicals—something I experienced too. I have heard many reports of joint pain and a startling number of reports of spontaneous bone fracture. There are the nose-bleeds and headaches. It is also typical for people to be consumed by deep, tragic regret (if only!) and/or rage. In Japan these last are clothed in daily decorum. And yes, thyroid cancer (in all ages) is appearing.
Yes, these symptoms all have multiple causations, but there is a pattern; and those suffering unequivocally know that they did not suffer these problems prior to exposure.
The good news is that often these immediate non-cancer problems can reverse if the body is allowed to recover. The immediate impacts of my radioactive contamination were never litigated. I have no basis to say I can “prove” the symptoms and disorders came from my accident, but I know inside they did…and I know I decided to leave the radioactive soup of that job and to find cleaner water, cleaner food, a stable lifestyle. I did get better. A physician, one of the few here in Japan openly diagnosing radiation-related illnesses also reports that when people move to safer zones, they are improving.
I am committed to continuing on my mission to wake the world up to the underestimation of radiological impact due to ignoring gender as a factor in harm from radiation exposure. My next post will be the core of the presentation I have been giving on this tour.
Mary Olson, on the road in Japan
March 3, 2016
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