Survivor to crusader

Blast From Reality

Survivor to crusader

Having personally suffered from the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster, Yukimi Hagiwara is certain beyond a doubt that no good can come from nuke deals. She narrates her experience to Michael Patrao

Yukimi Hagiwara was among the thousands of women and children, whose lives were traumatised by the devastating Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on 11 March 2011. The plant was hit by the tsunami triggered by the Tohoku earthquake and began releasing substantial amounts of radioactive materials beginning on 12 March, becoming the largest nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. 

Yukimi narrated her harrowing tale on a visit to Bangalore recently. She was a part of a group of artist from Japan, who along with Indian artist painted a giant canvas to promote peace. The project was inspired by Guernica an attempt at promoting an anti-war symbol like the original Guernica, painted by Pablo Picasso to represent the Spanish village that was bombed in 1937.

Roots and disaster

Following the catastrophic disaster some 3,00,000 people were evacuated from Fukushima. Initially Yukimi decided to stay home with her two primary school-going daughters, aged 11 and 8. But she was worried about her children suffering due to the nuclear blast. They remained confined to the house, eating whatever was in the house. They needed to conserve food as she couldn’t go out for shopping. She told her children to eat the birthday cake in the refrigerator instead of dinner. The food in the house started dwindling and that was when she decided to get out of Fukushima. 

Survivor’s guilt

Luckily an opportunity arose and they were able to leave Fukushima on a plane to Osaka Perfecture, on March 15 four days after the disaster. Her husband, however, stayed back. The long wait at the airport was a nightmare. “We spent a sleepless night with the constant fear that if the nuclear power plant would blast again a massive dose of radiation would fall down on us”, she recalled. When she finally boarded the plane, she felt guilty for being overjoyed, because there were many people who were anxiously waiting for their turn. She is quick to concede that not only her family, but a number of people have suffered economically and mentally and this suffering will continue. 

A global concern

What was thought to be a phenomenon only in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is true even of Fukushima, where the farmers and dairy farmers have been committing suicide due to debt. On a recent visit to her old home in Fukushima, Yukimi was saddened by what she saw. 

“I used to watch a lot of birds fly near my house. Now I could not see any,” she says, dejectedly.

Yukimi, like most Japanese citizens believed in the “safety myth of the nuclear power plant” advocated by the Japanese Government. Although Yukimi knew that uranium was risky she had not tried to find out the facts about nuclear power plants, and accepted its existence. After the disaster, she now appeals to the people about the risk of nuclear power plant.

Crusade

She regrets the fact that they failed to block the restart of Oi Nuclear Power Plant. The Fukushima power plants are still releasing huge amount of plutonium and strontium into the Pacific Ocean and polluting it. Yukimi said no attempt has been made to investigate the extent of nuclear pollution in the Pacific Ocean or the risk of radioactivity in food. Those engaged in measuring of radioactivity in food are untrained part-time workers. “Very few people are engaged in fighting against radioactivity and very little has been covered by the mass media. The Government too has not revealed the extent of damage caused by radioactivity,” she says.

“I have tried to speak out and tell people in many places about our ordeal. I believe that I am raising awareness for not only the sake of my family, but also for the sake of the people of Japan and perhaps, all the people in the world. These experiences might become a powerful element in the creation of a safer world.”

Concern for humankind

Yukimi’s own hope is for an ordinary daily life to come back again for her family, her husband and her two children to be together. But her ordeal is far from over. She is concerned that her two daughters have health issues and irregular blood pressure at such a young age. They get tired easily and their blood pressure is not always normal . In cold weather, their feet and hands darken and swell up. She is anxious and worries about the future. 

“What if our children are discriminated in the future because they were originally natives of Fukushima Perfecture? What if their babies are born with deformities? I want to tell these stories to the world. I would like all people to understand the victims’ indescribable agony and life-long worry,” says this distraught lady. 

Not the same. Really?

In India, an official response on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu states that one should never compare the Fukushima plant built on the beachfront, with Kudankulam plant built on solid terrain.

Studies have shown that residents in the 15 km radius of the Kaiga nuclear power plant in Uttara Kannada have been affected. In November 2009, 55 employees in the plant fell sick in the suspected radiation poisoning and were treated for increased levels of tritinium. 

Yukima, who has experienced a catastrophic event makes a fervent appeal, “Please protect your country and your people from radioactivity.” 

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