Human rights group pleads with Japanese government to provide free medical check-ups for Fukushima victims

An estimated 110,000 Japanese citizens living near the Fukushima Daiichi site were evacuated after a tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown in 2011. Many evacuees are ambivalent about returning home out of fear of radiation exposure. Consequently, Japanese lawmakers are urging the government to provide free medical check-ups for citizens impacted by the disaster.

“The state should provide periodical and continual medical checkups for free to those who lived or live in radiation-hit areas,” urged the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA), an organization that protects human rights by providing guidance to attorneys. “The results of the checkups should be widely shared, with consideration given to privacy, so experts can examine them to study the effects of low-dose exposure and map out countermeasures,” the JFBA added.

Approximately 45,000 out of 110,000 evacuees live outside the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima, which is home to the Fukushima Daiichi site. More than four years after the disaster, these evacuees must decide whether they want to return home. Many worry that the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has failed to contain the disaster, and fear the radiation from the power plant that continues to pollute the surrounding area.

“The evacuees may face difficulties even if they return home, as many communities have been disbanded during the four-and-a-half years since the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, while medical and administrative services will not be sufficiently provided there,” said the JFBA. “On the other hand, some of those who decide to stay where they are now will carry double debt loads for their old and present homes.”(1)

An impossible decision

Evacuees are faced with an impossible decision. On the one hand, living outside the prefecture is expensive. Many people lost their jobs after the Fukushima disaster. People who live outside the Fukushima Prefecture and volunteered to evacuate do not qualify for government aid. On the other hand, many people are hesitant to return to the prefecture out of concern for their health.

The JFBA also urged the government to provide housing and psychological counseling for evacuees as they try to reconstruct their lives.

This resolution was adopted following a symposium intended to address radiological problems stemming from the power plant. The event featured doctors, lawyers and municipal leaders. Included in this panel was Masaharu Tsubokura, a physician who specializes in radiation exposure and who has assisted in regions near the Fukushima site. Tsubokura painted a picture of the growing number of health problems surrounding the region.(1)

“The health problems the evacuees face have been caused not only by radiation exposure but also the changes to their living conditions as a result of evacuation,” he said. “Amid social isolation, those suffering strokes and developing diabetes are growing.”(1)

Public protests government decision to dump radiation in northeastern towns

The resolution also addressed where officials should store nuclear waste collected at the Fukushima site. The central government selected two northeastern towns as potential places. The mayors of these northeastern towns protested the decision on the grounds that the areas are subject to natural hazards. In addition, the facilities used to store the radiation may pollute each towns’ water resources.

Another reason people opposed the decision to store nuclear waste at the two towns is that the central government failed to include citizens in the decision-making process. Furthermore, the government did not provide a clear explanation for how the nuclear waste would be stored.

The nuclear accident has denied citizens the right to a healthy life. Due to this, the JFBA strongly encouraged the government during a human rights meeting to decrease its dependency on nuclear power.

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