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Tsutomu Shimada
Posted by Byron Movement on 2012-04-27 16:42:10.0

Japan’s disaster, two months on – A volunteer’s personal account from the devastated coastline of Japan. Tsutomu Shimada has just returned from the worst-hit tsunami/earthquake areas on Japan’s seaboard, and told The Echo the current cleanup effort, while well under way, is still an enormous undertaking. ‘You can still smell the death,’ he told The Echo through an interpreter. ‘I scrubbed my body for many days to get rid of the smell.

The towns have died along with the people who lived there.’ Tsutomu is a volunteer for Japan’s government, and was there two weeks ago to collate information for future town planning and help in the cleanup effort. ‘At least 27,000 are dead, and still mostly unaccounted for. ‘It’s still hard to identify bodies, despite DNA technology. ‘A lot of bodies are still trapped in crushed homes and down drains.’ Many, he says, were caught in the wave because they did not evacuate to high ground immediately. More than half the people who died didn’t evacuate fast enough, he says. ‘It took 20 minutes from the quake until the wave hit, and after the quake a lot of people went home to collect belongings.

In most cases it left no time to move to higher ground. ‘It happened at 2.46pm and the children were at school, and as schools are designated as evacuation areas, everyone rushed to the schools. But a lot of schools were destroyed by the tsunami.’ Retirement homes and hospitals had no chance, he says, as did a lot of people who even managed to make it to roof tops. ‘Toxic fi res broke out immediately, which suffocated many who had survived the initial wave. The survivors – who are very few – now live in evacuation centres.

’ In 1933, a similar tsunami occurred in the region, in which 3,000 people lost their lives. ‘The Fukushima nuclear power plant was built on the same area where there was the previous earthquake; however, the epicentre was more to the north. ‘After ten or twenty years after that tsunami, people started to build further down and in the dangerous areas. ‘A retaining wall was built specifically for tsunamis; however, it was built too straight, and didn’t withstand the force of the wave. It should have been built on a slight angle,’ he says. Fukushima nuclear meltdown update Though he stayed outside the 50km exclusion zone of the nuclear power plant, Tsutomu says he witnessed a similar degree of destruction in that area.

His concern is that towns in the vicinity have not been evacuated far enough from the disaster zone, and people continue to eat, drink and breathe contaminated food, water and air. ‘There is a possibility it can explode again, and there is speculation it could be bigger than the first one. This is unique because people are being exposed internally and externally. There is a constant leak into the air and the ocean. ‘The most affected are the fetuses of the unborn and young children. It’s inevitable that the unborn will be affected. ‘They are at a much higher risk than adults, yet the government is saying that the safety levels apply to both adults and children.’ This has been proven to be false, he claims. ‘Greenpeace measured the radiation on towns close to the plant and it was incredibly high.

‘When Greenpeace told the government of their readings, they moved people again further away.’ He also claims that the government’s testing of radiation does not include ground level. ‘They are making radiation claims from testing the air 50 metres above the ground! ‘This is a turning point for Japan, and it’s not easy to change the current system and the government is struggling. ‘No-one from the government is saying anything; however, the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] will arrive at the plant next week and then the government will be required to supply them the info that they have been holding back from releasing.

’ Lessons of nuclear ‘If we do not care about nature, nature will teach us a lesson. The lesson is to build a different society. Not nuclear power but solar power. ‘If we can’t go to a supermarket to buy veggies, because the veggies are contaminated by some kind of chemical poisoning, then we must grow our own veggies. That is the positive lesson we can all learn. We have to develop an alternative way. For Japan it’s a sign to start on something new, something more sustainable.’