News / Asia

    In Japan, Evacuation Aid Pleas Dismissed

    American family caught up in online fundraising controversy after site raises $7,500 for son, grandchildren based in Chiba prefecture

    Mourners in protective suits hold flowers at memorial for residents of Okuma, a small town near Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, Japan, July 2011.
    Mourners in protective suits hold flowers at memorial for residents of Okuma, a small town near Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, Japan, July 2011.
    SEOUL -- In Japan this past year, there has been a passionate argument about the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that has played out on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
     
    Anti-nuclear activists have joined skeptics of the government's safety pledges in alleging a conspiracy of lies and cover-ups about the danger posed by radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
     
    Environmental group Greenpeace International says Japanese authorities have “consistently appeared to underestimate both the risks and extent of radioactive contamination.” But the group has not reported any cases of radiation poisoning.

    This week one American family in Japan became caught up in the controversy after its appeal on an online fundraising site raised $7,500 in funds for their evacuation.
     
    Carol Swift, of Overland Park, Kansas, the mother of Joshua Swift of Inzai, Japan, on YouCaring.com had set a goal of raising $25,000 by August 31 because her three grandchildren "are sick from radiation poisoning and the food source has been compromised" as a result of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.
     
    The online appeal listed various medical ailments affecting the family including autoimmune diseases affecting all three children.
     
    The family's evacuation plea sparked a flurry of comments on social media sites. While some sympathized with the Swifts, other were less charitable calling them naïve alarmists or con artists.
     
    "It was probably a mistake putting that on the Internet," says Joshua Swift, who now is appealing to the online detractors to "just leave us alone and let us go."
     
    The appeal on YouCaring.com was delisted Monday following the criticism on social media and other online sites, although the appeal remains archived online.
     
    Swift says the Internet appeal was not intended to be public and claims that all of the money raised came solely from "family and friends." He said it was not possible for the family to immediately evacuate because he wanted to continue to make mortgage payments on his home in Inzai, a city of 90,000 people, in Chiba Prefecture.
     
    Physicist-turned historian Spencer Weart is not surprised by heightened fears about low-level radiation.
     
    Weart, whose latest book “The Rise of Nuclear Fear” was published in March, blames the Japanese government’s flawed assurances of the safety of its nuclear plants and denial of problems by regulators for creating a situation “where most Japanese distrust anything they [officials] say.”
     
    The Swifts' claim of radiation poisoning quickly triggered a flurry of comments on Twitter after it was noted and analyzed on a blog site, Japan Probe.
     
    Swift acknowledges no physician has diagnosed the children as being sickened by radiation. He said no doctor in Japan "would be allowed to," alluding to a supposed cover-up of the health effects resulting from one of the world's worst nuclear accidents.
     
    Another American living in Inzai is not worried.
     
    “I've had independent [radiation] readings taken by Safecast and Hakette.jp. There is no danger in Inzai with radiation sickness,” says Mark Alan Williams, an international business coordinator with a Japanese corporation. “There are new homes being built in my neighborhood and a Costco [warehouse store] is planned for Inzai too. I have no immediate sense of danger at all.”
     
    Chiba Prefecture ordered the halt of shipments of shiitake mushrooms grown in Inzai on February 23 of this year, a day after 993 becquerels/kg of radioactive cesium, exceeding the national provisional limit of 500 becquerels/kg, was detected on the mushrooms.
     
    Weart, the former director of the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics, says extensive measurements by both governmental and independent entities show that except for a small region in Fukushima Prefecture, living in Japan and eating Japanese food “do not pose big health problems. The medical problems the (Swift) family has are not the kind that is usually traced to radiation."
     
    There has been no credible scientific evidence presented that any humans have been sickened by radiation in Japan following the March 2011 reactor meltdowns. Japan's government also says no one has been harmed by radiation exposure because of the accident.

    Japan on Saturday took the last of its 50 commercial working reactors offline for routine maintenance amid a safety drive following last year's disaster triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami. It is the first time the country is without nuclear power since 1970.
    _____
    VOA Correspondent Steve Herman has reported extensively from Fukushima since the nuclear disaster in March, 2011.

    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

    You May Like

    Leaving Scalia Replacement to 2017 Would Mean Unusually Long Vacancy

    History of high court shows Obama not in unique situation during final year of presidency

    US Fact Checkers Debunk Some Republican Presidential Candidate Claims 

    Slim evidence for several claims made by Republican presidential candidates at their last debate ahead of next Saturday's key nominating election in South Carolina

    Uganda Presidential Debate a Small Victory for Democracy

    In homes and bars across country, Ugandans were fixated on their screens as eight political candidates running for president took part in national debate

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.