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After Fukushima, part 2

Yasuko Hamabata lives in Tokyo, but for a year and a half she has worried about her exposure to radiation from Fukushima Daiichi. During a trip to Fukushima city, she goes to the Citizens’ Radioactive Measurement Station—a privately-run radiation detection lab in a downtown mall—to have her dosage measured.
To understand the impacts the 3.11 disaster has had on Japan, I think it's first important to consider the three-part nature of what happened and where.

First the earthquake destroyed buildings all over central Japan — over a million buildings collapsed or were damaged (1). But in most places, of course, the damage was disparate, some buildings destroyed while neighbors were fine.

Then, in the next hour, the tsunami wiped out the east coast of central Japan, especially a 420 mile stretch of coastline, up to six miles inland (2). After that, the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown started the first day and continued for a month (or thousands of years, depending on your perspective), most affecting people within 20 miles but extending northwest from the plant in a plume.

Now think of the consequences: loss of life and family, property, community, employment, health, psychological health. Compared to the deaths (18,549 killed or missing) and physical destruction from the tsunami, to some the radiation seems secondary.

But here is the critical issue: when your home gets washed away, the damage you see is immediate and obvious. When you are hit by radiation, the consequences are never so clear. It's all a game of probabilities. How much? How dangerous? How soon will it affect me?

As I saw in Chernobyl, this uncertainty is maddening for survivors of such a disaster, and the answers to many many questions never come.

Tomorrow: different ways radiation affects people.

Sources: (1) National Police Agency of Japan, (2) Bloomberg.

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