Japan’s nuclear crisis and my life
As a Reuters photographer, I have covered many disasters and incidents over the last ten years but these things had little direct affect on my life. Just like the saying: “The photographer must be taken out of the picture”, I was a third party in most of these cases. By and large, those catastrophes had nothing to do with my personal life. Once my assignment was over, I used to go back to my normal life and switch from emergency mode.
But last month’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that sparked the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in Japan was different. I am not exempt from the fear caused by the disaster nor am I immune to the threat of the invisible nuclear radiation.
Since I deployed to near Fukushima prefecture to cover the nuclear crisis story last month, two palm size radiation monitors have been added to my MUST-carry items along with my camera equipment. The first thing I have to do after waking up in the morning is not drink a cup of coffee but instead check the radiation level. The number on the device has been the main criteria on whether I can get out of the car once inside the 20km evacuation zone from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Regardless of the level of background radiation, our white protective suits were mandatory to wear inside the evacuation zone. I also stood in line to receive radiation screening with other evacuees at a radiation check-up point whenever I had the opportunity during my assignment.
Even though the background radiation levels around my assignment zone recently have been very low, including inside the 20km evacuation zone in Minamisoma, I found myself getting a bit nervous about possible radiation contamination in food, water and in the air. My knowledge and the facts that I have gathered throughout this assignment tell me there is nothing to worry about yet, but negative rumors and gossip are always close at hand.
The nuclear crisis affects not only me but also my family. Two days before the earthquake hit Japan, my 7-month-old daughter was hospitalized after her arm was seriously burned in a small incident at home in Tokyo. Amid rising concerns about the nuclear crisis, my daughter was evacuated to a hospital in my home country South Korea to receive a skin graft in a more stable situation.
The surgery was successful and she is getting better but my wife decided to stay in Seoul until my daughter’s treatment is completed. She requires a long-term outpatient treatment in the same hospital and the Japanese government warned against giving babies tap water in which radioactive iodine two times the recommended limit for infants was found. Therefore our family might not be able to be reunited for a while.
But mine and my family’s suffering are nothing compared to the physical and psychological hardships confronting evacuees from Fukushima prefecture.
Some of them might not be able to return to their homes even after the reactor stops leaking radiation as accumulated radiation might pollute their land.
A dairy farmer who I met has been throwing away about 1,200 liters of fresh milk daily from his farm located about 50 km (31 miles) from the tsunami-crippled nuclear reactor since shipments of unprocessed milk from dairies in Fukushima were halted last month.
One doctor who I interviewed expressed concern about possible discrimination towards evacuees who might be regarded as radioactive carriers when they move to town by people who have incorrect information and make decisions based on it.
As aftershocks keep rattling me several times per day, I pray that this crisis can be eased soon and all the evacuees can go back to their radiation-free homes someday soon.