- Prayers, memorials, and moments of silence were held across Japan on Thursday to recognize the 10 year anniversary of the tsunami that killed 18,000 people and led to a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.
- In a report released Thursday, Greenpeace accused the Japanese government of rushing efforts to clean up the nuclear disaster zone to have residents return sooner, potentially exposing them to dangerous radiation levels.
- However, a different report by the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation found that the Fukushima disaster has led to no adverse health issues.
Ten Years Later, Still Evacuated
Thursday marked the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which was marked by mourning for the loss of 18,000 people who died as a result of a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Prayers and memorials were held across Japan, and Emperor Naruhito led a national moment of silence at 2:46 p.m. – the exact time the earthquake struck. Locals of northeastern Honshu commemorated the tragedy by visiting the Akiba shrine. That shrine has been viewed as a local symbol of resilience since it was barely damaged in the tsunami when whole villages and towns around it were wiped off the map.
Beyond the staggering death toll caused by the tsunami, the disaster is also remembered for the nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. Damage to the power plant forced tens of thousands to evacuate the area over concerns of nuclear radiation. Many who fled have yet to return and 40,000 people are still considered displaced. Since the nuclear meltdown, the town has been abandoned and marked as off-limits, with the government spending $300 billion so far to rebuild and clean up the disaster zone.
The Fukushima disaster is the second worse nuclear accident after Chernobyl, the infamous reactor explosion that shot radiation across much of Eastern Europe. Over the years, the two have been increasingly compared and spoken-of in popular culture as if they were on the same scale. This has caused concerns about the long-term health effects Fukushima may have caused locals, especially since Chernobyl has been linked to many cases of cancer and other radiation-related illnesses.
Adding to the concerns are accusations by Greenpeace East Asia. On Thursday, the environmental group released a report accusing the Japanese government of rushing cleanup and decontamination efforts in the disaster zone in order to put the issue behind them.
“Successive governments during the last 10 years … have attempted to perpetuate a myth about the nuclear disaster,” Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace East Asia said. “They have sought to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination program and ignoring radiological risks.”
UN Report Rebukes Concerns
Such cleanup efforts are central to reducing the number of adverse health effects from such nuclear disasters, but the fears of Greenpeace East Asia seem to be overblown. A U.N. report also released on Thursday by the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear) found that the Fukushima nuclear meltdown and subsequent radiation have not damaged the health of locals. The findings support a 2013 UN health report that also concluded that Fukushima, fortunately, didn’t directly cause health issues.
The 2013 report was actually doubted for some time, as another report in 2016 found that cases of thyroid cancer among local kids seemed to be on the rise. Between 2011 and 2015, health officials discovered 113 cases of thyroid cancer among more than 300,000 people aged 18. Unscear’s report put those concerns to rest, writing, “On the balance of available evidence, the large increase … in the number of thyroid cancers detected among exposed children is not the result of radiation exposure.”
“Rather, they are the result of ultrasensitive screening procedures that have revealed the prevalence of thyroid abnormalities in the population not previously detected,” it added.
When talking about Unscear’s findings, Gerry Thomas, director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank and chair of molecular pathology at Imperial College London, was not surprised they ruled out a link between thyroid cancers and Fukushima. “The thyroid radiation doses post-Fukushima were about 100 times lower than after Chernobyl due to a number of factors,” she told Reuters.
Thomas added that “all the evidence we have on levels of exposure and the data from the health screening program in Fukushima suggests that it is very unlikely that we will see any increase in thyroid cancer in these children, who are now adolescents and young adults.”
Realities of Nuclear Disasters
Thyroid issues are often the target for focus by experts, as they’re among the first vectors for serious radiation absorption in humans.
The lack of any adverse health issues near Fukushima isn’t completely shocking. Theoretically, long-term radiation exposure can lead to widespread cancers or worse. However, in real-world situations, governments have been able to mitigate the dangers of radiation through a variety of means, such as evacuations and decontamination efforts. Even Chernobyl has yet to lead to wide scale death. In 2019, the UN estimated that only 50 deaths can be directly attributed to the disaster, including the 31 that died immediately following its explosion. It added that in total, 4,000 people may eventually die as a result of radiation exposure.
Fukushima is unlikely to approach those numbers for a variety of reasons. The most notable is that the amount of radiation leaked by the Japanese plant was an order of magnitude less than Chernobyl, which had a completely exposed core shooting radiation directly into the atmosphere to be spread across a massive area. Fukushima’s cores, while still experiencing meltdowns, never exploded nor were exposed. This lead to a more gradual release of radiation, much of which was contained within the plant itself.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (Reuters)
Trudeau and Liberals Secure Shallow Victory in Snap Elections
The Prime Minister had hoped to secure a mandate for the Liberal Party and a clear legislative majority to move forward with COVID-19 recovery plans, but he will now face leading yet another minority government.
Two Elections in Two Years
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held onto power after Monday’s federal parliamentary election, but he will still lead a minority government now that his Liberal Party has again failed to secure a majority of seats.
The results mirror those of the country’s last election in 2019, and in the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many Canadians questioned why another parliamentary election was occurring so soon when the next scheduled elections would happen in another two years. The most basic answer is that Trudeau called for a snap election in August. However, reports on his reasoning vary.
Trudeau himself said he wanted a clear mandate from voters so he could move forward with efforts to lead Canada out of the pandemic and focus on recovery plans. Yet, for Conservatives and Canada’s smaller parties, this election was viewed as a blatant power-play by Trudeau to get more seats just two years after his Liberal party lost its majority.
Whatever the reason actually was, the snap-election was a gamble that doesn’t seem to have paid off. While some mail-in votes are still being counted, over 98% of the results are already in and they’ve proven to be a return to the status quo. The Liberals are gaining just one seat and the Conservatives are only losing two, while the minor parties in Canada are exchanging a few seats.
Possible Political Blunder
It’s likely that the call for a snap election was a miscalculation by Trudeau, who received high praise in polls when asked about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, in polls that looked at his overall popularity, most voters said they have a dimmer view of Trudeau.
According to the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit pollster out of British Columbia, Trudeau struggled to have a majority of voters approve of his tenure. In August, just after he called for snap election, his popularity plummeted further, with a majority of voters overtly disapproving of the Prime Minister.
As of election day, that number continued to rise.
Additionally, Trudeau’s calls for what many viewed as an unnecessary election in order to get a mandate on how to move forward against COVID-19 came off as tone-deaf since Canada is in the middle of dealing with rising Delta cases. This is an argument that the Conservatives picked up on, including leader Erin O’Toole, who called it “un-Canadian.”
There is also criticism over how Trudeau conducted his campaign. The Justin Trudeau of 2021 isn’t the same man who first gained power in 2015. Back then, Trudeau was somewhat of a Barak Obama-esque figure. He was a political underdog who ran on a platform of hopeful optimism over what could be achieved in Canada.
Fast forward to 2021, and Trudeau was less concerned about presenting his party’s hopes for the future and more concerned about sparking fears over what a Conservative government would do. His biggest fears seemed to have been the undoing of years of legislative and executive actions, including the reversal of a firearms ban.
In one rally earlier this month, Trudeau warned supporters that, “Mr. O’Toole won’t make sure the traveler sitting beside you and your kids on a train or a plane is vaccinated.”
“This is the moment for real leadership. Mr. O’Toole doesn’t lead — he misleads.”
But many of the things Trudeau attacked O’Toole and the Conservatives for are possibly no longer positions they hold. O’Toole recently took on the leadership of the Conservatives last year, and before the election, he published a 160-page document that sought to clarify his party’s positions and broaden their appeal.
One major reversal was support for a carbon tax, a traditionally Liberal Party platform. However, that manifesto seemingly wasn’t enough, as O’Toole later had to reverse course on a promise in the manifesto and clarify that the Conservatives wouldn’t actually overturn Trudeau’s ban on 1,500 sporting rifles, leading to some confusion among voters over his actual stance.
That being said, some of the major criticisms of O’Toole levied by Trudeau still stood up to scrutiny, such as his opposition to vaccine mandates or vaccine passports.
The Popular Vote Doesn’t Win Elections, Even in Canada
Another miscalculation that lead to the call for a snap election may have been a misread on how popular the Conservatives are. In 2019, the party won the popular vote, and Monday’s election seems to be another repeat. The Conservatives won just over 34% of the popular vote but only secured 35.8% of the seats in parliament. The Liberals received under 32% of the popular vote, but around 46% of parliament’s states. The disparity in the popular vote and how many seats a party actually receives has led to claims that the system is flawed and as unrepresentative as the United States’ Electoral College allegedly is.
Regardless of the representation disparity in Canada, many felt this snap election meant that Trudeau didn’t get the mandate he sought. Even so, Trudeau gave what he called a “victory speech” in Montreal, saying, “You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic.”
Trudeau will likely need to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic Party to secure enough seats to form a majority government, although there are concerns that such a government could fall, as minority governments are notoriously fragile.
Such a situation would mean that this snap election may prove to be a political pitfall for Trudeau.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)
U.S. Will Ease Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated Foreign Passengers
The move will allow Americans with family abroad to reunite with loved ones who they have been restricted from seeing since early 2020.
U.S. Changes Policy for Foreign Visiters
The White House has said it will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreign visitors coming to the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Along with proof of vaccination, White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday that noncitizens will also have to show a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure.
The announcement ends an 18-month ban on travel from more than 30 countries, including the UK and members of the EU. That ban has been a major source of tension with Europe because European and British officials lifted entry restrictions on people from the U.S. and other countries in June after vaccines became widely available. Up until now, the Biden administration hadn’t reciprocated.
Many experts found the policy hard to understand since some countries with high COVID rates were not on the restricted list while some that had the pandemic more under control were.
Tensions further escalated last month when the EU removed the U.S. from its safe travel list, though that was a nonbinding order that recommended EU nations to restrict U.S. travelers.
It’s also worth noting that the Biden Administration’s latest announcement came as the president prepared to meet face-to-face this week with world leaders at the United Nations.
The UN General Assembly is set to include European leaders who have voiced additional frustration over the administration’s handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. On top of that, France is enraged by a U.S. deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which France said undercut its own agreement with that country.
In addition to the changes regarding foreign travelers, the White House has said it will tighten rules for unvaccinated U.S. citizens returning home, saying they now need to test negative one day before departure and schedule another test for after their arrival.
In the coming weeks, the CDC will also be requiring airlines to collect and provide passenger information to aid contract tracing.
There will be a few exemptions to the vaccination requirements for foreign visitors, including ones for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Still, full details of the policy have not yet been released.
The changes have long been called for by airlines and others in the travel industry who are now cheering the news, especially ahead of the holiday season.
The move means Americans will likely see a boost in travel as the year comes to a close, but for many with family abroad, it also means they can finally reunite with loved ones who they’ve been restricted from seeing since early 2020.
See what others are saying:(The Washington Post)(Axios)(The Wall Street Journal)
Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off
The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.
Voting App Removed From App Stores
Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.
The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.
Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.
For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.
People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.
Response and Backlash
Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.
“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”
Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.
“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”
Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”
Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.
“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.
Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies
The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.
In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.
In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies.
The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.
Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.