- 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)
Filipino President Threatens To Jail Those Who Refuse To Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19
The leader’s remarks come after vaccine hesitancy studies indicated that nearly a third of Filipinos wouldn’t get vaccinated for COVID-19.
“Get Vaccinated or I Will Have You Jailed,” Duterte Warns
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte threatened to enact some of the strictest COVID-19 measures in the world in a televised address Monday night.
“You choose, get vaccinated or I will have you jailed…. I’m telling you, those police jail cells are filthy and foul-smelling, police are lazy in cleaning,” Duterte warned citizens.
“You get vaccinated, otherwise I will order all the village heads to have a tally of all the people who refuse to get vaccinated,” the president added.
Duterte is known for making hyperbolic comments and Monday’s remarks have possibly proven to be no different.
Justice Minister Menardo Guevarra told reporters Tuesday morning that there are no laws compelling people to get vaccinated. Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Herminio Roque said vaccines still remain voluntary. Still, Roque noted that compulsory vaccinations were within the powers of the state if it chose to do so through legislation.
Frustration at Growing Crisis
Not all of Duterte’s stances were walked back by officials. His plans to halt in-person classes and enforce mandatory face coverings are still supported by Filipino officials and health experts. While Duterte’s comments come off as draconian, the president argues, “The first wave has really depleted the resources of [the] government. Another one would be disastrous for this country. That is why the stricter you are, the better.”
The Philippines is facing a massive health crisis and widespread vaccine hesitancy. One study from Social Weather Stations, a statistics company, indicated that while 51% of the country trusts the government’s evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines, a majority of people still wouldn’t get them. In May 2021, that same study asked Filipinos whether or not they would take a vaccine if it was approved by the FDA and given for free. A third of respondents said they were unsure, while another third flat out said they would refuse.
This hesitancy has led to low vaccination rates amid a large outbreak over the last two months that has left COVID-19 infection numbers high.
June has consistently seen roughly 7,000 new cases a day, a slight improvement from April and May, but still nearly six times as many daily infections as June 2020.
See what others are saying: (Bloomberg) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Japan’s Government To Encourage 4-Day Workweek, Experts Doubt Implementation
Most Japanese companies that offer a four-day workweek don’t pay for the extra day off, which is a major point of concern for employees who don’t want to lose out on income.
Four Days of Pay for Four Days of Work
The government of Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide finalized its annual economic policy guidelines on Friday, which included a push for a four-day workweek option.
The initiative is already facing some pushback by employers, employees, and experts in the country. Some major concerns include how a four-day workweek would be implemented. At the 8.3% of Japanese companies that currently offer an extra day off, that day off is usually unpaid, according to the Ministry of Labor. For those that use it, it’s effectively a pay cut — a major concern for many employees who don’t want to lose out on income.
That pay cut could indicate why it’s rarely used. Yahoo Japan, for instance, offers it and only 100 out of 7000 employees take the extra day off, though a company spokesperson told Kyodo News, “It has been favorably received in general, with some employees saying that it became easier to match their days off with their children’s activities.”
There are also concerns that the extra day off, and the pay cut associated with it, will lead employees to seek part-time jobs to make up for the lost income. Those second jobs could mean that employees effectively have less time off than before and could result in a decrease in productivity, countering any alleged benefits of a four-day workweek.
Despite these concerns, the government thinks offering a four-day workweek would be a net benefit for Japan. It hopes that people will use the extra day to procure other skill sets that will help them gain work in emerging technologies and markets. In general, the government wants to promote “diversified working styles.”
Experts like Yamada Hisashi, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute, think that any move towards a four-day workweek needs to be clearly spelled out to avoid issues such as pay cuts that motivate employees to stick to five days a week. He told Kyodo News that there were also complications for managers, saying, “Let’s say, if employees take second jobs, it would be difficult for managers to know how long they work in total and to evaluate equally those who take two days off a week and those who take three.”
“From the employees’ standpoint, they would not want to see their income from their main jobs decrease.”
Mixed Implementation With Tangible Benefits
Another criticism of the plan is that the extra day off doesn’t address other societal pressures that cause work-life imbalances. Japanese employees work fewer hours than their Australian, Canadian, Italian, and American counterparts, according to the Organization for the Economic Co-Operation and Development.
However, those numbers usually fail to reflect events such as dinner and drinks with superiors late into the night as often as multiple times a week in some of the most extreme cases. While these events are technically voluntary, societal pressures and traditions dictate that subordinates need to attend or face ostracization.
A four-day workweek has some evidence providing tangible benefits for employers, but whether that means employees get paid the same or receive a pay cut differs from company to company and is one of the things experts want the government to make clear.
In Japan, Microsoft’s local subsidiary experimented with a four-day workweek in 2019 and found a 40% boost in worker productivity. On top of increased productivity, the company also saved 58% on paper, and electricity consumption went down 23%.
See what others are saying: (Kyodo News) (Japan Times) (The Mainichi)
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Raided, Top Editors and Execs Arrested
Police claim the paper violated a controversial National Security law by publishing articles that asked foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong and Chinese government.
Apple Daily Raid
Nearly 500 Chinese police officers carried out a raid on Thursday at the headquarters of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a tabloid-style paper and one of the largest publications in the city.
During the aid, which was live-streamed by the outlet, police arrested top executives and editors while also seizing journalistic materials over violations of the city’s controversial National Security law. Apple Daily said CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, and Online Editor Cheung Chi-wai were arrested and accused of “colluding with foreign forces and external elements to endanger national security.”
Police also froze $1.8 million in Apple Daily assets.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, told reporters that “this case involves a conspiracy” and added that the police were targeting those who use journalism as a “tool to endanger national security.”
Police claim that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Many of those articles were published before the National Security law went into effect, meaning the law is being applied retroactively.
However, China’s Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the law wouldn’t be retroactive, so it’s unclear if there’s been a shift in policy and if authorities are seeking to change how they approach violations that occurred before the law was enacted.
Not Meant to Restrict Freedom of the Press
Thursday’s raid could also have repercussions for other Hong Kongers. The city’s Senior Superintendent of the Police’s National Security Department warned citizens not to repost certain Apple Daily articles by saying, “If you have no real reason to share these types of articles, I would advise everyone not to.”
He claimed that this raid wasn’t targeting the press but rather one individual organization that violated the law. He also said Hong Kong’s government values the freedom of the press, a right that is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Lee concurred with the Senior Superintendent, adding, “Please understand that our actions are not targeting journalistic work. We target perpetrators who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”
Apple Daily has vowed to carry on with its work while also acknowledging that its fate was out of its hands. In a letter to its readers, the paper wrote, “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless.”
“It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.”