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101 East

Japan: The next wave

We investigate the long-term effects of the 2011 tsunami, including a potential cancer threat for Fukushima's children.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2014 09:59
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On March 11, 2011, the ground trembled and the sea engulfed the coastal towns in Japan's Fukushima prefecture. The earthquake and tsunami led to a nuclear disaster which became synonymous with the infamous Chernobyl and Three-Mile accidents.

Today, spacious luxury neighbourhoods have been dramatically transformed into decaying ghost towns, a scene from a post-apocalypse movie. And two years on, while the country struggles to rebuild itself, many say the crisis is far from over.

On a stretch of lonely beach in the heavily contaminated no-go zone surrounding the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, one man is on a lonely mission. His seven-year-old daughter is the only person unaccounted for after a five-storey tsunami crushed the nearby town of Okuma in March 2011. The authorities stopped looking for her long ago, but Norio Kimura has not and never will. It is unlikely he will find his little girl and yet he trudges on, looking for clues. Among the pieces he has found is a shoe he says belonged to his dead child.

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In a private children's hospital well away from the no-go zone, parents are holding on tight to their little sons and daughters, hoping doctors will not find what they are looking for - thyroid cancer.

Tests commissioned by the local authorities have discerned an alarming spike in the incidence of thyroid cancer in Fukushima children. Out of 200,000 children screened so far in government-ordered tests, there are 18 confirmed cases of thyroid cancer and 25 suspected cases. While specialists and experts are reluctant to draw a definitive link between the tumours and the nuclear radiation that erupted from the stricken power station, they are nonetheless deeply concerned.

Former thyroid surgeon, Akira Sugenoya says the spike in numbers should be taken seriously. He knows the devastation radiation can have after spending five years operating on hundreds of Chernobyl children suffering from thyroid cancer. But Professor Geraldine Thomas, a specialist in the molecular pathology of cancer in Imperial College London, says the fears are unfounded and have driven Japanese mothers to make unnecessary choices, including abortions.

It is not just the children who are a cause for concern. Farmer Kazuya Tarukawa worries that his crops have been contaminated and fears the radiation effects will be passed down the food chain. His crops may have passed the government's radioactive safety limits but Tarukawa's conscience is burning. He believes the government's safety limits are inaccurate.

What are the long-term effects of Japan's earthquake and tsunami? 101 East investigates the next wave of pain and fear after Japan's nuclear crisis.

Spike in cancer detections and tainted crops. Is there a link to the #Fukushima nuclear disaster? @AJ101East #JapanNextWave

101 East  airs each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2230; Friday: 0930; Saturday: 0330; Sunday: 1630.   

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Al Jazeera
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