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Japan: Fear in Fukushima

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

The day after a 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck Japan, an explosion at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo, is causing both fear and confusion online about what may happen next. So far, the nuclear reactors themselves are alleged to be unharmed, and the worst radiation is contained. Still, thousands of people are being evacuated from around two nuclear power plants in the Fukushima Prefecture. Many references have been made to the devastating Chernobyl disaster in the USSR in 1986, but it's still not clear how big the damage will be in Japan nor how many human lives it will cost. As an indicator of worry, one of the latest new hashtags is #save_fukushima.

Distance from Fukushima on map of Japan

Distance from Fukushima on mapped on Google Earth map of Japan – shared by bizenjirapid213 on Twitpic

Fear in Fukushima

Certainly people working inside the Fukushima plant and those living nearby are facing the greatest risk. On Twitter, there are several messages of support and concern.

@take_c: 福島原発で、必死で戦う現場作業員に敬意を払う。家族も恋人もいるだろうに、自分の家も被害を受けているだろうに。爆発・被爆の恐怖とも戦いながら、必死で戦う現場作業員に、敬意を。

@take_c: My respect to the workers at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, who are fighting this with their lives. They have family and loved ones, and their homes must have been devastated as well. My utmost respect to those who are on site, battling fears of explosion and nuclear contamination.

@Soc214:友 達のご主人がここの制御にあたるため福島向かったらしい…着いてないと良いな…不謹慎だけど知り合いが危険な所に居ない事だけをまず祈ってしまう…。とり あえずテレビ報道下手すぎて状況分からず… 新聞はスピード面で大敗を期す模様。私は無力~ㅜㅜㅜ

@Soc214: The husband of a friend has headed off to Fukushima to help out. I hope he hasn’t made it yet. I know it’s imprudent but I find myself first praying that someone I know isn’t in a dangerous place. The television broadcast is so badly done that we have a hard time understanding what’s going on. Newspapers are too slow for this one. I am powerless…

Mami (まみ), a university student, tweeted from Fukushima saying she was scared:

@mamionbiscuit: 福島です。怖いです。もうやだ。どうして原発なんかあるの?どうして福島にあるの?ひとが作った物なのに、ひとが安全を確保できない物なんて必要ないよ。悲しいことが増えるだけ。なんもいいことないよ。ほんと怖い。怖いよ。

@mamionbiscuit: I am in Fukushima. Scared. Enough is enough. Why do we have nuclear power plants? Why in Fukushima? We don’t need things that are human-made but humans can’t even ensure the safety. It just creates more sadness. Doesn’t do any good. Really scared. Scared.

Can we trust the news?

On Friday, the day of the earthquake, television news barely mentioned nuclear power plants. Online, there has been both idle speculation and several hoaxes. Many people feel concerned they are not hearing the full truth from the government, who may be playing down dangers to avoid both panic and blame. On Saturday, the government issued an evacuation order for Fukushima residents within 20km radius from the plant.

On Twitter, Takeshi Funyu (@tksfn) speculates on whether the government is holding back information.

@tksfn: 実家があるいわき市勿来の母とまだ直接話せてはいないが、姪っ子のメールで安否確認はできた。しかし次に福島原発の危険性も出てきた。政府の情報開示に疑問だな。

@tksfn: Haven’t able to talk with my mother in Iwaki City, but I exchanged e-mails with my niece and have confirmed that they’re safe. Now we’re hearing news about the danger from Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. I have misgivings about how the government is handling information disclosure.

@yyyhonda: 福島原発の問題は、世界が注目しているから政府もさすがに情報隠蔽はできないだろう。 本気で情報が収集出来てないとしたら、それはそれで大問題だが…

@yyyhonda: The whole world is focusing on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, so the government cannot cover up any information. If they are seriously having difficulty gathering information, that’s a huge issue in itself….

Advice on how to deal with radiation was compared to dealing with hay fever on NHK national television, said @ydme286.

@ydme286:(福島原発)NHK等で出てる注意事項を覚えきれないという方がいたら「花粉症の時みたいに」と考えてみて下さい。なるべく屋内、マスクする、家に入る時は衣服を払う、手・顔を洗う等、実際にやる事は花粉症の人が普段する行動と結構似ています。#save_fukushima

@ydme286: [Fukushima Power Plant] If you have a difficult time remember the warnings that NHK [TV] is giving, think about it as “similar to hay fever”. Try to stay inside, wear a mask, brush off your clothes when entering your house, wash your hands and faces. See, the actions you should take are quite similar to the daily actions of someone with hay fever.

Urging for calm

Many urged people to refrain from spreading rumors and fueling panic.

@marquee77: 福島第一原発のニュース、正式発表があるまで、ツイートを控えましょう。不安をあおるばかりで、何の益もありません。

@marquee77:Until we receive official news from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, let’s refrain from making speculative tweets. It will only fuel worry and there is nothing to gain from that.

@PABUR0216: 僕個人の考えでは原発の爆発は天災だと思っています。誰が悪いなんてありません。twitterだからこそ自分の発言には責任を持つことが必要だと思います。

@PABUR0216: In my opinion, the explosion at the nuclear power plant was a natural disaster. It’s nobody’s fault. I think it is important to be responsible for what you say on twitter.

Follow us on Twitter

Several Global Voices authors and editors live in Japan and a few are writing constant updates about the post-earthquake situation on Twitter. You can follow them all on this Twitter list.

This post is part of our special coverage on the Japan Earthquake 2011.

Tomomi Sasaki translated the tweets in this post.

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