I am currently writing a few summaries of my last fieldwork, and I just read a memo on a middle-aged man making an odd point on the link between thyroid cancer monitoring and human rights in post-Fukushima Japan. It all started when I asked him what he thought about the sudden increase in thyroid cancers among children in Fukushima prefecture (185 cases in February 2017). He tells me that it’s basically not relevant because it’s a result of the screening effect (you find cancers because you actively look for them). And in any way, the results are not helpful because there is no monitoring in other prefectures to offer a comparison. Well, yes, that is very true. And that is a huge issue that should be tackled, for sure. I nod, inviting him to tell me more (or, as professionals would say, probing with some more body language).
“Well, you see, the problem is that it infringes children’s human rights.” I stop taking notes, frowning. I turn to him and he looks at me, very seriously. If you force children to take the test and a benign tumor is detected, the child has to live with this horrible fact for the rest of his/her life. Maybe the child will need surgery for a tumor that no one would have found otherwise and that would not have required surgery. And then the child has to take medicine for the rest of his/her life. That goes against the child’s human rights.
At that point, I had stopped taking notes, stubbornly. I simply could not. I could not even look at his face. I was happy to have found a foundation with good coverage, because my face was on fire underneath. I was boiling with rage. I ended up writing a few words, to make him believe that I was taking notes on his diatribe. Instead, I wrote “So, the human rights of the children in Fukushima prefecture do not matter? I don’t understand his viewpoint, at all. There are a sharp increase of cancers on one side, but we should sacrifice their rights to let others alone?” Thinking about it, that also sounds selfish. But I’ve met children impacted directly by the accident, talked with them, played with them. I’ve talked with their parents and listened to their concerns. I’ve heard them whispering words about the increase of cancers, letting their fear fall into silence. Shutting down.
Without a comparison with other prefectures, there will be no way to prove the link. Sure, I get the point. Even though, I somehow feel that it is the only disease that has been recognized as being a consequence of the Chernobyl accident, and I would love to simply use that fact to make sure that at least children with thyroid cancer will be taken care of in Japan. Because it will be even more difficult to prove any other type of disease, for reasons that I unfortunately understand way too well now. Victims will be forgotten; they are forgotten already. No one will take responsibility and they will have to deal with the sanitary (and social) consequences of a disastrous energy policy. National policy.
The whole situation is against their human rights. Responsibility issues, socially destructive policies, disgusting silences, crumbling memories. So when I am told that “Well… there is nothing that can be done”, I can’t help but want to scream. Please think about something that can be done, instead of giving up so easily. Please.