Nuclear Foes Form Chernobyl Aid Group

By BRIAN COVERT
REGIONAL CORRESPONDENT

OSAKA — A group to help victims of the Chernobyl power plant accident was recently formed here by a local doctor seeking to strengthen Japan’s nuclear protest movement.

The Chernobyl-Hibakusha Relief Network of Kansai intends to provide aid to and publicize scientific data about the victims, who are reportedly still being exposed to lingering radiation almost six years after the accident, said Katsumi Furitsu, founder of the group.

“We put hibakusha [atomic bomb victims] in our name because the Chernobyl radiation effects are very similar to those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” said Furitsu, 32, a doctor of internal medicine at Hannan Central Hospital in Matsubara, Osaka Prefecture. “People in the Soviet Union say they are hibakusha, too.”

The group of about 130 antinuclear activists includes doctors, housewives, university students and even hibakusha.

“We want to know the exact situation there,” Furitsu said. “Chernobyl is not merely another disaster in a foreign country. There are many nuclear power plants in Japan, and such an accident could happen here.”

According to a Soviet relief organization member, who visited Japan recently, about one-fourth of all residents of the Byelorussian republic continue to live in the area amid consistently high levels of radiation.

The republic has suffered the worst damage from the Chernobyl meltdown.

The figure includes an estimated 600,000 children, some of whom are being treated for radiation disorders, said Gennady V. Grushevoy of the Byelorussian Charitable Fund for the Children of Chernobyl, in a recent meeting in the Kansai region.

Furitsu’s group helped publicize the meeting.

“The first thing we must do is evacuate people and supply noncontaminated food” to Chernobyl victims, said Furitsu, who recently returned from a fact-finding trip to contaminated regions. “We want to support their own efforts.”

Her close association with Japan’s hibakusha — as both a doctor who has worked with several patients and a committed antinuclear activist — provides a firm foundation for the new group.

“I have learned many things from the hibakusha, how radiation injures not only the bodies but also the hearts of the people, their lives and work, everything.”

Furitsu said discrimination and lack of proper medical care make for a common bond between Japanese hibakusha and Chernobyl victims. “The hibakusha themselves understand their situation (in the Soviet Union).”

Her group’s future activities in Kansai include public meetings to analyze the latest information about Chernobyl victims and various fundraising events to send food or other needed materials.

Furitsu stressed that the Kansai group’s uniqueness lies in its aggressive antinuclear stance on the Chernobyl issue, coupled with moral and material support to the victims — unlike various Japanese charity groups that undertake only the latter.

“We want to tell Japanese people about the injuries from Chernobyl and we want to appeal to them to stop nuclear power plants in Japan,” she said.

Furitsu and her colleagues realize that overcoming the public’s apathy on the issue may be the organization’s biggest obstacle.

“I don’t know whether we can make such a major movement, even though the radiation injuries will continue for many, many years,” she said. “The most important thing is to continue (fighting) for a nuclear-free world...maybe for the rest of our lives.”