Cancer & Controversy: Japan’s Nuclear Momentum

By Sarah B. Grace

A week after the first confirmed case of cancer linked to Fukushima radiation exposure, Japan announced that it plans to restart another of the nuclear reactors shut down following 2011’s unprecedented nuclear disaster.

The Ikata prefecture power plant will conform to rigorous new safety rules inspired by Fukushima when it restarts next year. It joins two other Japanese reactors in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima that have already restarted amidst intense ongoing protests against atomic power.

According to Bloomberg Business, all three of these reactors and their corresponding plants passed Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority’s inspections and new safety standards. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said  that these standards are “at the highest level in the world.” The government reported that the first plant to reopen received over $100 million in new safety systems. Two more reactors in a station north of Kyoto also received approval to restart but legal issues have impeded their reactivation.

Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

While the Fukushima disaster did not contribute to the death toll of over 19,000 people killed by the earthquake and tsunami which caused it, the long-term health effects and environmental implications of the reactor leaks are still hotly debated. A Fukushima worker recently diagnosed with Leukemia did not get cancer during the disaster itself, but while he was part of the effort to clean up the plant and contaminated surrounding areas.

Nuclear material of varying degrees of radioactivity has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean continuously since 2011 and private estimates say the cleanup will take decades. The country of Japan sits on a major fault line and is highly prone to earthquakes. While an earthquake of the same severity that caused Fukushima is rare, it is not impossible that it could happen again, especially since another Japanese nuclear plant sits directly on a known, active fault line. Fukushima displaced tens of thousands of people, and the unprecedented challenges of the cleanup effort have contributed to the public’s concerns about a return to nuclear power.

Polls show that most Japanese people do not approve of the restarts and there have been widespread protests each time a new reactor gets permission to be restarted. In spite 0f the damage to his popularity, Prime Minister Abe’s administration strongly advocates the use of nuclear power, which has been a confirmed national strategic priority since 1973. Need, far more than concern for clean energy, drives this position in Japan, as Japan has few natural resources and imports more than four-fifths of its considerable energy needs. Nuclear power has the potential to cut Japan’s energy costs and dependence on foreign resources, as it had done before Fukushima. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, prior to the disaster Japan depended on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy.

According to the World Nuclear Association, Japan currently has 43 operable nuclear reactors, all of which had been shut down by September 2013 because of Fukushima. Aside from the three that have already been approved, approval to restart proceedings have begun for 24 more reactors. According to the BBC, such a massive restart of dormant reactors is unprecedented. However, the legal issues that delayed the restart of two approved reactors present a common problem. Because of this, according to Mycle Schneider, a consultant at a Parisian independent energy consulting firm, “The outlook for restarts is as cloudy as ever.” Reuters estimates that only seven reactors are likely to be turned back on in the next few years.

Japan’s traumatic history with nuclear power started with the atomic bombs detonated by the United States in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and later in the Bikini atoll. No foreign power is to blame for Japan’s first nuclear disaster of the 21st Century, however. Four and a half years later, Japan can only now begin to get an idea of Fukushima’s long-term repercussions for both its policies and its people.

Image via Wikipedia Commons



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Germany’s Wurst Nightmare: The WHO Report

By Shirin Yassen

Sausages are to Germans like pasta is to Italians. So the World Health Organizations warning this October that processed meat may cause cancer was tough to swallow for the Germans.

Sausage is ground meat, herbs and vegetables stuffed into a skin, and it has been part of the German diet for centuries. Germans make at least 40 different types of sausage, and of the 31 types listed in the U.S. National Hot Dog and Sausage Council’s online sausage glossary, 11 are from Germany.

Catalan_Hot_Dog_Stand_FrankfurtFrankfurt even lent its name to a sausage, yet now German citizens have learned that frankfurters may cause cancer. But the Germans’ craving for their hot dogs is not likely to stop.

Germany’s newspapers released hundreds of articles when the processed meat announcement appeared, prompting the WHO, the U.N. health organization, to issue a statement clarifying that while it was not calling for people to stop eating sausages altogether, it did recommend that consumers reduce their consumption of processed meat.

WHO said it had found sufficient evidence “that consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.” WHO’s findings were based on 800 studies carried out around the world.

German and Austrian food ministers criticized WHO’s report on the health risk of processed meat. “No one should be afraid to eat a bratwurst,” said Christian Schmidt, the German food and agriculture minister. “What counts is the quantity, too much of something is always bad for the health,” he explained in a statement, drawing a comparison between sausages and sunshine.

While government officials were upset, Germany’s wurst lovers were even more annoyed and angry by the report. “It’s total nonsense,” a woman selling sausages to a line of customers in Frankfurt told the Wall Street Journal. “If it is true, every German would have already died of wurst,” she added.

When it comes to sausage, there’s no place like Germany to eat it. At many German festivals the main food that is served is sausage, and the Germans have been serving wurst for hundreds of years. And in Duetschland, people take wurst seriously.


It’s even part of the language, as when someone says: “All things comes to an end, only the sausage has two.” When they want to express indifference, Germans say “It’s all sausage to me.”

Germans eat more processed meat than any other people. Reuters reported that an average German consumes 17.2 kilos of the stuff each year, with each region specializing in its own particular version of the national varieties. Bratwurst, for example, made from pork in a natural skin and grilled or fried, has over 50 varieties in Germany, differing in size and seasonings, as well as texture.

In 2009, Berlin opened a sausage museum dedicated to its now maligned staple and the city’s favorite snack. It is a paradise for sausage lovers and a magnet for tourists. Frankfurt holds a festival every year, featuring a competition for the best frankfurter, a six-day event that draws up to 500 visitors a day. Indeed, Germany has another two museums also devoted to its sausages.

WHO’s warnings may not prevent sausage lovers from indulging their appetites. Oktoberfest may be over, but other festivals are scheduled in Germany for November. Wurst-eating is a year-round German occupation, and people continue to eat it. I guess WHO’s report is “all sausage” to them.

Photograph No. 1 from Wikimedia Commons

Photograph No. 2 by Tednmiki, courtesy of Wkimedia Commons

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The Resilient Thai Tourism Industry

By Melissa Yeager

Along the beach in Ao Nang, Thailand, a long line of little huts winds along the shore where one can purchase a massage, a piece of pineapple and rent a beach chair for the day all for $5 US. A steady stream of Westerners, from Australia to the U.K., pour in daily to take advantage of the deal.

While the tourists sit in their beach chairs, soaking in the sun and spectacular sights of little island cliffs dodging in between the waters of the Andaman sea, a man with a large wooden pole across his back slowly makes his way across the sand. On either side of the pole sit two hot make-shift grills cooking spring rolls and Pad Thai.

Street food vendor at Ao Nang

Street food vendor at Ao Nang

The man offers the meal to beach goers for less than a dollar US.

This type of tourism is a cornerstone of the Thai economy and according to Reuters, accounts for 10 percent of its GDP. A myriad of recent events has threatened the industry, yet after each one, the tourists keep coming to the place known as the “Land of Smiles.”

First, there was the military coup. There were reports of Australian tourists who were harassed. Two British tourists were killed on the island of Koh Tao.

Then came the explosion at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. The bombing killed 20 people and wounded more than a hundred others. Police arrested a suspect, but not before Thailand saw a dip in tourists traveling to the country.

But even so, in late October, the Thai Tourism council announced it expected to see more than 30 million visitors by the end of 2015, a 22 percent jump over last year.

Long Boats in Krabi, Thailand

Long Boats in Krabi, Thailand

Much of the growth is attributed to the expansion of the Chinese middle class, as many Chinese now have the money to travel more than ever. More than 8.1 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand which, according to the Thai Tourism council, is a 76 percent increase from 2014.

That number could grow even larger in the future if Thailand and China are able to complete a project linking the two countries by railway. Both governments had pledged to have the long awaited project moving by December, but just last week, a Thai Transportation Ministry official announced the plans had stalled once again. The governments still plan to break ground in December, but the project will likely take well into 2016 to complete.

Photographs by Melissa Yeager




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The End of China’s One Child Policy

By Qiyong Sally Zhang

China’s one child policy has been abandoned. All couples can now have two children. This three-decade long policy ended on Oct. 29, according to a communiqué issued by the Communist Party of China.

“I’m shaking to be honest. It’s one of those things that you have been working on and saying for years and recommending they should do something and it finally happened. It’s just a bit of shock,”  Stuart Gierel-Bastern, a University of Oxford demographer, said in The Guardian.

“This is a historical moment signaling the complete end of the one-child policy,” Wang Feng, a demographer at Fudan University in Shanghai, said in The Wall Street Journal.

The one child policy, also called the family planning policy, was started in 1979 by the president Xiaoping Deng to limit China’s population growth. Population growth has always been a big issue in China. China has more than 1.3 billion people, which makes it the largest country in the world. The Chinese Communist Party believes that a large population limits the country’s economic development and also increases the pressure on the environment.

This policy has been controversial since it started. Cai Yong, an expert on China’s population, told the Associated Press, “A draconian birth control policy is not the answer to the world population problem.” Also, some people believe that this policy promotes the abuse of human rights. In rural China, there have been some events in which the local government forced women to abort a child due to the policy of the central Chinese government.

4374017007_e7436403c6_zThis policy reduced the population by 300 million people in its first 20 years.  At the beginning of the 21 century, the government began to relax the policy. In 2013, the Chinese government published a new policy, if both of the spouses are an only child of their family, they can have a second child.

Besides relieving the population problem, stimulating the economy may be another reason for abandoning this policy. According to the New York Times, compared with earlier years, the Chinese economic growth in the third quarter was 6.9 percent, which was the slowest since the global financial crisis of 2009.

Some people believe that the abandonment of the one child policy means a positive step of China towards personal freedom and human rights. However, some western media still believe that this only shows the “loosening” of the one child policy, instead of the abandonment of the policy.

“If China is serious about respecting human rights, the government should immediately end such invasive and punitive controls over people’s decisions to plan families and have children,”  William Nee, a Hong Kong activist for Amnesty International, said in The Guardian.

Photograph by Sung Ming Whang courtesy of Flickr.

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A Soccer GOOOOOAAAAL Can Have Deeper Meanings

By Tara Schoenborn

Ecuador had a historic 2-0 soccer win over Argentina on Oct. 8 in the first-round qualifier for the 2018 World Cup. This win marks the first time Ecuador defeated Argentina on its home turf, reports the Cuenca High Life. Ecuador has only qualified for the World Cup on three occasions, whereas Argentina has the reputation of a soccer champion, according to The Guardian. The significance of the win goes beyond the game and represents broader political and cultural implications in South America.

Soccer or “fútbol” is closely intertwined with everyday life in South America, states Soccer Politics, and greatly influences society. Soccer arrived just as the countries were establishing new constitutions, identifying rights and defining their cultures, as reported on the Kojo Nnamdi Radio Show. Soccer became something everyone could rally around, despite differences in background, and each country developed a distinct style.

Coverage of the Oct. 8 game on the United States’ FOX Sports and Malaysia’s Malay Mail Online shows that the association of South America with soccer moves beyond the continent. In the United States, soccer is often viewed as a sport played by little boys and girls in grade school, but according to Time Magazine, soccer is an identity worth fighting for in South America. As a result, and because many South American nations are still developing powers, most of the world sees South America through a soccer lens and a stereotype.

For example, Pitbull created a theme song for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that capitalized on many Brazilian stereotypes, such as samba, beautiful women, and, of course, soccer. When Brazil lost 1-7 to Germany, outlets like USA Today framed it as a disgrace. The Washington Post published an article that put the loss in the context of a disagreement between Brazil and Israel, and Jornal Nacional TV reported the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor as saying, “This is not football. In football, when a game ends in a draw, you think it is proportional, but when it finishes 7-1 it’s disproportionate. Sorry to say, but not so in real life and under international law.” Palmor used the loss to embarrass Brazil and threaten its identity and power, which has strong implications for policy.

France vs Ecuador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Maracana stadium.

France vs Ecuador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Maracana stadium.

Historically, the champions of South American soccer are Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, according to World Soccer Talk. Interestingly enough, these are also the nations with the most economic and political promise. Ecuador, on the other hand, has yet to win a game in Copa América, the regional tournament among Latin and South American nations, according to the Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol. This implies that Ecuador’s Oct. 8 defeat of Argentina has a larger meaning within the region. Ecuador defeating Argentina at home symbolizes the possibility that Ecuador can become a regional player and also a rising international power.

Under President Correa’s tenure, Ecuador has grown substantially, both politically and economically, but it has also suffered assaults to human rights, reports an article in the Washington Post. Recently, protests and social unrest have been frequent due to an economic downturn and Correa’s feud with the media, the Miami Herald reports. It will be interesting to see how Correa uses the win over Argentina to leverage his power at home by rallying the public around the team, fostering nationalism to flex his muscles in the region and attempting to show the rest of the world that there is more to Ecuador than the stereotype of soccer.

Photograph by Rodrigo Soldon II retrieved from Flickr.




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