April 01, 2016
Swallows in Fukushima
On March 18, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a cartoon depicting giant footsteps from a swallow on the ground in Fukushima. The cartoon suggested that the swallow was mutated due to exposure to radiation. In the cartoon, two men in protective gear say “the first swallow of the year.” A similar cartoon drawn by famous cartoonist Jean Cabut appeared in Le Canard enchaîné in 2013, highlighting concerns about disfigurement from radiation exposure. In that cartoon, Cabut drew a disfigured sumo wrestlers. The Japanese government complained to Le Canard enchaîné, but the magazine said that the complaints should not be directed towards them, but rather TEPCO, the electric power company that managed the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Cabut was one of the victims who died in the attack against Charlie Hebdo in January.(Source: http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2142119849812325001).
Although the cartoon of disfigured sumo wrestlers is very offensive and not based on facts, it represents the fears of Japanese people. However, the cartoon depiction of the swallow is not so far from the facts. There have been reports of disfigured swallows in the highly radiative area around Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, where people are forbidden. Professor of Biological Science Timothy Mousseau at the University of South Carolina conducted research in the highly radiative area since soon after the accident in order to examine the effect of the accident on the wildlife in the area. JNN reported on his research in June 2013. In Namie-Machi in Fukushima prefecture, which is a restricted zone, Professor Mousseau discovered that it was common to find swallows that were disfigured. For example, some swallows had white feathers on their head, where there should be blue ones. Another swallow was missing its tail feather was found. Professor Mouseau also discovered that even though many flowers are blooming, the there were no butterflies or bees flying around the flowers. The professor was able to enter the area because he had obtained special permission to enter the area for research.
These disfigurements are minor, but they should not be ignored. They do not indicate that swallows will become as huge as depicted in Charlie Hebdo. However, the depiction of swallows as giants may represents the heightened amount of fear that Japanese people have about the effects of radiation.
From the 52 minute marker in the video below, you can see Professor Mouseau with swallows from the area.