Over one year has passed since the Japanese tsunami caused about seven nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The immediate result was that about 50 km radius of the plant’s range, dangerous radiation rays affected lives and properties.
Initially, there were tight restrictions on the export of products from the nuclear meltdown affected areas by the Japanese government. As time has passed, the restrictions are becoming more relaxed, and now, more and more products with dangerously high levels of radiation are being shipped to several ill-regulated markets. This is most especially the case with used vehicles, which are hardly subjected to the same level of safety testing as brand new vehicles, prior to shipment.
Immediately after the nuclear incident, governments of countries around the world installed radiation testing equipments at the ports of entry. Australian government was among the first to test 700 vehicles in the June of 2011; this testing has continued till date and thousands of cars are tested monthly.
In Chile, port workers and custom agents staged a protest against their government for not immediately destroying 21 vehicles found with traces of radiation. In the view of the Chilean Nuclear Commission, the radiation levels found was not high enough to cause damage to humans. The workers thought otherwise and forced the government to revisit its decision.
In a July 2012 report, Russian government stated that it has so far denied entry to about 300 cars proven to come from the nuclear explosion district and found with very high levels of radiation. The Daily Telegraph of UK not too long ago, reported that fraudulent Japanese used-car dealers were selling vehicles “exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation to unsuspecting buyers.”
Cars having up to twenty times the permissible level of radiation have found their way to African countries where several governments are clueless or unconcerned about such health risks. Governments of Kenya and Tanzania however, are among the few African countries, who, unable to afford the high cost of testing all incoming vehicles have expressly banned the importation of cars from Japan into their markets. Kenyan government went as far as destroying some cars after it hired independent firms to test for radiation levels.
Uganda imports between between 4,000 – 5,000 cars monthly, several of them used. The government of Uganda, concerned about the threat to its citizens sent a delegation to Japan headed by the House committee leader on trade and which included officials of Uganda National Bureau of Standards. The delegations reported upon return that “it was established, through random scientific tests as well as motor vehicle inspection records, that many used motor vehicles destined for export markets from Japan are contaminated with significantly high level of ionizing radiation, way above recommended levels.”
Nigerians buy more used cars than brand new cars, and Japanese cars are the favorite of most first-time and budget car buyers. For the sake of peace of mind, one must desist from thinking of how many radiation drenched cars have already found their way to the Nigerian market. Most radioactive materials settle on the body of the car, windows and seats, and no amount of scrubbing or re-painting or even change of chaircover can remove them.
Radioactive agents are highly carcinogenic. Radiation forms cancerous cells and makes them grow aggressively. Other side effects of radiation include infertility, birth defects and irreversible DNA alterations that exposes future generations to yet-to-be ascertained risks.
Although a little belated, the Nigerian government should immediately release a public statement on the stand of the government towards used Japanese cars, or else the health of Nigerian citizens and residents would no longer be assured. It is suggested that Nigerian government should, as a matter of urgency, join its Kenyan and Tanzanian counterparts in placing a temporary ban on importation of used cars from Japan, until it has acquired equipments to test cars for radiation at the various ports of entry.