Radiation is invisible, and it has always been imbued with a diverse range of magical powers in science fiction. Ironically, in a very real sense, radiation does make people invisible. Once groups of people have become victims of a radiological contamination, they are, in addition to being poisoned (or being traumatized by the possibility that they have been poisoned), marginalized and forgotten. Their traditions and communities are fragmented, and they are shamed into concealing their trauma. When contamination occurs, there is a strong impulse even among many victims to not admit that they have been harmed, for they know the fate that awaits them if they do.
Thus it is that hibakusha (the Japanese word for radiation victims) become invisible. When a new group of people become victims, such as in Fukushima in 2011, they feel that they have experienced a unique new kind of horror. For them, for their generation, it is new, but for those who know the historical record, it is a familiar replay of an old story. The people of Fukushima should know by now that they are bit players who have been handed down a tattered script from the past.
A case in point is “Blind Faith,” the superb 1981 book by journalist Penny Sanger, about the small irradiated Canadian town of Port Hope on the shores of Lake Ontario. In the 1970s, it faced (and more often failed to face) the toxic legacy of processing first radium, then uranium for nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.