Norwegians join exodus from Japan

Bookmark and Share

Hundreds of Norwegians living and working in Japan were feeling forced to leave the earthquake-ravaged country on Tuesday, because of growing fears of radiation leaks from severely damaged nuclear power plants. Norway’s Foreign Ministry has now strongly advised against traveling to or staying in Japan at present.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was clearly unhappy about having to approve the official warnings against travel and residence in Japan that were issued by his ministry on Monday. Japan has long been considered a “good friend” of Norway and is an important trading partner, but uncertainty over the damaged nuclear plants became too great.

Crisis centers
“The danger of radiation, along with the unclear situation around the nuclear power plants in Japan, meant that we upgraded our warnings against non-essential travel to all travel,” Kjetil Elsebutangen, a spokesman for the ministry, told newspaper Dagsavisen.

The ministry quickly set up crisis centers in both Oslo and at Norway’s embassy in Tokyo to help the hundreds of Norwegians living in Japan and others currently traveling in the country. All Norwegians have been accounted for and had escaped injury after the massive earthquake late last week and devastating tsunami that followed.

It’s the radiation leaks and fears of a nuclear meltdown at power plants in Fukushima that are posing even more danger and potential destruction. Everyone within a radius of 30 kilometers from the plant was being evacuated, while even radiation levels in Tokyo, much farther to the south, were 10-times higher than usual and causing great concern there as well.

‘No longer any doubt’
Many Norwegians had been hoping to stay in Japan, but were persuaded by the official warnings. After an information meeting at the embassy in Tokyo, “there was no doubt any longer,” restaurant worker Helene Gjesteland told newspaper Aftenposten. She and her partner Thomas Berntsen, both from Stavanger, managed to get an airline ticket to Singapore.

Meanwhile, in Norway as elsewhere around the world, fundraising efforts to help victims of the quake, tsunami and nuclear emergencies were underway. The Norwegian chapters of the Red Cross and Save the Children (Redd Barna) launched immediate campaigns. “Many have lost their loved ones and all they owned in the catastrophe,” said Red Cross President Sven Mollekleiv in a press statement. “The victims need help now.”

Student initiative
Japanese foreign exchange students in Norway were joining their counterparts all over the world to raise money to send home as well. Asaki Abumi, studying media at the University of Oslo, was among those collecting donations at the busy Majorstuen transit station in Oslo on Monday.

“There are 14 of us behind the initiative here,” Abumi told Dagsavisen. “We want to help, but can’t go home. Therefore we had to try something else.”

She worried that Norwegians think of Japan as a wealthy country that will be able to tackle its problems well. “But it’s so bad now, people need food, water, homes, work and many will have trauma after what happened,” Abumi said. “We want to tell Norwegians and others that Japan needs help.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Reader Response forum if you’d like to comment on this story.