Cancer Mysteriously Ravages German Village


Of course, since they are more afraid of cancer, it's possible that people in Wewelsfleth are also just more likely to get tested for cancer. This is called the "screening effect," and it describes how people searching for certainty often end up creating more uncertainty.

'Why Us?'

Karstens opens the door to a small balcony and walks outside. His office window looks out over green meadows and, farther off, the Brokdorf cooling towers. There is apparently no evidence that nuclear power is to blame for cancer. Nevertheless, is there any evidence that it isn't?

After the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, even the German government decided to phase out all nuclear energy by 2022 because it couldn't guarantee that nuclear power wasn't dangerous. Since then, the Brunsb├╝ttel and Stade plants have been shut down. But some wonder whether the Brokdorf plant shouldn't be shut down more quickly.

For Karstens, the situation presents two major questions: How much uncertainty can a politician be held responsible for? And how much uncertainty can people tolerate?

Karstens can cite a case of cancer corresponding to every house on his street. Indeed, in Wewelsfleth, the "Why me?" question every cancer patient asks himself has become "Why us?" The disease no longer appears to be brought on by fate. These days, it feels more like a curse.

Of course, the residents of Wewelsfleth can change things by moving or modifying their behavior. But doing so would, of course, first require knowing what they're supposed to change. Then again, one could also eliminate all factors as a precaution: nuclear power, smoking, alcohol, the shipyard. Impotent to Act

A few days ago, Karstens and some other village residents drove to Kiel, the state capitol, to deliver a petition. They had an appointment at the state health ministry, where they were greeted with expressions of concern.

But then there was silence -- because the officials didn't know what to say.

Karstens and his neighbors want another study to be conducted, one that specifically focuses on Wewelsfleth. But experts say that 142 cancer cases aren't enough to make the results of a study statistically significant. In other words, the people of Wewelsfleth will have to get used to the idea that a highly localized incidence of disease could also just be a coincidence -- and that there's nothing logical or fair about this disease.

After his wife died, Karstens decided to stay in Wewelsfleth. People who grow up in the area tend to not move away. A few years later, he met another woman.

In early December 2009, this woman was also diagnosed with cancer. In fact, it was so advanced that she wasn't even allowed to leave the hospital. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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