The invisible threat – Voices from Fukushima

The Japanese language has two words for nuclear power: “genshi”, the “productive” nuclear power that drives power plants and “kaku”, the destructive power used for nuclear weapons. This suggests a difference that scientifically does not exist. A country that has nuclear power plants can also create atomic bombs. Six participants of the Peace Boat voyage share their experiences and opinions after Fukushima

written for the Peace Boat website on March 11th, 2012 >>

A year ago, I was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO that has been promoting reconciliation and a nuke-free world since the 1970ies, starting from Japan’s own painful experience. We passed close to Mururoa and Fangataufa, learnt from Polynesians about how to recognize a contaminated fish (blood in its tail and eyes) and listened to workers who are afraid to pass on the radiation in their genes for generations to come. But on March 11th, we realized that we didn’t have to go that far: The nuclear disaster of Fukushima still affects many Japanese people.

The Japanese language has two words for nuclear power: “genshi”, the “productive” nuclear power that drives power plants and “kaku”, the destructive power used for nuclear weapons. This suggests a difference that scientifically does not exist. A country that has nuclear power plants can also create atomic bombs. Both involve the fission of plutonium and uranium. The Liberal Democratic Party, that regained power in Japan in the December elections, has postponed any discussion about whether or not to phase-out for three more years. Six participants of the Peace Boat voyage share their experiences and opinions after Fukushima.

Arai Toshiko, Miyagi prefecture: After the accident, many families from Fukushima moved to our prefecture, Miyagi, so that their children could attend schools in a safer area. But many parents continue to travel to Fukushima to work, because they have to support their families. Furthermore they feel attached to their home town and feel they cannot leave it so easily. At school their children are traumatized for the second time: Their new classmates often treat them badly and avoid them, claiming that radiation was contagious. This has gone so far that the children ask to return to Fukushima, saying that they don’t mind the radiation, if only they could have their old life with friends and family again. After the accident there was little food left to eat, so they started to share the little they had. Many scientists say that children should not eat agricultural products grown in Fukushima, but it is these products that school meals are made of. So mothers travel far to find some food which has not been grown in the contaminated area. The worst is: People in Fukushima are discouraged from freely talking about the danger, although they can see it on their Geiger counters every day. I never did anything to change the situation in my prefecture. It wasn’t until the tsunami happened that I realized: By not speaking out against it, I have silently agreed with nuclear power in my home region. 3-11 changed a lot for me. Now I have also participated in a protest.

Suzuki Tsuneo, Nagano prefecture: After my retirement I started to visit the affected regions. I realized that the nature of the destruction is very different. We could clean the town from the destructions of the tsunami and restart our living there from the next day, but we will never be able to remove the nuclear pollution. But still people keep living in the radiated areas. Unlike in Chernobyl evacuation is not compulsory because by giving that order the government would admit that it is dangerous. Also they would have had to pay compensation. The unclear orders and the unstable status quo makes the situation even worse for the people of Fukushima.

Ariyama Yoko, Jogo prefecture: I have been teaching science at a junior high school until my retirement in March this year. In our textbooks little was described about the dangers of radiation. Instead they emphasized the advantages of nuclear energy as allegedly “clean” energy, because it does not produce CO². “And there is a problem with waste”, the book added – without specifying. That was it. I felt that this representation was incomplete, but I did not add more information. After the accident at the Daihatsu power plant, I fully realized that our whole educational system supports nuclear energy. Since that time I regret what I used to teach to my students. After 3-11, I had one year left until my retirement. So I used this year to tell the truth to the children. I brought newspaper articles to my class and explained to them what had happened. I asked my colleagues to join me in this – and many did. However others refused stating that nuclear energy was important to maintain our standard of living. In April 2012, the government released a new version of the textbook. But still, it hardly mentions Fukushima and presents nuclear energy as something substantially different from nuclear bombs. As a reaction, a teachers’ association from Fukushima published its own textbook, which elaborates about the dangers more in detail. But this book is not for sale throughout the country.

Otozu Hiroko, Miyagi prefecture: I was concerned with nuclear energy even before Fukushima. I try to lead an ecological life in the countryside. It might look as if I am living in the 50ies, but it is fun to cook your own food in an open fireplace, make compost and reuse rain water. It’s a bit inconvenient, but I like it. People say that we can do this in the countryside, because we have so much space. But they are wrong. Everybody could make a step towards a more sustainable life. Solar energy has for example become a lot more popular in Japan since 3-11.

Konno Ayako and Konno Tomohiro, Namiemachi-Tsushima, Fukushima prefecture: Our house is located only thirty kilometres from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, but we never worried about that. In the morning after the 3-11 earthquake, parts of our village were evacuated. We started to house several dozen people in the recreation room of our enterprise. No evacuation plan existed, so everyone depended on friends, relatives or helpful strangers. We were so busy housing the refugees and making rice balls for them, that we didn’t even have time to watch TV. But our relatives and our children in Tokyo called us – they worried a lot about us. Information from the media and the government was very contradictory. The only source we trusted were the families of the TEPCO workers, who were the first to flee the place. That was a bad sign. Two days after the earthquake we also left our house. We just took the clothes we wore with us, because we thought we would return soon anyway. We moved to seven or eight different places, the houses of friends and relatives, before we ended up in Tokyo, where the government has reserved some apartments to rent to Fukushima refugees. Whenever we return, we feel sad. We had a cat. When we arrived in April we still saw her alive. She climbed into our car as if to say: “Don’t leave me here.” But we couldn’t take her with us, because in our temporary settlements there was no space for a cat. We never saw her again. The streets of our village used to be narrow anyway, but now they are overgrown with grass. Few people remain – mainly elderly people fled the city to have a peaceful retirement in the countryside. But these are just rumours. Whenever we go back, we have to hurry up and cannot wander around, because everything is contaminated. In Tokyo we both started to volunteer at the Peace Boat Center (P-cen), preparing posters which other volunteers later distributed. As a family we received about one million yen (ten thousand Euro) in compensation, but we are still hoping to receive more. We lost our house and our jobs. Before the government settles the compensation issue, we cannot decide where to go. Now Peace Boat is our home.

Photos: Christina Felschen/ Peace Boat