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A year of Fukushima

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Memory and Loss. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year since the great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The loss of more than 15,000 lives in Japan. The misery of the survivors and the utter anguish of those who lost loved ones, but could not go back to look for them because of the radiation from the Dai-ichi nuclear power plant reactors. The criminal negligence of the regulators in Japan and their international counterparts, the International Atomic Energy Agency. The outrage over a national government in Japan that stood by the nuclear industry rather than the victims of Fukushima. The solidarity shown by hundreds of thousands of citizens all over the world, and the determination they have shown to oppose this evil technology. The voices and visual works of hundreds upon hundreds of artists and writers, poets and craftspeople who have expressed in as many forms as they know the need for a nuclear-free world. The monumental money-fuelled obduracy of governments before the demand of their citizens, that they halt forever nuclear power generation. It has been a year since the tsunami and the meltdown at Dai-ichi. We should in this year have had not a single, not one, nuclear power plant left running on the face of the Earth. Back to work.

On this grim anniversary, here is a small compilation of recent news and views, followed by links to information and data sources.

It’s Not Just Fukushima: Mass Disaster Evacuations Challenge Planners – The Fukushima evacuation zone raises the issue of what would happen during an evacuation in heavily populated U.S. metropolises during a nuclear meltdown. In fact, in the U.S., more than four million Americans live within 10  miles of the 63 sites of nuclear power. Plants with at least one operating reactor, according to data compiled by the NRC based on the 2000 census. That number swells when the radius extends outward to 50 miles to affect more than 180 million Americans, and includes major metropolitan areas such as York City, Philadelphia, San Diego. In the wake of the in Japan and subsequent evacuations, could all these people in the U.S. be evacuated–or take some form of protective action – in time in similar circumstances?

Nuclear contamination: a year after Fukushima, why does Brussels still back nuclear power? – One year after the Fukushima disaster hit Japan, nuclear power remains very firmly on the agenda for the European Commission. Corporate Europe Observatory examines how the industry has been lobbying behind the scenes, promising that nuclear power does not pose a risk. The nuclear industry is gearing up to the first anniversary of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster by arguing that nuclear power remains central to the EU’s energy needs. Over the last year the industry has repeated key public relations messages that nuclear energy is not only safe, but central to any low carbon, secure energy future. And its vociferous PR campaign and highly effective lobby network, has been welcomed by parts of the European Commission.

Emptiness and Silence. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

A year on from Fukushima, the policy ramifications are still being felt across the EU, particularly in some member states. While the industry concedes that the accident “had a major impact on the EU institutional agenda,” has been lobbying hard to minimise these impacts, trying to make sure that Fukushima does not compromise the potential for nuclear new build in the EU.

Hundreds of Events Globally Will Mark One-Year Commemoration of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster – Hundreds of thousands of people across the world will be involved in actions around the March 11 commemoration of the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster which began on that date a year ago. Events will be going on throughout the month of March and into April. Beyond Nuclear has put together a Global Calendar of Events, which is frequently updated on it. There is a March Against Nuclear Madness Facebook page.

This is described as an unprecedented response to a catastrophe that is not yet over and may sadly resonate forever. “We are learning more on a daily basis – about the degree of cover-up, the level of radioactive contamination and the dangers still posed by the wrecked reactors and teetering high-level radioactive waste storage pools at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site.”

Undeterred by Fukushima: Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead with New Reactors – A year after the catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it is clear just how little the nuclear lobby and its government supporters have been unsettled by the disaster in Japan. But rejection of nuclear energy is growing among people the world over – and building new reactors makes no sense in economic terms. On the face of things, it would appear that little has changed. Only a few countries, such as Switzerland, Italy and Belgium, are joining Germany in turning their backs on nuclear energy. Indeed, it is primarily Russia and the United States, the two nuclear heavyweights, that are competing in a new atomic race, though this time with technologies geared toward civilian purposes. New nuclear power plants are being built with particular relish in emerging economies, such as China and India, who want to satisfy at least part of their energy needs with uranium.

For the builders and operators of nuclear energy plants, the accident in Japan came at what might be considered a bad time. After years of stagnation, not only the emerging economies of Asia – China, South Korea and India – but also Russia and the United States were beginning to put greater emphasis on nuclear energy. This decision was driven not only by the growing energy needs of the newly industrializing nations, but also by fears related to carbon emissions and climate change.

This prompted the backers of nuclear energy to make frantic attempts to downplay the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, with the aim of nipping the debate about nuclear safety in the bud. For example, John Ritch, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, asserted that the disaster hadn’t cost anyone their life. “Nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima,” Ritch told the BBC in November, “and will continue to mature as the world’s premier non-carbon technology.”

On Resources Research: (1) Nuclear power in India and Prime Minister Singh’s ‘foreign’ slander; (2) Koodankulam: An Open Letter to the Fellow Citizens of India; (3) The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?; (4) See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material; (5) See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.

From Japan, Bearing Witness in Debate Over Indian Point – “One quick little cigarette,” Mr. Kitajima, 45, said. The smokes, he reckoned, are an occupational hazard. Last March, unemployed and sitting in a Tokyo cafe with his girlfriend, Mr. Kitajima felt the shudders of an 8.9-magnitude earthquake. Before long, he found himself working nearly 200 miles away at the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was destroyed. “I would say about 90 percent of the workers at the plant smoke,” Mr. Kitajima said. “Stress.”

His job is to read radiation meters worn by the 3,000 people trying to clean up its lethally contaminated remnants. The most dangerous work is done at night, he said, after the main shifts are gone. A crew of 20 men is sent to pick up the irradiated rubble. Practically none of the men have families, much education or regular employment. They have no experience working in nuclear power plants. He compared them to day laborers in America. Within a few months, they accumulate what is regarded as the maximum safe dosage of radiation for four years, Mr. Kitajima said. “Then they bring in new ones,” he said. “Everybody kinds of admits to themselves that these are expendable people.”

Health uncertainties torment residents in Fukushima – Yoshiko Ota keeps her windows shut. She never hangs her laundry outdoors. Fearful of birth defects, she warns her daughters: Never have children. This is life with radiation, nearly one year after a tsunami-hit nuclear power plant began spewing it into Ota’s neighborhood, 60 kilometers away. She’s so worried that she has broken out in hives. “The government spokesman keeps saying there are no IMMEDIATE health effects,” the 48-year-old nursery school worker says. “He’s not talking about 10 years or 20 years later. He must think the people of Fukushima are fools.

“It’s not really OK to live here,” she says. “But we live here.” Ota takes metabolism-enhancing pills in hopes of flushing radiation out of her body. To limit her exposure, she goes out of her way to buy vegetables that are not grown locally. She spends 10,000 yen a month on bottled water to avoid the tap water. She even mail-ordered a special machine to dehusk her family’s rice.

Searching the Wastes. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Released records of nuclear crisis meetings show chaos, confusion over lack of info – Just four hours after the tsunami swept into the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan’s leaders knew the damage was so severe the reactors could melt down, but they kept their knowledge secret for months. Five days into the crisis, then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan voiced his fears it could turn worse than Chernobyl. The revelations were in 76 documents of 23 meetings released Friday, almost a year after the disaster. The minutes of the government’s crisis management meetings from March 11—the day the earthquake and tsunami struck—until late December were not recorded and had to be reconstructed retroactively.

They illustrate the confusion, lack of information, delayed response and miscommunication among government, affected towns and plant officials, as some ministers expressed sense that nobody was in charge when the plant conditions quickly deteriorated. The minutes quoted an unidentified official explaining that cooling functions of the reactors were kept running only by batteries that would last only eight hours. “If temperatures in the reactor cores keep rising beyond eight hours, there is a possibility of meltdown,” the official said during the first meeting that started about four hours after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima Daiichi plant March 11, setting off the crisis. Apparently the government tried to play down the severity of the damage. A spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was replaced after he slipped out a possibility of meltdown during a news conference March 12.

Containing Fukushima: Saving Japan From Itself (Huffington Post / K.T. Hiraoka) – The disaster at Fukushima last year exposed how entrenched interests among key decision-makers have contaminated Japanese society, endangering the long-term prosperity of Japan. These special interests often do what is right for themselves, as opposed to what is in the best interests of the Japanese people.

In this two-part series, discussion on what has transpired over the past twelve months as a result of decisions made related to the Fukushima disaster (Part I) will lead to a look at decision-making during the crisis in subsequent weeks and months that have passed (Part II). As the current decision-making system in Japan increasingly works to the detriment of Japanese society, what is needed instead is a more transparent, honest, and benevolent decision-making system that listens to the wishes of the people and responds to it.

Lessons from Fukushima nuclear disaster report shows millions remain at risk – Greenpeace released “Lessons from Fukushima”, a new report which shows that it was not a natural disaster which led to the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s east coast, but the failures of the Japanese Government, regulators and the nuclear industry. The key conclusion to be drawn from the report is that this human-made nuclear disaster could be repeated at any nuclear plant in the world, putting millions at risk. “While triggered by the tragic March 11th earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima disaster was ultimately caused by the Japanese authorities choosing to ignore risks, and make business a higher priority than safety,” said Jan Vande Putte, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. “This report shows that nuclear energy is inherently unsafe, and that governments are quick to approve reactors, but remain ill-equipped to deal with problems and protect people from nuclear disasters. This has not changed since the Fukushima disaster, and that is why millions of people continue to be exposed to nuclear risks.”

The matchless Japan Focus has throughout the year kept track of these sources, sincere thanks to them and appreciation for their steadfast work. The journal has provided thoughtful, critical and independent coverage of the incident and its effects.

Local Histories. From the Fukushima album by photographer Satoru Niwa.

Blogs

Fukushima Diary – “Fukushima diary is to warm people to evacuate. so it must be fast. must be before it goes on major media. That’s what I needed just after 311, that’s why I’m doing it now. Should I evacuate or not, that’s what I wanted to know. so the balance is difficult. I try to keep it not over the top but the conclusion is, everyone must evacuate.”
“The public execution has begun in Fukushima, like in Minamisoma. As I hear from people actually working there or living there, I find the situation really desperate. Nothing can be done. Now it’s only in Fukushima but it will be in Chiba, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and everywhere. But even when I talk to my family, it can’t be a conversation. I’m just get out get out get out. and they are like, it’s cold, or it’s sunny, or it’s snowing or just on about meaningless things. Once I talk about their business, it wil start a fight. I guess the situation is too serious for them to accept.”

The Wall Street Journal’s blog “Japan Realtime” offers eclectic commentary on contemporary Japan. The focus is on economic issues but the blog has presented solid original reportage on Fukushima since March. A series of original translations on issues relating to the Tsunami and nuclear crisis from a McGill University translation seminar organized by Prof. Adrienne Hurley. The blog Global Voices features the work of volunteer translators who strive to spread awareness of local perspectives that often end up lost in mainstream reportage. Highlights of the Fukushima coverage include “A Nuclear Gypsy’s Tale”. A collection of links and commentary in French. Twitter stream for Fukushima articles and info in English.

On the Peace Philosophy Centre blog, Asia-Pacific Journal Coordinator Satoko Norimatsu presents a range of hard-hitting criticisms of the Japanese government and TEPCO responses to the Fukushima crisis including original translations of sources not otherwise available in English and extensive Japanese and English language coverage of official, NGO and blog sources.
Ten Thousand Things is a blog Supporting Positive Peace in Japan, the Asia-Pacific and Everywhere which includes extensive coverage of peace and environmental movements. English and Japanese blog specializing in 3.11 economic and financial issues.

NGOs and Informational Websites

Green Action Kyoto, an NGO which has campaigned against nuclear power since the early 1990s, presents a comprehensive and critical blog of Fukushima stories in English drawing on government, media and NGO sources. Greenpeace has presented some of the most critical coverage of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Greenpeace, in February 2012, published a major critical overview of the 3.11 disaster and crisis. The study examines the nuclear meltdown, assesses the dangers of radiation, the fundamental failure of the Japanese nuclear system, and the issues of compensation to victims.

The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre is a longstanding organization that aims to provide information about nuclear energy and its risks to the Japanese public. Their bi-monthly newsletter is a valuable source of information on nuclear issues. They also offer a blog containing video resources and links to important anti-nuclear publications.

The website of Japan’s Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, an NGO devoted to phasing out atomic energy. English and Japanese sites. The Japanese website of leading nuclear protest organizer “Shiroto no Ran”. There is a collection of hundreds of anti-nuclear posters at No Nuke Art. The National Network to Protect Children from Radiation (in Japanese). EShift, a Japanese network dedicated to phasing out atomic energy in favor of natural renewables.

Fukushima coverage by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the premier source of socio-scientific views and praxis on the world nuclear industry. Arnie Gunderson’s Fairewinds Associates provides critical analysis of global nuclear issues by a scientist. It has closely followed the Fukushima situation. The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a group which aims to provide concise and easily understood commentary on important scientific issues for the general public. The Atomic Age: From Hiroshima to the Present is a resource maintained at the University of Chicago.

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