Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘Japan

Sizing up city life

with 2 comments

Close ranks of tall residential towers signal a new township on the outskirts of Beijing, P R China.

Close ranks of tall residential towers signal a new township on the outskirts of Beijing, P R China.

Some two years ago, it was calculated, the world firmly entered the urban age, for the available evidence pointed to a startling truth: more people now live in cities than outside them. The balance between urban and rural populations differs between countries, at times considerably. Chad and Congo have about the same number of people living in cities, 2.95 million and 2.96, but these urban populations are 22% of the total population for Chad and 65% of the total population for Congo.

Overall, the balance between urban and rural populations is thought, conventionally, to directly describe whether a country is likely to be in the high income or low income groups of countries. The Department of Economic and Social Affairs – a specialist agency of the United Nations – entrusts such calculations to its Population Division whose ‘World Urbanization Prospects’ found, in its 2014 revision, that the proportion of urban populations for high income countries was 80% while that for low income countries was 30%. This seems to lend weight to the conventional wisdom that it is cities that galvanise the creation of the sort of wealth which gross domestic product (GDP) growth depends on.

Cities are seen to harbour dynamism and vitality. For those who live in such cities, this is largely true. Residents of cities like Seoul (Korea), Lima (Peru), Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad (all India), Bogotá (Colombia), Nagoya (Japan), Johannesburg (South Africa), Bangkok (Thailand) and Chicago (USA) are very likely to agree that living and working in their respective cities has brought tham prosperity, and are less likely to ponder about this group of cities being the top ten in the world with populations under 10 million in 2014 (there are 28 cities worldwide with populations of at least 10 million).

RG_CN_Beijing_201405_01_bwThere is however another aspect to the formation of cities. In 1927, the film Metropolis, conceived by Fritz Lang and delivered as an artfully stylised cinematic message, described the strains and dangers of the power that cities had already come to have over their residents. For Metropolis was a futuristic city where a cultured utopia existed above a bleak underworld populated by mistreated workers. Just over 50 years later, another film, Blade Runner (1982), blended science fiction with a disturbing portrait of a dystopian and dangerous cityscape that was both gigantic and technology-centric, through which the human element struggled to find meaning.

If Metropolis represented the post-industrial revolution European cityscape, then Blade Runner depicted the flagship of what has been called the Asian century, for its mesmerising and frightening urban backdrop was Tokyo then, and could well be China now. The Japanese capital remains in 2014 the world’s largest city with an agglomeration of 38 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi with 25 million, Shanghai with 23 million, and Mexico City, Mumbai and São Paulo, each with around 21 million inhabitants. By 2030, so the projections say, the world will have 41 mega-cities of more than 10 million inhabitants.

For all their celebrated roles as centres of wealth, innovation and culture, these mega-cities and their smaller counterparts exert dreadful pressures on natural resources and the environment. These are already either unmanageable or uneconomical to deal with, more so in the rapidly growing urban centres of Asia and Africa. Despite the lengthening list of urban problems – most caused by rural folk flocking to cities faster than urban governance structures can cope with existing needs – demographers foresee that today’s trend will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. India, China and Nigeria are together expected to account for 37% of the projected growth of the world’s urban population between this year and 2050. It is there that the idea of the city, which so fascinated Fritz Lang, will be sorely tested.

Advertisements

Stop selling your nuclear monster to India, Mr Abe

leave a comment »

How green do our becquerels glow. Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, 2014 January. Photo: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

How green do our becquerels glow. Shinzo Abe and Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, 2014 January. Photo: Press Information Bureau, Government of India

The Japanese salesman has come and gone, leaving behind him not the whiff of cherry blossoms but the stench of radiation. Shinzo Abe the prime minister of Japan, sipped tea with his host and counterpart in India, Manmohan Singh, as they watched the Republic Day parade together. The future of republics (indeed of democratic principles) must have been a distant matter for these two prime ministers, both glowing with a renewed nuclear fervour.

For, although the long history of accidents at nuclear facilities is painfully evident to all those of us who have lived through an era that included Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, Prime Ministers Abe and Singh promised to “make our nuclear power generation increasingly safe” and to “ensure that the safety and livelihoods of people are not jeopardised in our pursuit of nuclear power”. Who is the “our”, we ask. And because neither can answer, Abe’s visit was met with widespread protests.

In his letter, made public, eminent Gandhian Narayan Desai wrote to Abe: “People of India have learnt from the experience of nuclear power over the last six decades. Local communities have overwhelmingly opposed nuclear projects despite persistent government propaganda … Developing closer relations between our two countries is a desirable goal. However, for this to happen on a healthy durable basis, it is necessary that people’s wishes are listened to and their long term interests protected. Selling nuclear components to help facilitate setting up of nuclear power plants is not the way. This is doubly so, when India has not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and is actively engaged in the production of nuclear weapons. The well-being of future generations should not be sacrificed for short term commercial gains.”

In the 'Jaitapur Times', a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed, a protest banner is reproduced.

In the ‘Jaitapur Times’, a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed, a protest banner is reproduced.

More comprehensively, in ‘Resisting Abe’s Sales Pitch’, M V Ramana (Programme on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University and author of ‘The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India‘ (Penguin 2012)) has said that “Abe’s democratic credentials are evident from his various attempts at peddling reactors despite this overwhelming opposition. One outcome of Abe’s globe-trotting atomic roadshow was an agreement with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, another head of state who doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about democratic sentiment, to sell two nuclear reactors. The majority of the Turkish public too opposes the construction of nuclear power plants.”

Abe must have warmly appreciated the technique of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (ably abetted by a ministers’ cabinet intent on gutting the country of its natural resources, witness the triumphant pronouncements by Veerappa Moily, the Minister for the Destruction of the Environment who is also the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas) who is skilled at replacing one bland statement with another opaque one and in this case he said, “Our negotiations towards an agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy have gained momentum in the last few months”.

But apart from the boring boilerplate statements, Manmohan Singh has presented himself as the South Asian buyer of what the then Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan called “a mutually satisfactory agreement for civil nuclear cooperation at an early date”. That the Japanese chair is filled by someone else now is of little consequence, for the position of Japan’s PM is to be an enthusiastic salesman for the country’s biggest businesses – high-speed rail, nuclear power and water-related infrastructure systems. [See the whole gamut of scary capitalist high-technology and anti-democratic partnership-mongering outlined here.]

The front page of the 'Jaitapur Times', a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed.

The front page of the ‘Jaitapur Times’, a resistance newspaper in Marathi printed in the district where the Jaitapur nuclear power plant is being opposed.

The slow-motion nuclear meltdown that is taking place at Fukushima Daichi had prompted Kan to say that Japan should aim to be “a society without nuclear power”. But in India, inconveniently for a Japanese salesman PM and our own salesman PM, there is now significant opposition to nuclear power, especially at all the sites that have been selected for installing reactors imported from companies like Westinghouse, General Electric and Areva.

We have been educated by honest truth from within Japan itself, like the testimony of a Japanese engineer who helped build reactor 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and who said such plants are inherently unstable, urging Taiwan to ditch atomic energy for renewable resources. Our public opposition knows well that the primary motivation for a nuclear agreement between Japan and India dates back to the US-India nuclear deal. M V Ramana has reminded us that in 2008, William Burns, a senior American diplomat, told the Senate of his country that as its part of the bargain, the Manmohan Singh (UPA) government had “provided the United States with a strong Letter of Intent, stating its intention to purchase reactors with at least 10,000 megawatts (MW) worth of new power generation capacity from U.S. firms [and] has committed to devote at least two sites to U.S. firms”.

These are the deals struck in secret – whose grossly anti-democratic nature Abe and Singh were upholding as they watched soldiers from India’s most decorated regiments march down Rajpath – and here was a salesman who only a few months earlier had midwived a secrecy act that would make unlawful the release of information about the situation at Fukushima. In Japan itself, some of its most famous scientists, including Nobel laureates Toshihide Maskawa and Hideki Shirakawa, have led the opposition against this new state secrecy legislation with 3,000 academics signing a public letter of protest. These scientists and academics declared the government’s secrecy law a threat to “the pacifist principles and fundamental human rights established by the constitution and should be rejected immediately”.

The sites promised to American firms, said Ramana, are Mithi Virdi in Gujarat and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh. We also know thanks to Wikileaks that in 2007, former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar told a nuclear trade delegation from the US-India Business Council that “the Jaitapur site in southern Maharashtra would go to the French”. Now, the salient point is that all of these reactors need key components produced in Japan and the Japanese government has to formally allow these exports.

Abe’s Republic Day sales trip has come soon after the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) acknowledged (was forced to, and did so, shamelessly and for the first time, nearly three years after
the accident started), that water was leaking from the reactor containment vessel in Unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. According to Tatsujiro Suzuki the vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), “the leakage is a significant finding [and] could indicate that the Unit 3 containment vessel has significant damage”. Barely a fortnight ago, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported that TEPCO has withheld 140 measurements of radioactive strontium levels taken in groundwater and the port of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant between June and November last year. But Prime Merchant Manmohan Singh and his colleagues are intent on completing the US-Japan-India trimurti while the ordinary folk of India are demanding anumukti.

Fukushima’s final emergency

with 4 comments

Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by 'tiger-never-die' at deviantart.com

Art to honour the Fukushima 50. Illustration by ‘tiger-never-die’ at deviantart.com

After 29 months of grave nuclear threat, all that matters now is for the world’s experts on radiation and decontamination to join forces and help fix the deadly poison streaming silently out of Fukushima. Because Japan’s political class has betrayed its people and lied to the world.

The world’s nuclear industry, the agencies of the principal nuclear powers, the reactor manufacturers and their lobbyists and financiers must cease their talk and stand aside, for they have been dealers of slow death. Now it is time for every reactor in the world – every single last nightmare nuclear pile – to begin shutting down.

This is a matter serious enough for the UN General Assembly to call an extraordinary and emergency session, and for the agenda to have two items only: (1) the immediate containment of the poison spewing out of the crippled reactors in Fukushima must be an international undertaking, (2) the safe, total and irrevocable decommissioning of all the world’s nuclear reactors must begin at once.

There is no other way. The events August 2013 alone tell us why:

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

Technicians work to address leaks from a tank storing highly radioactive water at the wrekced Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Aug. 20. Photo: The Asahi Shimbun/Hiroshi Kawai

August 23, 2013 – More tanks at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant site may have leaks as Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant operator, said on August 22 that high radiation levels were detected near a second section of storage tanks.

August 21, 2013 – Japan’s nuclear authority said on August 21 that a radioactive water leak at the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant represents a “serious incident” under an international scale, the latest blow in the struggle against contaminated water accumulating at the site.

August 19, 2013 – The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said on August 19 that two workers were found to be contaminated with radioactive particles, the second such incident in a week involving staff outside the site’s main operations centre.

August 14, 2013 – The Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear regulator, officially approved a plan that lays out ­in detail everything from the broad road map that Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Company is following to clean up and dismantle the crippled plant.

Clean up and dismantle – but even the tiniest mistake during an operation to extract over 1,300 fuel rods at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan could lead to a series of cascading failures with an apocalyptic outcome, fallout researcher Christina Consolo told the news website RT.

Fukushima operator TEPCO wants to extract 400 tons worth of spent fuel rods stored in a pool at the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4. The removal would have to be done manually from the top store of the damaged building in the radiation-contaminated environment.

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

Radioactive water contamination graphic by Asahi Shimbun

In the worst-case scenario, a mishandled rod may go critical, resulting in an above-ground meltdown releasing radioactive fallout with no way to stop it, said Consolo. But leaving the things as they are is not an option, because statistical risk of a similarly bad outcome increases every day, she said. Indeed, renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku stated in an interview a few weeks after the initial accident that “TEPCO is literally hanging on by their fingernails.” They still are, and always have been.

As Safecast’s blog has explained in educative detail, it is unclear whether the Japanese government has a clear plan for decontaminating Fukushima Prefecture. The questions raised are worrying indeed: “Are the aims they’ve stated really feasible? Is anyone really able to keep track of the changing standards and guidelines?” And that is why the Asahi Shimbun published a series of reports about changes in government decontamination plans, such as ‘Government secretly backtracks on Fukushima decontamination goal’. This is a situation tailor-made for abuse, and in January 2013, the Asahi Shimbun published a series of exposes detailing sloppy work practices and fraud, titled ‘Crooked Cleanup’.

Where the children sleep

with one comment

These pictures are from James Mollison’s book of photographs of children from around the world and where they sleep (thanks to The Telegraph of Britain for running an article on the book). Mollison hopes his photographs will encourage children to think about inequality. He sees his pictures as “a vehicle to think about poverty and wealth, about the relationship of children to their possessions, and the power of children – or lack of it – to make decisions about their lives”.

Indira, seven, lives with her parents, brother and sister near Kathmandu in Nepal. Her house has only one room, with one bed and one mattress. At bedtime, the children share the mattress on the floor. Indira has worked at the local granite quarry since she was three. The family is very poor so everyone has to work. There are 150 other children working at the quarry. Indira works six hours a day and then helps her mother with household chores. She also attends school, 30 minutes’ walk away. Her favourite food is noodles. She would like to be a dancer when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Indira, seven, lives with her parents, brother and sister near Kathmandu in Nepal. Her house has only one room, with one bed and one mattress. At bedtime, the children share the mattress on the floor. Indira has worked at the local granite quarry since she was three. The family is very poor so everyone has to work. There are 150 other children working at the quarry. Indira works six hours a day and then helps her mother with household chores. She also attends school, 30 minutes’ walk away. Her favourite food is noodles. She would like to be a dancer when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Jasmine, four, lives in a big house in Kentucky, USA, with her parents and three brothers. Her house is in the countryside, surrounded by farmland. Her bedroom is full of crowns and sashes that she has won in beauty pageants. She has entered more than 100 competitions. Her spare time is taken up with rehearsal. She practises her stage routines every day with a trainer. Jazzy would like to be a rock star when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Jasmine, four, lives in a big house in Kentucky, USA, with her parents and three brothers. Her house is in the countryside, surrounded by farmland. Her bedroom is full of crowns and sashes that she has won in beauty pageants. She has entered more than 100 competitions. Her spare time is taken up with rehearsal. She practices her stage routines every day with a trainer. Jazzy would like to be a rock star when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

 

Home for this boy and his family is a mattress in a field on the outskirts of Rome, Italy. The family came from Romania by bus, after begging for money to pay for their tickets. When they arrived in Rome, they camped on private land, but the police threw them off. They have no identity papers, so cannot obtain legal work. The boy’s parents clean car windscreens at traffic lights. No one from his family has ever been to school. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Home for this boy and his family is a mattress in a field on the outskirts of Rome, Italy. The family came from Romania by bus, after begging for money to pay for their tickets. When they arrived in Rome, they camped on private land, but the police threw them off. They have no identity papers, so cannot obtain legal work. The boy’s parents clean car windscreens at traffic lights. No one from his family has ever been to school. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Kaya, four, lives with her parents in a small apartment in Tokyo, Japan. Her bedroom is lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls. Kaya’s mother makes all her dresses – Kaya has 30 dresses and coats, 30 pairs of shoes and numerous wigs. When she goes to school, she has to wear a school uniform. Her favourite foods are meat, potatoes, strawberries and peaches. She wants to be a cartoonist when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Kaya, four, lives with her parents in a small apartment in Tokyo, Japan. Her bedroom is lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls. Kaya’s mother makes all her dresses – Kaya has 30 dresses and coats, 30 pairs of shoes and numerous wigs. When she goes to school, she has to wear a school uniform. Her favourite foods are meat, potatoes, strawberries and peaches. She wants to be a cartoonist when she grows up. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Lamine, 12, lives in Senegal. He is a pupil at the village Koranic school, where no girls are allowed. He shares a room with several other boys. The beds are basic, some supported by bricks for legs. At six every morning the boys begin work on the school farm, where they learn how to dig, harvest maize and plough the fields using donkeys. In the afternoon they study the Koran. In his free time Lamine likes to play football with his friends. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Lamine, 12, lives in Senegal. He is a pupil at the village Koranic school, where no girls are allowed. He shares a room with several other boys. The beds are basic, some supported by bricks for legs. At six every morning the boys begin work on the school farm, where they learn how to dig, harvest maize and plough the fields using donkeys. In the afternoon they study the Koran. In his free time Lamine likes to play football with his friends. Picture: The Telegraph / James Mollison / Chris Boot Ltd

Extracted from ‘Where Children Sleep’ by James Mollison (Chris Boot).

The Fukushima report, grim truth and a salute to heroism in Japan

leave a comment »

Signatures of the ten members of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission

Japan has found new heroism and it is in the form of the ten members of the first independent commission chartered by the Diet in the history of Japan’s constitutional government. Their report, ‘The official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission’, has come as a powerful call for the abandonment of nuclear power in Japan and indeed worldwide.

The voluminous report was designed from the start along lines wholly and utterly ignored by the subjects of the report – the government of Japan and the Japanese nuclear power industry (and also, by association, the international nuclear mongers). And that is the maximum degree of information disclosure. To achieve this, all 19 of the commission meetings were open to public observation and broadcast on the internet (except the first one), simultaneously in Japanese and English, to a total of 800,000 viewers. The commission also also used social media, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public, receiving over 170,000 comments. To gain a global perspective, the commission dispatched three teams overseas, and included interviews and hearings with experts from the USA, France, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

These ten members have shown the determination to achieve maximum information disclosure in a culture, and against unfathomable pressure, that is determined otherwise. They have posed the toughest questions possible and drawn out, from hundreds of responses, the strands of truth about Japanese society which have since 2011 March 11 been obscured by the scale of the disaster, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the massive, tragic loss of life.

These ten members have emphasised through their doggedness and their untiring pursuit of the truth, no matter how bitter, that it is of vital importance that their work – this report – be utilised, as they have said, “for the Japanese people and for the people of the world”. They have demanded that national pride be set aside if it obstructs the truth, and for this, they symbolise a heroism Japan has, in an hour of unprecedented public outrage, rediscovered.

They are Kiyoshi Kurokawa (chairman) and members Kenzo Oshima, Hisako Sakiyama, Masafumi Sakurai, Yoshinori Yokoyama, Mitsuhiko Tanaka, Koichi Tanaka, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, Reiko Hachisuka and Shuya Nomura. We must salute them.

The text below is from the chairman’s message in the English executive summary of the report (pdf, 2.4 mb):

Map showing accumulated cesium-137, from the report

“The earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

“How could such an accident occur in Japan, a nation that takes such great pride in its global reputation for excellence in engineering and technology? This Commission believes the Japanese people – and the global community – deserve a full, honest and transparent answer to this question.

“Our report catalogues a multitude of errors and willful negligence that left the Fukushima plant unprepared for the events of March 11. And it examines serious deficiencies in the response to the accident by TEPCO, regulators and the government. For all the extensive detail it provides, what this report cannot fully convey – especially to a global audience – is the mindset that supported the negligence behind this disaster. What must be admitted – very painfully – is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan”. Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program’; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same.

“Following the 1970s “oil shocks,” Japan accelerated the development of nuclear power in an effort to achieve national energy security. As such, it was embraced as a policy goal by government and business alike, and pursued with the same single-minded determination that drove Japan’s postwar economic miracle. With such a powerful mandate, nuclear power became an unstoppable force, immune to scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion. At a time when Japan’s self-confidence was soaring, a tightly knit elite with enormous financial resources had diminishing regard for anything ‘not invented here’.

“This conceit was reinforced by the collective mindset of Japanese bureaucracy, by which the first duty of any individual bureaucrat is to defend the interests of his organization. Carried to an extreme, this led bureaucrats to put organizational interests ahead of their paramount duty to protect public safety. Only by grasping this mindset can one understand how Japan’s nuclear industry managed to avoid absorbing the critical lessons learned from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl; and how it became accepted practice to resist regulatory pressure and cover up small-scale accidents. It was this mindset that led to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.

“This report singles out numerous individuals and organizations for harsh criticism, but the goal is not—and should not be—to lay blame. The goal must be to learn from this disaster, and reflect deeply on its fundamental causes, in order to ensure that it is never repeated. Many of the lessons relate to policies and procedures, but the most important is one upon which each and every Japanese citizen should reflect very deeply. The consequences of negligence at Fukushima stand out as catastrophic, but the mindset that supported it can be found across Japan. In recognizing that fact, each of us should reflect on our responsibility as individuals in a democratic society.

“As the first investigative commission to be empowered by the legislature and independent of the bureaucracy, we hope this initiative can contribute to the development of Japan’s civil society. Above all, we have endeavored to produce a report that meets the highest standard of transparency. The people of Fukushima, the people of Japan and the global community deserve nothing less.”

How stoic Japan grew angry over the nuclear restart decision

leave a comment »

On Sunday, 29 June 2012, a massive crowd gathered in central Tokyo to express their anger at the government’s decision to restart a reactor at the Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, as Japan Times reports.

The protest outside the prime minister’s office has become a weekly event in the past few months, with the number of participants increasing each time. “The best we Tokyo residents can do is to protest in front of the prime minister’s office, although this is really a last-minute action,” one of the protest organisers told media.

On 29 June, Japan witnessed its largest public protest since the 1960s. This was the latest in a series of Friday night gatherings outside Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko’s official residence. Well over one hundred thousand people came together to vent their anger at his 16 June decision to order a restart of Units 3 and 4 at the Oi nuclear plant, said this article on Japan Focus.

Japan shut down the last of its 54 reactors for inspections on 5 May 2012, the first time since May 1970 when Japan both of Japan’s two reactors were taken offline for maintenance. However, it now appears that Japan will only have been without nuclear power post-Fukushima for just under two months. On 8 June, Prime Minister Noda called for resumption of nuclear power generation in a nationwide address. Noda stated that he was ordering a restart of Units 3 and 4 at Oi, both pressure water reactors built in the early 1990s, because it was the ultimate responsibility of the state to “protect the livelihood of the people”.

The organisers said the rally a week earlier drew 45,000 people, while police said there were about 11,000 protesters. On Friday, organizers were aiming for a gathering of 100,000 people. Given the increasing number of participants, the police heightened security by stationing hundreds of officers there. It was the tightest security for a public protest in several decades, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

The protest on Friday, which began at 6 p.m., saw a huge crowd gather beforehand, with participants calling on the government and Kepco not to restart the reactors. Organizers said around 200,000 people took part, while police said participants were in the tens of thousands. “I think it’s outrageous to restart (the Oi reactors) when the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident has not even been contained,” said protester Kazumi Honda, a housewife in her 40s from Minami Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

Honda said she lives just 60 km from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant and thus could not ignore the Oi reactors’ situation, especially when their safety status is still tentative, as the government admits. Honda said she has participated in other protests but never before in Tokyo. The number of protesters kept swelling as time passed, and the line of people expanded a few blocks from the prime minister’s office. Participants were chanting, “No to the restarts!”

Written by makanaka

July 3, 2012 at 14:50

A year of Fukushima

leave a comment »

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.

The intangible cultural heritage of agriculture and food, via Unesco – rice ritual in Japan

leave a comment »

Ritual of transplanting rice in Mibu, Hiroshima, Japan. When most of the ploughing is completed, girls called Saotome begin to prepare for the transplantation. They wear colourful dresses, and hats called Suge-gasa. Photo: UNESCO / ©2009 by Kitahiroshima-cho

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – has a deep and wide view of traditional knowledge and practices of sustainability. Not readily apparent inside the labyrinthine UN system, Unesco’s Culture sector has within it the section on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), which helps preserve, conserve and revitalise these practices.

The term “cultural heritage” has changed content considerably in recent decades, with much of that change having come about thanks to the conventions developed by Unesco. Although “cultural heritage” is usually seen as monuments, buildings of antiquity and sites of historical importance or natural significance, it also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.

In this framework, the UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage brings together such knowledge – sometimes well documented and living, sometimes in grave danger of being extinguished. These are organised under what are called the Lists of the Convention. In this series, I will pick out those practices and expressions of knowledge that have to do with cultivation systems, agricultural ecologies and the community cultures surrounding food.

The first in this series is ‘Mibu no Hana Taue’, the ritual of transplanting rice in Mibu, Hiroshima, Japan. This was inscribed in 2011 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Ritual of transplanting rice in Mibu, Hiroshima, Japan. On the day of the ritual, villagers bring more than a dozen cattle to Mibu Shrine to be dressed with elaborately decorated saddles called Hanagura and a colourful necklace. Photo: UNESCO / ©2009 by Kitahiroshima-cho

‘Mibu no Hana Taue’ is an agricultural ritual in which people worship the deity of rice fields, and pray for a good growth and abundant harvest of the rice crops for the year through ploughing fields, and transplanting rice seedlings. The Mibu community, located in a mountainous area of Western Japan, has developed and transmitted “Mibu no Hana Taue.” Both the Mibu and neighbouring Kawahigashi communities have been areas of rice cropping for a long time.

‘Mibu no Hana Taue’ is carried out on the first Sunday of June every year after actual transplantations in the community are completed. Villagers gather at a large rice field, specially kept in reserve for the ritual. The deity of rice fields is welcomed, and a series of agricultural works such as ploughing, preparation for the transplantation and the actual transplantation are demonstrated in the presence of the deity. On the day of the ritual, villagers bring more than a dozen cattle to Mibu Shrine to be dressed with elaborately decorated saddles called Hanagura and a colourful necklace.

Asia takes the research and development lead

with 2 comments

Ten Asian countries, including some developing countries in South-East Asia, have, as a bloc, caught up with the global leader in research and development (R&D) investment, the United States, a report by Scidev.net has said.

The report quoted is the National Science Board’s ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’ which is a broad base of quantitative information on the U.S. and International science and engineering enterprise. The National Science Board (NSB) is the policymaking body for the USA’s National Science Foundation (NSF).

The NSB report has said that total science spend of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam rose steadily between 1999 and 2009 to reach 32 per cent of the global share of spending on science, compared with 31 per cent in the US.

“This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise,” said NSF Director Subra Suresh of the findings in the ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’. “And we must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position,” he said.

Well over a year ago (2010 November), the UNESCO Science Report 2010 had as its primary message stated that Europe, Japan and the USA (the Triad) may still dominate research and development (R&D) but they are increasingly being challenged by the emerging economies and above all by China.

The report depicted an increasingly competitive environment, one in which the flow of information, knowledge, personnel and investment has become a two-way traffic. Both China and India, for instance, are using their newfound economic might to invest in high-tech companies in Europe and elsewhere to acquire technological expertise overnight.

The USA's National Science Foundation (NSF) launched a number of new initiatives designed to better position the United States in global Science and engineering. Photo: National Science Board / Richard Lerner

Other large emerging economies are also spending more on research and development than before, among them Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Turkey. If more countries are participating in science, the UNESCO Science Report 2010 saw a shift in global influence, with China a hair’s breadth away from counting more researchers than either the USA or the European Union, for instance, and now publishes more scientific articles than Japan.

A “major trend has been the rapid expansion of R&D performance in the regions of East/Southeast Asia and South Asia,” according to the biennial report ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’ produced by the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the US National Science Foundation, which drew upon a variety of national and international statistics. The report also mentions that the share of R&D expenditure spent by US multinationals in Asia-Pacific has increased.

According to the new Indicators 2012, the largest global S&T gains occurred in the so-called ‘Asia-10’ – China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand – as those countries integrate S&T into economic growth. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, the U.S. share of global research and development (R&D) dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, whereas it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the Asia region during the same time. In China alone, R&D growth increased a stunning 28 percent in a single year (2008-2009), propelling it past Japan and into second place behind the United States.

“Asia’s rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (S&T) centre is chiefly driven by developments in China,” says the report. “But several other Asian economies (the Asia-8 [India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand]) have also played a role. All are intent on boosting quality of, and access to, higher education and developing world-class research and S&T infrastructures. The Asia-8 functions like a loosely structured supplier zone for China’s high-technology manufacturing export industries. This supplier zone increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, a preeminent S&T nation, is continuing to lose ground relative to China and the Asia-8 in high-technology manufacturing and trade,” the report says.

International R&D highlights
(1) The top three R&D-performing countries: United States, China – now the second largest R&D performer – and Japan represented just over half of the estimated $1.28 trillion in global R&D in 2009. The United States, the largest single R&D-performing country, accounted for about 31% of the 2009 global total, down from 38% in 1999.

(2) Asian countries – including China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand – represented 24% of the global R&D total in 1999 but accounted for 32% in 2009, including China (12%) and Japan (11%). The pace of real growth over the past 10 years in China’s overall R&D remains exceptionally high at about 20% annually.

(3) The European Union accounted for 23% total global R&D in 2009, down from 27% in 1999. Wealthy economies generally devote larger shares of their GDP to R&D than do less developed economies. The U.S. R&D/GDP ratio (or R&D intensity) was about 2.9% in 2009 and has fluctuated between 2.6% and 2.8% during the past 10 years, largely reflecting changes in business R&D spending. In 2009, the United States ranked eighth in R&D intensity – surpassed by Israel, Sweden, Finland, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, and Taiwan – all of which perform far less R&D annually than the United States.

(4) Among the top European R&D-performing countries, Germany reported a 2.8% R&D/GDP ratio in 2008; France, 2.2%; and the United Kingdom, 1.9%. The Japanese and South Korean R&D/GDP ratios were among the highest in the world in 2008, each at about 3.3%. China’s ratio remains relatively low, at 1.7%, but has more than doubled from 0.8% in 1999.

“India’s high gross domestic product (GDP) growth continues to contrast with a fledgling overall S&T performance.” The figures show that China, while still a long way behind the United States, is now the second largest R&D performer globally, contributing 12 per cent of the global research spend. It has overtaken Japan, which contributed 11 per cent  in 2009. The proportion of GDP that China devotes to science funding has doubled since 1999 to 1.7 per cent and China’s pace of real growth in R&D expenditure “remains exceptionally high at about 20 per cent annually,” the report says. Overall, world expenditures on R&D are estimated to have exceeded US$1.25 trillion in 2009, up from US$641 billion a decade earlier.

“Governments in many parts of the developing world, viewing science and technology as integral to economic growth and development, have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies,” it says. “They have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop their S&T infrastructures, stimulate industrial R&D, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous R&D capabilities. Over time, global S&T capabilities have grown, nowhere more so than in Asia.”

The scientific landscape is not conveniently demarcated by blocs, whether formed by states or by private sector interests. As UNESCO has said, even countries with a lesser scientific capacity are finding that they can acquire, adopt and sometimes even transform existing technology and thereby leapfrog over certain costly investments, such as infrastructure like land lines for telephones. Technological progress is allowing these countries to produce more knowledge and participate more actively than before in international networks and research partnerships with countries in both North and South. This trend is fostering a democratization of science worldwide. In turn, science diplomacy is becoming a key instrument of peace-building and sustainable development in international relations.

The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?

with one comment

Japanese police man a checkpoint near the edge of the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station near Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

A new article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has exposed the large-scale and mostly invisible sub-contracting of labour in the international nuclear power industry. The article examines what has happened during the clean-up process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and reveals exploitation of labour which is indefensible and criminal in view of the extreme hazards at the site following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The reference to the 18,846 workers comes at the very end of the long and dense status sheet for 2011 December.

‘Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes’, By Gabrielle Hecht explains in dreadful detail how: during much of the cleanup process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, thousands of subcontracted day laborers will be exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits; how sub-contracted labourers account for some 90% of Japanese nuclear power plant workers during normal reactor operations; they often receive around three times the annual dose absorbed by a full-time plant employee; and how the sub-contracting approach within the nuclear industry carries exceptional risks and implications. Until these are recognised and documented, complex social and physiological realities will continue to be hidden.

The heroism of the ‘Fukushima 50’ – the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control – was celebrated by the international media. But, during much of the clean-up process, thousands of workers were exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits. Rather, in what amounts to premeditated and criminal negligence by the Government of Japan and by the power plant operator, Tepco, exposure limits were raised for both workers and the public, presumably in an attempt to reduce the number of cases that need to be documented as overexposures.

[See the 2011 December status document released by Tepco here (pdf)] [See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material.] [See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.]

In ‘Nuclear Nomads’ Hecht has asked: “So how many emergency workers are there anyway, and who are they?” A new document released by Tepco in December 2011 shows that over 18,000 men had participated in clean-up work by early December 2011. Some hailed the workers as “national heroes,” men willing to sacrifice their lives for the future of their nation. A few investigative reporters and scholars, however, uncovered a different story. The vast majority of these men are subcontract employees, recruited among local residents rendered unemployed by the disaster, or among the thousands of day laborers who eke out an existence in the margins of Japanese cities.

The Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time then saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned vehicles, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months earlier. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

‘Nuclear Nomads’ has quoted one such worker: “If [day labourers] refuse, where will they get another job?… I don’t know anyone who is doing this [cleanup work] for Japan. Most of them need the money.” Cleanup workers are issued with dosimeters, and are checked at the end of each shift. Unskilled temps get paid about US$130 a day. Many don’t have written employment contracts. When they reach their exposure limit, they lose their jobs and are replaced, ideally, by non-exposed workers. Some have opted to prolong their employment by leaving dosimeters behind while working.

The overview of the status of countermeasures at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4 issued by Tepco in 2011 December.

The article by Hecht lists implications of the sub-contracting approach to reactor maintenance:

(1) Greater exposure. As for the accident cleanup crew, the short-term financial incentive for the temps is to abandon their dosimeters for certain jobs, so that their radiation exposures are not officially recorded. This prolongs their employment – and increases their doses.

(2) No occupational disease. Subcontract workers are often dubbed nuclear nomads because they move around from workplace to workplace, living out of trailers. There’s no compulsory centralised system for tracking cumulative exposure and health data for these temps. The absence of interactions among labor, information, and health infrastructures means that workers’ health problems are not collected and recorded in a centralized database — thus, many severe health problems never qualify as occupational diseases. Workers rarely — if ever — benefit from compensation, because their diseases cannot be linked to past exposures in ways that are scientifically or legally persuasive.

(3) Collective dose. Utilities don’t include the exposures of temp workers in their own data. That, in turn, means that data for any given nuclear power plant vastly under-reports the true collective dose (i.e., the total exposure received by the sum of both utility and subcontract workers).

“We’re not talking about a small portion of Japan’s nuclear workforce,” Hecht has said in ‘Nuclear Nomads’. “Since the late 1980s, some 90 percent of nuclear power plant workers in the country have been subcontracted. Estimates suggest that on average, during any one subcontracted job, a worker receives two to three times the annual dose absorbed by a regular plant worker.”

Written by makanaka

January 10, 2012 at 14:00