power – strom und macht

Fukushima as Manufactured Disaster


Susanne Gerber


They may not live in castles anymore, but the glass-plated skyscrapers that
tower over the great cities of the world, in faceless anonymity, still
signify the imperious domain of the ruling elite. It is from these places,
not the featureless depths of the earth’s roiling crust, which were the
decisive cause of the triple nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima-Daiichi
plant on 11th March 2011.

An independent report <>  by the Fukushima Nuclear
Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC), the first independent
investigation committee authorized by the Japanese Diet (parliament) in its
66 year history, was released to both houses of the Diet on July 5. The
chairman of the report begins with zero equivocation as to the ultimate
cause of the nuclear meltdowns, which are still preventing tens of thousands
of people from returning to their homes; returns that for many, are likely
never to come:

„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

How could such a „profoundly manmade disaster“ have come to pass? A
multitude of errors, „willful negligence“, and a „reluctance to question
authority“ led to nuclear power becoming „an unstoppable force, immune to
scrutiny by civil society. Its regulation was entrusted to the same
government bureaucracy responsible for its promotion.“ It sounds all too
eerily familiar to anyone who has spent time investigating the US nuclear
regulatory body, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the collusion between
the NRC and US nuclear corporations.

In a line that must indubitably stoke the anger and sorrow of all those made
homeless, all those who have lost their livelihoods and all those tens of
thousands more who now are left to agonize over radioactive contamination
for themselves and their children for decades to come, the report states,
„The direct causes of the accident were all foreseeable prior to March 11,

In other words, contrary to all the talk about „an unforeseeable event“ from
governments around the world and nuclear apologists of the left and right,
the nuclear meltdowns, with all their untold and long-term consequences for
the physical and mental health of the people of the region, were entirely
preventable if the corporation which operated the plants, TEPCO, or the
government bodies charged with regulating the nuclear industry, NISA and
METI, had taken the appropriate safety precautions:

„The operator (TEPCO), the regulatory bodies (NISA and NSC) and the
government body promoting the nuclear power industry (METI), all failed to
correctly develop the most basic safety requirements-such as assessing the
probability of damage, preparing for containing collateral damage from such
a disaster, and developing evacuation plans for the public in the case of a
serious radiation release.“

The report notes that these organizations had known of the inability of the
reactors to withstand such an earthquake and tsunami since 2006. It
recommends across the board, substantive reforms to all aspects of nuclear
regulation, the operation of the plants, the legal framework within which
they operate and the emergency response, evacuation and disaster
preparedness plans, all of which were found wanting.

It warns that these must not be cosmetic name changes or simply shifts of
personnel but a root and branch reordering of priorities and fundamental
reforms as government regulators and the corporation as organizations all
failed to protect the public, as is their legal duty:

„There were many opportunities for NISA, NSC and TEPCO to take measures that
would have prevented the accident, but they did not do so. They either
intentionally postponed putting safety measures in place, or made decisions
based on their organization’s self interest- not in the interest of public

In an echo of the BP Gulf oil spill of 2010, where it was found that BP had
no viable emergency response plan, „TEPCO’s manual for emergency response to
a severe accident was completely ineffective, and the measures it specified
did not function.“ In yet another similarity with the BP disaster, where US
government regulators were found to be having sex and drug parties with BP
officials, the report speaks of „a cozy relationship between the operators,
the regulators and academic scholars that can only be described as totally

However, fundamental reform to the nuclear industry, and TEPCO in
particular, is looking less likely without a further outpouring of national
protest the like of which Japan has not seen in decades. This is because
TEPCO is a giant corporation
ower-of-tepco.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1>  with a stranglehold on electricity
production and much else through various related companies which allow the

„Thanks to a virtual monopoly and a murky electricity pricing system, it has
become one of the biggest sources of loosely regulated cash for politicians,
bureaucrats and businessmen, who have repaid Tepco with unquestioning
support and with the type of lax oversight that contributed to the nuclear

TEPCO had net income (i.e. profits) of $1.7 billion in 2009 through its
corporate affiliates and ownership of 192 electricity plants that produce up
to one third of the electricity in Japan. Overall, Japanese people pay twice
as much for electricity as do those in the US. TEPCO is, therefore, in the
current neoliberal jargon justifying yet more daylight robbery through
ongoing bank bailouts, apparently another corporation „too big to fail“.
Amazingly, TEPCO is pushing to restart some of its own reactors despite the
widely held belief, now well documented in the government’s independent
report, that the corporation was largely to blame. Meanwhile, TEPCO, in its
own report on the accident exonerated itself
onerates-itself-in-report.html?_r=2&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y> , citing instead
the size of the tsunami and government blunders as the
causes of the meltdowns.

Conversely, not to mention much more believably, the authors of the NAIIC
report conclude that the accident was „manmade“:

„The TEPCO Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident was the result of
collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of
governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to
be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was
clearly „manmade.“

Some people, a lot of people, should be going to jail. Betrayal of the
people and their right to be free of radioactive contamination, particularly
a people that has already suffered the horror of atomic weapons used against
its civilian population, is unconscionable. What could have driven these
decisions taken by so many people in all these different organizations? Led
them to behave in such a criminally irresponsible manner?

Ultimately, we get to the heart of the matter: „As the nuclear power
business became less profitable over the years, TEPCO’s management began to
put more emphasis on cost cutting and increasing Japan’s reliance on nuclear

Put another way, the decisions taken were dictated by the prime directive of
capitalism: make profit at all costs, grow by any means necessary. Cut
whatever corners you need to, bribe and cajole whoever is necessary,
denigrate and belittle those who oppose you; there is no higher power to
which you will answer other than the God of Profit. This is the iron law of
capital accumulation.

The consequences of those decisions, taken in the faraway, plush boardrooms
of the nuclear corporations, and the lack of credible government information
since the disaster, have now created the fear of the people
lth-fears> , the disbanding of families, and the destruction of their
livelihoods in Fukushima prefecture:

„They continue to face grave concerns, including the health effects of
radiation exposure, displacement, the dissolution of families, disruption of
their lives and lifestyles and the contamination of vast areas of the
environment. There is no foreseeable end to the decontamination and
restoration activities that are essential for rebuilding communities.“

What an utterly appalling way to make electricity. No foreseeable end to
decontamination and restoration activities. Even without considering the
issue of nuclear waste, the staggering cost of building and operating
nuclear plants, or the umbilical cord that indelibly connects the nuclear
power industry to the nuclear weapons and defense industry, can anyone
honestly say that as a highly technological society, we have no better
alternatives to generating electricity than operating nuclear power

The response by the people of Japan has been tremendous and inspiring. Tens
of thousands
tm_content=FullStory#s365125&title=Japan_Anti_Nuclear>  have regularly
picketed government and corporate offices to prevent the restart of
reactors, 7.5 million people have signed a petition against the restarting
of any of the 54 idled reactors which have been kept shuttered due to this
massive and unprecedented outpouring of activism, organizing and anger. A
new anti-nuclear movement is being born from below. As of May, the people of
Japan celebrated the shut-down of the last of the 54 Japanese reactors, even
as there were no power cuts. Our power defeated the nuclear power! People’s
joy was short-lived however. Despite the „setback“ of the Fukushima nuclear
disaster – which should now surely be described at the very least as a
disaster-waiting-to-happen, nuclear corporations are not throwing in the
towel and admitting that nuclear power has got to go.

Through a carefully orchestrated media campaign of fear-mongering based on
the threat of power cuts and government announcements about the dangers a
lack of electricity pose to Japan’s fragile economy, they have managed to
successfully argue for the restart of reactors in the western industrial
region around Osaka. In a rare televised appeal
estart-of-2-nuclear-reactors.html?hpw>  to the Japanese public, the new
Prime Minister, Yoshihiko Noda, who is entirely pro-nuclear, made the case
for the necessary restarts.
Description: Description: Description:

However, in another new piece of evidence that should halt all talk all
restarts, the NAIIC report notes that it cannot say whether the earthquake
itself – not the tsunami – was partly responsible for the reactor meltdowns.
This finding invalidates the „stress tests“ that the nuclear plants have
undergone to prove that they are safe to operate because those tests were
based on the assumption that it was only the tsunami, not the earthquake,
which caused the structural problems and loss of power at the plant.

Meanwhile, a separate government panel of experts has declared that, based
on what happened with the tsunami from the March 11th earthquake, 34m, or
112 feet high tsunamis are possible
isk> along the Pacific coast. Every single one of the 54 Japanese nuclear
reactors is situated along the coast!

The tsunami that overwhelmed the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, and swept away
entire villages in the area, causing 19,000 deaths, was 14m (45 feet) high,
less than half what is predicted as now possible. A 2003 report had put the
maximum that had to be planned for at 20m (60 feet) but clearly a 14m wave
can overwhelm coastal defenses and inundate nuclear plants such as at
Fukushima-Daiichi, which had only anticipated and prepared for a 6m (20
foot) high wave – especially if they have already been compromised by the
preceding earthquake. The only rational answer is to permanently shut down
all the reactors, break apart and dismantle the nuclear corporations as
threats to public health, take further measures to conserve electricity and
speed up the program of building the infrastructure necessary for a clean
energy economy.

However, there are a few broader conclusions to draw from this report and
the litany of similar cases of accidents such as the BP spill where the
corporate drive for profit is like an unstoppable tsunami rationalizing all
manner of health and safety evasions and cutbacks.

Firstly, this is not about a few bad apples or irresponsible, corrupt
people. This is about how capitalism operates. How else does one explain the
need for every single area of capital accumulation – from the nuclear
industry, to oil and gas, to pharmaceuticals to food production – to have
independent regulators preventing the corporations from doing what they are
primed to do: make profit at all costs? If the regulators are in the pockets
of the corporations that bestride the planet as unaccountable behemoths with
their colossal economies, often larger than most individual states, all hell
breaks loose.

Second, whatever those deluded environmentalists who are pro-nuclear think,
there is no scenario in which a sane person can be pro-nuclear when the nuke
plants are operating within a social system that has no ethical, social,
ecological or moral concerns and drives the individuals who run the system
into immoral actions. The only thing crazier than boiling water by splitting
atoms is boiling water by splitting atoms in a social system driven by

Five years ago the great leftist social and ecological thinker and activist
Barry Commoner was asked in a
New York Times interview whether the environmentalists who have now turned
to nuclear power as an answer to global warming had a point. To which he

„No. This is a good example of shortsighted environmentalism. It
superficially makes sense to say, „Here’s a way of producing energy without
carbon dioxide.“ But every activity that increases the amount of
radioactivity to which we are exposed is idiotic. There has to be a
life-and-death reason to do it. I mean, we haven’t solved the problem of
waste yet. We still have used fuel sitting all over the place. I think the
fact that some people who have established a reputation as environmentalists
have adopted this is appalling.“

Third, within capitalism, there are certain essential economic activities
which need to be thought of as they were before the acceleration of
capitalist orthodoxy of deregulation and privatization that occurred with
the birth of neoliberalism 30 years ago. Before the drive for privatization
that necessitated the evisceration of the organized power of the working
class, as the balance of class forces were forcibly tilted toward the
corporations and away from us.

Activities where we are not seen as customers for a commodity that we buy
from a for-profit corporation, but rather as citizens, with a right to a
service from the government that we elect to represent our interests.

Examples of such essential services are the provision of education, access
to water, healthcare, a pension, public transportation – the most basic
attributes for a productive and healthy life and a functioning society. But
this idea must also extend to the provision of electricity. Not just because
it is fundamental to the way we live, but, just as importantly, for
ecological reasons.

We need to conserve electricity and energy use in general and set up systems
to ensure that there is a nationally organized program to do so. However,
that will never happen with electricity production when the utilities are
privately owned. Private electric utilities make more money the more
electricity they sell us. So, having consumers use less would be
counter-productive and irrational from a corporate perspective. If they’re
regulated and offered incentives to sell us less, they just charge more for
each individual unit and pass the costs on. Furthermore, corporations are
always going to spend as little as they can get away with on infrastructure,
safety and maintenance, as illustrated to a horrific extent by the nuclear
catastrophe in Japan.

Electricity should be a service that is publically provided, not a commodity
to be bought. In other words, we need to re-nationalize the electricity grid
and see it as an opportunity to build a new energy infrastructure, one that
is efficient and has at its heart energy conservation based around
alternative sources of energy. Not outdated, dirty, and dangerous 19th and
20th century technologies such as coal, oil, gas or uranium but clean,
renewable – and safe – wind, solar and geothermal sources. Energy sources
that Japan and United States, have in great abundance.

It’s crystal clear however, that without an organized mass movement from
below that unites social and ecological issues together into a single
movement for jobs, sustainability and justice, one that tilts the balance of
social power back in our favor, as the Japanese people are attempting right
now, those changes will not happen. Absent the building of such a movement,
we will eventually be left living on an irradiated cinder of a planet where
they sell us hazmat suits at inflated prices from the safety of their
glittering corporate towers.

In India, there is a titanic struggle going on between people organized
under the banner of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) and
the Indian government. The Indian state is determined, despite Fukushima, to
increase its reliance on nuclear power tenfold, so that it represents 25% of
electricity production. This in a country where almost half the population,
400 million people, lack access to electricity and decades old Indian wind
turbines produce twice as much electricity as current Indian nuclear plants
that have already received billions of dollars in funding. If these wind
turbines alone were upgraded, let along building more modern ones or taking
advantage of the plentiful solar energy that India basks in, they could
supply a much larger segment of electricity and obviate the need for the
nuclear plants.

Due to the growth and persistence of the Indian activists struggle, the
state is becoming increasingly violent, dispatching thousands of troops to
put down protests. The response by PMANE and the anti-nuclear activists
to state violence and intimidation as they fight to protect themselves from
the calamity of building more nuclear plants deserves to be quoted at some

„The day after the Tamil Nadu state by-elections last March. Chief Minister
Selvi J. Jayalalithaa suddenly reversed her earlier decision to support the
protesters, dispatching at least 6,000 police and paramilitary to the
region. For three days, the government prevented essential supplies –
including tankers of water and milk – from reaching the PMANE base in
Idinthikarai, a coastal village about two kilometers from the Koodankulam
reactors. But nearby fishing communities sympathized with the protesters at
Idinthikarai and sent in boats of supplies for them. In an unprecedented
display of solidarity, traditional local women also took to boats to reach
the village. Residents blocked roads en masse, preventing police from
arresting the movement’s coordinators.“

This is the kind of heroic solidarity actions and mass movement we need to
build in the United States and in every part of the globe.

But finally, if the system really is pathological in its operation, as I
would argue it is, then the only solution is to uproot it in its entirety
and replace it with something that we can jointly and collectively create; a
social and economic system that places people and the planet before profit.

Ultimately, a system where there is no profit, where we cooperate to
democratically plan out what we need to produce and how we’re going to
produce it with, to use Marx’s words, the „least possible expenditure of
energy“. The stepping stones along the path to that fundamental
transformation require the building of a mass social and ecological justice
movement that fights for real reforms as outlined above, beginning with the
abandonment of the destructive and costly insanity of nuclear power and the
eradication of fossil fuel derived energy that is destabilizing global
climate. But a movement that simultaneously aims for a revolutionary
reordering of power.

Power to the People, Not the Corporations!

Chris Williams is a professor in the Dept of Chemistry & Physical Science,
Pace University and author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist
Ecological Crisis
(Haymarket Books, 2010)

see also


Filed under: Fukushima, Politics, Reflection, Resistance

On the Cesium Road


Susanne Gerber

Toshio Nishi, research fellow at the Hoover Institution in the Hoover Digest:

For more than a year, I have been hoping that the Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company would find the courage to bear the unbearable and repair the breathtaking damage from last spring’s earthquake and tsunami. But a better tomorrow is not in sight. A deathly silence still pervades the desolate landscape of Fukushima and the long coastal line of northern Japan—the cesium road.

The Japanese government grows more incompetent and dysfunctional, while Tokyo Electric has dug a deep foxhole of self-preservation and clings tightly to its monopoly. I am embarrassed as a Japanese citizen to list some of the most glaring shenanigans that the government and the power company have been acting out in public over the past year:

  • 1. Governmental study committees were supposed to investigate why Tokyo Electric failed to minimize the damage, but the “open” hearings were suddenly closed. The entrenched bureaucracy, as if fed by perpetual radioactivity, continues to grow while failing to disclose any new findings.
  • 2. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the sixth premier in the past five years, along with his cabinet and the largest opposition party, have agreed to raise the consumption tax from the current 5 percent to 10 percent. Apparently even that is not enough to cover the disaster damage. The government is talking about raising it to 17 percent within a year or so. When Japan achieved its famous “miracle,” its great postwar economic renaissance, there was no consumption tax.
  • 3. Only five of Japan’s fifty-four nuclear reactors are still operating. People were urged during last summer’s extraordinary heat to use less electricity to prevent outages, having been convinced (falsely) that Japan had no excess power capacity. Patriotic citizens complied, enduring days and nights of acute discomfort. But because everyone used less electricity, Tokyo Electric and its subsidiaries made less money. The government, which favors Tokyo Electric, approved rate hikes of 15 percent for an ordinary household and 35 percent for large stores and industry.
  • 4. Few in the mass media, in Japan or abroad, talk about Japan’s biggest nuclear secret: Monju. Named after a Buddhist saint of wisdom, Monju, Japan’s first fast-breeder reactor, squats right on a fault line. Its stated goal is to recycle the nation’s fifteen thousand tons of spent fuel and supply endless energy. But despite swallowing $15 billion of our tax money for its construction, which began on January 5, 1983, Monju has never produced any usable energy, not even for a day. It stands north of our most beautiful ancient city of Kyoto and on the shore of the Sea of Japan. Plutonium, I hear, is lethal for more than twenty thousand years. Nuclear energy is like fire, a good servant but a bad master.
  • 5. Japan’s government, like its U.S. counterpart, continues raising the debt ceiling to astronomical levels. It has shown absolutely no interest in reducing the number of well-paid government employees (Japan’s only growth industry), even during the past two “lost decades,” or reducing the crowd of representatives and senators (the island nation, smaller than California, has 722 senators and representatives in the Diet for its 125 million people, compared to 535 Congress members for a U.S. population of 307 million). The 2011 catastrophe has provided only another excuse to expand government-sponsored rescue measures and justify more hiring.
  • 6. Dysfunctional or corrupt actions by the government are, at last, being exposed by some muckraking in the mass media.
  • News leaks have shown how Toshiba, which built the ruined Fukushima Daiichi reactors, had submitted to then–prime minister Naoto Kan one month after the nuclear disaster a worst-case scenario. Kan decided to keep it “ultra top secret” and let only four confidants view it. If the Japanese people were to read it, he feared, Tokyo would be instantly emptied. Is this the real reason the government and Tokyo Electric kept admonishing Japanese not to panic?
  • The media have also been following the water—in this case, the seawater that brave firefighters and Self-Defense troops poured in immeasurable quantities onto the burning reactors. Where did all that water, contaminated by plutonium, disappear to? Into the Pacific Ocean or the ground, of course. But the truth about the contamination has been hard to find. Meanwhile, radioactive water leaks have been reported inside the ruined Fukushima complex as recently as February 2012.
  • The Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s premier daily, published in January the names of prominent politicians who have been regularly receiving “money donations” from Tokyo Electric. Former prime minister Taro Aso and some current members of Prime Minister Noda’s cabinet were on the list. The intimacy between the government and the nuclear industry was again laid bare.
  • 7. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed one small town after another, one fishing village after another. Those who survived and were old had nowhere to go. The government built “refugee cottages” for those who had lost everything. These were built in remote mountainous regions, supposedly for safety. Many of those who had no choice but to relocate died of despair. Some committed suicide, abandoned on the lush green archipelago where residents are expected to live longer than anywhere else in the world.

    Is the Japanese government lying to us? Yes. Perhaps it violates good manners to say so, but good manners should no longer be expected from ordinary Japanese who have been inhaling highly radioactive dust and vapor since March 11, 2011. But we continue to behave. I assume it is a matter of pride that each of us refuses to be selfish in a crisis.

    Cesium, a new word in our daily vocabulary, began showing up in dangerous concentrations in our national beverage, green tea. Green tea is supposed to be good for our health, perhaps a secret ingredient of that celebrated Japanese longevity. Japan’s largest tea farm happens to be in Shizuoka, about two hundred miles south of Fukushima. Soon after high levels of radioactivity showed up in tea, radioactive elements began invading our dairy products, poultry, pigs, cattle, vegetables, fruit, and mother’s milk. They cast their cloud over seafood caught off Fukushima, in one of the world’s richest fishing zones. Who can comprehend the apparent and hidden magnitude of radioactive contamination that threatens never to end?

    Japanese were often admonished, with little subtlety, to avoid panicking about the radioactive danger.

    Expert reassurances abounded. As soon as the disaster hit Fukushima and for months after, one scientist after another from famous universities and government agencies appeared on nightly news programs, intoning with an air of superior knowledge that radioactive dust and vapor in the air or fish or rice failed to pose “an immediate health risk.” We, unschooled in the fields of radioactivity or medicine, wondered, if not immediately, then when? Will we have cancer?

    The experts lectured us that our intense anxiety and aversion about all things radioactive were groundless. They even implied, with little subtlety, that our deepening fear resembled herd thinking, a panic attack. Were they paid to say that the lethal leak was actually a small amount when it was the largest in the world? Or that the accident could be controlled with available safety procedures when the reactors still lie in ruins and no one can account for the deadly water and steam?

    Those scholars and experts do not appear on national TV anymore. No one wonders why.

    But when the experts disappeared, Tokyo Electric Power Company appeared, acknowledging on television that a reactor meltdown had indeed occurred within the first few hours of the quake and tsunami. This admission of a triple meltdown popped up two months after the accident, during which time Tokyo Electric had obstinately refused to admit to any such thing. The confession came too late for those people who had stayed but a little distance away from the reactors and were unknowingly rained upon by radioactive dust and vapor day after day. Tens of thousands of children lived nearby.

    Hello Kitty cartoon

    The prime minister’s top aide said on television that Tokyo Electric had not kept the cabinet informed during the first two months and that it was shocked, very shocked. We too were shocked—at the incompetence and arrogance.


    We realize now that the government and the power executives think we are not intelligent enough to understand the technical jargon about nuclear power. Of course, we were not familiar with those esoteric terms when the disaster struck. But we do understand we are facing a nuclear winter on this beautiful archipelago, placed on the Ring of Fire, and may not live long enough even to see such a winter.

    Historically, and to this day, we have respected authority (the government) and faithfully observed our laws and regulations to the point of overdoing it. We don’t riot. We don’t loot. We don’t kill. We are taught in our schools and families that the central government, composed of our best and brightest, strives hard every day to guide our nation to safety, prosperity, and fulfillment.

    We understand we are facing a nuclear winter, and may not live long enough even to see such a winter.

    Are the best and brightest betraying us now? Is Japan’s postwar democracy failing us at the moment when we most need its collective wisdom? Our government seems neither willing nor able to reciprocate our loyalty, or foster the courage and resilience we need to recover from the disaster. Worse, we fear that what our government wants is a leap of faith and a blind eye toward its glaring incompetence. Political parties continue squabbling for power and exploiting our worst postwar disaster, which continues degenerating beyond anyone’s ability to stop it. Government bureaucrats who regulate the nuclear industry retire and then find new, higher-paying jobs working for the industry they used to monitor. Officials are still looking for ways to dispose of hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble, much of it radioactive, a far bigger burden than can be disposed of in the disaster area itself.

    Japan may have buried its twenty thousand dead—at least those who did not vanish under the debris or the waves—but thousands of people continue to await the return of their livelihoods, lost amid the wreckage and the nuclear nightmare. They hope for the day when they might go back to their homes and work to rebuild their lives. Most do not know, and have not been informed by the government or Tokyo Electric, that they can never return to the hometowns where contamination will remain lethal far beyond their life spans.

    The power company and the government, joined at the hip, lecture Japanese that we have received the benefit of nuclear power generation and, because of such power, we enjoyed postwar prosperity. Hence we should not complain. Did ordinary people have any choice in deciding that Japan would develop nuclear power? No, other than the residents of small, remote communities on the shoreline who were wooed by promises of huge tax benefits, jobs for local people, and new infrastructure such as bridges, roads, swimming pools, auditoriums, and gyms. They had little choice but to accept.

    The government and Tokyo Electric together constructed a most seductive mythology that nuclear power is safe, cheap, and clean. To maintain that facade, they hid numerous nuclear accidents or underplayed their health hazards.

    Since bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan has cultivated a religion that condemns nuclear arms. Along the way, however, Japan metamorphosed into a strange creature that felt immune to things nuclear. Few Japanese left the country within the first weeks after the Fukushima meltdown. We can remain calm even in the midst of a horrible reality. Meanwhile, the falsehood of safe, cheap, and forever clean energy is swept away like the receding sea.


Filed under: Fukushima, Reflection

IAEA is missing opportunity to improve shortcomings in reactor safety


Susanne Gerber

Nine months after the worst nuclear disaster in decades, the world’s atomic-energy watchdog has yet to dedicate additional money to improve reactor safety. The delay has prompted the U.S. to call for the International Atomic Energy Agency to prepare a budget for its so-called action plan and to clarify how it will respond to future nuclear emergencies. The United Nations-funded agency said the allocation will be determined after a team draws up the “main activities associated with the action plan,” according to a Dec. 5 statement to Bloomberg News. Money wasn’t included in the IAEA’s budget agreed to in September. The agency classifies safety as one of its top three priorities, yet is spending 8.9 percent of its 352 million-euro ($469 million) regular budget this year on making plants secure from accidents. As it focuses resources on the other two priorities — technical cooperation and preventing nuclear- weapons proliferation — the IAEA is missing an opportunity to improve shortcomings in reactor safety exposed by the Fukushima disaster, said Trevor Findlay, a former Australian diplomat. “The IAEA did not seize the opportunity of this dreadful event to advance the agency’s role in nuclear safety,” said Findlay, who is finishing a two-year study of the Vienna-based agency at Harvard University. Director General Yukiya Amano “has been tough on Iran and Syria, but not when it comes to nuclear safety.” The IAEA was founded in 1957 as the global “Atoms for Peace” organization to promote “safe, secure and peaceful” nuclear technology, according to its website. A staff of 2,300 work at the IAEA’s secretariat at its headquarters. Its mission statement encapsulates the same conflict as Japan’s failed nuclear-safety regime: playing the role of both promoter and regulator of atomic power, according to scientists, diplomats and analysts interviewed by Bloomberg News. About half of the IAEA’s budget is devoted to restricting the use of nuclear material for military purposes, and the agency has spent a decade investigating Iran’s atomic program because of suspicion the country is developing weapons. As the agency targeted weapons, the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant capped years of faked safety reports and fatal accidents in Japan’s atomic-power industry. The country’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was in a conflict of interest because it was under the control of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which had a mandate to promote nuclear power. The IAEA “accepted for years the overlap between regulation and industry in Japan,” said Johannis Noeggerath, president of Switzerland’s Society of Nuclear Professionals and safety director for the country’s Leibstadt reactor. “They have a safety culture problem.” The agency encourages “safe, secure and responsible use of nuclear energy in those countries that independently decide to embark on a nuclear power program,” said Gill Tudor, an IAEA spokeswoman. “Part of the agency’s mandate is to advise and work with independent national regulators.” Since coming to office in 2009, Amano has spent five times more money fighting terrorism and preventing proliferation than on making the world’s 450 nuclear reactors safer, UN data show. The agency’s safety division garnered little respect in U.S. diplomatic cables that described the department as a marketing channel for countries seeking to sell atomic technology. They also questioned the credentials of Tomihiro Taniguchi, the IAEA’s former head of safety who helped create the regulatory regime in Japan, which is being blamed for failings that led to the Fukushima disaster. “The department of safety and security needs a dedicated manager and a stronger leader,” U.S. IAEA Ambassador Glyn Davies wrote in December 2009 in a cable released by Wikileaks, the anti-secrecy website. “For the past 10 years, the department has suffered tremendously because of Deputy Director General Taniguchi’s weak management and leadership skills.” The U.S. backed Amano’s bid to replace Mohamed ElBaradei in 2008 because he was believed to be supportive on confronting Iran. ElBaradei was accused by the U.S. and its allies of overstepping his IAEA mandate in seeking compromise solutions to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. Amano was “solidly in the U.S. court,” according to a U.S. cable in October 2009 released by Wikileaks. The U.S. IAEA mission declined to comment on the cables. By the time Amano reached office, the IAEA’s nuclear-safety division had downplayed the threat from natural disasters. In 2010, the director general’s first full year in office, anti- terrorism spending rose at three times the rate of safety expenditure. “Tsunamis, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes have affected many parts of the world and nuclear installations everywhere responded admirably,” Taniguchi said in a December 2005 speech. “The design and operational features ensured that extreme natural conditions would not jeopardize safety.” Taniguchi was also an executive of Japan’s Nuclear Power Engineering Corp., which promotes public acceptance of the operation of atomic-power plants, before joining the IAEA. “I made contributions to significantly improving safety systems around the world,” Taniguchi said when asked about the U.S. cables. Now a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, he lectures graduate students on nuclear security. The IAEA’s own mission to promote atomic power may also contradict the Convention on Nuclear Safety. “Each contracting party shall take the appropriate steps to ensure an effective separation between the functions of the regulatory body and those of any other body or organization concerned with the promotion or utilization of nuclear energy,” says article 8.2 of the convention. In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reports to Congress and is responsible for the licensing and oversight of atomic power operators, according to its website. The IAEA has been tarnished by a series of nuclear-safety mishaps, including the combustion of plutonium in 2009 at an Austrian lab and a mishandled vial that contaminated part of a Belgian facility in 2011, according to the agency. One IAEA plant inspector fell into a Czech nuclear-fuel cooling pond in 2007, according to four officials who declined to be identified. The agency won’t make public a full list of incidents involving its own staff. “IAEA inspectors and field workers are largely on their own when it comes to safely carrying out their jobs,” said Robert Kelley, a former IAEA director who led inspections in Iraq. “They receive little guidance or support and they are very dependent on the facilities they are inspecting to protect their health.” The agency’s failure on Fukushima is due to its timid leadership and an over-reliance on Japanese data, said Findlay, who will present the Center for International Governance Innovation’s report on the IAEA in Vienna in April. “The agency’s self-promotion led outsiders to naturally expect the agency to leap into action, so it only has itself to blame for that.” Japan’s public remains uneasy about the reactors at Fukushima, which are still exposed to damage from earthquakes, said Akio Matsumura, a former diplomat and chairman of the World Business Academy. The absence of independent information about the meltdown compounds those fears, he said. “The IAEA has disseminated reports on updates at Fukushima, but the source of the information is the Japanese government,” Matsumura said. “If the Japanese government chooses to remain opaque in its dealings, then the IAEA reports will be useless.” The IAEA had to deflect criticism from its members for weeks following the Fukushima disaster because it refused to analyze risks from the meltdown. The U.S. NRC provided more risk assessments than the IAEA by independently widening the areas it labeled dangerous around the reactors beyond where Japanese officials set limits. The Fukushima meltdowns have already spread more radiation over Japan than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombs combined, Arnie Gunderson, a U.S. nuclear engineer who testified before the NRC on the Fukushima meltdowns, wrote in an e-mail. The stricken plant is expected to be brought under control before the end of the year, according to Tepco.

Filed under: Consequences, Politics, Reflection

To Whom Does Scientific Debate Belong?

Susanne Gerber


That was a central question raised by many of the 200-plus people who attended a citizens’ forum in Tokyo on Oct. 12, as they criticized the ways in which the Japanese government and radiation specialists working for it are assessing and monitoring the health effects of the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima no. 1 nuclear power plant. The daylong conference, organized by the Japanese citizens’ groups SAY-Peace Project and Citizens’ Radioactivity Measuring Station (CRMS), featured experts who dispute much of the evidence on which the government has based its health and welfare decisions affecting residents of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond. Organizers of the event were also demanding that the government take into consideration the views of non-experts — and also experts with differing views from those of official bodies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). the Japanese government has constantly referred to the ICRP’s recommendations in setting radiation exposure limits for Fukushima residents. One of the driving forces for the citizens’ forum was a desire to challenge the conduct and much of the content of a conference held Sept. 11-12 in Fukushima, titled the “International Expert Symposium in Fukushima — Radiation and Health Risk.” That conference, sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, involved some 30 scientists from major institutions, including the ICRP, the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Although the proceedings were broadcast live on U-stream, the event itself was — unlike the Tokyo forum — closed to the public. Some citizens and citizens’ groups claimed that this exclusion of many interested and involved parties — and the event’s avowed aim of disseminating to the public “authoritative” information on the health effects of radiation exposure — ran counter to the pursuit of facilitating open and free exchanges among and between experts and citizens on the many contentious issues facing the nation and its people at this critical time. In particular, there was widespread criticism after the Fukushima conference — which was organized by Shunichi Yamashita, the vice president of Fukushima Medical University and a “radiological health safety risk management advisor” for Fukushima prefectural government — that its participants assumed from the outset that radioactive contamination from the plant’s wrecked nuclear reactors is minimal. Critics also claimed that the experts invited to the conference had turned a collective blind eye to research findings compiled by independent scientists in Europe in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in present-day Ukraine — specifically to findings that point to various damaging health consequences of long-term exposure to low-level radiation. So it was that those two citizens’ groups, angered by these and other official responses to the calamity, organized the Oct. 12 conference held at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya Ward. among the non-experts and experts invited to attend and exchange their views were people from a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, constitutional law and pediatrics. On the day, some of the speakers took issue with the stance of the majority of official bodies that the health damage from Chernobyl was observed only in a rise in the number of cases of thyroid cancers. Eisuke Matsui, a lung cancer specialist who is a former associate professor at Gifu University’s School of Medicine, argued in his papers submitted to the conference that the victims of Chernobyl in the neighboring present-day country of Belarus have suffered from a raft of other problems, including congenital malformations, type-1 diabetes and cataracts. Matsui cited a lengthy and detailed report of research by the Russian scientists Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko that was published in 2007, and republished in English in 2009 by the new York Academy of Sciences under the title “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment.” Matsui stressed that, based on such evidence, the Japanese government should approve group evacuations of children — at the expense of the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power co. — from certain parts of Fukushima Prefecture. he cited some areas of the city of Koriyama, 50 to 60 km from the stricken nuclear plant, where soil contamination by radioactive cesium-137 has reached 5.13 Curies per sq. km. That is the same as in areas of Ukraine where residents were given rights to evacuate, Matsui said. In fact in June, the parents of 14 schoolchildren in Koriyama filed a request for a temporary injunction with the Fukushima District Court, asking it to order the city to send their children to schools in safer areas. In the ongoing civil suit, those parents claim that the children’s external radiation exposure has already exceeded 1 millisievert according to official data — the upper yearly limit from all sources recommended by the ICRP for members of the public under normal conditions. Following a nuclear incident, however, the ICRP recommends local authorities to set the yearly radiation exposure limit for residents in contaminated areas at between 1 and 20 millisieverts, with the long-term goal of reducing the limit to 1 millisievert per year. Meanwhile, Hisako Sakiyama, former head researcher at the National Institute of Radiological Sciences, delved into the non-cancer risks of exposure to radiation. In her presentation, she referred to a report compiled in April by the German Affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW). Titled “Health Effects of Chernobyl: 25 years after the reactor catastrophe,” this documents an alarmingly high incidence of genetic and teratogenic (fetal malformation) damage observed in many European countries since Chernobyl. Sakiyama also pointed out that the German report showed that the incidence of thyroid cancer due to radiation exposure was not limited to children. For instance, she cited IPPNW survey findings from the Gomel district in Belarus, a highly-contaminated area, when researchers compared the incidence of thyroid cancer in the 13 years before the Chernobyl explosion and the 13 years after. these findings show that the figures for the latter period were 58 times higher for residents aged 0-18, 5.3 times higher for those aged 19-34, 6 times higher for those aged 35-49, and 5 times higher for those aged 50-64. “In Japan, the government has a policy of not giving out emergency iodine pills to those aged 45 and older (because it considers that the risk of them getting cancer is very low),”‘ Sakiyama said. “But the (IPPNW) data show that, while less sensitive compared to children, adults’ risks go up in correspondence with their exposure to radioactivity.” Further post-Chernobyl data was presented to the conference by Sebastian Pflugbeil, a physicist who is president of the German Society for Radiation Protection. Reporting the results of his independent research into child cancers following the Chernobyl disaster, he said that “in West Germany … with an exposure of 1 millisievert per year, hundreds of thousands of children were affected.” He noted, though, that any official admissions regarding health damage caused by the 1986 disaster in the then Soviet Union came very slowly and insufficiently in Europe. Indeed, he said the authorities denied there were health risks for years afterward. In response, an audience member who said he was a science teacher at a junior high school in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture, asked Pflugbeil to exactly identify the level of exposure beyond which residents should be evacuated. While acknowledging that was a very difficult question, the German specialist noted later, however, that he would think pregnant women should probably leave Fukushima — adding, “I have seen many cases over the years, but I come from Germany and it’s not easy to judge (about the situation in Japan).” At a round table discussion later in the day, as well as discussing specific issues many participants made the point that science belongs to the people, not just experts — the very point that underpinned the entire event. As Wataru Iwata, director of the Fukushima-based citizens’ group CRMS, one of the forum’s organizers (which also conducts independent testing of food from in and around Fukushima Prefecture) put it: “Science is a methodology and not an end itself.” In the end, though the citizens’ forum — which ran from 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. — arrived at no clear-cut conclusions, organizers said that that in itself was a good outcome. and another conference involving citizens and scientists is now being planned for March 2012.

Filed under: Consequences, Danger, Fukushima, Radiation, Reflection, Research

Nuclear Power Plants Are Unnecessary

Susanne Gerber


Special to The Japan Times

Every year when I was a child, my parents would take my brother and me from our Los Angeles home to Las Vegas on vacation. Back then in the 1950s, Vegas was still a family-oriented holiday destination. Dad would drop a few bucks at the crap table while the rest of us basked in the sun. I vividly recall, one late afternoon, looking out over the desert that stretched endlessly from our hotel and pointing to a rather eerie glow over the horizon. „That’s from the atom-bomb testing they do,“ Dad explained. „But isn’t that dangerous, Dad?“ „Do you think they would do it if it was dangerous?“ That was the average person’s attitude at the time toward nuclear testing in the atmosphere: „They“ wouldn’t do it if it caused harm. That incident from my childhood sprang to mind when the reactors at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant began to spew radioactive materials into the environment. The Japanese public had the wool pulled well over their eyes, just as my father had. They had made the fatal mistake of believing that the government officials and company executives carrying out nuclear tests and establishing nuclear power facilities had the interests of their countries and their citizens at heart; while, in fact, what motivated both was the lust for power and an all-consuming greed. Now that lust and greed have wreaked havoc across huge swaths of the Tohoku region in northeastern Honshu. And no one has been a more ardent and articulate champion of the truth about the dangers of nuclear power — and allowing that lust and greed to rule our lives — than Takashi Hirose. His latest book, „Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster,“ has just become available online as a Kindle book in an excellent and fluid translation by a team under the guidance of American author and scholar, Douglas Lummis. Originally published as „Fukushima Genpatsu Merutodaun“ by Asahi Shinsho on May 30, 2011, this is the book that Hirose had hoped he would never have to write. For three decades he has been warning Japanese people about the catastrophes that could been visited on their country — and now his worst nightmare has become a reality. „This is called the ‚3/11 Disaster‘ by many,“ he writes, „but it did not happen on 3/11, it began on 3/11 and it is continuing today. … Nuclear power plants are a wildly dangerous way to get electricity and are unnecessary. The world needs to learn quickly from Japan’s tragedy.“ Hirose points out that from day one of the disaster the situation in Fukushima had reached the highest level of nuclear accidents, namely level 7 — and from the outset, the government was keenly aware of this fact. But it chose to conceal the truth from the people. „In past nuclear-plant disasters — those at Chernobyl (in present-day Ukraine, in 1986) and at Three Mile Island (in Pennsylvania in the United States, in 1979) — only one reactor was involved in each. However, at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, four reactors went critical at the same time.“ On March 13, two days after the tsunami that followed the magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake, Masataka Shimizu, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, said at a press conference: „The tsunami was beyond all previous imagination. In the sense that we took all measures that could be thought of for dealing with a tsunami, there was nothing wrong with our preparations.“ As Hirose and many other commentators have pointed out, Tepco executives and government planners knew perfectly well that tsunamis far exceeding 20 meters in height struck that very region in 1896 and again, 37 years later, in 1933. The 14-meter-high tsunami that inundated many of the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s facilities was, in fact, well within the parameters of what could objectively be termed „expected“ — and was simply not „beyond all previous imagination,“ as Shimizu claimed. In fact, the willful absence of care by both industry and government comprises nothing less than a blatant act of savagery against the people of Japan. This book is full of enlightening technical explanations on every aspect of nuclear safety, from structural safeguards (and their clear inadequacy) to the nature of hydrogen explosions and meltdowns. Hirose warns us, with detailed descriptions of the lay of the land and the features of each reactor, about the nuclear power plants at Tomari in Hokkaido, Higashidori in Aomori Prefecture and Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture; about other plants in Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Shimane, Ehime, Saga and Kagoshima prefectures; and perhaps most dangerous of all, about the 14 reactors along the Wakasa Coast in Fukui Prefecture, constituting what I would call Hōshanō Yokochō (Radioactivity Alley). Many of the reactors at these plants are aging and plagued with serious structural problems. „I have looked through the ‚Nuclear Plant Archipelago‘ from north to south,“ writes Hirose. „I cannot suppress my amazement that on such narrow islands, laced with active earthquake faults, and with earthquakes and volcanoes coming one after another, so many nuclear power plants have been built.“ There is no shortage of electricity-generating potential in this country. The 10 regional electric power monopolies have perpetrated the myth of the inevitability of nuclear power in order to manipulate this essential market to their own gain. Tepco created a fear of blackouts this past summer in order to aggrandize its own „sacrificial“ role. As Hirose points out, Japan is not a preindustrial country; blackouts are not an issue. Many major companies could independently produce sufficient electricity to cover all of Japan’s industrial and domestic needs. They are prevented from doing so by the monopolies created by self-interested businessmen and bureaucrats, and by their many lobbyists occupying seats in the Diet. Hirose states: „Electrical generation and electrical transmission should be separated, and the state should manage the transmission systems in the public interest. … The great fear is that there are many nuclear power plants in the Japanese archipelago that could become the second or third Fukushima. These nuclear plants could cause catastrophes exceeding the Fukushima disaster and thus affect the whole country and possibly the world.“ There is little difference between this situation and the one in the 1930s, when all-powerful business conglomerates and complying politicians „convinced“ the Japanese people that it was in their interests to go to war. One thing comes out of all of this with crystal clarity: „They“ can no longer be trusted — if ever they could. The health and welfare of millions of people living in the vicinity of nuclear bomb testing in the atmosphere around the world — and not just in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas — was compromised by self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials. Our health and welfare in this country is no less compromised by cynical self-serving bureaucrats, politicians and corporate officials who deny their responsibility for showering us in that very same radiation. Nuclear testing in the atmosphere has ceased. No longer do parents „assure“ their children that there is no danger because „they“ say so. And yet, the dangers of radioactive contamination of the environment by nuclear plants exist around us today. All nuclear power plants in Japan should be shut down now, lest we find ourselves one day viewing Fukushima as the first of a chain of tragedies that threaten our lives and the very existence of the Japanese nation.

Filed under: Consequences, Danger, Fukushima, Politics, Radiation, Reflection

IAEA: „The Number of Operating Nuclear Reactors in the World Will Continue to Increase Steadily“

Susanne Gerber


Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Tuesday demand for nuclear energy around the world is on the rise, although the nuclear crisis in Japan triggered by the March earthquake and tsunami has dented growth. „Despite the accident, the IAEA’s latest projection is that the number of operating nuclear reactors in the world will continue to increase steadily in the coming decades, although less rapidly than was anticipated before the accident,“ the agency’s director general said in his report to the 66th U.N. General Assembly. Most of the growth will occur in countries such as India and China that already have operating nuclear power plants, he said. At the same time many developing countries still plan to introduce nuclear power due to growing global demand for energy and concerns about climate change as well as about volatile fossil fuel prices and the security of energy supplies. Explaining that the agency has been working with the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan since the accident, doing „everything it can“ to help, he also stressed the importance of a 12-point action plan on nuclear safety adopted by IAEA member states in September. „The action plan represents a significant step forward,“ he said. „It is vital that it is fully implemented in all countries with nuclear power and that the right lessons are learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.“ Amano further explained that the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, „are now confident“ that a cold shutdown will be achieved by the end of the year. Japan’s Deputy Ambassador Kazuo Kodama, speaking after Amano’s report, said his country is moving forward. „Despite the tragic events occurring earlier this year in Japan, I am convinced that, through the resilience of our people and assisted by the generous support of our partners in the international community including the IAEA, we will overcome this challenge,“ Kodama said. „I am equally confident that we will find a path towards a safer nuclear future, benefiting from the lessons learned in this instance and the accumulated wisdom of the world in this field.“ Apart from mentioning Fukushima, Amano also reiterated the agency’s concerns about North Korea, Iran and Syria. North Korea’s nuclear program „remains a matter of serious concern,“ given reports that it is constructing a new uranium enrichment facility and a light water reactor, he said. On Iran, Amano cited his recent reports that the country „is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.“ Regarding Syria, he said the agency recently concluded it is „very likely“ that a building destroyed at the Dair Alzrou site in 2007 was a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the IAEA. In June the IAEA reported Syria’s noncompliance with its safeguards obligations to the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly.

Filed under: Consequences, Fukushima, Politics, Reflection

Women of Fukushima

Susanne Gerber


Women from Fukushima at a sit-in in Tokyo

Yesterday close to two hundred women from Fukushima began a three-day sit-in outside the Tokyo office of Japan’s Ministry of Economy calling for the evacuation of children from areas with high radiation levels and the permanent shut down of nuclear reactors in Japan currently switched off. Their peaceful protest is a powerful – almost radical – act in a country where standing up for something can often mean ostracism from one’s community. These are not women who regularly participate in civil protest. These are mothers who fear for their children’s safety and future. These are grandmothers separated from their families. The fact that they have put their own lives and families on hold for these three days reflects the harrowing situation these women and their families have found themselves in since the nuclear disaster. The responsibilities of these women have only grown since the nuclear meltdown completely disrupted their lives. One of the women protesting, Ms. Saeko Uno, fled Fukushima with her 4-year daughter just hours after the earthquake struck Japan on March 11. She is now living in another city, but her husband can’t give up his job in Fukushima and has to commute back and forth between the two cities. She is frustrated by the separation that has been forced on her family by the disaster. Ms. Uno came to the protest to tell the world that Fukushima doesn’t need nuclear power. In Fukushima, many victims of nuclear radiation are not recognised by the government as having an official right to evacuate the area. This injustice is another issue that has brought Ms. Uno and dozens of other women to Tokyo to protest. The women come from all backgrounds. They are young and old (including an 86-year-old woman), teachers and farmers. During the sit-in they will knit a long woolen chain together, a symbol for them of connecting themselves in one circle. They are calling on women from all over Japan and the rest of the world to join them, beginning on October 30th. Some of the women have been protesting against the Fukushima nuclear plant for years – long before the earthquake and tsunami. Others have joined the cause after the radiation began to affect their families, their children. Most of all, Ms. Uno explains, they want to connect with each other and – amongst the despair that has brought them together – find hope.

Filed under: Fukushima, Politics, Reflection, Resistance

Resistance and Dialogue

Susanne Gerber


Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action Kyoto speaks with Mark Selden in New York about recent developments in Fukushima and the US tour by anti-nuclear activists from Fukushima and other parts of Japan.

“75% of Fukushima’s 300,000 children are going to schools that are so contaminated they would be radiation control areas in nuclear plants where individuals under 18 are not legally allowed.  The Japanese government won’t evacuate people unless radiation levels are four times what triggered evacuation in Chernobyl,” The Fukushima earthquake tsunami nuclear power meltdown of March 11 opened the way for a far-reaching debate in Japan, the US and globally that could lead to rethinking the risks of radiation, the viability of nuclear power, and even to its elimination in some countries. When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the UN would convene a high-level meeting on nuclear energy and security, Aileen Mioko Smith was meeting in Hokkaido with Izumi Kaori of Stop Tomari, the citizens group campaigning to prevent reopening of the dangerous nuclear power plant. They decided on the spot: “We’ve got to go to Washington and New York to tell the world about the urgent threat of nuclear contamination unleashed by the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, the special danger to children, the lies told by the nuclear power industry and the Japanese government, and the urgent need to close the world’s most dangerous nuclear power plants.” Together with organic farmers Sato Sachiko of Fukushima and her two children, Anzai Sachiko, an organic farmer near Tomari, and Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear who visited Fukushima, they have carried the urgent message that nuclear power plants must be closed in light of the disasters from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. And that the Fukushima disaster presents an extraordinary opportunity to halt nuclear power not only in Germany and Italy where governments have taken prompt action, but in Japan, the United States and elsewhere. Arriving in Washington on the six month anniversary of the March 11 Fukushima Daiichi meltdown, they have addressed the National Press Club, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission, as well as participating in an action at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant just 38 miles north of New York City. Their central messages to the American and to the Japanese people:

• Save the children of Fukushima and Northeast Japan

• End nuclear power everywhere drawing on the lessons of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima

• Asylum for Fukushima refugees: help both in Japan and abroad.

• UN stop promoting nuclear power.

Given American and global concern about the Fukushima disaster and the future of nuclear power, they were able to gain attention in Washington. Media ranging from CNN as well as NHK and Kyodo News of Japan carried the messages they delivered first to the National Press Club and subsequently to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission where they also received briefings on nuclear safety. The latter was particularly important since the NRC had called on all US citizens living within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to leave. The Japanese government concerned about the costs of evacuating Fukushima city limited its evacuation to 20 kilometers with only additional evacuation of areas with expected annual dose of radiation of 20 millisievert or higher, including some hot spots outside that limit .  In Chernobyl, citizens living in areas contaminated between 1 and 5 mSv/year received government aid if they wished to resettle. Precisely the cavalier attitude of the Japanese government, above all its decision to risk the health of infants and children by limiting evacuation to 20 kilometers, has led campaigners to call for learning from the people of Fukushima, not the Japanese government. And its corollary, pointedly expressed by organic farmer Sato Sachiko: “the lesson is that once it happens, it’s too big for anyone to deal with. The only solution is to prevent it from happening by closing nuclear power plants.”  In August, the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation, Green Action and four other Japanese NGOs submitted a report to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights describing the Japanese government’s violation of the human rights of Fukushima children and urging the UN come to Japan to investigate the situation.

In New York City they carried their message to the United Nations and demonstrated in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza. As Japan’s Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko emerged from his speech on nuclear safety and security, where he stated his expectation that Japan would complete cold shutdown of all the reactors that continue to spew radiation into the air and sea, Sato Sachiko, who was addressing a rally outside shouted: “Save the children! You must not lie to the world about things getting better. How can you talk about safe nuclear power when the Japanese government can’t even protect the children of Fukushima!” The group’s next stop was the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant just 36 miles from New York City. “When we met with US officials,” Ms Sato commented, “they said they would learn from the lessons of Fukushima. They talked about taking necessary measures out to 50 miles in the event of disaster. But now that I’ve been here, I realize that there is no possible evacuation plan for the 20 million people within 50 miles of the Indian Point plant.

As the Japanese delegates pointed out, the most urgent issue concerns the 300,000 children of Fukushima, above all those living in radiation hot spots both in Fukushima and beyond. The heart of the matter is the Japanese government’s evacuation policy. Following the meltdown, Japan established a twenty-kilometer evacuation zone from the plant, evacuating approximately 36,000 people out of Fukushima’s total population of just over 2 million. Including those who evacuated within the prefecture but outside the twenty kilometer zone, the number is still only a little larger than ten percent of the 400,000 plus evacuated from Chernobyl after the 1986 disaster which turned 2,000 villages into ghost towns. [See Fujioka Atsushi, Understanding the Ongoing Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima: A “Two-Headed Dragon” Descends into the Earth’s Biosphere.] To minimize the number of evacuees, the Japanese government arbitrarily raised the permissible level of annual radiation exposure from one millisievert to twenty mSv, a figure that is being applied not only to adults but to infants and pregnant women, those most vulnerable to radiation. By contrast, following Chernobyl, the Russian and Belorussian states evacuated everyone in localities with five mSv. A quarter of a century later, the evacuated areas remain uninhabitable, a prospect that could confront Fukushima if recent official projections prove accurate. How high a radiation level is twenty mSv/year? The Japanese government has legally compensated Japanese nuclear power plant workers who contracted cancer from as low as 5.2mSv exposure and higher. Now a substantially higher level of supposed safety (20 mSv) is to be applied to citizens, including infants and children in Japan.  Indeed, the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT), choosing a strategy of reassurance over one of protection, produced a guide for teachers and parents in Fukushima which claimed that “weak” radiation doses such as 250 mSv over a number of years will have no health effects, and increased cancer risk was not recognized with cumulative doses of under 100 mSv. [Say Peace Project, Protecting Children Against Radiation: Japanese Citizens Take Radiation Protection into Their Own Hands.”] Much of the discussion of the risk of radiation has centered on cancer. That is indeed an important concern. But the effects of cancer are played out over decades and it is frequently difficult to conclusively pinpoint the cause. What have been the short-term health effects of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns? “With the Japanese government in general, and the Fukushima medical establishment in particular providing no comprehensive statistical health data, indeed, insisting that there are no health concerns, it is presently necessary to rely on evidence provided by Fukushima residents,” Smith explains. “These include numerous examples provided by parents who have challenged MEXT and Fukushima authorities demanding evacuation for the children. For example, there have been numerous reports of serious nose bleeding and of diarrhea that cannot be stopped . . . and not just in children. There have also been numerous examples of symptoms of atopic skin diseases and asthma getting worse after the accident.” We know, moreover, that the immediate effects of the Chernobyl disaster included elevated levels of numerous diseases including heart disease as well as birth normalities and stillbirths. [See introduction to Chris Busby, “Fukushima Children at Risk of Heart Disease.”] While the people of Fukushima and Japan’s Northeast face serious problems of health, evacuation, and long-term economic disaster, the potential for positive change in the wake of the multiple disasters and especially the Fukushima meltdown now exists.  Today just 11 of Japan’s nuclear power plants are operating and those that are closed require stress tests before they can reopen. [Note: Following the interview, one more plant was closed pending testing. This presently leaves just 10 in operation.] Since March 11 just one of the closed plants, the dangerous plant at Tomari in Hokkaido has reopened, and it is the subject of an active campaign to Stop Tomari. Most important, the entire public dialogue has shifted with growing criticism of nuclear power and support for rapid development of renewable energy in the wake of passage of a renewable energy law which establishes a Feed-in Tariff system requiring power companies to purchase locally produced energy. Moreover, Japanese capital, led by businessman Son Masayoshi, has awakened to the potential of renewable energy as the next major frontier for Japanese industry. Finally, the fact that Japan succeeded in conserving energy to avert a serious power shortage with the majority of its nuclear plants closed makes clear the possibility for moving beyond nuclear power to renewable energy in future.

Aileen Mioko Smith, Executive Director, Green Action based in Kyoto, has been working to eliminate Japan’s nuclear power reactors since 1983. See this link for updates on the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant earthquake and tsunami crisis. This interview was conducted in New York City on September 24, 2011. Smith is co-author with W. Eugene Smith of Minamata: Words and Photographs.

Filed under: Consequences, Fukushima, Politics, Reflection, Resistance


Susanne Gerber


Japan Atomic Energy Co said on Wednesday it reached an agreement to conduct a feasibility study to build one of Vietnam’s first nuclear power plants, marking a step in Japan’s efforts to export its nuclear technology to the Southeast Asian country. Last October, Vietnam chose to partner with Japan in the construction of two nuclear reactors in Ninh Thuan province of central Vietnam. It also plans to build two more in the same region, using Russian technology, aiming for operations of all four reactors in the early 2020s. Japan Atomic Energy said that it took more time than expected to reach a deal but that it had nothing to do with the disaster at Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima nuclear plant after the earthquake and tsunami in March. The radiation crisis heightened safety concerns in Japan, the world’s third-biggest nuclear power generator, and kept several reactors shut for regular maintenance from restarting. Still, the government decided this month that Japan should keep exporting nuclear technology while ensuring that its safety is among the highest levels in the world. Japan’s trade and energy minister, Yukio Edano, is scheduled to meet his Lithuanian counterpart on Wednesday as negotiations are under way for the EU member state to build a nuclear plant. Edano is expected to exchange views on nuclear technology given that Lithuania has picked Hitachi and a combined Hitachi-U.S. General Electric company to continue talks on building a new nuclear power plant, a ministry official said. Japan Atomic, a power wholesaler which runs three nuclear reactors in central Japan, said the cost of its feasibility study in Vietnam of 2 billion yen ($26 million) would be fully covered by government subsidies. It is required to report to Electricity of Vietnam group (EVN) by March 2013 the results of its study on environment, including its assessment on tsunamis, and the feasibility of the construction plan.“It took about six months more than we had expected. But that was due to Vietnam’s prolonged administrative process. It had nothing to do with the March disaster,“ Youichi Nonaka, Japan Atomic’s managing director, said at a news conference. „Vietnam has been always enthusiastic in calling Japan for cooperation since the disaster,“ he added.

Filed under: Reflection

The Thought of an Uninhabited Tokyo

Susanne Gerber


Former Japanese Prime Minister Kan Naoto says he felt a sense of crisis that the nuclear plant mishap in Fukushima could obliterate Tokyo and its vicinity, said the Japanese daily Tokyo Shimbun Tuesday. Kan, who stepped down as prime minister Friday, said, “The week shortly after the accident is the period when I felt the highest sense of crisis,” adding, “The thought of an uninhabited Tokyo made me shudder. At around 3 a.m. March 15, three days after the accident, I got a report from then Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda that Tokyo Power Corp. was about to withdraw from the nuclear facility. So instantly I summoned the company`s president Masataka Shimizu and asked him to set up a joint countermeasures headquarters of the government and the company at the company’s headquarters,” Kan said. „Had Tokyo Power Corp. withdrawn from the nuclear power plant, nobody might live in Tokyo now. If the power company had pulled out of the facility and left nuclear fuel unattended, the cooling water would have dried out within dozens of hours and the meltdown of reactors would have occurred,” adding, “If this had been the case, radioactive materials several or even dozens of times as much as those leaked in Chernobyl would had leaked. The country was brought to the brink of collapse.” Kan also explained why he sought to wean Japan from nuclear energy, saying, “Before the accident, my stance was to utilize nuclear power plants. I thought that Japanese technology would make things all right but I changed my mind after the accident. If people cannot live within a radius of 100 or 200 kilometers from a crippled nuclear power plant, Japan will cease to exist. Evacuating 100,000 or 200,000 people is a very difficult task, but if we have to evacuate 30 million people in the capital area, we won`t have enough shelters to accommodate them. To avoid such a calamity, we have no choice but to become independent of nuclear power plants.” On communication of information at the time of the accident, Kan said, “Even the Prime Minister’s Office wasn’t informed of the situation accurately. The atomic safety commission said no hydrogen explosion would occur because containment vessels were filled with nitrogen. In reality, however, explosions occurred inside reactor buildings.”

Filed under: Accident, Danger, Fukushima, Meltdown, Politics, Radiation, Reflection