Poison in the air — The New International, Opinion

” Three of the six reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi complex were wrecked in March 2011 by an earthquake and tsunami. The destruction of emergency electric generators caused a ‘station blackout’ which halted cooling water intake and circulation. Super-heated, out-of-control uranium fuel in reactors 1, 2, and 3 then boiled off cooling water, and some 300 tons of fuel ‘melted’ and burned through the reactors’ core vessels, gouging so deep into underground sections of the structure that to this day operators aren’t sure where it is. Several explosions in reactor buildings and uncovered fuel rods caused the spewing of huge quantities of radioactive materials to the atmosphere, and the worst radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean ever recorded. Fukushima amounts to Whole-Earth poisoning.

Now, researchers say, radioactive isotopes that were spread across Japan (and beyond) by the meltdowns will continue to contaminate the food supply for a very long time.

According to a new study that focused on ‘radiocaesium’ – as the British call cesium-134 and cesium-137 – ‘food in japan will be contaminated by low-level radioactivity for decades’. The official university announcement of this study neglected to specify that Fukushima’s cesium will persist in the food chain for thirty decades. It takes 10 radioactive half-lives for cesium-137 to decay to barium, and its half-life is about 30 years, so C-137 stays in the environment for roughly 300 years.

The study’s authors, Professor Jim Smith, of the University of Portsmouth, southwest of London, and Dr. Keiko Tagami, from the Japanese National Institute of Radiological Sciences, report that cesium-caused ‘radiation doses in the average diet in the Fukushima region are very low and do not present a significant health risk now or in the future’.

This phraseology deliberately conveys a sense of security – but a false one. Asserting that low doses of radiation pose no ‘significant’ health risk sounds reassuring, but an equally factual framing of precisely the same finding is that small amounts of cesium in food pose a slightly increased risk of causing cancer.

This fact was acknowledged by Prof Smith in the June 14 University of Portsmouth media advisory that announced his food contamination study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment. Because of above-ground atom bomb testing, Prof. Smith said, “Radioactive elements such as caesium-137, strontium-90 and carbon-14 contaminated the global environment, potentially causing hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths”.

No less an authority than the late John Gofman, MD, Ph D, a co-discoverer of plutonium and Professor Emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, spent 50 years warning about the threat posed by low doses of radiation. In May 1999, Gofman wrote, “By any reasonable standard of biomedical proof, there is no safe dose, which means that just one decaying radioactive atom can produce permanent mutation in a cell’s genetic molecules. My own work showed this in 1990 for X rays, gamma rays, and beta particles.”

The Fukushima-borne cesium in Japan’s food supply, and in the food-web of the entire Pacific Ocean, emits both beta and gamma radiation. Unfortunately, it will bio-accumulate and bio-concentrate for 300 years, potentially causing, as Dr Gofman if not Dr Smith might say, hundreds of thousands of unseen cancer deaths. ”

originally published in CounterPunch

source

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The Fukushima nuclear meltdown continues unabated — Helen Caldicott, Independent Australia

Helen Caldicott sums up the situation here:

” Recent reporting of a huge radiation measurement at Unit 2 in the Fukushima Daichi reactor complex does not signify that there is a peak in radiation in the reactor building.

All that it indicates is that, for the first time, the Japanese have been able to measure the intense radiation given off by the molten fuel, as each previous attempt has led to failure because the radiation is so intense the robotic parts were functionally destroyed.

The radiation measurement was 530 sieverts, or 53,000 rems (Roentgen Equivalent for Man). The dose at which half an exposed population would die is 250 to 500 rems, so this is a massive measurement. It is quite likely had the robot been able to penetrate deeper into the inner cavern containing the molten corium, the measurement would have been much greater.

These facts illustrate why it will be almost impossible to “decommission” units 1, 2 and 3 as no human could ever be exposed to such extreme radiation. This fact means that Fukushima Daichi will remain a diabolical blot upon Japan and the world for the rest of time, sitting as it does on active earthquake zones.

What the photos taken by the robot did reveal was that some of the structural supports of Unit 2 have been damaged. It is also true that all four buildings were structurally damaged by the original earthquake some five years ago and by the subsequent hydrogen explosions so, should there be an earthquake greater than seven on the Richter scale, it is very possible that one or more of these structures could collapse, leading to a massive release of radiation as the building fell on the molten core beneath. But units 1, 2 and 3 also contain cooling pools with very radioactive fuel rods — numbering 392 in Unit 1, 615 in Unit 2, and 566 in Unit 3; if an earthquake were to breach a pool, the gamma rays would be so intense that the site would have to be permanently evacuated. The fuel from Unit 4 and its cooling pool has been removed.

But there is more to fear.

The reactor complex was built adjacent to a mountain range and millions of gallons of water emanate from the mountains daily beneath the reactor complex, causing some of the earth below the reactor buildings to partially liquefy. As the water flows beneath the damaged reactors, it immerses the three molten cores and becomes extremely radioactive as it continues its journey into the adjacent Pacific Ocean.

Every day since the accident began, 300 to 400 tons of water has poured into the Pacific where numerous isotopes – including cesium 137, 134, strontium 90, tritium, plutonium, americium and up to 100 more – enter the ocean and bio-concentrate by orders of magnitude at each step of the food chain — algae, crustaceans, little fish, big fish then us.

Fish swim thousands of miles and tuna, salmon and other species found on the American west coast now contain some of these radioactive elements, which are tasteless, odourless and invisible. Entering the human body by ingestion they concentrate in various organs, irradiating adjacent cells for many years. The cancer cycle is initiated by a single mutation in a single regulatory gene in a single cell and the incubation time for cancer is any time from 2 to 90 years. And no cancer defines its origin.

We could be catching radioactive fish in Australia or the fish that are imported could contain radioactive isotopes, but unless they are consistently tested we will never know.

As well as the mountain water reaching the Pacific Ocean, since the accident, TEPCO has daily pumped over 300 tons of sea water into the damaged reactors to keep them cool. It becomes intensely radioactive and is pumped out again and stored in over 1,200 huge storage tanks scattered over the Daichi site. These tanks could not withstand a large earthquake and could rupture releasing their contents into the ocean.

But even if that does not happen, TEPCO is rapidly running out of storage space and is trying to convince the local fishermen that it would be okay to empty the tanks into the sea. The Bremsstrahlung radiation like x-rays given off by these tanks is quite high – measuring 10 milirems – presenting a danger to the workers. There are over 4,000 workers on site each day, many recruited by the Yakuza (the Japanese Mafia) and include men who are homeless, drug addicts and those who are mentally unstable.

There’s another problem. Because the molten cores are continuously generating hydrogen, which is explosive, TEPCO has been pumping nitrogen into the reactors to dilute the hydrogen dangers.

Vast areas of Japan are now contaminated, including some areas of Tokyo, which are so radioactive that roadside soil measuring 7,000 becquerels (bc) per kilo would qualify to be buried in a radioactive waste facility in the U.S..

As previously explained, these radioactive elements concentrate in the food chain. The Fukushima Prefecture has always been a food bowl for Japan and, although much of the rice, vegetables and fruit now grown here is radioactive, there is a big push to sell this food both in the Japanese market and overseas. Taiwan has banned the sale of Japanese food, but Australia and the U.S. have not.

Prime Minister Abe recently passed a law that any reporter who told the truth about the situation could be [jail]ed for ten years. In addition, doctors who tell their patients their disease could be radiation related will not be paid, so there is an immense cover-up in Japan as well as the global media.

The Prefectural Oversite Committee for Fukushima Health is only looking at thyroid cancer among the population and by June 2016, 172 people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the accident have developed, or have suspected, thyroid cancer; the normal incidence in this population is 1 to 2 per million.

However, other cancers and leukemia that are caused by radiation are not being routinely documented, nor are congenital malformations, which were, and are, still rife among the exposed Chernobyl population.

Bottom line, these reactors will never be cleaned up nor decommissioned because such a task is not humanly possible. Hence, they will continue to pour water into the Pacific for the rest of time and threaten Japan and the northern hemisphere with massive releases of radiation should there be another large earthquake. ”

by Helen Caldicott

source

Fukushima: A second Chernobyl? — The Asia-Pacific Journal

” Waiting for the Future in Fukushima

As the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster approaches, the area around the hulking corpse of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant continues to exude a horrible fascination. Arkadiusz Podniesinski is one of thousands of photographers and journalists drawn there since the crisis began in March 2011. In 2015 his first photo report from the area attracted millions of views around the world.

Podniesinski brought to Japan his experience of chronicling the aftermath of the world’s worst nuclear accident in Chernobyl, which he first visited in 2008. It was, he noted, people, not technology that was responsible for both disasters. Japanese politicians, he adds, are offended by comparisons with Chernobyl. Still, rarely for a foreign report on Fukushima, his work was picked up by Japanese television (on the liberal channel TBS), suggesting there is a hunger for this comparative perspective.

Podniesinski’s first trip strengthened his belief in the “catastrophic consequences of nuclear disasters.” Apart from the suffering caused by the disruption of so many lives (160,000 people remain homeless or displaced), there is the struggle to return contaminated cities and towns to a state where people can live in them again. Billions of dollars have already been spent on this cleanup and much more is to come: The latest rehabilitation plan by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. puts the total bill for compensation alone at 7.08 trillion yen, or nearly $60 billion.

Thirty years after Chernobyl’s reactor exploded, Ukrainians have long come to terms with the tragedy that befell them, he writes. The dead and injured have been forgotten. A 2-billion-Euro sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor is nearly complete. The media returns to the story only on major anniversaries. What, he wonders, will become of Fukushima? Last year, Naraha became the first town in Fukushima Prefecture to completely lift an evacuation order imposed after the triple meltdown. But despite rebuilding much of the town’s infrastructure and spending millions of dollars to reduce radiation, the local authorities have persuaded only a small number of people to permanently return there.

Radiation is only part of the problem, of course. “The evacuees worry about the lack of schools, hospitals and shops,” says Podniesinski. “About the public infrastructure, which has not been sufficiently rebuilt. It must be adapted to the needs of older people, who, after the departure of so many young people from the zone, will now be the majority. However, the evacuees are most afraid of loneliness, as few of their family members, friends and neighbors have decided to return.”

The sense of life suspended, of waiting for the future to arrive, resonates in Tomioka, once home to nearly 16,000 people, now a ghost town. Podniesinski arrives just as its famous cheery blossoms bloom, but there is nobody to see them. The irony of fate, he writes, means that this Japanese symbol of new, nascent life blooms in contaminated and lifeless streets. “Will the city and its residents be reborn? Undoubtedly, the last word shall belong to them alone.” DM “

introduction by David McNeill

” Fukushima: A Second Chernobyl?

Exactly a year has passed since my first visit to Fukushima. A visit which strengthened my belief of how catastrophic the consequences of nuclear disasters can be. A visit that also highlighted how great the human and financial efforts to return contaminated and destroyed cities to a state suitable for re-habitation can be.

The report on the Fukushima zone through the eyes of a person who knows and regularly visits Chernobyl received a great deal of interest in the international community. Viewed several million times and soon picked up by traditional media around the world, it became for a moment the most important topic on Fukushima. I was most pleased, however, by the news that the coverage also reached Japan, where it not only caused quite a stir (more on that another time) but also made me realize just how minuscule Japanese knowledge about the current situation in Fukushima is.

As a result, over the last year I started to go to Fukushima more often than to Chernobyl. This is hardly surprising for another reason. 30 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster, so the majority of Ukrainians have long since come to terms with the tragedy. The dead and injured have been forgotten. The same is true for media interest, which is only revived on the occasion of the round, 30th anniversary of the disaster. In addition, after nearly 10 years and 2 billion euros, work on the new sarcophagus is finally coming to an end, and soon a storage site for radioactive waste and a 227-ha radiological biosphere reserve will be established.

Will the decommissioning of the power plant in Fukushima also take 30 years and end with the construction of a sarcophagus? Will the contaminated and deserted towns located around the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi power plant be called ghost towns and resemble Chernobyl’s Pripyat? Finally, will Fukushima become a popular place for dark tourism like Chernobyl and be visited by thousands of tourists every year?

I Never Want to Return Alone

The Japanese, particularly politicians and officials, do not like and are even offended by comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl. It is, however, difficult not to do so when analogies are visible everywhere. While the fact that the direct causes of the disasters are different, the result is almost identical. A tragedy for the hundreds of thousands of evacuated residents, hundreds of thousands of hectares of land contaminated, and decades of time and billions of dollars devoted to eliminating the results of the disaster. And the first cases of thyroid cancer.

The situation in Fukushima resembles a fight against time or a test of strength. The government has devoted billions of dollars to decontaminating the area and restoring residents to their homes. They must hurry before the residents completely lose hope or the desire to return. Before the houses collapse or people are too old to return to. In addition, the authorities soon intend to stop the compensation paid to residents, which according to many of them will be an even more effective “encouragement” for them to return. Deprived of financial support, many residents will have no other choice but to return. Many young families are not waiting for any government assistance. They decided long ago to leave in search of a new life free of radioactive isotopes. They will surely never return.

But radiation is not the only problem that the authorities must worry about. The evacuated residents worry about the lack of schools, hospitals and shops. About the public infrastructure, which has not been sufficiently rebuilt. It must be adapted to the needs of older people, who, after the departure of so many young people from the zone, will now be the majority. However, the evacuees are most afraid of loneliness, as few of their family members, friends and neighbours have decided to return.

Can the authorities manage to convince the residents to return? Has critical mass been exceeded, after which evacuees will learn from others and return? The authorities are doing everything they can to convince residents that the sites are safe for people. They open towns, roads and railway stations one after another. Unfortunately, despite this, residents still do not want to return. A recent survey confirms that there is a huge gap between the government’s current policies and the will of the affected residents. Only 17.8% want to return, 31.5% are unsure and 48% never intend to return.

It Became Chernobyl Here

During my first visit to Fukushima, I met Naoto Matsumura, who defied official bans and returned to the closed zone to take care of the animals abandoned there by farmers fleeing radiation. Matsumura has taken in hundreds of animals, saving them from inevitable death by starvation or at the hands of the merciless officials forcing farmers to agree to kill them. Thanks to his courage and sacrifice, Matsumura soon became known as the Guardian of Fukushima’s Animals.

Matsumura was not able to help all of the animals, however. According to the farmer, a third of them died of thirst, unable to break free of the metal beams in barns, wooden fences or ordinary kennels. Matsumura took me to one such place.

Not all appreciate Matsumura’s sacrifice and courage. Many people believe that helping these animals, which sooner or later would have ended up on a plate, is not worth the risk the farmer is exposing himself to. Matsumura always has the same answer for them – there is a fundamental difference between killing animals for food and killing animals who are no longer needed due to radiation.

Cow Terrorist

I also returned to Masami Yoshizawa, who like Naoto Matsumura decided to illegally return to the closed zone to take care of the abandoned animals. Shortly after the disaster, some of the farmer’s cows began to develop mysterious white spots on their skin. According to Yoshizawa, they are the result of radioactive contamination and the consumption of radioactive feed.

Yoshizawa’s farm is located 14 km from the destroyed power plant. From this distance, the buildings of the plant are not visible, but its chimneys can be seen. And, as Yoshizawa says – one could also see [and hear] explosions in the power plant as well as radioactive clouds that soon pass over his farm. Consequently, nearly half of the nearly 20,000 inhabitants of the town of Namie were evacuated to Tsushima, located high in the nearby mountains. But soon people began to flee from there when it turned out that the wind blowing in that direction contaminated the area even more. As a result of the radioactive contamination in Fukushima, a new generation known as the hibakusha has arisen. Up to now, this name was only given to people who were victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now this concept has also been applied to victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. As Yoshizawa says – of the 120 surveyed hibakusha, he ranks third in Namie in terms of the amount of radiation doses received.

Defying the completely ignorant authorities, Yoshizawa quickly became a professional activist and his cows got a new mission – they became protestors. And, soon after, he brought one of them in front of the Ministry of Agriculture’s building, demanding that research be undertaken to explain why white spots have appeared on the animals’ skins after the disaster. Yoshizawa says, “I protested [by] bringing a bit of Fukushima to Tokyo. May the cows and I become living proof of the disaster, and the farm a chronicle telling the story of the Fukushima disaster.”

When protesting against the construction and re-starting of subsequent nuclear power plants, Yoshizawa does not bring his cows along anymore. Instead, he has a car festooned with banners that pulls behind it a small trailer with a metal model of a cow. “I have a strong voice and can scream louder than die-hard right wingers!” explains Yoshizawa. “I’m a cowboy, a cow terrorist, a kamikaze!” he adds in a loud voice, presenting an example of his capabilities. “We are not advocating violence, we don’t kill people, we are not aggressive. We are political terrorists,” he concludes calmly. And after a moment, he invites us to a real protest. The occasion of the planned opening of the railway station is to be attended by Prime Minister Sinzo Abe himself.

The protest goes peacefully indeed. Yoshizawa first drives round the city to which the Prime Minister is soon to arrive. Driving his car, he shouts into the microphone, “When a fire broke out in the reactors, TEPCO employees fled. The fire was extinguished by the young men of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces. Why were you not able to control the power plant you built?” He continued immediately, “Today the Prime Minister is coming here. Let’s get up and greet Abe. Let’s show Abe not only the beautifully prepared railway station, let him also see the dark side of the city. For 40 years, we supplied electricity to Tokyo. Our region only could support Japan’s economic development. And now we suffer. Tales about the safety of nuclear power plants are a thing of the past,” Yoshizawa concludes. When the moment of the Prime Minister’s arrival approaches and the crowds grow larger, policemen and the Prime Minister’s security detail approach the farmer. They order him to take down his banners and leave the site. Yoshizawa obeys, but carries out their commands without haste. As if deliberately trying to prolong their presence, hoping to have time to meet and “greet” the Prime Minister.

No-go Zones

As always, a major part of my trip to Fukushima is devoted to visits to no-go zones. Obtaining permission to enter and photograph the interior is still difficult and very time-consuming. However, it is nothing compared to the search for owners of the abandoned properties, persuade them to come, show their houses and discuss the tragic past.

Sometimes, however, it’s different. Such as in the case of Tatsuo and Kazue Kogure, who with the help of Japanese television agreed to take me to Tomioka, where they ran a small but popular bar. It was not only a place to eat and drink sake, but also to sing karaoke with the bar’s owners.

Unfortunately the city, and with it the bar, stood in the way of the radioactive cloud and had to be closed. Earlier, I saw many similar bars and restaurants. Overgrown, smelly, full of mould, debris and scattered items. This place, however, is different. It is distinguished by its owners, who despite age and the tragedy they experienced, did not give up and opened a new bar outside the radioactive zone. Mr and Mrs Kogure not only showed me the abandoned bar, but also invited me to their new one.

What is unusual and extremely gratifying is the fact that the couple’s efforts to continue the family business are also supported by regular customers from the previous bar. “It’s thanks to their help that we could start all over again,” Kazue Kogure acknowledges. She immediately adds, “By opening the bar again we also wanted to be an example to other evacuated residents. To show that it’s possible.”

The Scale of the Disaster Shocked Us

I also visit the former fire station located in the closed zone in Tomioka. Due to the nuclear power plant neighbouring the city, the firefighters working here were regularly trained in case of a variety of emergencies. I am accompanied by Naoto Suzuki, a firefighter who served here before the disaster. In the middle of the firehouse, my attention is drawn to a large blackboard. “That’s the task scheduler for March 2011,” the firefighter explains. “On 11 March, the day of the disaster, we had nothing planned, but,” he adds with an ironic smile, “the day before we had a training session on responding to radioactive contamination. We practiced how to save irradiated people and how to use dosimeters and conduct decontamination.”

Unfortunately, the reality shocked even the firefighters, who had to cope with tasks they had never practiced. For example, with cooling the reactors. Even the repeatedly practiced evacuation procedures for the residents were often ineffective and resulted in the opposite of the desired effect. It turned out that the data from SPEEDI (System for Predicting Environmental Emergency Dose Information), whose tasks included forecasting the spread of radioactive substances, was useless and did not reach the local authorities. As a result, many residents were evacuated for more contaminated sites and unnecessarily endangered by the additional dose of radiation.

The monthly work schedule at the fire station in Tomioka (no-go zone). Firefighter Naoto Suzuki shows the training session on how to help people exposed to radiation planned for the day before the disaster. A committee meeting to provide information in the event of a fire in the nuclear reactors was planned for 14 March.

In the spring of this year, thanks to the help and support of many people, particularly the local authorities, evacuated residents and even a monk, I was also able to see many interesting places mostly located in the closed zones in Tomioka, Okuma, Futaba and Namie. Although five years have passed since the disaster, most of them still remain closed and many valuable objects can still be found there. Due to this, I have decided not to publish information that could aid in locating them.

Hope

Ending my series of travels around Fukushima, I return to Tomioka to see the thing for which the city is most famous and its residents most proud – one of the longest and oldest cherry blossom tunnels in Japan. For the residents of Tomioka, cherry trees have always been something more than just a well-known tourist attraction or the historic symbol of the town. Not only did they admire the aesthetic attributes of the flowers, but they were also part of their lives, organized festivals, meetings and the topic of family conversations.

The natural beauty and powerful symbolism as well as their constant presence in Japanese arts have made cherry trees become an icon of Japanese cultural identity. They signal the arrival of spring, the time for renewal and the emergence of new life. In the spiritual sense, they remind us of how beautiful, yet tragically short and fragile, life is – just like the blooming cherry blossoms that fall from the tree after just a few days.

The nuclear irony of fate meant that this Japanese symbol of new, nascent life today blooms in the contaminated and lifeless streets of Tomioka. Will the city and its residents be reborn, along with the cherry trees blossoming in solitude and silence? Undoubtedly, the last word shall belong to them alone. ”

by Arkadiusz Podniesiński

source with a lot of photography

Over double density of cesium-134/137 as safety limit detected from served school lunch in Utsunomiya city — Fukushima Diary

” According to Utsunomiya city government, they detected over double density of Cs-134/137 as safety level from school lunch after serving it to the students this May.

It was bamboo shoot contained in the school lunch of 5/10/2016 as an ingredient.

It was already served and consumed by 560 students and teachers at an elementary school when they obtained the analysis result.

It was 234 Bq/Kg in total of Cs-134/137 (food safety limit is 100 Bq/Kg). The city government comments no health problem was reported related to the contaminated bamboo shoot. ”

by Iori Mochizuki

source

**Fukushima and nuclear power: Does the advertising giant Dentsu pull the strings of Japan’s media? — GlobalResearch

This article is a MUST READ.

” French journalist Mathieu Gaulène describes the business practices of Dentsu and its competitor Hakuhodo, the biggest and the second biggest advertising companies of Japan respectively. Specifically, it examines how their close relations to the media and the nuclear industry play out in the wake of the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Focusing Dentsu, Gaulène discusses how the marketing and public relations (PR) giant has dominated major media which large advertising contracts from the nuclear industry. The article is particularly timely as Dentsu unveils its deep ties to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic bid and the Panama Papers. Regrettably, however, with rare exceptions, there is little media coverage of the influence of Dentsu in mainstream Japanese newspapers and magazines.

According to the author, a partial translation of the French original was made by Kazparis (username), and quickly received more than 70,000 views on Twitter. Then, Uchida Tatsuru, a specialist in French literature, and HACK & SOCIETAS published two other Japanese translations. Soon after, Tokyo Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun published long articles about Dentsu. SN

Dentsu, the fifth largest communication group in the world, holds a large share of the Japanese advertising market, which impacts media freedom in Japan. This is particularly true in relation to the nuclear power industry.

– Dentsu and information on nuclear power

– Indirect pressures on press journalists

– The 2016 comeback of nuclear advertisements and the resignations of TV journalists

The moment remains famous. On the eve of Japan’s Upper House elections, former actor Yamamoto Taro, an anti-nuclear power candidate supported by no party, campaigned on Twitter to win an upper house seat in the Diet. Censored by the media, the young candidate, famous for his verve, had mainly campaigned against nuclear power, but he also called out the big media, accusing it of being in the pay of sponsors and thus of electric companies and of systematically censoring critical information on nuclear power.

A television channel granted him an interview at the end of a program, but only after presenting a journalist to defend his profession. On screen, the young senator was given only one minute to respond. “I will take a simple example. Food can now hold up to 100 becquerels per kilogram; that means even just via eating we are irradiated. It is never said on television… ” Yamamoto had to stop. The ending jingle started, and the presenter at the studio announced, bantering, that the show was over, before launching an advertising page.

The video, which was available online for 3 years, was removed on May 16, 2016 shortly after the publication of this article. 

” Advertisements in Japan are literally everywhere: a veritable hell of posters or screens in trains and stations, giant posters on buildings, bearers of advertising placards or lorries with huge posters and loud PA systems in the streets: even advertising displays mounted atop urinals in some restaurants. In this advertising empire, the media are no exception. In the press, naturally, as in France, major companies pay for full page advertisements. But, above all in television. An entertainment show generally starts with the announcement of sponsors, and is interrupted every five minutes by numerous short advertising spots, where we often find the same sponsors. There is virtually no time for thinking, most TV channels offer programs close to the world of pachinko: garish colors, constant noise, and frat humor even of the most vulgar kind.

In this immense television arena, advertising is orchestrated by one of the global giants, Dentsu, the 5th communication group in the world and the number one ad agency. With its rival Hakuhodo, 2nd in the archipelago, the two agencies nicknamed “Denpaku,” combine advertising, public relations, media monitoring, crisis management for the largest Japanese and foreign companies, the local authorities, political parties or the government. Together they hold nearly 70% of the market. A true empire that some accuse of ruling the roost in the Japanese media.

A figure allows sizing up Dentsu’s reach: in 2015, the group secured nearly 7 billion euros in revenue, second only to the French Publicis with 9.6 billion euros during the same period. Most of its business is in TV advertisements. For example, Dentsu has created a commercial series for Softbank for almost ten years: the famous “Shirato” family characterized by a white dog as the father; an American black actor as the older brother; and Tommy Lee Jones as a housekeeper.

In July 2013, the group expanded internationally by acquiring the British Aegis for 3.7 billion euros to establish the Dentsu Aegis Network in London. This international network, consisting of ten advertising agencies in more than 140 countries, allowed the Japanese to beef up their activities, particularly in digital marketing, and to secure a position in the international market which accounts for more than half of its total global business (54.3% in 2015). Dentsu employs 47,000 people worldwide, including 7,000 in Japan.

Dentsu and information on nuclear power

Located in the business district of Shiodome, not far from Nippon TV, Fuji TV and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the Dentsu tower dominates the skyline with its imposing beauty. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, its gentle curves and perfect glass walls soothe the eye. Inside the building, Mr. Kannan Shusaku, communications director of the group, receives us, all smiles for a visit of the site. The ground floor is filled with contemporary art, like a white chessboard by Yoko Ono. From there, a noria of lifts takes employees towards different floors and rigorously separates departments. The group’s customers are the top 5 in each industry, and “everything is done so that employees working for competing enterprises never meet each other.” Mr. Kannan assures us. Dentsu obviously prizes transparency, but is its image that stainless?

In a book published in 2012, Honma Ryu looked into some of Dentsu’s backstage, and its tight control over the media, especially on behalf of one of its major clients: Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco. Honma is not alien to advertising circles; he worked for 18 years at number 2, Hakuhodo, then after one year imprisonment for fraud, he began writing, first about his prison experience, then about his years of advertising and the methods he used to coax the media. In 2012, his book Dentsu and Nuclear Coverage became a bestseller within a few months, despite almost universal media blackout.

Honma meticulously described the mechanisms by which Dentsu, the inevitable intermediary, implicitly imposes on media what can or cannot be written on nuclear power, and under what conditions. “Dentsu occupies a special position since the agency holds 80% of the market for nuclear advertising in Japan,” he reminded us during an interview in a coffee shop at Ueno Station. In 2010, in this huge advertising market, Tepco, a regional firm, indeed ranked 10th in terms of advertising expenses, next to power plant manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. That year, on the eve of the Fukushima accident, Tepco had spent more than 2 million euros on advertising. The overall advertising expenses of the 10 regional electrical power companies amounted to 7 million euros.

For decades, especially since the 1990s when public opinion began to become critical of nuclear power following several accidents, Tepco and other power companies stepped up commercials and advertorials in the press.

On television, the advertisements can be enough in themselves to overwhelm criticism. Big groups often sponsor TV programs, talk shows or series for an entire season. Sometimes, entire documentaries are produced by Denjiren, [the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC)], a key player in the nuclear lobby, to promote the industry. Any dissenting voice is unwelcome for fear of losing sponsors. After Fukushima, Yamamoto Taro paid the price; appearing regularly on TV as a tarento [talent] until then when he suddenly became persona non grata on TV and even in cinema for having expressed opposition to nuclear power. This is hardly new since the great figures of the anti-nuclear movement, best-selling authors such as Hirose Takashi or Koide Hiroaki are almost never invited to appear on TV, especially after the Fukushima accident. This “control by media” denounced by Honma Ryu obviously is not limited to the nuclear power industry. Thus, he reminds us of the case of the millions of Toyota vehicle recalls due to a defective accelerator pedal. It was necessary to wait until the Toyota CEO apologized to the U.S. Congress before that affair really appeared in the Japanese press. “No doubt the advertising agency had succeeded until then in preserving the image of its client, but when the scandal became too big and was in the public eye abroad, the media had no choice but to reveal the affair” he states. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that apart from some programs such as “Hodo Station” on TV Asahi, which provide good quality information, sometimes being critical of the government, most TV news in Japan rarely address subjects that can offend one or another group, relaying communications from the government without critically stepping back, and not introducing international news except when the subject involves Japanese citizens.

Amid all these private media groups, only NHK escapes this advertising empire and can claim to be independent, receiving its funding directly from viewers. Alas, the situation at NHK is even more disastrous, its president Momii Katsuto having said without embarrassment on several occasions that the chain had to be the spokesman for the Abe government. In a recent statement before 200 retired NHK employees, he even seemingly acknowledged having ordered NHK journalists to confine broadcasts to reassuring communiqués from the authorities about Kyushu earthquakes and potential risks they pose to nuclear plants and instructing them not to interview independent experts.

Indirect pressures on the press

What about the press? Dentsu has long had a special relationship with the two news agencies Kyodo News and Jiji Press: the three entities formed a single information group before the war. If information in the press is more difficult to control, Dentsu not only advertises, but provides after-sales customer service — media monitoring, advice on crisis management, and indirect pressure on newspapers.

Whereas in France, the acquisition of media companies by large industrial groups is the prelude to direct pressure, in Japan pressure comes via advertising agencies that act as true ambassadors for the groups. “I know very well how this happens, as Honma Ryu amusingly relates, I did the same thing when I was at Hakuhodo. If an incident occurs in a factory or a plant and the press reports it, Dentsu directly intervenes and visits the business department of the newspaper in question.” Things are done in the “Japanese” way. “We ask them politely to try to speak less about the case, not to put the article on the front page, or to publish it in the evening paper which is less read.” Such messages are directly transmitted by the business staff of the journal to top management.

Journalists will never know, but the next day their article will be relegated to the inside pages, or sometimes simply not published, or, for example, claiming lack of space. But, suspicions are numerous, and, Honma reports, after the publication of his book, many journalists came to see him confirming cases of censorship. Advertisements of nuclear power are mainly distributed in weekly and daily newspapers. Since the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant, they stopped; but for Dentsu, a profitable new business emerged: promoting agricultural products from Fukushima. Since 2011, with the participation of star singers, Fukushima Prefecture has never skimped on promoting its peaches, rice, or tomatoes, with slogans like “Fukushima Pride” or “Fukushima is well!”

All this thanks to the help of Dentsu and Dentsu Public Relations (PR). “Dentsu PR also works for the METI [Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry],” explains Ms. Fujii Kyoko, Director of communications at Dentsu PR. “We organized free tours of Tohoku for foreign journalists, such as Thai and Malaysian journalists, to show that the region is recovering from the disaster.” And to expunge the surrounding radioactivity?

Dentsu thus occupies a very special position in the promotion of nuclear power, beside Tepco but also the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), both clients of the advertising company. Under these conditions, can Dentsu not be considered to actively underwrite the “nuclear village”? To this question, Mr. Kannan Shusaku, who received us in his office at the top of the Dentsu tower, answered without beating around the bush. “We have no power to influence the media and we do not practice politics.” Yet when asked why Dentsu is a member of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), the main organization of nuclear lobbying, along with Japanese electric utility companies and EDF [Electricity of France, Électricité de France], Mr. Kannan became more circumspect. “I do not know this association… Really, are you sure?” he replied, slightly annoyed, before reaching for his smartphone. “Oh, yes, we are members. But, you know we are members of many associations. People ask us to send someone and sign, that’s all.” Apparently unconvinced by his own argument, he finally found a getaway and suddenly exclaimed: “You see, Hakuhodo is also a member!” obviously happy about not being the only one enlisted in the lobby.

The 2016 comeback of nuclear advertisements and resignations of TV journalists

For Honma Ryu, this is a sign of a resumption of promotion activities of nuclear power. “Hakuhodo has actually been a member of the JAIF for two years,” he explained, after the Fukushima accident. Obviously, having been sidelined for several decades from this gold mine of nuclear advertisements, the rival agency wants to restore its share in the promotion of nuclear power in the post-Fukushima era. These ads had, however, completely disappeared since the accident on March 11, 2011. After a final full page apology in the press and broadcast on television by Tepco, the plant operators and manufacturers had chosen to keep a low profile, not broadcasting advertisements on nuclear power for five years.

But, although plant restarts have been hindered by dozens of lawsuits, some victorious as in Takahama, and the general population has generally been reluctant to see resumption of reactors, promoting nuclear power has again become intense. After restarting one plant in 2015, 2016 is the year of a discreet comeback for nuclear advertisements. These appear in the press and on local television of the prefectures with power stations. Honma Ryu reports that since February 2016, full-page advertisements have been published in Fukui Shimbun by the Kansai Electric Power Company, where the Takahama plant was closed a month after its restart due to a lawsuit filed by citizens. Tepco advertisements for restarting Kashiwazaki-Kariwa have also appeared in the Niigata Nippo and on local television in a particular context: the current governor is firmly anti-nuclear and opposes any restart, but elections will be held by the end of this year when his term ends. This resurgence of Tepco nuclear advertising, however, has raised the ire of Niigata citizens, especially refugees from Fukushima who have launched a petition to stop them.

The message of all of these advertisements is identical, revealing the hand of Dentsu behind the scenes. Electric companies promise to make every effort to ensure the safety of power plants, while photographs highlight the plight of nuclear workers who are often poor and sometimes dependent on jobs in the nuclear industry. According to Honma Ryu, these advertisements are certainly only the tip of the iceberg. They are part of a campaign to closely monitor all information published on nuclear power, as well as the quasi-guarantee that local newspapers will limit the voice of opponents.

In a report on press freedom released in April 2016, Reporters Without Borders ranked Japan 72nd, behind Hungary and Tanzania. Six years ago, it ranked 11th. Visiting Tokyo, a United Nations rapporteur alerted the country to the growing pressures on Japanese journalists who work for private media or NHK. This is because of increasing government pressure, exacerbated by the entry into force in the past year of a law on state secrets, including nuclear related matters. A law with vague outlines threatens journalists with imprisonment for disclosing “secret” information. A sign of the times is that three television journalists known for their independence announced their resignation at the beginning of the year. Among them is Furutachi Ichiro, presenter of “Hodo Station,” which, according to Honma Ryu, was targeted by Dentsu for several years because of his critical views on nuclear power and the Abe administration. No doubt Dentsu, privileged ambassador of the largest industrial groups, will continue to play its role in the great media lockdown ongoing in Japan. ”

by Sachie Mizohata, Translation from French and Introduction

Original French article in INA Global

Japanese translation by Uchida Tatsuru (see May 15, 2016)

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