Fukushima backlash hits Japan prime minister — CounterPunch

” Nuclear power may never recover its cachet as a clean energy source, irrespective of safety concerns, because of the ongoing saga of meltdown 3/11/11 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Over time, the story only grows more horrific, painful, deceitful. It’s a story that will continue for generations to come.

Here’s why it holds pertinence: As a result of total 100% meltdown, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) cannot locate or remove the radioactive molten core or corium from the reactors. Nobody knows where it is. It is missing. If it is missing from within the reactor structures, has it burrowed into the ground? There are no ready answers.

And, the destroyed nuclear plants are way too radioactive for humans to get close enough for inspection. And, robotic cameras get zapped! Corium is highly radioactive material, begging the question: If it has burrowed through the containment vessel, does it spread underground, contaminating farmland and water resources and if so, how far away? Nobody knows?

According to TEPCO, removing the melted cores from reactors 1,2 and 3 will take upwards of 20 years, or more, again who knows.

But still, Japan will hold Olympic events in Fukushima in 2020 whilst out-of-control radioactive masses of goo are nowhere to be found. TEPCO expects decades before the cleanup is complete, if ever. Fortunately, for Tokyo 2020 (the Olympic designation) radiation’s impact has a latency effect, i.e., it takes a few years to show up as cancer in the human body.

A week ago on September 7th, Former PM Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan’s most revered former prime ministers, lambasted the current Abe administration, as well as recovery efforts by TEPCO. At a news conference he said PM Shinzō Abe lied to the Olympic committee in 2013 in order to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan.

“That was a lie,” Mr Koizumi told reporters when asked about Mr Abe’s remark that Fukushima was “under control,” Abe Lied to IOC About Nuke Plant, ex-PM Says, The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2016. The former PM also went on to explain TEPCO, after 5 years of struggling, still has not been able to effectively control contaminated water at the plant.

According to The Straits Times article: “Speaking to the IOC in September 2013, before the Olympic vote, PM Abe acknowledged concerns but stressed there was no need to worry: “Let me assure you, the situation is under control.”

PM Abe’s irresponsible statement before the world community essentially puts a dagger into the heart of nuclear advocacy and former PM Koizumi deepens the insertion. After all, who can be truthfully trusted? Mr Koizumi was a supporter of nuclear power while in office from 2001-2006, but he has since turned into a vocal opponent.

Speaking at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo, Mr Koizumi said: “The nuclear power industry says safety is their top priority, but profit is in fact what comes first… Japan can grow if the country relies on more renewable energy,” (Ayako Mie, staff writer, Despite Dwindling Momentum, Koizumi Pursues Anti-Nuclear Goals, The Japan Times, Sept. 7, 2016).

Mr Koizumi makes a good point. There have been no blackouts in Japan sans nuclear power. The country functioned well without nuclear.

Further to the point of nuclear versus nonnuclear, Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma, a city of 70,000 located 25 km north of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, at a news conference in Tokyo, said: “As a citizen and as a resident of an area affected by the nuclear power plant disaster, I must express great anger at this act… it is necessary for all of Japan to change its way of thinking, and its way of life too – to move to become a society like Germany, which is no longer reliant on nuclear power,” (Sarai Flores, Minamisoma Mayor Sees Future for Fukushima ‘Nonnuclear’ City in Energy Independence, The Japan Times, March 9, 2016).

In March of 2015, Minamisoma declared as a Nonnuclear City, turning to solar and wind power in tandem with energy-saving measures.

Meanwhile, at the insistence of the Abe administration, seven nuclear reactors could restart by the end of FY2016 followed by a total of 19 units over the next 12 months (Source: Japanese Institute Sees 19 Reactor Restarts by March 2018, World Nuclear News, July 28, 2016).

Greenpeace/Japan Discovers Widespread Radioactivity

One of the issues surrounding the Fukushima incident and the upcoming Olympics is whom to trust. Already TEPCO has admitted to misleading the public about reports on the status of the nuclear meltdown, and PM Abe has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar, but even much worse, lying to a major international sports tribunal. His credibility is down the drain.

As such, maybe third party sources can be trusted to tell the truth. In that regard, Greenpeace/Japan, which does not have a vested interest in nuclear power, may be one of the only reliable sources, especially since it has boots on the ground, testing for radiation. Since 2011, Greenpeace has conducted over 25 extensive surveys for radiation throughout Fukushima Prefecture.

In which case, the Japanese people should take heed because PM Abe is pushing hard to reopen nuclear plants and pushing hard to repopulate Fukushima, of course, well ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics since there will be events held in Fukushima Prefecture. After all, how can one expect Olympians to populate Fukushima if Japan’s own citizens do not? But, as of now to a certain extent citizens are pushing back. Maybe they instinctively do not trust their own government’s assurances.

But, more chilling yet, after extensive boots-on-the-ground analyses, Greenpeace issued the following statement in March 2016: “Unfortunately, the crux of the nuclear contamination issue – from Kyshtym to Chernobyl to Fukushima- is this: When a major radiological disaster happens and impacts vast tracts of land, it cannot be ‘cleaned up’ or ‘fixed’.” (Source: Hanis Maketab, Environmental Impacts of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Will Last ‘decades to centuries’ – Greenpeace, Asia Correspondent, March 4, 2016).

That is a blunt way of saying sayonara to habitation on radioactive contaminated land. That’s why Chernobyl is a permanently closed restricted zone for the past 30 years.

As far as “returning home” goes, if Greenpeace/Japan ran the show rather than PM Abe, it appears they would say ‘no’. Greenpeace does not believe it is safe. Greenpeace International issued a press release a little over one month ago with the headline: Radiation Along Fukushima Rivers up to 200 Times Higher Than Pacific Ocean Seabed – Greenpeace Press Release, July 21, 2016.

Here’s what they discovered: “The extremely high levels of radioactivity we found along the river systems highlights the enormity and longevity of both the environmental contamination and the public health risks resulting from the Fukushima disaster,” says Ai Kashiwagi, Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan.

“These river samples were taken in areas where the Abe government is stating it is safe for people to live. But the results show there is no return to normal after this nuclear catastrophe,” claims Kashiwagi.

“Riverbank sediment samples taken along the Niida River in Minami Soma, measured as high as 29,800 Bq/kg for radiocaesium (Cs-134 and 137). The Niida samples were taken where there are no restrictions on people living, as were other river samples. At the estuary of the Abukuma River in Miyagi prefecture, which lies more than 90km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, levels measured in sediment samples were as high as 6,500 Bq/kg” (Greenpeace).

The prescribed safe limit of radioactive cesium for drinking water is 200 Bq/kg. A Becquerel (“Bq”) is a gauge of strength of radioactivity in materials such as Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 (Source: Safe Limits for Consuming Radiation-Contaminated Food, Bloomberg, March 20, 2011).

“The lifting of evacuation orders in March 2017 for areas that remain highly contaminated is a looming human rights crisis and cannot be permitted to stand. The vast expanses of contaminated forests and freshwater systems will remain a perennial source of radioactivity for the foreseeable future, as these ecosystems cannot simply be decontaminated” (Greenpeace).

Still, the Abe administration is to be commended for its herculean effort to try to clean up radioactivity throughout Fukushima Prefecture, but at the end of the day, it may be for naught. A massive cleanup effort is impossible in the hills, in the mountains, in the valleys, in the vast forests, along riverbeds and lakes, across extensive meadows in the wild where radiation levels remain deadly dangerous. Over time, it leaches back into decontaminated areas.

And as significantly, if not more so, what happens to the out-of-control radioactive blobs of corium? Nobody knows where those are, or what to do about it. It’s kinda like the mystery surrounding black holes in outer space, but nobody dares go there.

Fukushima is a story for the ages because radiation doesn’t quit. Still, the Olympics must go on, but where? ”

by Robert Hunziker

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Five years after the meltdown, is it safe to live near Fukushima? — Science

” A  long, grinding struggle back to normal is underway at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. As workers make progress in cleaning up contaminated land surrounding its infamous reactor, evacuees are grappling with whether to return to homes sealed off since the accident there 5 years ago. The power plant itself remains a dangerous disaster zone, with workers just beginning the complex, risky job of locating the melted fuel and figuring out how to remove it.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on 11 March 2011 and the 40-meter tsunami that followed left 15,893 dead and 2572 missing, destroyed 127,290 buildings, and damaged more than a million more. It also triggered the meltdowns at Fukushima and the evacuation of 150,000 people from within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant as well as from areas beyond that were hard hit by fallout.

Now, the nuclear refugees face a dilemma: How much radiation in their former homes is safe? In a herculean effort, authorities have so far scooped up some 9 million cubic meters of contaminated soil and leaves and washed down buildings and roadways with the goal of reducing outdoor radiation exposure to 0.23 microsieverts per hour. Last September, the government began lifting evacuation orders for the seven municipalities wholly or partly within 20 kilometers of the plant. As the work progresses, authorities expect that 70% of the evacuees will be allowed to return home by spring 2017.

But evacuees are torn over safety and compensation issues. Many claim they are being compelled to go home, even though radiation exposure levels, they feel, are still too high. “There has been no education regarding radiation,” says Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minamisoma, where 14,000 people were evacuated after the accident. “It’s difficult for many people to make the decision to return without knowing what these radiation levels mean and what is safe,” he says. Some citizen groups are suing the national government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Fukushima plant’s owner, over plans to end compensation payments for those who choose not to return home. Highly contaminated areas close to the nuclear plant will remain off limits indefinitely.

Conditions at the plant are “really stable,” the plant manager, Akira Ono, recently told reporters. Radioactivity and heat from the nuclear fuel have fallen substantially in the past 5 years, he says. But cleanup is off to a slow start, hampered by sketchy knowledge of where the nuclear fuel is located. Last year managers agreed to a road map for decommissioning the site over the next 30 to 40 years that calls for removing melted nuclear fuel masses and demolishing the plant’s four reactor halls at a cost that could top $9 billion. TEPCO intends to start removing nuclear debris from the reactors in 2021.

Ono puts the decommissioning at “around 10%” complete. One big hurdle was cleared in December 2014, when crews removed the last of 1535 fuel rods stored in the Unit 4 spent fuel pool. At the time of the accident, some feared that cooling water had drained out of the pool and exposed the fuel to air, which might have led to overheating and melting. It hadn’t, but the fuel remained a threat.

The biggest challenge at present, Ono says, is contaminated water. Cooling water is continuously poured over the melted cores of units 1, 2, and 3 to keep the fuel from overheating and melting again. The water drains into building basements, where it mixes with groundwater. To reduce the amount of contaminated water seeping into the ocean, TEPCO collects and stores it in 10-meter-tall steel tanks. They now fill nearly every corner of the grounds, holding some 750,000 tons of water. The government is evaluating experimental techniques for cleansing the water of a key radioisotope, tritium. Ono says a solution is sorely needed before the plant runs out of room for more tanks.

TEPCO has found ways to divert groundwater from the site, cutting infiltration to about 150 tons per day. Now it’s about to freeze out the rest. Borrowing a technique for making temporary subsurface barriers during tunnel construction, a contractor has driven 1500 pipes 30 meters down to bedrock, creating something akin to an underground picket fence encircling the four crippled reactor units. Brine chilled to –30°C circulating in the pipes will freeze the soil between the pipes; the frozen wall should keep groundwater out and contaminated water in. TEPCO was planning to start the operation shortly after Science went to press.

The most daunting task is recovering the fuel debris. TEPCO modeling and analyses suggest that most, if not all, of the fuel in the Unit 1 reactor melted, burned through the reactor pressure vessel, dropped to the bottom of the containment vessel, and perhaps ate into the concrete base. Units 2 and 3 suffered partial meltdowns, and some fuel may remain in the cores.

To try to confirm the location and condition of the melted fuel, the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, set up by TEPCO and other entities, has been probing the reactors’ innards with muons. Wispy cousins of the electron, muons are generated by the trillions each minute when cosmic rays slam into the upper atmosphere. A few muons are absorbed or scattered, at a rate that depends on a material’s density. Because uranium is denser than steel or concrete, muon imaging can potentially locate the fuel debris.

In February 2015, a group at Japan’s High Energy Accelerator Research Organization in Tsukuba supplied two van-sized muon detectors, which TEPCO placed adjacent to the Unit 1 reactor at ground level. After a month of collecting muons, the detectors confirmed there was no fuel left in the core. Because they were positioned at ground level, the devices could not image the reactor building basements and so could not pin down where the fuel is or its condition. TEPCO plans to use robots to map the location of the fuel debris so it can develop a strategy for removing it (see story, right).

A second team has developed detectors that observe muons before and after they pass through an object of interest, promising a more precise picture of reactor interiors. For Fukushima, the researchers—from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Japan’s Toshiba Corp.—built mammoth detectors, 7 meters across, which they intended to place outside Unit 2. That work has been postponed because TEPCO decided to first send a robot into the containment vessel; high radiation levels have delayed that plan. “Our current task is to reduce that exposure,” Ono says, using robotic floor and wall scrubbers in the area workers need to access to deploy the robot.

While the authorities struggle to clean up the site and resettle residents, some locals are judging safety for themselves. In 2014, a group of enterprising high school students in Fukushima city, outside the evacuation zone, launched an international radiation-dosimetry project. Some 216 students and teachers at six schools in Fukushima Prefecture, six elsewhere in Japan, four in France, eight in Poland, and two in Belarus wore dosimeters for 2 weeks while keeping detailed diaries of their whereabouts and activities. “I wanted to know how high my exposure dose was and I wanted to compare that dose with people living in other places,” explains Haruka Onodera, a member of Fukushima High School’s Super Science Club, which conceived the project. The students published their findings last November in the Journal of Radiological Protection. Their conclusion: “High school students in Fukushima [Prefecture] do not suffer from significantly higher levels of radiation” than those living elsewhere, Onodera says.

That’s good news for Fukushima city residents, perhaps, but cold comfort to displaced people now weighing the prospect of moving back to homes closer to the shattered nuclear plant. ”

by Dennis Normile

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Problems keep piling up in Fukushima — Voice of America

Experts say Japan’s nuclear energy problems are worsening, five years after a massive earthquake unleashed a tsunami that melted down the island nation’s nuclear reactors.

Nine million cubic meters of radioactive waste, much of it soil, are stored unsheltered in black bags throughout Fukushima prefecture, preventing tens of thousands of residents from returning home.

And the problem is going to worsen before it improves.

An estimated 13 million cubic meters of toxic soil is yet to be collected and technicians have yet to solve the contamination issue inside the Fukushima-1 Nuclear Power Plant. Government and industry officials acknowledge cleaning everything up — including decommissioning the crippled reactors — will take at least another 40 years and cost as much as $250 billion.

And that timeline and the costs – considered overly optimistic by some industry experts – are based on nothing major going wrong.

If another major earthquake hits and results in a tsunami, there will be major setbacks, admits the nuclear plant’s manager, Akira Ono.

Thousands of workers are dedicated to keeping under control the plant’s six reactors, four of which either melted down or were severely damaged.

Japan has never decommissioned a nuclear reactor, much less reactors as damaged as those at Fukushima.

It has resisted offers from foreign companies to help formulate an adequate cleanup plan.

“Unfortunately the cleanup effort continues to suffer from an inability to face the long-term decisions that have to be made in order to develop and implement an efficient plan,” said former U.S. diplomat Kevin Maher, who was running the State Department’s Japan desk when the earthquake struck.

The cleanup plan, he argues, should be driven by where to ultimately dispose the contaminated debris, fuel and water.

“Instead, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) continues to delay those decision[s], so we see the continual buildup of more stored water, because TEPCO can’t decide what to do with it. An experienced program management company could make those decisions,” said Maher, a senior advisor at NMV Consulting in Washington.

Even if Fukushima residents with homes inside the exclusion zone are allowed to return, the thousands of bags of radioactive soil in the prefecture may give them pause.

“There is still lingering fear about radiation among the younger people who left the city,” according to Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minamisoma, which had a population of 71,000 when the disaster struck.

About 57,000 people have returned to Sakurai’s city, but few of the children or those of working age have come back. (More than 1,000 of Minamisoma’s residents perished in the earthquake and tsunami, as well as deaths attributed to the chaos of the mandatory evacuation.)

The mayor notes that in adjacent villages encompassing 76,000 people, only about 5,000 residents have returned because of concerns about the radiation levels, which Sakurai said widely vary.

The black bags of radioactive soil – now scattered at 115,000 locations across in Fukushima – are eventually to be moved to yet-to-be built interim facilities, encompassing 16 square kilometers, in two towns close to the crippled nuclear power plant.

Authorities say the temporary storage sites are to hold the contaminated material for no more than 30 years before it is processed in a different prefecture, which has yet-to-be-named.

But issues with owners who do not want to sell their properties, or with clearing titles for other land needed to build the temporary sites likely mean it will take many years for all those hurdles to be cleared, according to observers.

The question of whether Fukushima can ever be adequately decontaminated is also an open one.

Japan’s environment minister has had to walk back remarks she made about the government’s decontamination target.

Tamayo Marukawa last Friday apologized for saying the government aimed to reduce the radiation level near the Fukushima-1 plant to an annual dose of one millisievert or less, a goal that has no scientific basis. (The average yearly human dose globally from naturally occurring sources is about three times that amount, according to scientists.)

The decontamination goal was set by the previous government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, as requested by the Fukushima prefectural government.

Minamisoma Mayor Sakurai, speaking Wednesday in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, chastised the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for getting its priorities wrong since the 2011 disaster.

“Economy, economy, economy,” the mayor asserted, is the central government’s mantra. But for the politicians in the beleaguered Fukushima communities in the midst of an unprecedented nuclear decontamination project and focused on recovery and rebuilding, Sakurai said “we are holding the lives of the citizens in our hands.”

More than 18,000 are confirmed to have died or still listed as missing from the 2011 quake and subsequent tsunami. ”

by Steve Herman

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Repentant ex-Tepco exec helps Fukushima with new tomato farm — The Asahi Shimbun

” MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–A former Tokyo Electric Power Co. executive who feels guilt over the 2011 nuclear disaster is behind the start-up of a tomato farm which opened in the devastated region here Jan. 20.

Eiju Hangai, whose previous employer operates the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, is now president of Minami-Soma Fukko Agri KK, an enterprise formed by business leaders with ties to the city.

At the farm’s opening ceremony, Hangai said he hopes that the project will help ease local farmers’ struggles in the aftermath of the disaster at the plant.

“We must shoulder the responsibility for causing the nuclear accident for the rest of our lives and we are hoping to carry out part of our responsibility through this initiative,” he said.

“We aim to offer not only job opportunities in the agricultural sector, but also train people for future managers in the industry.”

The company spent 1.1 billion yen ($9.4 million) to purchase a 2.4 hectare property and build the farm.

Of this, 740 million yen was covered by a grant from the central government designed to help businesses creating jobs.

Financial institutions in the prefecture collaborated by extending loans worth 100 million yen in start-up funds.

Around 50 local people have been hired to work on the farm in the city’s Shimoota industrial park.

Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai, who is from a farming family himself, gave encouragement to the employees at the ceremony.

“Since I started in agriculture myself, I am fully aware of the frustration of farmers who could no longer do their work,” he said. “I would like you to channel your frustration into hope and take pride in working in an industry that protects life.”

The farm’s tomato is named “Asubito Tomato” (Tomatoes grown by people playing a key role in building the future).

Minami-Soma Fukko Agri has set an annual target of 660 tons, with the first shipment expected in early March.

Currently, 28,000 tomato seedlings are grown in a 1.5-hectare greenhouse where the room temperature is kept above 20 degrees by computerized control.

Humidity and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the greenhouse are also managed by the computer. ”

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City to investigate NRA’s conclusion that radioactive rice unrelated to Fukushima plant work — The Asahi Shimbun

” MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Addressing cover-up suspicions, the city assembly here will investigate how the Nuclear Regulation Authority concluded that work at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was not the cause of radioactive contamination of rice paddies.

The assembly unanimously decided to investigate during a regular session that started on Dec. 2 in response to a petition submitted by a citizens group called “Genpatsu-jiko no Kanzen-baisho o Saseru Minami-Soma no Kai” (Minami-Soma’s group that requires complete compensation for the nuclear accident).

The group doubts the NRA’s assertion that the contamination of rice harvested in the city in 2013 was not related to debris-removal work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. It has also expressed outrage that the government has stopped trying to confirm the cause.

“The government should continue a scientific investigation so that farmers can be engaged in rice farming without anxieties, and accurate information can be conveyed to citizens in evacuation,” the petition said.

“Suspicions remain that the NRA concealed facts with the intention of reaching that conclusion.”

The agriculture ministry had raised the possibility that work to remove debris at the Fukushima plant in 2013 scattered radioactive substances that contaminated rice paddies in Minami-Soma more than 20 kilometers away.

However, the NRA reached a different conclusion, saying that while radioactive substances were stirred up by the work, they remained within the nuclear plant compound, south of Minami-Soma.

The NRA did not specify the likely source of the contamination, and the government discontinued the investigation.

The citizens group’s petition, submitted to a regular assembly session in September, asked the city to scrutinize the process in which the NRA reached its conclusion and to gather views from several scholars.

The NRA’s public relations office declined to comment on the issue on Dec. 8.

“As the documents of the petition were not issued to the NRA, we cannot make a comment,” the office told The Asahi Shimbun.

As for the issue of determining the cause of the contamination, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has said that it is a job for the agriculture ministry.

“I absolutely cannot accept (Tanaka’s remark),” Minami-Soma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai said. ”

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**The Fukushima disease: Creation of virtual world based on radioactive reality — Derek Monroe via RT

This article is long but definitely worth reading in its entirety.

” Visiting Tohoku region of Japan for a second time in four years brings a variety of evocative emotions to the surface after witnessing the wrath of nature combined with the man’s attempt to defy it.

While human dimensions of the catastrophe are present now as much as then, there is a complete change in the Japanese zeitgeist when it comes to dealing with the disaster’s aftermath.

The area around Haranomachi JR station in Fukushima Prefecture is a de facto entry gate to a recently declared safe area that was closed to the outside world until recently. Despite continuous assurances from both municipal, prefectural and national governments that the area is safe to go back and live, the majority of people under 40 with young kids are decidedly against moving back. “I decided to stay here as I have no place to go but my sister with her kids is not coming back here,” said Setsuko-san as she packed my groceries in the local store. “Despite all they are all telling us nobody believes it and besides many people already have their lives somewhere else so there is no use to start it here again. Just look at the town and see for yourself if there is anything to go back to,” said Setsuko-san.

The two kilometer walk from Haranomachi station to the Minamisoma City Hall leads through rows of dilapidated businesses, many of which are shut down or on the way, judging from lack of customers in them. The city itself has regrouped in an attempt at a comeback, a far cry from March 2011 when its mayor Sakurai-san [Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai] announced that people had been “abandoned” by the national government in the wake of orders for all remaining residents to stay in their homes despite raising radiation from the Daiichi Nuclear Plant, 16 miles away. The city produces regular monitoring reports of radioactivity from 10 locations around town with Geiger counters placed in public spaces for residents and visitors to check their daily intake.

“We are in a difficult position that we made ourselves reliable on nuclear energy first and then were hurt by it,” said a local city employee who asked to remain anonymous as he was not authorized to talk to the media. “Many people here had good jobs and good lives and when the nuclear accident happened this came to a complete halt,” he said. The city’s website now is very optimistic in its proclamation of moving forward without nuclear power, despite the central government’s move to the contrary. The government in Tokyo has decided what is best for the citizens of Minamisoma and all of Japan.

Furthermore, nuclear power is back in charge as if it never left.  Nationalist Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s administration is another one anointed by “kempatsu mura”“the nuclear village”, power and money complex that has been a steady fixture in the history of modern Japan.  In 2012, Tokyo’s Waseda University researcher Tetsuo Arima disclosed declassified CIA documents dating to the 1950s. It was revealed that the long time kingmaker of Japanese politics, Matsutaro Shoriki and head of the country’s most powerful Yomiuri Shimbun media empire, worked hand in hand with the CIA to popularize nuclear energy as way for the future. Despite its peaceful angle and spin thrown onto the Japanese public that was still traumatized within a generation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, Shoriki insisted the way to a successful future would have to include Japan’s nuclear armament. Regardless of the existing US nuclear umbrella over Japan in the form of defense treaties and US bases, the thought of a “made in Japan” nuclear capability has been a wet dream of the Japanese political establishment ever since. In 2012 before becoming a defense minister, Satoshi Morimoto stated he viewed the nation’s nuclear power plants as a deterrent against foreign attack, apparently because they made neighboring countries believe Japan could produce atomic weapons quickly if it wanted to. That is despite the fact of Fukushima’s meltdown eight months earlier and its own government’s moratorium on nuclear power in time he made his statement.

In the 2012 book “Fukushima and the Privatization of Risk” by Majia Nadesan, Professor at Arizona State University, the convoluted story behind the long road to the Fukushima disaster was revealed contrary to the “safe and bright” future narrative sold to an unwitting and gullible Japanese public. In 1997 an explosion at the Donen reprocessing plant resulted in radiation being released and largely covered up by officials in charge. In 1999, the Joyo nuclear reprocessing plant explosion killed two workers and released huge amount of radioactivity into its surroundings, prompting the Japanese government to get temporarily serious in its supervisory role. “Actually now it is much worse since the Fukushima disaster as the nuclear industry feels it is completely in charge. For example, one thing nobody talks about is a complete extinction of marine life species that is taking place off the US west coast. Nobody in the media is talking about this as it is very much likely connected to the release of nuclear pollution into the water around Fukushima. You just need to look no further than the sea currents flowing from the Japanese islands and how it winds up the coast in the US and Canada,” said Majia Nadesan.

The long standing and corrupt practice of “amakudari”“descent from heaven” which led to the capture of regulators by the regulated in form of career revolving doors has made any meaningful reform a pipe dream. This ultimately allowed the Tokyo Power Company (TEPCO), Japan’s largest utility, to defeat any efforts to improve plant safety as it would cost it too much money to comply with increased regulatory requirements. The ensuing legal fight kept the sea wall at 10 meters instead of increasing it to the height that would have stopped the tsunami in 2011 thus protecting the plant from damage.

TEPCO also used the lawsuit against the Japanese government to abdicate its responsibility to foresee the disaster and its fall out. As the problem of Daiichi melting reactors was taking on speed, TEPCO used its central position in the “nuclear village” to attack the PM Naoto Kan and to deflect its role in the crisis. As PM Kan ran afoul of TEPCO with his criticism of the company’s actions while on site in Fukushima, TEPCO orchestrated a media campaign against him. It has twice spread false information about Kan’s alleged interference with its operations, just to recant it when it was caught red handed. On the other hand, PM Kan has been more than willing to play a role of anti-nuclear industry “hero” while covering up its tracks and making it even more influential in the process. The endgame of it was nationalization of TEPCO as it could not be held responsible for financial liabilities due to its negligence and just like the US in its financial bailout; the taxpayers were left holding the bag.

Ironically the way Fukushima crisis transpired is very much reminiscent of the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl accident. Just as the Soviets did, the Japanese government quickly raised the “acceptable” level of individual radiation exposure to 20 millisieverts mSv/year contrary to the previous maximum “safe” exposure set at one (mSv)/year. Some medical professionals along with mainstream Japanese media went so far as to suggest that 100 mSv/year was a safe level of exposure which goes against international and commonly accepted norms set by science. This led to resignation of Professor Toshiso Kosako, an expert on radiation safety at the University of Tokyo and a nuclear adviser to PM Kan. In late April 2011 Kosako resigned protesting a decision that allowed “children living near the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant to receive doses of radiation equal to the international standard for nuclear power plant workers.”  Professor Kosako said he could not endorse this policy change from the point of view of science, or from the point of view of human rights. This happened under the watch of PM Kan and is contrary to his present role of anti-nuclear crusader while taking no responsibility for the action that as of today justifies and results in 150 cases of thyroid cancer in Fukushima children, annually.

The threat of evacuation of 50 million people due to multiple meltdowns has a certain imprint of fatalism that affected the population in Tokyo as well as it’s nearest biggest population center, Sendai. Located only 66 miles (111km) away from the 1.07 million metropolis, Sendai, has the distinction of being located just north of the plant in Tohoku plain. Contrary to the situation four years ago, the city has the appearance of a complete renewal if not outright amnesia about what happened in its suburbs to the east due to the tsunami and in the south in Fukushima. “I think our daily remainder of the situation is our economy as in our business we are at about 90 percent level of the period before the tsunami,” said Naoko-san who is selling Japanese cakes at the small stand in Sendai JR station. “We have a lot of people from Fukushima and coastal areas living here but everyone wants to live a normal life so talking about it just hurts,” said Naoko-san. A similar opinion and ambiance is also present at the Sendai city hall which happened to have the only Geiger counter present in the city center that read 0.62-0.68 mSv in the span of about 1 hr. “We still have about one third of the people who came here in the period right after the disaster and stayed. Frankly I don’t know if they are ever going back to lives they left behind as they are staying in both temporary housing and apartments throughout the city,” said Koichiro Yokono, Director of Sendai’s Post-Disaster Reconstruction Bureau. “As far as forgetting (the disaster) I know it is not a good thing. With every year and month the human mechanism is such that it wants to live life and forgetting is probably just a part of the life process, I guess,” said Yokono.

The idea of forgetting and moving on also suits the political establishment as asking questions about the disaster also evokes questions about ultimate responsibility and, most importantly, if the lessons from it were ever learned. Judging from continued efforts to deal with the crisis that produces new releases of water and steam with unknown radiation contamination, the answer points to no.  While the clean up, according to the Japanese government, to reduce the contamination level of the land and environment to 20 mSv/year has now concluded, questions remain about its effectiveness or even whether the job was done properly to begin with. According to a Jan 7th, 2013 report by New York Times, the cleanup has not been done properly as the best experts in technology; experience and capability were not hired.“Don’t you think it is ironic that a company that was hired for the cleanup, Kajima Corporation (Japan’s biggest construction company) was also the one that built the reactors in Fukushima to begin with? It is like letting them cover up their own incompetence and mistakes that might have contributed to the disaster to begin with,” said Kato-san (the name given is an alias) who worked for over a year at the site building containment tanks for a consortium of companies hired by Kajima.“The whole thing was like a game to begin with. First they would give out propaganda about national importance of the project while in fact everyone was in it for the money. The job paid between 4500-5000 Yen ($36-40) per hour and we all did it for the money, myself included. We were suited up and as the process of putting it on with full gear and getting to site took about 1 hr. We worked in shifts with actual work time varying from 25 minutes to 4 hrs depending on level of radiation,” said Kato. “I don’t know if I will have problems from this in the future as it will take at least 10 years to show up and if  there is anything (radiation) in me from this. Kajima was also in it for the money and the way they were logging us in at the site showed they also wanted to limit their liability as well. For example I have seen the log book that they are required to keep in order to keep track of who goes in and out of the site. But the entry is only general and it is the same whether one person goes in or a group of four as it was in my case. Tell me if this is not to cover themselves in case of anyone getting radiation sickness or cancer? We were simple workers but not stupid enough to not know why they did this that way and no other.” he added.

The money train that was designated to deal with the aftermath of the disaster has produced a mini-boom in private contracting that was reminiscent of the worst excesses of US rule in Iraq and Afghanistan in the so-called “reconstruction” sector. According to the UK’s Guardian, the money spent was often the result of pork barrel politics in the Japanese Diet with the most egregious example of funds allocation to the Japanese whaling fleet to protect itself against international anti-whaling activists. Another way the money was spent was on PR that reinforced the well being of the population in affected areas, a truly Soviet-style like exercise in propaganda. Special attention was paid to cultivation of international public opinion in regards to the disaster and its aftermath. For example in Chicago in the United States, the Japanese Consulate General along with a bunch of its closely associated organizations paid for an annual propaganda program called “Kizuna”“the bond”. Instead of showing reality in post-apocalyptic areas of disaster, the Japanese government chose to put on a face of positive spin resulting in a bizarre collage of visual arts meeting old fashioned propaganda while cultivating local media personalities. In 2012, Greg Burns , the member of Chicago Tribune editorial board joined a pantheon of corporate pundits as Kizuna’s “moderator” while Yoko Noge, Chicago-based reporter for arch-conservative Nippon Keizai Shimbun newspaper served as the Kizuna propagandist in 2014. “The displaced people in Fukushima are struggling while the government is blowing our tax money on useless projects that benefit cronies and parasites,” said Mizuho Fukushima of the Social Democratic Party of Japan during a recent opposition rally in Tokyo. “It is unbelievable that our stupid government is giving money to South Sudan serving others’ national interests while we have young mothers with children not having enough money to buy food,” Mizuho Fukushima said.

Japan’s disaster had huge international and foreign policy ramifications that went beyond pure humanitarian concerns. There have been series of conversations in the US government on a level of involvement of the US forces in Japan and the fate of its military bases if the country was to evacuate 25 percent of its territory due to the meltdown’s worst case scenario. Politically this also became an issue of messaging as there was a presumption of radiation might affect US west coast to its east and as the cesium from Fukushima was detected west of Japan as far as Lithuania. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission hid the real situation from Americans while trying to reassure the public that everything was fine.

In Britain the government together with the industry decided on a strategy to spin the information released to the public as to avert a backlash against nuclear energy experienced in Germany as result of the disaster in Japan.

In Japan the propaganda warfare took a more sinister turn blaming the victims for their predicament. Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that is closely connected to Japan’s ruling elite has run a series of articles on “radiophobia”, attributing health complaints of the affected to psychological and emotional stress. Ironically the same took place during a period of“radiophobia” scare doled out by medical professionals and nuclear experts in the Soviet Union after the Chernobyl disaster. Their fears and concerns were met with explanation that the victims were subjected and suffered from fear of radiation rather than the radiation itself. University of California anthropologist Adriana Petryna’s ethnographic study of the Chernobyl medical assessment and compensation system shown it was biased against the victims and politically manipulated. The same now applies to the case of Fukushima disaster victims as the more sophisticated forms of manipulation employing intrinsically Japanese traits of shame and group think are now used to shift the effects of the disaster onto victims’ own sense of responsibility. This allows the system to move on and not take responsibility for what transpired while using the cultural trait of the population’s acquiescence as a catalyst for its de facto forced amnesia.

Looking at the Japanese media and governmental space that work hand in hand to obfuscate its responsibility to inform, the truth of the matter is : the technology to decommission melted reactors doesn’t exist and the most optimistic scenario of final solution to the crisis is pure fiction.

As the country’s political establishment is readying itself to host the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo for which there is no public money or popular support whatsoever, the nuclear sword of Damocles will be hanging over it. The negligence and incompetence bordering on willful disregard for lives of its citizens makes the Japanese government a perfect candidate for prosecution under the crimes against humanity statues. Its handling of the Fukushima crisis puts into doubt Japanese credentials as a real democracy that is able and willing to address its citizens’ needs instead of using them as fodder for obscene corporate profits and foreign policy gamesmanship.

As a result Fukushima is worse than Chernobyl in many respects, making the difference between both political systems only a semantic one at best.

Japan Red Cross declined to be interviewed for the story.
Japanese Government did not respond to questions about its propaganda funding.
Chicago Tribune did not respond to request for interview.
Greg Burns did not respond to request for interview.
TEPCO did not respond to request for interview.
Japan Times did not respond to request for interview.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT. 

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