March 11th, 2021 marked 10 years since the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown catastrophe in Northeastern Japan. For ten days that month I posted on social media various articles that could remind people about those days in 2011. I was always anti-nuclear, but when the meltdowns happened, I thought the world might wake up and realize we have to stop splitting atoms. So I got active, thinking maybe this would lead to change. I read a lot and wrote a lot about nuclear history on a blog that I posted to regularly for seven years. I thought maybe we’ll “build back better” or have a “great reset” of our civilization. Ha! We all know what happened after that. Anyway, my link for Day 1 was a clip from Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990). In this nightmare, Mt. Fuji erupts and nuclear catastrophe ensues.
This post explains the anxiety that fed such dreams as Kurosawa’s. This article covers the scandals and lesser disasters that led up to the big one in 2011: The Road to Fukushima Daiichi
This 15-minute video is an abridged version of a 90-minute documentary broadcast by NHK, in English and Japanese, just two months after the catastrophe. I chose this one because it shows the raw, initial reactions of shock that scientists and residents had to the high levels of radiation they were finding. As the years went by, it was easy to forget about the dismay that people felt. The reports became more abstract and generalized, and the media tended to focus on the government’s spin about decontamination, recovery, returning residents to the area, and of course the Olympics!… which turned out to be cursed by another kind of natural disaster that came nine years later.
This choice was recommended by my son, Emile, who recently read the Japanese translation of Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan (MCD, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2017) by Richard Lloyd Parry. Emile’s mention of the book reminded me that it came from of a fascinating article that Richard Lloyd Parry wrote the year after the disaster. The author described his time spent with a Buddhist priest who was helping people in northeast Japan deal with their severe traumas. When you notice that this article describes hauntings, possessions and exorcisms, you might think he was just exploiting the tragedy to indulge in tabloid ghost stories and urban legends, but this is not the case at all. He was taking his subject very seriously and reporting on it realistically. Even if you don’t believe literally that there were ghosts haunting the shores, you can appreciate the writing for its description of severely traumatized people who had their lives overturned as they experienced uncontrollable hallucinations, nightmares and dissociative states, and you can appreciate how they found solace through their own culture and traditional forms of spiritual healing. A government-dispatched team of grief counselors never could have achieved what Reverend Kaneta did at his temple in Kurihara. See the book excerpt at longreads.com: Ghosts of the Tsunami.
Guest lecture by Robert Jacobs at Seijo University, June 29, 2013: American Nuclear Discourse: Narratives and Counter-narratives.
00:00:00-00:37:30: Perceptions and rhetoric of nuclear energy in official discourse and in popular culture, discussion of the speaker’s book The Dragon’s Tail (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010).
00:37:30-00:57:40: Nuclear power plant accidents, history of nuclear tests worldwide, global hibakusha, nuclear colonialism.
57:40-59:00: The Trinity Test, living with Nuclear technologies, conclusion.
59:00 ~ : Q and A.
On July 31, 2014, my friend Kumar Sundaram, then of India’s Coalition for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament, gave a press conference in Tokyo at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. During his hour at the microphone, he gave a detailed explanation how the nuclear reactor meltdowns in Japan had affected nuclear dreams and nightmares in India. He explained why the plans for nuclear energy development in India will lead to disastrous consequences for both India and foreign countries.
Read the summary here.
A tribute to the heroic Libbe Halevy for the ten years of weekly reporting she has done with her podcast Nuclear Hotseat. She has crossed borders and language barriers to speak with experts and activists throughout the world about the history of the nuclear age, nuclear energy, and nuclear disarmament. She was touched by this subject personally when she was in Three Mile Island at the time of the accident there. The disaster in Japan spurred her to come back to this issue that had enraged her many years earlier, and she has been on it ever since. Every March since 2012 she has done an anniversary episode that focuses on Fukushima Dai-ichi. The March 2021 episode tells the world about some of the present reality that hasn’t been reported in most other media’s stories of “recovery.”
In his film “A2-B-C” Ian Thomas Ash’s camera made us look into the eyes of young children who were learning the words “glass badge”, “radiation measurement”, and “thyroid nodule”. See the three-minute trailer at the link below. Synopsis: “Eighteen months after the nuclear meltdown, children in Fukushima are suffering from severe nose bleeds and are developing skin rashes and thyroid cysts and nodules. Citing a lack of transparency in the official medical testing of their children and the ineffectiveness of the decontamination of their homes and schools, the children’s mothers take radiation monitoring into their own hands.” See the trailer for the film here.
See this article about thyroid abnormalities detected in children after the nuclear reactor meltdowns.
When writing about Japanese news in English, one tends to turn to the researchers who write in English, but there are many Japanese people who have written about nuclear energy. The problem is that few of them have been translated into other languages. One exception is Takashi Hirose, so the post for Day 9 was about his work. From the foreword of his book Fukushima Meltdown: The World’s First Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Disaster (2011):
“Takashi Hirose has been writing books against nuclear power since the early 1980s, one of the first being Tokyo ni, Genpatsu wo! (Nuclear Plants in Tokyo!) (1981), a marvelous satire in which he argued if these plants are as safe as the government says, then why not build them in downtown Tokyo, rather than in faraway places from which, when you send back the electricity, half of it is lost heating the wires? … Since then he has written several score more books, the most recent (before this one) being Genshiro Jigen Bakudan (Nuclear Reactor Time Bomb) (2010). His work has been criticized for always imagining the worst case. Now that the worst case has come to pass, this criticism no longer can be used. In insisting that we consider the worst case he is no different, for example, from the fire department, whose job it is, always, to think, ‘What if there’s a fire?’ As Hirose explains in his Introductory Chapter, some years ago the seismologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko coined a term for a new kind of catastrophe that had never yet happened, but could. The term, in Japanese, is genpatsu shinsai. What it means is a combined earthquake-nuclear disaster. Gen means ‘nuclear’ and patsu is an abbreviation for ‘power plant’, shin is the short form for ‘earthquake’ and sai means ‘disaster.’ The tragic fact is that Ishibashi’s fear is now a reality.”
On the last page of the book Mr. Hirose wrote, “If the people don’t come to grips with the seriousness of the danger of the ongoing nuclear disaster and show the decisiveness to put an end to the country’s nuclear power program immediately, the world will have no reason to believe in Japanese intelligence.” Two years later, in 2013, Mr. Hirose was still willing to try to nurture a bit of the required intelligence. He recorded the following five-minute video about the aftermath of the nuclear disaster (subtitles available in English, French and Japanese).
VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: “People were in shock after the accident, then, gradually, everyone began to be scared, but in the end it was a good thing, a valuable scare. They understood it was no longer possible to have trust. Unfortunately, man is every day surrounded by thousands of pieces of information. And that makes him forget even the most terrible events. This is the situation we are facing today. As we speak, radioactive material is seeping through Fukushima’s ground. It makes its way underground, reaches the ocean, to finally end up in the sky. This kind of fact does not make the news. So everyone forgets about it. If that was talked about every day in the news, the Japanese population couldn’t ignore it. Instead, all sorts of other things are being shown. In my opinion, mass media bear most of the responsibility for it. They created this situation. Nothing has changed since the incident. Incidents happen because mass media never take the problem seriously. Even though there were a few reports right after the incident, they now mention it sparingly. The problem with contamination is that we can only measure it, within items surrounding us, in the soil, the ground. A lot of people today own a Geiger counter, But it can only report airborne particles. It only measures gamma rays. In fact, when researching the radioactive content that came out of the reactors, and its dispersion, we do not find everything. It was about 5000 degrees celsius inside the reactors. This was a temperature of colossal magnitude. The uranium and plutonium took on a gas form to escape. I can find all that based on my calculations, but none of this can be detected using a Geiger counter, and the same goes for alpha and beta rays. No one even measures the strontium level. The strontium is the scariest of all. It penetrates and stays resident in bones, causing leukemia. This is particularly dangerous for the growth phase of children exposed today. For children living near contaminated areas like Fukushima, We have to immediately set up a plan for their evacuation. But when one does not have money, one cannot escape. Even if the Fukushima population wanted to leave, They could not afford it. Now we must act to demand that TEPCO, the company that caused this accident, be required to give compensation money, so those who want to leave can leave. The country must first organize the evacuation of children from Fukushima in groups. Instead of leaving them alone to decide where to go. Children demand to remain close to their schoolmates. We must do this in groups. This is achievable. Before Japan lost the war, we organized group evacuations. We managed the escape of children from dangerous areas, by bringing them to the mountains. This is something that must be done now. But the country does not do anything about it. For that I am calling this country a criminal nation. If we do not act, terrible things are looming for those children. I am worried.”
After a year of everyone in the world living in fear of a virus, it was difficult to get people interested in a disaster that happened ten years ago. We are all disaster victims now in covid-world, so who cares, right? We live in an eternal present. Because everyone was feeling so down and traumatized just like the earthquake victims, I tried to end my series postings on an optimistic note.
The first nuclear reactors were built to make fuel for nuclear bombs. Using them to produce electricity was an afterthought, and the first power plants didn’t come online until the late 1950s. Still today the nuclear energy complex in the US is seen as a “strategic asset,” which means it is necessary for maintaining the “competencies” needed to modernize nuclear arsenals. So ending the production of nuclear waste means laying the foundation for peace between nations. In Japanese society and media, there is a great deal of fearmongering about China. It is the way the government justifies hosting American military bases and purchasing American weapons. It leads to some pretty hateful discussions in social media. During March-April 2011, everyone heard about Operation Tomodachi (friendship), the disaster relief done by the US military. But how many heard about the businessman in Shanghai who donated a $1.5 million construction machine that prevented the melted reactor fuel from creating a much greater catastrophe? The story was published on March 13, 2021 (as far as I know for the first time) by Yahoo News Japan, and it shows how easy it could be to build goodwill between former enemies and turn away from the constant militarization of international relations. See the English translation here: After 3/11, emergency import of a concrete pump vehicle from China allowed for nuclear power plant cooling.