Written by Nakate Seiichi (Evacuated from Fukushima to Hokkaido)
In this time of the pandemic, what if the leaders in charge of COVID countermeasures were to say, “Don’t worry about getting infected, just live your life as you normally would. Go out and enjoy yourselves. That is the right way to stay cautious.” The reality is, this happened in Fukushima Prefecture right after the nuclear disaster. A safety propaganda campaign was launched on March 20, 2011 by Shunichi Yamashita (Nagasaki University) and his team, who were appointed as advisors to the prefecture on radiation health risk management.
Until that point, I had only focused on protecting my family and close friends from exposure, but to counter this safety propaganda campaign, I called on parents in the prefecture to set up a citizens’ group and started working with others to protect the children of Fukushima from radiation exposure. Our work varied, from demanding the withdrawal of the Ministry of Education’s 20 mSv standard for children’s radiation exposure, decontamination, evacuation and retreats, advocating enactment of the Nuclear Disaster’s Victim Support Act, to the expulsion of Yamashita and others from Fukushima. We had a few victories. In July 2012, I moved to Hokkaido.
Ten years has passed since the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, and when I look at the current situation once again, I cannot help but feel some disappointment (or despair) that nothing has really been resolved and that nothing has changed in this country. There are so many things that need to be done, such as preventing radioactive contamination, clarifying the causes of the nuclear disaster, bringing the disaster to a close, providing relief to victims, minimizing health hazards, implementing anti-discrimination measurements, but the government continues to turn a blind eye to issues of inconvenience and refuses to take them seriously. The government is now lifting evacuation orders and evacuees are returning home, nuclear power plants are recommencing operations, contaminated water is being released, nuclear power plants are being exported overseas, and the Olympics are being held, all in the name of reconstruction and the economy. However, the reality is that the government is only accelerating us towards destruction. In my new hometown of Hokkaido, a literature study has begun, regarding a high-level waste repository that will force the countryside to pay the cost of our government’s greed.
There are some who laugh and say, “The fever seems to have died down. No one will remember the Fukushima disaster and we can pretend it never happened.” But this is not the case. It is true that after ten years, people will be less aware of the disaster and the effects of radiation. People’s lives have changed, and more and more people are moving on with their lives. But it would be misguided to think that they have forgotten or gone back to business as usual.
The earthquake and tsunami, the nuclear power plant explosion, the radiation exposure, the debate between protection and evacuation. These events have been etched into our hearts and minds and ten years cannot erase them from our memories. The damage and suffering continues to this day. Some of my friends continue to worry about whether they should live amongst radiation exposure or choose to live in poverty instead. Some have begun new lives but continue to speak up about the nuclear disaster. Some are fighting their battles in courtrooms. And some continue to support those in need. But that’s not all. I have countless friends who think of the Fukushima disaster as their own problem. Young people who were only infants at the time of the disaster are now listening to us and have begun to shape their own opinions on this issue. I choose to believe. I believe that the collective will of these young people will redeem the wrongs of the past and save this country from the ruin it is heading towards. The next decade is our time to work towards that goal. None of us can live forever, and the next ten years will be very important to me. I would like to join my friends to think about how we will live our lives and what work needs to be done.
(“Fukushima Today and Japan’s Energy Future 2021”)