Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Three years later, fear of radiation still grips this northern region of Japan, especially when mothers think about the effects on their young children. The stress for parents is immense, but worry is overwhelming for everyone who lived in Fukushima prefecture when the accident occurred.
On March 11, 2011 an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 and a tsunami hit Japan’s north coast, sweeping entire towns into the ocean and triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years prior. Radiation was leaked into the sea, air, and soil from the damaged nuclear power plant, Fukushima Daiichi. As a result, thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and food and water were determined unsafe as a result of radiation.
The history of Japan’s use of radiation technology follows not long after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After Japan surrendered at the end of World War II, in 1945, a question was posed to General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Why did he think that Japan had lost the war? He replied that it was science. The Japanese who were in power then decided that, in order to compete globally, Japan needed to develop technology. It was during this time that the U.S. President Eisenhower announced the Atoms for Peace plan, which was to spread nuclear technology for peaceful purposes to its allies worldwide. And, the site for Japan’s first nuclear power plant was proposed for Hiroshima itself – to change the paradigm from that of war to energy.
One of the chief proponents of nuclear power in Japanese politics was Yasuhiro Nakasone, who became a Prime Minister of Japan. As a young sailor he witnessed the destruction of Hiroshima, from a distance. This inspired him to consider advances in the peaceful use of nuclear power. One powerful Japanese man, Matsutaro Shoriki, a newspaper mogul, was a proponent of nuclear energy and worked with the United States C.I.A. to persuade the Japanese public to accept it. He ran a series of articles in his paper entitled, “Finally, the Sun Has Been Captured.” Citizens were understandably apprehensive, given the total devastation of Hiroshima, and had developed what was called the “nuclear allergy.” Yet, the government tried to encourage them, letting them know that the economic benefits would be beyond what their villages could achieve in any other way.
Nuclear power took off in Japan. Before the accident at Fukushima three years ago, nuclear radiation power supplied one-third of energy to all of Japan. After the disaster, Japan’s 50 reactors were closed, meaning that fuel import for the country has soared by ten trillion yen, the equivalent of $97 billion because it imports 90 percent of its energy needs. The economic loss is one source of fear for the Japanese.
The pressure on families, emotionally and economically, has led to health problems that have caused early deaths, and yet no one has died to date due to radiation poisoning. The economic strain has caused Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call for the nuclear reactors to be turned back on across Japan. However, the “nuclear allergy” has returned to the citizens of Japan, if it had ever gone away.
The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami made a historical connection in June 2011 when he spoke in Spain. He talked about the Fukushima accident three years ago as Japan’s second massive nuclear radiation disaster. The difference is that in the first instance, a bomb was dropped on the country. At Fukushima, he says, “we Japanese set the stage.” Though there is fear of the future, he spoke of the difference between Hiroshima and Fukushima as Japanese having “committed the second crime with our own hands.” He said that Japanese have been victims, but in this instance, are perpetrators. And, he reminded his fellow citizens that those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
By Fern Remedi-Brown