The Fukushima Disaster: lessons for the UK

On January 13, 2013, the study workshop was held at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) Conference in London. The group, “Japanese against Nuclear” (JAN) ran this workshop. JAN was formed last summer by some Japanese in London who’d joined a vigil held every Friday outside the Japanese Embassy. The London group Kick Nuclear started this vigil last August in solidarity with Japanese holding very large demos every Friday in Japan in protest at the restarting of two nuclear reactors there (all 50 Japanese reactors were shut down after Fukushima). The vigil also calls for no new nuclear in the UK and continues.

 

Nonny who moved to the UK as a student before Fukushima spoke first, saying that as her family lives in Tokyo the subject is very emotional for her. After the disaster she was afraid to go back, only doing so late last year because her grandfather, the family member she was closest to, was dying.

He lived in a highly-contaminated area that had not been evacuated, and Nonny hadn't want to go. She stayed three weeks finding the situation very stressful. She was conscious radiation was entering her body, especially through mouth and eyes, and was worried about possible effects on her future children. She couldn’t always choose what she was eating, not wanting to offend people by refusing food and found herself in conflict with her father who said she was being “too fussy” and should eat what she was given because the government said it was OK. Nonny doesn’t believe the official figures and thinks people want to deny the dangers because they don’t want to have to leave their homes, their jobs, their schools.

 

The effects of the disaster are not localised. Trains from the Fukushima area come right into Tokyo.  Many internationals have evacuated from Tokyo and Nonny feels she no longer has a home town.

 

Next Taka, who works for an international network defending children against radiation, spoke. He went to Fukushima four times since the disaster.

 

Jeremy Corbyn had said that many UK students don’t know about nuclear weapons and power.  The same is true in Japan. Many children and pregnant women remain in Fukushima freely eating local produce. 43% of children (55% of girls) living there had been found to have thyroid abnormalities, which is incredibly rare in paediatrics, and there's been a rise in infant mortality. Proportions are increasing with time.


Living in the Fukushima area means to have to make unusual choices: over opening windows, eating school meals, allowing children to play outside, using swimming pools, arguing with your father and other community members. Some, particularly the young and mothers, are more concerned. Children being kept indoors has led to a growing obesity problem.

Why don't people evacuate? For cultural and economic reasons. There is a lack of official information and only 30% access to the Internet in the Fukushima area. Doctors and scientists have been giving lectures playing down the effects of radiation.  Japanese scientists are regarded as radiation experts because of experience in studying the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but their expertise is limited to studying the effects of external radiation and this governs their approach in relation to Fukushima. People tended to embrace these official and more optimistic views to avoid having to disrupt their lives and people’s attention span is short. This should be noted if there were such an accident in the UK.

 

Taka's network publishing a magazine giving solid information to meet these problems. It also imports food from less contaminated areas.  

 

Taka was asked about the safety of food from Japan. He said it depended where in Japan it was from, but the foods most likely to be contaminated were beans and pulses, mushrooms and fish.

There are anti-nuclear political parties in Japan, but they are small, while the recently-elected government is very pro-nuclear, wanting to end the country’s peace constitution (which renounces the use of war) and was likely to continue the US alliance.  So why did the Japanese elect a pro-nuclear government after Fukushima? Taka said the election had been focused on other issues, there had been a low turnout and the intervention of the new right-wing "Restoration" party.

 

He concluded that nuclear power for Japan is not an energy issue (as is shown by the fact that Japan is producing adequate energy currently with very little coming from nuclear); it is a political and military one.

 

David Polden  Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

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