Creating linkage between Fukushima and the US: Talk with Chikako Nishiyama, a Nuclear Refugee from a Fukushima Evacuation Zone ( PART 1)
Chikako Nishiyama, an evacuee from a small village in Fukushima prefecture, affected by the 3.11 nuclear accident, has been in the US since May 2013 with the mission of giving speeches and having meetings with civil groups in various areas in the US. Her goal is to share her story with as many people as possible. Keiko Kokubun, a WNSCR member and a resident in the US, reports the brave woman's story.
Article in Japanese is here.
Warm welcome by the people who live in the downwind of Vermont Yankee
Kawauchi Village is located about 15 miles south-west of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. After the series of explosions, the whole village decided to evacuate. The visit of Ms. Chikako Nishiyama, former village councilor, materialized from a seed of an inspirational idea of some Vermonters. The Safe and Green Campaign, who tirelessly works to shut down Vermont Yankee with the same GE Mark I type reactor as Fukushima Daiichi, organized a special commemoration of the second anniversary of March 11 this year.
[link to Safe and Green Campaign - http://www.safeandgreencampaign.org]
They put themselves in the shoes of Fukushima evacuees. The communities around Vermont Yankee, each “adopted” a town surrounding Fukushima Daiichi based on the distance from Vermont Yankee. They researched the fate of their adopted town's people. The group from Greenfield, Massachusetts, chose Kawauchi Village and the residents including school children wrote messages. When Ms. Nishiyama was identified as a representative to receive these messages, she decided to come to Vermont to personally receive such an amazing gift.
Speaking tour in New England
For the last month, she has shared her experience as a nuclear refugee in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and New York. (You can get a gist of her presentation at the PeaceWalks site at http://peacewalks.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/voice-from-fukushima-chikako-nishiyama-transcript.)
Ms. Nishiyama also gave an interview to Keiko Kokubun, a member of the World Network for Saving Children from Radiation in Vermont, who is originally from Fukushima. What follows is the summary of that interview.
Kawauchi Village before and after the nuclear accident
It was back in 1994 that Ms. Nishiyama went back to her home village of Kawauchi, thinking that it would be a good place to raise her children. She recalls that at the time, the village was in the midst of conflicts over the economic interests related to the construction of a transmission tower, which was part of the system operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). In connection with this, she was surprised by the signs of corruption in the elections for the village assembly and the mayor in the following years. Also, the number of children in the village was on the decline, but there was a controversial plan to construct a huge, extravagant school building, which was expected to be built with the subsidy money paid to the municipalities hosting nuclear power plants. It became clear later that nuclear special interests were involved in this project as well.
The village of 3,000 people had 12 elected councilors and about 90 staff employed at the village office. If you added contractors and temporary staff, it was a disproportionately large number of public employees. It was widely known that some of these jobs were offered to buy votes. This was not the environment in which she wanted to raise her children. She started ombudsman activities in the community and in 2007 ran for a village councilor seat on the campaign promise to reform the village assembly and put an end to the wasteful use of tax payers’ money. Once elected, she started to raise questions on the hiring of village employees, which ruffled some feathers and led to a punitive action against her. Following this, she was subjected to a total of 5 punitive actions during her 4 year term. She was asked to resign twice. When she was getting ready to run for the second term, March 11 hit.
It was not until March 15 after a series of explosions that the villagers were informed of the danger of radiation. At 11AM that day, they were told to stay indoors. By the evening, they were instructed to voluntarily evacuate. By the next morning, Koriyama City agreed to shelter the evacuees from Kawauchi, and the rest of the residents fled to Koriyama by bus. It turned out later that the radiation level in Koriyama was higher than that in Kawauchi, though Koriyama is further from Fukushima Daiichi. Ms. Nishiyama pushed for the evacuation outside of Fukushima, but by the end of January 2012, in line with the government policy, the mayor of Kawauchi made an official announcement to urge the evacuees to return, the first of the evacuated municipalities to do so. Fukushima Daiichi is not in any way under control even now, radiation is still being released, and the No.4 reactor is presenting unimaginable risks. To Ms. Nishiyama, it was totally unacceptable to return the villagers and reopen the schools. She ran in the mayor's race in April 2012, which meant that she was standing up against the huge system of collusion between the national and prefectural governments and TEPCO. She gained 79 votes. To date, less than 20% of the villagers have returned. But her assessment is that only a small proportion of the villagers understand the real risks associated with radiation exposure in their health, as well as the continuing danger at the plant.
Before the accident, approximately 300 to 400 people in the village were employed in the nuclear power industry, not necessarily by TEPCO, but its contractors, sub-, or sub-sub-contractors. They were looked upon as successful people. Many of them continue to work at the plant. Ms. Nishiyama says, “they must know the real extent of the problems and challenges at the plant, but they still feel indebted to TEPCO because of their past relationship.” In the aftermath of the accident, her friend’s son was one of those workers who risked their lives to contain the situation. Including him, the plant workers feel a sense of mission in somehow making it work. We the world citizens are grateful for their devotion, but the young people with future are being subjected to risky work. Ms. Nishiyama contends, “this cannot go on”.
Ms. Nishiyama's son in early 20's is a fire fighter. He is truly committed to saving life and serving his community. She conveyed to him the risks of staying in Fukushima, but he has been made to believe the safety propaganda of the national and prefectural government through his training as a new recruit. On the other hand, she cannot ask him to desert the people struggling in Kawauchi either. She thinks he is too young and inexperienced in life to know how the political and economic system works or does not work. He needs to find it out himself. It is his life. There is no simple answer.
The plant workers from Kawauchi carrying out dangerous tasks, her son and young people like him, end up being sacrificed. “Unless the politics changes, it is extremely difficult to save the youth”, she added.
Continues to Part 2.