Home > Japan, Special Report > Part III: Town in Fukushima “safe” – politicians said so

Part III: Town in Fukushima “safe” – politicians said so

April 11, 2012

Part III, continued from April 9, 2012 “Town in Fukushima ‘safe’ – politicians said so” (for part I and II click here and here)

The Mythical Rebirth of the Phoenix

The Yomiuri preferred to show a quasi-normal life for students. Why are children even allowed in the area near a destroyed and unsafe nuclear plant?

Many people believe in Bigfoot. That does not mean he exists. Some Japanese may sincerely believe radiation will not affect them. But that does not mean radiation is harmless in the doses people have and will be exposed to. In 2011 there were tests done on children who lived nearby the Daiichi plant. Urine analysis indicated “all 10 tested positive for tiny amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137” (see here). There was a different test that showed “radioactive caesium and iodine were found in the urine of 15 residents from two towns located 19 to 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.” The government insists there is no danger. They may be correct, but how much radiation will they be exposed to over time? Is it internal? What does it mean when a child excretes radioactive substances? We are supposed to believe it is safe. It might be, but it certainly is not normal.

Though the towns named in the tests were not Kawauchi, the distance to the Daiichi plant was generally similar, about 30 km away. Greenpeace warns that the most vulnerable (read children, pregnant mothers, the elderly) should be evacuated from these areas (like Fukushima City, which is further away). Radiation does not spread evenly, and some parts to the north and west have more fallout than areas in the south. Maybe the parents of said children did not believe radiation was a problem after March 11 because they trusted the government. Those whose children tested positive for radiation might have some concerns now.

With the lack of scientific understanding on low-level exposure to radiation, scientists might be able to augment their knowledge using the data obtained from people living near the plant. The unofficial testing has already begun. Additional studies on residents showed “about 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March [2011] tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation (see here). Not to worry. None of these levels is dangerous says the government. One begins to wonder if anything actually is unsafe at all. With the rush to repopulate the areas near the plant, some residents are asking if safety is being pushed aside in a rush to have a rebirth. But many of the people in Fukushima have little choice but to remain nearby. The government refuses to evacuate them or offer enough compensation to leave. There is no need to review the book like instruction manual Tepco asked residents to fill out for compensation; not surprisingly, few have been able to understand it. Simply put, the government claims the areas outside the 20 km zone are not hazardous enough to warrant evacuation. Not everyone toes the government’s line.

“the Japanese government seems to have abandoned its responsibility to protect its population as it has left local authorities, who lack the necessary knowledge and equipment, to clean up this mess,” said Greenpeace in a press release. They characterised the government’s decontamination effort as “incompetent” and “risking health” of the residents. They put special emphasis on the most vulnerable: “Authorities have decided only to decontaminate the Fukushima City communities, without giving the residents the right to relocate – including pregnant women and small children, who are at the most risk.” Some of those areas have levels of contamination as high as parts of the no-go zone, reported Greenpeace. This would mean that affected people would get highly abnormal levels of radiation at an age they could least afford to be exposed to it. Children, in particular, are more sensitive to radiation, and the effects on their bodies can be worse than on an adult.

Returning to the Yomiuri newspaper article cited earlier, it quotes a child from Kawauchi saying, “There will be some concerns and inconveniences in our new life, but I want to overcome them with my friends.” Japanese kids and adults coming together to overcome difficulty in a time of extreme hardship. If this sounds kind of picturesque it is because it is. It is the sort of crude propaganda that the Japanese thrive on, at least that is how Ruth Benedict described sacrificing and self-denial in her well-known study. Some might recognise an example of this story in the recovery after WWII, in which the “national character” and hard work of the “Japanese” helped them prevail and even excel in difficult times. Sounds great, but most stories do. They do not always work out so well for those involved in them; they are the ones who will make the sacrifices.

Prime Minister Noda is clearly drawing parallels, as did his predecessor Naoto Kan, who described the disaster as “the most severe crisis in the past 65 years since World War II.” “We will make every effort to ensure that the rebirth of Fukushima is definitely achieved and beautiful hometowns are restored to their people,” said Noda in his anniversary speech. The Japanese are not the first to come up with stories of rebirth. They date back to the ancient world when some talked about a mythical bird coming out of the ashes. The effects of radiation, though, are not a myth. “The second pledge I make is to pass on to future generations the lessons of the disaster,” continued Noda. He might instead consider the lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and take greater steps to protect the population from radiological contamination, but that will have to be left to “future generations,” as the current one is not yet ready for it. They are too busy being reborn.

What the children are being asked to endure is exposure to radiation that children in other parts of Japan do not have. So much for everyone sacrificing for the greater good of the country and the emperor, as the myth goes. In this case it looks like the suffering will be done by 30 children under the age of 16 – not counting 8 in the nursery school (yes, they have to be exposed to radiation too), as well as other residents. That has a deep history too in Japan. We need not discuss the millions of men Japan’s emperor sent to conquer Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, or the millions more they killed for empire. Whilst there is obviously no equivalent, what does stand out is the idea that the poor are the ones who must be on the front lines. The front in Fukushima is filled with those who might want to be elsewhere but cannot. There are also those who are unable to accept the reality that their towns have radiation readings similar to Chernobyl, and that says more about the situation that any words ever could. It is unclear what benefit the people will get from staying there.

Japan’s emperor sent millions of Japanese overseas in an attempt to enlarge the empire. Today’s politicians are likewise asking people to make scarifices, but the benefits to the population are not clear.

The 12-yr-old in the Yomiuri article might be excused for calling her new reality in Fukushima an “inconvenience,” but the press is not run by middle school students. Rather than pointing to possible dangers from a nuclear power plant that had two major leaks of radioactive water in the past month alone, it talks about the rebirth of a town that most of its own residents do not feel confident enough to live in. The lack of discussion in the paper on the potential hazards children will be living with as they go about their lives in an area contaminated with nuclear waste can be interpreted as a way to minimises the dangers of radiation.

Topics on Japan tend to follow certain trends. From a lost economic decade to the “rebirth of a nation” – no pun intended. This is the new PR campaign all are supposed to gleefully write about. The NY Times happened to cover a story about Namie a year ago. Though written to a much higher standard of quality, it too quoted a child who said, “I want to play outside.” Fair enough. Everyone can understand why a child would want to play outdoors with friends. Certainly people want those near Fukushima to prosper and live normal lives. The problem with quotes like these, though, is that – at least in the case of the Yomiuri – they put undue emphasis on children’s emotions. They are not the adults, and they do not fully understand the dangers or the long-term consequences of living in a contaminated area. Their situation will not improve by talk of their desires. It serves as an emotional heart twister. This is no soap opera, though.

Returning to decontamination, there was an effort by the government in Kawauchi. If it followed the normal Japanese decontamination procedures, then much of the waste would have been buried in the ground below the area from which it was gathered. For instance, there are numerous reports of schools in other areas removing the top layer of soil and then depositing it into a pit under a school’s yard, before covering it up with new dirt. There are others that simply removed some soil and carted it off to other places. There would have also been some spraying and washing to send substances away (rinsing them down the sewers). Operations of this sort have met with mixed results, not always achieving a much lower level of radiation.

In part IV we shall look at the 1% decisions and how they might affect residents.

Part I here, part II here and part IV here.

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  1. Emmaus Road Projects
    April 11, 2012 at 05:31

    This is an extremely astute and under-reported analysis of the current situation in Fukushima and the background to this ‘paralysis propaganda’… I may also wish to suggest to your readers toTokyo University Professor Ayumu Yasutomi who confirms that during World War II, the country’s leaders’ kept supporting their actions making the assertion that Japan was a “divine nation” while this policy was being used to justify the unnecessary deaths of millions of people without explaining the truth of what was actually happening.
    Regarding all the ‘Academic experts’ appearing in the Japanese Media he is also quoted as saying: “These professors won’t call a dangerous thing dangerous, and that leads to a situation where accidents happen.”

    “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.”
    Mahatma Gandhi

  2. Emmaus Road Projects
    April 11, 2012 at 05:32

    YASUTOMI, Ayumu (Professor, Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo) “Genpatsu Kiki to Todai Waho”
    (The Nuclear Power Plant Crisis and the Mode of Speech of the University of Tokyo—Bystanders’ Logic and Deceptive Language)
    安冨 歩 (単行本 – 2012/1/7)
    原発危機と「東大話法」―傍観者の論理・欺瞞の言語―

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