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Russia has lost a nuclear-powered missile at sea

Russia is preparing to search for a nuclear-powered missile that was lost at sea months ago after a failed test, CNBC 221 Aug 18 

  • Moscow is preparing to recover a nuclear-powered missile lost at sea, according to sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. intelligence report.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin bragged earlier this year that the new missile had unlimited range.
  • The missile was tested four times between November and February, each resulting in a crash, according to sources who spoke to CNBC on the condition of anonymity.
Amanda MaciasCrews will attempt to recover a missile that was test launched in November and landed in the Barents Sea, which is located north of Norway and Russia. The operation will include three vessels, one of which is equipped to handle radioactive material from the weapon’s nuclear core. There is no timeline for the mission, according to the people with knowledge of the report……
Russian President Vladimir Putin unveiled the new nuclear-powered missile in March, boasting it had unlimited range. Yet, the weapon has yet to be successfully tested over multiple attempts.
Russia tested four of the missiles between November and February, each resulting in a crash, people who spoke on the condition of anonymity previously told CNBC. The U.S. assessed that the longest test flight lasted just more than two minutes, with the missile flying 22 miles before losing control and crashing. The shortest test lasted four seconds and flew for five miles. Russia has denied the missile test failures. ……..


August 22, 2018 Posted by | incidents, Russia | Leave a comment

Canadian govt is urged to stop producing nuclear waste until we can dispose of it

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Canada, opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Sweden’s nuclear energy regulator wants nuclear reactor operators to produce plans for guarding against hot weather

Sweden calls for nuclear reactors to be shielded from hot weather, Business Times,  AUG 21, 2018 

A number of Swedish reactors had to shut down or reduce output as the summer heatwave sent temperatures to record highs in July, with the sea water that is used to cool them becoming much warmer than normal, exceeding safety levels. The last time that SSM, the Swedish radiation safety authority, asked operators to produce plans to modify their reactors was after Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. The cost of those changes, which are due by 2020, was in the hundreds of millions of euros.

“We really have to take into consideration what happened this summer … We have asked them orally to come with suggestions. Of course there will be a cost. I do not know how much at this stage,” said SSM chief Mats Persson said.

The cost of post-Fukushima modifications to Swedish nuclear plants reached as much as 100 million euros (S$155 million) per reactor, Persson said……..

August 22, 2018 Posted by | climate change, Sweden | Leave a comment

Hong Kong partially lifts food safety restrictions imposed after nuclear disaster

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Food  from Japan to Hong Kong is now being imported under eased and  newly effective food safety protocols.

According to the Hong Kong Center for Food Safety (CFS), the 7-year-old order in response to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster was recently amended. The CFS is a unit of Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.

The Fukushima disaster, a 2011 nuclear power plant failure stemming from a massive earthquake and tidal wave, caused Hong Kong to restrict food imports from that area and four other Japanese prefectures: Chiba, Gunma, Ibaraki and Tochigi.

Hong Kong recently completed a review of these risk management restrictions based on recent surveillance results and expert opinion from international organizations.

Based on that work, the new arrangement for import control on Japanese food went into effect on July 24.

In summary, import restrictions on food from Fukushima remain unchanged. Vegetables, fruits, milk, milk beverages, and dried milk from the other four prefectures are allowed to be imported with the condition that they are accompanied by both a radiation certificate and an exporter certificate issued by the Japanese authority.

The radiation certificate shows which of the four prefectures each consignment of products come from and attests that the radiation levels do not exceed standards set by the Codex Alimentarius.

Codex is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines, and other recommendations relating to foods, food production, and food safety

According to the Codex, food is considered safe for human consumption if the radiation levels do not exceed those levels.

The exporter also must hold and produce exporter certificate which certifies the foods exported to Hong Kong by the exporter involved are fit for human consumption as far as radiological protection is concerned and are readily available for sale in Japan implying that the radiation levels do not exceed the Japanese standards which are more stringent than Codex levels.

Two levels of food safety clearance 

Two levels of gatekeeping are involved in the current arrangement. At the export level, the Japanese authority that issues the radiation certificates and exporter certificates must ensure that each consignment of those products do not come from Fukushima and attest that the radiation levels of the food products do not exceed the Codex levels as well as the more stringent Japanese levels.

At the import level, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) will continue to conduct radiation tests on every consignment of food products imported from Japan. Food products can only enter the local market after radiation testing has been performed. The CFS will strengthen inspection and testing on vegetables, fruits, and milk products from the four prefectures. The radiation test results will continue to be updated on the CFS’s website every working day for public access.

Updates by the Center for Food Safety on its radiation testing of food imported have been available since March 16, 2011.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

TEPCO Admitted Almost 200 Billion Bq of Priorly Undeclared Radionuclides Water Contamination



Kyodo News wrote about a new admission at Fukushima Daiichi. The ALPS water decontamination systems are not removing almost all of the contamination as previously claimed. TEPCO admitted new levels of specific radioactive isotopes in the treated and stored water.

Iodine 129 has a half life of 15.7 million years
Ruthenium 106 has a half life of 373.59 days
Technetium 99 has a half life of 211,000 years

All are considered to pose enough of a public health risk that they need to be controlled. Iodine 129 levels found in the water samples exceeds the legally admissible levels. The other two isotopes fall below the legal level.  The considerable total amounts of these radioactive substances make them a concern.

Total post ALPS water: 920,000 tons of water
1,000 liters per ton
920,000,000 liters total

Newly admitted levels of contamination along with our calculated totals:
62.2 bq/liter iodine 129 = 57,224,000,000 bq
92.5 bq/liter ruthenium 106 = 85,100,000,000 bq
59 bq/liter technetium 99 = 54,280,000,000 bq

Total of newly declared becquerels of contamination:
196,604,000,000 bq

TEPCO has been trying to gain the needed permissions to dump this water into the Pacific ocean, claiming it only contained tritium and trace amounts of other isotopes. The actual radioactive isotope contents of the treated water has not been clearly declared to the public. Statements like “removes almost all” or only mentioning the removal rate of a specific isotope has been the standard pattern of disclosure. This has left questions about what exactly is in this water they are so eager to dump. TEPCO’s reluctance to be more transparent about the contamination in this water raises concerns they are hiding information.

Regional fishing groups have fought the dumping plan claiming it would hurt seafood sales.  This issue of undeclared contamination or the environmental ethics of dumping it into an international body of water are rarely discussed. TEPCO mentioned they have not tested all of the tanks of treated water. The estimated totals we compiled could go up or down based on what is found in those untested tanks. TEPCO did not disclose the process of selecting tanks or how many of the total have been sampled.

The plan to dump the water into the ocean has been based on the claim that this water only contained tritium. With a half life of 12,3 years, this alone seemed a problem the public might tolerate. The addition of these long lived isotopes makes any potential plan to store the water while the tritium decays problematic. The removal of these other isotopes will need to be proven before any long term plan can realistically be determined.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Radioactive tritium and other types of radionuclides in Fukushima nuclear plant water, despite water treatment

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Water at Fukushima nuclear plant still radioactive even after treatment, Government wants to dump the contaminated water into the sea, but locals and fishermen oppose the idea.

19 August, 2018
Radioactive substances have not been removed from treated but still tritium-containing water at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company have faced the pressing need to dispose of such treated water now kept in tanks. One option is to dump it into the sea, as tritium is said to pose little risk to human health.
If the plan goes ahead, tritium-tainted water from the nuclear plant is expected to be diluted so it is likely to lower the levels of other radioactive materials as well before being discharged.
But locals and fishermen are worried about the water discharge and a government panel debating how to deal with it has mainly focused on tritium, not other radioactive substances.
According to Tepco, a maximum 62.2 becquerels per litre of lodine 129, far higher than the 9 becquerel legal limit, was found in the water filtered by the Advanced Liquid Processing System used to remove various types of radioactive materials
Iodine 129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years.
Tepco, which gathered data in fiscal 2017 through March, also detected a maximum 92.5 becquerels of Ruthenium 106 – more than the 100 becquerel legal limit – and 59 becquerels of technetium 99 against the limit of 1,000 becquerels.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex was damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Reactors 1 and 3 suffered fuel meltdowns as their cooling systems were crippled.
Water was injected to keep the fuel cold but it is extremely toxic. The water is filtered but it is hard for tritium to be separated.
In August, there were around 920,000 tonnes of tritium-containing water stored in some 680 tanks at the plant. But Tepco said it has not checked the concentration of radioactive materials in each tank.
The government has examined several ways to dispose of tritium-containing water, including the release of it into the sea or atmosphere.
Toyoshi Fuketa, who heads the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said pumping the water into the sea is the only solution.


ALPS system at Fukushima No. 1 plant failing to remove more than tritium from toxic cooling water

Aug 19, 2018
The tritium-tainted water piling up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has been found to contain other radioactive substances, defying the defunct plant’s special treatment system, Kyodo News has learned.
The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. are under pressure to dispose the treated water, which is accumulating in hundreds of tanks on the premises. One option is to dump it into the sea, as tritium, a normal byproduct of nuclear operations, is said to pose little risk to human health in diluted form.
If the plan goes through, the tritium-tainted water is expected to be diluted so it will likely lower the levels of the other radioactive materials before discharge.
But fishermen and residents are worried about the water discharge plan, and a government panel debating how to deal with it has mainly focused on the tritium rather than the other substances.
According to Tepco, a maximum of 62.2 becquerels per liter of iodine 129, far higher than the 9 becquerel legal limit, was found in the water filtered by the Advanced Liquid Processing System, which was reportedly capable of removing everything but tritium.
Iodine 129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years.
Tepco, which gathered data in fiscal 2017 through March, also detected a maximum 92.5 becquerels of ruthenium 106, shy of the 100 becquerel legal limit, as well as 59 becquerels of technetium 99 against the limit of 1,000 becquerels.
The Fukushima No. 1 complex was damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Reactors 1 to 3 suffered fuel meltdowns as their cooling systems were crippled.
Water is injected perpetually to keep the fuel cold but it is extremely toxic. The water is filtered by the ALPS system but removing the tritium remains difficult.
As of August, around 920,000 tons of tritium-containing water are stored in some 680 tanks within the premises. But Tepco said it has not checked the concentration of radioactive materials in each tank.
Toyoshi Fuketa, who heads the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has been calling the ocean discharge plan the “only” solution.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Debate over Fukushima statue takes on a life of its own online

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Aug 18, 2018
Few topics have proven to be more sensitive online than the present state of Fukushima Prefecture. Years after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster wreaked havoc in the region, the topic of radiation continues to spark intense debate from all corners. A statue that was unveiled in the prefecture last week has just added plenty of fuel to the fire.
Contemporary artist Kenji Yanobe donated a statue titled “Sun Child” to the city of Fukushima at the beginning of July. The work of art depicts a child clad in something resembling a hazmat suit and holding a helmet. A radiation counter on the child’s chest reads “000.”
The statue was inspired by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. It debuted in 2011, traversing the country (including Fukushima’s airport in 2012) and  generally attracting a positive reception. Even while it was being assembled in its new home, people snapped photos of it and remarked how “cool” it looked.
However, people’s views regarding the statue began to fragment after it was officially unveiled on Aug. 3, with debate intensifying last week.
Fukushima residents started to post negative comments about the statue after a local news organization published a short story on it. Some argued that it was too soon to erect an artwork along such lines in a city still recovering from a nuclear crisis, while others noted that it was scaring children. Yanobe had created the statue to celebrate a nuclear-free future, but it ultimately had the opposite effect and reminded people that this was still far from reality.
After a few days, the issue started to get picked up by national and international news outlets. The questionable science behind the artwork was  frequently brought up, with many arguing that natural radiation alone would prevent any counter from hitting zero, among other complaints.
Many netizens were simply irked at the inclusion of the hazmat suit, arguing that such imagery was misleading.
As serious as all of this sounds, let’s take a quick detour to talk about another aspect of the statue that captured the internet’s attention: its crotch. While plenty of discussion on message boards such as 2chan focused on the lasting impact it could have on the local economy or the general challenge of creating art that has been inspired by tragedy, many zeroed in on the tap extending from the front of its trousers. It carried over to Twitter, too, with one user wondering how effective the statue could ever be if schoolkids were distracted by the contents of its nether regions. Coupled with other jokes and references, it’s a good reminder that memes will always be created online, whether or not the issue is particularly sensitive.
Some of the discussion online focused on the art itself. Yanobe’s “Sun Child” has to date been largely been celebrated by domestic art critics.
Anti-nuclear pieces have been central to Yanobe’s work since the early 1990s — he even went to Chernobyl and documented the fallout from the nuclear disaster there.
By placing his art in the heart of a place that was affected by a nuclear accident, Yanobe changed the way people viewed “Sun Child.” Once the mystery had been stripped from his work, ordinary folks introduced new interpretations, with some slamming the idea of someone hiding behind “artistic license” to dodge criticism.
Fukushima Mayor Hiroshi Kohata claimed the artwork reflected an optimistic view of the future, but noted that art, unlike science, can sometimes be abstract. This latter point, though, has become a tricky matter at times when the majority of conversation online feels reactionary, and not just in Japan.
Some of the opinions voiced about “Sun Child” centered on the challenge of creating political art that doesn’t offend (this is the closest to a real defense of the statue I’ve seen). Others said it might have looked better if Yanobe had actually spent more time in Fukushima, instead of simply “making a cup of tea and leaving.” For his part, Yanobe apologized.
Part of the reason the statue has attracted so much attention online is that Fukushima’s radioactive status remains contentious. A number of sites aim to dispel myths surrounding the perceived lack of radiation safety in Fukushima. Twitter user @nonbeekaeru takes the opposite approach, arguing that radiation is traveling around the world and could envelop the 2020 Olympics or poison K-pop stars. As an example, check out the new Netflix show “Dark Tourist,” which features an episode about Fukushima that paints the prefecture as a nuclear wasteland.
Indeed, this is the real reason this statue has caused a stir online: It’s another reminder that what happened in Fukushima actually lingers over the whole country and continues to shape the way in which people see the prefecture. With social media, though, locals can counter such misinformation, whether or not they use art to do so or not.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Leaving no stone unturned in heatstroke battle at nuclear plant

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The temperature is about 22.5 degrees around 6 a.m. on Aug. 6 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
Aug 18, 2018
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–How to avert a heatstroke is more pressing than usual in Japan this summer as the archipelago bakes in a record heat wave.
It’s not just sun-worshipers, children, the elderly and the infirm who should worry.
Spare a thought for the 5,000 or so workers who toil at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to get it ready for decommissioning.
They have to work outside in protective gear, with limited access to water and other resources.
At 5 a.m. on Aug. 6, a manager reminded a 20-strong group from IHI Plant Construction Co., which was contracted by Tokyo Electric Power Co., of the importance of adhering strictly to work rules.
“Please limit your efforts to shifts of less than 90 minutes,” the manager told the assembled workers in a lounge at the plant as he checked the complexion of each individual to gauge their health condition.
The workers are installing storage tanks for radioactive water that is accumulating at the plant.
They are not permitted to take food and beverages with them because of the risk of internal radiation exposure if the perishables are contaminated while they are working.
Water stations have been set up, but workers generally don’t bother to quench their thirst as it means they have to change out of their work gear to reach the sites.
During the morning meeting, the manager also checked each worker’s alcohol level and made sure that everybody had water from oral rehydration solution. After that, workers put a cold insulator in their vests and headed to the work site.
The Fukushima plant complex has about 900 tanks set up. IHI Plant Construction installed about 20 percent of them.
The workers’ primary responsibility in recent weeks is to inspect the condition of covers put in place to stop rainwater from accumulating around the tanks.
The workers are spared from the scorching sun as they work under cover, but coping with 90 to 95 percent humidity is a formidable challenge.
Junichi Ono, the head of the IHI Plant Construction’s task force assigned to the plant, said his company has tried to take every precaution against heatstroke.
“We need to pay attention because we work in a humid environment,” he said. “If a worker falls sick, we will lose valuable time taking that person to the doctor.”
According to TEPCO, 23 workers suffered heatstroke in the summer of 2011, shortly after the nuclear crisis unfolded at the plant.
Learning a lesson from that, workers were later instructed to start their tasks early in the morning and not work outdoors in principle between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. in July and August, the hottest part of the day.
The “summer time” schedule appears to be paying off.
In fiscal 2014, the number of workers afflicted with heatstroke at the plant stood at 15.
It dropped to four in fiscal 2016, but went back up to six in fiscal 2017 despite it being a relatively cool summer that year.
Although this year’s heat wave is unprecedented, only four workers have suffered heatstroke at the plant this summer.
The Japan Meteorological Agency forecast blistering summer heat in the coming week after a respite this weekend.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

A Resolution Against the Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Tritium-contaminated Waste Water From the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant


More than 200 Japanese scientists and citizens decleared “A Resolution Against the Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Tritium-contaminated Waste Water From the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.”

Copied below is the document or see the following website:

Please read it and you could take the situations more seriously how dangerous it can be if TEPCO dumps as
planned the tritium-contaminated water from the defunct Fukushima nuclear plant to the Pacific Ocean.

If you could post this document onto your web-pages or blogs and share it with your friends and acquaintances, it would be very helpful to spread the real picture of Fukushima nuclear disaster, that the Japanese government wants to conceal by any nasty means.

Physics Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University, Kosaku Yamada, who led the process to declaring this resolution, hopes that everyone who agrees with this resolution could e-mail him and register as an assenter of it.
With greeting of solidarity,
Etsuji Watanabe

Members of the Association for Citizens and Scientists Concerned about Internal Radiation Exposures (ACSIR) and citizens and scientists who are concerned about internal radiation exposure

July 20, 2018

You can download this resolution from here.
A Resolution Against the Ocean Dumping of Radioactive Tritium-contaminated Waste Water From the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant(pdf,3pages,146KB)

It was announced in March, 2014, that in the defunct Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant there was a total of approximately 3,400 trillion becquerels of tritium, with 830 trillion becquerels stored in tanks. This enormous amount of radioactive waste water has still continued to increase since then. In these circumstances, the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Ltd. (TEPCO), in their efforts to find an easy way to dispose of the tritium-contaminated waste water created by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, have been trying to dilute and dump it into the ocean. They have been watching for an unguarded moment among the opposition movements, such as fishery cooperatives. Now they are about to finally decide to implement the ocean dumping plan. Far from regulating such activities, Toyoshi Fuketa, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has been championing this plan.
We are determined that the Japanese government and TEPCO shall never dump the radioactive waste water into the ocean for the following reasons:

1. Generally misunderstood as posing little risk to life and health, tritium is an extremely hazardous radioactive material. This is because organisms are not able to chemically distinguish tritium water from the normal water which composes most of the human body. This means that tritium can invade any part of the human body, irradiating it from inside; therefore, tritium can damage cell membranes and mitochondria in cells, indirectly through reactive oxygen species (ROS) and other radicals generated in irradiation. Tritium decay can directly cut chemical bonds of genomes or DNA strands. The risk peculiar to tritium is that if some hydrogen atoms which make up the genomes are replaced with tritium, the beta decay of the tritium into helium will cut off the chemical bonds of the genome.
Plants produce starch from water and carbon dioxide gas by using photosynthesis. Some of hydrogen atoms in this starch can be replaced with tritium, forming organic tritium, which animals, plants and human beings absorb into their bodies over the long term, causing internal radiation.

2. With reference to the tritium released by various nuclear facilities, reports indicate a number of findings including: an increased incidence of leukemia among those living around the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant; an increased incidence of infant leukemia around nuclear reprocessing plants all over the world; and an increased incidence of child cancers around nuclear power plants. Real damage has already occurred.

3. Tritium, even if diluted and dumped into the ocean, will become concentrated again through aspects of the ecosystem such as food chains. Furthermore, tritium will vaporize into tritium-containing moisture or hydrogen gas only to return to the land and eventually circulate within the environment. The idea that dilution ensures safety has caused fatal blunders to be repeated in many environmental pollution cases in the past, the vital factor being the total quantity released into the environment. Therefore, as far as environmental pollution problems are concerned, the only righteous and principled policy is to thoroughly confine and isolate radioactive materials or toxic substances from the ecosystem.
As tritium has a long half-life of 12 years, it destroys the environment over the long term. Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen which constitutes not only most of the living body but also its genes, so tritium disposal via dilution cannot be safe. Thus, we strongly urge the Japanese government and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority never to dump tritium into the ocean.

The resolution assenters:
As of
 August 5


淡川典子、青木幸雄、青柳行信、伊集院真知子、上里恵子、吾郷健二、吾郷成子、阿部 毅、
石田紀郎、石堂太郎、伊集院真知子、稲垣 博美、稲垣 睿、印南敏夫、今田裕作、岩田深雪、
折原利男、勝部明、川崎陽子、川添 務、河原よしみ、木次昭宏、木原和子、木村千亜紀、
許 照美、熊谷まき、黒河内繁美、黒田節子、鍬野保雄、權 龍夫、国分 天、小林立雄、
小山 潔、コリン・コバヤシ、今 正則、斉藤さちこ、齊藤智子、佐藤和利、佐藤京子、佐藤大介、
澤田昭二、嶋田美子、島 安治、下澤陽子、下山久美子、庄司善哉、白井健雄 、白鳥紀一、
滝本 健、田代真人、橘 優子、舘澤みゆき、田中一郎、田中 清、高木 伸、高橋精巧、
高橋武三、髙松利昌、辻 陽子、辻本 誠、哲野イサク、寺尾光身、友田シズエ、外谷悦夫、
冨田孝正、中川洋子、中沢浩二、長尾高弘、長澤民衣、中須賀 徳行、永田文夫、名出真一、
根本 勘、野村修身、萩原正子、萩原ゆきみ、橋爪亮子、橋本恵美、馬場利子、林 敬次、
原田二三子、平佐公敏、福島敦子、藤井隼人、藤井弘子、藤原寿和、 舩冨和枝、星川まり、
堀江みゆき、松井英介、松井和子、松岡由香子、松尾美絵、松沢哲成、松久 寛、三上幸子、
水鳥方義、水戸喜世子、宮口高枝、宮嵜やゆみ、宮下京子、宮永崇史、向平恵子、向平 真、
三ツ林安治、三室 勇、森下育代、森田眞理、矢ケ崎克馬、八木和美、梁取洋夫、矢野勝敏、
山田敏正、山田 誠、山本清子、山本英彦、横山恵子、横山義弘、横山由美子、吉田明生、

太田川ダム研究会、クライストチャーチの風 、さよなら原発神戸アクション、

If you agree with this resolution, please e-mail to Kosaku Yamada.


August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima: UN says cleanup workers in danger of ‘exploitation’


UN human rights experts have said the workers, most of them migrants, risked “exposure to radiation and coercion.” They have called on Japan to protect the workers cleaning up the damaged nuclear power station.



Tens of thousands of cleanup workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station risk exploitation, UN human rights experts said in a statement on Thursday.

The three experts, who report to the UN Human Rights Council, warned that exposure to radiation remained a major risk for workers handling the cleanup of the plant.

“Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum-seekers and people who are homeless,” said the three: Baskut Tuncak, an expert on hazardous substances, Dainius Puras, an expert on health, and Urmila Bhoola, an expert on contemporary slavery.

“We are deeply concerned about possible exploitation. The workers risk exposure to unhealthy levels of radiation not only because they work in places with high radiation but also because they work for longer hours than they should,” Tuncak told DW after the statement was released.

“They are not sufficiently trained, which exposes them to serious health risks. Also, most of them are economically vulnerable, who may not turn down the job despite hazardous working conditions,” he said.

Tuncak added that the team’s observations were based on “repeated and reliable” reports.

Read moreJapan’s TEPCO nuclear plant restarts fear of new Fukushima

Poor working conditions

TEPCO, the owner of the nuclear power station, which was damaged by a tsunami in 2011, has faced criticism for its treatment of workers involved in the cleanup, which is expected to take decades.

In July, a survey conducted by the Japanese Justice Ministry showed that four construction companies had hired foreign trainees for radioactive decontamination work at the plant.

The survey found that one of the four companies paid only 2,000 yen ($18, €16) per day to the trainees, a fraction of the 6,600 yen provided by the government as a special allowance for decontamination work.

An investigation by Reuters news agency in 2013 also found widespread labor abuses, including workers who said their pay was skimmed.

Japan must act

The UN experts called on Japanese authorities to act urgently to protect the workers.

“The government must conduct greater oversights. In cases of wrongdoing, it must prosecute the wrongdoers to set an example for others,” Tuncak said.

“The government must also allow independent experts to visit Fukushima to review the existing work conditions.”

Tuncak said Japan has not responded to several of his and other experts’ requests to visit the damaged nuclear station.

Japan dismisses UN claims

On Friday, Japan’s Foreign Ministry rejected the UN’s accusations and said the statement could unnecessarily spark worries and confusion, the Kyodo News agency reported.

“It’s regrettable, as the statement is based on one-sided allegations that could exacerbate the suffering of people in the disaster-hit areas,” the ministry said.  “We properly handled problematic cases in the past and do not regard
it as a situation which requires any urgent response,” an unnamed official at the Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry told Kyodo.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s 3.11 Nuclear Disaster and the State of Exception: Notes on Kamanaka’s Interview and Two Recent Films

Margherita Long
August 7, 2018
This essay accompanies Katsuya Hirano’s Interview with Kamanaka Hitomi, “Fukushima, Media, Democracy: The Promise of Documentary Film”
Documentary filmmaker Kamanaka Hitomi’s interview with historian Katsuya Hirano takes the post-Fukushima debate in a number of fresh directions.
At the level of facts, Kamanaka draws from her vast knowledge of Japanese nuclear politics and the global nuclear industry to share developments that may startle even those who have tried to keep up with the unfolding crisis.
At the level of political critique, she finds synergy with Hirano and his insights as a chronicler of post-3.11 local politics to develop two broad points. First is that nuclear “recovery” (fukkō) as charted in Fukushima is neoliberal in the sense defined by Michel Foucault and developed by political theorists like Wendy Brown. Understanding the value of human life purely in economic terms, neoliberalism dismantles democracy by reducing all politics to market principles. Although Kamanaka and Hirano do not use the term “neoliberal,” I’ll argue that their criticism of neoliberal politics is explicit. The second point is that the suspension of human rights required by Fukushima’s “recovery” is a prime example of the state of exception that Giorgio Agamben identifies as an increasingly dominant paradigm of government in modern democracies. Kamanaka and Hirano reference Agamben’s work directly, and I’ll elaborate why they find it useful.
At the level of activism, the interview also extends beyond critique to develop an affirmative theory of artistic practice for change. For much of the conversation this falls under the rubric of “the exercise of democracy.” When Kamanaka and Hirano use this term, they do not mean simply that documentary cinema prompts people to elect better leaders. Rather, they mean that documentary cinema empowers viewers to intuit the difference between politics and economics, which collapses under neoliberalism, and between good government and executive expediency, which collapses during a state of exception. The first three sections of the interview focus on how to inspire people to reopen these gaps, which are essential to a functioning democracy.
Also concerning activism, Kamanaka advances a second affirmative practice that she refers to evocatively toward the end of the interview as a “revolution of sensibility” (kanjō no kakumei) and “a revolution underfoot” (ashimoto no kakumei). Here, in two much shorter sections, the emphasis falls less on reopening gaps than on closing them: between reality as we construct it (however democratically) in language, politics, economics and law, on the one hand, and reality as we live it materially and bodily (“underfoot,” “through our senses”) on the other. What would it mean to stop operating under the standard modern assumption that the two are separate? What would it mean to close the distance between our discursive reality and internal radiation, in the worst case scenario, but also between discursive reality and what sustains daily life: food, shelter, clothing and energy at their most elemental? Although the interview stops short of fully developing these points, it is possible to read Kamanaka’s two post-Fukushima documentaries as answers to precisely these questions. Focusing on the power of nuclear care and carework by doctors and mothers, Living Through Internal Radiation (Naibu hibaku o ikinuku, 2012) and Little Voices of Fukushima (Chiisaki koe no kanon, 2015) suggest that the nuclearized body is a site not only of suffering, but also of insight, perhaps even the energy to sustain activism. This is what I argue in the second part of this essay.
How Neoliberal is Fukushima’s “Recovery”?
Wendy Brown has written that neoliberalism replaces democratic values like law, participation, and justice with marketplace strategies like “benchmarks,” “buy-ins” and “best practices.” The milestones the Japanese government has set for Fukushima are good examples. Rather than actual decontamination, which is extremely difficult, the Ministry of the Environment asks Fukushima Prefecture to measure its recovery in the same increments as its soil removal (josen) campaign, with elaborate graphs, maps and percentages updated regularly online and at its local office in Fukushima-city.1 Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, in a famous speech, pegs recovery much more simply to the year 2020, and the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.2 More recently, the administration has begun marking the end of the crisis with the end of subsidized evacuation, and the successive opening of more and more areas within the thirteen towns initially impacted by restrictions and mandatory evacuations.3 In this way, benchmarks and timelines focus collective thinking on shared economic goals (“recovery!”) in order to avoid acknowledging the true scale of the disaster, and erase the need to negotiate conflicting interests. What makes the process uniquely perverse is the active consent of those who suffer most. In Wendy Brown’s words, “the citizen releases state, law and economy from responsibility for and responsiveness to its own condition and predicaments and is ready when called to sacrifice to the cause of growth.”4 It’s a phenomenon Hirano says Fukushima activist Mutō Ruiko told him she’s witnessed time and again: the moment when even a long-term anti-nuclear ally will buy into the reassurances of government-dispatched “safety experts” when faced with the prospect of economic collapse.
True, radiation makes Fukushima’s recovery different from the United States’ recovery from the crash of 2008, on which Brown focuses. When Americans were persuaded to accept the intensification of inequality as basic to capitalism’s health, the resulting reductions in jobs, pay and benefits affected their bodies with much less cellular precision than the food from the stricken area (“Namie Dishes” and “Fukushima Plates”) that Kamanaka describes Tokyo University students eating in the name of economic solidarity. There is also a difference in levels of awareness. The American neoliberal subject theorized by Brown is better able to understand what he or she is being asked to sacrifice, economically, than the cesium 137-exposed Japanese subject is able to understand it, biologically. Nevertheless, one of the main points to which Kamanaka opens our eyes in the interview is that, like the American stock market which was supposed to be “smart” and “rational” but was actually unstable, the Japanese nuclear industry was also a “too big to fail” behemoth which proved to be incapable of making money without massive infusions of state cash. According to Kamanaka, the true source of the industry’s profitability for the past thirty years has been a national Y600 billion ($US 5.5 billion) Energy Development Budget (Enerugii kaihatsu yosan), of which 60 or 70 percent every year goes to plant construction. Kamanaka explains that, in addition to having new infrastructure underwritten by the government, electric companies are allowed to add a 3.8% surcharge to capital expenditures, which they tack onto peoples’ electricity bills. Given that these same electric companies receive a “subsidy for electricity generating locations” (dengen ritchi kōfukin) directly from the tax base, it is easy to see how the bigger the “nuclear village” grows, the more money the state and electricity consumers are obligated to feed it. So while claims that “nuclear is the lynchpin to economic growth” had been accepted as gospel since Japan’s 54 reactors were first built in the 1960s and 70s, in actual fact it is just the reverse: nuclear power is a house of cards that tumbles quickly in the absence of state subsidies, as demonstrated in the wake of the 3.11 triple disaster.
As evidence Kamanaka offers the fates of Toshiba and Mitsubishi, and their relationships with two corporate purveyors of nuclear fuel and technology, Westinghouse in the U.S. and Areva in France. Both Westinghouse and Areva have seen losses mount in the face of demands for greater safety after Chernobyl, 9/11 and Fukushima, and both are currently mired in long-overdue construction projects that push them further and further into the red. What does it say about the Japanese nuclear industry, Kamanaka asks, that Toshiba and Mitsubishi have been willing to step in with infusions of cash just as other investors are backing away? In the months since her interview with Hirano, her insight into nuclear unprofitability has been borne out spectacularly in the case of Toshiba, which all but bankrupted itself purchasing Westinghouse and hitching its star to failed reactor construction at the Vogtle Plant in Georgia.5 Meanwhile, Mitsubishi’s president, his company having underwritten heavy losses at Areva’s twelve-year late project in Olkiluoto, Finland, insists that fresh investments are safe even while the Nikkei Asian Review wonders whether Mitsubishi is “doubling down out of a sense that it is in too deep to pull out.”6
What Kamanaka underscores are the accounting gymnastics required to perpetuate the myth that nuclear energy and economic growth go hand in hand. She notes that when all 54 of Japan’s reactors were idled between September 2013 and October 2015, government officials and business leaders complained that to continue indefinitely in the absence of nuclear power would be like “returning to the Edo Period.”7 Her point, in contrast, is that Japan’s standard of living went largely unchanged, and what was actually set back was the bottom line of what fellow filmmaker and antinuclear ally Kawai Hiroyuki calls the “immense profit-sharing community” comprised of the electric companies and their subsidiaries.8 It is this community that benefits now as the Abe administration ends its aid responsibility to evacuees and puts its full weight behind nation-wide reactor re-starts. Although neither the profits nor the hardship are shared, people are convinced that the government is doing its job because economic growth has become both its end and its legitimation. Meanwhile Kamanaka is left worrying, like Wendy Brown, “What happens to the constituent elements of democracy – its culture, subjects, principles, and institutions – when neoliberal rationality saturates political life?”9
Watching Documentaries as “An Exercise in Democracy”
One of the most emotionally difficult points Kamanaka makes – and perhaps one she would only make in an English-language publication – is that whereas neoliberalism generally charts a hollowing out of liberal democracy, places like Fukushima may have never enjoyed democratic culture to begin with. It was vulnerable to plant construction in the 1960s and 1970s because it lacked the sense of local autonomy it would have needed to recognize TEPCO’s promised wealth as a poor substitute for control over its own land, safety, and solidarity. And it was further hurt by what Kamanaka identifies as one of the electric company’s favorite tricks, setting pro- and anti-nuclear factions against each other. Animosities would revive and deepen when the community was forced to decide whether or not to evacuate after 3.11. Kamanaka’s account of these disputes is one place where she speaks of the need to reassert democracy by opening the kind of civic space or gap by which it functions. That is, in places with strong histories of civic activism – she mentions Hokkaido, Nagano, Shiga, Shimane and various Kyushu Prefectures – experience with collective action allows “people to work toward a single goal even with those with whom they disagree.” The goal acts as a rallying point, and what keeps the community together is not achieving it but orbiting around it, despite differences. Conceptually, this is the same gap to which Wendy Brown gestures when she says that even though liberal democracy almost always falls short of its ideals, it is precisely the divide “between formal principles and concrete existence [that] provides the scene of paradox [and] contradiction that social movements of every kind have exploited for more than three centuries.”10
So how can documentary film help open this divide? Early in the interview Kamanaka identifies factual accuracy as a key subject of her films. Especially with Living Through Internal Radiation in 2012, her goal was to empower viewers by replacing the safety myth with “radiation exposure literacy.” But to inquire after the divide in question is to linger on lengthier passages at the heart of the interview that focus on ideals rather than facts. With reference, one imagines, to the joyfulness at the center not only of Living Through Internal Radiation but also of Rokkasho from 2006, Ashes to Honey from 2011 and Little Voices from 2015, Hirano remarks, “Your films make us feel especially keenly your conviction that democracy is fundamentally a matter of building community in the place where you live, by your own will and determination, according to your own vision.” It’s an evocative phrase, “In the place where you live.” Kamanaka’s films are full of scenes of hands, mouths and bottoms in contact with the soil, the sea, and the food they provide. What sustains viewers amidst themes of nuclear sacrifice and collusion are the bonds between the people attached to these hands, mouths and bottoms, and their celebration, against all odds, of living lightly on and with the earth.
Kamanaka speaks in the interview of a “chemical reaction of consciousness” (ishiki no kagaku henka) that she wants audiences to experience at her community screening events.11 With this phrase, she gestures toward at least two kinds of transformation. “This is how angry I am at the government for telling lies,” she wants them to be able to say out loud, especially if for the first time. “This is how much I want to begin speaking about the crushing anxiety I’ve been feeling.” This is one transformation. The second, more classically democratic transformation, begins, “This is how much I too want to build a community-in-place.” “This is how much I admire the people in Kama’s film, who find a way to begin speaking with each other, across fear, across isolation, across differences.” Her films set up a yearning, a desire to bridge the gap between the reality and the ideal. Audiences may arrive afraid and alone, pressed by what characters from Little Voices identify as the government’s perceived injunctions: “Evacuate or not! Live or die! It’s your responsibility! You choose!” (Figure 1). But after an hour of post-screening discussion they break free from the lonely quarantine of neoliberalism’s “responsibilized” individuality and find themselves part of a group. As Hirano remarks with admiration, “It’s the spontaneous birth of activism.”

Figure 1: Noro Mika in Little Voices of Fukushima


Will You Still Say No Crime Has Been Committed? Agamben and the Japanese Constitution

One of the most gratifying moments in the interview is when Kamanaka and Hirano speculate about how a post-3.11 “state scholar” (goyō gakusha) like Yamashita Shun’ichi could have justified his actions to himself. When the Nagasaki University Medical Professor and author of a World Health Organization study of Chernobyl’s epidemiological legacy12 was dispatched to Fukushima after the triple-meltdowns to assure residents that children didn’t need to take iodine pills and that there were “no immediate health risks,” was he himself convinced? Of course not, Kamanaka replies. But this is where political theorist Giorgio Agamben’s work is relevant, as Hirano points out by introducing the phrase reigai jōtai no kōzō, or “state of exception.” What Hirano means is that Yamashita is thinking in much the same way as mid-century political theorists like Carl Schmitt and Clinton Rossiter, who justified authoritarianism with the logic that “no sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself.”13 Agamben cites thinkers like Schmitt and Rossiter in order to warn us that “states of exception” have come to define modern democracies. They are not, as we like to think, extreme cases: rare situations in which democracy fails when executive orders override the rule of law. Rather, states of exception increasingly operate as democracy’s default mode.

In Fukushima, when Yamashita put nation ahead of region; when he put “what the Japanese government ha[d] decided” over what the people of Fukushima deserved, he perhaps more vividly than any single actor helped abandon Fukushima to what Agamben calls “the no-man’s land between public law and political fact.”14 The Japanese constitution of 1947 guarantees “individual dignity” (Article 24), “public health” (Article 25) and “life and liberty” (Article 31); this is the law.15 But according to Kamanaka, the political fact, at least in Yamashita’s mind, was that securing these rights for the majority would require denying them to Fukushima. Rather than acknowledge that public law would be suspended, he convinced himself that the safety myth would do a better job of “avoiding the escalation of fear, social panic, and community destruction” that would have been caused by mandatory evacuations. This is how the government rescinded basic human rights without anyone speaking about criminal responsibility.16

Meanwhile, as Kamanaka points out, there is no better way to destroy a community than to force it to disavow its own panic and accept temporary crisis measures as permanent arrangements. Here the raising of the legal allowable annual radiation exposure from 1 to 20 millisieverts is but one obvious example.17 A compelling moment in the interview comes when Kamanaka describes the psychological effects of inhabiting the compressed temporality of this sort of endless emergency:

It’s as if people are living only by their reflexes, playing some sort of mindless video game. They no longer think in terms of contexts and narratives; there’s no sense of history, or reflecting on cause and effect within the flow of time and the particulars of chronology. What we’re seeing is the proliferation of a style of living only with what is right in front of one’s eyes.

By using social media to gather community members and put her films in front of their eyes, each others’ voices in their ears, Kamanaka aims to reopen time, reopen contexts and narratives and relationships. It’s a task made difficult, she says, first by the Japanese education system’s failure to nurture self-expression, and second by the post 3.11 pro-nuclear faction’s success in labeling those who give voice to the collective injury of sustained worry as part of the problem – as circulators of “fūhyō higai” or “harmful rumors.” Kamanaka’s point is that it is essential to reopen a space between the mainstream media as sole purveyor of truth, and alternative media as at least equally true. The harder it is to open the distinction, the more valuable it is for Japanese democracy.

She explains that back in March 2011 local newspapers like Fukushima Minpō and Fukushima Minyū had no idea that high radiation readings were making the failure to evacuate many areas of the prefecture a violation of national law.18 The reason these papers waited to report on the accident until Tokyo told them what to say, repeating it obediently with no analysis, was that the very possibility of local investigative journalism had long since been shut down by the nuclear industry itself. Since the 1960s when the plants were first built, TEPCO had been the single biggest source of advertising revenue for every newspaper, television and radio station in the prefecture. As a result, there was no history of interest in or talent for nuclear reporting beyond the safety myth. This is how it was possible for Yamashita Shun’ichi to reaffirm that myth at precisely the moment it seemed most absurd. By contesting it, Kamanaka is making a crucial intervention.

Another reason Agamben is useful for framing Kamanaka’s intervention is that he keeps us from reading Fukushima’s state of exception as a uniquely Japanese political phenomenon, a return of pre-war Japanese fascism. As Hirano points out, Kamanaka’s films, particularly Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003), show how Japan learned to mix its schizophrenic cocktail – both affirming the need for nuclear sacrifice and denying the extent of nuclear harm — directly from the United States. At the Cold War nuclear production site in Hanford Washington, featured in the film, only a small fraction of cancers suffered by people living downwind of nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes is publically acknowledged to be the effect of radioactivity. What is more, when Kamanaka interviews Hanford families for her 2003 film, we witness their willingness to justify this small percentage with a rhetoric of heroic sacrifice: “This is how we won the Cold War” they say, in Hirano’s paraphrase.

Agamben’s point is that this sort of suspension of human rights is integral not only to the smooth operation of fascism but increasingly, throughout the 20th century, to those very democracies that like to uphold themselves as examples for the rest of the world: England, France, Italy, the United States. He helps us see how vulnerable we have been to authoritarianism all along, and how crucial it is to strengthen democracy not by petitioning our respective executive branches, which are already far too good at overriding the legislative branch, but by practicing representative government locally, in towns and villages. It’s in this context that we can perhaps best appreciate Kamanaka’s remark,

Especially when faced with “national this” and “the Abe administration’s that,” I think being able to decide how to solve problems at a local level – the problems we face in the places where we live, and where we’ve put down roots – is crucial to cultivating a democratic society. That’s why I don’t spend much time at weekly protests in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence (kantei mae). If I’m always making the rounds with my films. . . to the prefectures, it’s because I’ve come to believe that the center has no hope of changing if these other places don’t change first.


Two Different “Revolutions Underfoot”

There’s no question that when Kamanaka speaks of “ashimoto no kakumei” at the end of the interview she is referring to this sort of “revolution from below” — to democratic activism as an exercise in local autonomy. But let me quote from the final sections to suggest an additional meaning. Kamanaka says:

True transformation emerges from everyday living, not from historical principles or dogma. In this sense I have to say that, like Mutō Ruiko, I believe in “women’s sensitivities” (onna to iu kanjō).19 It’s because women are the ones who live daily life most intimately. Whether they live in the city or the countryside, women cook, women do laundry, and women sort the trash. [. . .] Where the maintenance of daily life is concerned, [they] are the ones who do it closest to the source. Of course one could object that statements like this presume natural gender differences. But my point is that in society as it actually exists, clearly it’s overwhelmingly women who do this work. Isn’t that why women are the ones who are best able to sustain political movements that derive from daily life? The discovery of potential within the act of living itself seems old, but it’s quite new.

In the interview, Kamanaka stops short of explaining how the kinds of carework (cooking, laundry) she references can fuel political transformation. But what’s remarkable about both her post-3.11 films is that they document the potential inherent in nuclear carework in particular – the potential unleashed when people attempt to keep food and bodies safe from an ionizing radiation whose impact can never be fully measured or known. In addition to “revolution from below” as radical democracy in the form of local autonomy, the films also document a revolution that begins from a lack of autonomy. That is, they document what happens when we acknowledge that humans are not in control of the unfolding nuclear event, and that its bearing on our health is as much in the hands of external material forces as in our own.

How is this revolutionary? As the fields of philosophy of science and Science and Technology Studies have long argued, what Kamanaka calls “the potential within the act of living” is a material potential, a physical impetus that forces innovation in both thinking and living.20 Living Through Internal Radiation, from 2012, documents this innovation in the affective labor of frontline radiation doctors. Little Voices of Fukushima, from 2015, documents it in the affective labor of mothers. What we appreciate watching the films together is that they portray the doctors and the mothers doing much of the same work, work that philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has dubbed “small-s” science for the humility and patience necessary to acknowledge “the possibility that it is not man but the material that ‘asks the questions,’ that has a story to tell, which one has to learn to unravel.”21 Attuning themselves to the interval between what Kamanaka calls in her interview “the time it takes for the radioactive material to establish itself in the body, and for the body to begin changing in response,” her doctors and mothers know that to study radiation is to listen as it asks its own questions of the bodies it affects, and not assume that they are in charge. Hida Shuntarō, the Hiroshima oncologist who became a mentor to Kamanaka when she returned from making Hibakusha at the End of the World in Iraq, explains the medical consequences of this with wonderful simplicity. He says, “there is no treatment for exposure itself; there is no safe amount of exposure; any amount can cause illness. But there is healthcare for extending life.”22

The Four Doctors of Living Through Internal Radiation

We get a vivid example of this kind of healthcare from the first doctor in Living Through Internal Radiation, Valentina Smolnikova. Working as a pediatrician in a town in Belarus 160 kilometers from Chernobyl, Smonikova discovers that thyroid cancer, the most direct effect of nuclear exposure, is far from the dominant problem.23 Given that the half-life of Cesium 137 is 30 years, and that internal exposure through contaminated food, air and even placental nutrients lodges in the body, what Smolnikova says she has treated most frequently since 1986 are compromised immune systems, anemia, weak bones, low birth weights, congenital defects, respiratory problems and, not least, mental health (stress, headaches, insomnia, fear). Kamanaka’s film gives equal attention to the long arc of Smolnikova’s expertise, built over decades of experience, and to short snatches of her maternal care — for her own family, and for patients like a depressed orphan in his late teens, abandoned when his parents turned to alcohol. These scenes underscore the interrelationship of medical care and affective care, emphasizing the emotional intensity of both, and the patience and humility necessary to understand how radiation manifests differently in different bodies over time.

Figure 2: Valentina Smolnikova in Living Through Internal Radiation

Humility and emotion are emphasized also by a second doctor, Smolinkova’s Japanese colleague Kamata Minoru, when he explains the key concept of “hoyō,” or respite care. Recalling his own work in Belarus, Kamata relates how studies undertaken in part through the Japan Chernobyl Foundation in the 1990s and 2000s proved that regular respite care in clean environments with clean food can reduce internal radiation significantly.24 Although these reductions are measured in discrete units, the emotional support and nutritional cleansing that coax them to happen are impossible to quantify. Precisely because the cause-effect relationship remains imperfectly understood, Kamata asserts (Figure 3), “It’s not enough to check kids’ thyroids. We need to have a system for looking after the body in its entirety, the emotions in their entirety.” In such scenes, Kamanaka affirms that radiation is asking its own questions of childrens’ bodies and minds, and that the responses can only begin to be unraveled, however partially, by doctors for whom paradigm-shifting epidemiological discoveries like hoyō are linked to everyday care.

Figure 3: Kamata Minoru in Living Through Internal Radiation

In perhaps the most powerful scene from Living Through Internal Radiation, 94-year-old Hida Shuntarō, himself a Hiroshima survivor, moves seamlessly from the technical language he needs to explain recent developments in oncological science to the elemental language he needs for his medical practice, and his own self-care. Having cited a paper by a Russian researcher that proves ionizing radiation causes illness not, as everyone had assumed, by harming genes in the nucleus of cells, but rather by affecting cytoplasm and mitochondria outside the nucleus, he continues (Figure 4):

Figure 4: Hida Shuntarō in Living Through Internal Radiation

There is only one thing humans can do, and that is,

use the force of living to gather all their might,

and determine to live a long healthy life.

Thinking and living this way require courage and stamina.

. . . .

You can never live just any old way.

From the way you eat your meals, to the way you sleep at night,

to the way you make love, to the way you work,

and the way you play.

You have to concentrate [your courage and stamina].

This is the only way to fight ionizing radiation.

Kamanaka’s cinematographer Iwata Makiko lingers over Hida’s fingers here, and his healthy skin, and the way he leans back in his leather chair in his own home, comfortable and open, as she records the precision with which his ninety-four year-old-lips form their syllables. Viewers’ filmic interaction with Hida is thus itself quite loving, and helps us intuit how Kamanaka decided to follow up her 2012 doctors’ film with a 2015 mothers’ film. Kodama Tatsuhiko,25 a medical doctor who directs the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo, is the fourth doctor she introduces in Living Through Internal Radiation. In this scene (Figure 5), he makes the connection between doctors and mothers explicit:

Figure 5: Kodama Tatsuhiko in Living Through Internal Radiation


Mothers who are taking radiation seriously are truly turning the tide in Japan; I’d be grateful if you could convey my thanks to them. Watching their efforts, we [scientists] find it easy to cheer them on, and we’re pleased that they exist not only in Fukushima but throughout the country. [. . .] Government officials are constantly telling them that a certain level of radiation is fine, that they shouldn’t worry. But they are having none of it, and their arguments are revolutionary. I think they should absolutely be proud, and continue fighting.

Because the sound quality of Kodama’s clip is not good, Kamanaka may have vacillated on whether to include it. No doubt she kept it because Kodama is rebutting so forcefully the idea that carework amounts only to unpaid, apolitical female labor.26


Care as Filmmaking, Filmmaking as Pedagogy: Little Voices of Fukushima

In Japanese, the title of Little Voices of Fukushima is Chiisaki koe no canon: A Canon of Little Voices. Because this film too emphasizes what post-Fukushima Japan can learn from post-Chernobyl Belarus, “canon” may conjure a single melody sung first in one place and then another. Yet we soon realize that there is little straightforward repetition. Little Voices toggles between lessons learned and taught first by Smolnikova and other mothers in Belarus, second by a group of mothers in the town of Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, and third by the women directors of a respite care center in Hokkaido where both Belarusian and now Japanese children come to recover.27 In each case, women struggle mightily first to master the melody and keep it going. Because it can only be sung in harmony with radiation itself, it takes its toll. In this sense, the “littleness” of the voices refers also to their tentativeness. Each new chorus must attune itself to a different set of material circumstances, a differently irradiated set of bodies.

We follow the Nihonmatsu mothers as they begin to channel their fear and anger into acts of resistance that are also acts of radiation care: starting a vegetable co-op to distribute safe produce, removing contaminated vegetation along school routes, taking tentative first respite-care trips with their kids, and, Kamanaka is careful to emphasize, providing the emotional support for each other that sustains the mental health of the entire community. Despite triumphant scenes of the formerly apolitical mothers attending a Prefectural Health Survey meeting and speaking out at an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo,28 their gains are summarized most poignantly late in the film. After letting us enjoy the high spirits of the expanding vegetable co-op, Kamanaka takes us outside alone with Endō Fumiyo, whose chubby face, ready wit, and tearful doctor visits have endeared her to us in several earlier scenes. When Kamanaka asks, “do you feel supported?” she replies “Yes. Things are expanding in a circle, no, – no, in a spider’s web. And it must be rough for [our supporters who send us the vegetables and invite us on respite trips], because we’re all so heavy!” What Endō has discovered is that the kind of health care capable of extending irradiated life is not geometrically sturdy like a circle. Rather, it is delicate and fragile, almost invisible, like a spider web. Difficult to spin and even more difficult to inhabit, it is what she has learned she must count on, nonetheless.

This sort of reliance on the most tenuous of connections can at times feel remote from the lessons Belarus is teaching. When Kamanaka shows us a map (Figure 6) that applies Belarusian safety standards to Fukushima, it seems clear that, at least since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has taken much better care of irradiated citizens than Japan since 2011.29 As we see from the red shading for “enforced evacuation zone” (kyōsei hinan kuiki), if Endō’s town of Nihonmatsu were in Belarus, it would have been declared uninhabitable and its citizens relocated with state support. Yet even if Belarusian measurements are confident and straightforward, how the country treats exposed citizens is not.

Figure 6: Map of Fukushima with Post-1991 Belarusian Evacuation Standards Applied. Areas in red represent what Belarus would consider “mandatory evacuation” zones. Areas in pink show actual mandatory evacuation zones as determined by Japanese standards.


In a voiceover, Kamanaka explains that by means of a state respite care system, children between the ages of 3 and 17 who live in places with annual radiation readings greater than one millisievert are sent to one of 14 national recuperation centers for 24 days at a time, twice a year.31 Little Voices spends a long time in these centers, observing what Kamanaka’s voiceover calls “gentle, holistic and natural” treatments that eschew western-style drugs in favor of therapies like “mucous membrane stimulation for the immune system,” “mineral-rich asthma treatment,” “carbon dioxide gas-baths to stimulate the production of oxygen,” “massage for bronchitis and lung disease,” and “salt therapy for respiratory issues.” Viewers may feel a degree of prejudice toward the former Soviet Bloc’s kooky-looking, low-tech medical apparati when they first watch these scenes. But what are these treatments if not ways to inhabit the interval between exposure and cellular response, and to cajole damaged DNA toward rest and regeneration? In the face of humanity’s failure to control its most advanced technology to date, mucus membrane stimulators and carbon dioxide baths remind us again that it is not humanity but the material that gets to ask questions, which we must learn to unravel.

Perhaps the most powerful scenes in Little Voices of Fukushima are shot in Hokkaido at the respite care (hoyō) center, which occupies a repurposed elementary school. When interviewing in Fukushima and Belarus, Kamanaka typically speaks to children and mothers directly, in respectful tones and at their height. In Hokkaido she asks fewer direct questions, and camerawoman Iwata Makiko’s lens moves distinctly lower. Viewers find themselves increasingly alone with kids who are crying, or fighting, or urinating. With no other grownups in the frame, they talk to the camera as if it were the parent on duty. In one scene, the camera hurries over to two brothers on the school stage, one of whom has just burst out crying. When we arrive the other looks at the camera and explains, “He said he hit his head.” (Figure 7)

Figure 7: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In another, several boys are jumping in a plastic-lined pool dug into a ditch filled with warm water. One tumbles in head-first and wrenches his neck. Wailing, he looks at the camera while two others look at him and tell him he’s an idiot. (Figure 8)

Figure 8: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In a third scene, a toddler trails his fingers slowly along the wall of an empty corridor making his way slowly away from the camera, which is at his height. When he calls out “mommy?” “mommy?” we feel like answering him. (Figure 9)

Figure 9: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In a fourth, a child walks alone to the bathroom to collect a urine sample. Although we hear him talking to one of the women who runs the center, the camera does not show her. Instead it crouches with him at knee-level as he holds up his shirt with one hand and aims into the bottle with the other. Looking into the camera he asks, “could you hold it a little lower?” (Figure 10)

Figure 10: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

Kamanaka’s lesson for viewers is that we too have something to learn from carework. Rather than dismiss it as abject or apolitical, she performs it, and honors it. “True transformation comes from everyday living” when we learn how to close the distance between the discourses that govern our lives, and the material origins that sustain and challenge them.


I would like to thank Kamanaka Hitomi and Katsuya Hirano for giving me a window into their respective projects and politics, and for their inspiration and insight. I would also like to thank Norma Field for her support and passion, and Mark Selden for his editing.


1The Ministry of Environment maintains a large “Decontamination Information Plaza” (Kankyō saisei purazā) at 〒960-8031 Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima, Sakaemachi, 1-31. In addition to extensive decontamination charts updated regularly at the plaza, the Ministry maintains interactive web-maps of “prefectural decontamination information by every city, town and village.”

2A script of Abe’s September 2013 speech to the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires is here. Documentary-makers Yoh Kawano (Human Error, 2017) and Kawai Hiroyuki (Nuclear Japan, 2014) both include a clip of the opening lines to underscore how defensive Abe’s Olympic bid sounds when he insists Tokyo is “one of the safest cities in the world, now and in 2020.” Despite the widely-reported dishonesty of this statement (see for instance, the 2020 benchmark is being honored, both with the games at large in Tokyo and with baseball and softball events which will take place in Fukushima, to “show the world the extent of its recovery.” See here.

3These towns include, from north to south, Iitate, Kawamata, Minamisōma, Namie, Katsurao, Futaba, Tamura, Ōkuma, Kawauchi, Tomioka and Naraha. Fukushima Prefecture updates its status maps in nine languages. As Katsuya Hirano points out in his interviews with both Namie municipal worker Suzuki Yūichi and Namie mayor Baba Tamotsu, policies of “return” (帰還) and “recovery” (復興) do not make total sense even to those charged with implementing them. Nevertheless, that they are the only recognized government benchmarks is clear from the naming of the affected areas. Every effort is made to turn the most toxic “difficult to repatriate” zones (帰還困難区域) into purportedly less polluted “residence-restricted zones” (居住制限区域). In turn, “residence restricted zones” are assigned dates for transition to a third category, “zones in preparation for the cancellation of evacuation” (避難指示解除準備区域). Upon cancellation, these zones return to “normal.”

4Wendy Brown. Undoing The Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015) 219.

5Kana Inagaki, Leo Lewis and Ed Crooks, “Downfall of Toshiba, A Nuclear Industry Titan,” The Financial Times, February 14, 2017.

6Mitsubishi Heavy Doubling Down on Areva with Fresh Investment,” Nikkei Asian Review, April 24, 2017.

7In the interview Kamanaka paraphrases their complaint as “江戸時代に戻るわけにはいかないんだ.”

8Kawai Hiroyuki, Nuclear Japan, documentary, (2014; Tokyo: K Project), iTunes, 0:40:00.

9Brown, Undoing, 27.

10Ibid., 206.

11In English, some of the best work on Kamanaka to date is by film scholar Hideaki Fujiki of Nagoya University. Fujiki discusses Kamanaka’s films in the larger context of these jishū jōei, local self-screening events, in “Networking Citizens through Film Screenings: Cinema and Media in Post-3/11 Social Movements.” Media Convergence in Japan. Ed. Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Carlin. Online Publication: Creative Commons, 2016. Fujiki discusses Kamanaka’s position on science, environmentalism, and documentary technique in “Problematizing Life: Documentary Films on the 3.11 Nuclear Catastrophe.” Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster. Ed. Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt. London: Routledge, 2016.

12See Yamashita and Repacholi, Chernobyl Telemedicine Project 1999 – 2004: Final Report of the Joint Project with the World Health Organization, the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation and the Republic of Belarus. In the introduction to her study of Chernobyl, anthropologist Adriana Petryna cites the key role played by the World Health Organization in minimizing the accident’s significance for local and global health (xv). Petryna’s analysis of the supporting roles played by NGOs and other providers of “international assistance” singles out “the Japanese Sasakawa Fund” in particular for sending foreign experts to the Zone to abstract data without understanding the “complex interdependencies between thyroid and other physiological systems” (159). See Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

13Clinton Rossiter in Constitutional Dictatorship (1948), quoted in Giorgio Agamben. State of Exception. Trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 9.

14Agamben, 205.

15See here.

16It is in this context that the legal efforts of the “Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster” (Fukushima genpatsu kokusodan) are so significant. Norma Field and Matthew Mizenko have translated their publication Will You Still Say No Crime Was Committed? Statements by 50 Complainants, as an e-book available on amazon. For updates on the trial, see here and here. For accounts of activist Mutō Ruiko’s central role in bringing the case to trial, see Tomomi Yamaguchi, “Mutō Ruiko and the Movement of Fukushima Residents to Pursue Criminal Charges against TEPCO Executives and Government Officials, APJ-Japan Focus, July 1, 2012. Also on Mutō Ruiko see Norma Field, “From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step, APJ-Japan Focus, September 1, 2016, and Katsuya Hirano, “Interview with Mutō Ruiko”.

17On the raising of annual allowable radiation exposure, see Note 18.

18Until April 2011 the Japanese government followed standards set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (IRCP) allowing a maximum exposure of 1 millisieverts per year for the general public and 20 millisieverts per year for nuclear workers. When Kamanaka remarks that Fukushima’s local newspapers “did not know that by Japanese law people cannot live” (日本の法律で[放射線管理区域に]人は住めない) in areas with official measurements above one millisievert per year, she is referring to these standards. For more on the standards themselves, and the Japanese government’s decision to raise them in April 2011, see Norma Field, “From Fukushima, To Despair Properly”, note 7, and Katsuya Hirano, Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano “Reconstruction Disaster: The Human Implications of Japan’s Forced Return Policy in Fukushima,” note 1.

19On Mutō Ruiko, see Note 16.

20In science and technology studies, see Bruno Latour, especially We Have Never Been Modern, Trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993) and Facing Gaia, Trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2017). In philosophy of science, see Isabelle Stengers, especially In Catastrophic Times, Trans. Andrew Goffey (Online: Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Another Science is Possible, Trans. Stephen Muecke (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018). In feminist philosophy, see Elizabeth Grosz, especially The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics and the Limits of Materialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).

21Isabelle Stengers, Power and Invention: Situating Science. Trans. Paul Bains (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 126.

22Hida Shuntarō, quoted in Kamanaka Hitomi, Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara (Tokyo: Kage shobō, 2009) 33. For a biographical sketch of HIda, see here.

23For a biographical sketch of Smolnikova, see here. After Chernobyl, Smolnikova’s town of Buda-Koshelvo, 150 km from the disaster, accepted many refugees from towns that were closer and more contaminated. But she is careful to document significant health problems from radiation exposure among children from her own town, and among children born long after 1986.

24For a biographical sketch of Kamata, see here. On the Japan Chernobyl Foundation (JCF), see here.

25For a biographical sketch of Kodama see here. In his capacity as Tokyo University Radioisotope Center Director, Kodama was assigned a leadership role in Fukushima decontamination. In July 2011 he delivered a livid speech before the House of Representatives Health Labor and Welfare Committee (shūgiin kōsei rōdō iinkai) decrying the government’s failure to acknowledge the scale of the public health crisis or deal with it adequately. For Kyoko Selden’s translation of the speech, see here.

26This is the conclusion drawn in anthropologist Aya Hirata Kimura’s major new book Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima (Duke, 2016). Kimura argues that mothers who band together to monitor food safety after Fukushima are constrained by three mutually constitutive social forces: “scientism,” neoliberalism, and post-feminism. When they measure and publicize radiation in food, their work is recognized as “scientific,” but only to the degree that it satisfies the neoliberal expectation that private citizens take care of themselves rather than count on state protection. Like the philanthropic work of civil society writ large, which is allowed to compensate for aggressive profiteering but never question it, citizen science is gendered female: nurturing, non-productive, and non-threatening. In Kimura’s analysis, the result is classic post-feminism: female citizen-scientists are allowed “an entry into the public sphere, but only on the condition of complacency with the existing power structure and of adherence to hegemonic femininity”(17). See Aya Hirata Kimura, Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima (Duke University Press, 2016).

27The respite care center in Shiribeshi, Rusutsu-mura is run by Noro Mika and her organization “Bridge to Chernobyl,” which began collaborating with Smolnikova’s non-profit “Children of Chernobyl” in the early 1990s. For a biographical sketch of Noro, see here. The vegetable co-op is overseen by Sasaki Ruri at the Shingyōji Temple run by her husband, Pure Land priest Sasaki Michinori. For profiles and interviews with both Ruri and Michinori, see Iwakami Yasumi, Hyakunin hyakuwa dainishū (Tokyo: San’ichi shobo, 2014) 189-209.

28We see them react incredulously as the Review Board (kentō iinkai) of the 14th Fukushima Prefectural Health Survey (kenmin kenkō chōsa) announces that a 100-fold increase in thyroid cancer is the result of more extensive screening, not actual illness. For the published results of the survey see here. One of the anti-nuclear rallies they attend is the “Million Mothers’ Tanabata Project” (Hyakuman’nin no hahatachi tanabata purojekuto) on 7 July 2013. For background see here.

29The map charts standards outlined in a piece of Belarusian legislation from November 12, 1991 that Kamanaka also introduces visually (in Russian,) “On the Legal Status of Territories Contaminated as a Result of the Chernobyl Accident.” See English translation.

30In another scene we see Smolnikova explain to mothers in a Belarusian community center that “you can remove half the radiation in a child’s body in 21 days” (1:09:05). At the hoyō center in Hokkaido, Bridge to Chernobyl NPO Director Noro Mika discusses hoyō in terms of one month: “It’s hard work to go from 20 Becquerels to ND (not detected) in one month” (1:35:20). Interpreting the results of the Hokkaido urinalysis by bar graph (1:38:14), Kamanaka’s voiceover highlights one boy whose numbers plummeted by 70% in just 12 days. As if in response to viewers’ surprise that so much can be accomplished in so short a time, Noro says, “back [when we first started treating children from Chernobyl], we didn’t understand why they recuperated so quickly. But now we think the reason kids recover in three weeks is because they’re kids.”


August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima, Media, Democracy: The Promise of Documentary Film

August 7, 2018
An Interview with Kamanaka Hitomi with Introduction by Katsuya Hirano
Translation and Footnotes by Margherita Long
Transcription by Akiko Anson
The original interview is available here:

This interview is accompanied by Margherita R. Long’s essay Japan’s 3.11 Nuclear Disaster and the State of Exception: Notes on Kamanaka’s Interview and Two Recent Films

Kamanaka Hitomi

Born in Toyama Prefecture, Kamanaka Hitomi entered Waseda University and joined her friends in a filmmaking club. Kamanaka won a scholarship from the Japanese government and spent time in Canada and the US between 1990 and 1995 studying at the National Film Board of Canada and working as a media activist at Paper Tiger in New York. Kamanaka then returned to Japan at the time of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that caused over 6,000 deaths and displaced over 300,000 people in the greater Kobe area of Japan in 1995. While working as a volunteer for the victims of the earthquake, she began to produce documentaries for NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) as a freelance director. Kamanaka’s first nuclear-related film, Hibakusha at the End of the World (Radiation: A Slow Death, 2003), won several awards, including one from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs for excellence in documentary. The film shed light on the transnational links of nuclear policies and their fatal consequences by comparing radiation effects at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the State of Washington, the effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi citizens during and after the first Gulf War, and victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hibakusha was the first of three works that came to be known as Kamanaka’s “nuclear trilogy.” Her second work, Rokkasho Rhapsody (2006) covered Rokkasho village residents’ rifts and struggles resulting from the still ongoing struggle over construction of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori Prefecture, Japan. Her third work, Ashes to Honey (2010), documented local residents’ struggle against the construction of a nuclear power plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In 2015, Kamanaka released Little Voices from Fukushima that followed the mothers in Fukushima who made every possible effort to protect their children from external and internal radioactive exposure, especially the effects of radiation on the thyroid glands of children following nuclear meltdowns, after the 3.11 nuclear disaster. By comparing their stories with those of Chernobyl victims’ ongoing struggle in Belarus, Little Voices highlights the necessity for measures to protect against radiation. Kamanaka is the only film director who has worked as a nuclear documentarian for over two decades, raising awareness about the gigantic profit-making structure known as the “nuclear village” or “nuclear mafia” consisting of international nuclear agencies, government, energy companies, and financial institutions and underscoring the overwhelming power exercised by this conglomerate of political and financial powers over local residents. Concerned with the fundamentally undemocratic nature of nuclear energy policies, Kamanaka combines her filmmaking and activism. Kamanaka taught filmmaking at Tokyo University of Technology from 2003-2011 as an associate professor and is currently affiliated with Tama Art University as a lecturer. I interviewed Kamanaka in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Kyoto in 2015 about her views of 3.11, filmmaking, and activism. This interview is based on those meetings. Professor Margherita Long offers an accompanying essay that puts Kamanaka’s idea of Fukushima, media, and democracy in a comparative perspective, and offers a reading of Kamanaka’s two most recent films. Katsuya Hirano.


What it means to make films after 3.11

Hirano: You’ve been addressing issues of nuclear power and nuclear exposure for a long time. Prior to 3.11 you made your “Nuclear Trilogy” with the three films Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003), Rokkasho Rhapsody (2006) and Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future (2010). Your most recent film Little Voices of Fukushima (2015) is a documentary shot after 3.11.1 Has the Fukushima nuclear accident changed your approach to filmmaking, or your thinking about filmmaking?

Kamanaka: Let me start by saying that my core motivation in making the nuclear trilogy was to lessen nuclear exposure worldwide. The more humans have used nukes – whether we call them “peaceful applications” of nuclear technology or “nuclear deterrents” to war – the more toxicity the planet at large has had to absorb.

What I came to understand in Iraq making Hibakusha at the End of the World was that as this toxicity spreads into people’s daily lives, future generations are the first to be sacrificed. As I was realizing that humanity would seal its own fate if it didn’t change course, and as I myself was meeting so many children who were dying, their futures cut short, I wanted to take some sort of action. This was my starting place.

Over the course of making the trilogy I was pondering, debating, and filming questions of what could be done and how the status quo could be changed. Yet as soon as I started searching for a way to capture that status quo on film, it became clear that even discerning it would be no easy task: the propaganda-driven manipulation of information blocks our view, nuclear power is imposed on us by a powerful lobby that robs us of our options for protecting the infrastructure of daily life, and basic facts are simply not understood. Also, while I could see that this was true on the one hand, I also came to appreciate the assumption, held by the great majority of Japanese people, that it is impossible to resist powerful stakeholders like the government and the electric companies. People have only a faint awareness that they are themselves the bearers of sovereign power in a democracy; this became clear to me for instance as I made Ashes to Honey and saw how hard it was for the people of Iwaishima to resist the Chugoku Electric Power Company.2 So what I wanted to put forward as I documented these various issues was a method for implementing positive solutions.

Then on March 11th 2011 the reality of a worst-case scenario nuclear accident took precedence over all the solutions that might have materialized if we hadn’t run out of time, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of powerlessness.


A Poster for Hibakusha

H: So when you say you ran out of time, do you mean that all the films you had made had in a certain sense failed, with respect to the unfolding disaster?

K: Yes that’s exactly what I mean. My intention had always been that no one be exposed to radiation, but the 3.11 accident had not only exposed a huge number of people, but was continuing to expose them, and would keep exposing them into the foreseeable future. Meanwhile to look at Fukushima, the most severely affected area, was to see the same “safety myth” propaganda as before the meltdowns sweeping up everything in its path, so that people continued to have no awareness of risk even as they were awash in radiation.

To some extent the harmful effects will manifest themselves with time and a sense of crisis will finally be born, but by then it will be too late – my films can’t simply deliver the truth now when it’s needed; they don’t work like television or the mass media. So I worried that anything I did might be useless. Yet as I kept pondering what course to follow, I couldn’t help concluding that people really need to know the truth.

It’s like the adage that what goes unrecorded never happened. If we never make a record of what is unfolding, if we never grasp what is actually taking place, all is forgotten: the past, present and future are rewritten at the convenience of a designated few. Nothing illustrates this as well as the problem of war memory. So I made up my mind to make work based on facts, work with a high-impact message. That’s why my first project [after 3.11] was Living Through Internal Radiation. I made it with the goal of increasing radiation exposure literacy, as a kind of tool for viewers.

When I’m making a film I’m always conscious of the fact that viewers will be looking for an answer. They want instant gratification, a kind of fast-food response to the question “Well, what are we supposed to do?” This was true especially after 3.11. I know the desire well myself, and that’s why I had such a feeling of powerlessness. What would be the point, if I couldn’t provide something that would be useful right away? But I knew I had to shake this conviction; I knew the most important thing was to convey the truth carefully and accurately, if only to one or two people at a time. That’s why I made Internal Radiation.

When faced with a critical situation like Fukushima, we tend to think in terms of miracles: “If only the world would mend its ways right this second!” But I came to understand that the only honest way forward was to start with the possible, with what we can do with the reality before us, even if it yields no immediately useful results.

H: Listening to you I’m hearing two salient points. First is that those in economic and political power hold on to their positions by ensuring a lack of proper record-keeping, of documentation of fact that are inconvenient to them and their organizations. So it’s important to keep recording what has been unfolding in various places, and to oppose their attitude of moving things along in the absence of documentation. That’s the first point.

The second is that the government responded quickly to the triple disasters and especially the nuclear accident with propaganda, disseminating a new safety myth to counter the prospect of radiation damage in Fukushima and elsewhere. Meanwhile, to leave a record in opposition is to disseminate facts at odds with government propaganda, even if those facts don’t sink in right away. My sense is that your [immediate post 3.11] work shows not only that this is possible, but that it can represent a timely, concrete political intervention into the “state of emergency” that the government uses to conceal the truth and make it legal to trample on human rights.

In other words, what you’ve accomplished by means of your documentary filmmaking is to intervene both in history (by carefully recording facts and memories) and into the political status quo (by resisting the propaganda of the government, the electric company, and the mass media). Without your intervention, everyone would have fallen in line with the safety myth.

K: Well, in fact people are falling in line. It’s because of the overwhelming power of the government, TEPCO, and the media.

H: True enough. The government offers these simplistic resolution policies: “A little soil decontamination and you’ll be all set to move back!” “There’s no need to worry about radiation!” Although people harbor doubts, it’s natural to want to indulge the fantasy. Meanwhile, the message you’ve wanted to send in opposition is that things are not so simple; that we need a firm grasp of what’s really happening, so that we can start from a place of comprehension.

K: Right. But even that is still beyond most people. So the question is how to construct an alternative media, and how to use filmic media to sustain connections. What I’m struggling with most now is this problem of continuity: of funding streams, and also of networks.

Tokyo University dining halls are currently serving 500-yen lunch specials with names like “Fukushima Plate” and “Namie Dish.” They feature Fukushima rice and vegetables and are enormously popular with women students, selling out in a flash to comments from the students along the lines of “It must be safe, because it’s within radiation limits set by the government!” and “If anything, it’s tested food from Fukushima that we can eat with confidence!” These sorts of scenarios really hit home how resolutely the pro-nuclear energy establishment has been trivializing the accident.

With what sort of filmic technique is it possible to address this mindset, and relay a truth that is for them unspeakable and unknowable? It’s not clear one could ever secure enough funding for such a task!

H: This strategy of replacing the prospect of internal radiation with images of eating right, then selling the package to women college students is horrific, isn’t it? It’s unbelievably underhanded to satisfy students’ ethical impulses by convincing them they’re supporting Fukushima’s economic recovery by consuming Fukushima food.

K: It seems to me that the nature of discourse within Japan has changed dramatically since 3.11. We’ve seen the birth of a psychology that can recognize a lie perfectly well, then internalize it regardless.

H: I know what you mean. People know the line they’re being fed smells fishy, but they end up accepting it because it’s what they want to hear and it makes them feel safe. They’ve stopped being able to think properly, buffeted since the disasters by catch-phrases like “recovery” (fukkō), “bonds” (kizuna), and “Hang in There Fukushima!” (ganbare Fukushima). This is why they cast reason aside and fall in line with whomever offers the quickest solution.

K: Yes, it’s as if people are living only by their reflexes, playing some sort of mindless video game. They no longer think in terms of contexts and narratives; there’s no sense of history, or reflecting on cause and effect within the flow of time and the particulars of chronology. What we’re seeing is the proliferation of a style of living only with what is right in front of one’s eyes.

Within this sort of ephemeral atmosphere, Abe Shinzō’s regime can push through whatever it wants because its majority in the Diet is so secure. Things they’ve been unable to accomplish for seventy years of Postwar Democracy they’re accomplishing now in the blink of an eye. Those of us who can see what’s happening think how awful it is, and that we’d better do something, all while being dragged hopelessly along.

One example is the easing of the Three Principles on Arms Exports; apparently it’s fine now for Japan to sell weapons.3 Very few Japanese are even aware of the fact that Mitsubishi has been allowed to manufacture and sell tanks. While policy-makers are advancing their own projects the whole process is obscured in a black box, and ordinary citizens go about their lives with no inkling of what’s happening. By the time the flames come licking up around them it will be too late! But they don’t know this either. In my observation, we have already headed down a pretty dangerous path.

H: Here we arrive at the topic of the picture book (2004) and film project (2015) with which you’ve been involved, “What Happens Before War”?4

K: Indeed. And of course one of the issues addressed by both those projects is how to resist being swept up in the flow of time, to resist the inevitable militarization. That’s why when I’m asked whether my way of making films has changed since 3.11, I have to say that fundamentally it has not. My films have always aimed to provide the viewer with a full understanding of historical context, and his or her place within it. It’s only by means of such an understanding that we can solve problems. That’s why I think filmmaking is crucial.

H: It seems to me that in fact the act of thinking historically is exactly this act of pondering our historical situation in as broad a context as possible, and grasping its topology or phase as specifically as we can. This is what being a historian has in common with your way of making documentaries.

It’s precisely at times like this, when everyone is agitated and we feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us, that we need an approach that doesn’t lose sight of the big picture becomes that much more essential.

K: It seems that documentary films, like history, force us to think about what it means that we’re socially positioned the way we are. Prior to 3.11, I focused on getting people to ask why we (people in Japan and other “advanced countries”) are able to exist amidst such wealth. I wanted them to consider the aggression inherent in achieving this affluence at the expense of the rest of the world’s poverty. Wasn’t it the very fact of our living in wealthy societies that made each of us in some sense a perpetrator of suffering? This is one of the points I tried to get across with my film Hibakusha at the End of the World.

H: Hibakusha was a film that took up the injustice of Global North versus Global South.

K: You’re right it was, of people being trampled underfoot from deep in the past until far in the future, and as a structural problem, rather than mere coincidence.

H: Exactly. Within an unjust and asymmetrical world structure.

K: Asymmetry. It’s such an important concept. When 120-odd people are killed in Paris there’s not a single world leader or “developed country” media outlet that doesn’t call it a “huge tragedy.” But when 600,000 Iraqi children fall victim to American and NATO bombs, or are sacrificed to civil war, it never makes the news.5 This is the exorbitant asymmetry of our world. Without understanding this distortion it’s also impossible to understand where terrorism comes from, and why it proliferates.

H: I couldn’t agree more.

K: That’s why I think it’s crucial for us to realize that if we’re all being used as leverage to squeeze the Global South, we can also remove our personal weight from that equation, one by one, and counter the distortion by standing against it. It’s not unrelated to the warped relationality between Fukushima and Tokyo, between the cities and the provinces.

H: Being committed to theorizing this relationality or structure is really important, I agree. It’s what your film Hibakusha succeeds in doing so well.

K: I’m so glad you think so.


Information Control: The State and the Nuclear Industry

H: Hibakusha at the End of the World shows how tightly the nuclear energy industries in Japan, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union controlled information about nuclear risk. Watching the film we feel that an entire system of concealment has developed to obscure the realities of exposure after a nuclear accident.

K: Right, and in this sense Chernobyl represents a total failure of the system. That accident harmed a wide area, and the idea that radiation exposure is terrifying was fairly widely disseminated across the affected area. So from the perspective of international nuclear power advocates, Chernobyl was completely mishandled.

There was a great deal of work done on the realities of exposure, and it became clear not only that children would be born with congenital defects, but also that the effects of radiation would be passed on to the next generation. This created a situation in which, all around the world, just the word “Chernobyl” immediately conjured a nuclear accident. Regretting this, nuclear advocates began stepping up their efforts to control information.

H: This needs to be seen as something that happened on a global scale, doesn’t it, through offices like the IAEA.

K: Exactly. What’s more, the IAEA has direct ties to Japan, in the sense that those who promote nuclear energy in Japan are intimately connected to key players in the IAEA. After all, Japan’s position within the global nuclear energy industry is increasingly central.

With Toshiba purchasing a controlling share of Westinghouse, and Mitsubishi investing heavily in Areva, it’s not an overstatement to say that Japan is assuming a leadership role in the global nuclear industry.6 Areva ran up a huge deficit on the construction of the Olkiluoto plant in Finland, and just when it was facing fiscal crisis Mitsubishi Heavy Industries stepped in.7

As you’re well aware, however, we mustn’t forget that the roots of controlling information about nuclear exposure and the risks of nuclear energy stretch all the way back to policies developed at the time of the first nuclear bombs. There’s historical continuity here. Directly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or even before that, during the process of developing the technology, the minimization of exposure and the concealment of harm were already taking place on a grand scale.

H: Do you think it’s accurate to view what happened with 3.11 as an instance of this larger operation of information control? Immediately after the triple-meltdowns the Japanese government dispatched “government scholars” (goyō gakusha) like Yamashita Shun’ichi to give public lectures at dozens of places in Fukushima, and these lectures were covered with zero criticism by television, radio and newspaper companies that disgorged their contents without changing a single word.

K: Yes, that’s how I view it. Of course, Yamashita Shun’ichi is a unique character who played a specific role. Because he is a Chernobyl specialist there were very few people who could rebut his arguments. It was he after all who had taken the initiative to produce the most comprehensive epidemiological survey after Chernobyl. True, the Y500,000,000 ($4.5M) he spent on the survey came from the Sasakawa Foundation, but still . . .8

The government and TEPCO were well aware of this. Because Yamashita was president of the Japan Thyroid Association, in dispatching him they were forming a precise battle formation, with someone who seemed unbeatable out in front. As for the media simply disgorging everything he said, that set up the basic structure of information dissemination that started right after the Fukushima nuclear accident and continues to this day.

H: Still, a scholar like Mr. Yamashita — surely he knows what he’s doing when he manufactures and disseminates supporting evidence for the safety myth? Don’t you think he’s aware that he is concealing the truth?

K: Yes I think he is definitely aware. But I think he and all the other “government scholars” have bought into the government and nuclear industry’s logic of collateral damage. This is how I read his notorious statement “I am a Japanese. I will honor what the Japanese nation has decided.”9 He’s tacitly acknowledging that nuclear contamination and radiation exposure will be explained away as unfortunate but ancillary events. It’s the reasoning that this is the most appropriate way to avoid the escalation of fear toward radiation, and to avoid the extensive damage of social panic and community destruction that would be caused by mandatory evacuations.

H: So they deal with the accident as an unavoidable ancillary event caused by chance rather than as a structural problem, rather than as a case of criminal negligence resulting in death and carrying criminal repercussions. In turn, this generates even bigger profits and shores up the system that drives the whole operation. A certain number of people have to sacrifice themselves in order not only for profits to continue to flow, but also for the nation not to descend into chaos. This is the logic.

K: Right, and we can see how it lines up perfectly with the American logic we’ve heard repeated since 1945, that dropping atomic bombs and killing 200,000 people was regrettable, but far better than the deaths of 1,000,000 Americans. In other words, the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sad but ineluctable sacrifices necessary to end the war. They get justified as collateral damage.

H: This is where I’ve come to see an analogy between the way war works and the way nuclear power works. It’s true as well for the modern state. The logic that a certain amount of sacrifice – it differs whether we’re talking about democracy or dictatorship – is necessary to industrial and political prosperity has already been made immanent from the start. In other words, this sort of structure in which it’s possible to force the country’s citizens to sacrifice themselves when necessary is always operating as an essential precondition to the creation and maintenance of so-called “prosperity” and “sovereignty.” In English we call it the logic of the “national sacrifice zone,” which functions even within democratic societies. Those who are sacrificed tend to come from the ranks of the socioeconomically and racially disempowered. What both war and nuclear power keep at the ready is the evocation of a “state of exception,” in which the law will be temporarily suspended and civil rights will not be protected. This is how it’s possible for the nuclear power industry to cause a catastrophic accident and never face criminal charges, and for the government to ask people to die on behalf of the country without anyone talking about murder.10 Quite the contrary, the dead and dying are glorified as heroes of the state. Your film Hibakusha at the End of the World does a magnificent job of showing how this sort of violent structure is expanding on a global scale.

K: That’s right. I could never have said it quite so theoretically, but it’s precisely what I have in mind as I make my films. When you’ve got a group of people who know full well the persistent risks of nuclear energy but fall under its spell and become advocates nonetheless, there’s got to be some sort of righteous pretext or moral obligation for them to rally around. You come to feel it especially keenly when you’re involved in the process of making a documentary film.

H: What I sensed in the scenes of Hanford, Washington from your Hibakusha film was the righteous pretext “This is how we defeated the Soviets;” “This is how we protected the Free World.”

Another element in the Hanford scenes is the attitude of emphasizing the invincibility of scientific knowledge, of declaring ad infinitum that if one looks at the data scientifically, the likelihood of actual harm to bodies and health is extremely low. Meanwhile lots of the residents are dying of cancer.

K: It’s because they can’t see the cause and effect relationship; because they’re able to make themselves not see it. The structure of discrimination you mentioned earlier figures in here as well, toward those who are being sacrificed.

H: Well, it’s too bad for those folks, but if we hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have been able to protect America and protect the whole world. That’s the rationale – that a certain amount of sacrifice is unavoidable. And so we see how the state of affairs that gives rise to national policies (kokusaku) is premised on the possibility of sacrificing human rights, of ignoring them. And when it comes to the nuclear energy industry, military power and industrial profits are intimately connected. It’s the story of industry profiting handsomely when the state maintains its nuclear weaponry capacity.

K: That’s certainly a valid point; in Japan they say an already-built plant with a generating capacity of one million kilowatts makes Y100,000,000 ($904,000) a day. But isn’t the nuclear industry in the U.S. in decline? Because the risks are too high not a single plant is under construction,11 and in Europe as well everyone is keenly aware of Areva’s failure [with the Olkiluoto plant in Finland].

True, places that have grown rich selling oil like Dubai and Saudi Arabia are hurrying to build nuclear power plants before they exhaust their fossil fuel resources. It makes sense, given that they only have about 40 years left. Probably less than 40 years, truth be told. But eventually they’ll spend more decommissioning these plants [than they ever made generating electricity with them].12

And there’s also the whole issue of nuclear reprocessing, which American scientists are now saying is a dead end. What [both nuclear reprocessing and] decommissioned nuclear warheads produce is plutonium. But the United States has no need for plutonium from reprocessing plants because it still has a surplus of decommissioned nuclear bombs. Using this surplus for power won’t work either. When we think of current plans to develop a reactor that could burn plutonium as fuel, and the amount of time these plans have been in the works, what we see worldwide is nothing but failure. Japan is the perfect object lesson here, with the Monju plant leaving its negative legacy of having sat completely idle since causing an explosion [in 1995].13 Globally, reprocessing is over.

Nevertheless, where energy policy is concerned Japan remains as fixated [on nuclear] as ever, even though globally the fundamental thinking, the philosophy itself, has been changing. Of course the reason people dig in their heels is because they’ve been able to set up [nuclear power] as a profit-making enterprise. But in the grand scheme of things it loses money.

H: Still, it’s been contrived to earn money for a certain segment of its proponents?

K: Right, because that’s the sort of system that’s been set up. In other words, of Japan’s roughly Y600 billion ($5.3 billion) annual Energy Development Budget, roughly 60 or 70 percent goes to nuclear, and this has been true for over thirty years.

So for example, in the case of the Kaminoseki plant which I document in Ashes to Honey, the Chugoku Electric Company spent Y450 billion ($4 billion), but when you consider that over several years the Energy Development Budget (enerugii kaihatsu yosan) incentivized them with annual sums of Y100 billion ($887 million) and Y50 billion ($443 million), it’s clear they were able to build it for next to nothing. Then in addition they’re allowed to take a 3.8 percent profit on capital expenditures, which they tack directly onto peoples’ electricity bills. That’s the system we have.

Given that there’s also something called a Subsidy for Electricity Generating Locations (dengen ritchi kōfukin) paid directly from the tax base, we can see that electric companies, far from exposing themselves to risk, have actually set up a system for nuclear power that guarantees they make money hand over fist. The more plants they build, the more they profit. This is the single biggest reason nuclear power expanded at a breakneck speed in Japan.

H: And it is also how depopulated areas came to hear so much about how nuclear power would fill town and village coffers, and provide plenty of employment. “Japan is poor in natural resources so relying on nuclear is the only way!”

K: Exactly. “It’s because electricity is essential to Japan’s trade and industry.” “It’s because nuclear is the lynchpin to economic growth.” This is what we are told, and yet Japan experienced no energy shortages when every plant shut down after 3.11. So why all the talk about restarts? In a country with so many earthquakes? We’ve gotten by just fine for the past 695 days without a single reactor in operation (laughter).

H: Seen in an international frame, the Japanese standard of living even without nuclear power has been excessively extravagant. The high level of energy consumption has continued unabated.

K: I agree: excessively extravagant. I mentioned earlier the fixed assumption that arose from within the dire poverty of life right after WWII, namely that life is only as affluent as the amount of energy you consume. This assumption is still alive and well.

The same assumption helps us understand how it’s possible, despite 695 days without nuclear-generated electricity during which there were no restrictions and no brownouts, and during which we maintained extremely high levels of energy consumption by international standards, for government officials, government scholars, and business leaders to reproach the anti-nuclear contingent by saying “It’s not like we can just return to the Edo Period!” The number of people who say this is staggering.

So we see how difficult it will be to change the collective consciousness. That’s how deeply and indelibly [the assumption that affluence equals energy consumption] gets imprinted onto peoples’ consciousness, time after time.

H: You’ve given us a vivid picture of the way nuclear policy and economic growth get imprinted, or shall we say naturalized, in the collective consciousness, and how the Japanese media has largely failed to problematize this. What is your view of how the major media outlets responded to this most recent accident at Fukushima? What do you make of how it continues to be handled in the press?

K: The only truly serious coverage has been in the Tokyo shinbun. And maybe a little in Chūnichi shinbun. Beyond that I feel like the press is just not covering it. Of course to some degree they can’t get away with not reporting the facts. “Yes, reactor one exploded;” “Yes, reactor three blew up.” That’s about the extent of it. But beyond that they offer no investigative reporting, for instance, on the state of nuclear contamination in the environment, or what is planned for the melted-down fuel inside the reactors, and the spent fuel still stored on-site.

Oh yes, the Asahi Shinbun has been running its “Prometheus’ Trap” series.14 That’s quite good. But the problem is that Japanese people just got so tired of Fukushima. After the accident, information that had never been disseminated suddenly came gushing forward as if a dam had broken. People felt completely saturated, hearing nothing but that day after day. Past a certain point people couldn’t bring themselves to tune in and consume it. In addition, during those first six months the news became obsolete incredibly quickly.

H: It’s a small step from becoming obsolete to being forgotten entirely.

K: “Enough is enough!” That’s generally how people felt. But I don’t think that exonerates the media from accurately covering how much the government is minimizing the accident and dodging its aid responsibilities, or how each successive policy strays from its stated intention.

Television coverage was the worst. Television stations stopped talking about Fukushima sooner than any other media outlet. It’s the same with their coverage today: nothing, zero. It’s because the biggest sponsor for most of them was TEPCO.

In 2011 I received a prize for something or other and at the party there were a lot of producers from local commercial broadcasting stations saying I should appear on their programs. When I replied I would if it were feasible they responded, “Oh it’s fine now! Because TEPCO is no longer sponsoring us . . .”

But in the end they never once reached out to me. The people who come to me for material are all from French newspapers and TV, or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), or the BBC. Places like that. The Japanese media never come. Never.

3.11 happened just as I was taking my film Ashes to Honey on the road for its premiere. The Japanese media covered this correspondence only reluctantly. It’s hard not to conclude that they simply don’t comprehend the seriousness of the nuclear accident.

When you ask journalists from the local news outlets like the Fukushima Minyū and Fukushima Minpō newspapers or the Fukushima Hōsō television station why they didn’t respond immediately to the nuclear explosions by reporting that this was dangerous for the people of the prefecture, that they should evacuate, that according to Japanese law a certain level of radiation designated a place an uninhabitable nuclear regulation zone, they claim it was because they didn’t know; because they themselves were without the proper knowledge. Instead, they waited to see what the government would say and simply broadcast that, with no analysis or interpretation.

During the postwar period, as the “Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” slogan gained strength, it was taboo for the media to talk about risks in the future or environmental damage in the present. So local reporters deemed it futile to spend energy investigating and writing about these topics. Either they knew their findings would never see the light of day and therefore omitted them, or they held back from doing the reporting in the first place. As a result no one accumulated this knowledge and no one handed it down, so even when it seemed something might be happening there was no interest and no attempt to understand.


Exercises in Democracy: What Documentary Film Can Accomplish

H: What was it that first made you think you would like to make documentaries about nuclear problems and nuclear exposure?

K: It was definitely my trip to Iraq. Many children were exposed to radiation as a result of the US invasion of Iraq and its use of depleted uranium bullets [rekka urandan].15 I was moved by the fact that once a body is exposed, it can never completely recover. I’ve since learned from the case of Belarus that it’s possible to reduce the effects of radiation exposure to some degree through recuperative care outside the contaminated zone. But in the cases of both Iraq and Chernobyl of course it was not possible for the entire population to move, and in any case a certain amount of harm is unavoidable.

As I myself resolved to learn as much as I could about these issues I came to discern various elements, one by one. I needed for instance to trace the history of nuclear energy, to speak with people in the “nuclear village,” and to understand how the “nuclear fuel cycle” works.16 I also needed to study what happens to the human body when it is exposed to ionizing radiation.17 Although of course I consulted the literature on the topic, there was a lot I could only learn in the field, at the sites I was studying.

H: Your experience making Hibakusha at the End of the World seems to have influenced the content of the film on many levels.

K: It’s true it did, because that was the very beginning for me. First I had to consider, in both the American and the Japanese contexts, who had first made nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons, and for what purpose, with what results. Then I also needed to consider the harm being done by depleted uranium bullets used in modern warfare during the Iraq War: about low-dose radiation and chronic exposure. When I was making Hibakusha at the End of the World no one in the mainstream was asking these sorts of questions. They were considered minor.

H: I see. I’ve always admired the way you were able to connect those three places – America, Japan, and Iraq – both spatially and temporally. It’s a really original approach, and beautifully executed. Usually documentary filmmakers train their sights on just one place. Then they isolate the problem. But you illustrate so effectively how, structurally, the nuclear problem is always a global problem, and has been from the beginning.

K: I tried to draw both axes into the film – both the depth of vertical time as it relates to the problem of the nuclear, and the breadth or horizontality of space.

H: It comes across wonderfully clearly. We start in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and move to Hanford in the United States, then to Iraq. So we get spatial continuity and also temporal expansion at the same time.

K: When we talk about time it’s important to focus on the temporal process by which radiation exposure manifests in the individual bodies of those who experienced the bombings. That time is internal to each hibakusha – the time it takes for the radioactive material to establish itself in the body, and for the body to begin changing in response. Because this is something that requires the passage of time, I wanted to trace the existence of what we might call the life that lives that interval: human existence, flesh-and-blood existence.

H: I think I know what you mean. Dr. Hida is a great example.18 Dr. Hida Shunsuke definitely embodies that interval.

K: Exactly.

H: He’s both a first-person narrator of the Hiroshima bombing, and a medical doctor who grappled with addressing its effects his entire life.

K: Precisely. And what’s really marvelous about him is that he never lords his status as a scientist over his patients. Instead he gives each one of them his intimate attention, asking how he can support not their illness but their life. This is what I find incredibly human about him – that as a doctor he takes this approach.

H: There were doctors who responded like this in Iraq as well.

K: Yes there were. Dr. Jawad. Jawad Al-Ali.

H: He once said that the tragedy of watching children succumb to cancer one after another made him so sad he feared his own heart would give out.19

K: And I would say that, among the Iraqi people I’ve met, the type of deep humanity that Dr. Jawad exemplifies is not at all rare. Islam is perceived negatively in the West today, but what does it mean to turn toward God five times a day and pray? Isn’t it also turning toward oneself to reflect? We’re talking about a people who set aside time morning, noon and night, five times, to face themselves and face God.

When I first set out for Iraq I did not have a positive image of Islam, but I was impressed by this introspective quality that Muslims have. And their humor! I found them to have a keen sense of compassion.

H: Yes, this comes out quite naturally in the documentary.

K: I think so, too. When I left for Iraq the image of that country constructed by the Japanese media was a negative stereotype, personified almost entirely by Saddam Hussein, of a belligerent people: dictatorial, violent, and warmongering. It was discriminatory.

It makes sense when you consider the relations between the American media and the Japanese media on this point. Like a Russian doll, the American version of Iraq opened to a Japanese version of Iraq inside, exactly the same, as if Japanese reporters had no ability to refashion the stereotype on their own.

So when I took the clear position that these Iraqi people whom it was supposed to be obvious deserved bombing were actually just as human as we are, and have pride, and human rights, and are not aggressors but victims – when I took this position it became difficult for NHK to accept my work. Because originally I had gone to Iraq on a shoot for NHK (laughter)! You’re never supposed to give the “enemy” a human face. A stereotype is an ideological device for dehumanization.

H: They felt uneasy about your shattering the stereotype that they had helped create.

K: Precisely. Yes. There’s an element of the mass media that only functions to strengthen stereotypes – that may just be its destiny. Of course this is not true of all mass media. On the contrary, I myself try to break stereotypes, to grasp a more multi-faceted, three-dimensional reality.

H: This is an objective you’ve said you first encountered through the media activist group Paper Tiger during a stay in New York, isn’t it?20 Participating in that group and developing this kind of thinking was a formative experience?

K: That’s right. Before I went to New York I was already working in Japan making films and television programming. But like most people in those fields I wasn’t much interested in questions of why and for whom we make our works. My priorities as a filmmaker and as a television director were how to make successful, high quality images. I wanted to express my individuality, and I cared about how critics responded. The question of for whom we make our works was unimportant because it was obvious: I make works for myself! But I came to realize that media has a crucial additional role to play.

Because I worked more in film than in television I had convinced myself that authorial style was paramount. But when I started working with Paper Tiger in New York almost every single person in this citizen-directors’ group was a minority. There were undocumented filmmakers from Mexico and black filmmakers with AIDS. Hispanic worker filmmakers. And of course there were also middle class white people, but what they wanted to make films about were radical changes within their daily lives, like implementing a Canadian-style single-payer national health insurance in the US. Mainstream American media couldn’t muster any enthusiasm whatsoever for such topics. It was only through Paper Tiger that I was able to discern this contrast. And so I resolved to make films at Paper Tiger – to make our own media as a counter-culture to the existing media culture.

Of course the people who wanted to produce this sort of alternative media had only rudimentary skills – many had never picked up a camera before. What they did have was vision and conviction. “This is what we want!” “This is what we need!” In contrast, I had skills. I began to wonder what would happen if I used them for someone else — for their cause rather than mine. This was a real stroke of luck for me.

H: They had an internal vision that they wanted to express, and you were able to back it up not with your authorial style but with a shared sense of political commitment.

K: That’s right; we wanted to address our own problems, and to solve them through media. We definitely had political commitment. But we struggled because we didn’t know how to put a film together. We also had no budget. Still, I had skills. And the experience helped me appreciate, not that I should use them in America, but that I should take them back to Japan, This is what I had in mind when I returned to Japan in 1995.

H: What kind of issues did you want to address? Did you have a clear vision of the perspective you wanted to bring to bear on certain issues in Japan?

K: I was in a bit of a daze for a while after I returned, and then the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. Because I had no job and lots of free time I went to Kobe as a volunteer, and all of Japan’s problems came tumbling down on me. They were problems of the Japanese family, of the sort that had been invisible while peoples’ houses still stood, but that were exposed when the walls fell and the families were driven out.

My job was to drive to Kobe and deliver special meals provided by a sponsoring group in Tokyo for children with food allergies who were living in cardboard evacuation shelters within school gyms. It was when I visited the families of these children with allergies that I sensed there was something terribly wrong. It wasn’t just gender problems between the parents, or the extreme environment in which the children were placed, or administrative problems, or problems of medical treatment and PTSD. It was all of them together. This was the place from which I began.

H: So, completely by chance, the same Kamanaka Hitomi who in New York had been drawn into a political consciousness and acquired a new way of making films found herself face to face with the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

K: Yes it was a real encounter! For me the act of filmmaking always is. I never set out conceptually with the idea to make this or that kind of work. Instead I encounter it on site, and it either draws me in or it doesn’t. I feel it or I don’t. I don’t think metaphysically. I just start digging and that sets the filmmaking process in motion.

H: Still, when we consider the films you started to make at that time, there’s a certain continuity isn’t there? I’m not sure whether to call it continuity or a sustained political sensibility, but it’s at work in all of them.

K: Yes, well, for instance it was in the process of making Hibakusha that I came to see what my next film would address. After all, the problem of the nuclear is quite deep, and it is intertwined with our modern lives in a staggering number of ways. So it was natural that in the midst of making Hibakusha the theme of my subsequent film Rokkasho Rhapsody, namely, the current state of the nuclear industry in Japan, would come into view.

I like to exhibit my work in a way no one else does, by attending the screenings in person, getting feedback from the audience immediately afterward, and using my camera to make a record when new social movements arise, like I did when I took Rokkasho Rhapsody on the road. That was when what was needed was the theme of Ashes to come into view: not “What should we do about nuclear energy?” but “What should we do about the future of energy writ large?” One of the most important questions of this film is how to offer positive solutions.


Rokkasho Village

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Anti-Rokkasho Demonstration in Tokyo


H: Watching Ashes to Honey I was struck by the way a glimmer of hope keeps appearing and disappearing, even while there is no explicit vision of exactly what should be done in the future. The film suggests a certain sense of possibility – that if we only make up our minds, something called community can form itself from the bottom up, while we’re in the process of devising new forms of renewable energy and taking various measures.

K: In Japan, even if people know this phrase “from the bottom up” (botomu appu), they’ve usually never created that kind of community. But that’s not true of Sweden. We can really learn a lot from observing what happens there, for instance, when a cattle farmer realizes he can achieve energy self-sufficiency using methane gas from his herd’s manure, and when local people invest in his project.

It’s a way of thinking in the direction of local autonomy, in the direction of being able to do things independently without relying on the national government. Compared to countries such as Sweden, Japan is weak at this. I made Ashes to Honey in 2010, in which I addressed the issue of local autonomy, but the theme is still very much on my mind because local autonomy is fundamental to democracy. Especially when faced with “national this” and “the Abe administration’s that,” I think being able to decide how to solve problems at a local level – the problems we face in the places where we live, and where we’ve put down roots – is crucial to cultivating a democratic society.

That’s why I don’t spend much time at weekly protests in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. If I’m always making the rounds with my films between the far corners of Hokkaido, remote places in Tohoku, Shiga Prefecture, Shimane Prefecture, and Kyushu, it’s because I’ve come to believe that the center has no hope of changing if these other places don’t change.

What we see in Sweden and in the places I filmed for Ashes to Honey are not the actions of a centralized state but rather humble struggles on the part of people living in small towns and villages to bring about, on the strength of their own actions, a wholesale transformation in the way energy is produced and used. In point of fact the people of Iwaishima are up against centralized nuclear energy policies that rob them of their right to self-determination. Although whether or not to build a nuclear power plant is something that people who live there should be able to decide by themselves, they’re left with no say in the matter whatsoever. So it’s in places like this that the change must begin.


Iwaishima, the focal point of Ashes to Honey

Anti-Iwaishima/Setouchi Power Plant Protest in Tokyo. Koide Hiroaki21 is second from left.

H: When we think about nuclear energy policy it’s really this part that feels most violent. All at once the logic of the state and the logic of capital arrive on the scene and people are robbed of their communities, their land, their way of life: everything is gutted. Meanwhile local people are bought off. “What’s to complain about? Haven’t you got more money now than you’ve ever seen in your lives?” But what it means to live, to experience life’s happiness, is not a matter of purchasing power or consumer confidence. With the influx of cash comes the gradual destruction of the quality of food, water and air — of the condition of not having to worry about their safety — and also the pleasure of work, the pleasure of encountering nature. These are lost together with the community. Your films make us feel this especially keenly; they make us feel your conviction that democracy is fundamentally a matter of building community in the place where you live, by your own will and determination, according to your own vision.

K: That’s exactly right. If you think about Fukushima’s problems past and present, they all stem from the uprooting and destruction of autonomy. It’s clear if you look at my screenings by region. My films are only screened if an independent group brings them to town, so they only find an audience when invited by local people.22 The number of times they’ve been screened in Fukushima Prefecture is extremely low.

H: I see. Does this point to an absence of civic groups?

K: Yes it does. Civic groups exist but they’re weak, and few and far between. In comparison, someplace like Nagano Prefecture has quite a lot. There is a great variety of groups, and their regional initiatives are lively. The sense of autonomy is strong. It makes a huge difference.

When the accident at Fukushima occurred, if a variety of civic groups had already existed I think they would have mobilized right away. Especially in the dissemination of information. We would have seen an immediate attempt from within the region to share facts and communicate locally.

One advantage of diverse and active civic groups is the accumulation of knowledge and experience around collective action. People know how to work together toward a single goal even with those with whom they disagree. In Fukushima it seems this was lacking. And while there were any number of complicated contributing factors — historical, political, social and economic – those same factors were what predisposed Fukushima to its dependence on nuclear policies in the first place. So while we saw many civic groups take shape after 3.11, we also saw them quickly splinter and dissolve. It was the same kind of splintering and dissolution as when the plants were constructed. Buying up farmers’ land to build the reactors, the government and TEPCO used money to eradicate their way of life. The community was splintered into supporting and opposing factions, and only after these factions had been set to battling each other did the authorities make their move. It’s what’s called “nipping solidarity in the bud.” It’s a method of dismantling solidarity, whether solidarity exists from the start or arises in opposition to nuclear construction. We saw it in Rokkasho. We saw it in Iwaishima. We saw it in Fukushima.

H: So what you’re saying is that on top of a comparatively weak tradition of civic groups invested in local autonomy, Fukushima had its weakness doubled by the divisive policies rolled out by TEPCO and the government after the accident. The disaster gave rise to a sort of twice-enfeebled situation.

K: Yes that’s exactly my point. I’m a big supporter of Mutō Ruiko but I can’t help feeling she’s up against quite a lot in Fukushima.23 It would really be disastrous for the movement in which she’s participating to become isolated. Because there are so many people throughout the country who want to support Ruiko-san, I feel confident that things will work out, but it’s harsh there inside Fukushima.

H: I was speaking with Mutō-san recently and she too spoke of how “government scholars” wasted no time making their way to Fukushima after the accident to start spreading the safety myth all over again. When these scholars said they knew Chernobyl and that Fukushima was nothing in comparison, even people who had been allies in the anti-nuclear movement, and who had attended study groups, would applaud and exclaim their admiration, saying “What a splendid person.” Mutō-san said she had witnessed this moment of surrender time and time again.

K: Well, isn’t it the same thing we saw at Hanford, Washington? The local people listened to the scientists’ explanations and quickly capitulated. “Oh I see, so there’s nothing to worry about.” The main challenge with solidarity is whether a community can maintain itself without falling into the traps of capitalism and power (division, bribery, safety myths). That’s why what my films attempt to discern is the structure that sets the traps. The viewer quickly comes to recognize that he or she is not only complicit with a

structure that requires sacrifice, but that the policies that sustain it will eventually bring about the destruction of his or her own way of life as well. “I’m next.” That’s the point.

What’s crucial is that we learn to extricate ourselves from positions of support. So it’s not a matter of ad-hominem attacks or forcing two or three people to take responsibility, but of gaining a comprehensive perspective on how the problems presently unfolding are connected and mutually determined: of seeing things from an objective, high-angle view. This is what I want my documentaries to accomplish – the birth of a new consciousness; the feeling of a new self, out of alignment with the old. I call it a “chemical reaction of consciousness.”

H: When a local group self-screens your films, I wonder if you would call it an exercise in democracy. I’m asking in relation to the phrase you just used, “a chemical reaction of consciousness.”

K: I would! It takes time, to be sure. After a screening we never fail to make time for discussion. When you make a space for conversation people start speaking out, even general audience members, and there’s a cultivation of debate. For instance, at a post-screening discussion in one town a Fukushima evacuee spoke up and said that in order to save her three children she’d had to leave behind her husband, who refused to acknowledge the dangers of internal radiation. But evacuation rent subsidies had been cut off, and she’d never received any support from her husband, so she was wondering how she and her three children could get by. In the course of the discussion, this woman ended up declaring that she was going to go to the local administration and petition that her housing subsidy be extended. This is a woman who had never once in her life done anything remotely political. There are lots of evacuees like her. When you talk to them you hear that they’re lower middle-class, income-wise. So at a screening to which, say, 100 people come, you’re face to face with the fact that people like this are not getting any state aid at all. Little by little, as the concrete details of their lives become clear, the injustice of policies toward refugees is vividly exposed, together with the criminal irresponsibility of the government.

Listening to the discussion, it’s impossible not to start thinking, “what am I myself going to do about this?” At one screening there was a city council member who told everyone that, having been consulted that night by the evacuee, he now planned to go with her to petition the prefectural office, and that everyone else should come too. That was how the conversation developed! By the end, two more people in the audience had declared that they would also make the trip.

H: So by means of the screening they are able to see how they are already connected to each other, and how they should be connected. It’s the spontaneous birth of activism. Having come to see the film they come to this realization and, exchanging conversation and ideas, discover a new relationality.

K: Exactly, they have a connection. And to make this discovery, watching the film together and discussing it amongst themselves are really important.

What the mass media is saying and what Kamanaka’s film is saying are totally different. How to take this in? People feel unsettled. So to keep them from going home like that, I ask them to wait a bit, to stay and discuss it together for 30 minutes or an hour, so that they can return with something a little more organic.

I also always ask them to fill out a questionnaire. This way, in addition to watching the film and the discussion, and listening to my lecture, they don’t leave without making an effort to verbalize what they themselves felt. The return rate is extremely high. People write a lot. This way each person has a chance to give feedback. It helps connect them with the group that organized the screening as well. I work hard to facilitate these connections.

H: When fellow humans are forced to speak to each other face to face, and especially when they come from completely different backgrounds, one for instance from a difficult economic situation, and another rich but perhaps ignorant of social realities – from the coming together of such different perspectives a diversity of voices is born, and what they have in common is the ability to achieve a certain kind of exercise in democracy.

K: Right. This is precisely what the Paper Tiger excelled at: gathering extraordinarily diverse people and giving them all a voice without affixing any hierarchy to their opinions. Every Wednesday ten people would get together and one by one all ten would say what they thought. Because there was zero tolerance for interruptions we had to listen to each person to the end, and it took forever! The process was so arduous that we all worried we would never be able to make a program or any kind of coherent work. But that was how we did make films, one by one, very slowly. Because that was how I came to understand democracy, I’m fully aware that democracy is a major hassle.

Hirano: Yes. Democracy happens in the practice and operation of everyday culture, doesn’t it?

K: Shouting in front of the Prime Minister’s office is incredibly important. But even more important I think are the small acts that one undertakes oneself in one’s own daily life.

H: To create a democratic society requires an enormous amount of time, and the task is never finished; if it is not sustained, it disappears.

K: Exactly, and it can’t be a matter of saying, “Oh, let’s do this or that.” There has got to be a collective conviction, “This is something we must do.” It’s only from such conviction that real action begins, that everyone commits their abilities, their brain power, their power to act.


Kamanaka’s citizen-led independent film screening.

H: Is it that people have never given themselves license to exercise their potential? Or that great swaths of the population aren’t even aware they have it? If I think about a democratic society in which, by some means or another, each person is able to express what they feel and think in daily life, transmitting this collectively, nurturing it, transforming it into action.

K: You’re exactly right. The notion that I might be free, that it’s fine to feel, think and speak freely, and live freely, so long as I take responsibility for my feelings, thoughts and speech: this notion is very weak. It’s weak that people are free to express themselves, and that it’s only through self-expression that they realize their potential. The history of nuclear power is built on that kind of political culture, and has had the unfortunate effect of strengthening it.

The Japanese education system restricts that sort of potential.24 What I try to cultivate at my documentary screenings is exactly the sort of space that has never been nurtured within the Japanese education system, in which people know they can speak freely because they themselves are free, their choices are theirs, and no one will harm them if they give voice to their thoughts and feelings. Quite the contrary, people will all listen, their opinion will be respected, and everyone else will be free to speak as well.

H: Yes, and one more principle applies here: that we are equal to the end.

K: Exactly. Without hierarchy. Whether we are women or men, old or young, college-educated or not. A level playing field. Completely flat. I always remind people that we are equal.

H: Do audiences feel a sense of emancipation after participating in these discussions?

K: Yes, they go home extremely satisfied! One way or another they feel gratified, emboldened.

H: It’s empowering isn’t it?

K: Empowering! Exactly!

H: I can see how this would be transformative, given that the sense of empowerment, the experience of potential, has been locked away until then.

K: That’s right, because the powers that be are intent on keeping it confined; they want to restrict people’s open debate, and the sense of connection that arises. They want to keep “chemical reactions of consciousness” under lock and key. But when people in Fukushima are worried about radiation and ask about the effects of ionizing radiation, and possible harm to children, this shared emotion itself, this overwhelming worry itself is an injury. For people to narrate their experience it is to narrate a violence that has been done to them, and to protest.

Those in power want to control and confine the growth of a movement that arises when a collective consciousness is born from this sort of protest. “You’re crazy getting all worried like that! It’s because you’re ignorant. If you go on saying those things you’ll be conspiring with harmful rumors (fūhyō higai)! You’ll be standing on the side of those who discriminate!”25 This is how those in power preempt protest. This is how they root out and eradicate voices that speak out against violence.

H: One thing that’s always left a deep impression on me in your films is the way they introduce different voices even-handedly, even pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear voices. In academic language it’s called “polyphony,” from the music theory term for the sound of multiple voices. Independent melodies stand out variously in time, intersecting, colliding, and reverberating, and the result is called “polyphonic.” Do you keep this sort of thing in mind when you are shooting a film?

I also want to ask a little bit about the viewing experience, insofar as your audience is invited to keep track of these various opposing, colliding and harmonizing voices and interpret what they’re saying. It strikes me that this gets to the heart of the democratic potential of documentary cinema, because the viewing itself is an exercise in democracy.

K: The emphasis is less on my own message than on those of the people who appear in the film. This sort of space for discourse is rarely opened within Japanese society. So my job is to prepare a receptacle and ask how it’s possible actually to listen, to pay attention.

Opportunities to make diverse voices actually resonate are rare. But for instance, when I made Rokkasho Rhapsody, even though the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear factions almost never had the occasion to exchange opinions in real life, it was possible to make them talk to each other within the reality constructed by my film.

H: Yes I think you wrote about this somewhere, that it was only after they had seen your film that the people of Rokkasho started talking to each other.

K: I never make just a film; for me it’s crucial to follow up and talk about “what happened after that.” So after Rokkasho Rhapsody I made something called Dispatches from Rokkasho 1-4, and in the fourth dispatch we see people from the opposing sides begin a dialog.26 I think it’s really important that this takes place at the grassroots level. My role is to be the facilitator.

H: Both in your work and in your way of life, you take dialog very seriously. So of course as you outlined earlier in your filmmaking you always begin by finding out what people want to say, and make listening your point of departure for coaxing out dialog. Then in turn your audience members absorb the film and negotiate its dialog internally, as we’ve discussed. And finally, after the screening, they engage in a dialog with each other. So the emphasis is on the creation of binding relationships through dialog.

K: That’s right. It comes from my own experience of not necessarily getting my best ideas while lost in thought, alone. What happens far more often is that you get inspired in conversation with someone completely different from you, and discover within yourself an unknown voice. Preaching to the choir doesn’t work. It’s this dialog with difference that’s lacking in Japanese society I think. So when I teach young people I always emphasize the importance of putting thoughts into language. Maybe because they seem to communicate only through images, young people try to get by on obfuscation, in a rush of imprecise words. I want them to appreciate the importance of working toward effective verbalization. I’m thinking here for instance about the way someone like Mutō Ruiko communicates. Her words are precise and powerful. I really admire them.


A Revolution of Feelings: The Politics of Everyday Life

H: You’ve written about new citizens’ movements in terms of “a revolution of feelings” and “a revolution underfoot.” Could you speak to this idea, of the potential inherent in new ways of doing things? I imagine it’s hard to separate this from the problem of filmmaking.

Of course in the 1960s and 1970s political movements were very organized; they had clear leaders, and factions, and a kind of compunction to declare allegiance to right or left – that’s how they worked. They were always pursuing questions of who was orthodox and who was not. That sort of thing. But now we’ve entered a completely different age, and it seems to me that this is reflected clearly both in your method of filmmaking, the way you distribute your films, and the way you participate in movements. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that potential, in terms of “a revolution of feeling” and “a revolution underfoot.”

K: Well it’s really about daily life, isn’t it? True transformation emerges from everyday living, not from historical principles or dogma. In this sense I have to say that, like Mutō Ruiko, I believe in the sensitivity of women (“onna” to iu kanjō). It’s because women are the ones who live daily life most intimately. Whether they live in the city or the countryside, women cook, women do laundry, and women sort the trash. They think about what kind of trash they’re putting out; it’s inevitable that the person who takes out the trash be conscious of its contents. And they think about food: what ingredients should be used? Are they safe? Are they healthy? Then there’s the choice of clothing, and whether or not it has been conceived ethically. It seems to me that the self who coordinates all these aspects of daily life experiences a kind of satisfaction: a kind of happiness.

Where the maintenance of daily life is concerned, women are really the ones who do it closest to the source. Of course one could object that statements like this presume natural gender differences. But my point is that in society as it actually exists, it’s undeniable that it’s overwhelmingly women who do this work. Isn’t that why women are the ones who are best able to sustain political movements that derive from daily life? The discovery of potential within the act of living itself seems old, but it’s quite new.

When I made “Ende’s Testament: A Fundamental Interrogation of Money,” (1999) the reaction it elicited was unheard of for a television program.27 People were fascinated with the question, “what is money, actually?” They were eager to rethink the value system that has completely overtaken Japanese society, in which it’s possible to exchange anything for money, and substitute money for anything. It became possible to consider the slightly utopian notion of a lifestyle that could sustain daily existence in the absence of money.

But concern for food – where it comes from, how far it travels – has really increased. People are more and more aware that a wholesale shift in the way we use energy can only begin from a reconsideration of lifestyle, because “energy” means so much more than just electricity. What we see increasing is the sensitivity that comes from examining, at every step, our own ways of living, eating, and moving.

H: Yes and this is what you mean by “a revolution of feelings,” isn’t it? A reexamination of the priorities and values that sustain our everyday lives?

K: Definitely. It’s important to appreciate that living in accordance with the same values as always simply won’t work anymore. It takes a great deal of time both to achieve this appreciation with one’s brain, and to enact it with one’s flesh.

But unless consciousness is reformed first it’s impossible to take control of our own way of living; we just remain sunk in a kind of addiction to “common sense.” People need to ask themselves whether living as they are is really okay. They need to wake up to the fact that to go on living in blind pursuit of an excessive, material, money-oriented wealth is complicit both with the sacrifice of people and with wholesale environmental destruction. What’s revolutionary is when this awakening begins to happen, person by person.

H: Is this what you mean when you talk about “the consciousness of the directly concerned” (tōjisha ishiki)?

K: Exactly. To the extent that we live in a modern society it’s impossible not to bear some responsibility for harm, but what’s imperative is to think actively about how to lessen the violence. What we’re seeing now are communities of people who’ve realized this – people much younger than myself – banding together and finding really marvelous ways, online especially, to share information about how they’re living. So even though it’s my policy not to call this “politics,” I see it as the most political possible choice.


Respite Care: Hope in Learning From Each Other

H: You’ve mentioned that your current focus is saving the maximum number of people from radiation exposure. In the case of Little Voices from Fukushima, you depict something called “respite care” (hoyō) as one possible protective measure, one possibility for relief.

K: Yes, that’s right, I’ve been proposing it as one possible approach because I want to offer positive solutions. Rather than simply rail against the problem, the trick is to figure out how we can come to grips with it, as humans: how we can solve it. And essential here is the wisdom of our predecessors.

After all, the mothers of Belarus are a group of people who have been fighting this hand-to-hand battle for more than 30 years. Since the same situation is unfolding in Fukushima, there’s a great deal we can learn from the struggles of these women.

H: Was it because you knew that respite care had been set up by the people of Belarus and offered consistently all these years that you first thought of connecting Belarus to Fukushima, and thinking about the two places together?

K: Well, what’s happening now in Fukushima is chronic low-dose internal radiation. What I really wanted to know was how people had coped and continue to cope in the case of Chernobyl, when they went through the same thing.

H: Watching your film I was struck by how effective it was to compare Belarus and Fukushima. What the mothers and children of Fukushima want to know most is how to lessen the risks and effects of internal radiation. Especially for people under constant psychological pressure, to pose an answer is to provide a ray of hope amidst great darkness.

K: It’s true! And the point is that human beings never give up on learning from other human beings.

H: Your conviction in the experience and wisdom of other people is one of the great strengths of your documentary.

K: People learn so much from failure, from trial and error. It’s undeniable. That’s why simply not being judgmental is a key tenet of my documentary-making. It’s so important not to pass judgment on the other person. To be human is to harbor contradictions, by definition. That’s why calmly accepting contradictions just as they come is the first step toward discerning more essential problems, and how to solve them. We have to ask after the origin of the contradiction, and the status of those who have no choice but to live inside it. When you’re caught up in the vortex yourself, you can’t understand. But if from that same position you’re able to observe others objectively, to observe them as if you were observing yourself, you come to understand quite clearly. That’s the effect I always aim for with my filmmaking.

In the absence of judgment, I can gather up voices with equanimity and impartiality, no matter what the position. Impartiality does us the favor of presenting things extremely simply.

H: Extremely simply, yes, but we also sense that the conversation is quite layered; that a great deal lies behind it.

K: Exactly.

H: So is that what you mean by simplicity? The simple fact of recognizing this?

K: That’s right. The contradictions arise and present themselves as such.

H: You do a beautiful job of introducing a world that cannot be separated straightforwardly into good and bad. Although you certainly have your own opinions, you never impose them, or skip suddenly to a conclusion. Instead you present the complexities of reality. As a result, audiences are reminded that although they are bearing up under the same dilemma, the same contradictions, they’re also still living everyday lives. And the conversation opens onto what choices they can make.

K: Precisely. It’s crucial for people to make these issues their own, and think about them deeply. That’s really what I think is missing most in Japanese society today. People are simply in survival mode with their minds in neutral, having severed all ties to empathy. “I simply can’t empathize with every last person,” they say. Put crudely, it’s an extremely lonely kind of society. The only kind of common feeling that gets supported is the warped empathy of patriotism and nationalism. That’s why I want to move forward with a firm conviction in the hope and empathy born of building relationships and learning from each other, through the moving image.

H: Thank you so much for talking today.

I would like to thank Kamanaka Hitomi for her friendship and many stimulating conversations over the past 3 years. My many thanks also go to Margherita Long for writing an excellent accompanying essay for this interview and making the interview available in English. Norma Field and Mark Selden offered very helpful comments and suggestions as always. I am grateful to them. Lastly I also want to extend my thanks to Akiko Anson who kindly transcribed the interview, provided notes, and proofread the English version.


Related articles


Other interviews on the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hirano can be found here.

Notes are by the translator except where noted.


1This is Kamanaka Hitomi’s third co-authored piece for Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. She discusses her 2006 film Rokkasho Rhapsody in Kamanaka Hitomi, Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Norma Field, “Rokkasho, Minamata and Japan’s Future: Capturing Humanity on Film,” trans. Ann Saphir, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 5, Issue 2 Dec 1, 2007. She discusses her 2011 film Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future in Kamanaka Hitomi and Norma Field, “Complicity and Victimization: Director Kamanaka Hitomi’s Nuclear Warnings, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 9, Issue 18 No 4, May 2, 2011.


2The Chugoku Electric Power Company is one of ten government-regulated electric companies supplying power over two separate grids. Three companies cover the Eastern Japan grid (Hokkaido Denryoku, Tohoku Denryoku, Tokyo Denryoku (TEPCO), and seven cover Western Japan (Hokuriku, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa Denryoku). In 2008 Chugoku Electric was granted a license to begin landfill in the Seto Inland Sea to build two reactors at a new Kaminoseki Plant. It made slow progress amidst the active local protests Kamanaka documents in Ashes to Honey. Operations were suspended in 2011 after Fukushima but in 2016 Yamaguchi Prefecture renewed its landfill license citing national energy policy.

3Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs English website states “On April 1, 2014, in accordance with the NSS, the Government of Japan set out the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology as a set of clear principles on the overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology that fits the new security environment. The new Principles replaced the previous ‘Three Principles on Arms Exports and Their Related Policy Guidelines.’”

4In 2004, in response to legislation that allowed the LDP to override opposition and send Japanese Self Defense Forces to fight in Iraq without a UN Mandate, a group called Ribbon Project collaborated with the publisher Magazine House to produce a bilingual children’s book titled The Way War Is Created (in Japanese) and What Happens Before War (in English). In 2015 an animated version was produced by a group of filmmakers and artists concerned that 3.11 and the Fukushima nuclear accident were also being used as a pretext for militarization. Kamanaka sells the dvd for educational use on her web shop and it is also widely available online.

5This interview originally took place in October and December 2015. Here Kamanaka references the Paris terror attacks of 13 November 2015. The figure “600,000” corresponds to the World Health Organization’s estimate for the number of children under fifteen who died during seven years of the Iraq War. Kamanaka discusses this figure in the first chapter of her book Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara [Hibakusha: From Ground Zero of Documentary Filmmaking] (Tokyo: Kageshobō, 2006), 23.

6The nuclear businesses of the American conglomerate Westinghouse were sold to British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) in 1999 after Westinghouse purchased the communications company CBS in 1995, renamed itself CBS, and divested from non-broadcast operations. BNFL sold a 77% share in Westinghouse to Toshiba for $5.4B in 2006 at a time when the global market for nuclear power was expected to grow in China, India, the UAE and Eastern Europe. In late 2015 when Hirano interviewed Kamanaka, Toshiba had already weathered an accounting scandal centered in part on its failure to disclose Westinghouse losses. But it had yet to suffer the full impact Kamanaka predicts, which the Financial Times would call in February 2017 the “Downfall of Toshiba, a Nuclear Industry Titan”. In early January 2018, Toshiba sold Westinghouse to the Canadian company Brookfield for $4.6B.

In contrast, Mitsubishi remains sanguine about its investment in the French multinational group Areva, with which it began partnering in the early 1990s to sell nuclear fuel and established a joint venture in 2007 to make reactors. Here Kamanaka references Mitsubishi’s decision to purchase more shares in Areva just as the German company Siemens was pulling out, in part over failures at the Olkiluoto NPP in Finland. Losses of almost $9B motivated Areva in 2017 to spin off its reactor unit as “Areva NP,” selling about 50% to the French Government company Electricite de France (EDP) and 20% to Mitsubishi. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Mitsubishi’s investment in Areva is now $621M.

7The Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland had two reactors built in the 1970s and in 2005 commissioned Areva to build a third. Originally scheduled to be completed in 2010, the project has gone 200% over budget and is still not finished.

8Wikipedia’s English entry on Yamashita is incomplete but indicates the controversy that surrounds him. He served as chair of the Japan Thyroid Association after co-authoring several Chernobyl papers under the auspices of the Sasakawa Foundation and in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The Sasakawa Foundation was funded by Sasakawa Ryōichi (1889-1995), a controversial right-wing figure who made money in China and Manchuria during the Fifteen Years’ War and through a gambling empire in post-war Japan.

It is worth noting also that many regard the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), with which Yamashita collaborated, to be compromised by the close relationship with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) mandated by a 1959 agreement in which the two agencies promise always to act in “close collaboration.” The WHO rebutted this argument in a 2001 statement.

9Kamanaka is quoting a line from Yamashita’s 3 May 2011 public meeting in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, in which he defends the claim that exposures of up to 100 millisieverts per year are safe. One of the people who asks him a question is Jodo Shinshu priest Sasaki Michinori, who appears in both of Kamanaka’s post 3.11 documentaries. A transcript and video of the 70-minute meeting is available from

10An important exception to the tendency for perpetrators of nuclear disasters to go legally unpunished is the mandatory indictment (kyōsei kiso) seeking criminal penalties (keijibatsu) for three TEPCO executives currently making its way through Tokyo District Court. See here.

11As 2016 ended, 99 U.S. reactors produce 19.5 percent of U.S. electricity. Many of these reactors will reach the end of their current licenses and could close by mid-century. A number of these reactors are at risk of near-term closure due to market competition and the possibility that expensive major components will need replacement. Two reactors are currently under construction in the United States. Georgia plans to go ahead with two new reactors, just after South Carolina backed off. See an August 2017 article from New York Times as well as World Nuclear Association website updated February 2018 (KH)

12It should be noted that Saudi Arabia decided to build two large nuclear power reactors in 2015. This is a significant scale-back from its original plan to build 16 reactors over next 20-25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. It projects that nuclear reactors provide 15% of energy by 2040, along with over 30% of solar capacity. This indicates that Saudi Arabia is investing more resources into the development of solar and other renewable energy than nuclear even though nuclear energy is by no means insignificant. (KH)

13In 1995 the Monju “fast breeder” nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture suffered a sodium leak and explosion that was subsequently covered up. The close of the plant was announced in September 2016.

14The series ran from October 2011 to March 2016 and has since been edited into nine total volumes by Gakken Publishing.

15Weapons enhanced with depleted uranium (DU) were used by the US military for the first time in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to penetrate Iraqi tanks. They were subsequently used in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq again in the Iraq War of 2003-2011. Widely reported health consequences led to requests for a global moratorium on their use.

16Nuclear fuel cycle” (kakunenryō saikuru), refers to the multi-stage process by which uranium is mined, enriched and burned in a standard reactor, then either stored as spent fuel (nuclear waste) or reprocessed into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in a “fast-breeder” reactor.

17Kamanaka gathered what she learned into a book co-authored with Dr. Hida Shuntarō. See Naibu hibaku no kyōi: genbaku kara rekka urandan made [The threat of internal radiation: From nuclear bombs to depleted uranium bullets] (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 2005).

18Hida Shuntarō (1917-2017) survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and devoted his life to caring for victims of radiation exposure. He became a mentor of Kamanaka after her return from Iraq; she describes the process in the first chapter of Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara. Dr. Hida plays major onscreen roles in her films Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003) and Living Through Internal Radiation (2012).

19Dr. Jawad Al-Ali of the Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basrah is quoted widely in global media accounts of cancers caused by depleted uranium in Iraq. See for instance here.

20Founded by media activist Dee Dee Hallock in New York City in 1981, Paper Tiger Television continues to pioneer alternative community media and curate an extensive archive of independent and DIY programming.

21See Katsuya Hirano’s interview with Koide.

22For the first few years after release, Kamanaka’s films are generally shown only through jishu jōei or self-organized screenings. Her website gives detailed instructions on how to book, advertise, and stage events. For a detailed account of their significance for community formation and social activism see Hideaki Fujiki, “Networking Citizens through Film Screenings: Cinema and Media in Post-3.11
Social Movements,” in Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin, eds., Media Convergence in Japan (Creative Commons, 2016).

23Mutō Ruiko is a long-time antinuclear activist based in Fukushima and a key figure in the movement to hold TEPCO executives and government officials criminally liable. To understand the movement’s evolution from a group of “Complainants” to “Supporters of a Criminal Lawsuit,” see this video at the Fukushima genpatsu keiji soshō shiendan website. For Asia Pacific Journal pieces about Mutō, see Tomomi Yamaguchi’s essay from 2012, Katsuya Hirano’s interview from 2015, and Norma Field’s essay from 2016.

24Japan’s Basic Law of Education (kyōiku kihonhō) enacted in 1947 was amended under the leadership of Abe Shinzo in 2006 to de-emphasize equality and critical thinking and emphasize “patriotism.” For facts see Wikipedia. For analysis, see McNeill and Lebowitz.

25“Those who discriminate” can refer to school bullies calling Fukushima evacuees “radioactive,” or people who practice marriage discrimination against prospective partners who have been exposed, or those who exert social pressure on parents who speak openly about thyroid cancer. Norma Field provides an overview and a wealth of citations in her essay “From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, to Find the Next Step.” As Kamanaka notes here, however, the term “discrimination” (sabetsu) has also been appropriated by the pro-nuclear faction to silence those who speak out about radiation’s effects, on the grounds that they too are practicing sabetsu.

26All four “dispatches” (tsūshin) take the form of documentaries. The four-disc set is available from ILL and also from Kamanaka’s website.

27Kamanaka’s program about the German fantasy and children’s book author Michael Ende (1929-1995) aired on NHK in May 1999. A book version by Kamanaka’s production company Group Gendai and NHK producer Kawamura Atsunori was published in 2000 by NHK Press. It remains in print in a bunko edition by Kodansha.



August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Facebook’s secrecy about its new ‘trust ratings’

Facebook won’t tell users their ‘trustworthiness’ score as it introduces new ‘rating’ 21 Aug, 2018 19:28
 Jon Nazca Facebook has begun assigning ‘trust ratings’ to users as part of its attempts to fight ‘fake news’ and help identify ‘malicious actors’ on the platform — but it won’t tell users how well or how poorly they have scored.

August 22, 2018 Posted by | 2 WORLD | Leave a comment