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Shinsuke Tobita continues to photograph Fukushima after the nuclear accident.

Shinsuke Tobita, holding a dosimeter, walks in front of JR Ono Station, where demolition work continues, in Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefect

December 29, 2022
It has been more than a decade since photographer Shinshu Tobita, 75, of Miharu-cho, Fukushima Prefecture, began taking photographs in earnest of the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident. While many residents of the prefecture have given up on returning to their homes and continue to live in evacuation centers, the government announced in August a policy of rebuilding and extending the operation of the nuclear power plant. The government has been asking itself, “Are we going to pretend that the accident at Fukushima never happened? We accompanied Mr. Tobita, who is still photographing the disaster-stricken area, while feeling anger. (Hiromi Nagakubo)
 It’s this way, this way,” he said in mid-October. In mid-October, in front of JR Koriyama Station in Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture. Mr. Tobita was waving to us at the rotary in front of the station. It has been almost two years since we last saw each other. He seemed to be in good health.
 The location of the photo shoot that day was in the eastern part of the prefecture. Okuma Town and Futaba Town facing the Pacific Ocean. We immediately spoke with him in the car on the way to the destination.
 First of all, why does he continue to photograph the disaster-stricken areas? Mr. Tobita gripped the steering wheel and began with a stern expression on his face.
 I give lectures across the country, showing my photos, and after the lectures, people in the audience say to me, ‘I thought the nuclear accident in Fukushima was over, but it is not. Eleven and a half years have passed since the accident, and I feel that many people have forgotten that there are many people in the prefecture who have given up on returning to their homes and are living outside the prefecture. That is why we are documenting it.”

Mr. Tobita holding up his camera in Futaba Town

Our car arrived in front of Ono Station on the JR Joban Line. The shopping district at the west exit of the station had high radiation levels since the accident, and was off limits to visitors without permission. Looking around the area, we saw that the shopping area had been cleared and some of the remaining buildings were being demolished.
 The radiation levels near the station have gone down, but there are still some areas where radiation levels are high,” Tobita said. By the way, some prefectural residents are not pleased with Mr. Tobita’s activities.
 Some people say that it will damage the image of reconstruction. Some people say that it damages the image of reconstruction and is a source of harmful rumors. The reality is as we saw today: a shiny new town hall building has been built in front of JR Futaba Station, and residents have begun to live in the west exit of the station. However, in the shopping district in front of the station, you can see houses with roofs about to collapse and vacant lots, and walking around are workers and police officers. This is the current situation.
 What do the locals think? A self-employed man, 46, whose former home was near the station and who now returns from his home in Ibaraki Prefecture from time to time to check on things, said, “This is the situation because the residents have died or the landlord did not decide to demolish the house. It is pitch black at night and there are foxes. It will take a long time before we can live normally,” he said.
◆Next year will be the 13th 3/11 “I want to interview the people who are coming back.

Photographs taken in Miharu-cho will be edited and printed on a computer at home.

 On the other hand, the coastal area in the eastern part of Futaba Town was so clean and well maintained that it was hard to believe that it had been hit by the tsunami. Modern factories and even fashionable business hotels have been built. I asked Mr. Tobita while looking at the raised embankment in the distance.
 By the way, does aging affect your photography?
 Mr. Tobita takes pictures with a digital SLR camera and organizes and saves them on his computer. He has already taken more than 10,000 pictures. Although he was not familiar with computers, “I receive requests over the phone from the organizers of photo exhibitions, and we communicate with them via e-mail,” he said. He edits and prints the images himself at home.
 I try not to drive at night, but I’m getting by, both shooting and driving,” he laughs. When asked what he would like to do next year, he replied, “I would like to cover residents who have made the decision to return to their hometowns with a variety of thoughts and feelings.
 Next year, Fukushima Prefecture will mark the 13th anniversary of the nuclear accident, “3.11.

Born in 1947 in Miharu-cho, Fukushima Prefecture, Hida is a professional photographer. His main subjects are Japanese craftsmen, and since around 1996 he has held solo exhibitions with the town of Miharu as his theme. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, he has continued to photograph the disaster-stricken areas in Fukushima Prefecture, and has held 360 photo exhibitions and lectures in Japan and abroad.

<On August 30 of this year, the evacuation order was lifted for a part of the difficult-to-return zone in Futaba Town, where reactors No. 5 and 6 of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant are located and where the entire population had been evacuated due to radioactive contamination caused by the nuclear accident. For the first time in 11 years and 5 months since the accident, people are now able to live in the town. However, in a survey of residents’ intentions last year, 60.5% of the respondents answered that they had decided not to return. The reasons given included “purchased or built a home in the evacuation area.


January 20, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , | Leave a comment

Our contaminated future

In Fukushima, communities are adapting to life in a time of permanent pollution: a glimpse of what’s to come for us all

As a farmer, Atsuo Tanizaki did not care much for the state’s maps of radioactive contamination. Colour-coded zoning restrictions might make sense for government workers, he told me, but ‘real’ people did not experience their environment through shades of red, orange and green. Instead, they navigated the landscape one field, one tree, one measurement at a time. ‘Case by case,’ he said, grimly, as he guided me along the narrow paths that separated his rice fields, on the outskirts of a small village in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture.

The author examines maps of radioactive contamination in Fukushima.

It was spring in 2016 when I first visited Tanizaki’s farm. The air was warm. The nearby mountains were thick with emerald forests of Japanese cedar, konara oak and hinoki cypress. A troop of wild red-faced monkeys stopped foraging to watch us as we walked by. And woven through it all – air, water, land, plants, and living bodies – were unseen radioactive pollutants. Almost everything now carried invisible traces of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Tanizaki began taking measurements. With his Geiger counter, he showed me how radioactive elements were indifferent to the cartographic logic of the state. In some places, the radiation level dropped low, becoming almost insignificant. But here and there, beside a ditch or near a pond, the level was elevated dangerously high. Tanizaki called these areas ‘hot spots’ and they were scattered across the landscape, even within supposedly ‘safe’ zones on government maps. Contamination in Fukushima, he believed, was structured in a way that no state was prepared to solve.

A decade after the 2011 meltdown, the region remains contaminated by industrial pollution. Though attempts at removing pollutants continue, a new realisation has taken hold among many of Fukushima’s farmers: there’s no going back to an uncontaminated way of life.

Watching Tanizaki measuring industrial pollution in a toxic landscape neglected by the state, I began to wonder: is this a future that awaits us all?

As an anthropologist interested in contamination, Fukushima throws into sharp relief the question of what it means to live in a permanently polluted world. That is why I began coming to Japan, and spending time with farmers such as Tanizaki. I wanted to understand the social dynamics of this new world: to understand how radioactivity is governed after a nuclear disaster, and how different groups clash and collaborate as they attempt to navigate the road to recovery.

I expected to find social bonds pushed to breaking point. Stories of post-disaster collapse circulate in our collective consciousness – tales of mistrust, fear and isolation, accompanied by images of abandoned homes and towns reclaimed by plants and wildlife. And I found plenty of that. A sense of unravelling has indeed taken hold in rural Fukushima. Residents remain uncertain about the adverse health effects of living in the region. Village life has been transformed by forced evacuations and ongoing relocations. And state-sponsored attempts at revitalisation have been ineffective, or complete failures. Many communities remain fragmented. Some villages are still abandoned.

Farmers took matters into their own hands, embracing novel practices for living with toxic pollution

In Fukushima, I found a society collapsing under the weight of industrial pollution. But that’s only part of the story. I also found toxic solidarity.

Rather than giving up, Tanizaki and other farmers have taken matters into their own hands, embracing novel practices for living alongside toxic pollution. These practices go far beyond traditional ‘farming’. They involve weaving relationships with scientists, starting independent decontamination experiments, piloting projects to create food security, and developing new ways to monitor a changing environment. Among rice fields, orchards and flower beds, novel modes of social organisation are emerging – new ways of living from a future we will one day all reckon with.

But the story of toxic solidarity in Fukushima doesn’t begin among rice fields and farms. It begins under the Pacific Ocean, at 2:46pm on 11 March 2011. At that moment, a magnitude 9.0-9.1 earthquake off the coast of northeastern Japan caused a devastating tsunami that set in motion a chain of events leading to the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Soon, Fukushima would find its place alongside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl as an icon of nuclear disaster – and an emblem of the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has become the dominant influence on environmental change. As the reactors began to meltdown, pressure mounted in the power station’s facilities, leading to explosions that released dangerous radionuclides into the air, including caesium-134, caesium-137, strontium-90 and iodine-131. These isotopes, with lifespans ranging from days to centuries, blew across Fukushima and northeastern Japan. And as they accumulated, health risks increased – risks of cancers and ailments affecting the immune system. To protect the population, the Japanese state forced tens of thousands of citizens living near the reactors to evacuate.

Furekonbaggu, bags of contaminated soil, piled neatly in the Fukushima countryside.

At first, Tanizaki believed he had escaped the worst of the radiation because his village was not in the mandatory evacuation area. But when the wind carried radionuclides – invisible, tasteless, odourless – far beyond the government models, his village became one of the most contaminated areas in Fukushima. He learned he had been exposed to harmful radiation only when the government forced him to leave.

Tanizaki and other evacuated villagers were relocated to ‘temporary’ housing. As the months became years, Tanizaki longed to return to his life as a farmer. But what would he farm? His land had been irradiated, and no one wanted to eat food grown in radioactive topsoil. To help Fukushima’s rural citizens retrieve their farms, the Japanese government launched an official politics of revitalisation in Fukushima, investing trillions of yen to clean and decontaminate the region before repatriating evacuees. Part of the cleanup involved storing tainted topsoil in large black plastic bags known as furekonbaggu (literally ‘flexible container bags’), which were then stacked in piles throughout the countryside. To keep residents safe, the government also promised to track contamination through a monitoring system. At the time, the possibility of a pristine Fukushima seemed within reach.

In June 2015, after four years of forced evacuation, Tanizaki was finally allowed to return to his farm. But the decontamination efforts had failed. He and many others felt they had been returned to a region abandoned by the government. The landscape was now covered in millions of bags of radioactive topsoil – black pyramids of the Anthropocene – while the government waited for a permanent disposal site. Also, the plastic in some furekonbaggu had already broken down, spilling radioactive soil over freshly decontaminated land. The state’s monitoring efforts were equally inadequate. In Tanizaki’s village, the monitoring of airborne radiation produced measurements that were rarely precise enough to give a complete picture of shifting contamination. Villagers lived with constant uncertainty: is the garden contaminated? Are the trees behind the house safe? Are mushrooms in the forest still edible?

I saw dead sunflowers rooted in irradiated fields – withered emblems of dreams to retrieve Fukushima

For some, the uncertainty was too much. Tens of thousands relocated to other parts of Japan rather than returning. In 2010, the region registered 82,000 people whose main income came from farming. But by 2020, that number had fallen to around 50,000. Abandoned greenhouses and fields can still be found dotted across the landscape.

Withered sunflowers in irradiated fields.

Knowing that government efforts weren’t going to help, some returnees began to decontaminate their own villages and farms. There was hope that the region could be returned to its former uncontaminated glory. One proposed method involved planting sunflowers, which were believed to absorb radiation as they grew. Yellow flowers bloomed across the farmlands of Fukushima. However, the results were unsatisfactory. Even during my time in Japan, years after the disaster, I saw dead sunflowers still rooted in irradiated fields – withered emblems of early dreams to retrieve a pre-disaster Fukushima. I also witnessed decontamination experiments in rice paddies: farmers would flood their fields, and then use tools to mix the water with the irradiated topsoil below, stirring up and dislodging radioactive pollutants such as caesium. The muddy water was then pushed out of the field using large stiff-bristled brushes. This project also failed. Some paddy fields are still so contaminated they can’t grow rice that’s safe for human consumption.

These failures significantly affected the morale of Fukushima’s farmers, especially considering the importance of the region as a rice-growing capital. Once easy decontamination efforts failed, returnees were forced to ask themselves difficult questions about their homes, livelihoods and identities: what will happen if farming is impossible? What does it mean to be a rice farmer when you can’t grow rice? What if life has been irrevocably altered?

Even the mushrooms tasted different. One farmer, Takeshi Mito, told me he had learned to grow shiitake mushrooms on artificial tree trunks, since real trees were too contaminated to produce edible fungi. ‘Now the taste of the shiitake has changed,’ he mumbled, a strange sadness filling his voice. The ‘real’ trees had given the mushrooms a special flavour, just like ageing a whisky in a sherry cask. ‘Yeah,’ he said, pausing to remember. ‘They were good.’

A new reality was emerging. Farmers were learning to accept that life in Fukushima would never be the same. Small details are constant reminders of that transformation, like the taste of mushrooms, or the library in Tanizaki’s home, which is now filled with books on Chernobyl, nuclear power, radioactive contamination, and food safety. This is new terrain, in which everyone carries a monitoring device, and in which everyone must learn to live with contamination. A former way of life may be impossible to retrieve, and attempts at decontamination may have failed, but farmers such as Tanizaki are learning to form new relationships to their irradiated environment. They’re forging new communities, reshaping notions of recovery, and reimagining their shared identities and values. Contamination may appear to have divided Fukushima’s farmers, but it has also united them in strange and unexpected ways.

By the time the evacuees were allowed to return to their homes, government mistrust had become widespread. Official promises were made to Fukushima residents that a nuclear disaster was impossible. These promises were spectacularly broken when radiation spread across the region. A lack of information from state sources made things only worse, leading to a growing sense that the government was unable to provide any real solutions. Not trusting state scientists, but still wanting to know more about the invisible harm in their villages, farmers reached out to academics, nongovernmental organisations and independent scientists in the hope of better understanding radioactivity.

These new relationships quickly changed social life in rural communities, and brought an influx of radiation monitoring devices. Rather than asking for additional state resources (or waiting endlessly for official responses to questions), farmers worked with their new networks to track radiation, measuring roads, houses, crop fields, forest areas and wildlife. Everyone learned to use radiation monitoring devices, which quickly became essential bodily extensions to navigate a changed Fukushima. Many rural communities even began to use them to develop their own maps. I remember the walls of Tanizaki’s home being covered in printed images showing the topography of the local landscape, with up-to-date information about radiation often provided by farmers. Local knowledge of the environment, combined with the technical savoir faire of independent scientists, produced far more accurate representations of contamination than the state maps made by government experts.

Sharing the work of living with contamination provided a feeling of communal life that returnees had so missed

Thanks to these maps, Tanizaki now knew that radiation doses were higher at the bottom of a slope or in ditches (where radionuclides could accumulate, forming ‘hot spots’). He also knew that the trees outside someone’s home increased the radiation levels inside. Through this mapping work, many farmers developed a kind of tacit knowledge of radiation, intuitively understanding how it moved through the landscape. In some cases, it moved far beyond the colour-coded zones around the reactors, or even the boundaries of Fukushima itself. A major culprit of this spread has been inoshishi (wild boar), who eat contaminated mushrooms before migrating outside irradiated areas, where their highly contaminated flesh can be eaten by unsuspecting hunters. To address this problem, monitoring programmes were developed based on the knowledge of farmers, who were familiar with the feeding and migration patterns of wild boar. Once a delicacy, inoshishi have become what the anthropologist Joseph Masco calls ‘environmental sentinels’: a new way to visualise and track an invisible harm.

But monitoring is more than a pragmatic tool for avoiding harm. In many instances, it also became a means of forging new communities. After returning, farmers began to share their knowledge and data with scientists, gathering to talk about areas that need to be avoided, or holding workshops on radiation remediation. Ironically, sharing the work of living with contamination provided a feeling of communal life that returnees had so missed. Ionising radiation can ‘cut’ the chemical bonds of a cell. Based on the experiences of Tanizaki and other farmers, it can also create novel connections.

Many farmers told me of their amazement at the sheer diversity of people who had come to support the revitalisation efforts. And it wasn’t only former evacuees who were drawn into these new communities. It was also the volunteers who came to help from other parts of Japan. One scientist I spoke with, who specialised in radiation monitoring, ended up permanently moving to a village in Fukushima, which he now considers his hometown. There are many similar cases, and they’re especially welcome in the aftermath of a disaster that has deeply fragmented Fukushima’s rural community. Some farmers told me there were times when they would go weeks without speaking to anyone. Life in a polluted, post-disaster landscape can be lonely.

Monitoring might have helped residents avoid harmful radiation, but it didn’t necessarily help with farming. Often, the new maps revealed that crops grown in certain areas would fall beyond the official permissible thresholds for radiation in food. And so, farmers who could no longer farm were forced to develop alternatives. In collaboration with university scientists, some former rice farmers began growing silver grass as a potential source of biofuel that would provide energy for their region. ‘If we can’t grow food, we can at least make energy!’ one scientist told me.

Other farmers now use their irradiated fields to grow ornamental flowers. In the solarium of an elderly man named Noriko Atsumi, I saw rows of beautiful Alstroemeria flowers that are native to South America. When I visited in 2017, Atsumi was happy to talk about his flowers with me, and eager to show his solarium. ‘At the beginning,’ he told me, ‘it was really hard to try to grow flowers all alone, especially in these horrible conditions, but now I’m happy I did.’ Another elderly Fukushima farmer, Masao Tanaka, who lives alone on his farm, also dreamt of having a personal flower garden. I saw hundreds of narcissus flower bulbs he’d planted in a small field once used to grow commercial crops.

The flower gardens of Fukushima are an attempt to forge new relationships

For farmers such as Atsumi and Tanaka, growing flowers has become a new hobby. But ‘hobby’ is the key word here: Japan remains anxious about radiation in Fukushima produce, so most flowers are simply given away rather than sold. Though these ornamental flowers are not commodities like rice, they fall within an aesthetic of revitalisation. They’re little sprouts of precarious hope – the dream of a Fukushima that a new generation of farmers might one day call home. One village official explained this hope (and its complexities) to me like this:

I don’t know what kind of impression you have of our village. It used to be one of the top 10 prettiest villages in Japan. Now, there are 1.5 millionfurekonbaggu across it. They are left right next to paddy fields. Citizens are seeing these bags every day and asking themselves: ‘Can we really go back?’ They are being told that everything is safe, but when they see those bags, how can they be sure?

In a landscape of black bags, the flower gardens of Fukushima are an attempt to forge new relationships – an attempt to bring colours back to a post-disaster landscape and to the lives of those who live in it. Flowers represent a communal attempt to reshape the narrative of village life, which has been shadowed by tragedy. Flowers have allowed communities to make their villages beautiful again, and allowed farmers to take some pride in their decision to return to what many believed was a ‘ruined’ agricultural region.

On one trip to Fukushima, I visited a long plastic greenhouse where fire-red strawberries were being cultivated by a group of farmers and scientists. Inside, I saw rows of strawberries growing on the ground, fed by filtered water from a system of tubes. This watering system ran in and out of soil that was thick with pebbles, which a scientist told me were ‘volcanic gravels from Kagoshima’ on the other side of Japan, hundreds of kilometres away. They were using these gravels, he said, because the soil in Fukushima was ‘too contaminated to harvest safe products’. In fact, almost everything that the strawberries needed to grow, from the plastic greenhouse to the filtered water, had come from elsewhere. I couldn’t help asking: ‘Can you really say these strawberries came from Fukushima?’

One scientist working in the greenhouse seemed offended by my question. ‘We are using the safest technology in the world!’ he said. ‘It cannot be safer than that. The bad part is that people don’t write about this. All they write about are the plastic bags that you see everywhere!’

I was confused. I’d asked a question about provenance but was given an answer about safety. In the post-disaster landscape, safety had paradoxically become an integrated component of the products of Fukushima. The new agricultural products of Fukushima have become known not merely by the environment they grew in, but by the technologies that have allowed them to resist that environment. The scientist’s response showed some of the ways that Fukushima is embodying new values after the disaster. New products, like little red strawberries grown with imported soil, are becoming symbols of resilience, adaptation and recovery – part of the fabric of solidarity in a new Fukushima.

Toxic solidarity has been encouraged by the same organisations responsible for the disaster

But not everyone can share the embrace of toxic solidarity. In Tanizaki’s village, many young people have permanently left, wary of the health risks of residual radiation. These risks are especially concerning to new parents. During my fieldwork, I heard mothers complain about strange ailments their children experienced right after the disaster: chronic diarrhoea, tiredness, and recurrent nosebleeds that were ‘a very dark and unusual colour’. Concerns are not only anecdotal. After the disaster, thyroid cancers among children increased in Fukushima, which some believe was caused by exposure to iodine-131 from the meltdown. For some parents, leaving has been the only way to protect themselves and their children.

Complicating the binary between those working with or against contamination, toxic solidarity has been encouraged by the same organisations responsible for the disaster. For example, Japanese state ministries and nuclear-related organisations have increasingly encouraged returnees such as Tanizaki to become responsible for keeping their dose of radiation exposure as low as possible. In this way, safe living conditions become the responsibility of citizens themselves, as tropes of resilience are conveniently deployed by the state, and financial supports for disaster victims are gradually cut off. Those who refuse to participate in these projects have been labelled hikokumin (unpatriotic citizens), who hamper the revitalisation of Japan. What we find in this co-option is an unreflexive celebration of farmers’ resilience – a celebration that serves the status quo and the vested interests of state agencies, corporate polluters and nuclear lobbies. Through this logic, disaster can be mitigated, free of charge, by the victims themselves.

These blind celebrations of toxic solidarity only legitimise further polluting practices and further delegations by polluters. In a way, it is no different to the strategies of tobacco lobbies in the mid-20th century, who tried to market smoking as a form of group bonding, a personal choice or an act of freedom (represented by those many Marlboro Men who would eventually die from smoking-related diseases). While toxic solidarity can be applauded as a grassroots act of survival and creativity, it is also the direct result of broader structural patterns: the fact that polluting industries are often installed in peripheral, poor and depopulated regions; the repeated claims of government that toxic disasters can never happen; and the over-reliance on technological fixes that rarely solve social problems. When all else fails, it is always up to the ‘small’ people to pick up the pieces as best they can.

Contamination isn’t going away. Radiation will continue to travel through the landscape, pooling in rice paddies, accumulating in mushrooms and forests, and travelling in the bodies of migrating boar. Some areas remain so irradiated that they’re still bright red on the government maps. These are the prohibited ‘exclusion zones’, known in Japanese as kikan konnan kuiki (literally, ‘difficult-to-return zones’). They may not be reopened in our lifetimes.

One afternoon, someone from Tanizaki’s village took me to see the entrance to the nearby exclusion zone, which is blocked by a wide three-metre-long metal gate, barricades, and a guard. By the gate, in a small wooden cabin, a lonely policeman acted as a watchman. The gate, painted bright green, is supposed to separate people from an environment that is considered dangerous, but almost anybody can easily cross into the forbidden zone. Some farmers even have official access to the kikan konnan kuiki, so that they can check on the condition of their homes in the red zone. Cars and small pickup trucks go in and out, without any form of decontamination.

As I took a picture of the gate, the guard looked over and a farmer, perhaps worried I would get in trouble, came to explain: ‘He’s a foreigner you know, he just wants to see.’ It was forbidden for a non-Japanese person like me to enter the area. The same interdiction did not apply to locals. One Japanese citizen who had come with us was critical of this double standard: ‘The people of Fukushima are no longer normal people.’

In the post-disaster landscape, we can begin to see novel forms of community, resistance, agency and innovation

In the years since that day at the edge of the red zone, I have pondered this phrase many times. In the Anthropocene, when Earth has become permanently polluted – with microplastics, ‘forever chemicals’ and other traces of toxicity accumulating in our bodies – are any of us still ‘normal people’? The problems of Tanizaki and other Fukushima farmers will soon become everybody’s concern, if they haven’t already. How might we respond to this new reality?

The current mode of governing life in an age of contamination is built on a promise that we can isolate ourselves from pollution. This is a false promise. So-called decontamination measures in Fukushima are a crystal-clear example that this doesn’t work. There’s no simple way to ‘decontaminate’ our world from ubiquitous pollution: from mercury in sea life, endocrine disruptors in furniture, pesticide in breast milk, heavy metals in clothing, alongside an almost neverending list of other toxicants.

The experiences of Fukushima’s farmers show us how to navigate the uncharted, polluted seas of our age. Their stories show how new communities might express agency and creativity, even in toxic conditions. They also show how that agency and creativity can be co-opted and exploited by dubious actors. In the post-disaster landscape of rural Fukushima, we can begin to see the outlines of novel forms of community, resistance, agency and innovation that might shape our own future – a future that will hopefully be better, in which economic prosperity is not pitched against environmental wellbeing. In the end, these stories allow us to think about the kinds of toxic solidarity that we can nurture, as opposed to those that have historically been imposed on the wretched.

Someday, when we acknowledge we are no longer ‘normal’, Tanizaki’s story is one we must all learn to tell.

Maxime Polleri is an assistant professor in the department of anthropology at Université Laval, in Quebec City, Canada. He is working on a book about the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, ‘Radioactive Governance: The Politics of Revitalization after Fukushima’.

Edited byCameron Allan McKean

January 20, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , | Leave a comment

A book titled “Fukushima Daiichi NPP Accident Nakadori Litigation” (published by Sakuhinsha, Inc.).

The book is a compilation of the eight years leading up to the victory against TEPCO. “I hope the younger generation will read it so that it will not fade away.

November 27, 2022
A book titled “Fukushima Daiichi NPP Accident Nakadori Litigation” (published by Sakuhinsha, Inc.) summarizes the history of the lawsuit by 52 men and women of the “Nakadori ni Ikiru Kai” (represented by Fumiko Hirai) living in Fukushima City and Koriyama City, Fukushima Prefecture, who claimed they suffered psychological damages from the nuclear accident and sought payment of approximately 100 million yen from TEPCO (in March this year, the plaintiffs were declared winners by the Supreme Court). On March 26, the plaintiffs gathered in Fukushima City for a party to celebrate the publication of the book and to express their gratitude. The book is based on the plaintiffs’ tearful statements, which they rewrote and reworked many times to complete the book, and is filled with the history of their claims of emotional distress caused by the risk of radiation exposure and radioactive contamination. One of the plaintiffs said, “I hope the younger generation will read this book. One of the plaintiffs said, “I really want the younger generation to read this book. I hope the younger generation will read this book so that the nuclear accident will not fade away.

[“For Your Later Use”].
 The completed book is 472 pages in a 466-size format. It consists mainly of statements submitted by the plaintiffs to the Fukushima District Court along with their complaint, and includes a chronology of events since March 2014, the complaint, a statement of opinion (excerpts) requesting termination through settlement, and a summary of the appeal trial decision (Sendai High Court, January 2021). The book is as thick as a dictionary and not inexpensive, but it is truly a compilation of the “Nakadori Ikiru Kai” (Association for the Living of Nakadori). The book will be available in bookstores from the 30th of this month.
 Hiroko Sato, one of the plaintiffs, writes in her introduction, “This book is a compilation of the experiences of the ‘Nakadori Ikiru Kai’ (Association for Living in Nakadori).
 This book is a record of our fight in court to prevent people from saying that there was no damage caused by radiation from the nuclear accident, because we wrote statements about our grief, suffering, and anxiety caused by the accident.
 The 20 plaintiffs who gathered for the first time in many years on that day also commented that they could not read the statements without tears.
 I joined the trial because I thought it was important for ordinary housewives to speak out. The reality was harsh, and the process of writing the statements was especially difficult. There were times when I thought about quitting because it was so hard. When I read the book again, I could not read it without tears, because it describes everyone so nakedly, and I wondered how each and every one of them had suffered so much.
 I was surprised to see how much each and every one of you had suffered. I think this book is about that. We will not pretend that what happened did not happen. We will not put a lid on the painful feelings we had. That was important.
 I want the younger generation to read this book. I want the younger generation to read this book. I want them to understand that when an accident occurs at a nuclear power plant, it is so difficult and changes the lives of so many people. I want them to read this book so that they will not let the accident fade away.
 The psychological damage caused by low-dose radiation exposure continues to this day. We hope that many people will become aware of our lawsuit, which has caused us great emotional distress as a result of the nuclear accident, and that they will change their minds about restarting nuclear power plants. I believe this book has that kind of power. I am proud to be one of the main characters in this book.”
 I am proud to be one of the main characters in this book. I am glad that it became a book. It is good timing to publish the book at a time when the government is trying to restart the nuclear power plants.

We will not be forgotten.
 Fumiko Hirai (Fukushima City), who has been leading the way as the representative of the association, reiterated her thoughts at the time she started preparing for the trial, “If we keep quiet, it will be pretended that it never happened. Ritsuko Ueki (Fukushima City), who played a central role in the sponsorship, proudly stated, “The main characters of this book are the plaintiffs. Her husband Shozo, who had fought with her as a plaintiff, suddenly became ill in July and passed away in August. Although the shock still brings tears to her eyes, Ms. Hirai and the plaintiffs were united to the end.
 Two other plaintiffs who attended the publication commemoration also lost their husbands.
 One of the plaintiffs had not told her husband that she was participating in the trial.
 She said, “I didn’t tell my husband because I thought he wouldn’t get the message. I thought he wouldn’t understand, so I didn’t tell my husband.
 Another plaintiff lost her husband last December. She shed tears, saying, “My husband always said to me, ‘Do your best.
 I don’t know how many tears I shed during the long, long process of the trial. Some were tears of joy. No, there were more tears of frustration.
There were more tears of frustration. Lawyers for TEPCO denied all of the plaintiffs’ claims, dismissing them as having no health or psychological damage caused by radioactive contamination. In his ruling, however, Hisaoki Kobayashi, the presiding judge of the Sendai High Court, took a swipe at TEPCO, stating that “it can be said that the plaintiffs were actually exposed to radiation far exceeding conventional assumptions,” and that “the fear and anxiety [about radiation exposure] is not something as light as the ‘vague sense of anxiety’ claimed by the appellant [TEPCO]. The court stated in its decision that “the fear and anxiety of radiation exposure is not as light as the ‘vague sense of anxiety’ claimed by the appellant (TEPCO).
 Attorney Kichitaro Nomura, who represented the plaintiffs in winning the lawsuit, said in front of the plaintiffs, “From the time I filed the lawsuit, I had been thinking that I would like to publish a book after this lawsuit was concluded in a good way. Everyone followed my lead. I am deeply moved by the results of their efforts to write statements and to overcome the questioning of the plaintiffs. I am deeply moved. This was a major trial in my career as a lawyer. The hurdle is high, but if you read the contents of the book, I think you will find something that will resonate with you. He then introduced a comment from Professor Kageura Kyo of the University of Tokyo. He said that he had asked Professor Kageura to comment on the obi, but he was unable to do so due to poor health.
 He said, “Be aware of the fact that it is ‘my’ own damage. I think this is an extremely important point, not only in litigation, but also as a sovereign in a democratic society. In that respect, I thought this lawsuit was very important in that it was not only a victory against TEPCO, but also in that the individual dignity confirmed in the lawsuit led to a reaffirmation of our existence as sovereigns in a democratic society more generally.
 I think the lawsuit was a confirmation of the principle that all citizens are respected as individuals at all levels, including the fact that Mr. Nomura was the only lawyer against the five TEPCO lawyers, and one of the concrete ways to realize that principle.

TEPCO rejected the settlement recommendation.
 Preparation for this lawsuit began in the spring of 2014; it was filed against TEPCO in Fukushima District Court on April 22, 2016.
 The plaintiffs were 1) initially exposed to radiation due to the spread of radioactive materials following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident in March 2011, 2) faced with the decision of whether or not to evacuate to avoid exposure to radiation, 3) unable to take appropriate measures to prevent exposure to radiation due to lack of timely and accurate information from TEPCO, 4) family division and separation caused by the voluntary evacuation, and 5) the future health problems of their children and grandchildren. (6) A sense of loss regarding their garden and vegetable garden after the decontamination process.
 The first oral argument was held in August 2016, and the plaintiffs themselves began questioning in February 2018.
 In December 2019, the Fukushima District Court recommended a settlement at the request of the plaintiffs, but TEPCO refused. After stating that “it is reasonable,” the amount of the approved amount was calculated in consideration of the individual circumstances of each plaintiff. The court ordered TEPCO to pay between 22,000 yen and 286,000 yen (a total of 1,234,000 yen) to 50 of the 52 plaintiffs.
 The plaintiffs accepted the judgment, but TEPCO appealed. The appeal hearing at the Sendai High Court will conclude with the first oral argument in September 2020. In January 2021, the High Court ruled that “as in the original trial, the plaintiffs’ legally protected rights were infringed upon with regard to the mental distress they suffered from March 11, 2011, the date of the accident, to December 31 of the same year, exceeding the acceptable limit of social life, and that they incurred increased living expenses during the above period. The court ordered TEPCO to pay compensation, stating that “it is reasonable to award compensation in the amount of 300,000 yen, taking into consideration the fact that the plaintiffs’ living expenses increased during the above-mentioned period. 
 TEPCO filed a “petition for appeal and acceptance of appeal” to the Supreme Court, but in March of this year, the third Petty Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously decided by five judges that “the case will not be accepted as an appeal hearing. The decision of the Sendai High Court, which recognized the plaintiffs’ emotional damages, became final. The decision came after eight years, including the period of preparation prior to the filing of the lawsuit, and eleven years since the nuclear accident occurred.

December 4, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Let’s Hear Voices from Fukushima: “I feel like a tree in my garden is gone and my roots have been pulled out”

Vol. 41: Talk Session “Let’s Hear Voices from Fukushima! vol.41 Report (Part 2) “I feel like a tree in my garden is gone and my roots have been pulled out” (Kazue Watanabe)

October 26, 2022
Let’s Hear from Fukushima!” In the first part, Fumio Horikawa, who evacuated from the town of Namie in Fukushima Prefecture to Fuji City in Shizuoka Prefecture, spoke about his life before the disaster in Namie, at the time of 3/11, in the evacuation line and his current life at the evacuation site, intertwining his personal history with his companion Takako’s comments from time to time. In this issue, we would like to report on the second part. A video recording of the demolition of Mr. Horikawa’s house and the cutting down of trees on his property was shown, followed by a discussion between Mr. Horikawa and photographer Jun Nakasuji, who shot and edited the video.

The video was filmed and edited by photographer Jun Nakasuji, who also shot the video.

Fumio Horikawa
 Before you watch the video of the demolition of our house.
 This house was built by my father and mother in 1967. I was in the fifth or sixth grade at the time. Every day after school, I would stop by the building site to help out. My role was to carry two wheelbarrows of gravel from the nearby river to the site where the foundation had been dug. I did this every day without fail. It was also my daily job to polish the materials for the hallway and floor with a bag of rice bran.
 My father traveled around the country with the master carpenter to purchase building materials such as Kiso cypress, Akita cedar, and Aomori hiba (hiba). It was the first house built by my father, who was the third son of a poor farmer, and he and the master carpenter purchased the materials from all over the country.
 For me, too, it was a house that I helped build day in and day out. Therefore, I felt very strong resistance to dismantling the house, but due to the circumstances I have just described (in Part I), I was forced to sign the application for demolition. I then asked Mr. Nakasuji to record the “end-of-life care” of our house on video. I feel a little warmed and healed by the fact that he left this work of art.

Projection of “fine 2-2-A-219
 We watched Jun Nakasuji’s video work projected on the screen installed at the venue

The film was shot by Jun Nakasuji.
 In this video, the stakes that are driven into the cleared land at the end seem to be grave markers. I have been going to Namie-cho once or twice a month since 2013, and it is not often that I go to the same place like that in my life, so it had become a familiar sight to me. Then all of a sudden, the demolition went ahead and there was a row of what looked like grave markers. After six or seven years, new initiatives were slowly emerging, and finally the wave of these initiatives had arrived in Namie. So when Mr. Horikawa asked me to take pictures of the demolition, I said I would be happy to do so.
 Demolition takes about a month, and I thought about what kind of method I should use to film the demolition. Mr. Horikawa kept in touch with people on site and gave me information, which I listened to and made a schedule. Even though I was at the construction site all day, I could not approach the site while work was in progress, so I took pictures of the site while the workers were eating their lunches, and after a while I became friends with the workers. After a while, I became friends with the workers, and they let me plant my camera in various places.
 That’s how I was shooting, but I was originally a still photographer. Still photography is always looking at various places, and my eyes are constantly moving to find new poses, but this time the work was heavy with history, with the Horikawas’ memories of the house, the thoughts of the previous generation, and the wood used for the materials. In order to compress the history into a short work, I decided to use the method of staring at a single point for a long time, so I set up a tape measure and used a slow speed method of staring at a single point for a long time. I could have made a documentary-style film with Mr. Horikawa’s dialogue, but instead I decided to have the god of the house speak silently, and this work was completed.
 It was February. I spent a little over a month traveling back and forth between my home and Namie, sometimes staying overnight in my car, and sometimes drinking until morning with Sumio Konno at a karaoke snack bar in front of Namie station. Thanks to this connection, the owner of the snack bar gave me the key to her apartment, and I was able to take pictures while sleeping under a roof. There was no running water or electricity, but I felt that being in such a place opened a window to my sensibilities.
 Even now, when I go to Namie to shoot, I stay in my car at a cemetery called Ohirayama. People ask me why I stay at a cemetery, but the people who sleep there were the first to experience the pain of the nuclear power plant accident. They were alive, but their search was cut off because of the nuclear accident. I feel as if I am being told to keep proper records while being protected by the spirits of those people. Every time I go there and lay down on the floor to sleep, a police officer comes to question me about my duties. It has become a regular occurrence.
 After filming the demolition of Mr. Horikawa’s house, I was asked by Mr. Konno to film the demolition of his house as well. A year later, I was asked to photograph the demolition of Namie Elementary School, but I thought it was too much for me to do alone. Mr. Horikawa said, “The president of that company is a graduate of my cram school,” and he gave the OK on the same day. Last year, it took about three months to complete the filming. The filming was done in a style I had never done before, in which the viewer gazes at a single point for a long time, and the absurdity of the nuclear accident that is revealed through this process is expressed not through direct human words, but by possessing the unspeakable. This was actually put to good use in the filming of the Horikawa family.
 The Horikawa’s home was the demolition of a house with a garden, but the government’s definition of “demolition” is only for houses, and trees and garden stones are not included. Because of tax issues, in order to dispose of the land, the trees and stones in the garden had to be removed. So Mr. Horikawa finally decided to get rid of the garden trees. There was a large maple tree in the garden that seemed to be the guardian deity of the house, as if it had been the family’s happy place to rest in its shade. The maple tree had to be cut down. So, I made a film about the maple tree. To my delight, fellow artists from the “Moyai Exhibition” (organized by Mr. Nakasuji) painted pictures and a sculptor made wood carvings, creating works related to the maple tree.
 It is difficult to get a sense of something that comes from an unspeakable object unless we are in a state of pure listening and free of any thoughts. However, I believe that sensing such things and expressing them in some way will provide an opportunity for children who have no memory of those days to learn about them in the future, 11 years after the event.

Projection of “KODAMA
 A video work by Jun Nakasuji that vividly depicts the way the wind crosses the maple trees, Fumio and Takako’s one-day visit to the maple trees, the maple trees being cut down, and works by artists Kimbara, Suzuki, and Ando that depict the maple trees.

Mr. Horikawa
 I can only express my gratitude to Mr. Nakasuji for the many days and hours he spent filming. Also, the painters Hisahiro Kanehara and Kunihiro Suzuki, who are here today, took the trouble to come to our house in Namie and paint the maples in our garden. Sculptor Eisaku Ando, who evacuated to Kyoto, also made a sculpture from a maple tree that had been cut down and left behind. We are very happy that so many people have done this for us, and we are filled with gratitude that both our house and the maple tree can now be put to rest.

Mr. Nakasuji
 Like the maple tree, in the cleared areas of Namie, a garden tree stands as if it were a guardian deity of the house. That is the strange scenery after the demolition. I felt as if the trees in the garden were playing the role of connecting the hearts of the owners who had evacuated and were far away from their homes. They have been there, rooted to the ground, watching the city without a single day’s rest since 3/11.
 Just recently, I visited the site of Mr. Horikawa’s house, which has been completely cleared, and was left with a very empty feeling.

Mr. Horikawa
 When the maple trees were cut down and the yard was cleared, I felt even more empty than when the house was demolished. When I saw the cleared land in my neighborhood, I thought that everyone must be feeling the same way.

 The most impressive thing I heard from various people was, “When the house was still there, I thought I was a Namie resident because of the house, even though I had evacuated far away, but when the house was demolished but the garden trees remained, I thought I was still a Namie resident because of the garden trees. However, when the garden trees were cut down and the last of the trees disappeared, it was as if this was the deciding factor as to what would really happen.

Mr. Horikawa.
 That’s right. I feel like my roots have been pulled out.

Mr. Nakasuji
 Until the nuclear power plant accident and reconstruction work began in earnest, I was able to express the unreasonableness of the nuclear accident through the scenes of towns that were uninhabited and falling into disrepair, but as the towns were being cleared and nothing was left, it became difficult to find a theme for my work from the standpoint of someone who had been shooting

 reality. Conversely, thanks to the fact that I have been watching and photographing during that period of time, I can see that the nuclear accident exists in the form of a vacant lot with nothing in it. At such a time, Kaede seemed to call out to me, “The subject is still there. Take a picture of me.” I felt as if Kaede was calling out to me. I was sure that Kaede was calling everyone. I am sure that Kaede called everyone, including Mr. Kanehara, Mr. Suzuki, and Mr. Ando.

Mr. Horikawa
 I am on the board of directors of the school governing council of the integrated elementary and junior high school in the community where I live now. That is how I got over my depression, and the local people recommended me, saying, “Since you have worked so hard in Namie, we want you to do the same here. That cleared me of a strange wet dream (the trouble with the neighbors I talked about in the first part).
 Now I need a little income, so I kept the junior high school section of the cram school and eliminated the elementary school section. And as a place for children to stay, I have set up “Matsuno Tanoshiso” from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. I also volunteer once a week as a coordinator for other learning support programs for elementary school children.
 (In response to Watanabe’s question, “What was it like living in Namie with its abundant nature?)
 Namie was a town rich in nature. My friends and I bought a boat with 15 people, and I and one other person were the pilots, and we would go out fishing three times a week, communicating with each other like, “We’ll go tomorrow. We never bought any fish, except for the fall swordfish. I caught everything myself. I would eat them alive and slaughtered them. In the mountains, I would pick wild vegetables and mushrooms, and when the season came, I would go out to pick them, saying, “I’m going to pick some more.
 He had many friends. Many of them were graduates of the cram school. But now they are all gone. The nuclear accident took away everything. In the case of a natural disaster, it doesn’t disappear. In the case of a natural disaster, people would try to somehow build the town back together again, but that is not possible in the case of a nuclear accident. Everything is gone.


November 11, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan says repayment of TEPCO Fukushima cleanup delayed

The Japanese government says repayment of the more than 10 trillion yen ($68 billion) government funding for cleanup and compensation for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster has been delayed

Men in hazmat suits work inside a facility with equipment to remove radioactive materials from contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), in Okuma town, northeastern Japan, Thursday, March 3, 2022

By MARI YAMAGUCHI Associated Press

November 8, 2022

TOKYO — Repayment of the more than 10 trillion yen ($68 billion) government funding for cleanup and compensation for the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster has been delayed, the Japanese government says.

The Board of Audit said in a report released Monday that the delay stems from technical difficulties and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ worsening financial state. It said the entire process may take more than 40 years.

The nuclear plant suffered triple meltdowns following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, spewing radiation that contaminated areas nearby and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate.

Funding for the first 11 years of the disaster has already amounted to nearly half of TEPCO’s total estimate of a cost of 22 trillion yen ($150 billion) for the decades-long project.

The Board of Audit said that by April, the government had provided 10.2 trillion yen ($70 billion) in no-interest loans to TEPCO for the plant cleanup, decontamination of its surroundings and compensation to people affected by the disaster.

The government has shouldered initial costs of the compensation with money borrowed from financial institutions. TEPCO is repaying those debts out of its revenues including electricity bills.

According to the Board of Audit, the government raised its funding limit to 13.5 trillion yen ($92 billion) from an earlier 9 trillion yen ($61 billion) in anticipation of higher costs. Costs of the cleanup are funded by government bonds, so increases or delays add to the public debt.

TEPCO’s mandated repayments were cut to 40 billion yen ($270 million) a year from an initial 70 billion yen ($470 million) a year. In a worst case scenario, it could take up to 42 years for TEPCO to fully pay back the costs, the Board of Audit said, citing its own estimate.

Assessing the damage and details of melted debris inside of the reactors is technically daunting and dozens of lawsuits could raise the amount of compensation required.

TEPCO is facing other troubles on top of its burden of decommissioning the wrecked plants and paying compensation.

The expected startups of two of seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan were delayed by technical and safety problems, so TEPCO restarted coal-fired plants to meet demands. Rising costs for fuel are an added burden.

November 11, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , , | Leave a comment

12.1 trillion yen ($82 billion) spent so far on Fukushima nuclear disaster

TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant with rows of tanks storing treated wastewater

November 7, 2022

Around 12.1 trillion yen ($82 billion) has already been spent to deal with the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to sources at the Board of Audit of Japan.

That means more than half of the government’s total estimated cost of 21.5 trillion yen, including compensation payments and reactor decommissioning expenses, has been used in the 11 years since the meltdowns occurred.

However, the nuclear decommissioning process is not going smoothly, and there are fears that the planned discharge of treated radioactive water from the plant into the sea could damage the reputations of the disaster-affected areas.

Expenses could still expand, and the BOA on Nov. 7 asked the government to review its projected cost.

The BOA also asked the government to explain how the public would bear the cost if it is reviewed.

The government, however, said the cost will likely not increase.

“We sincerely listen to various views but at least at the moment, we do not believe the cost will surpass the estimated figure, and we do not plan to review it,” said an official for the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

The BOA studied costs incurred up until fiscal 2021.

The breakdown was: 7.1472 trillion yen for damages paid to people affected by the disaster; 2.9954 trillion yen for decontamination-related costs; 268.2 billion yen related to temporary storage facilities for contaminated materials; and 1.7019 trillion yen for nuclear decommissioning work and dealing with contaminated water.

The BOA in 2018 calculated the total cost incurred until the end of 2017 was around 8.6 trillion yen.

The government has repeatedly revised its estimate of the cost.

In 2016, it nearly doubled its estimate from 11 trillion yen to 21.5 trillion yen.

Expenses for damages, decontamination work, or activities related to temporary storage facilities are categorized as “compensation costs.”

The government pays the “compensation costs” with money borrowed from financial institutions or through other means.

Such debts are paid back using revenue from electricity companies across Japan collected through electricity bills or tax revenue.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken plant, and other parties published an “estimated compensation cost” of 12.5865 trillion yen as of April.

However, this figure doesn’t include projected damages to compensate businesses and others for reputational damage caused by the treated water being discharged into the sea.

Also, seven court rulings have ordered the government and TEPCO to pay damages to those who fled the disaster more than the figures recommended in the interim guidelines published by the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation.

The committee was established within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

These seven rulings have been finalized. If the guidelines are reviewed, the recommended figures for damages could increase.

A BOA official said these two points–damages for reputational damage and damages for evacuees–could raise the cost to deal with the accident, including the amount the public will have to bear.

TEPCO pays for all nuclear decommissioning work and dealing with contaminated water.

According to the BOA, the breakdown of the costs in this area in the 11 years after the accident was: 195.7 billion yen for removing nuclear fuel from spent fuel pools; 182.1 billion yen for dealing with contaminated water and treated water; and 37.1 billion yen for removing melted fuel debris from nuclear reactors.

Removing fuel debris is said to be the most difficult task in the process of decommissioning, and the government estimates the cost for this process will reach 1.37 trillion yen by 2031.

TEPCO, in fact, abandoned the planned removal work this year because robotic arms used for the task haven’t been developed as quickly as predicted.

The utility now aims to start that work in the second half of fiscal 2023.

It was TEPCO’s second postponement of the work, which was initially scheduled to start in 2021.

TEPCO has saved funds every year for decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The balance was 585.5 billion yen as of the end of fiscal 2021.

But TEPCO’s financial condition is deteriorating, and it could be forced to spend the money more quickly depending on how smoothly the task of removing fuel debris goes and run out of the funds.

November 7, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

VOX POPULI: Nuclear power in Japan may be a mistake we are doomed to repeat

A huge tsunami is seen approaching the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011. (Provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

July 7, 2022

The Supreme Court was extremely lenient with the government in its June 17 verdict concerning the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe of 2011.

Multiple high courts had already ruled that the government was liable for damages for failing to order Tokyo Electric Power Co. to take sufficient preventive measures against a potentially disastrous tsunami.

The top court, however, overturned all these rulings.

Explaining the reason, the presiding justice noted to the effect that the tsunami turned out to be “simply too massive.”

The gist of his argument was that since the accident would have occurred anyway even if the government had ordered TEPCO to install a seawall, his court could not hold the government responsible as a nuclear safety regulator.

What an utterly magnanimous ruling for a government that failed to do its part. This is akin to giving someone a pass because they are too inexperienced or immature to be treated seriously.

I could not possibly support this ruling. However, trying to go along with the court’s reasoning just for the sake of argument, the conclusion to be drawn is the government was never capable of regulating a nuclear power plant at all.

Ultimately, any discussion of nuclear power boils down to whether humans are ever capable of being a party to handling it.

Radioactive nuclear waste must be kept isolated for an utterly mind-boggling period of 100,000 years. We have also learned that once a nuclear accident occurs, we cannot even go near the accident site, let alone control it.

For some years after the Fukushima disaster, the idea of ending nuclear power generation was a major issue in national elections.

A decade has elapsed, however, and the issue is hardly “hot” in the July 10 Upper House election. In fact, the recent rise in energy prices has given a boost to advocates for a greater reliance on nuclear energy.

If radioactive nuclear waste could talk, it must be scoffing at our forgetfulness and taunting us: “You will never be able to measure us by your yardstick.”

July 10, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Supreme Court Ruling Rejects National Government Responsibility for Fukushima Evacuees

by Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center · Published July 4, 2022

By Fukutake Kimiko (Head attorney for the Chiba Prefecture nuclear power plant victims lawsuit)

On June 17, 2022, the Supreme Court of Japan put an end to the four lawsuits filed by the evacuees of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Gunma, Chiba, and Ehime prefectures. The sole point of dispute in these lawsuits was whether the Japanese government, which did not exert regulatory authority on the utility company, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), for the implementation of measures against tsunamis, is liable to compensate for damages according to Paragraph 1, Article 1 of the Law Concerning State Liability for Compensation. The top court absolved the government.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred when external power supply to the station was lost due to the earthquake, activating the emergency power supply system, which was then crippled by the tsunami that flooded the station above ground level. The loss of emergency power made reactor core cooling impossible, causing core meltdown and the discharge of huge volumes of radioactive substances. The plaintiffs claimed that, firstly, the loss of emergency power supply and consequent disaster had been foreseeable because it was possible to tell that tsunamis would flood the station above ground level, at which the reactor building and turbine building were situated, since the height and impact of tsunamis were calculated based on the Long-term Assessment released in 2002 by the governmental Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion. The second claim was that the disaster might have been prevented if the main buildings and main equipment rooms had been provided with measures to make them watertight, in addition to seawalls.

On the other hand, the government claimed that, firstly, the Long-term Assessment was not knowledge that could have been accepted as a just set of opinions sufficiently accurate and reliable to be incorporated into nuclear regulation, and that, secondly, even if tsunami countermeasures had been taken in response to the calculations based on the Long-term Assessment, tsunamis were calculated to arrive from the south, prompting a seawall to be built to the south of the station, such that the seawall would have had no effect against the tsunami experienced in this lawsuit, because the size and directions of the actual tsunami waves were completely different.

Supreme Court shies away from delivering a clear judgment about foreseeability

Concerning the tsunami calculations, the Supreme Court stated: “The fault model of the Meiji Sanriku Earthquake was applied to the areas closer to the Japan trench, such as the areas off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture. Many numerical calculations performed with the conditions of this fault model varied within the ranges that were deemed reasonable, using the design tsunami height evaluation methods available from tsunami evaluation technology. The highest possible tsunamis on the east face and southeast face of the station were calculated. The calculations included sufficient safety margins to meet the worst-case scenario foreseeable at that time. Thus, the calculations were reasonable.”

The Supreme Court did not examine the Long-term Assessment closely nor take it affirmatively; it stated that the calculations based on the Long-term Assessment were reasonable. However, the court did not clearly put aside the Long-term Assessment. The court statement can be understood to mean that the Assessment was reliable.

However, to determine foreseeability, it is not sufficient to consider only natural phenomena, namely, from what directions and at what heights tsunamis would arrive. What also needs to be considered is whether it was possible to foresee that, when a tsunami arrived above ground level, seawater could enter the buildings and rooms where critical facilities were placed through openings such as doors, pipe penetrations and air intakes, possibly submerging and crippling the emergency power supply. Sato Kazuo, former chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission wrote in Logic of Nuclear Safety [in Japanese]: “Danger indicates the possibility of generating circumstances where human life, health, or assets may be significantly damaged.”

The Supreme Court wrote: “If the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry had exerted regulatory authority, a seawall or similar construction designed to prevent the flooding of the station would have been installed to protect against tsunamis of the scale similar to those calculated in the Long-term Assessment.” It sounds as if the Supreme Court recognized the foreseeability of only natural phenomena.

Supreme Court adopts the seawall as the sole point of contention

The Supreme Court further stated, “Prior to the accident examined in this lawsuit, the basic countermeasure for the protection of nuclear facilities from tsunamis in this country was to build seawalls or the like to prevent seawater from entering the premises of the nuclear facilities in which safety equipment or the like are situated, to prepare against premise flooding due to tsunamis… Such an idea that installing seawalls or the like is not sufficient was not dominant, and in no other respects was the above-mentioned measure taken as insufficient as a tsunami countermeasure to protect nuclear facilities under the knowledge available before the accident examined in this lawsuit. Therefore, it is impossible to reasonably determine that the implementation of other measures was probable or that such other measures should have been taken in addition to the seawalls or the like designed to prevent the flooding of the premises examined in this lawsuit in the case of tsunamis of a scale similar to that of the accident, even if the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry had exerted the above-mentioned regulatory authority before the accident.”

At the same time, however, a flooding accident had already been experienced at the Blayais Nuclear Power Plant in France. In response to the accident, watertight defense efforts were being made for critical equipment rooms in addition to the construction of seawalls. At Tokai Daini Nuclear Power Plant (Ibaraki Prefecture) and Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station (Shizuoka Prefecture), watertight defense efforts were already made for part of the buildings and critical equipment rooms. The safety philosophy of multiple protection, which demands multi-layer safety measures, was widely accepted around the world. A single measure is no longer regarded satisfactory for critical equipment such as the emergency power supply; multi-layer, diverse, and independent safety measures are demanded. The Supreme Court judgment is a sign of acceptance of the poor operation of the regulatory organization in Japan.

Supreme Court excessively emphasizes that the actual tsunami and earthquake were greater than the tsunami calculations

The Supreme Court stated, “The scale of earthquake predicted in the Long-term Assessment was around 8.2 in tsunami magnitude, and the flooding depth around the main buildings was estimated to be about 2.6 meters or less. The calculated tsunamis were higher than the station ground level on the southeast face, while on the east face, the calculated tsunamis did not exceed the ground level; namely, even if a tsunami of the same scale as calculated had arrived at the station examined in this lawsuit, it was not foreseen that seawater might enter the site from the east face.” The court examined in detail the tsunami experienced in this lawsuit, stating, “The epicentral area ranged about 450 kilometers north and south, and about 200 kilometers east and west. The maximum slippage was 50 meters or more. The magnitude of the earthquake experienced in this lawsuit was 9.0, and the tsunami magnitude was 9.1; the earthquake was the largest in Japan’s seismic monitoring history. With the arrival of the tsunami experienced in this lawsuit, volumes of seawater entered the station premises not only from the southeast face but also from the east face. The flooding depth near the main buildings due to the tsunami was a maximum of about 5.5 meters.” This finding is not wrong. However, it is not relevant to discuss the cause of the disaster based only on the scale of the earthquake (whether the tsunami magnitude was 8.2 or 9.1), the direction of tsunami arrival (whether from southeast or from east), or flooding depth (whether about 2.6 meters or less, or a maximum of about 5.5 meters). The real issue is whether tsunamis might arrive above the station ground level, whether seawater might enter the main buildings, whether emergency power supply might be flooded and crippled, and whether the danger of reactor core meltdown might be possible or probable. Because the tsunami calculations obtained based on the Long-term Assessment indicated that such a danger was possible, the danger did exist if the actual tsunami were as great as or greater than the calculations. As the dissenting opinion by Judge Miura points out, “In this lawsuit, the bottom line must not be overlooked while too much attention is paid to the scales and details of the earthquake or tsunami experienced in this lawsuit.”

Supreme Court judges that seawall installation is the only measure, taking account of tsunami calculations only

The Supreme Court wrote: “A seawall or the like designed to protect the station examined in this lawsuit from tsunamis of the same scale as the tsunami calculations would be highly likely to serve mainly to prevent the entry of seawater from the southeast face of the station; even taking into account the possibility that seawalls would be designed to include a given degree of margin, it would not have served to prevent the ingress of a great amount of seawater into the station at the arrival of the tsunami.” The court also stated: “It is highly likely that such a large amount of seawater would have entered the main buildings, flooded and crippled emergency power supply, caused the nuclear reactor facilities to black out, and generated an accident of the same scale of the disaster experienced in this lawsuit.” In conclusion, the Supreme Court denied the causal link between the lack of exertion of regulatory authority and the occurrence of the disaster, stating. “Under the factual conditions presented in this case, a factual relation cannot be found to exist between the lack of exertion of the abovementioned regulatory authority by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and the occurrence of the accident examined in this lawsuit or similar accident.” The court judged that the government is not liable to compensate for damages according to Paragraph 1, Article 1 of the Law Concerning State Liability for Compensation.

Dissenting opinion by Judge Miura acutely reveals the truth

The Supreme Court Petty Bench consists of five judges, but Otani Naoto, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, does not participate in the examination of individual cases. The four judges who conducted this case were Kanno Hiroyuki (former judge), Miura Mamoru (former prosecutor), Kusano Koichi (former attorney), and Okamura Kazumi (former prosecutor, attorney, and government official).

Besides the fact-finding section, the majority opinion (by judges Kanno, Kusano and Okamura) consists of only six pages, denying the liability of the government. On the other hand, the dissenting opinion (by judge Miura) is 29 pages long, and clearly states that the government is liable: “The government and the utility company, TEPCO, are held liable for damages to the plaintiffs, and it is reasonable to understand that the two are under non-authentic joint obligations (meaning that both parties are liable, but that releasing one party from liability does not automatically release the other party from the same liability).” The dissenting opinion is summarized below:

  1. In the Technical Standards based on the Electricity Business Act, “the cases where nuclear reactor facilities and the like may be damaged by tsunamis,” are cases where, in consideration of the severest foreseeable tsunami conditions, the safety functions of nuclear reactor facilities and the like may be crippled by tsunamis, which should be assessed appropriately by means of numerical calculations and other relevant means, based on the latest scientific and expert knowledge, and in consideration of the uncertainty of various factors from a conservative (safer) point of view, to encompass tsunamis that may occur, however rarely, during the service period of the facilities.
  2. The Long-term Assessment was conducted to evaluate the occurrence of future earthquake activity in the area ranging from the offshore area of the Sanriku Coast (extending from Aomori to Miyagi Prefectures in northern Japan) to the offshore area of the Boso Peninsula (in Chiba Prefecture in the south), as part of a comprehensive evaluation of earthquakes, to promote the improvement of earthquake disaster prevention measures. The basic reliability of the Assessment can be secured in that the Assessment was conducted by appropriate methods using previously established scientific and expert knowledge. The Assessment is reasonable for use as the basis of the determination of technological standards.
  3. At that time, in Japan and in other countries, watertight defense measures were known to be implemented in nuclear reactor facilities. Technological knowledge for the prevention of flooding for doors, openings, penetrations and the like is available. It can be considered that, if watertight defense measures or other relevant measures were taken, it might have effectively protected the emergency power supply examined in this lawsuit against the tsunami.

Let’s overturn the Supreme Court majority opinion

The majority opinion of the Supreme Court bailed out the delinquent national government, ignoring the fact that regulatory administration can be effective only when the government exerts regulatory authority at the right time and in the right situations. We might say that the judicial system has managed to come down to a very low level here.

The majority opinion of the Supreme Court includes incorrect factual findings, judgment failures and contradictions. The second lawsuit of the Chiba plaintiff group is pending at the Tokyo Hight Court. We intend to make the best efforts possible to present further assertions and proofs needed to turn the dissenting opinion of the Supreme Court decision into a majority opinion. We thank you for your continued support.

July 10, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima nuclear plant compensation burden was secretly reduced

© Toyo Keizai Online The benefits of reduced nuclear power plant compensation payments are being extended to major electric power companies. Photo: Kyushu Electric Power’s Kawauchi Nuclear Power Plant

An investigation by a non-profit organization has revealed that a portion of the cost of compensation for damages caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, which is borne by the major electric power companies, has been secretly reduced without proper explanation.

Photo: CALI’s release on March 31 regarding the determination of the general burden. This alone does not reveal the actual situation.

The amount of reduction amounts to 29.3 billion yen for one year in FY2021. Hajime Matsukubo, executive director of the NPO Nuclear Information and Documentation Office, who discovered this fact, criticizes the way it was done, saying, “There is no proper explanation to the public, the electricity users, and the way it was done is opaque.
Reducing the burden on electric power companies by approximately 20%.

Under the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage and Decommissioning of Nuclear Power Plants, the nine major electric power companies, including Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Japan Atomic Power Company, and Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, have been bearing a total of 11 companies’ costs called the general burden to cover the cost of compensation for victims of the nuclear accident.

A portion of this amount was paid in FY2011 and FY2012, and the full amount in FY2013 and thereafter was paid to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (hereafter referred to as “JNES”). In FY2020, an additional 30.5 billion yen was added as an additional burden, referred to as the “past portion” (see below).

When Makoto Yamazaki, a member of the House of Representatives of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, submitted a written question based on Matsukubo’s point of view, the government responded that the actual reduction in the general burden for FY2021 is 29.3 billion yen. The actual burden for the same fiscal year was 133.7 billion yen.

According to Matsukubo, the burden for the nine companies, excluding Chubu Electric Power and Japan Atomic Power Company, was reduced by about 20% from the FY2020 level. Chubu Electric’s burden was increased by 2.8%, and the reduction for Japan Atomic Power Company was about 14%. The company had the special circumstance that it had been decommissioning nuclear power plants even before the accident.

Regarding the reduction, a CALC official explained, “With the major electric power companies in a difficult business situation, the companies requested a reduction in the existing level of the general burden, which had been determined based on profit levels prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident.

© Toyo Keizai Online Release issued by JNES on March 31

The total amount of general contributions for FY2021, which CALI announced on March 31 after receiving approval from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, was 194.7 billion yen, up 1.5 billion yen from the previous fiscal year. The aforementioned person in charge said, “The total amount of the general burden itself has not changed significantly compared to FY2020, and the burden on electricity users as a whole will remain the same. The total amount of the general burden itself has not changed significantly compared to FY2020, and the burden on electricity users as a whole has not changed.

However, there is a trick to this explanation.

There are two types of general contributions: one is the contribution related to compensation for the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. The other is a past general burden created in 2015 when it was discovered that the cost of compensation was much higher than initially expected, and the increased amount was added to the transmission charges (charges for the use of transmission and distribution lines) in order to recover it. The new fee is to be collected from the second half of FY2020, as it should have been collected from 1966, when Japan’s first commercial nuclear power plant went into operation, to 2011, when the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident occurred, but had not been collected.

The amount of the past due amount was approximately 61 billion yen in FY2021, when a full year’s worth of fees was collected. 30.5 billion yen in FY2021 was a year-on-year increase of the past due amount, which overshadowed the former amount of reduced fees (29.3 billion yen).
METI and CALI should provide a proper explanation.

A significant portion of the conventional general burden is included in the cost of electricity rates and passed on to users. If the general burden has been reduced, shouldn’t it be used as a source of funds to reduce electricity rates?

Another problem is that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is in charge of approving electricity rates, has not provided proper explanations. When important utility rates are revised, the Consumer Affairs Agency and the Consumer Commission have a system to check the revision. However, the Consumer Affairs Agency says, “There have been no specific consultations and we have not received any information about the reduction of the general burden fee,” since it is not related to the revision of electricity rates.

On the other hand, one member of the Consumer Affairs Committee said, “This is the first time I have heard about this and I am surprised. The way it is done is opaque,” he told Toyo Keizai.

In addition to the complicated structure and method of determining electricity rates, costs related to nuclear power plants have been added to rates in the form of a roof over the head, with new fees collected retroactively after accidents have occurred. Moreover, “the method of determining the general burden is a black box” (Matsukubo).

Currently, the price of natural gas and other fossil fuels is soaring, causing electricity prices to rise, and households are finding it tougher to make ends meet. The fact that behind the scenes the electric power companies were secretly allowed to reduce their burden may cause suspicion toward the electric power administration. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) should reveal the actual situation of the reduction.

July 10, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima’s Dueling Museums

Abstract: In Fukushima there are two museums that present different narratives of the 3.11 natural disaster and nuclear crisis. TEPCO’s Decommissioning Archive Center focuses on the nuclear accident, what its workers endured and provides rich details on the decommissioning process expected to take three to four decades. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum focuses on how the lives of the prefecture’s residents were affected by the cascading 3.11 disaster. The Archive elides many controversial issues that reflect badly on the utility while the Memorial conveys the human tragedy while addressing some of the controversies not covered in the Archive. TEPCO presents an evasive narrative at the Archive, but it is slickly packaged and casts the utility in the best light possible. The Memorial is impressive in scope and conveys the extent of the various tragedies with updates that responded to patrons’ criticisms about controversial issues.

Museums are important sites for shaping public memory and promoting desired narratives, especially concerning controversial issues and events. The goal is to influence how visitors think about and remember what have become collective memories, and thereby shape public discourse. Thus, much is at stake in how the past is selected and represented at sites that commemorate the divisive past and assert interpretations of it. It’s important to examine museums like texts, read between the lines and see what is marginalized, ignored, emphasized and distorted in the displays. Two distinctive narratives about the Fukushima nuclear disaster feature in two museums in Fukushima Prefecture, the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive and the prefectural government’s Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. The contrast is stunning if not predictable.

The strategy of the TEPCO facility is to elide awkward details and emphasize how its dedicated workers, at great personal risk, saved the day and how the utility is committed to cleaning up the mess and acting responsibly. It was never going to be easy for TEPCO to burnish its reputation, but with this slick facility and some artful spin the Archive makes the best of the poor hand the utility dealt itself. The prefectural museum focuses on the human element and how the natural and man-made nuclear disasters of 3.11 wreaked havoc on communities and families, endangered the health of evacuees and children, assigning blame for what was and what was not done while also trying to suggest that a brighter future for Fukushima is emerging. The Memorial Museum is more engaging and visceral while TEPCO presents a more dispassionate narrative that works to normalize and routinize the trauma while highlighting progress. Museums are moving targets, as exhibits and panels are updated and revised, owing to public pressure in the case of the Memorial Museum and the evolving process of decommissioning for the TEPCO Archive.

TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center
Credit: Jeff Kingston

The TEPCO Archive opened in late 2018 in the town of Tomioka, about 10 km south of the stricken reactors. Its stated purpose is to “preserve the memories and records of the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and to share the remorse and lessons learned, both within TEPCO and with society as a whole.”( 2020) Up to a point this is correct, but the remorse and lessons learned is overshadowed by the detailed exhibits and explanations about nuclear energy technology and the decommissioning process. The archive’s pamphlet suggests that “TEPCO has a keen sense of its responsibility to record the events and preserve the memory of the nuclear accident”, but this is a selective memory that is more evasive than forthright about the causes and unfolding consequences of the three meltdowns. One exits the museum knowing more about how TEPCO and its workers were affected by the nuclear accident than how it affected the people living in the vicinity.

There is a collage of TEPCO workers specifying the number of people currently employed in Fukushima, 4,170 as of mid-April 2022. This display is there to underscore how important TEPCO remains to local communities, generating jobs in a depressed region. The company has kept faith with its employees while betraying their hometowns. Good jobs are one of the inducements offered when TEPCO began building the nuclear plant in 1967. The government and utilities selected remote, depressed towns for siting reactors, offering lavish subsidies and well-paid jobs that were a lifeline for these communities. (Onitsuka 2012) They also promoted the myth of 100% safety to reassure locals that there was nothing to worry about until they discovered it was a fairy tale with an unhappy ending.

TEPCO’s Fukushima employees
Credit: Jeff Kingston

The Fukushima Daiichi workers on site at the time of the meltdowns had to cope with fears of radiation contamination and uncertainty about how to bring the situation under control in a cascading disaster that began with total loss of power on March 11, 2011 due to the massive 13 meter tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9 earthquake. This station blackout caused a cessation of reactor cooling systems and precluded automated venting of the hydrogen accumulating in the reactors’ secondary containment buildings. As the zirconium clad fuel rods heated up, they emitted hydrogen, but the staff had never practiced manual venting and had to spend valuable time figuring out how to do so due to poor training. (Cabinet 2012; Hatamura 2014; Akiyama 2016) Sato Hiroshi, one of the men in the control room during the crisis, confirmed that nobody knew how to operate the venting manually and when they eventually tried the venting system proved inoperable. (Interview April 16, 2022)

The hydrogen explosions that ripped apart secondary containment structures in Unit 1 (March 12), Unit 3 (March 14) and Unit 4 (March 15) spread radioactive debris and injured some workers, hampering the emergency response. The crisis atmosphere was also heightened by several powerful aftershocks that left staff worried about another tsunami and wondering what else might go wrong. High on that list was the possibility that the water in the spent fuel rod cooling pools adjacent to the reactor vessels might evaporate, causing a catastrophic explosion; this was the nightmare scenario because the hydrogen explosions had shredded the secondary containment housing, leaving the pools exposed to the elements. This worst-case scenario of a massive eruption of radiation with no containment would have forced any surviving emergency workers to flee the site and might have forced the evacuation of Tokyo. The plant manager Yoshida Masao had another nightmare scenario, referring to what he called a China Syndrome involving a “nuclear fuel melt through” penetrating all containment of the crippled reactors and releasing vast amounts of radiation exceeding the 1986 Chernobyl accident. (Asahi 2014) The situation was so dire he testified he felt he was likely to die. The TEPCO Archive doesn’t delve into these worst-case scenarios about what might have happened.

One can only imagine how stressful and traumatizing this on-the-job training experience was for these professionals, part of the trauma narrative of 3.11 that is not prominently featured in public discourse because they are not seen as victims of this disaster but rather those responsible for the accident. At the TEPCO Archive, I spoke with Sato Yoshihiro, one of the Fukushima 50 (actually 69 workers) who stayed on to manage the crisis while hundreds of others evacuated. (McCurry 2013) He was a control room deputy manager and involved in the failed venting efforts. There is a video interview with him at the facility recalling just how harrowing the nuclear accident was, but nothing about the manual venting. When asked, he said that the venting system failed even when they tried manually operating it and that there had not been adequate crisis emergency training. (Interview April 16, 2022) Plant manager Yoshida Masao reached the same conclusion; he and other plant workers were insufficiently trained and that was a key factor in the nuclear accident. (Asahi 2014) The Cabinet Investigation into the causes of the accident also highlights this deficiency. (Cabinet 2012, Hatamura 2014) As the sign below attests, TEPCO acknowledges this critical shortcoming.

Display at TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center
Credit: Jeff Kingston

Since 2011 there have been significant upgrades of reactor safety hardware, but doubts linger about how well workers are trained in crisis management and operation of disaster emergency systems. Given TEPCO’s extensive institutionalized flaws and lax culture of safety along with dysfunctional internal and external communication that exacerbated the crisis, it is hard to be optimistic that sufficient improvements have been enacted in the ensuing decade. (Akiyama 2016) The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has issued robust safety guidelines on restarting reactors, but has been lax on enforcing compliance, not rejecting any applications for extending the operating licenses of forty-year old plants, after asserting that this would be exceptional, and issuing approvals in cases where all safety upgrades had not yet been completed. (Kingston 2021) This appears to be yet another lesson from the 3.11 disaster about the dangers of wishing risk away that has not been taken to heart. This institutionalized insouciance about safety is why citizens have sought and won lower court injunctions blocking restarts because judges agree that the review process has been inadequate; on appeal these injunctions have been overturned but even so, the lawsuits demonstrate that the nuclear energy industry has not yet regained public trust. (Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama 2020)

As the nuclear crisis grew increasingly dire, many plant workers drove away from the site and retreated to the Daini Plant about 12 km away, a sensible response to the evident dangers even as it raises questions about the broader implications for managing the risks of responding to a nuclear accident. The causes of this exodus are controversial, but it appears that the plant manager’s instructions may have been misinterpreted or garbled as they passed down the line. (Asahi 2014) However, Yoshida believed that the workers who decamped to safety at the Daini Plant made the right call, although he maintains he intended they retreat to the rear area of the Daiichi Plant. It’s important to note that the site is massive, about the same size as Central Park in New York. At any rate those that stayed on have been immortalized as the Fukushima 50 in an eponymous hagiographic film that focuses on how their heroic self-sacrifice saved the nation from what could have been a much more serious calamity.

It is striking how in the film Fukushima 50 (2018) the nuclear accident has been transformed into an uplifting story of bravery rather than a sordid saga of lax safety practices, regulatory capture and corporate cost cutting at the expense of public safety. (Diet 2012) It’s a deeply flawed and biased account of the nuclear accident, perpetuating myths that PM Kan Naoto was responsible for an accident that was largely the utility’s fault abetted by slipshod government oversight. (Diet 2012, Cabinet 2012, RJIF 2012) TEPCO was widely reviled following the accident and even years afterwards employees I knew were not keen to let others know where they worked. Given how important one’s job is to one’s identity in Japan, this too has been traumatizing. When the mandatory evacuation order was lifted in 2016 for Odaka, Sato’s hometown, he recalls worrying about whether he would be blamed for an accident that had transformed a once prosperous community into a ghost town. Apparently, those worries proved unfounded.

Previously, in an ill-advised act of hubris that generated a harsh public backlash, TEPCO issued a self-exonerating report about the accident in mid-2012, asserting it was a Black Swan event that was sotegai (beyond what could be anticipated) although in house researchers knew of the tsunami risk and in the 1990s TEPCO had been alerted to the dangers of a station blackout potentially leading to a nuclear accident. (Kingston 2012) However that position became untenable following three major investigations into the accident published in 2012 that emphasize TEPCO’s failure to improve disaster countermeasures despite numerous warnings, in-house and from government regulators. (Lukner and Sasaki 2013). Until October 2012 TEPCO tried to evade responsibility and muddy public perceptions by falsely implicating PM Kan but was pilloried for doing so and retracted this whitewash and issued a mea culpa at the insistence of an international team of experts brought in to review internal documents and the utility’s initial investigation. Although the Archive doesn’t explore this chapter of shirking, TEPCO’s employees probably feel victimized by the backlash generated by the attempted cover-up and the lingering image of skullduggery.

While sympathetic to the story of traumatized plant workers, the Archive is perhaps most noteworthy for what is missing. The collective and ongoing trauma of the nuclear refugees forced out of their homes, and the gutted communities and abandoned towns left behind, are not covered in the exhibits. The shared sense of betrayal among the displaced is not on display nor are the profound human consequences experienced by them and by Japanese throughout Japan who are now anxious about living in the shadow of nuclear power plants. People assumed that the scientists and officials knew what they were doing and would act responsibly to ensure safe operations, but that trust has been shattered.

Wandering into the Archive visitors encounter a progress report on decommissioning and the challenges of doing so. However, there is no reference to the spiraling cost to taxpayers now estimated to exceed $600 bn over the next four decades. (JCER 2019) Delays are expected and may extend that timeline and boost costs. The imposing F Cube in the center of the spacious first floor presents a video explaining what decommissioning work is and the status of that effort while other panels assert that there is steady progress day-by-day. It is an encouraging message that contradicts a steady stream of media reports about limited progress a decade on and various setbacks in decommissioning efforts. (Yamaguchi 2021)

Still on the first floor, we see photos of the workers engaged in decommissioning and learn about what measures they are taking at the reactors. The display on waste treatment and storage of radioactive waste overlooks the government’s so far fruitless quest to secure a permanent waste storage facility. A video panel discusses measures for treating contaminated water that TEPCO keeps in over 1,000 large storage tanks on the plant site. There is considerable controversy associated with this radiated water and what to do with it. Back in 2013 when Tokyo was bidding for the 2020 Olympics, PM Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that the water situation at Fukushima was under control, but it was untrue then and continues to be misleading now. The notorious $325 million ice wall installed to halt the flow of water passing down from adjacent hills through the reactors into the ocean has not worked as planned. (Sheldrick and Foster 2018)

There have also been numerous problems with the ALPS water decontamination system that is supposed to remove all but trace amounts of tritium so that the water can be safely dumped into the ocean. In 2018 TEPCO suddenly announced that the treatment of stored water had to be redone because the system had malfunctioned, a confidence sapping measure that further undermined confidence in TEPCO and its touted technologies. (Brown 2021)

Water Storage Tanks at Fukushima Daiichi Credit: TEPCO

Fukushima’s beleaguered fishermen are unhappy about the government approved plans to dump TEPCO’s treated/contaminated water into the ocean starting in 2023 because the 2011 accident has dashed consumer confidence in the safety of their fish. Hopes that these concerns would ebb over time have now faded with the high-profile dispute over ocean dumping that includes criticism from many Japanese citizens and domestic NGOs, international environmental experts and the governments of South Korea and China. (Brown 2021) The government has allocated JPY30 billion (US$245 million) to support the local fisheries industry and promises to buy seafood if demand declines due to consumer concerns, but these inducements have not convinced fishermen that the discharge of treated water won’t further tarnish the brand and reduce their income. (Kyodo 2022) It is common to hear locals rhetorically ask,“If the water is so safe why not dump it in Tokyo Bay?”

Visitors ascend the staircase to the second floor where there is a clock shaped pedestal of 3.11 remembrance commemorating the damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami. It is part of the exhibit: “Memory and record/Reassessment and lessons”. The video displayed nearby does open with an apology and dispassionate acknowledgement of responsibility that is an attempt to convey a level of remorse not evoked effectively by the other exhibits. But much of the video focuses on the seismic event and TEPCO’s response to the accident, conveying the sudden rupture of routine and the tensions of taking countermeasures. On a curved wall display there is a timeline of the first eleven days of the accident, another panel summarizes the countermeasures taken to manage the accident while a time series chart sketches the disaster from the time of the tsunami until cold shutdown was achieved in December 2011. Visitors also get a reactor-by-reactor review of how the accident unfolded and recreated scenes from inside the main control room for reactors 1 and 2 during the station blackout. There is also an animation including water injection efforts by fire engines at the various reactors as depicted below, a point we return to in discussing the prefectural museum.

The exhibit on the second floor that focuses on reassessment and lessons learned is striking for its brevity and breezy boosterism. Visitors learn that, “Faithfully facing up to the accident we were unable to prevent, we are determined to increase the level of safety, from yesterday to today and from today to tomorrow.” Left out is any discussion of the reasons why TEPCO was unable to prevent the accident and scant detail on how TEPCO is increasing safety other than expressing an ostensibly earnest desire to do so. Media reports about continued safety lapses and submission of falsified data in relation to TEPCO’s application to restart its Niigata nuclear power plant cast a shadow over the utility’s commitment to learning from, and acting on, the lessons of Fukushima. (Nikkei 2021). TEPCO has lost public trust (Rich and Hida 2022) and has shown limited capacity to regain it, even earning a stunning public rebuke from the NRA chair Tanaka in 2017 when he proclaimed the utility was unfit to operate a nuclear power plant. (Japan Times 2017)

Just before one descends the stairs to the exit there is an illuminating message from TEPCO asserting that, “We will pass on the genuine feedback received from the staff members who worked for the response to the accident, as ‘real voices,’ to future generations.” Here the museum is positioned as a site commemorating the trauma experienced by TEPCO’s employees and its mission of ensuring that their experiences are not overlooked. Sato is one of several employees who are featured in on-demand videos in which they share their experiences during the crisis. By highlighting the difficulties endured by plant workers, and the trauma they share with local residents, the Archive encourages a more sympathetic view of TEPCO. It is a sanitized and selective narrative that elides the damning findings of public investigations and the media, but creates the basis for “reasonable doubt” in the court of public opinion, especially as the details fade from collective memory.

Credit: Jeff Kingston

In contrast to TEPCO’s facility, Fukushima Prefecture’s Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum opened in 2020 highlights the wider human consequences of the events of 3.11, including the tsunami devastation and nuclear accident. This sleekly designed glass-walled facility located on a barren tsunami-swept area close to the coast is part of the government’s lavishly funded Fukushima reconstruction and recovery effort. Between the museum and the ocean is a derelict ruin of a house, preserved as a reminder of what the massive tsunami wrought. Inside, the spacious three story museum features displays about the derailment of people’s lives, the gutting of once vibrant communities, and the fear and uncertainty generated by the nuclear disaster. It too emphasizes lessons for the future but draws different ones than TEPCO and emphasizes the upheaval people experienced at the time, and dispiriting aftermath that lingers.

Derelict ruin and new embankments in front of museum. Credit: Jeff Kingston

Just past the entrance an introductory short video on a large screen shows the tsunami sweeping through towns and pulverizing communities with footage of the hydrogen explosions at the Daiichi Plant that reminds visitors just how serious the situation was. In terms of public memory, the radioactive plumes bursting from the reactor buildings launched the Fukushima nightmare. The day after the third explosion, Emperor Akihito appeared in a televised address on March 16, perhaps as a gesture of reassurance but also, given how extremely rare such appearances are, ramping up anxieties. The footage of the hydrogen explosions and tsunami is repeated elsewhere in the museum. Prominent symbols of the radioactive consequences of 3.11 are also displayed such as a hazmat suit typically donned by workers where there are high levels of radiation and one of the large black plastic bags where contaminated soil is stored. As of 2022, these remain ubiquitous in the prefecture.

Credit: Jeff Kingston

As one ascends the ramp to the second floor the wall features a series of photographs and text that provide a chronology from the safety agreement between the prefecture and TEPCO in 1969, commencement of operations in 1971 to the 13 meter tsunami that struck at 15:37 on 3.11 and the loss of AC power at 15:41 with a detailed timeline of the expanding evacuation zone that evening and the next day on March 12, including bewildering and contradictory requests for evacuations within a 10 km radius of the plant at 5:44 AM on 3.12 and about 2 hours later a shelter in place order for a 10 km radius. The next image shows Unit 1 after the hydrogen explosion at 15:36 PM later that day, a reissue of the evacuation order for those living within the 10 km radius at 17:39 PM, expanded to 20 km at 18:25 PM. One can only imagine how local residents were processing these disconcerting, rapidly shifting directives. Then on March 14 there was a second hydrogen explosion at Unit 3 followed by another early on the 15th at Unit 4, a reactor that was not even in operation at the time. Later that morning a shelter in place order was issued for a 20-30 km radius from the reactors. The chaotic government response to the unfolding compound disaster of earthquake, tsunami and major nuclear accident amplified the trauma, conveying uncertainty and incompetence at a time when the anxieties of affected people were already spiking.

March 11 Timeline of Disaster

Timeline of evacuation orders on March 11 & 12, 2011.
Credit: Jeff Kingston

The museum exhibits trace the origins and unfolding of the disaster in a more visceral and emotive set of displays than at the TEPCO Archive. The combination of video, animation, photographs, dioramas, graphs and captions provides a thoughtful assessment of what happened, how lives were affected and what lessons can be gleaned to prepare for and mitigate future disasters. The timeline of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident shifts the focus to the broader impact and draws on documents, investigations and testimonies that add detail and credibility to the grim narrative. The voices, thoughts and feelings of locals are conveyed powerfully, especially the ordeal of long-term displaced evacuees. Although not at the museum, readers interested in this subject can watch Funahashi Atsushi’s powerful documentary Nuclear Nation (2013) that follows a group of nuclear refugees from Futaba to an evacuation site in Saitama, detailing the demoralizing experience. 

Visitors learn about the power of rumors to distort reality and how these have been the basis for continued stigmatization affecting the lives of those engaged in agriculture and fisheries. Tackling this problem, some displays try to counter negative perceptions of Fukushima food products, and also present graphs showing increasing sales and prices.

Trends in Fukushima rice, peach and beef sales.
Credit: Jeff Kingston

Unlike the TEPCO center, the museum provides a harsh assessment of the response to the nuclear accident as residents were given conflicting information and instructions, and relocated from evacuation centers several times, adding to the stress and trauma that still haunts the nuclear refugees. There are touch screen panels that visitors can use to better understand what Fukushima’s residents have been dealing with in the aftermath of the meltdowns and the lingering impact on the psyche of people who suddenly lost everything and have had to contend with dislocation, discrimination and anxieties about potential health problems, triggering PTSD and physical ailments. Visitors see the ultrasound machine used for thyroid examinations and replicas of other devices used in monitoring food safety.

Mother and child getting medical check. Photo on display at the Greater East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum. Credit: Jeff Kingston

The museum was opened in September 2020 and updated in March 2021 just before my first visit. The updated displays were in response to criticisms from local residents and the media. The enhanced exhibits modify information on four specific issues: 1) the use of the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI); 2) the botched evacuation of the Futaba Hospital and related deaths, 3) mandatory euthanasia of livestock, and; 4) inadequate precautions and a poor emergency response due to radiation. The updates were based on feedback from questionnaires filled out by visitors, opinions of prefectural residents and issues raised in media reports. Altogether more than 70 panels, photos and display items were added. (Asahi 2021) A new panel mentions that government officials failed to utilize SPEEDI data for residents’ evacuation, an oversight that relocated many evacuees to the hot zone of Iitate Village for an entire month, raising their radiation exposure and anxieties. The Fukushima Prefectural Disaster Response Headquarters is accused of failing to make use of the data on radiation dispersion in any systematic way and of deleting 65 of the 86 emails it received with SPEEDI updates. However, in a spiral file folder just in front of that sign there is an added explanation entitled: “SPEEDI Not Usable in Evacuation”, casting doubts on the usefulness of SPEEDI. Elsewhere I met a retired prefectural official who was closely involved in the disaster response, and he too questioned how useful SPEEDI really is and said it was not possible to use the data to plan evacuations.

There is also added text about the problems of long-term evacuations, including isolation, loss of community, fears of “dying alone” in temporary housing and the ongoing process of restoring lives and livelihoods. Another panel compares health surveys in 2014 and 2019-2020 indicating that radiation related health anxieties are abating. Parents also seem less worried about letting children play outdoors; in 2011 67% were opposed to letting them play outside compared to 3% in 2015. However, the museum did add text about the failure of the central or prefectural governments to order the distribution of iodine tablets to lessen absorption of radiation, leaving it to local initiative.

Evacuation problems. Credit: Jeff Kingston

Perhaps the saddest addition refers to the “harsh evacuation” at the Futaba Hospital that caused the deaths of at least 40 patients during and after the ordeal due to delays and miscommunication. (Nakagawa 2021)

Citing the 2012 Diet investigation report into the accident, there is a panel added in 2021 about, “the collapse of the safety myth: a man-made calamity caused by failed measures.” This safety myth was why evacuation drills had not been deemed necessary, ensuring a chaotic response when it was crucial to act effectively in a timely manner.

Disaster-related deaths in Fukushima. Credit: Jeff Kingston

Taking measure of the nuclear crisis in ways that the TEPCO archive avoids, the museum’s misery index also includes panels on “living with anxiety everyday” due to radiation concerns and restrictions on rice planting and the shipping of vegetables and the “collapse of communities”. Another claims 2,329 disaster-related deaths as of September 30, 2021 due to radiation impeding rescue efforts and delaying evacuations, and the negative health effects of evacuations and prolonged living in shelters. In addition, there is a panel on the “agonizing decision” to accept the construction of Interim Storage Facilities on the Daiichi site. Agonizing because the prefecture was given little choice and because locals resent that they endured a nuclear disaster as a consequence of hosting a plant that only existed to generate electricity for Tokyo. Now Fukushima is left with ghost-towns, a battered economy and reputation in tatters. It is now also saddled with TEPCO’s nuclear waste for at least two to three decades to come, if not longer, perhaps becoming the de facto radiation dump.

Also added in March 2021 is a replica of the iconic pro-nuclear sign that once spanned Futaba’s main street, declaring “Nuclear Power: Energy for a Bright Future”. It became a fixture of reporting on the nuclear accident, an ironic rebuke to the nuclear village of nuclear energy advocates. The sign was removed from Futaba in 2016 partly because the pillars had rusted but also because it was an awkward reminder that seemed to mock TEPCO, the government and the townspeople who had naively embraced nuclear energy. It now serves to remind visitors of how strong pro-nuclear sentiments were, and the appalling risks of their blind faith in TEPCO and official reassurances of 100% safety, something unthinkable in contemporary Fukushima. Oddly, the sign is displayed on an outdoor terrace at the rear of the museum, ostensibly because of its size, but staff acknowledge there are places inside or in front of the building where the sign would fit. Whatever the reason, placing this iconic symbol on a back terrace that is difficult to see from inside the museum is curious curation.

Pro-nuclear sign from Futaba and fire engine Credit: Jeff Kingston

The mandatory evacuation order for Futaba was finally lifted in June 2022. It is a ghost-town bustling with construction projects. In early April 2022, next to the still deserted street where the iconic sign had been located is a small poster of an abandoned Futaba featuring Onuma Yuji, the student who came up with the winning catchphrase in praise of nuclear energy back in 1987. In the poster he is wearing a hazmat suit with his arms stretched upward holding a placard that blocks part of the original sign. The placard declares Radioactive Ruins, featuring the symbol of radioactive flanked by the red kanji for ruins, an indictment of the naïve boosterism of his youth and the bright future based on nuclear energy that he and other townspeople had once believed in. Now, as depicted in the poster, the truncated iconic sign reads: “Nuclear Power: Radioactive Ruins Future”. Superimposed on the image is a poem expressing Onuma’s anguish about the great betrayal, and what was lost. He laments,” Oh, if only there was no nuclear accident.”

Poster in Futaba April 2022 Credit: Jeff Kingston

Until 3.11 the sign had been a source of personal pride. Although the 1986 Chernobyl accident was fresh in Onuma’s memory when he submitted his entry for the town competition in 1987, he says that living in a small town of just under 8,000 where many residents were employed by TEPCO and related to someone who was, criticizing nuclear power was a taboo. But after the reactor meltdowns he had a change of heart and in 2016 Onuma protested the removal of the pro-nuclear sign, wanting it to remain as a stark reminder of the misguided policy and wishful thinking that prevailed. (Tanaka 2016)

Visitors may wonder if the crushed mini fire engine displayed next to the sign is a metaphor suggesting TEPCO’s inadequate disaster emergency preparedness or the government’s undersized safety countermeasures. The bright red twisted heap was found in the vicinity of the museum and serves as a reminder of the heroic first responders who paid a heavy price in lives lost in the effort to rescue others along the tsunami-pulverized Tohoku coast. I was told that the Japanese Self Defense Forces offered one of their full-size fire engines that provided water for cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools during the Fukushima crisis. Apparently under pressure from TEPCO, the museum declined to display this reminder of the nightmare that almost was. As noted above, however, a display at the TEPCO Archive does show fire engines at work in the crisis response so it is not clear why it would oppose having one displayed at the museum. Perhaps the more critical context of the Museum shifts the fire engine from being a positive symbol of collective effort in managing the crisis to an indictment of TEPCO’s poor crisis response and putting fire fighters lives at risk to save the nation from the utility’s lax safety culture.

Controversially, the media has reported that the local storytellers at the Memorial Museum who relate their experiences during and after the disaster are told, at the risk of losing their jobs, not to criticize TEPCO or the prefectural or central governments when talking to visitors. (Asahi 2020) A prefectural official told the Asahi, ““We believe it is not appropriate to criticize a third party such as the central government, TEPCO or the Fukushima prefectural government in a public facility.” Some of the guides are puzzled and angry at being muzzled since these organizations have been implicated in investigations into the nuclear disaster. Guides are asked to submit scripts of the remarks they intend to give that are reviewed and edited by museum staff. Reportedly, any changes to the script, and media interviews, must be cleared with museum staff. For example, if directly asked by a visitor about TEPCO’s responsibility for the accident, guides were told to avoid directly responding and refer visitors to facility staff. The Asahi points out that, “Committees set up by the Diet and central government to investigate the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster issued reports that called it a “man-made disaster” and said TEPCO never considered the possibility that the Fukushima plant would lose all electric power sources in the event of an earthquake or tsunami because it stuck to a baseless myth that the plant was safe.” (Asahi 2020) In addition, there are displays at the museum that present critical information about these institutions, so it is strange to prohibit guides from expressing opinions that are documented in the exhibits. I was unable to confirm this censorship in April 2022 but did chat at length with staff who were forthright in expressing critical opinions of TEPCO and government organizations.


The two museums present quite distinctive narratives of the nuclear crisis. Visitors inclined to support nuclear power will exit the TEPCO Decommissioning Archive Center feeling validated, but the exhibits are unlikely to persuade critics of TEPCO or skeptics about nuclear energy safety. The Archive offers a clear and detailed explanation of what happened inside Fukushima Daiichi during the first eleven days of the accident but does not probe into the institutionalized causes of the accident highlighted in the three main investigations. (Diet 2012, Cabinet 2012, RJIF 2012) There is acknowledgement that workers were not adequately trained to deal with the cascading disaster and expressions of remorse about the consequences without explicitly detailing the nature or extent of those consequences. There is also considerable focus on decommissioning efforts but no examination of related controversies such as the more than $600 billion estimated costs over the next 30-40 years or local opposition to the building of a “temporary” nuclear waste storage facility. Similarly, there is no acknowledgment of problems with the ALPS decontamination of radioactive water, or fishermen’s anger about the planned ocean discharge beginning in 2023, the equivalent of some 500 Olympic-size pools worth of treated water now stored in over 1,000 water tanks at the plant site. The Archive diverts attention away from such problems towards a more positive outlook. TEPCO has invested lots of money in this facility and other PR efforts to improve its image and shape the 3.11 narrative. This was never going to be easy, and challenges remain, but the Archive makes the best of a difficult situation and is what one would expect. It’s one of the Fukushima tour sites, not far from the Museum and a new memorial at the Ukeda Elementary School that will attract visitors and as such an opportunity to provide different information, challenge damning narratives and influence public attitudes and memories. Given how low TEPCO’s image sunk post-3.11, over time the Archive can achieve PR goals of improving the corporate image and how its role in the disaster is remembered.

As of March 2022, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum has welcomed over 100,000 visitors since the museum opened in late 2020 but the pandemic has limited numbers that are only now beginning to recover. Unlike the Archive it is a stunning building in an expansive space that is more appealing for tourists and school excursions. In addition to providing extensive coverage of the tsunami’s impact, it engages various nuclear-related controversies that the Archive does not cover. Among these are the botched evacuations, especially of elderly hospital patients, the frequent evacuations and lingering trauma of the nuclear refugees, the transformation of communities into ghost towns, the daily anxieties of living with radiation, and the disaster-related deaths of over 2,300 residents. Overall, the displays convey a damning indictment of TEPCO and government institutions and as such will powerfully influence collective memories of the traumas experienced and perceptions of the organizations responsible for the man-made nuclear crisis that blighted livelihoods, families and communities in Fukushima while etching its place in global memory alongside Chernobyl.


Akiyama, Nobumasa, (2016) “Political leadership in nuclear emergency: institutional and structural constraints” in Sagan, Scott and Edward Blanchard, eds, Learning from a Disaster: Improving Nuclear Safety and Security after Fukushima. Stanford, CA: Stanford Security Studies, pp. 80-108.

Asahi (2022). “TEPCO pushes back timeline for storage tanks at Fukushima plant”, Asahi Shimbun. April 28.

Asahi (2021a) “3/11 museum updates displays of nuclear crisis to give truer pictureAsahi Shimbun, April 10.

Asahi. (2021b) “Editorial: Public’s distrust of TEPCO runs deeper than its water tanksAsahi Shimbun. April 14.

Asahi (2020) “Don’t criticize government or TEPCO, guides in Fukushima told” Asahi Shimbun, September 23.

Asahi (2014). “Reality of the Fukushima 50 Special Report”, Asahi Shimbun.

Brown, Azby. (2021) “Fukushima Daiichi water: The world is watching or should beSafecast, May 6.

Cabinet(2012). Cabinet of Japan Investigation committee on the accident at Fukushima nuclear power stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company. Final Report. 23 July. (accessed April 30, 2022).

Diet. (2012) The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. Executive Summary. Tokyo: National Diet of Japan.

Hatamura, Yotaro, et al. (2014) The 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Power Accident. Sawston, UK: Woodhead Publishing.

JCER. (2019) “Accident cleanup costs rising to 35-80 trillion yen in forty yearsJapan Center for Economic Research, July 3.

Tanaka, Miya. (2016). “Creator slams removal of pro-nuclear signs from Fukushima ghost town” Kyodo News reprinted in Japan Times. March 3.

Japan Times. (2017) “Editorial: NRA’s nod for a Tepco restartJapan Times. Oct 8.

Johnson, David, Hiroshi Fukurai and Mari Hirayama (2020). “Reflections on the TEPCO trial: prosecution and acquittal after Japan’s nuclear meltdownAsia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 18:2(1) January 15.

Kingston, Jeff. (2021) “The development state and nuclear power in Japan” in Kyle Cleveland, Scott Knowles and Ryuma Shineha, eds., Legacies of Fukushima. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kingston, Jeff. (2012) “Mismanaging Risk and the Fukushima Nuclear Crisis The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 10: 12 (2) March 12.

Kyodo. (2022) “Fisheries group conveys to PM opposition to Fukushima water releaseKyodo News. April 5.

Lukner, Kerstin and Alexandra Sakaki, (2013)”Lessons from Fukushima: An Assessment of the Investigations of the Nuclear Disaster,The Asia-Pacific Journal, 11:19 (2), May 13.

McCurry, Justin. (2013) “Fukushima 50: ‘We felt like kamikaze pilots ready to sacrifice everythingGuardian. January 11.

McCurry, Justin. (2012). “Fukushima disaster could have been avoided, nuclear plant operator admitsGuardian. October 15.

Nakagawa Nanami. (2021) “Evacuation complete with 227 patients left behind during Fukushima disaster”, Tansa (Tokyo Investigative Newsroom. March 10.

Nikkei (2021). “Japan bans TEPCO from restarting nuclear plant over safety flaws.Nikkei, April 14.

Onitsuka, Hiroshi. (2012) ‘Hooked on Nuclear Power: Japanese State-Local Relations and the Vicious Cycle of Nuclear Dependence,’ The Asia-Pacific Journal10: 3, 1 (16 January).

RJIF. (2014) Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident,The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Disaster: Investigating the Myth and Reality. (Expanded and updatedEnglish edition of the Report by The Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation originally published in Japanese on 1 March 2012) London: Routledge.

Sheldrick, Adam and Malcolm Foster. (2018) “Tepco’s ice wall fails to freeze Fukushima’s toxic water buildupReuters. March 8.

Yamaguchi, Mari. (2021) “Fukushima Chief: No need to extend decommissioning target” The Diplomat, March 4.

Source; Asia-Pacific Journal

June 26, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Contesting Fukushima

Abstract: The legacies of the Fukushima nuclear accident remain hotly contested in the media, academia, the courts and public debate because various actors have much at stake in contemporary battles over the future of nuclear energy, the national economy, decommissioning of the stricken reactors and public memory. Here I examine some aspects of this vibrant discourse and how the trauma of Fukushima is evolving

Undated photo of 4 reactors, here with Reactor 1 (at right) covered. The cover was installed in October 2011 but the roof was removed in 2015, while the wall panels were removed in 2021 in preparation for installing a new building cover in 2023 to facilitate spent fuel rod removal. The other three reactors are now all shrouded (see below). Credit: The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Museum.
Reactor 1 before cover installed in October 2011. Credit: TEPCO

Daiichi Tour

In 2022, TEPCO is mounting a PR campaign to normalize the Fukushima disaster and assert that everything is more or less under control, the nuclear plant is safe, and decommissioning is making good progress. Apparently, the government encouraged TEPCO to arrange public tours as a way of regaining trust and demonstrating transparency. Based on my April 16th tour, transparency and forthrightness remain a work in progress.

Water storage tanks at Fukushima Daiichi, April 2022. Credit: TEPCO

Surreal is the only way to describe how it felt to be standing on a viewing platform about 100 meters from the four crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as the chilly winds gusted in from the ocean. Our TEPCO guide briefed us before we arrived at the security check and then reboarded the bus, passing by a phalanx of water storage tanks, water treatment plants, cherry blossoms, parking lots of abandoned radiation-contaminated vehicles and construction work until we reached the reactors. Fukushima Daiichi is an immense site covering 3.5 sq km, just a bit bigger than Central Park in Manhattan, New York City. Our guide provided numerous handouts and gave an informative PowerPoint presentation that focused on the positive and progress made, but much was not covered, and her answers were sometimes evasive or misleading.

TEPCO Briefing on Fukushima Daiichi. Credit:TEPCO

Upon reaching the viewing platform the scene of devastation triggered memories of the televised March 2011 hydrogen explosions and served as a reminder of what could go tragically wrong. As we gazed on the ruins and debris our guide fielded questions and herded our group of eight into photos against this eerie backdrop. No hazmat suits or protective gear, just a light vest with a pocket for a radiation monitor and thin gloves TEPCO required as an anti-Covid measure. At the end of the tour my radiation monitor recorded a mild dose of 0.02 mSv, similar to a typical chest x-ray. TEPCO asserts one can safely access 96% of the plant complex in normal clothing.

Reactor 1 at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant April 16, 2022. Credit: TEPCO

Despite an abundance of reassuring facts, the tour may not succeed in dispelling everyone’s concerns. Unit 1, the only reactor still without a shroud and closest to the viewing platform, is a shattered shell of a structure still partially buried under radioactive debris eleven years on. The silhouette of twisted metal and shredded walls evokes the iconic Hiroshima atomic dome. A cover for this reactor is under construction that will stretch 66 meters long, 56 meters wide and 68 meters high. A considerable amount of nuclear fuel remains in the spent fuel pool but that and the debris can’t be removed safely without a shroud; the removal is scheduled for 2027-2028 while removal of the nuclear fuel in the sheathed Unit 2 is scheduled from 2024-2026. All the nuclear fuel was removed from Unit 3 by February 2021 and Unit 4 by the end of 2014. Unit 4 has the most imposing cover with a 53 meters high steel structure that uses about the same amount of steel as in the 333-meter-high Tokyo Tower. (Mainichi 2022)

Reactors 2 & 3 at Fukushima Daiichi April 2022 (above) and Reactor 4 (below). Credit:TEPCO

Amidst the debris scattered between the viewing platform and the Unit 1 reactor is a large cylindrical tank that bears the names of GE and Hitachi, the firms that designed and built the reactors. One imagines the corporate branding professionals might find this an awkward reminder, but there are now new opportunities in the multi-billion dollar, four-decade long decommissioning of the reactors so GE and Hitachi are again collaborating to build robots designed to help in the clean-up and retrieve melted-down nuclear fuel from the primary containment vessels where levels of radiation remain deadly for human beings.

Signs showing levels of radiation are ubiquitous in Fukushima. The level is low on the public road outside the plant, quite a bit higher on the bus inside the plant compound and much higher on the reactor viewing platform. Credits:TEPCO

Mismanaging Risk

The Fukushima Daiichi reactors were based on a GE boiling water reactor design from the early 1960s and were built from the late 1960s and put into operation in the 1970s. Controversially, the backup generators were installed in the basements of the reactor turbine buildings that are closer to the ocean than the reactors, leaving them vulnerable to inundation in the event of a large tsunami. This placement was further jeopardized by the decision to lower the original elevation of the bluff where the reactors are located from 35 meters to 10 meters above sea-level to lower the costs of construction and operating seawater pumps. The plant was built to withstand a 3.1 meter tsunami based on the 1960 Chilean earthquake that triggered a tsunami of that height on the Fukushima coast. That risk assessment, however, was updated in 2002 to 5.7 meters based on a new methodology developed by the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, but TEPCO made no safety improvements in response to the new estimate. (Acton and Hibbs 2012) What is stunning to see at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is the absence of a proper seawall; there is only a low breakwater that creates a small harbor for loading and unloading ships. It did not provide any protection from the 13-meter tsunami that engulfed the plant on March 11, 2011. TEPCO considered building a 15-meter wall in response to a 2008 in-house study warning of the possibility of a monster tsunami, but the $1 billion price tag was considered excessive. (McCurry 2012; O’Connor 2018). In light of the >$600 billion estimate for decommissioning the plant over four decades, it is another example of how short-term focusing on the bottom line came at the expense of public safety. (JCER 2019) And TEPCO is not alone, as it came to light after the 2011 accident that all of the utilities operating nuclear reactors had falsified repair and maintenance data. (Clenfield 2011) The Onogawa Plant about 80 km north, also located on what is popularly known as the “tsunami coast”, was closer to the epicenter of the 2011 earthquake but did not suffer catastrophic damage, indicating the advantage of siting the plant at a higher elevation, not underestimating risk and a corporate culture of safety at Tohoku Electric. (Ryu and Meshkati 2014)

Is It Safe?

The Fukushima Daiichi station blackout (loss of all power) triggered by the combination of the magnitude 9 earthquake and massive tsunami caused the cessation of reactor cooling systems and the three meltdowns that are the reason why the name Fukushima has entered the global lexicon as shorthand for a cascading nuclear disaster, lax safety and poor oversight. This negative image annoys some of the prefecture’s residents who told me that now the overall situation is not so bad, and they resent the negative hyperbole propagated in some media such as the lame Netflix series Dark Tourism (2018). In one segment focusing on Fukushima, a snarky Kiwi journalist smirks his way through the evacuation zone, hyping the dangers he faced while managing to get his guide into trouble with the police in his desperation to generate a simulacrum of drama.

Fukushima’s farmers and fishermen have struggled to overcome consumers’ negative perceptions by extensive testing for radiation. They fear that discharging one million tons of treated radiation-contaminated water into the ocean, as the Japanese government has announced, will undo those sustained efforts. The government has earmarked Yen 30 billion ($250 million) to purchase seafood products if demand falls, but fishermen remain opposed to the discharge of contaminated water. There are efforts by the central and prefectural government to promote a better image for Fukushima food products and retail giants like Aeon have pitched in to promote sales, but negative sentiments remain at home and overseas. Soon after the nuclear disaster, 55 countries banned food imports from Fukushima and four neighboring prefectures, but the US ended restrictions in 2021 and in 2022 Taiwan finally lifted its ban on most food imports, reducing the number of closed markets to 13, including China and South Korea.

Retail fish shop in 2021 at Ukeda quay, 9 km from Fukushima Daiichi. Credit: Jeff Kingston
Fukushima fish for sale at Ukeda: Credit Jeff Kingston
Fishing boats at Ukeda Port April 2022. Credit: Jeff Kingston

Nuclear Momentum?

The 2012 Diet investigation concluded that the three reactor meltdowns resulted from a complacent culture of safety, and collusion between TEPCO and government regulators. (Diet 2012) As a result, Suzuki Tatsujiro, director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University believes, “people think that the industry is not trustworthy and the government that is pushing the industry is not trustworthy.” (Dooley and Ueno 2021)

Fukushima devastated the global nuclear industry, as governments and utilities suspended reactor projects and announced plans to eliminate or phase out nuclear energy. This hiatus was due to greater scrutiny of safety issues. Enactment of stricter safety guidelines raised the costs of building reactors and ensured further delays in an industry notorious for cost overruns and not meeting deadlines. Indeed, a year after the Fukushima disaster in a special issue on nuclear energy the Economist concluded that it was no longer financially viable. (Economist 2012)

And yet, institutional actors have held on and used their influence over energy policy to lay the foundations for a nuclear comeback in Japan. (Hymans 2011) A decade on the so-called “nuclear village” of Japanese nuclear energy advocates (Kingston 2012) is hoping to capitalize on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and spiking oil and gas prices. The Russian attack on Chernobyl was a reminder of the dangers of nuclear energy that have lingered since the 1986 accident, but as higher energy costs batter the Japanese economy there has been a well-orchestrated PR campaign to focus on the advantages of restarting more of Japan’s idled nuclear reactors to offset Japan’s dependency on energy imports in a hostile regional climate, reduce trade imbalances and to reach the government’s zero emissions target by 2050. The pro-nuclear PR blitz, however, confronts continued examples of TEPCO’s safety lapses, and falsification of documents in restart applications for its Niigata plant. There the utility is discovering that trust is not a renewable resource. (Rich and Hida 2022) Tanaka Shunichi, before stepping down as head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in 2017 was so exasperated that he called TEPCO unfit to operate a nuclear power plant. (Japan Times 2017) However, later in 2017, the NRA approved TEPCOs restart application for the world’s largest nuclear energy plant at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex in Niigata. Yet, serious safety and lax security issues persist, undermining public confidence and delaying the utility’s plans to bring the plant back online. (McCurry 2017) TEPCO’s financial recovery plan depends on doing so, but in 2021 due to mounting safety concerns the government effectively postponed Niigata restarts by banning TEPCO from transporting nuclear fuel stored at the plant or loading it into reactors. (Nikkei 2021)

Despite these setbacks, for the first time since 2011 one newspaper poll conducted in March 2022 found 53% of Japanese in favor of nuclear energy if it can be operated safely while 38% oppose restarting idled reactors. (Oda and Reynolds 2022) That clause “if it can be operated safely” is a key point of contention and qualifies the headlines about majority support and it’s worth bearing in mind that this survey was conducted by the Nikkei, a pro-nuclear business newspaper. Another survey conducted in October 2021 found Japanese support for nuclear energy was 18.4%. (Statista 2022) Back in 2017, when simply asked if they favor restarting nuclear reactors or not, 55% were opposed and 26% were in favor, suggesting that how the question is asked makes a significant difference. (Mainichi 2017)

More recently, an Asahi poll in March 2022 gave respondents five choices in responding to whether they felt “nuclear power stations should be immediately abolished” or “they should be retained in the future as an energy source.” (Isobe 2022) Support for abolishing nuclear power plants fell to 32 percent from 40 percent a year earlier while 39% favored retaining them, up from 32% in 2020; 29% remained neutral on the issue. But as we have seen post-3.11 when anti-nuclear energy sentiments spiked, public opinion does not drive national energy policy and the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is doing what it can to sway public sentiments. After all, Japan’s fleet of reactors, once numbering 54, was built on its watch, and it has taken the lead on reviving nuclear energy’s prospects.

Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, who visited Fukushima Daiichi on April 29, 2022, is actively promoting nuclear reactor restarts, and rallying public support, saying that due to high energy prices and a weak yen it’s time to reconsider current regulatory constraints to boost Japan’s flagging economy. He maintains that he will adopt a safety-first approach and gain public understanding of reactor restarts while making existing regulations more “efficient”. (Oda and Reynolds 2022) The boost in support for nuclear energy may also be related to a powerful magnitude 7.4 earthquake on March 16, 2022 in Tohoku that shutdown several coal and gas-fired plants, causing some scattered blackouts in Tokyo and an electricity supply alert for the metropolitan area of 30 million residents.

Since 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (established in 2012 as the successor to the discredited Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) has approved restarts for 10 reactors, while 23 others remain idled and 21 are slated for decommissioning with 3 more under construction. Citizens around the nation have filed lawsuits opposing reactor reboots but mounting utility bills and fading memories of the Fukushima disaster are creating an opportunity for a nuclear renaissance. (Kingston 2021)

PM Abe laid the groundwork for this revival by reinstating nuclear energy into the national energy strategy in 2014, setting a target of 20-22% of electricity generating capacity from nuclear reactors by 2030, a target that would require restarting almost all of Japan’s 33 operable reactors. (Kingston 2014) Given that many of the reactors are aging and have passed, or will soon pass, the original 40-year operating license limit, and upgrading to meet safety guidelines is prohibitively expensive for many of these smaller reactors, it is not clear how Kishida plans to prioritize safety and gain public understanding if those guidelines are relaxed.

By 2030, only 21 of Japan’s 33 reactors will be under the 40-year cap. (Ogawa 2021) Some of the aging reactors in the Kansai region that gained approval to restart are likely to miss deadlines to install counter-terrorism safeguards and thus may have to shut down again. Nationwide, 5 of the 10 reactors that have been approved to restart are in operation, generating about 4% of the nation’s electricity, but as of May 2022, 7 haven’t yet completed required safety upgrades that are a condition for operating, perhaps leading to shutdowns and pushing back the timetable for others to late 2022 at the soonest. (Inajima and Oda, 2022) Although an energy crunch is looming, the safety guidelines enacted since the 2011 disaster will make it difficult to accelerate restarts without political intervention and that is a potentially risky gamble. Especially so since it is essential to secure support from hosting towns where many residents remain anxious about safety. (Rich and Hida, 2022)

Auto giant Toyota weighed in on the debate in late April 2022, asserting that its electric vehicle strategy depended on decarbonization. In an NHK televised special on “The Impact of the EV Shift” (4/24/2022), a chart was shown comparing the energy mix of France (75% nuclear, renewables 15%, fossil fuel 10%) and Japan (nuclear 6%, renewables 23%, fossil fuels 67%), highlighting that an EV shift in Japan will not reduce CO2 emissions until the energy mix changes. The nuclear village has its institutional fingers crossed that the national mood of anti-nuclear sentiment has ebbed, and much is riding on TEPCO demonstrating progress in decommissioning, part of which hinges on discharging massive volumes of contaminated water currently stored at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. 

Ocean Discharge

It was breathtaking to stand so close to the shattered reactor buildings and to see the scale of destruction up close. The plant covers an immense area, now brimming with over 1,000 large water tanks where contaminated water is treated and stored. Partly it is groundwater trickling down from nearby hills through the reactor buildings and in addition TEPCO has kept pumping large amounts of water into the reactors to cool the nuclear fuel. In 2013 it was revealed that everyday 272 metric tons of highly radioactive water was leaking into the Pacific Ocean, causing PM Abe to order government intervention to help resolve the issue and save Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic bid. (Fackler 2013) This was an admission that TEPCO had mismanaged the cleanup, further undermining public confidence, and forcing the government to subsidize the construction of a $325 million ice wall to block groundwater seepage into the reactors by freezing the soil. However, there has been ongoing seepage and a government review panel found that the ice wall has only been partially effective. (Sheldrick and Foster 2018)

In 2022, the TEPCO guide did not know the annual electricity costs of maintaining the ice wall, once estimated as the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption of 15,000 Japanese households. (Fackler 2013) What is often overlooked in the greenwashing nuclear discourse is the sizeable level of CO2 emissions associated with nuclear energy, not just in the decade or more of constructing reactors, but also in processing nuclear waste and several centuries of storing and monitoring that radioactive legacy. Moreover, in the event of an accident like at Fukushima, there is a four-decade long, high carbon footprint decommissioning process.

A bottle of ALPS decontaminated water Credit: TEPCO

Our guide did inform us that there are three ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System) water treatment systems being used to remove most of the radioactive contaminants except for trace amounts of tritium. We were not told, however, that in 2018 TEPCO announced that it would have to re-treat all the processed water because the ALPS system had malfunctioned. (Asahi 2021a) This blunder was a public relations disaster because now there will always be doubts about how safe the treated water really is even if proclaimed to be safe. At the end of our tour, we were handed a glass bottle filled with ALPS treated water and assured that it is safe to drink. Maybe so, but TEPCO’s reassurance evoked parallels with Chisso, the firm responsible for widespread methylmercury poisoning in a small fishing port in Kyushu where it faked a water treatment system for its industrial effluent. (George 2001) The president invited the press to watch as he drank a glass of regular tap water passed off as treated water. Public memory in Japan has been refreshed by the recent film Minamata (2021) that focuses on the iconic photos published in Life by photographer Eugene Smith, played by Johnny Depp, documenting the consequences of this notorious case of industrial pollution in the 1970s.

In April 2021 the government decided that it would approve TEPCO’s request to discharge the treated contaminated water into the ocean off Fukushima beginning in 2023. In its application, the utility projected that by the end of 2022 (since recalculated for some time in 2023) it would have no additional storage capacity on the plant site and thus needed to release the water to make room for a nuclear waste temporary storage facility and other decommissioning related facilities. (Asahi 2022) Fishermen are irate about the planned dumping, particularly because TEPCO had promised to gain their understanding before doing so, but the release is a fait accompli as construction of the 1 km tunnel for the offshore discharge is already well underway. They and others often ask if the contaminated water is so safe why not dump it into Tokyo Bay? In addition to Fukushima’s fishermen and residents, China and South Korea are also highly critical of the potential environmental impact and find scant reassurance in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ongoing review. The IAEA mandate is to promote atomic energy thus the outcome of the review appears to be a foregone conclusion. (Kyodo 2022)

Water discharge system under construction. April 2022. Credit:TEPCO

When asked about discharge of water into the ocean our guide told us that TEPCO was abiding by the government’s decision, without explaining that this came at TEPCO’s behest. She also said it is standard practice for nuclear power plants around the world to discharge tritium tainted water, but the situation is of course quite different in Fukushima after 3 meltdowns and there is nothing standard about this upcoming release planned in stages over thirty years. Fishermen are opposed because their brand has been devastated by the accident and their livelihoods affected. They now worry that TEPCO is re-tarnishing the brand and making it even more difficult to restore public trust in Fukushima’s marine products.

During the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s March 2021 review of TEPCO’s request to discharge the water, the utility explained that the ocean release was necessary “to safely and steadily remove fuel debris and spent nuclear fuel.” (Mainichi 2022d) The area now occupied by over 1,000 water storage tanks is designated as a site for ten different new decommissioning-related facilities. On the tour, the plant was a beehive of construction activity, including a large white building for reducing the volume of solid waste (concrete and metal debris) and another planned for storing that waste, the tenth such waste storage building in the compound. There is also a large incinerator for burning logged trees from the once forested compound much of which is now paved in concrete as a contaminated water radiation reduction measure. Removal of fuel debris is scheduled for the end of 2022, so TEPCO explains that it is imperative to build temporary storage facilities for that fuel and highly radiated solid waste. Eventually, these buildings will also become solid waste because the cycle of decommissioning generates new tasks requiring new facilities. Currently, temporary storage of nuclear waste on site is anticipated to last 20-30 years, but it is hard to be certain of this timetable because a permanent storage site has not yet been decided. (Dooley and Ueno 2021)

Our guide helpfully suggested that two towns in Hokkaido have agreed to a first phase review as potential sites for storing nuclear waste, eliciting a groan of protest from an elderly Hokkaido resident in our group. On the bus trip back to TEPCO’s Decommissioning Archive Center, the guide was peppered with questions. One British woman responded to the evasive replies by suggesting that TEPCO be more transparent and forthright. Asked about accountability for the accident, the guide emphasized how much money TEPCO was using to compensate claimants and in the decommissioning, without acknowledging that it was quasi-nationalized by the government so that its debt, and accident-related expenses, are financed by taxpayers and consumers who have been paying a 10% surcharge on utility rates. (Tabuchi 2012)

Hydrogen Explosion at Fukushima Daiichi.
Credit: The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Museum

Fukushima 50

At TEPCO’s Decommissioning Archive Center I met Sato Yoshihiro, one of the so-called Fukushima 50, those workers who volunteered to stay on and manage the nuclear crisis at great risk to their lives. Sato is a low key, unassuming man who is embarrassed by the suggestion he saved the nation from a potential nuclear catastrophe. In a video at the Archive he speaks about his fears at the time and alludes to a brush with death.

The film Fukushima 50 (2020), a plodding melodrama that focuses on bravery, dedication and self-sacrifice, serves as a pat on the back for TEPCO’s overcoming the crisis without probing the safety lapses and overly optimistic assumptions that left the plant vulnerable to a station blackout. The film includes heavy-handed propaganda, repeating discredited allegations blaming PM Kan for cessation of seawater injection into the reactors and for delaying the venting, falsehoods that vainly attempt to shift blame for the nuclear accident that three major investigations pin on TEPCO and lax government oversight. (Lukner and Sasaki 2013) TEPCO’s top brass appear bumbling and shameless but get off lightly because the men on the spot fortunately ignored their orders and, despite some hairy moments, brought the situation under control. Asked about the film Sato, the deputy shift supervisor for Units 3 and 4 at the time of the accident, refrained from offering his take but pointed out that there were 69 employees who stayed on. All told, hundreds of workers laid their lives on the line to manage the triple meltdowns. (McCurry 2013). But there was an even larger exodus of workers from the compound to the Fukushima Daini plant 12 km to the south due to concerns about radiation exposure and uncertainty about how the nuclear crisis might develop. (Asahi 2014) Sato described the real-life plant manager Yoshida Masao as an “oyabun” (yakuza boss), alluding to his imperious and mercurial manner, exactly how Tanaka Ken plays him in the film. When the tsunami struck, Sato was not at the plant but the following day he went there to help since he had extensive control room experience. He confirmed that Yoshida only pretended to cease injection of sea water into the reactors on instructions from TEPCO HQ in Tokyo. There the main concern was the irreparable damage that would cause to the reactors. Yoshida’s main concern was a beyond Chernobyl-level crisis, what he called a China Syndrome scenario of a triple melt-through with molten fuel penetrating the containment vessel and the release of huge doses of radiation. (Asahi 2014) He testified that on March 14, as problems mounted, “I thought we were really going to die.”

Sato Yoshihiro. Credit: TEPCO Archive Center

Asked if there had been enough crisis emergency training prior to the accident, Sato acknowledged there had not been, confirming Yoshida’s view that inadequate staff training and knowledge about how to operate emergency systems exacerbated the crisis. (Asahi 2014; Akiyama 2016) One of the three major investigations into the accident also concluded that poor staff training, systematic underestimation of risk and a lack of emergency preparation were key factors in TEPCO’s mismanaging the crisis response. (Cabinet of Japan 2012; Hatamura 2014) But that has not stopped TEPCO and the LDP trying to shift responsibility to Kan and demonize him. There is also considerable controversy about why venting was delayed so long given that onsite staff knew the risks of a build-up of hydrogen gases emitted by fuel rods due to the cessation of cooling systems.

The Fukushima 50 film perpetuates the myth that PM Kan’s visit to the plant early on March 12th forced TEPCO to delay the venting, but this is a baseless assertion. It is well documented that Kan had been demanding TEPCO start venting well before his visit and was frustrated with its evasive replies about the lengthy delay in doing so. (Shinoda 2013, 50-51) As a result, Kan took a helicopter to the plant just after 7 AM on March 12th to find out what was going on and again urge TEPCO to begin venting; shortly past 9 AM, an hour after Kan departed, it finally tried doing so at Unit 1 but without success. Later that day at 3:36 PM a hydrogen explosion shredded the secondary containment structure at Unit 1 sending plumes of radioactive smoke billowing into the sky.

At the Decommission Archive Center on April 16, 2022 Sato gave the standard responses about delaying venting due to PM Kan Naoto’s visit, and concerns about dousing locals with radiation if it did vent, but when pressed he acknowledged inadequate training and lack of experience in manual venting. (Asahi 2014; Akiyama 2016) Venting is usually automated but had to be done manually due to the station blackout and was complicated by spiking radiation levels and the need to wear cumbersome protective gear. Sato said he tried opening the vent manually, something nobody had practiced, but the venting system was not viable. Apparently, TEPCO had known of the need to upgrade and harden the venting system, but as with other safety warnings that would hit the bottom line, the utility ignored global best practices. (Behr and Fialka 2011; Ferguson and Jansson 2013)

Sato emphasized that the venting efforts occurred in very difficult and dangerous circumstances and that improvisation was key to the emergency response. He also spoke of the uncertainty the workers were coping with at the time, noting that after the earthquake and tsunami, the electricity went out and monitoring systems were not functioning. Crisis managers were thus flying blind. The plant was also rocked by a series of aftershocks, and nobody knew what might come next in this cascading disaster. The three hydrogen explosions at the site spread radioactive debris and injured colleagues, further hampering emergency operations. The day after the tsunami struck, Unit 1 exploded on March 12, and hydrogen explosions ripped apart the containment structures of Unit 3 on March 14 and Unit 4 on March 15, leaving the spent fuel rod pools exposed to the elements with no containment or cooling. There were fears of a worst-case scenario of an explosion of the spent fuel rods if all the water evaporated from the pools.

Asked if he ever thought they might not succeed in bringing the crisis under control, Sato answered that he was too busy trying to do whatever he could, so there was no time to contemplate failure. He claims that despite the unimaginable dangers and anxieties he was not traumatized by the experience and doesn’t suffer from PTSD. Although workers at the time suspected there were reactor meltdowns, he says there was no solid evidence to back up such speculation. That, he maintains, explains the two-month delay in TEPCO acknowledging what the international media had been reporting since mid-March. But there was also a circling of wagons as the domestic media held back. According to Martin Fackler, then the Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times, “when disaster struck in March 2011, it should be no surprise that the {Japanese}journalists’ default mode was to promote the same goals as the national government: maintain order, prevent a public panic, and limit damage to both the nuclear industry and the moral authority of the central ministries that had given birth to it. This meant that the journalists—at least those at the big national newspapers and broadcasters—saw their role as defending the narratives put forth by officialdom, not challenging those with reports about the reality on the ground.” (Fackler 2021)

Misery Index

Nuclear proponents point out that nobody died from the radiation emitted during the Fukushima nuclear accident, implying that nuclear energy anxieties exceed the actual risks. That argument confronts Japan’s tens of thousands of nuclear refugees who have kept their battle alive in the courts and through ongoing media coverage of their lawsuits. (Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama 2020) For them, the misery index is not just about deaths. The catastrophic loss of communities, careers, family ties and sense of well-being caused by the nuclear accident has left a deep scar. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum in Futaba, co-hosting town with Namie of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, interrogates the “no deaths” claim, with dioramas explaining how the spread of radiation hampered rescue and relief efforts, perhaps condemning some survivors of the tsunami to death. The exhibits also drive home how shambolic the evacuation was, partly because the myth of 100% safety provided a pretext to not conduct any drills; they were unnecessary and if conducted might give ammunition to critics of nuclear power who would see this as an admission that the myth was a fairy tale.

Credit: Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum

Overall, according to the Fukushima government that runs the museum, there have been 2,329 disaster-related deaths in the prefecture as of September 30, 2021. The display explains that these deaths resulted “from the prolonged post-disaster refugee lifestyle…primarily caused by delays in initial care stemming from the failure of hospitals to fulfill their functions as well as by physical and psychological fatigue during evacuation and refugee life at shelters.” The museum also notes how the botched evacuation caused the deaths of 40 patients of the Futaba Hospital due to interruption of medical treatment and the ordeal of evacuation, but other sources suggest a toll of 45 if residents of the nearby Deauville Retirement Home are included. (Nakagawa 2021) The grim picture of abandoned hospital beds and medical equipment scattered in the parking lot convey a sense of the ghastly experience.

Credit: Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum

An evacuation order applying to both facilities, just 4.5 km from the Fukushima Daiichi, was issued on March 12 but many patients were not evacuated until March 16. Buses evacuated 209 people on March 12, but 227 others waited for transport until March 16 as officials mistakenly believed everyone had been evacuated. This slow-motion evacuation meant that many did not get adequate medical treatment, and some died on the spot, in transit or soon thereafter from the ordeal. For many relatives and local residents these deaths were caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident as is the surprisingly high number of young people suffering from thyroid cancer. This a relatively rare cancer but the numbers in Fukushima are thirty times the national average.

Court Challenges

In the latest setback for the nuclear village, and PM Kishida’s vigorous efforts to promote restarts of idled reactors, on May 31, 2022 the Sapporo District court ordered that the three reactors of the Tomari nuclear power plant in Hokkaido must remain offline. (Asahi 2022b) The judge ruled that Hokkaido Electric plant does not meet reasonable safety standards and that its tsunami defenses are inadequate. The court rejected the utility’s assurances and cast doubt on the credibility of its evidence regarding the risk of liquefaction compromising the sea wall. The NRA has also been unusually critical of the utility and its explanations about safety measures and failure “to submit proper materials for the safety screening.” (Asahi 2022b) The powerful legacy of Fukushima has been sustained in several similar rulings around the nation.

In January 2022, a group of six young men and women filed a class action lawsuit in Tokyo District Court against TEPCO, seeking 616 million yen (about $4.6 million) in damages from the utility. (Mainichi 2022a) This is the first-class action suit by residents who were minors at the time of the accident. The plaintiffs claim that they developed thyroid cancers due to radiation exposure following the three reactor meltdowns. The Fukushima Prefectural Government and central government have not recognized a causal relationship between local thyroid cases and radiation exposure so establishing a correlation is key to the plaintiffs’ case. All have had surgery on their thyroids and in one case the cancer had spread to the lungs.

There is considerable controversy over the connection between high thyroid cancer rates among children in Fukushima and the nuclear accident. (Mainichi 2016) Thyroid checkups for children in Fukushima began six months after the nuclear disaster and two health experts concluded that the number of cases was thirty times the expected number based on national levels. Some experts believe the unprecedented mass screening is the reason for a spike in cases, but early detection can’t explain the significantly higher incidence recorded since the initial screening. The incidence among residents of Futaba where the crippled reactors were located is 4.6 times higher than in other parts of the prefecture distant from the epicenter, indicating that radiation exposure may have played a role in the unexpectedly high number of thyroid cancers among children there. (Rosen 2021)

Based on screening of the thyroid glands of 380,000 people aged 18 or younger at the time of the nuclear disaster a total of 266 cases of cancer were diagnosed or suspected; based on national rates, there should be about 13 cases. (Rosen 2021) Rosen also reports a significantly higher incidence among children in the thirteen most contaminated towns around the plant where evacuation was mandatory compared to children in other parts of Fukushima. He further argues that the steadily rising number of thyroid cancers detected between 2012-2020 refutes the screening effect theory, that mass testing resulted in higher numbers of diagnosed cases. While the screening effect might explain the large number of cases in the initial screening, it cannot account for the large and growing gap between expected cases based on national data and confirmed cases over time. Rosen argues, “it can be ruled out that the increased cancer rates in subsequent screenings are consequences of a screening effect, because all of these children had already been examined and found to be cancer-free in previous screenings. They must therefore have developed the cancer between the screening examinations.” (Rosen 2021)

In March 2022, at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club Japan (FCCJ), Iida Kenichi and Kawai Hiroyuki, the two lawyers for the plaintiffs, assert that the actual number of thyroid cases in Fukushima is now 293. (FCCJ 2022) They argue that the burden of proof should be on TEPCO and the state to prove that the unusually high rate of thyroid cancers in the prefecture is not related to the nuclear accident. In other cases of industrial pollution like Minamata there is a precedent to place the burden of proof on the polluter to prove there is no causal relationship between the contamination and the illness suffered by plaintiffs. Lawyers for the thyroid plaintiffs want the court to apply this principle but confront the government’s denial of any connection between the nuclear disaster and thyroid cancers. Much is riding on what courts decide.

Many of those displaced by the nuclear crisis have sought accountability and compensation in the courts, filing some 30 class actions suits. In March 2022 the Supreme Court rejected TEPCO’s appeal of a lower court ruling and ordered the utility to pay damages of 1.39 billion yen (about US$10 million) to nearly 3,682 people involved in three class action suits filed in Fukushima, Gunma and Chiba whose lives were harmed by the nuclear disaster. (Mainichi 2022b) This is the first of some 30 class-action suits filed by evacuees where the utility’s liability for damages has been finalized. Overall, the Supreme Court has rejected TEPCO’s appeals in six cases and increased the amount of compensation above government standards.

Finalizing the amount of damages well above existing government standards sends a strong message from the judiciary that the level of compensation is inadequate for what people lost. The Court also expanded the areas eligible for compensation. Under the government standards, former residents of what became designated “difficult-to-return” zones (subject to mandatory evacuation) are entitled to 14.5 million yen (about $110,000) while those who evacuated “voluntarily” are entitled to 80,000 yen ($600), an amount calculated based on traffic accident liability criteria. This latter group of nuclear refugees were not required to evacuate but did so due to justified worries about radiation spreading beyond the 20 km mandatory evacuation zone. These plaintiffs argue that they also had to relocate and were deprived of their homes and communities in what became, for want of a better term, “difficult-to-live & work” zones for farmers and fishermen. TEPCO maintained in court that the government standards for compensation are excessive and opposed higher levels of damages. The nuclear refugees, who suffered irreparable harm in good faith waited many years for relief and accountability and will find some vindication if not justice in the ruling. Later in 2022, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a number of other cases regarding the state’s liability.

In 2019 the Tokyo District court ruled that three top former TEPCO executives were not guilty of professional negligence resulting in death and injury. (Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama 2020) Despite the verdict, however, the prosecution was invaluable because, “this criminal case revealed many facts that were previously unknown, concealed, or denied, and it clarified the truth about the Fukushima meltdown by exposing some of TEPCO’s claims as nonsense.” (Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama 2020) Media coverage also kept the issue of TEPCO’s culpability and negligent decisions in the limelight.

Lessons Learned?

Why wouldn’t Japan’s nuclear village use the Russian invasion of Ukraine and spiking energy prices to regain lost ground? This is happening elsewhere around the world but everywhere the technological, logistical, political and financial challenges of a nuclear revival are daunting for an industry haunted by massive cost overruns and epic delays, just ask Finland where their new reactor finally began operating this year, 13 years behind schedule, at nearly quadruple the original Euro 3 billion price tag. (Alderman and Reed 2022) Nuclear energy is not a quick fix for the current energy crunch, especially considering that Japan’s idled reactors have been mothballed for a decade. Moreover, there are legitimate concerns whether the key problem of poor crisis training for staff at nuclear plants has been overcome.

Sato believes Japan needs nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy because its energy security remains vulnerable. This is the view that the government and utilities are promoting, but some key lessons of the Fukushima crisis are being overlooked, especially the dangers of wishing risk away. The disruption and costs of the Fukushima accident have been immense, forcing mass, long term evacuations that transformed once prosperous communities into desolate ghost towns. Japan’s nuclear refugees are a living reproach to the lax safety culture at TEPCO and the failure of the state to provide effective oversight. So too are the over 2,300 disaster-related deaths and the high incidence of thyroid cancer.

Given current regulatory guidelines, it won`t be easy to get approval and restart additional reactors if indeed the government is prioritizing safety. Rushing restarts would require easing sensible safety protocols. There is no short-term solution to Japan’s energy vulnerability but reducing emissions will require a shift away from coal, a policy Japan has resisted. It also means renewed commitment to boosting renewable energy and subsidizing smart grid initiatives to better integrate renewable energy sources. (Jensterle 2019)

There has been rapid progress, but as Andrew DeWitt reminds us, shifting Japan’s energy strategy away from coal and nuclear also entails various risks, and huge challenges remain. (DeWit 2020) Nonetheless, by 2020 Japan ramped up renewable energy-solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric and biomass, to 20% of total electricity production from just 10 % in 2010. Japan has also aggressively promoted various smart city initiatives and they offer a path to lower electricity consumption and enhanced disaster resilience. (Barrett et al 2020) Accelerating these transitions appears more promising than turning on aging reactors based on dated technologies that are vulnerable to risk.

Touring the Daiichi site is a reminder of what can go wrong and the consequences if it does in a seismically active archipelago where earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions often wreak havoc. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum highlights how essential emergency preparedness is, including evacuation drills. It is thus disturbing that the NRA’s mandatory 30 km evacuation protocol, calling on all towns within this radius of nuclear reactors to collaborate on conducting evacuation drills, has occurred just once. The single exception is the Onogawa plant in 2022, but there instead of ordinary citizens, town officials from Onogawa and Ishinomaki who knew what to do participated in the drill under ideal conditions. This will help them better understand the challenges. But even in that case, it seems more of a symbolic gesture rather than a robust emergency exercise that will help local residents prepare for a worst-case scenario, which is what the drill is all about. The dangers of improvising an evacuation as radiation spews into the heavens as happened in Fukushima back in 2011 are well-known, but this lesson seems, like many others, to have been forgotten or sidelined. As the people of Fukushima understand too well, there are no do-overs and taking these lessons seriously is essential.


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June 26, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s top court says government not responsible for Fukushima damage

An aerial view shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 17, 2022.

TOKYO, June 17 (Reuters) – Japan’s government is not liable for damages demanded by people whose lives were devastated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the country’s top court said on Friday, the first such ruling in a series of similar cases.

The ruling’s effect as a precedent will be closely watched, media said.

A massive tsunami set off by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast on March 11, 2011 struck the Fukushima Daiichi power plant of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Plaintiffs demanded damages from both Tepco and the country in several class-action lawsuits, and in March the Supreme Court upheld an order for Tepco to pay damages of 1.4 billion yen to about 3,700 people.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined direct comment when asked about the ruling at a news conference, though he said he was aware of it.

“Regardless of the ruling, we will stay close to those affected by the disaster and keep on doing our utmost for Fukushima’s reconstruction and revival,” he said.

An aerial view shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town
An aerial view shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 17, 2022.

TOKYO, June 17 (Reuters) – Japan’s government is not liable for damages demanded by people whose lives were devastated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the country’s top court said on Friday, the first such ruling in a series of similar cases.

The ruling’s effect as a precedent will be closely watched, media said.

A massive tsunami set off by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast on March 11, 2011 struck the Fukushima Daiichi power plant of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Plaintiffs demanded damages from both Tepco and the country in several class-action lawsuits, and in March the Supreme Court upheld an order for Tepco to pay damages of 1.4 billion yen to about 3,700 people.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined direct comment when asked about the ruling at a news conference, though he said he was aware of it.

“Regardless of the ruling, we will stay close to those affected by the disaster and keep on doing our utmost for Fukushima’s reconstruction and revival,” he said.

About 470,000 people were forced to evacuate in the first days after the disaster, and tens of thousands remain unable to return even now.

Lower courts had split over the extent of the government’s responsibility in foreseeing the disaster and ordering Tepco to take steps to prevent it.

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Commentary] Class Action Lawsuit over Nuclear Power Plant Accident: One Dissenting Opinion What are the Key Points of the Supreme Court Decision?

June 17, 2022
We will explain the points of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 17th regarding the nuclear power plant accident.

First, TEPCO, which has been awarded compensation, made the following comment: “As a party to the accident, I would like to reiterate my sense of responsibility and pain. The company issued an apology, saying, “As a party to the accident, we are once again acutely aware of our responsibility and deeply apologize to the plaintiffs.”

The government then commented, “We will continue to face up to the threats posed by nature, and we will work tirelessly to review our regulations.

The most significant aspect of today’s decision was the finding that the accident could not have been avoided even if the government had mandated TEPCO to take tsunami countermeasures.

The reasons given were that “the tsunami that actually came in was much larger than expected” and that the tsunami “came in from the east as well as the southeast side of the plant,” as had been assumed.

Of the four judges, only Judge Mamoru Miura acknowledged the government’s responsibility and wrote a dissenting opinion.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs have criticized the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that “the process that led to the conclusion of the court’s decision does not face the damage at all.

As for the future impact of the ruling, about 30 cases are still ongoing regarding the damage caused by the nuclear power plant accident. I think it is very significant that the Supreme Court has reached a unified judgment on the responsibility of the government.

The substance of the damages in dispute differs from case to case, so it does not mean that the trials will end immediately, but the impact will not be small

The conclusion drawn 11 years after the disaster. It is likely to have an impact not only on the plaintiffs in this case, but also on other trials and future nuclear policy.

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

The Supreme Court will make its first ruling on the government’s liability for the nuclear power plant accident on June 17

My father was killed by the nuclear power plant. It is impossible that the government is not responsible for the accident,” said Kazuya Tarukawa, a plaintiff.

June 14, 2022
On May 17, the Supreme Court of Japan will make its first ruling on whether the government is liable for damages in four lawsuits brought by Fukushima Prefecture residents who evacuated from their homes following the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant (a total of 3,700 plaintiffs). The plaintiffs have been pursuing legal responsibility on the grounds that the government spread the myth of nuclear power plant safety before the accident, but after the accident, the government has been evading the issue, claiming that the accident was “unforeseen. The decision of the judiciary’s “last resort” will attract a great deal of attention because it will affect similar lawsuits that are currently being heard in the first and second courts.
The peasants of Fukushima are finished,” said his father, who took his own life.

 The farmers of Fukushima are finished. The farmers of Fukushima are finished. On March 12, 2011, a hydrogen explosion occurred at a nuclear power plant that had been inundated by the massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Kazuya Tarukawa, 46, a farmer in Sukagawa City, Fukushima Prefecture, still vividly remembers the words of his father Hisashi as he watched the TV news broadcast footage of the explosion. Twelve days later, Hisashi took his own life at the age of 64.

Hisashi was the seventh generation of the family to protect the 4.5 hectares of fields. His second son, Kazuya, took over at the age of 30 and worked hard growing rice and other crops while watching Hisashi’s back. Sukagawa City is located approximately 65 km southwest of the nuclear power plant, and although the government did not issue an evacuation order, radiation levels rose at the time due to the spread of radioactive materials.

 Mr. Kushi focused on cabbage production, and his commitment to organic cultivation was highly praised, and the cabbage was adopted as a food ingredient for local school lunches. However, the day before his death, a fax arrived at his home from a local agricultural organization informing him that cabbage shipments had been suspended due to the nuclear accident. At the time of his death, there were approximately 7,500 cabbage plants in the field, fresh and waiting to be harvested. I made a mistake by letting you take over the farm,” Hisashi told Kazuya. Those were Hisashi’s last words to Kazuya.

In accordance with the government’s compensation guidelines, TEPCO has compensated the farmers to a certain extent for the damage caused by harmful rumors and other factors related to the nuclear accident. TEPCO also acknowledged the causal relationship between the nuclear accident and Kushi’s death and paid him a settlement. However, the government has not acknowledged its legal responsibility and is proceeding with the restart of nuclear power plants. No settlement has been reached,” Kazuya said. Kazuya became a member of the plaintiffs’ group that filed a lawsuit for damages with the Fukushima District Court in March 2001, hoping to clarify the government’s responsibility.

 In the lawsuit, the government claimed that it “could not have prevented the accident caused by the tsunami. Kazuya was furious, saying, “If no advance countermeasures can be taken, the nuclear power plant should never have been allowed to operate. In October 2005, the district court ruled that both the government and TEPCO were responsible for the accident, and in September 2008, the second trial court, the Sendai High Court, increased the amount of compensation, sternly condemning the government for “acquiescing to TEPCO’s report and not fulfilling the role expected of a regulatory authority.

Kazuya was unable to hear the Supreme Court’s ruling on September 17 due to his busy farming season, but he said, “There is no such thing as absolute safety, but the government made the power company operate the nuclear power plant. It is impossible for the government not to be responsible. If my father were still alive, he would have become a plaintiff with the same feelings. I look forward to a verdict that will give us a good report,” he says.

Focus is on the government’s “failure to exercise its regulatory authority
There are about 30 class action lawsuits filed by evacuees over the nuclear power plant accident in Japan (more than 12,000 plaintiffs), including four cases in which the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on March 17. Twenty-three judgments have been issued so far, with 12 of the 23 cases finding the government liable and the remaining 11 cases refusing to do so. The Supreme Court’s decision will set the direction for future decisions by the first and second instance courts.

The focus will be on whether the government’s exercise of its regulatory authority over TEPCO was appropriate. The Supreme Court has ruled in past pollution lawsuits that the government is liable for compensation when the government’s failure to exercise its regulatory authority “deviates from the permissible limits and is extremely unreasonable. In determining “reasonableness,” the first and second courts in this case focused on two points: (1) whether a giant tsunami could have been foreseen, and (2) whether the accident could have been avoided. The Supreme Court is expected to follow the same approach in reaching its conclusion.

 The plaintiffs claim that the government could have foreseen the tsunami based on the “long-term assessment” of earthquake forecasts released by a government research institute in 2002, and the government argues that the long-term assessment was unreliable. As for the possibility of avoiding the accident, the plaintiffs claim that the accident could have been avoided if a seawall had been built and the buildings had been “watertight,” which would have prevented water from entering the buildings. The government, on the other hand, claims that the actual tsunami could not have been prevented even if a seawall had been built based on the assumptions at the time and that the method of “watertight” had not been established.

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Prolonged evacuation takes its toll in Fukushima Pref. with many disaster-related deaths

A bereaved family member speaks about their late father’s condition while viewing a report that describes the background of his death, which was certified as being “earthquake disaster-related,” in the county of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, on March 9, 2022.

June 13, 2022

Even over a decade after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear disaster, there have still been deaths in Fukushima Prefecture that have been certified as being related to the disasters, including those caused by worsening physical conditions due to prolonged evacuation.

In Fukushima Prefecture, which was hit hard by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident, an awfully high number of “earthquake disaster-related deaths” have been recorded, with the toll currently standing at 2,333.

When unraveling the reports submitted by bereaved families to local governments, it was found that harsh conditions surrounding evacuation, repeated shelter relocations, and feelings of loss regarding one’s hometown have been destroying the physical and mental well-being of elderly people and others in Fukushima.

Kenichi Hozumi, 71, a former high school teacher who has evacuated to the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki from the prefectural town of Futaba, where the wrecked nuclear power plant is located, has lost both his parents. Their deaths were certified as “earthquake disaster-related.” At age 83, his father Yoshihisa’s physical condition worsened immediately after he evacuated, and he suddenly died from pneumonia. His mother Shigeko’s condition also gradually weakened amid prolonged evacuation, and she died aged 88 a decade after the earthquake.

According to Hozumi, Shigeko had temporarily left the evacuation shelter to go back home twice a month until around 2017. She could not permanently return to her house due to high radiation levels, and the home was sullied by animals. There had even been traces of a burglary.

From around 2018, Shigeko could not move both legs freely. Following her hospitalization in April 2020 after she complained of suffocation, she said she wanted to return to Futaba every time Hozumi visited her. In September 2020, she passed away from an acute aggravation of chronic respiratory failure.

Shigeko relocated six times following the nuclear disaster. She stayed with relatives in Niigata as well as at her grandchild’s home in Tokyo. “Following evacuation, she did not have a place she could settle down in even for a moment. In the end, she passed away with her mouth open, as if she had something to say,” Hozumi said. He expressed regret on behalf of his mother in a report recounting the events leading to her death.

Earthquake disaster-related deaths are certified by local governments after bereaved families file applications which undergo screening by a panel consisting of doctors and others. According to the Reconstruction Agency, 3,784 such deaths related to the 2011 disasters had been certified across 10 prefectures including Tokyo, as of late September 2021. Among them, deaths in Fukushima Prefecture account for 60%.

Furthermore, Reconstruction Agency statistics showed that over 90% of deaths in the severely affected areas of Iwate and Miyagi prefectures that were certified as relating to the earthquake involved people who died within one year from the disasters. In contrast, 40% of disaster-related fatalities from Fukushima Prefecture occurred more than one year after the 2011 onset of the nuclear disaster, from causes including prolonged evacuation, and applications for disaster-related death certifications have been continuously submitted in the prefecture to date.

In order to examine this reality, the Mainichi Shimbun filed requests asking that 26 municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture, which authorized the certification of disaster-related deaths, and an assembly of municipalities in the Futaba area disclose documents submitted by bereaved families. As a result, about 2,200 individuals’ documents and data were disclosed by 20 local governments.

The Mainichi Shimbun examined the information on around 1,000 people whose backgrounds leading to their deaths were known. One report stated, “Winters at temporary housing were cold, and their legs and loins weakened as they had nothing to do,” while another read, “Uncertainty hung over their life amid prolonged evacuation and they came to drink alcohol from the daytime.” These reports showed that a change in environment following evacuation affected people’s health.

An elderly man in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Namie died about one year after the nuclear plant accident and his death was certified as being related to the 2011 disasters. According to the report on the man, he returned home temporarily in the autumn of 2011, but was in a state of great mental shock when he saw his house in ruins. He reportedly teared up, saying, “If only the nuclear plant didn’t exist,” while burying the bodies of beloved pets on the premises of his house. The report then stated that it was around this time that he stopped going outdoors and developed the habit of saying, “I can’t do this anymore.”

While individuals aged 80 or older comprise a majority of earthquake-related deaths in Fukushima Prefecture, the aftereffects of the 2011 disasters have also eaten away at those of the working generation. An automobile salesman from Futaba county experienced a sudden change in his life as he visited relatives at shelters that took several hours to reach, as well as going to see clients who were scattered across Japan.

On top of this, he was ordered to vacate his home built with loans due to prefectural road construction even though he had just begun repairing it. The man, who apparently began to smoke more heavily due to shock, died of acute myocardial infarction in September 2014. He was aged 55. His 61-year-old wife commented, “He was a hard worker and did not show signs of being tired, but I think he had loads of stress.”

Masaharu Tsubokura, professor at Fukushima Medical University, who has been studying earthquake disaster-related deaths, believes that “secondary health consequences following the nuclear disaster last for long periods and are wide-ranging.”

With prolonged evacuation comes repeated relocations, separation from family, work changes, and loss of the person’s hometown. Tsubokura said, “Damage accumulates each time the victim’s environment changes, and those in vulnerable positions have been sifted out.” He insisted that even if people exercised less and drank more after large disasters, it should not be dismissed as an individual’s responsibility and society as a whole should consider ways to support them.

June 18, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment