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March 2011 Disaster Museum Opens in Fukushima Prefecture


May 30, 2020

Iwaki, Fukushima Pref., May 30 (Jiji Press)–A museum to pass down memories and lessons left by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami to future generations opened on Saturday in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, hit hard by the disaster.

“We’ll use it as a base to cultivate awareness for disaster prevention in order to develop a community that will be strong enough to overcome disasters,” Iwaki Mayor Toshio Shimizu said in a ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Iwaki 3.11 Memorial and Revitalization Museum.

Yukinaga Suzuki, 67, head of the local district, expressed hope that visitors will understand how tragic the disaster was through video materials and learn about it to ensure that there are no victims in the future.

Displays at the museum show the damage caused by the tsunami and how the northeastern Japan city accepted people forced to evacuate due to the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which occurred shortly after the quake and tsunami.

The museum also displays a blackboard and desks used at a local junior high school that was demolished after being damaged in the disaster.


June 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Civil Actions as a Social Movement

By Paul Jobin1

Abstract: In addition to a citizen initiative to launch a criminal lawsuit against Tepco and Japanese state executives over their responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than thirty collective civil actions have been launched across the country. Thus far, thirteen verdicts have been handed down, with a large majority of courts ruling against Tepco and the state. Despite disappointingly small amounts of compensation, these verdicts carry important sociological significance as they challenge the government’s efforts to restart nuclear power plants. This article provides an overview and typology of the lawsuits, showing that these civil actions build on a legacy of social movements organized by networks of lawyers and activists.

Keywords: Fukushima, Collective Lawsuits, Nuclear Disaster, Social Movements, Compensation


Like the many industrial disasters that have marked the history of modern and contemporary Japan, the nuclear disaster of March 2011 resulted in much litigation. By the ninth anniversary of the catastrophe in 2020, nearly four hundred individual civil actions, and at least thirty known cases of collective civil actions, along with two collective administrative lawsuits, have been launched across the country. The total number of plaintiffs exceeds twelve thousand. Thirteen district courts have already handed down judgments, a large majority of them in favor of the plaintiffs against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese state. The cases are now pending in appeal.

There has been no shortage of literature devoted to the politics of disaster redress since Fukushima, from such perspectives as political science, sociology, and scientific studies (e.g. Hasegawa 2011, Fujigaki et al 2015, Kimura 2016, Mullins, Nakano et al 2016, and Aldrich 2019, Polleri 2019). But despite interest in the various social mobilizations that arose in the aftermath of the disaster, thus far, with the exception of newspaper articles, there has been very little analysis of the collective civil actions seeking compensation or of related fundamental issues.

In addition to these civil actions (minji soshō), a group of 15,000 Fukushima citizens sought criminal prosecution of the state and Tepco for the nuclear disaster as early as 2012. The prosecutors reduced the number of defendants from twenty to three, all top Tepco executives. In its September 2019 verdict, the Tokyo District Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to convict them. The case is now pending on appeal with little chance of a reversed verdict. In a recent Asia-Pacific Journal article on the case and one of the rare in-depth analyses of such lawsuits, Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama (2020) concluded: “The trial and the criminal processes that preceded it revealed many facts that are proving useful to plaintiffs in their ongoing civil lawsuits with Tepco and the Japanese government.”

This essay endorses this conclusion and provides an overview of the civil action lawsuits. The civil cases have made it possible to mobilize Fukushima victims to pose critical questions about the role of the state in the decisions that provoked the nuclear disaster as well as to challenge subsequent state policies. Following existing scholarship on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the literature on Japanese law and society, I draw on interviews with representatives of plaintiffs’ groups and first-hand documents they provided. I highlight the difficulties in the process of litigation, and emphasize that despite the low amounts of compensation, the Fukushima lawsuits are significant for contemporary Japan, as well as for other lawsuits over industrial and techno-scientific damage elsewhere. I show that these legal initiatives build on a legacy of collective lawsuits that have developed in Japan over the last 50 years. The next two sections introduce important points about the legal and political contexts.

01Plaintiffs meeting after a court meeting (at Osaka City Central Public Hall), 23 May 2019. Courtesy of Akiko Morimatsu


1. The Legal Context

For a long time, discussion in the English-language literature on litigations in Japan has focused on the relatively low rate of legal battles (in particular compared to the U.S.), and cultural or institutional barriers as the main possible causes for this. In a seminal essay, Japanese legal sociologist Kawashima Takeyoshi (1963) posited that rather than judicial decisions based on universal standards, Japanese people had a cultural preference for informal mechanisms of dispute resolution. Kawashima nevertheless expected that Japanese society would become more litigious as modernization progressed. The question of modernity aside, this prophecy proved true as the rate of litigation significantly increased, especially in the 1990s.

Previously, many Japanese academics had drawn on Kawashima’s culturalist argument, without attending to his view that litigation was likely to increase with modernization. The result was a legal version of the Nihonjinron thesis on the Japanese, i.e., an emphasis on culturally homogenous Japanese valuing consensus and harmony, hence a propensity to eschew litigation. This fantasy was broken by Frank Upham’s groundbreaking article on the four big pollution lawsuits (1976; see also Upham 1987, 2005), and John Haley’s essay, “The myth of the reluctant litigant” (1978), which analyzed statistics that included the evolution from late Meiji to the mid-1970s shifts in the number of judges, public procurators and private attorneys, as well as the percentage of successful applicants to the national law examination. Haley’s article has often been taken to show that access to Japanese courts was consciously restricted in a variety of ways, such as keeping the number of legal professionals low (see also Haley 1982, 1991).

However, this claim of low access to the judiciary is no longer relevant. Ginsburg and Hoetker (2006) have shown that, thanks to an expansion in the Japanese bar and more streamlined procedures for accessing the judiciary and launching a suit, from 1986 to 2001 civil litigation increased by approximately one third, although most of that increase was concentrated in urban prefectures, particularly Tokyo. Foote (2014: 174-180) further shows that several important reforms have improved the legal environment for those seeking redress. First, the amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure in 1996 and the Information Disclosure Act (enacted in 1999) have expanded civil access to government information, which is crucial for social movements. Second, the Justice System Reform Council, which was launched in 1999, initiated a reshuffle of the entire judiciary. The changes included greater flexibility and quicker procedures for cases involving many victims, as well as new provisions of legal assistance, and various efforts to increase both the size and quality of the legal profession.

As a result of these reforms, the number of judges and prosecutors increased from, respectively, 2,143 and 1,363 in 1999, to 2,774 and 1,976 in 2019, while the number of lawyers jumped from 16,731 to 41,118 (Nichibenren 2019). The number of lawyers did not reach the target of 50,000 by 2018, as announced in the final report that the Justice System Reform Council released in 2001 (Ginsburg and Hoetker: 38). But it is worth noting that in the meantime, the female to male ratio has more than doubled for lawyers (from 8.4 to 18.8%) and prosecutors (from 8.4 to 25%), with women making up 26.7% of all judges (ratio not given for 1999). These changes contrast sharply with the persistent glass ceilings that women continue to face in other professions.2

Consequently, if we follow Foote (2014: 180), we can assume that although the reforms remain incomplete, and they do not guarantee success in litigation, they have facilitated access to the judiciary and the work of Japanese “cause lawyers.”3 The following sections will explore the relevance of these developments to the civil actions launched by the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


2. The Political Context of Lawsuits

The independence of the Japanese judiciary has been the subject of a long and heated debate, especially when compared to its American counterpart (Haley 1998, Johnson 2002, Johnson 2002, Upham 2005, Ramseyer and Rasmusen 2003). A discussion of the topic goes beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, for the problem at issue here, the Fukushima litigations necessarily have political implications, even though they may not be explicitly stated in the lawsuits’ objectives. Unlike former Prime Ministers Kan Naoto and Koizumi Jun’ichirō, who have become staunch opponents of nuclear energy, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has expressed a desire to restart as many nuclear power plants as possible. Regardless of what electricity generation will look like in the future, Japan will have to deal with the legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. According to the government, it will take at least another thirty or forty years to repair the entire site (Keizai sangyōshō 2019), or up to 200 years according to other estimates (Perry 2015). Robots have been used to inspect the damaged reactors, but the extremely high radiation levels have rendered them useless for cleanup operations (McCurry 2017).

The 2020 Olympic Games—now postponed due to COVID-19—have been presented to the Fukushima region as an opportunity to restore national confidence and revive economic growth. The aura of positivism associated with the Olympic Games casts a modest veil over the tremendous tasks to be accomplished at Fukushima Daiichi for the next 40 years at the very least (Jobin 2019). Meanwhile, Fukushima Daiichi and its surroundings have become a huge storage area for radioactive waste. National government spokespersons understate the risk of irradiation in the Fukushima region and subsequent impacts on Japan’s food supply (Kimura 2016). A basic problem is that under the neoliberal premise of self-responsibility (jiko sekinin), the burden of recovery tends to be placed on the victims themselves or on the most vulnerable, who are forced to show their “resilience” (Scoccimaro 2016, Ribault 2019, Asanuma-Brice 2020, Polleri 2019, Topçu 2019, Kojima forthcoming).

A central issue in Fukushima civil actions is the displacement caused by the nuclear disaster and the persistent radiation background. According to state data, such as those published by the Japan Reconstruction Agency, the nuclear disaster itself caused the evacuation of about 164,000 people from the evacuation zones and adjacent areas, including mandatory and voluntary evacuation, before gradually decreasing to about 79,000 people (Xuan Bien Do 2019). At the end of March 2017, the government cut public aid to 27,000 people displaced by the disaster; although the government would like to pretend that everything is back to normal, only ten per cent of evacuees have returned to their abandoned homes, the majority of them being over 60 years old (Pataud-Célerier 2019).

On 11 March 2020, nine years after the nuclear disaster, the front page of the Asahi Shimbun deplored the lack of interest in the issue, even among the inhabitants of Fukushima themselves (Kikuchi 2020). In one photo showing rescue workers paying tribute to their colleagues who died in the 2011 earthquake, they are wearing masks, not to prevent radiation, but COVID-19.

Through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) launched by the state, victims can seek compensation for damages that Tepco does not recognize (Kojima 2017). The goal for Tepco and the state is to reduce the number of legal battles. But this system has not eliminated frustration. While the total number of plaintiffs is a tiny fraction of all whose lives have been disrupted by the disaster, their action is nevertheless a thorn in Abe’s side. The head of another plaintiffs’ group explains that the fear of being relegated to the ranks of “abandoned people” (kimin) has served as motivation to sue the state and Tepco (Maeda Akira, in Maeda et al. 2019: 63). One of our interviewees adds:

Prime Minister Abe and his government have sent many signals that his ultimate goal is to eliminate the number of official victims of the nuclear disaster before 2020. We are a burden and a stain on the landscape of the Olympics.”4

In the eyes of leaders of the citizen that initiated the criminal lawsuit, as well as for all of the plaintiffs involved in the collective civil actions, the September 2019 verdict was enormously unjust and influenced by the political context (Johnson et al. 2020). Many had hoped that punishment would send a strong signal to Abe’s pro-nuclear government. Accordingly, although there will likely be a protracted multi-year battle to the Supreme Court, the nationwide collective civil lawsuits can be understood as a means to secure redress and to halt the pace of nuclear restarts.


3. Plaintiffs’ Mobiles and Court Decisions

All of the plaintiffs for the collective civil actions seek compensation either from Tepco (4 cases), or from both Tepco and the state (27 cases), specifically for material damages, such as the loss of a home or business, and related consequences, such as psychological distress. Table 1 in Notes presents an overview of the cases.

As of 30 March 2020, thirteen judgments had been handed down. The judges found Tepco liable in twelve cases, while in eight cases, both Tepco and the state were found liable and ordered to pay compensation to the plaintiffs. There was only one case (Yamagata, 17 December 2019) in which the judges dismissed the claims against Tepco and the state. This was a blow to the nationwide movement. Yet, the battle goes on in appeal.

The time between filing complaints and reaching judgments is four to six years. Although this may seem long, it is approximately the national average for this kind of case. However, eighteen other cases are still pending at the district level. Despite the precarious condition of the people displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the courts do not accelerate the process. Furthermore, Tepco and the state have appealed all of the judgments against them. In light of precedent cases, such as the collective lawsuits for victims of the atomic bomb, the Minamata disease or asbestos, the Fukushima-related lawsuits will probably continue over several years, if not one or more decades.

There are two main categories of lawsuits: one focuses on the restoration of a safe—radiation-free—living environment in Fukushima; the other stresses the right to start a new life elsewhere, assuming that it will probably be decades until the danger of radiation is eliminated. In the first type of lawsuit, the plaintiffs have declared the goal of safe return to their lost land, as summed up in slogans such as “Give our previous lives back!” (moto no seikatsu o kaese; Table 1.3), “Give our source of work back, give our region back” (nariwai o kaese, chiiki o kaese, alternatively, “Back to normal!” genjō kaifuku, Table 1.4 and 1.9), “Living in Odaka!” (1.26) and “Give our hometown Tsushima back” (1.28). These cases have 6,489 plaintiffs, over half the total number of plaintiffs in the nationwide coalition. The remaining 5,920 plaintiffs in 26 cases launched by displaced people all over the country, from Hokkaidō to Kyūshū, claim financial support to seek refuge away from radiation (hinan no kenri), regardless of the government’s claims of safety.5

Despite these different perspectives—eliminating radiation in Fukushima or pursuing the right to live elsewhere—the collective civil actions share common goals. Attorney Kurozawa Tomohiro, head of the plaintiffs’ group in the Kanagawa lawsuit (Table 1.16 and Table 2.8), emphasizes three main motivations (Maeda et al. 2019: 7-24). The first is to prove Tepco and the state’s responsibility given the appalling lack of preventive measures against earthquake and tsunami, which were the causes of the nuclear disaster. Evidence for this argument, which was presented in the criminal lawsuit, has been central to several civil actions. The second goal is to challenge the compensation criteria set by the state and Tepco for the people displaced by the disaster. The third goal is to challenge the standards of radiation protection that the state has used thus far to define territories at risk. The last two goals are specific to the civil actions.

Relevant to compensation standards is the fact that all of the plaintiffs were driven from their homes by the disaster, a situation that identifies them as refugees (hinansha) under international standards. Although the plaintiffs include forced evacuees (kyōsei hinansha), the state has classified the majority as “voluntary evacuees” (jishu hinansha). The Japanese government distinguishes between those who lived in the evacuation zones, and those who lived outside the zones. The government classifies departures of house outside the evacuation zones as “voluntary,” as if their departures were a matter of personal convenience, regardless of the increased risk of radioactive exposure (Kojima 2017). Consequently, many people have been excluded from the compensation plan launched by Tepco and the state; only children, pregnant women and a few other exceptions have been eligible to apply for small amounts of compensation in the case of those who lived outside the evacuation zones. Furthermore, this compensation plan ended in March 2017, leaving many people in difficult economic straits. Judges continue to use the compensation plan’s standards as their point of reference (Table 2 in Notes).

Crucial in the debates are assessments of the consequences of “low doses” of radiation exposure. The Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model posits the lack of a safety threshold below 100 millisieverts (mSv) or even below 20 mSv; this model is now backed by a strong consensus in the international scientific community, as well as among experts in Japan. But turning these assessments into legal standards for public health is another story. Japanese official judgment remains that the policy target for the annual maximum exposure is 1 mSv. In practice, the post-311 Japanese state has used 20 mSv as the safety threshold for radiation exposure and disregarded evidence of the consequences of the higher threshold (Jobin 2013b, Shirai 2015, Hirakawa 2015, Kimura 2016, Ribault 2019). According to physician Sakiyama Hisako, who has testified in three lawsuits at the plaintiffs’ request (Chiba, Kyoto, Tokyo), the experts backing Tepco and the state cannot argue against the LNT’s conclusions, but they have nevertheless tried to mitigate the consequences of those conclusions, as if the risks between 1 and 20 mSv were negligible, effectively ignoring a large body of recent epidemiological surveys showing evidence to the contrary: that exposure to dosages between 1 and 20 mSv led to increased risk of cancer and DNA damage (Sakiyama in Maeda et al 2019: 41-56, see also Leuraut et al. 2015, Richardson et al. 2015). In addition to the civil actions, two collective administrative lawsuits have also been launched against the state, focusing on the problem of radiation standards (in Table 1, cases 31 and 32). By contesting the safety threshold of 20 mSv, these lawsuits all call into question the territorial zoning set in the wake of the disaster and thereafter gradually reduced, making fewer people eligible for compensation.


4. Small Compensation

Thus far, with the exception of a recent verdict in Yamagata (December 2019), the courts have ruled against Tepco in twelve cases, with the state being found liable in eight cases. For a social movement, this is an impressive result. However, when it comes to compensation, the disappointment runs deep. Let us look at some examples.

One of the first court decisions was handed down in February 2016, and it was not for a collective case, but involved a family that had left Koriyama City (Fukushima Prefecture). Although Koriyama is located outside the official evacuation zone, the court took into account the fact that its inhabitants were exposed to a level of background radiation exceeding official safety standards. Since the mother had been pregnant and the family already had a young child, they decided to move to Kyoto. The father, who was in his forties, had been running a restaurant in Koriyama, and tried to start a new business in Kyoto, but faced with difficulties, he fell into depression. He then sued Tepco for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the Kyoto District Court ordered the company to pay him 30 million yen (about US$269,000) in compensation.6 Although this amount is probably far from sufficient to compensate his loss, it was a relatively large settlement compared to the amounts granted in the collective cases (see Table 2). For instance, two years later, when the same Kyoto court ruled that Tepco and the state owed compensation to a group of 110 plaintiffs or 58 households, including 2 households of forced evacuees and 49 households of voluntary evacuees (Table 1.17, and Table 2.6), the amounts were considerably lower: 600,000 yen for children of voluntary evacuees, and 300,000 yen for the adults (respectively US$5,400 and US$2,690).

The first decision in a collective suit came in March 2017 from the Maebashi District Court (Kikuchi 2017; see Tables 1.12, 2.1). The plaintiffs included both forced and voluntary refugees, most of whom had left homes located less than 30 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi (Soeda 2017: 101; and documents provided by Gensoren). This court was the first to recognize the responsibility of both the company and the state. After reviewing expert testimony and conducting on-site inspections, the judges ruled that Tepco and the state authorities had, as far back as 2002, been clearly aware of the risk that the nuclear reactors’ cooling system could be destroyed by a large tsunami. This was an important decision that has since set a crucial precedent (Soeda 2017: 110-118). Even so, the plaintiffs were dismayed by the low amounts of compensation set by the judges. The families who had fled from official evacuation zones were to receive up to a maximum of 5 million yen, about US$45,000, unless they had already received the baseline payment of 1.8 million yen from the state and Tepco’s compensation plan, in which case they would receive a premium of less than 3.2 million yen (about US$34,000). Obviously, these amounts were a small fraction of the damages people had suffered as a result of the loss of their home and livelihood.

A few months later, in September 2017, the Chiba District Court ordered Tepco to pay compensation in a similar range (Tables 1.7, 2.2). Moreover, the judges did not deem the state responsible. The third decision, in October 2017, was for the largest group of plaintiffs (nariwai o kaese, Tables 1.4, 2.3), and reaffirmed both Tepco and the state’s responsibility, but rejected the claims of one fourth of the plaintiffs and delivered insultingly low compensation premiums to the rest (between US$270 and 1,800). In March 2018, a Tokyo court delivered a relatively higher level of compensation for voluntary evacuees (Tables 1.5, 2.5), and this verdict was the only one to explicitly endorse the LNT model of radiation risk.

Even more than a strictly economic measure of the damage, the plaintiffs oppose a strictly economic measure of the value of their homeland. This is especially explicit in the testimonies of those involved in lawsuits with slogans such as “Give us back our hometown” (Nariwai o kaese… bengodan 2014). As Laura Centemeri (2015) explains, in many issues of environmental justice around the world, the environment is often perceived as such a constitutive part of a person and his/her community, that if it is affected by massive industrial pollution, compensation for “a loss of enjoyment” of the area does not mean much for the victim and his/her affected community. The loss resists general valuation because “things and persons are constituted as unique spatio-temporal particulars” (Centemeri 2015: 314).

In the Fukushima lawsuits, the plaintiffs express this sentiment as the “loss of homeland” (furusato no sōshitsu), i.e. the disappearance of one’s place in life, its common history and specific culture. As Yokemoto Masafumi, an expert summoned to the Iwaki branch of the Fukushima court, has pointed out, the “loss of homeland” is something unprecedented in the history of Japan (Soeda 2017: 119-122, see also Yokemoto 2016). The plaintiffs’ lawyers therefore advanced a broader understanding of the nuclear disaster’s consequences, which are difficult to convert into money. However, the amounts eventually set by the judges are so small, especially for those who lived outside the official high-risk zones, that they cannot provide any moral comfort (Maeda et al 2019: 13-19, 67-69). Moreover, Fassert and Hasegawa (2019: 115) observed: “gap in compensation payment, which is in reality the financial assistance for evacuation, has triggered jealousy, tension and division among the affected residents, leaving profound scars in the communities.”

In the large majority of these collective actions plaintiffs have sued both Tepco and the state. The latter carries special meaning. Research on the Japanese judiciary shows that judges constitute a portion of a state bureaucracy with strong discipline and esprit de corps, which enables them to maintain some distance from the government and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). They are nevertheless deeply influenced by the dominant political culture (Upham 2005: 454, cf. Haley 1998, Johnson 2002, Ramseyer and Rasmusen 2003). Based on these findings, we can posit that the decision to sue both Tepco and the state might have prevented the judges from setting higher levels of compensation. But as the lawyers have argued, the state had a fundamental responsibility in developing a nuclear program in a highly seismic country, so there was no question of not suing the state (Kawai 2012, and Att. Nakano Tomoki in Nariwai o kaese… bengodan 2014: 50-64).


5. The Criminal Suit: A Driving Force?

The collective lawsuits’ stance on this issue shares similarities with that of the criminal lawsuit. As Frank Upham has pointed out (1976), in collective lawsuits, such as industrial pollution litigation, plaintiffs and their lawyers cannot restrict themselves to a strict calculation of the value of material or human damage; they aspire to an ethical judgment that has political consequences, if only to prevent similar tragedies. In civil actions, the defendant’s fault must nevertheless be converted into money, which in some cases, have a tendency to attenuate the ethical dimensions of the charge (Jobin 2013a). Criminal lawsuits offer a means of counterbalancing such outcomes.

However, criminal lawsuits against those responsible for industrial disasters are extremely rare, not only in Japan, but worldwide. The most spectacular case was in Italy, with a lawsuit involving more than six thousand plaintiffs against the two presidents of the asbestos company Eternit; after convictions from the district and appeal courts of Turin, the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome (Marichalar 2019). In France, similar proceedings initiated by asbestos victims have been dragging on for years. In Japan, the 1988 conviction of two Chisso company executives for their responsibility in the 1960s Minamata disease epidemic was, for the victims, too little, too late (Togashi 1995, Jobin 2014).

In this national and global context, the criminal lawsuit backed by over a group of 15,000 Fukushima residents, usually known as Gensodan,7 is exceptional. The core members behind the lawsuit’s early momentum are a team of fifty citizens who, since the mid-1980s, have been fighting against the conspicuous presence of nuclear power plants in Fukushima. When the nuclear disaster occurred in March 2011, they were planning a protest against the ten-year extension of Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear reactor.8

The criminal lawsuit has been, legally speaking, far more demanding than a civil action, so it is not surprising that it took more than five years before the first hearing was set in July 2017 (Johnson et al 2020). However, for the Gensodan, the slowness of the criminal proceedings and the many obstacles throughout the entire process are the product of obvious political influence. Not only was the case abruptly transferred from the jurisdiction of Fukushima to Tokyo, but also, once the hearings began, the judges exhibited a hostile attitude toward the plaintiffs who attended the hearings:

The controls were stricter than those for the trial of Aum Shinrikyo, as if we were potential terrorists! Inside the court, although there were 90 seats, only twenty of us could enter the court, by drawing lots. The other seats were supposed to serve for the defendants and the media, but most of them were left empty. […] You know, during court hearings, it’s sometimes natural to react, isn’t it? For example, when we heard the shocking revelations of earthquake expert Shimazaki Kunihiko, some of us couldn’t help but murmur in surprise.9 Yet it was almost like a whisper, it was not loud at all. But the judge overreacted, threatening to clear the room!”10

Japan’s prosecution rate is relatively low. On the other hand, according to Johnson (2002: 216-218), when it comes to verdicts, the conviction rate is so high that the average Japanese prosecutor sees an acquittal only once every 13 years. The acquittal in September 2019 was therefore extremely unusual. Moreover, the judges’ convictions closely resembled those of the ruling LDP and Abe cabinet.

For the Gensodan, another development that signaled the judges’ probable bias was the case of former Tepco employee Yamashita Kazuhiko, who was responsible for taking measures to prevent extensive damages from a tsunami. In a statement read during a court hearing, Yamashita said that in 2008, the three Tepco executives had been informed of the risk of a wave up to 15.7 meters, slightly above the 15.5-meter wave that hit the reactors in March 2011 (Osumi 2019). But in July 2008, although they had initially approved safety measures to handle the risk, the executives put the blueprint aside out of fear that it would provoke local antinuclear protest.

This was such decisive testimony that the Gensodan had expected Yamashita to be at the top of the list of 21 potential subpoena witnesses. But Yamashita was never called to testify. According to the Gensodan, the judges had probably ruled out his participation for fear that he would reiterate his criticisms against the government in the case against Tepco’s top executives. Yamashita had, after all, publicly challenged Prime Minister Abe’s declaration in September 2013, when the latter had sought to reassure the Olympic Committee that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi was “under control.”11

Johnson et al. (2020) posit that, given the recent history of criminal proceedings in Japan, it is highly unlikely that this judgment will be overturned by appeal. However, as the authors also point out, and as the lawyers’ testimonies in the civil actions tend to show (e.g. Maeda et al. 2019), the hearings conducted at the criminal court of Tokyo have brought important evidence to light, which have proved useful in the collective civil lawsuits. The criminal lawsuit can thus be understood as a driving force behind the collective civil actions. However, the collective lawsuits should not be misunderstood as simply relying on the criminal lawsuit; on the contrary, these suits advance one of the key initial goals: suing the state.12

Although targeting the state entails many difficulties, the plaintiffs and lawyers in most of the collective civil actions clearly thought it worth the effort.13 In the criminal case, the initial goal was to prosecute twenty state and Tepco executives, but the prosecutors eventually reduced the number of defendants to three top executives from Tepco. Gensodan members were frustrated by this development. They nevertheless proceeded because the three executives were not subordinate scapegoats, but key actors, such as former chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa, familiarly nicknamed “the emperor” (“Katsumata Ten’nō”) among his staff.14 At the same time, the fundamental question of the state’s responsibility for the nuclear disaster was excluded from the court proceedings. With the absence of state defendants in the criminal court, the collective civil lawsuits have therefore brought critical questions about the role of the state before and after the nuclear disaster back into focus.

02Plaintiffs on the way to Osaka Court, 30 July 2015. Courtesy of Akiko Morimatsu


6. Collective Lawsuits: A Legacy of Movements

It has often been pointed out that, compared to the United States, legal recourse is not widely pursued in Japan. There is, however, much evidence to the contrary. Before the Fukushima lawsuits, a large number of collective lawsuits was launched by victims of industrial pollution (kōgai soshō).

To name just a few, social movements against industrial pollution date back to the Meiji period, with the most famous case being the Ashio copper mine (Walker 2010, Stolz 2014, Pitteloud 2019). But it was only after World War II that anti-pollution movements really began to take a more systematic judicial approach, most famously in the seminal “big four” trials (yondai kōgaibyō saiban) for the Minamata disease in Kyushu and Niigata, the itai itai cadmium poisoning in Toyama, and the Yokkaichi asthma. These lawsuits ran from 1967 to 1973 (e.g. Upham 1987, Togashi 1995, George 2001, Jobin 2006, Shimabayashi 2010, Nichibenren 2010).

Thereafter, from the mid-1970s through the 1990s, the Japanese Communist Party launched several lawsuits for victims of air pollution near industrial zones such as Kawasaki or Kitakyushu; these suits involved large groups of plaintiffs, up to seven hundred (e.g. Nichibenren 2010, Jobin 2006). Furthermore, since the mid-2000s, numerous environmental and occupational lawsuits have been launched by victims of asbestos use (Nichibenren 2010, Awaji et al 2012, Mori et al 2012, Jobin 2013a), victims of karōshi or death by overwork (North 2014), and patients of Hansen’s disease and hepatitis C (Arrington 2016). Around the same time, atomic bomb survivors also launched lawsuits against the state (Hasegawa 2010, Genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2011, Tōkyō genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2012).

These cases form an extensive repertoire of collective action (Tilly 2006), which is unfortunately, almost unknown in the mainstream literature in English on social movements.15 While books written by lawyers tend to emphasize the positive results achieved through these struggles (e.g. Nichibenren 2010, Shimabayashi 2010), other works have highlighted the tensions that occasionally arose between lawyers and activists, unions and environmental groups, etc. (Upham 1987, George 2001, Jobin 2006). As a whole, the literature on this history provides a rich catalog of legal and organizational tactics, which can be mobilized in all sorts of collective lawsuits (for a manual, e.g. Koga 2009).

Japan’s collective civil actions (dantai soshō) fill the same basic function as American class actions in mass tort cases: to provide redress for victims of harm. However, the motivations of lawyers who bring these suits often differ. American lawyers who represent plaintiffs in mass tort cases can be rewarded with huge attorneys’ fees when they are successful. In the U.S., financial incentives for lawyers explain, for instance, the hundreds of thousands of asbestos litigations; as highlighted by Jasanoff and Perese (2003), this business-oriented use of law and the judiciary blocks or delays legislation change and public policy reform. The upside of such legal culture, however, is that it can generally deliver much higher compensation to the victims.

In contrast, as indicated in the Fukushima civil actions, compensation awards granted by Japanese courts tend to be small; accordingly, fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys are also small. As noted by Steinhoff (2014: 4), “the Japanese Civil Code does not allow for punitive damages, and there are no juries to make unpredictable awards, so lawyers do not undertake civil lawsuits on a contingency fee basis in hopes of winning big settlements.” Foote (2014: 173) further argues that in Japan, despite pro bono “cause lawyers” and a large network of supporters to help defray the costs of legal battles, these costs, together with the lack of a class action mechanism, constitute a significant barrier to accessing the court. The advantage of this situation is that such hurdles compel social movements to seek changes through legislation and public policy even more vigorously.

Since compensation in Japan is generally low, lawyers are often motivated by more political factors from the outset, particularly by their links with the political left (Upham 1987, George 2001, Jobin 2006, Steinhoff et al. 2014). Many lawyers are members (or closely associated with) the Japanese Communist Party (Nihon kyōsantō) or of the legacies of the Socialist Party, such as the Social Democratic Party and the former left wing of the Democratic Party (Minshutō), later renamed the Constitutional Democratic Party (Rikken minshutō). Currently, in the Diet, these are all minority parties facing the impregnable fortress of the Liberal Democratic Party, but socially and in the media landscape, they are active and influential.

An important factor to take into account is the lengthy wait time for rulings to be handed down. The larger the number of lawsuits, the longer the wait period, which seems to grow longer with each litigation, as well as effects of the movement overall: when a battle ends, another one starts. The case of the Minamata disease lawsuits is particularly striking. Including the first cases filed in the 1960s, there have been some thirty collective action suits, not only against the polluting companies Chisso (in Kyushu) and Showa Denko (in Niigata), but also against the state; these cases were mainly initiated by the tens of thousands of people left out of the compensation system (Togashi 1995, Jobin 2014). In March 2011, shortly after the disaster in Fukushima, several courts were still issuing decisions on collective cases about Minamata disease. As a whole, these thirty or so Minamata lawsuits have been in the courts for over fifty years.

There was an equivalent number of lawsuits within ten years of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. We might therefore wonder if, compared to cases in previous decades, Fukushima reflects a more frequent and systematic recourse to the judiciary, as well as what contributed to this change. Does it mean a ‘legal turn’ generated by the antinuclear movement? I posit that the faster launch of Fukushima lawsuits builds on a legacy of lawsuits conceived as social movements, driven by a nationwide network of activists and lawyers. Furthermore, although antinuclear sentiment is an important component, this movement cannot be attributed to that alone, as its ideological scope is much larger.

In Fukushima, despite the increase of thyroid diseases, lawsuits seeking medical compensation have yet to appear. Even so, the ongoing civil actions exhibit similarities with the collective actions that developed around, among others, the legal battles fought by atomic bomb victims. Beginning in Nagoya in March 2003, and taking cues from numerous individual suits, a total of twenty-two collective lawsuits were filed against the government, contesting its narrow certification criteria for symptoms of atomic illness. Most courts ruled in favor of the victims, and the supporting evidence was published after March 2011, anticipating the legal needs of victims from Fukushima (Hasegawa 2010, Genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2011, Tōkyō genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2012).

Furthermore, since the late 1970s, small unions, labor activists and nuclear watchdog groups (such as the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center) have launched two dozen lawsuits and engaged in administrative battles over leukemia and other serious illnesses contracted by nuclear plant workers (Jobin 2011, 2013bc, Iida 2016). Shortly after 11 March 2011, these groups urged Tepco and the government to provide proper protection equipment for cleanup workers at Fukushima Daiichi and across the region. Since 2016, they have supported a former cleanup worker who sued Tepco after working at Fukushima Daiichi and being diagnosed with leukemia. The worker’s accumulated radiation exposure was 19.78 mSv, slightly below the maximum annual legal amount of 20 mSv, but high enough to apply for compensation for occupational cancer (Jobin 2019). His lawsuit has gone through 15 hearings thus far; given the controversy over the risks of exposure to radiation doses below 20 msv, the outcome has important significance for the collective lawsuits launched by Fukushima evacuees.16

Another resource for the Fukushima lawsuits is the numerous litigations that antinuclear activists have launched in a bid to prevent or shut down nuclear power plants. These battles also began in the late 1970s. Since then, attorney Yuichi Kaido (2011), a leader of that movement, has counted a total of sixteen administrative and civil actions across the country as among the most important in furthering the movement’s goals. Unfortunately, before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the plaintiffs lost all of their cases in the district courts, and the ten cases that had reached the Supreme Court were also all dismissed. There were only two temporary victories in the high court: one over reactor number 2 at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant in Ishikawa Prefecture, and the other over the sodium-cooled fast reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture, which resulted in a technical failure at a total cost of one trillion yen. Given that the risk of earthquakes and tsunami had been central issues in these lawsuits, Kaido (2011) argues that the Japanese judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular, holds an important share of responsibility in not preventing the Fukushima nuclear disaster (see also Isomura and Yamaguchi 2016).

In comparison, the lawsuits that were launched after March 2011 opposing the government’s plans to re-start the nuclear plants have met with greater success. As early as July 2011, a group of 170 lawyers, under the leadership of veteran lawyers such as Kaido and Hiroyuki Kawai, gathered together to prepare legal requests for “provisional measures to suspend operation” (unten sashitome karishobun). With the exception of four nuclear power plants (Higashidōri, Onagawa, Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, this ambitious initiative accounted for nuclear reactors all over the country. Although a court ruling to suspend operation has no coercive power on the electricity companies operating the plants, it nevertheless sends them a warning that is amplified in the media. A good example was the decision, in April 2015, of the Fukui District Court against the re-start of the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant’s number three and four reactors. (Kawai 2015)

Last but not least, lawyers, activists and victim groups invested in the legacy of industrial pollution lawsuits have, since the Minamata disease cases, sent messages of solidarity to the victims of Fukushima, as well as a willingness to share their decades of experience struggling against the state and polluting industries (Genbaku-shō nintei soshō Kumamoto bengodan 2011, 2012).

All of these legal battles have developed a culture that legitimizes the lawsuit as a social movement (soshō undō). Such movements usually begin with local initiatives, before eventually converging into one or two nationwide alliances. This social movement of Fukushima lawsuits clearly involves a political dimension, but it does not necessarily mean a partisan fight. In the past, these alliances frequently divided between the socialists and communists (such as the Gensuikin and Gensuikyō in the case of the anti-nuclear movements and the hibakusha). Although tensions remain between the remaining networks and their associates in the Diet, the disappearance of the Japan Socialist Party in the mid-1990s gradually overcame this divide. Accordingly, the thirty ongoing collective civil actions have launched a national coalition, Gensoren,17 which links to the JCP, as well as the Reiwa Shinsengumi, founded by former councilor Yamamoto Tarō. Gensoren also maintains regular contact with Gensodan, the group that initiated the criminal lawsuit, and which has greater political affinity with the successors of the former socialist party.18


7. Conclusion

The civil actions launched by the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster draw on a long and varied line of collective actions. First among these are the lawsuits opposing the extension or re-activation of nuclear reactors after 2011. In addition to expected antinuclear lawsuits, Japan has also benefitted from a movement to recognize the health hazards suffered by nuclear plant workers across the country. Likewise, the collective lawsuits to challenge the state’s narrow criteria for atomic bomb symptoms have served as another source of mobilization. To this catalogue of lawsuits over nuclear energy and the effects of radiation, the movements were fueled by a long list of collective lawsuits launched by victims of industrial pollution, particularly those of the Minamata disease.

Moreover, the civil actions launched after March 2011 developed a network of solidarity with citizen initiatives for a criminal lawsuit against the state and Tepco executives. Although there was similar prosecution of the individuals responsible for Minamata disease in the 1980s, and although the verdict did condemn two Chisso executives, for the victims it was too little, too late. But in the case of the Fukushima lawsuits, despite the acquittal, the criminal lawsuit initiated a dynamic that continues to fuel the nationwide movement of collective civil actions. In turn, the citizens’ group behind the criminal lawsuit reinforces the civil actions. This is because, beyond the issue of compensation inherent in civil actions, the majority of these lawsuits have chosen to sue not only Tepco, but also the state.

The low amounts of compensation set by the judges thus far constitute a major obstacle to recognition of the state’s responsibility for the Fukushima disaster. In particular, it is puzzling that an individual family can receive an amount of compensation much higher than that for collective lawsuits. Further research is needed to compare the levels of compensation set for the collective suits and the individual cases.

This essay has offered an evaluation of the significance of collective lawsuits in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with a focus on civil actions. The plaintiffs’ claims could be further evaluated in light of more detailed analyses of the networks of lawyers, activists, political parties, unions, and citizen groups in other lawsuits. To better assess the evolution of this lawsuit-driven movement, it would be helpful to have a close analysis of the motivations at work among the plaintiffs; for example, to what extent do the low levels of compensation affect the plaintiffs’ assessment of the suits and their movement?

Another important issue for further research deals with the socio-political impact of these lawsuits. In Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan (1987), Frank Upham described the Japanese model of law and litigation as judge-centered and governed by what he called “bureaucratic informalism,” i.e., a coalition involving the bureaucracy, the Liberal Democratic Party, and big business.19 As Upham argued, in spite of that stable coalition of conservative elites, grassroots collective litigations like the 1970s “Big Four” anti-pollution lawsuits, have been important factors behind social change in Japan. Three decades after Upham’s assessment, a long economic recession and a nuclear disaster have not destroyed the coalition between the LDP and the bureaucracy. It remains to be seen whether the cataclysmic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economy and society will shake that coalition, or will stimulate social movements in new ways.

As Cleveland (2014: 516 et seq.) noted, in the aftermath of 3.11, “for a moment, it seemed that Japanese politics was in the midst of fundamental social change, with a flowering of activism and civil society engagement.” On 15 March 2011, through their courageous decision to stand against top Tepco executives, the nuclear bureaucracy, and LDP politicians, Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Fukushima Daiichi plant manager Yoshida Masao saved Japan from a complete loss of control that might have otherwise led to a nationwide disaster. With thousands of workers on the front, they saved Japan from a Godzilla-like scenario. Soon after however, voters rejected Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to reinstall the LDP. Ironically, it was the LDP that had promoted Japan’s nuclear power program since the 1960s, but it was the DPJ that paid for their mistakes. Since its creation in 1955, the LDP has always ruled the Diet and the government, except for very brief periods such as the socialist coalition of 1994-1996 and the DPJ cabinets of 2010-2012. In that same timeframe, the LDP’s main opponent, the Japan Socialist Party, and thereafter the Democratic Party of Japan, have disappeared, while their legacy, the Constitutional Democratic Party, is a mere shadow of the past opposition party. In other words, the LDP is one of the most stable government parties in postwar liberal democracies, and it owes much of that stability to its alliance with the bureaucracy and big business.

The flip side of that political stability has been stagnation for several legal issues such as the persistence of the death penalty and the “substitute prison” system (daiyō kangoku).20 Moreover, over the last thirty years, the political hegemony of the LDP has been conducive to a right-wing turn on several social issues, such as amnesia over wartime crimes and the increasing virulence of xenophobic groups (Kingston 2016, Nakano 2016, Postel-Vinay 2017, Gaku et al 2017). Besides, despite superficial political slogans, gender equity has made little progress, with the remarkable exception of legal professions. This aspect would be worth further attention in future research on Fukushima lawsuits and other social movements engaged in legal battles.

Although the Fukushima lawsuits have not fundamentally challenged the LDP’s thus far unchallengeable position, the nation-wide movement of legal battles launched by the victims of the Fukushima disaster has blocked the government’s ability to re-start its nuclear reactors. As emphasized by Steinhoff et al (2014), and as can be observed in the Fukushima criminal case, a defeat in the courts does not necessarily mean a defeat for the social movement as a whole. At the very least, a collective lawsuit may contribute to publicizing the cause, and it often energizes supporters. The contrary may also be true: a victory in court is no guarantee that the movement will achieve its goals or that it will contribute to policy reform and social change. Further research on the civil actions should pay careful attention to both aspects, and more generally speaking, to the diversity of scenarios and paths.

Moreover, the ninth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has been marked by another emergency: the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of which will impinge heavily on all the issues discussed here. The beginnings of criticism that have already arisen from civil society against Abe’s government for its lack of appropriate response invites comparison with the opposition stirred by the movement growing out of Fukushima (Asanuma-Brice 2020).21 As the virus spreads throughout Japan, its social and political impact may impinge directly on all the movements and forces discussed here, in ways that we cannot yet gauge.



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Soeda Takashi 添田孝史. 2017. Tōden genpatsu saiban: Fukushima genpatsu jiko no sekinin o tou 東電原発裁判—福島原発事故の責任を問う (Tepco Nuclear Power Plant Lawsuit: Claiming Responsibility for the Fukushima Nuclear Accident), Tokyo: Iwanami.

Shimabayashi, Tatsuru島林 樹. 2010. Kōgai saiban ― itaītaibyō soshō o kaisō shite 公害裁判―イタイイタイ病訴訟を回想して (Remembering industrial pollution: the itai itai lawsuits). Tokyo: Beni shobō 紅書房.

Shirai, Satoshi 白井聡. 2015. The Plaintiffs and Lawyers of the “Give us back our business and our region!” Fukushima Nuclear Plant Lawsuit「生業を返せ、地域を返せ!」福島原発事故被害弁護団, 福島を切り捨てるのですか——“20ミリシーベルト”受忍論批判 (Do you mean to cut away Fukushima? A criticism of the “20 millisieverts” thesis). Kyōto: Kamogawa.

Steinhoff, Patricia G., ed. 2014. Going to Court to Change Japan: Social Movements and the Law in Contemporary Japan. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Stolz, Robert. 2014. Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870–1950. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tilly, Charles. 2006. Regimes and Repertoires. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Togashi, Sadao 冨樫貞夫. 1995. Minamatabyō jiken to hō 水俣病事件と法 (Minatamata Disease and Law). Fukuoka : Sekifūsha 石風社.

Topçu, Sezin. 2013. “Chernobyl Empowerment: Exporting ‘Participatory Governance’ to Contaminated Territories.” In Toxicants, Health and Regulation since 1945, edited by Soraya Boudia and Nathalie Jas, London: Pickering and Chatto, pp.135-58.

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Upham, Frank. 2005. “Political Lackeys or Faithful Public Servants? Two Views of the Japanese Judiciary.” Law & Social Inquiry. Vol.30, No. 2, pp.421-455

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Yokemoto, Masafumi 除本理史. 2016. Kōgai kara Fukushima o kangaeru: Chiiki no saisei o mezashite 公害から福島を考えるー地域の再生を目指して (Considering Fukushima From the Perspective of Industrial Pollution: Toward Regional Regeneration). Tokyo: Iwanami.



This article benefitted from an invitation and a research grant from the French Research Institute on Japan at Maison Franco-Japonaise, Tokyo. Acknowledgments are due to Rémi Scoccimarro and Anne Gonon, Kojima Rina, the plaintiffs and other informants who agreed to be interviewed, and the participants in the seminar held at Maison Franco-Japonaise, Tokyo, 16 November 2019, for stimulating remarks on an early draft. Thanks are due to the two reviewers for their precious input, and to Joelle Tapas and Mark Selden who kindly edited this article.


Despite very high scores for health and education, the numbers of Japanese women in politics and among executive managers in business remain very low. When the World Economic Forum published its first Global Gender Gap Report in 2006, Japan ranked 79th out of 115 countries, a rather disappointing performance for the world’s second largest economy at the time. In the latest report in 2020, not only has Japan not improved, but it also remains in the bottom forty at 121st out of 153 countries (in the meantime, South Korea has bypassed Japan).


The notion of “cause lawyer” refers to the work of Austin Sarat and Stuart Scheingold (e.g. Sarat and Scheinghold 2006).


Interview with Morimatsu Akiko, head of the plaintiffs’ group for the lawsuit launched in Osaka (Table 1.16), 14 November 2019, Osaka.




Jishu hinan: Tōden ni hajimete no baishō meirei” (Voluntary evacuees: First ruling orders compensation from Tepco), Mainichi Shimbun, 18 February 2016.


Gensodan 原訴団 stands for Fukushima genpatsu kokuso dan 福島原発告訴団.


Yamaguchi and Muto 2012, and my interview with Muto Ruiko, head of Gensodan, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


A professor at Tokyo University, who has served as the president of the Seismological Society of Japan, Shimahashi explained to the judges that there had been a complete lack of response from Tepco and the government when in 2002, the highest committee of earthquake experts sent a clear warning about the high risk of seismic and tsunami activity at Fukushima Daiichi. During the court hearings, Shimahashi expressed remorse for not having pursued the issue. These hearings were conducted on 9 and 25 May 2018. Recording was not allowed, but for a transcription of hand-written notes, see Gensodan’s website here.


Interview with Muto Ruiko, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.




Separate interviews with representatives of Gensoren and Gensodan, Tokyo, November 2019.


Interview with Kamoshita Yuya, head of the plaintiffs’ group of the Tokyo lawsuit (Table 1.5), Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


Interview with Muto Ruiko, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


Japan is rarely discussed in the mainstream, English-language literature on social movements such as the Political Opportunity Structure and Resource Mobilization theories by leading authors such as Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow and Doug McAdam. For an application of these theories to the Japanese context, see Arrington 2016.


Interview with Iida Katsuyasu, Tokyo, 13 November 2019.


Nuclear Plant Victims Litigation Plaintiffs National Liaison Committee (also known as Gensoren, from the abbreviation of its Japanese name: Genpatsu higaisha soshō genkokudan zenkoku renrakukai原発被害者訴訟原告団全国連絡会). The liaison office is based in Tokyo. The current president is Kamoshita Yuya, who is also the head of the plaintiffs’ group for the main Tokyo lawsuit (Table 1.5). Source here.


Separate interviews with representatives of Gensoren and Gensodan, Tokyo, November 2019.


As Upham (1987: 17) described it: “Central to that model is the elite attempt to retain some measure of control over the processes of social conflict and change. The vehicle for that control is a skilled bureaucracy, itself one branch of Japan’s tripartite elite coalition, which has a long history of active intervention in Japanese society. But social control, even the indirect control favored by the Japanese government since the Tokugawa Period, is extremely difficult in democratic societies. Japan enjoys not only representative government but also a high degree of social and economic mobility, a vigorous and irreverent press, and an independent and respected judiciary and private bar.”


Prior to indictment, Japanese police routinely ask criminal judges to keep suspects in substitute detention (daiyo kangoku), and judges rarely refuse. This practice allows Japanese police to detain suspects in police cells for up to 23 days (sometimes over months). It is supposed to facilitate investigations. But the frequent result is a forced signed confession, which the judges use to accelerate indictment. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN’s Committee on Torture have argued that extended detention enables abusive interrogation methods. Critics denounced the practice as pre-trial punishment that partly explains why the indictment rate is so high in Japan. (Croydon 2016, see also Johnson 2002, Neil 2008, Repeta 2009)


On April 12, young workers protested in Tokyo against the lack of appropriate labor measures from the government. 要請するなら補償しろ!デモ in 渋谷 – 2020.4.12.







Sources: Unless otherwise mentioned, this synthesis is mainly based on printed documents provided by Gensoren (Tokyo, 12 November 2019). Additional information was collected from several news sites, and Gensoren; The Japan Bar Association (日本弁護士連合会), Lawyers’ White Book (弁護士白書) 2019, p.141; The Kyoto Lawsuit Plaintiffs Group, Overview of the Nationwide Lawsuits [Seeking] Compensation for the Nuclear Power Plant [Disaster] (全国原発賠償訴訟一覧), 2018; Niigata Lawyers’ Group 新潟県弁護団, 2013; Friends Of the Earth, Japan, Minamisoma 20 mSv, November 2019; Children Away from Radiation Exposure 子ども脱被ばく裁判のブログ.




Source: Printed documents provided by Gensōren, Tokyo, 12 November 2019; Maeda et al 2019: 8-10, 69.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Dramatizing the reality of a nuclear meltdown

‹g“c¹˜YŠ’·We can be heroes: “Fukushima 50” offers a dramatic account of real-life on-site manager Masao yoshida (pictured here with reporters in 2011) and his team as they fought to prevent the crippled nuclear plant from melting down in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.


March 21, 2020

As with many feature films based on real-life incidents, “Fukushima 50,” which opened nationwide March 6 and depicts the actions of the men who struggled to contain the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, is a blend of factual exposition and dramatic enhancement. Stories require conflict to keep them interesting, usually with a hero fighting an adversary. In “Fukushima 50,” the hero is plant manager Masao Yoshida (Ken Watanabe), who makes life-and-death decisions in resistance against higher-ups rendered as incompetents.

One of these “villains,” as pointed out by writer and editor Yusuke Nakagawa in the March 6 online edition of Gendai Business, is Naoto Kan, who was the prime minister at the time of the disaster. In the movie, Kan’s name is never uttered and, as Nakagawa points out, the actor who plays him, Shiro Sano, doesn’t look like him, but that’s not what concerns Nakagawa. Sano portrays Kan as a puddle of hysteria whose decisions threaten lives because they make Yoshida’s job more difficult. Kan has an infamous temper and Nakagawa acknowledges that he made mistakes during the course of the emergency, but the movie fails to detail the reasons for his actions. Turning him into a babbling fool makes the filmmakers’ job easier, which is to show Yoshida as a towering figure of courage and resourcefulness in the face of a crisis that could have ended in the destruction of eastern Japan.

Nakagawa admits to having a horse in this race, as he helped Kan write his own account of what went down at the Prime Minister’s Office during those fateful days, and he concurs with the conclusion that Yoshida and the men who worked at the plant are heroes and that Yoshida’s employer, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), was the main problem. However, he can’t help but think that the film’s pillorying of Kan was due to more than dramatic license. There was something political about it. Kan has since become a pariah to many people. As much as any other matter, it was Kan’s handling of the Fukushima disaster that led to the destruction of his party. The Democratic Party of Japan no longer exists.

Nevertheless, Kan has no problem with the portrayal, according to the film’s director, Setsuro Wakamatsu, who said so during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan following a press screening of “Fukushima 50” on March 4. Kan’s magnanimity is noble, perhaps, but it should be noted that he has his own film to promote, or, at least, a film that shows him in a more sympathetic light. “The Seal of the Sun,” originally released in 2016, had a much smaller budget than “Fukushima 50” and no marquee stars. It looks at the disaster from the vantage point of the Prime Minister’s Office, focusing on Tepco’s lack of cooperation with the government, and while it doesn’t contradict the Yoshida hero narrative, it does complicate it with points that “Fukushima 50” downplays or doesn’t even bring up.

Kan has made himself available to discuss those points at public screenings of “The Seal of the Sun.” Such local events aren’t going to counteract the message of “Fukushima 50,” and they aren’t meant to, but the narrative distinctions do show how uneven the coverage of the Fukushima disaster has been. The most glaring example of this unevenness is a 2014 story by the Asahi Shimbun’s special investigative team based on an interview that Yoshida gave to the government. The report undermined the Fukushima hero narrative by saying that 90 percent of the plant workers fled the facility in fear for their lives. The Asahi Shimbun management, already smarting from other recent scandals, eventually retracted the piece after receiving complaints saying the article implied the workers were cowards, effectively ending the special investigative team in the process. Ryusho Kadota, the journalist who wrote the book that was the basis for the “Fukushima 50” script, wrote another book refuting the Asahi Shimbun’s coverage, though, as former New York Times Tokyo bureau chief Martin Fackler points out in an article he wrote for the Asia-Pacific Journal, there was nothing essentially untrue in the Asahi Shimbun story. In fact, Tepco admitted that about 650 workers had fled, but said many were not regular company employees. The legendary “Fukushima 50” (in reality, they numbered 69), a term coined by foreign media, remained at the plant.

The argument about what really happened isn’t over facts. It’s over how those facts are interpreted. In “Fukushima 50,” Kan’s desperation is presented as a danger to the country. In “The Seal of the Sun,” it shows how hard he is trying to grasp the actual situation on the ground. Before the Yoshida report in 2014, the Asahi Shimbun’s editorial slant was generally critical of nuclear power. Afterward, it became neutral.

Nakagawa thinks these differences are politically influenced. Almost all of Japan’s nuclear power capacity has been off-line since the Fukushima incident, a situation the present government wants to reverse but finds difficult to do because of public resistance. In that sense, the story of the men who saved Japan from nuclear catastrophe can be exploited by both sides. Anti-nuclear forces say it proves how dangerous nuclear power is, while pro-nuclear forces say that it shows how Japanese ingenuity and dedication prevails.

However, even that distinction is subject to dispute. Retired Fukui District Court Chief Justice Hideaki Higuchi was one of the few judges to find in favor of plaintiffs suing to stop resumption of nuclear power plants. Higuchi reached these decisions after carefully studying the Fukushima No. 1 disaster and concluding that it was averted as much by serendipity as by Yoshida’s and the Fukushima 50’s bravery. These “miracles,” which had to do with the availability of cooling water and quake-related damage to the reactor housing, have been openly discussed, but they aren’t emphasized as much because it takes something away from the hero tale. As a judge, Higuchi had to pay closer attention to all the facts than a feature film script writer does.

March 27, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s Nuclear Cover-up Continues, Nine Years after the Fukushima Disaster


March 10, 2020

Written by Arnie Gundersen

The six atomic power reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site were severely damaged 9-years ago when a Richter 9 earthquake in the Pacific Ocean occurred at 2 p.m. on March 11, 2011 ravaging the nuclear reactors, flooding safety systems, and causing three atomic power meltdowns.

Fairewinds is using the 9th commemoration of the meltdowns at Fukushima to discuss how the government of Japan, TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Co), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the worldwide nuclear industries have perpetuated their coverup of the tragedy of the Fukushima meltdowns. These corporate and governmental groups and agencies have consistently misinformed the International Press, the citizens of Japan, and people around the world about the true consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns.

The Government of Japan, the nuclear industry, and its regulators  have “framed” what happened at Fukushima Daiichi and thereby have controlled the Fukushima narrative for 9-years. ‘Framing’ is choosing the right words to portray and control any narrative.  George Lakoff and his co-authors explain how controlling that framework of words controls how people view an issue. You may read more in their book that discusses ‘framing’ any issue entitled “Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate”. 




The Fukushima atomic power meltdowns were not ‘accidents’ [none are]

Accidents” cannot be avoided. However, an accident is when a deer jumps in front of your car or when a tree falls on someone’s home or car during a tornado. A nuclear meltdown is not an accident, it is a manmade disaster. The truth is that government officials in Japan, the US nuclear officials, other nuclear power and nuclear weapons incentivized countries, and  the nuclear industries themselves continue to frame the Fukushima Daiichi disaster as an ‘accident’.  Why? Because, if the mainstream media and people around the world believe the pro-nuke falsehood that nuclear meltdowns like Fukushima happen rarely if ever and meltdowns were never anticipated, then the majority of the media and the people it influences will look the other way as antiquated, outmoded, costly, and unsafe atomic power reactors are restarted or receive permits to extend their operating lives past their 40-year design lives.

The mainstream media continues to accept verbatim framing by the atomic power owners, corporations, and governments that nuclear meltdowns are accidents.  Let’s stop it right here: the three meltdowns at the six atomic power reactor Fukushima Daiichi site were not accidents. Scientists, engineers, fabricators, machinists, government regulators, politicians, and energy corporations know the truth.

According to the official report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, published by the National Diet [the national legislature] of Japan and its Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission in 2012, the meltdowns in Fukushima Prefecture [State] could have been avoided:

THE EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI of March 11, 2011 were natural disasters of a magnitude that shocked the entire world. Although triggered by these cataclysmic events, the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant cannot be regarded as a natural disaster. It was a profoundly manmade disaster – that could and should have been foreseen and prevented. And its effects could have been mitigated by a more effective human response.

Calling these meltdowns ‘accidents’ enables countries where nuclear power exists to continue operating this dangerous and no longer viable technology. If it was ever viable. Earlier in my career, I believed in and worked for the nuclear power industry. I was strongly against nuclear weapons, and I still am. I chose nuclear power engineering as a college sophomore because I believed that the peaceful use of the atom and would be a safe method of creating badly needed energy. Quite simply, I was wrong. Nuclear power plants, like those at Fukushima and Three Mile Island were designed by Americans and were predicated on the risk analysis predictions that failsafe systems designed into each atomic power reactor would safely shut down each reactor in an emergency, and that its containment systems would make sure that people and communities nearby would be protected from any releases of radioactivity.

At Fukushima Daiichi, every supposedly failsafe system failed and unprecedented amounts of highly radioactive microparticles were spewed into the air and were carried off by wind and weather [rain, snow, and snowmelt] to contaminate entire communities, valuable farmland, small cities, wide forests, small streams, rivers, groundwater, and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Well, hold on, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s seriously look at what happened in Japan following the Fukushima meltdowns, and as we do so, let’s also look at the lies that were told by nuclear power proponents as well as the coverups that continue today. 



TEPCO [Tokyo Electric Power Corp] denied meltdowns were in progress 

On the first day of TEPCO’s emergency at Fukushima, it was clear to me that the Fukushima Daiichi reactors were in jeopardy. I asked Maggie to hold all my calls so I could research what was happening in Japan following the earthquake. I was convinced that a meltdown was in progress. I spent that day and the next two researching all the information I could find about the exact design of those reactors and any record of vulnerabilities they might have. At the same time, Tokyo Electric (TEPCO) misinformed the government and regulators in Japan and also forbade its engineers, managers, and public liaisons to ever use the word ‘meltdown’. It was so incongruous that while the Fukushima Daiichi atomic reactors were exploding live on TV, the Japanese Government was vehemently denying the seriousness of the disaster. FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC) activated the release of numerous NRC emails proving that the US federal regulators were well-aware that meltdowns were in progress in Japan.  To counteract the block on accurate information, Maggie organized the development of Fairewinds’ videos and podcasts to keep the world apprised of the real tragedy happening right before its eyes live on the internet and on television. People living in Japan flocked to Fairewinds website to watch our videos and listen to podcasts explaining what was actually happening in their own country.

Unfortunately, it was not until 2019 that TEPCO finally acknowledged its coverup and attempted to apologize to the people of Japan for refusing to tell people living there that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors had actually melted down!

The head of Tokyo Electric Power Co. apologized Tuesday over his predecessor’s order to not use the term “core meltdown” to describe the situation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in the early days of the March 2011 crisis. “It is extremely regrettable. People are justified in thinking it as a coverup,” Tepco President Naomi Hirose said at a news conference in Tokyo.

The nuclear industry downplayed the radioactive danger being unleashed 

While the Japanese government kept denying that meltdowns had even occurred, the rest of the nuclear industry and the governments in the thrall of atomic lobbyists for the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries actively downplayed the tragedy occurring right before our eyes.

In a brilliant analysis from the UK newspaper The Guardian, reporters uncovered a coordinated coverup that began within two-days of the onset of the Fukushima disaster:

British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a coordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and before the extent of the radiation leak was known.

Internal emails seen by the Guardian show how the business and energy departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational companies: EDF EnergyAreva and Westinghouse to try to ensure the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in the UK.

“This has the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally,” wrote one official at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), whose name has been redacted. “We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this. We need to occupy the territory and hold it. We really need to show the safety of nuclear.”

On March 18, 2011, seven-days after the disaster began, US Department of Energy Secretary Chu said that Fukushima was at a Level-5 on the nuclear incident scale, which is similar to the level the US Government assessed at Three Mile Island (TMI), but not the level-7 that the world assessed for Chernobyl. On CNN that night, I was the first expert in the world to say publicly on mainstream media that Fukushima and its radioactive releases were already as bad as Chernobyl.

CNN’s John King: “Secretary Chu called it worse than Three Mile Island…”
Arnie: “I actually think it’s at Chernobyl level right now…100 time worse than the worst case we imagined a year ago.”




Every time Fairewinds released a video, podcast, newsletter or I appeared on television or radio, I was publicly slammed and called a liar and fear monger by the nuke industry that I had been directly been employed with for 20-years. I began my career first as a nuclear engineer and reactor operator and later progressed to become Senior Vice President of a nuclear power corporation – until I became a nuclear power whistleblower.  After being fired for telling the truth, I took on the role of nuclear safety critic, which I have had for the last 30-plus-years. In Fairewinds opinion, these corporate coverups were obvious to anyone who focused on the real science of nuclear engineering and was not afraid to look behind the curtain, where the Wizard of Oz was manipulating the truth.

Only 11-months after the meltdowns, I was flown to Japan in February 2012 by Shueisha Publishing to unveil the publication of Fairewinds book [entitled Fukushima Daiichi: The Truth and the Way Forward] and to speak at various venues in Tokyo, including the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Press Club. Here is a portion of what I said:

I was an expert on the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, and I see in Fukushima the same mistakes that the Americans made at Three Mile Island.  At Three Mile Island and at Fukushima, the plant management – the people in the plant – really understood the severity of the accident. But in both cases, 30 years apart, when the plant management contacted offsite management – it was General Public Utilities in the United States, and of course, it was Tokyo Electric in Japan – the process began to slow down.

What I saw on Three Mile Island was that the corporate office was trying to protect the corporate assets and they actually told the plant manager not to order an evacuation, despite the fact that the plant manager wanted an evacuation. And I see the same thing at Fukushima. I believe that the management onsite in the first day and the first week really understood the severity of it. But senior management working up the chain, for whatever their motivations were, failed to act quickly enough…. it seems to me like the lesson at Three Mile Island and the lesson at Fukushima really are institutional problems in that the corporate officers and corporate offices simply don’t respond quick enough. In addition to the internal problems between the plant and Tokyo Electric offices, there of course were the problems between Tokyo Electric and the Nation of Japan. 

Following the triple meltdowns in 2011, I became acquainted with Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan at the time of the meltdown. At a venue where we were both keynote speakers, I told him that I thought he had not been given the correct information about the meltdowns. He replied,

The information I received from both TEPCo and METI (Japan’s nuclear regulator) was neither timely nor accurate.” 

Please think about the enormity of that single sentence!  Any industry so powerful that it does not feel compelled to tell the truth to the leader of a nation is failing its country and their people.

What is a nuclear or radiological incident?

The distinction between a Level-5 [TMI] and a Level-7 [Chernobyl] ‘incident’ is not only a technical or a semantic issue. Downplaying the severity of the disaster as it unfolded deliberately jeopardized the safety of hundreds of thousands of citizens. The classification of an atomic or nuclear incident distinctly impacts emergency planning scenarios and disaster management.

  • Lives are at stake!
  • How quickly and which individuals should be evacuated?
  • How far away from the nuclear reactor should people be evacuated?
  • And in what direction should they be moved? So that people are not walking directly into the radioactive plume – as happened to some of the Fukushima evacuees and refugees.

When I was invited to speak at the Foreign Correspondents Press Club in Tokyo in February of 2012, I spoke about the human cost of delayed responses:

Of all of the people on the planet, the Japanese are the best at emergency planning because you have earthquakes and you understand that you need to respond in the case of an emergency. And so for the problem to happen in Japan tells me that worldwide, it is likely that other nations would respond in a very poor fashion. During the first week of the accident, I was on CNN and I said then that women and children should have been evacuated out to at least 50 kilometers. But …. if you don’t believe it’s a severity 7 accident, you’re not going to evacuate the women and children.  So there’s a definite connection between understanding how severe the accident was at the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric home office level and their response in inadequately moving women and children away.

The bottom line is that in Japan during the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, the lives of women and children were sacrificed to create the appearance that TEPCO had the triple meltdowns under control.



Grossly underestimating the cost of the Disaster

People living and working in Japan and the country’s own citizens were clearly deceived about the severity of the meltdowns, the urgent need to evacuate, and the significant health impact for generations of families following the Fukushima disaster. And, these people were also deceived about the astronomical cost to dismantle the four severely damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site, protect the ocean and surrounding areas from the ongoing migration of radioactivity, and the total cost to complete the partial remediation of Fukushima Prefecture.  I say partial remediation, because the remediation [the removal of radioactivity] will always be partial. So much radioactivity blew into the mountains, and the mountains and forests are so contaminated with highly radioactive isotopes including plutonium, that it will take tens of thousands of years for that radioactivity to dissipate [the industry term is decay away]. Every time in rains or the snow melts or the wind blows from or through the mountains, that radioactivity is spread farther away and also back into areas that were allegedly cleaned. The government informed people that these contaminated areas are clean and that they should now move back into their old communities and homes, and that the government stipends they had been receiving were ending and all the evacuee housing was being closed. What are people to do when they have no place to live and no money to live on except to go back to their old community?

A “lowball” price estimate showing that recovery from the meltdowns would be inexpensive was designed to show Japan’s citizens that the meltdowns were not that bad after all.  Immediately following the meltdowns, Japan closed 44 atomic power reactors until the government had regained public trust.  If every citizen in Japan had known that she or he would each face at least a $1,000 USD cleanup bill for just the Fukushima site alone, in addition to higher electric costs, it is extremely doubtful that the public would have accepted the reopening of any of its nukes. More than 70% of the citizens of Japan were against the continued operation of Japan’s nukes and demanded significant movement toward sustainable and renewable sources of energy production.  Instead Japan’s nuclear industry, its government regulators, and its politicians deceived the public once again, so that the aging and decrepit nuclear reactors could begin generating electricity and profits would again start flowing to nuclear corporations, investors and the banks that bailed out the industry.

One month after the triple meltdowns, NPR [National Public Radio] interviewed Lake Barrett, a former NRC manager who is now employed by TEPCO.  As I discussed on C-Span at the 40th Commemoration of the TMI disaster, Lake Barrett was the official NRC representative who originally underestimated by ten-fold (ten times) the radioactive releases that were emitted by the TMI meltdown. One month after the three Fukushima reactors exploded Lake told NPR [US National Public Radio]:

And containing and cleaning up the radioactive material could take at least 10 years, at a cost of more than $10 billion. Even though many of the details about what’s happening at the reactors are not known, experts can predict the tasks ahead for workers…. (Lake) Barrett says to count on cleanup costing $10 billion. Engineers can break the problem down to the basics, and they know how to do each individual step — but nobody’s ever tried a nuclear cleanup on this scale before.

When I heard Lake Barrett’s claim on NPR, I knew he was up to his old tricks of deceiving the public once again. Let’s put Lake Barrett’s lowball estimate in perspective. When atomic power reactors that released much less radioactivity than Fukushima are being decommissioned, it costs almost one billion dollars [$1,000,000,000] to decommission and dismantle each ‘clean’ reactor site. It is absolutely impossible that the three nukes that exploded at Fukushima and spewed radioactivity in an area the size of the State of Connecticut would cost only $10B USD to decommission and dismantle.

When I spoke at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents’ Press Club in Tokyo on February 2012, I began to correct the false narrative Barrett created on dismantlement costs:

I believe it will be about a quarter of a trillion U.S. to completely – over the next 20 or 30 years – to completely clean up after this accident.

My estimate was never published by the media, and I was severely criticized about my assessment while I was in Tokyo.  Instead, because of his employment with the NRC, Lake Barrett’s estimate was taken as correct.  Now at the 9-year post-disaster mark, we all know that even though my estimate was 25-times higher than Lake Barrett’s conjecture, my estimate was also too low. New cost estimates by TEPCO and the government of Japan now estimate that the cleanup costs will be twice as high as I suggested and 50-times higher than Lake Barrett’s estimate for NPR.




What would the reaction in Japan have been if people there had been informed, as they saw the steaming meltdowns at Fukushima on television and the internet every day? Would they, as citizens, want to be stuck with a bill in excess of $250 Billion dollars?  Likely every nuclear plant would have been permanently closed and been replaced with renewable power as I, and my co-authors Reiko Okazaki and Maggie Gundersen, recommended in our 2012 book Fukushima Daiichi: The Truth and the Way Forward.


2020 Olympics

If the 2020 Olympics open in Japan this summer as scheduled, something that may not happened due to the spread of the coronavirus, the pièce de résistance of Japan’s Fukushima coverup will be unfolding in Tokyo.  In 2011, even while the three Fukushima nuclear carcasses were emitting extensive radiation, Japan’s new Prime Minister Noda (he was between the ousted Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was PM when the Fukushima Meltdowns occurred and today’s Prime Minister Abe), claimed that the three melted down Fukushima reactors were in ‘cold shutdown’, which they were not, in order to lay the groundwork for Japan’s Olympic bid. In order to bid as a host for the 2020 Olympics, Noda claimed “… we can consider the accident contained”.  Fairewinds compared Noda’s ‘cold shutdown’ hypocrisy to former President George Bush crowing about ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Iraq, so that he could gain the support of the American people by calling the war already finished, when it had just begun.

In order for Japan to win its Olympic bid in 2013, two years later, Japan’s next Prime Minister Abe stated that the Fukushima disaster was ‘under control’.  This statement was also a blatant lie that succeeded in winning the bid to hold the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo at the expense of the taxpayers and residents of Japan.  Don’t take Fairewinds word for it!  Read what Japan’s former Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi said to Reuters in September 2016. Entitled Abe’s Fukushima ‘under control’ pledge to secure Olympics was a lie: former PMReuters wrote,

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s promise that the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant was “under control” in his successful pitch three years ago for Tokyo to host the 2020 Olympic Games “was a lie”, former premier Junichiro Koizumi said on Wednesday.

Frequent readers of the Fairewinds newsletter will remember last year’s posts entitled Atomic Balm 1 and Atomic Balm 2 in which Fairewinds Energy Education described in detail the path of deception that Japan has used to take the world’s attention off of the lives of its own people, who are still being compromised by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear tragedy.  The 2020 Olympics puts the media focus onto something else – so that the world continues to believe that nuclear power reactors are still a safe form of generating electricity.

This nine year legacy of lies by the government of Japan, nuclear incentivized governments worldwide, and the atomic industry are a harbinger for the seemingly inevitable approach of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Hopefully mainstream media covering the summer games will finally see through this glamorous marketing scam and identify the fact that Fukushima Prefecture remains severely radiologically contaminated. Real people, who are citizens of Japan, are seeing their health and that of their families being compromised for generations as they are forced to return to radiologically contaminated areas. Entire families and their communities are facing significant health risks simply to enable corporate profiteering of those investors, energy producers, banks, and government officials associated with the ongoing operation of nuclear power plants in Japan and around the world.


March 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

The price of staying


March 9, 2020

Evacuation was not mandatory for these now suffering Fukushima victims

By Akemi Shima

This is a statement of opinion that I,  a resident of the city of Date, Fukushima Prefecture, presented to the Tokyo Regional Court as part of an on-going lawsuit.

We had the desire to raise our children in an environment close to nature and enriching. That’s why we moved from Fukushima City to buy land in the town of Date, where we currently live, to build a house. Loan repayments were heavy but, we lived simply and we were happy.

Eight years after the construction of our house, on March 11, 2011 the accident of the power plant occurred, and our family life was turned upside down. My husband and I were 42 years old, my son was in elementary school 4th grade (12 years old) and my daughter was in elementary school 3rd grade (10 years old).

At that time, I had no knowledge about nuclear or radioactive substances. If I had had some knowledge in this area, by running away from it we probably could have avoided being irradiated. I am burdened by this regret. Without any financial leeway, with my sick children and my parents who are here, I could not resolve myself to get away from Date.

From the 11th of March all life lines were cut and I had to go to the water stations where I took the children. To find food we had to walk outside sometimes soaked in the rain. After several days as we still had no water, we had to go to the town hall to use the toilet, where the water was not cut. It was then that I saw a group of people dressed in white protective suits entering the town hall. We thought that they were probably coming to help the victims of the tsunami. But now, I understand that the radioactive pollution was such that protections were necessary and we, without suspecting anything, were exposed.

It was the time for the graduation ceremonies at the elementary school and we went there on foot. I think the information we were given was false and because of that we were irradiated. At the time I was convinced that if we were really in any danger, the state would warn us. I later learned that the doses of radioactivity in the air after the accident were 27 to 32 μSv (micro sieverts) per hour. There was no instruction about any restriction to go outdoors. And that is extremely serious.

In June 2011, I went to the funeral of my husband’s grandmother. I took my children with me. On the way we noticed that the radiation level was very high and that inside the car the dosimeter showed in some places 1.5 micro-sievert per hour. The officials of that area had asked the nearby residents to not cause problems even if the radioactivity was high. From what I heard, the reconstruction vehicles had to be able to continue to use that road. Likewise, the Shinkansen bullet train and the Tohoku highway were not to be closed for these reasons. Despite a level that exceeded the allowable dose limits, instead of being alerted to the dangers, we were assured that we were safe.

The risk of this exposure was not communicated to us. In June 2011 my son had so many heavy nosebleeds that his sheets were all red. The children with the same symptoms were so numerous that we received a notice containing recommendations through the school’s “health letter”. During a medical examination at the school, my son was found to have a heart abnormality and had to be monitored by a holter. My son, who was 12 at the time of the accident, was also suffering from atopic dermatitis. During the school spring break he had to be hospitalized after his symptoms worsened. Today we still cannot identify the symptoms that cause him to suffer.

One year after the accident, my daughter complained of pain in her right leg. In the hospital, an extra-osseous osteoma was diagnosed and she had to undergo bone excision the following year. In her first year of junior high school in the winter term, she could not get up in the morning. She had orthostatic dysfunction. In agreement with her we decided that she would go to school three times a week in a system with flexible hours.

My husband’s favorite hobby was fishing, but since the nuclear accident, it’s now out of question to go to the sea or to the river.

Before the accident, we were growing flowers in our garden and we also had a vegetable garden. In the summer, we had family barbecues and we would put up a tent so the kids could sleep outside. Now it’s absolutely impossible.


date-map-2Date is about 60 kilometers from the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors.

In this highly contaminated environment today, cell DNA would be severely damaged. In addition, the effects of exposure we have already experienced are indelible even if we move now. Whenever I think that children are particularly vulnerable to radiation, my heart is torn apart. As a parent, as an adult, it is heartbreaking and unbearable.

I am also concerned about the current situation of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. My daily routine is to watch out for natural disasters such as earthquakes and to check the condition of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Because today I will not hesitate to evacuate. I changed my job so I could get to my kids quickly if necessary. I had to give up a full time job and it is financially difficult, but the priority is to be able to leave quickly at any time. After verifying all sorts of information, I realized that the government’s announcements were different from reality.

Living in a radioactive environment requires you to be vigilant tirelessly, whether for shopping, eating, or drinking water, and evaluate the situation yourself to make choices. We had to make up our minds to accept an abnormal lifestyle so that we could continue to live on a daily basis.

Whatever I do, all pleasure has disappeared from my life. I discovered that there were some hotspots of more than 10 μSv per hour near my home on the way to my children’s school. I reported it to the town hall, but they did not do anything. The reason given is that there is no temporary storage to store it. I had to remove the contaminated soil myself and I stored it in my garden. The city of Date decided on its own decontamination policy and also introduced a standard of 5mSv per year at the end of 2011.

In my case I wanted to reduce the radioactive pollution as soon as possible and I decontaminated my garden myself. The city encouraged people to decontaminate on their own. I did it too. And that represented 144 bags. The following year I did again. The radioactive debris bags resulting from the decontamination until March 2014 remained in my garden for two years, and were then taken to the temporary storage area.


shima-gardenAkemi Shima had to decontaminate her own radioactive garden.

But since then, the other decontamination bags have not been accepted and are still in my garden. So we do not want to go there anymore. The contamination of our carport amounted to 520 000 Bq (becquerels) 5 years ago, with 5 μSv / h, but it did not fit the criteria required for cleaning. Decontamination only includes the ground around the home, but the roof and the gutters are not supported. As a result, we can not leave our Velux windows open.

Claiming to be concerned about the health of the inhabitants, the town of Date provided all residents with dosimeters. We were then invited to undergo examinations, during which our data was collected. Without the authorization of the residents, this data has been entrusted to external researchers who have written reports. These reports have been prepared on the basis of personal information obtained illegally, and furthermore falsification of the data is suspected.

Based on inaccurate data the report concluded that even at doses of 0.6 to 1 μSv / h per hour in the air, the individual dose received would be less than 1 mSv (millisievert) per year and therefore it was not necessary to decontaminate. This is an underestimation of exposure, and clearly a violation of human rights against the population. This case is still ongoing.

In this same region, leukaemias and rare cancers of the bile ducts are appearing. I cannot help thinking that before the accident it did not exist.

Even today, while the state of nuclear emergency is still official, this abnormal situation has become our daily life. I fear that the “reconstruction” advocated by the state, violates the fundamental rights of residents and that this unacceptable life is now considered normal. Our lives are at a standstill.

This suffering will continue. My deepest wish is that through this lawsuit, the responsibility of the State and Tepco that caused the accident be recognized.”


March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

The half lives of the abandoned


March 9, 2020

Daily life in Fukushima’s radioactive environment

By Cindy Folkers

Whatever I do, all pleasure has disappeared from my life…we are living with a narrow range of activities.” 

Akemi Shima was a resident of Date (duh-tay) City when the reactors at Fukushima exploded, spewing radioactive particles into the air, across the land, and into the waters. (She tells her story in her own words this week as well. See here.)

Her family had moved there years earlier to live closer to nature. It was supposed to be healthy. But for residents of Date City, still blanketed nine years later by radioactive contamination, the struggle for protection of health continues amid accusations of scientific error, betrayal and abandonment.

Shima, now 50, has been living through these accusations and her children’s health issues, while trying to keep her family safe in a contaminated land that has caused fractures within her community. Her experience is not only shared by other victims of Fukushima, but is a cautionary tale for any communities that have nuclear reactors in their midst. We share pieces of her story here for the first time in English.

The victims have been unable to talk about the damage. … I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to be dismissed… Let me say that something is wrong.”

Instead of establishing mandatory evacuation zones based on contamination level, the government of Japan limited mandatory evacuation to 20 km from the destroyed reactors. Date City had highly contaminated areas but was 60 km away. Therefore, the residents were left to their fate as the City, under direction from the national government, had decided to recommend specific “spots” for evacuation. “Spots” actually meant individual houses and the recommendation to evacuate was based on a number of inconsistent and confusing criteria. This caused division among residents because a “recommended spot” (house) was eligible for evacuation aid, while a house that was often next door received none.


fukuevacEvacuation map. Pink area denotes “difficult to return” zones, dots where evacuation orders have been lifted.

While only areas exceeding 20 mSv/year were under recommended evacuation and supposedly only for households with children, in reality exceptions were made. Shima’s family did not evacuate at first because they were not ordered to and she was told her house was safe. It was only later she realized that the workers who came to her town hall wearing white protective suits – while she and her children wore regular clothes and took no precautions – were shielding themselves from radioactivity.

Shima ultimately decided she couldn’t voluntarily relocate because of the medical and familial bonds she had in the community. For those who stayed – like Shima – little warning was given about the need to, or how to, protect against radioactivity. Even after measuring levels that were higher than normal, government officials told residents they were safe and they shouldn’t make trouble.

“…from fall to winter, one week out of every month, all the skin on [my son’s] body turned reddish black; he couldn’t move, and had to stay in bed.  He repeatedly experienced having his skin peel off, heal, [and] then peel off again. That continued for approximately 3 years [after the catastrophe began]. Sometimes, he ended up being hospitalized.”

Shima’s son and daughter had eczema, a common skin condition for children in Japan. It worsened considerably soon after the catastrophe. Her son suffered symptoms associated with radiation exposure, including heavy nosebleeds. Nosebleeds were so widespread among Date City’s children that recommendations for treating them were featured in a school health newsletter.

Even though evacuation recommendations were lifted about one year later for certain areas in Date City, many people were hesitant to return to the contaminated zone. The issue of resettlement had not been resolved and studies of human health remained controversial.

Beginning in August 2012, residents in Date City were issued badges to measure their radiation doses and invited to undergo examinations. They were told this was because the town wanted to monitor their health. However, outside researchers published studies using residents’ badge data without their knowledge or permission – a violation of ethical guidelines for human subject research. These studies became mired in distrust, bad science and charges of scientific misconduct.


shin-ichi_kurokawaShin-ichi Kurokawa, professor emeritus of The High Energy Accelerator Research Organization.

Akemi Shima participated in the badge study, and noticed some scientifically questionable practices and assumptions that were later detailed in a paper she co-authored with Shin-ichi Kurokawa, Professor Emeritus of The High Energy Accelerator Research Organization.

In 2019, the University of Tokyo and Fukushima Medical University cleared their researchers — the authors of the controversial badge data studies — of scientific misconduct, a charge requiring intent. However, scientific inconsistencies, mathematical miscalculations and concerns over invalid conclusions remain.

During my [first] three years in Fukushima, I stopped accepting certain words… ‘Kizuna’, ‘Reconstruction’, and ‘Reputational damage’.  In the process of reconstruction and prevention of reputational damage, even the truth has become invisible, and what has happened is just as if it had never happened.” 

Kizuna or “ties that bind” is a phrase mobilized by the Japanese government from the earliest days of the disaster to claim that inquiries about radiation harm will hurt the community and therefore people should remain quiet, no matter the suffering.

To rebuild life in Date City, the prefectural government, at the urging of the national government and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), attempted to enshrine the reckless notion of “rehabilitation” – the idea that one can live with radioactive contamination and that health and recovery responsibilities reside with individuals and communities, not industry or government. Adopting a “rehabilitation/recovery” regime mandates that residents’ concerns about health impacts and continuing exposure are downplayed or brushed aside altogether, even by institutions that should be trustworthy.

A year after the nuclear catastrophe began, Shima’s daughter, already under periodic heart monitoring for an unrelated childhood condition which had now passed, had a benign bone tumor removed from her leg. Her daughter had trouble getting up in the morning and was diagnosed with a condition related to chronic fatigue syndrome. At this time, Shima also had her children examined by Fukushima Prefecture as part of the Fukushima Health Management Survey established by Fukushima Medical University to track health after the catastrophe began. When the prefecture examined Shima’s 11-year old daughter she was told there were no abnormalities. However, after a second examination, doctors from a different clinic found two thyroid cysts. Her 13-year old son had one cyst detected by the prefecture, but upon the second screening, also at a different facility, two were found.

Other families tell of inconsistent test results between Fukushima Prefecture exams and those conducted at other institutions. Shima relates how examinations varied at the different institutions with the prefecture examination taking a few seconds to a few minutes while the second clinic took more than 10 minutes. Such a short time will miss lesions that could lead to cancers, according to a doctor at the clinic who performed the reexaminations. The prefectural clinics authorized by FMU to conduct exams refuse to hand over personal medical data to the patient without a cumbersome request system and payment for materials reproduction, further stoking mistrust among exposed inhabitants.

Additionally, prefecture experts claim that thyroid cancers after Chernobyl didn’t appear until four or five years after exposure. They therefore conclude the circumstances will be the same for Fukushima, despite what appear to be increases in metastatic thyroid cancers. Shima has noticed the appearance of other rare types of cancers as well that are not receiving the attention that thyroid cancer has.

Responsibility for the nuclear accident is neglected, and everything else is “self-responsibility”. “I know well…[t]he limits of decontamination.” 

Akemi Shima and other residents feel abandoned; first because they were told it was safe to stay; and now because they are largely left with responsibility for cleaning up TEPCO’s radioactive legacy. If Date City residents want levels lower than 5 mSv/year, they have to do the cleanup themselves; despite the ICRP recommended 1 mSv per year level; and despite levels below 4 mSv being associated with increases in childhood cancers and impairment of neural development during pregnancy.

Living in a radioactive environment requires you to be vigilant tirelessly, whether for shopping, eating, or drinking water, and evaluate the situation yourself to make choices. We had to make up our minds to accept an abnormal lifestyle so that we could continue to live our daily lives.”

Shima points out that even if short-lived radiocesium has completely decayed, the level of radioactivity is still 10 times what it was before the catastrophe. It will likely remain so for generations, as demonstrated by the radiological contamination from Chernobyl. Shima relates how even higher doses are dismissed by officials. They claim that those areas are passed through, not lived in. But these officials do not account for children playing in those areas.

I believe that we were tossed in all directions and set against one another, so that the victims themselves would be unable to discuss the harm.” “Our lives are at a standstill. This suffering will continue.”

International radiation committees and national regulatory bodies are establishing recommendations that will make living with increased radiation exposure from nuclear disasters seem okay. In Japan, staying silent is encouraged. In the wake of the ongoing Fukushima disaster, the government of Japan has raised the radiation exposure limit from the ICRP-recommended 1 mSv per year to 20mSv per year. Japan has also been cutting payments to Fukushima refugees in a bid to force them to resettle the contaminated areas they initially left; and ICRP has hosted dialogues across the country (one was held in Date City) encouraging residents to live with radiation rather than leave, claiming such action is “resilient” and community-minded (kizuna).

International radiation committees are claiming health examinations of children cause stress and should only be conducted for thyroid exposures at certain doses. These doses are higher than those associated with disease. Despite claiming that living in a radioactive environment is extremely difficult, ICRP still encourages it.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency has released guidance allowing much larger environmental doses of man-made radiation with very little assurance when the exposures will cease. Women and children are not spared.

Living with radioactive contamination divides communities into those that want to raise awareness of the danger radioactivity poses, and those who do not want to discuss it for fear of social discrimination and ostracization. Akemi Shima’s lived experience, and her public testimonies about it, should serve as a warning to anyone living with a nuclear reactor in their midst.

The author would like to thank Norma Field, professor emerita, University of Chicago, for help with content, translation and communication.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

A message from Mr. Sumio Konno, a former nuclear engineer in Japan.

[ Voices from Japan: 9 years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster ] 2020 March video project by Manhattan Project for a Nuclear-Free World English subtitle by John Baldwin, Karen Rogers, Mari Inoue, Rachel Clark, Stephan Ready, Tarak Kauff, Tony Sahara, Yoko Chase

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | 1 Comment

What ‘Fukushima 50’ can teach us about crises

p18-schilling-fukushima50-b-20200308-870x580A scene from “Fukushima 50” the recent film adaptation of “On the Brink : The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi.”

March 7, 2020

After the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, much of the foreign press focused on what it dubbed the “Fukushima 50” — a small band of workers whose life-or-death actions prevented a catastrophic meltdown.

Author Ryusho Kadota interviewed many of these frontline workers (which he found to number 69, not 50). He also spoke with Fukushima No. 1 plant manager Masao Yoshida, who headed the emergency response team, and former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who took an active — and controversial — role in the government’s reaction to the disaster.

Based on his reporting, Kadota wrote the 2012 nonfiction novel “Shi no Fuchi o Mita Otoko,” published in translation as “On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi.” Filled with drama, such as the desperate struggle of workers to open plant vents to avoid radiation-spewing explosions, “On the Brink” has since become a feature film, “Fukushima 50,” that stars Ken Watanabe as Yoshida.

In a recent interview at the Tokyo headquarters of publisher Kadokawa, Kadota says he told the filmmakers to “adapt (the book) freely.”

In fact, when I first read the script, I told them that there wasn’t enough drama in it,” Kadota says. “I wanted them to add more.”

The film departs from the book most notably in the matter of names: The only character with the name of a real person is Watanabe’s Yoshida.

The book (in Japanese) is quite long — 400-some pages — and the movie is only two hours, so they made composite characters out of two or three actual people,” Kadota explains. “But Yoshida, I thought, should be Yoshida. And the film as a whole is close to the truth.”


Ryusho Kadota . Satoko Kawasaki .Inside scoop: Following the 3/11 triple disaster, author Ryusho Kadota interviewed many of the frontline workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, whose life-or-death actions prevented an even greater catastrophe.

And the truth, as the film graphically illustrates, is that Japan came terrifyingly close to nuclear apocalypse, narrowly averted by the heroic efforts of frontline workers, as well as Yoshida’s decision to ignore orders from officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant’s owner, to stop cooling the reactors with seawater. They were concerned about damage to the reactors, but with nothing else to adequately cool them, Yoshida knew it was either seawater — or a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Domestic media, Kadota says, were less aggressive than their foreign counterparts in ferreting out the facts.

They didn’t report on what was actually happening,” he says.

Instead, he says, domestic coverage became divided into two camps, with one bashing nuclear power and other supporting it. The bashers, he says, “didn’t know what was going on inside (the plant) — and that motivated me. I knew I had to find out. I’m not in one camp or the other. I believe our mission as journalists is to report the truth, wherever it leads.”

To this end, Kadota spent 16 months interviewing more than 90 subjects. His conclusion: “Japan is what it is today because they were successful in opening the vents in the No. 1 plant. If they hadn’t succeeded, we would be doing this interview in Osaka. You wouldn’t be able to live in eastern Japan — the middle third of the country.”

The reason for that success, Kadota believes, is that workers were willing to risk their lives to save the plant — and their communities.

Some similarities are apparent with the situation in Japan at present, as doctors, nurses and other medical workers are battling the novel coronavirus. The government has come under criticism for its response to the crisis, as had Kan and Tepco in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

I have to write a book about this crisis as well,” Kadota says. “The government’s response has been terrible, just as it was back then.”

He refers to the passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who became infected in large numbers after government health officials decided to enforce an onboard quarantine.

I feel sorry for them,” Kadota says. “The way they were treated was problematic to say the least.”

He mentions infectious disease specialist Kentaro Iwata, whose video about his inspection of conditions aboard the Diamond Princess went viral after he posted it online on Feb. 18 (he has since deleted the upload).

(Iwata) said he wasn’t afraid when he dealt with Ebola in Africa because protective measures there were perfect, but he was deathly afraid aboard the Diamond Princess because it was so chaotic,” Kadota says. “I can totally relate to that.”

But Kadota is most angry, he says, at what he describes as “Japan’s lack of a national security mind-set.”

Yoshida knew he had to cool the reactors with seawater to protect the lives of the Japanese people and avoid the destruction of eastern Japan,” Kadota says. “But the Prime Minister’s Office didn’t see it that way.” A Tepco adviser to Kan told Yoshida to stop injecting seawater into the reactor, since the prime minister was concerned that seawater might cause the melted fuel rods to resume criticality. Kan later denied interfering with Yoshida’s decision to cool the reactors with seawater.

We have much the same situation now,” Kadota says. “We have (Prime Minsiter Shinzo) Abe, not someone like Masao Yoshida, as prime minister.

The prime minister’s most important duty is to protect the citizens of the nation,” Kadota says. “That’s first and foremost. But some people forget that.”

One who does have that sense, Kadota notes, is Masahisa Sato, an outspoken member of the Upper House and a former state minister for foreign affairs.

He’s been saying from the start of this that Japan should prohibit entry to anyone from China,” Kadota says. “And I’ve been saying it myself.”

Kadota also says Japan needs an equivalent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. government agency in charge of public health.

They have a staff of 14,000 with a national mission to keep infections from spreading,” he says. “Japan has nothing like it.”

What it does have now, he notes, is a shortage of face masks and other supplies for protection against the coronavirus.

Yesterday I retweeted a post from a friend who said someone had sneezed on his neck in a crowded train,” Kadota says. “What can you do? You can’t get rid of the crowded trains and you can’t find masks anywhere in the city. So people are on crowded trains, morning after morning.

Doesn’t all this make you angry?” he asks. I tell him it does.

However, the big takeaway from “On the Brink” is not that Japanese officialdom has an enraging habit of bumbling in major disasters; it’s that heroes do exist here and can make a huge, life-saving difference, especially if officialdom supports them rather than stymies them. Kadota has yet to find many heroes in the current crisis, but he’s only just begun.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | 1 Comment

Film lauding Japan’s Fukushima heroes warns against complacency


March 6, 2020

TOKYO (Reuters) – As aftershocks rock the Fukushima nuclear plant, a small band of workers defy their bosses to stay on and fight to stop an even bigger disaster from irradiating a wide swathe of Japan.

The scene is from a movie that opened on Friday – “Fukushima 50”, which tells the true story of the hours after a quake and tsunami set off meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors on March 11, 2011.

Almost nine years to the day after that disaster, its depiction of individual heroism in the face of official bungling and overwhelming catastrophe has struck a chord with early viewers.

“I don’t think I’ve ever started crying so quickly during a movie. Partly that’s because I had flashbacks,” said a commenter called “n_n” on Yahoo’s movie review page.

Much has moved in on Japan since Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Authorities are now fighting another emergency, the spread of the new coronavirus. They are also pressing on with plans for the 2020 Olympics, which is due to kick off with a torch relay starting at Fukushima in three weeks’ time.

But, nine years on, workers in protective suits are still removing radioactive material from Fukushima’s reactors, and the film’s scenes – mixed in with news footage from the time – still pack an emotional punch.

“It sucked me right in within the first 10 minutes. The tension didn’t let up for the rest of the movie, and I was struck by the incompetence of the then-government,” wrote another Yahoo commentator, calling themselves “wan”.


“Nobody in the country knew any of this was going on while it was happening. I was really surprised and moved,” said Yoshinori, a 56-year-old photographer, out for a noon showing of the film in Tokyo with his wife.

“Everybody in Japan should see this,” he added. “I think memories of that disaster are fading. I came to make sure I kept them fresh.”

“The Fukushima Fifty” was the name given to the group of workers and engineers who stayed behind after the tsunami knocked out the power and cooling systems at the plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO).

Led by Masao Yoshida – portrayed in the film by Ken Watanabe, one of the stars of “The Last Samurai” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” – they began running seawater into the reactors as an emergency cooling measure.

When their bosses back at TEPCO headquarters ordered them to stop, Yoshida ignored the order – rescinded hours later – and kept going.

He is shown yelling at his bosses during video conferences – scenes that Watanabe said were based on accounts from Yoshida’s colleagues. The engineer died in 2013 from esophageal cancer, aged just 58.

When I made the film ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,’ I felt that Japan isn’t very good at learning lessons from the past,” Watanabe told a news conference after filming finished last year, referring to the Clint Eastwood film depicting the World War Two battle.

“I feel the same way about Fukushima,” he added.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

9 Years On: Fukushima N-Plant Lawsuits Await High Court Rulings


March 6, 2020

Tokyo, March 6 (Jiji Press)–High courts in Japan are hearing a series of damages lawsuits filed by evacuees from the country’s unprecedented nuclear accident that occurred in Fukushima Prefecture nine years ago.

The focal point is how the courts will assess the liability of the Japanese government, which has been flatly denying its responsibility over the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The plant suffered a triple reactor meltdown after being hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, forcing many residents to evacuate.

So far, six of 10 district courts found the government responsible for the nuclear accident, while the other four did not recognize government liability.

Key issues are whether the government was able to predict the huge tsunami and was able to avert the catastrophe by taking preventive measures.

March 11, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Japan pushes to remove Fukushima references from U.N. exhibition

JAPAN-NUCLEAR-OLY-2020-TOKYOProtesters hold placards during a demonstration against the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and nuclear energy, near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on Feb. 29, 2020.


Mar 3, 2020

The Foreign Ministry has pushed for references to the Fukushima nuclear disaster to be removed from an upcoming exhibition at the United Nations, an anti-nuclear group said Tuesday.

The Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations is slated to mount the exhibition during the review conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty from April 27 to May 22.

The ministry, which has supported the confederation’s three previous exhibitions, suggested it could withdraw its backing unless the requested changes are made, said Sueichi Kido, the group’s secretary general.

The exhibition in the lobby of the U.N. headquarters in New York will consist of around 50 panels mainly describing the horrors of nuclear weapons, including the aftermath of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Two of the panels will touch on the nuclear disasters at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in 2011 and Ukraine’s Chernobyl power plant in 1986.

According to Kido, the ministry argues the panels contradict the spirit of the nonproliferation treaty, which allows for the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

A ministry official said its support for the exhibition was under review and declined to confirm whether any pressure had been applied to change its content.

Kido said there had been a “breach of trust” and the confederation, which represents survivors of the atomic bombings, plans to hold the exhibition as planned with or without the ministry’s support.

Atomic bombs and nuclear accidents are the same in the sense that they cause harm through radiation. As a victim of atomic bombing, Japan has a responsibility to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons,” Kido added.


March 5, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics


March 1, 2020

Koide Hiroaki

Translation, with notes and references, by Norma Field

Abstract: The Olympic games have always been used to display national might. In recent years, they have become tools for businesses, especially construction companies, which create, and then destroy, large public structures, leading to a colossally wasteful society from which they derive stupendous profit. What is important now is to give relief to those who continue to suffer from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and at the very least, to protect children, who are blameless, from exposure. Casting sidelong glances at the vast numbers of victims, the perpetrators, including TEPCO, government officials, scholars, and the media, have utterly failed to take responsibility.


What was the Fukushima Nuclear Accident?

On March 11, 20011, the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was assaulted by a severe earthquake and tsunami, leading to a total power outage. Experts had been agreed that total outage would be the likeliest cause of a catastrophic incident. And just as anticipated, the reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered meltdowns and released enormous quantities of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. According to the report submitted by the Japanese government to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), this accident released 1.5×1016 becquerels (Bq) of cesium 137 into the atmosphere—the equivalent of 168 Hiroshima bombs. One Hiroshima bomb’s worth of radioactivity is already terrifying, but we have the Japanese government acknowledging that the Fukushima disaster released 168 times the radioactivity of that explosion into the atmosphere (Japanese Government, 2011; METI, 2011; UNSCEAR, 2000).

The cores of reactors 1, 2, and 3 melted down. The amount of cesium 137 contained in those cores adds up to 7×1017 Bq, or 8000 Hiroshima bombs’ worth. Of that total, the amount released into the atmosphere was the equivalent of 168 bombs, and combined with releases into the sea, the total release of cesium 137 into the environment to date must be approximately equivalent to 1000 Hiroshima bombs. In other words, most of the radioactive material in those cores remains in the damaged reactor buildings. If the cores were to melt any further, there would be more releases into the environment. It is in order to prevent this that even now, nearly 8 years after the accident, water continues to be aimed by guesswork in the direction where the cores might be located. And because of this, several hundred tons of contaminated waste water are accumulating each day. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has constructed over 1000 tanks on site to store this water, but the total volume now exceeds one million tons. Space is limited, and there is a limit as well to the number of tanks that can be constructed. TEPCO will be compelled to release these waters into the sea in the near future.


Obstacles to containing the disaster

Of course, the greatest priority is to secure the melted cores in as safe a condition as possible, but even with the passage of nearly eight years, neither their location nor their condition has been ascertained.1 The reason is that it is impossible to access those sites. Had this accident occurred at a thermal power plant, the problem would have been simple. In the beginning, there might have been fires burning over several days, but once they died down, it would have been possible to go to the site, investigate, repair, and restart operations. But in the case of a nuclear power plant, anyone approaching the site would die. The government and TEPCO have attempted to send in robots, but robots do not stand up well to radiation. The reason is that once their microchips are exposed, their programs get rewritten. Accordingly, almost all the robots sent in to date have failed to return.

Toward the end of January 2017, TEPCO inserted a device resembling a remote-controlled endoscope into the concrete platform (pedestal) under the reactor pressure vessel. A large hole that had opened up in the steel scaffolding used by workers during maintenance, located directly under the pressure vessel, made it possible to ascertain the following: the fuel core had melted through the pressure vessel and fallen further down. The investigation yielded something even more important, however. For human beings, exposure to 8 sieverts (Sv) will result in certain death. The area directly under the pressure vessel measured 20 Sv/hour, but along the way, levels as high as 530 or 650 Sv were detected. These measurements, moreover, were found not inside the cylindrical pedestal, but between the wall of the pedestal and the wall of the containment structure. TEPCO and the government had scripted a scenario wherein most of the melted core had been deposited, dumpling-like, inside the pedestal, to be retrieved and sealed inside a containment structure in the course of 30-40 years. According to this scenario, the conclusion of this process would signify the achievement of containment. In reality, however, the melted nuclear fuel had flowed out of the pedestal and scattered all around. Forced to rewrite their “roadmap,” the government and TEPCO began talking about making an opening on the side of the containment structure through which the melted fuel could be grasped and removed. That, however, is an impossibility. It would entail severe worker exposure.

From the beginning, I have maintained that the only option is to construct a sarcophagus, as was done at the Chernobyl site in the former Soviet Union. That sarcophagus deteriorated to such an extent in 30 years’ time as to require coverage by a second sarcophagus, put in place in November 2016. The second sarcophagus is expected to last for 100 years. We do not yet know what measures will be available at that point. No one who is alive today can expect to see the containment of the Chernobyl disaster. All the more so in the case of Fukushima: the containment of this disaster will not have been achieved even after all who are alive today have died. Moreover, even if it were hypothetically possible to seal the molten core inside the containment structure, that will not mean that the radioactivity will have vanished. Indeed, it would be necessary to protect any such structure for hundreds of thousands to a million years.


Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency: The human consequences

Tragedy continues to unfold in the environs of the plant. On the day of the disaster, the government issued a Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency, and mandatory evacuation zones were expanded, beginning at 3 kilometers from the plant, then 10, then 20. Residents in those areas had to leave their homes, taking only what they could carry. Livestock and pets were abandoned. That is not all. Iitate Village, located 40-50 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi, received no warnings or instructions immediately after the accident, but one month later, on the grounds of extreme contamination, the entire village was ordered to evacuate.

What do we mean when we talk about happiness? For many people, happiness likely supposes uneventful days, one unfolding after the other, in the company of family, friends, neighbors, lovers. This is what was ruptured, one day, without warning. Evacuees first went to centers, such as gymnasiums, then to cramped temporary housing, then to “reconstruction” housing or public housing temporarily “declared” to be evacuee quarters. Family members with shared lives until then were scattered apart. Their livelihood destroyed, people have been taking their own lives out of despair.

This is not all. Even outside the mandatory evacuation zones, there emerged vast contaminated areas that by all rights should have been designated “radiation control zones.” These are areas where only radiation workers, those who earn their living by handling radiation, are permitted entry. And even those workers, once they enter a control zone, are not permitted to drink water or eat food. Naturally, it is forbidden to sleep. There are no toilets. The government, on the grounds that an emergency situation prevails, has scrapped the usual regulations and abandoned several million people to live in contaminated areas. These people, including infants, drink the water, eat, and sleep in those areas. They have of course been burdened with the risks associated with exposure. And thus abandoned, they are all surely subject to anxiety. Some, seeking to avoid exposure, gave up their jobs and evacuated with their entire families. Others, wishing to protect at least their children from exposure, have split up, with fathers staying behind to pursue their jobs in contaminated areas and mothers leaving with their children. But this has damaged household stability and wrecked family relationships. Staying in contaminated areas hurts the body, but evacuation crushes the soul. These abandoned people have been living in anguish every day for nearly eight years.

On top of this, in March of 2017, the government instructed those it had once ordered to leave, or those who had left of their own volition, to return to those contaminated areas so long as the radiation levels did not exceed 20 millisieverts/year (mSv). The housing assistance it had offered these people, however unsatisfactory, was terminated. This has inevitably meant that some people are forced to return. In Fukushima today, reconstruction is considered the highest priority. If people feel no choice but to live there, then of course, reconstruction becomes desirable. They cannot tolerate living in fear day after day. They would like to forget about the contamination, and fortunately or not, radioactivity is invisible. The central and local governments take active measures to make them forget. Anyone voicing concern or referring to contamination is subject to criticism: they are obstructing reconstruction.

20 mSv per year is the level of exposure permitted only for radiation workers, such as I once was. It is hard to forgive the fact that this level is now being imposed on people who derive no benefit from exposure. Moreover, infants and children, who are especially sensitive to radiation, have no responsibility for the recklessness of Japanese nuclear policy, let alone for the Fukushima disaster. It is not permissible to apply occupational levels of exposure to them. The government of Japan, however, says nothing can be done given the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency. We can understand an emergency lasting for one day, a whole week, one month, or depending on the circumstances, even for one year. But in fact, the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency has not been rescinded even after nearly eight years have passed. The government is eager to make people forget about the Fukushima disaster. Media have fallen silent. Most Japanese have been driven to forget that conditions are such that make it impossible to rescind the Declaration even while the regulations that should prevail have been scrapped. The principal culprit in radioactive contamination is cesium 137, with a half-life of 30 years. Even after the passage of 100 years, it will have diminished by only one-tenth. In point of fact, even after 100 years, Japan will be in a state of nuclear emergency.


The Olympic games in a state of nuclear emergency and the crimes of the Japanese nation

The Olympic games have always been used to display national might. In recent years, they have become tools for businesses, especially construction companies, which create, and then destroy, large public structures, leading to a colossally wasteful society from which they derive stupendous profit. What is important now is for the state to mobilize all its resources so that the Declaration of a Nuclear Emergency can be rescinded as soon as possible. The priority should be to give relief to those who continue to suffer from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and at the very least, to protect children, who are blameless, from exposure. The greater the risks facing a society, the more those in power seek to avert peoples’ eyes. The mass media will try to whip up Olympic fever, and there will come a time when those who oppose the Olympics will be denounced as traitors. So it was during World War II: the media broadcast only the proclamations from Imperial Headquarters, and virtually all citizens cooperated in the war effort. The more you thought yourself an upstanding Japanese, the more likely you were to condemn your fellow citizens as traitors. If, however, this is a country that chooses to prioritize the Olympic games over the blameless citizens it has abandoned, then I shall gladly become a traitor.

The Fukushima disaster will proceed in 100-year increments, freighted with enormous tragedies. Casting sidelong glances at the vast numbers of victims, the perpetrators, including TEPCO, government officials, scholars, and the media, have utterly failed to take responsibility. Not a single one has been punished.2 Taking advantage of this, they are trying to restart the reactors that are currently stopped and to export them overseas. The Tokyo Olympics will take place in a state of nuclear emergency. Those countries and people who participate will, on the one hand, themselves risk exposure, and, on the other, become accomplices to the crimes of this nation.


23 August 2018




Japanese Government. (2011). “Discharge of Radioactive Materials to the Environment,” Report of the Japanese Government to the IAEA Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety: The Accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations. June.

Johnson, D.T., Fukurai, Hiroshi, & Hirayama, M. (2020). “Reflections on the TEPCO Trial: Prosecution and Acquittal after Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. June 15.

METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, 2011). “News Release: Tokyo Denryoku Kabushikigaisha Fukushima Daiichi Genshiryoku Hatsudensho oyobi Hiroshima ni tōka sareta genshibakudan kara hōshutsu sareta hōshaseibusshitsu ni kansuru shisan ni tsuite”[On the estimates of radioactive materials discharged by Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima]; “Kaiseki de taishō to shita kikan de no taikichū e no hōshaseibusshitsu no hōshutsuryō no shisanchi (Bq)” [Estimates derived by calculation for radioactive materials discharged into the atmosphere during the period in question], “Hiroshima gembaku de no taikichū e no hōshaseibusshitsu no hōshutsuryō no shisanchi (Bq)” [Estimates of radioactive materials discharged into the atmosphere by the Hiroshima atomic bomb (Bq)]. August 26.

New York Times. (2019). “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Trial Ends with Acquittals of 3 Executives.” September 19.

UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, 2000). Annex C, “Exposures to the Public from Man-made Sources of Radiation,” Sources and Effects of Ionizing Radiation.

World Nuclear News. (2019). “Tepco makes contact with melted fuel in Unit 2.” February 13.



On February 13, 2019, TEPCO released photos showing first contact with melted fuel debris in unit 2 (World Nuclear News, 2019).


There are currently more than 30 civil cases winding their way through the courts, but only one criminal proceeding in Tokyo District Court, with three former TEPCO executives as defendants, charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury. All three were acquitted on September 19, 2019 (New York Times, 2019; Johnson et al., 2020). The decision has been appealed.

March 2, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment