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Stopping covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster

April 11, 2023

The Fukushima Nuclear disaster will continue to affect the people on location and others, as well as our environment for many more years, I will not continue.

I have been following the Fukushima nuclear accident for the past 12 years, spending a lot of time in sharing those news, to the somehow detriment of my own personal life.

Unlike some other people I entered this activity without seeking to make money or gain fame, I am just a simple citizen living on my basic minimum retirement pension. I shared Fukushima news weekly for the past 12 years but on the other hand I was unable to go visit my daughter in Iwaki, Fukushima since June 2011, because my financial situation is very tight, and Japan is way too expensive, overpriced for my meager wallet.

That situation has been tearing apart, on one hand to share Fukushima news and on the other hand to be unable to visit my own daughter in Fukushima. 

I cannot take it anymore, so I decided to end this situation, to stop sharing the Fukushima news, to stop my lttle Fukushima blog, to disengage myself from it all, and to finally concentrate only on my little personal life. 

That attitude of the Japanese government is nothing new. They have always lack a sense of responsibility, hiding behind hypocritical denials and false excuses, lies and covering-up.

The Japanese government has always faced accusations with duplicity when it comes to various events and issues that have marred their history. Some of these issues include the Nanjing massacre, Korean and Filipina sex slaves during World War II, the Minamata tragedy affecting thousands of lives, whale and dolphin fishing, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and the dumping of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

One of the most controversial events in Japan’s history is the Nanjing massacre, which occurred in 1937 when Japanese forces invaded the Chinese city of Nanjing. During the six-week occupation, Japanese soldiers carried out a brutal campaign of murder, rape, and looting, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 300,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war. Despite overwhelming evidence of the massacre, the Japanese government has been accused of downplaying its significance and even denying that it occurred.

Another issue that has caused controversy is the use of Korean and Filipina women as sex slaves during World War II. These women, known as “comfort women,” were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military, with an estimated 200,000 women being subjected to this treatment. Despite numerous apologies and compensation payments made to some of the victims, the Japanese government has been accused of failing to fully acknowledge and take responsibility for this atrocity.

Minamata disease is a neurological disease caused by severe mercury poisoning. Signs and symptoms include ataxia, numbness in the hands and feet, general muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and damage to hearing and speech. In extreme cases, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death follow within weeks of the onset of symptoms. A congenital form of the disease affects fetuses in the womb, causing microcephaly, extensive cerebral damage, and symptoms similar to those seen in cerebral palsy.

Minamata disease was first discovered in the city of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan, in 1956, hence its name. It was caused by the release of methylmercury in the industrial wastewater from a chemical factory owned by the Chisso Corporation, which continued from 1932 to 1968. It has also been suggested that some of the mercury sulfate in the wastewater was also metabolized to methylmercury by bacteria in the sediment. This highly toxic chemical bioaccumulated and biomagnified in shellfish and fish in Minamata Bay and the Shiranui Sea, which, when eaten by the local population, resulted in mercury poisoning. The poisoning and resulting deaths of both humans and animals continued for 36 years, while Chisso and the Kumamoto prefectural government did little to prevent the epidemic.

As of March 2001, 2,265 victims had been officially recognized as having Minamata disease and over 10,000 had received financial compensation from Chisso. By 2004, Chisso had paid $86 million in compensation, and in the same year was ordered to clean up its contamination. On March 29, 2010, a settlement was reached to compensate as-yet uncertified victims.

In addition to these human rights abuses, Japan has also faced criticism for its continued practice of whale and dolphin fishing. Despite a global ban on commercial whaling, Japan continues to hunt whales under the guise of “scientific research,” and dolphins are also hunted and captured for use in entertainment parks. Many animal rights activists and conservationists have called for an end to these practices, but the Japanese government has been accused of prioritizing economic interests over environmental concerns.

Another event that has caused significant controversy is the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which occurred in 2011 after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The disaster resulted in a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the release of radioactive materials into the environment. While the Japanese government initially downplayed the severity of the disaster, it has since been accused of covering up information and failing to adequately respond to the crisis.

Perhaps one of the most recent controversies surrounding Japan involves the planned dumping of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant into the Pacific Ocean. Despite widespread opposition from environmental groups and neighboring countries, the Japanese government has defended the plan, claiming that the water will be treated and diluted before being released. However, many remain skeptical of these claims and fear the potential consequences of this decision.

In conclusion, the Japanese government has been accused of duplicity when it comes to a variety of issues that have marred their history and present-day actions. From human rights abuses to environmental disasters, the Japanese government has been criticized for downplaying or denying the severity of these events and failing to take responsibility for their actions. As such, it is imperative that the government is held accountable for its actions and takes concrete steps towards acknowledging and rectifying these issues.

The Japanese government as learned nothing from this nuclear tragedy, which they have conveniently sweeped under the carpet. Economics in their eyes always more important than people’s lives, PM Kishida promoting as of today the rebirth of nuclear full blast, wheras the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disater have neither been yet adressed nor solved.

Best wishes to you,

Hervé Courtois


April 11, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , , | 1 Comment

NH 608: Fukushima Child Thyroid Cancer Rates Soar – Joseph Mangano

February 14, 2023

Last year, a report revealed that Fukushima child thyroid cancer rates had skyrocketed – but still, the government of Japan and the nuclear industry refuse to take these statistics seriously.
But in truth – how bad is it? We interviewed a genuine expert to find out.

Joseph Mangano is Executive Director of Radiation and Public Health Project.  He is an epidemiologist – one who searches for the cause of disease, identifies people who are at risk, determines how to control or stop the spread, or prevent it from happening again. Joe has over 30 years of experience working with nuclear numbers and comes from a history of teasing out health information from data. We spoke on Friday, February 11, 2022.


February 19, 2023 Posted by | Fuk 2023 | , , | Leave a comment

Soil separation and soil storage in Fukushima

Credits to Arkadiusz Podniesinsk

January 10, 12023

Today I visited the temporary waste dump adjacent to the power plant. I’ve been here several times, but this is the first time I’m with someone who can explain everything.

So, the temporary waste dump is a large area of 1600 hectares where contaminated soil from decontamination of areas from the whole prefecture goes. Before the disaster, most of these areas were cultivated fields, but there was also a fish processing plant, a school, a kindergarten and other public utilities. After the disaster, the entire area was bought by the government for the purpose of a landfill.

Currently, several plants have been built here that deal with sorting contaminated soil, ie. by separating wood, leaves, metals and other pollution (except radioactive contamination). The fire material is then burned and the ash is stored in special concrete containers. On the other hand, large, 15 meters high hills are dumped from the cleared soil, although when the grass grows they look more like small hills. Several layers of insulation are laid at the bottom of each mound and an irrigation system is being built that collects the flowing contaminated water to the treatment plant. Every mound has such an installation. At the end, I have attached a photo so that you can better understand the process described.

According to the name, the land will be stored here temporarily (up to 30 years) until a place for final storage is found. Research is currently underway on how to effectively reduce the amount of contaminated soil (volume reduction, recycling, new technologies) to minimize the amount of soil that will go to final landfill.

The whole thing is really impressive and above all works. It seems that the Japanese are seriously taking the issue of decontamination, although I personally don’t think that after 30 years such gigantic amounts of land should be transferred elsewhere again. Or at least I won’t see that anymore 🙂.

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

Our contaminated future

A rice field in Iitate, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, 2016.

Maxime Polleri

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

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

The author examines maps of radioactive contamination in Fukushima.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Withered sunflowers in irradiated fields.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 19, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Japan: UN expert to assess Fukushima evacuees’ plight during official visit

21 September 2022

GENEVA (21 September 2022) – UN expert Cecilia Jimenez-Damary will visit Japan from 26 September to 7 October, to assess the human rights situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs), or evacuees, from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and tens of thousands remain as evacuees today, more than 10 years later,” said Jimenez-Damary, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs.

“By engaging with Government, evacuees, and other relevant stakeholders during the visit, I aim to foster collaborative, whole-of-society efforts to address the remaining barriers evacuees face in achieving durable solutions,” the expert said.

Jimenez-Damary will visit Tokyo and the prefectures of Fukushima, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. She will meet Government officials, UN bodies, academic experts, and human rights organisations, as well as civil society, IDPs and communities affected by internal displacement during her visit.

The UN expert will present her preliminary observations at the end of her visit on 7 October at a press conference, which will take place at 13:00 at the Japan National Press Club, 2-2-1 Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0011. Access to the press conference will be strictly limited to journalists.

A comprehensive report on the Special Rapporteur’s visit will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2023.


Ms. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons by the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2016. A human rights lawyer specialized in forced displacement and migration, she has over three decades of experience in NGO human rights advocacy. Her mandate, which covers all countries, has been recently renewed by resolution 50/6 of the Human Rights Council.

As a Special Rapporteur, she is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

UN Human Rights country page: Japan

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

Number of evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture due to the nuclear power plant accident

Mr. Seiichi Nakate (right) handed a written request to the Reconstruction Agency at the House of Representatives building in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on March 23.

August 23, 2022
On August 23, three groups of evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture requested the Reconstruction Agency not to exclude approximately 6,600 people from the number of evacuees from outside of Fukushima Prefecture due to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, because their whereabouts cannot be confirmed. The reduction in the number of evacuees in the statistics may lead to a trivialization of the damage caused by the nuclear power plant accident.
 The Reconstruction Agency compiles the number of evacuees based on the information that evacuees have reported to the municipalities where they have taken refuge. In some cases, such as when evacuees move away without notifying the local government, their whereabouts are lost. As a result of the survey conducted since last September, approximately 2,900 people’s whereabouts are unknown, and approximately 2,480 people have moved without notifying the municipality. In addition, a total of 6,604 people will be excluded from the evacuee statistics, including approximately 1,110 people who answered “will not return” in the survey.
 As of April, the number of out-of-prefecture evacuees was approximately 23,000, a decrease of more than 3,300 from January, as reports continue to follow this policy. The number is expected to continue to decrease as each municipality works to correct the situation.
 The request was made on this day by the National Association of Evacuees for the “Right to Evacuation” and others. Seiichi Nakate, 61, co-chairman of the association and an evacuee from Fukushima City to Sapporo City, said, “Even though I no longer have the intention to return, I am aware that I am an ‘evacuee. I cannot allow myself to be excluded by the government.” He handed the written request to a Reconstruction Agency official. The official explained that the exclusion would be made in order to match the actual situation of the evacuees, but that it would not affect the support measures.
 At the press conference, Nakate said, “Eleven years have passed since the accident, and the number of official support measures at the evacuation sites is decreasing every year. The evacuee statistics are the basis for all support measures, and I am concerned that they may lead to further reductions in support in the future. (Kenta Onozawa)

August 28, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Thyroid Examination October 2021: 221 Surgically Confirmed as Thyroid Cancer Among 266 Cytology Suspected Cases


    On October 15, 2021, the 43rd session of the Oversight Committee for the Fukushima Health Management Survey (FHMS) convened online and in Fukushima City, releasing a new set of results (data up to June 30, 2021) from the fourth and fifth rounds of the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination (TUE).  The fifth-round data reported this time includes the confirmatory examination results. In addition, a corrected version of the results was released for the Age 25 Milestone Screening originally reported in July 2021. 

    The 43rd session was the first session of a new two-year term (August 2021-July 2023) for 18 committee members, including 6 new members. (Regrettably, a long-time committee member Fumiko Kasuga, who steadfastly advocated for release of more clinical information as well as inclusion of feedbacks from participants and their families, is no longer included.)  A roster for the Thyroid Examination Evaluation Subcommittee was also released, but there was no change. It was revealed that there was no target date for the release of an interim summary for the third round.

   At this time, an official English translation is available up to the 40th session of the Oversight Committee on the website for the Radiation Medical Science Center of the Fukushima Health Management Survey (RMSC/FHMS). The final results of the third round, released at the 39th session in August 2020, is finally available in English on pages 2-20 of this report.


  • The fourth round: 3 new cases diagnosed as suspicious or malignant, and 2 new surgical cases. 
  • The fifth round: 3 new cases diagnosed as suspicious or malignant, and 1 new surgical case
  • Total number of suspected/confirmed thyroid cancer has increased by 6 to 266116 in the first round (including a single case of benign tumor), 71 in the second round, 31 in the third round, 36 in the fourth round, 3 in the fifth round, and 9 in Age 25 Milestone Screening.
  • Total number of surgically confirmed thyroid cancer cases has increased by 3 to 221 (101 in the first round, 55 in the second round, 29 in the third round, 29 in the fourth round, 1 in the fifth round, and 6 in Age 25 Milestone Screening,

The latest overall results including the “unreported” and cancer registry cases

    Please refer to the previous post regarding details of “unreported” cases and cancer registry data.

    Official count, as reported in the summary document shown in the next section, is 266 suspected/confirmed and 221 surgically confirmed thyroid cancer cases. An addition of more recent “unreported” cases as well as “outside” cases discovered in cancer registry makes the count a little more complete with 325 cytologically suspected/confirmed and 264 surgically confirmed cancer cases. It should be noted that the actual number of cases is likely more than these as no exhaustive investigation has been and will be conducted by FMU to fully report all the cancer cases discovered outside the framework of the FHMS-TUE.

Summary on the current status of the TUE

    A six-page summary of the first through fifth rounds as well as the Age 25 Milestone Screening, “The Status of the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Results,” lists key findings from the primary and confirmatory examinations as well as the surgical information. 

    Below is an unofficial translation of this summary which is not officially translated.

#43 Status of the Thyroid Ultrasound Examination Results (October 15, 2021) by Yuri Hiranuma on Scribd

April 17, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment

Is contaminated soil from the nuclear accident waste? A valuable resource? Ask the Experts

Tsunehide Chino, associate professor at Shinshu University, is interviewed online December 20, 2021; photo by Tetsuya Kasai.

April 8, 2022

Fukushima: The delivery of contaminated soil from the decontamination process following the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant to an interim storage facility was largely completed last month. The law stipulates that the final disposal of the contaminated soil must be outside the prefecture, but no one has yet found a place to accept the soil. We asked Tsunehide Chino, an associate professor at Shinshu University and an expert on radioactive waste administration, about the legal status of the facility and how the contaminated soil should be “recycled.

     ◇ ◇Associate Professor Tsunehide Chino of Shinshu University

 –The delivery of contaminated soil to the interim storage facility was largely completed at the end of March.

Burying decontaminated soil in an interim storage facility: 2:27 p.m., June 17, 2021, Okuma Town, Fukushima Prefecture; photo by Tetsuya Kasai.

 The law states that “necessary measures shall be taken for final disposal outside the prefecture by 2045. That is quite a delicate phrase.”

 –prefectures can argue that the promise to remove the materials out of the prefecture should be honored.

 The problem has taken on another dimension since the law clearly states this. For example, the government signed a ‘letter of commitment’ with the governor of Aomori Prefecture regarding the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste from Rokkasho Village in Aomori Prefecture outside the prefecture. It is not a law.”

 The law is not wrong, and neither the prefectural governor nor the heads of local governments have any choice but to talk about their positions, even if they don’t believe that the cargo will be removed in 45 years. It has become difficult for them to express their true feelings.”

 –The national government has a policy of recycling contaminated soil with radiation levels below 8,000 becquerels per kilogram, as final disposal of the entire amount of contaminated soil is difficult.

 There is no legal basis for recycling. If the prefectural governor and others say that the contaminated soil in the interim storage facility will be taken out of the prefecture because it is clearly stated in the law, then it makes sense to discuss and make the recycling of contaminated soil into a law.

 –How was the standard for recycling (8,000 becquerels) determined?

 In 2005, the government established a clearance system that allows radioactive waste to be disposed of as normal waste, and set the standard at 0.01 millisievert per year as a level of radiation that has negligible effects on the human body when it is recycled or landfilled. This is equivalent to 100 becquerels of radiation per kilogram. After the nuclear accident, however, the government relaxed the standard for disposal to 1 millisievert per year. The amount of radiation that we calculated backwards from that is 8,000 becquerels per kilogram.

 –So you want to apply this to soil that is to be reclaimed?

 The government has positioned reclamation as part of the disposal process. The government has taken the liberty of changing the rules to say that although it is disposal, it only needs to meet the 1 millisievert per year requirement.

 If it’s disposal, it has to meet clearance standards. The repository has been operated in accordance with these standards. But, for example, it is estimated that it would take 160 years of natural attenuation for contaminated soil with a level of 5,000 becquerels per kilogram to meet the criteria for disposal. It is unlikely that the facilities where the soil will be recycled will be maintained and managed for that long. The government’s policy is irresponsible.”

 –The government says that the soil to be reclaimed is a “precious resource.

 The Basic Policy for Fukushima Reconstruction and Revitalization approved by the cabinet in July 2012 clearly states that contaminated soil in the prefecture will be finally disposed of outside the prefecture 30 years after interim storage begins, and the idea that soil is a resource was written into law in December 2002.

 In waste administration, waste is anything that is no longer needed. If it can be used or sold, it is a resource. So we ask the Ministry of the Environment, ‘So you give away soil for public works projects for a fee? We tell them that there is no such thing as “reverse compensation,” in which we pay for the soil when we give it to them. But they are not very understanding.

 –The legalities regarding the handling of contaminated soil are unclear, and the standards are difficult to understand. How do you plan to resolve the situation where residents have no say in the matter?

 The situation cannot be solved by creating a law. The first step is for the government and TEPCO to explain firmly that it will be more difficult than expected to return the living environment in the hard-to-return zones and other areas to the state it was in before the nuclear accident. The best way to restore the trust that has been lost over the past decade is for both sides to understand the bitter reality.

     ◇ ◇ ◇

 Tsunehide Chino was born in 1978 in Tokyo. D. (Policy Science) from Hosei University’s Graduate School of Social Sciences. associate professor at Shinshu University’s Faculty of Humanities since 2014. has been researching issues such as radioactive waste for nearly 20 years, mainly in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. He is also the coordinator of the Nuclear Waste Subcommittee of the Citizens Commission on Atomic Energy.

April 9, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Powerful Japan earthquake strikes off coast of Fukushima, killing four

Tsunami warning cancelled after quake cut power to 2m homes and damaged some buildings

March 17, 2022

A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima in north-east Japan on Wednesday evening, leaving four dead, and plunging more than 2m homes in the Tokyo area into darkness.

The region was devastated by a deadly 9.0 quake and tsunami 11 years ago that also triggered nuclear plant meltdowns, spewing massive radiation that still makes some parts uninhabitable.

The Japan Meteorological Agency later lifted its low risk tsunami advisory issued along the coasts of Fukushima and Miyagi early Thursday. Tsunami waves of 30cm (11in) reached shore in Ishinomaki, which lies about 390km (242 miles) north-east of Tokyo. The agency upgraded the magnitude of the quake to 7.4 from the initial 7.3.

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said four people had died and that the government would be on high alert for the possibility of further strong tremors over the next two to three days.

At least 107 people were reported injured, several of them seriously, with 4,300 households still without water by mid-morning. Residents of one Fukushima city formed a long queue in a car park to fill up plastic tanks with water for use at home.

Houses and other buildings in darkness in the Toshima ward of Tokyo.

NHK footage showed broken walls of a department store building fell to the ground and shards of windows scattered on the street near the main train station in Fukushima city, about 60km (36 miles) from the coastline. Roads were cracked and water poured out from pipes underground. Footage also showed furniture and appliances smashed to the floor at apartments in Fukushima.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant where the cooling systems failed after the 2011 disaster, said workers found no abnormalities at the site, which was in the process of being decommissioned.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority said a fire alarm went off at the turbine building of No 5 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi but there was no actual fire. Water pumps for the spent fuel cooling pool at two of the four reactors at Fukushima Daini briefly stopped, but later resumed operation. Fukushima Daini, which survived the 2011 tsunami, is also set for decommissioning.

Manufacturers, including global chipmaker Renesas Electronics and automaker Toyota, said they were trying to gauge the potential damage to their facilities in the region.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake hit at 11.36pm at a depth of 60km (36 miles) below the sea.

Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force said it sent fighter jets from the Hyakuri base in Ibaraki prefecture, just south of Fukushima, for information gathering and damage assessment.

More than 2.2m homes were temporarily without electricity in 14 prefectures, including the Tokyo region, but power was restored at most places by the morning, except for some homes in the hardest hit Fukushima and Miyagi prefectures, according to the Tohoku Electric Power Co which services the region.

The quake shook large parts of eastern Japan, including Tokyo, where buildings swayed violently.


East Japan Railway Co said most of its train services were suspended for safety checks. Some local trains later resumed service.

Many people formed long lines outside of major stations while waiting for trains to resume operation late Wednesday, but trains in Tokyo operated normally Thursday morning.

A Tohoku Shinkansen express train partially derailed between Fukushima and Miyagi due to the quake, but nobody was injured, Kishida said.

He told reporters that the government was assessing the extent of damage and promised to do its utmost for rescue and relief operations.

Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said authorities were scrambling to assess damage. “We are doing our utmost in rescue operations and putting people’s lives first,” he said.

March 20, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Britain lifting post-Fukushima restrictions on Japan food imports

Fish are seen at Onahama port in Iwaki, Fukushima, on Thursday. The British government has started the process to lift import restrictions on farm products from Japan, a measure imposed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Dec 11, 2021

The British government has started the process to lift import restrictions on farm products from Japan, a measure imposed in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, potentially clearing the hurdles for such imports as early as next spring, the farm ministry has said.

In its assessment of the possible health risks from Japanese food imports, Britain has concluded that removing the import restrictions would not affect consumers in the country.

As part of the domestic procedure, Britain will solicit public comments on the policy change by February before making a formal decision, the Japanese ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries said Friday.

A total of 23 farm products such as mushrooms, bamboo shoots and bonito from Fukushima and eight other prefectures are currently subject to the import restrictions, requiring proof of having passed a check for radioactive materials when these products are shipped into Britain.

The eight prefectures are Miyagi, Yamagata, Ibaraki, Gunma, Niigata, Yamanashi, Nagano and Shizuoka.

If the restrictions are lifted, the certificates of origin now required for these farm products harvested or processed in Japanese prefectures other than the nine will also become unnecessary for exporting to Britain.

According to the farm ministry, the export value of Japanese farm products to Britain amounted to ¥4.5 billion ($39.7 million) in 2010. But it fell to ¥3.7 billion in 2012 following the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in March the previous year.

Japanese farm exports to Britain recovered to ¥5.6 billion in 2020.

Japan plans to continue urging the removal of import restrictions by the 13 countries and regions such as China and South Korea that maintain them due to safety concerns.

The United States lifted its import restrictions on Japanese farm products in September, while the European Union eased part of its restrictions in October.

December 12, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

More evacuation orders to be lifted in Fukushima for some areas

Yoshito Konno’s home in a difficult-to-return zone, seen here on Aug. 30 in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, is shrouded in trees and weeds as tall as people.

September 24, 2021

Shrouded in trees and weeds as tall as people, his old house rests quietly in a difficult-to-return zone in the Tsushima district of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, only some 30 kilometers from the hobbled nuclear plant.

“I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, although there will likely be a race against the clock of my lifetime,” said Yoshito Konno, 77. “I wish to be comfortably back in my hometown while I am still healthy enough to be moving around.”

The central government announced it will lift evacuation orders by the end of the decade for residents who wish to return to their homes in the last remaining difficult-to-return zones around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The new policy was approved at a joint meeting at the end of August by the Reconstruction Promotion Council and the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters.

But the government has no prospect of totally lifting evacuation orders for all the difficult-to-return areas as the new policy is expected to cover only limited areas.

Konno’s home community had 262 residents from 80 households prior to the 2011 nuclear disaster.

About 45 of them, mostly advanced in age, have since died.

“Those who died while separated from their hometown must have felt so frustrated and let down,” he said. “The central government and the town government should take action as soon as possible in line with the newly approved plan.”

Currently, areas where about 22,000 residents used to live remain designated as difficult-to-return zones.

This latest decision covers sparsely populated areas which are outside the areas designated for earlier lifting and once home to some 8,000 people, who previously had little hope of ever returning given the absence of a plan for them.

Some of the more populated areas had been designated as reconstruction bases where evacuation orders will be lifted by spring 2023.

Local communities had been pressing the central government to come up with a plan for lifting the evacuation orders in those undesignated areas. The government has committed to fund cleanups and lift evacuation orders on a limited basis, when requested by the locals.

For people like Konno, the news came as a relief.

But more than a decade since the disaster, others have mixed feelings about the prospect of one day returning after finding new lives and livelihoods in the communities to which they have evacuated to. 


A survey taken by the Reconstruction Agency in fiscal 2020 showed that in the four towns that contain part of the difficult-to-return zones, only about 10 percent said they wished to return.

About 50 to 60 percent of respondents from each of those towns said they did not want to return.

Kazuharu Fukuda, 50, president of a local construction company and evacuee from the town of Futaba, said he will not be returning home any time soon because he now resides and works in another town.

The central government’s plan to decontaminate areas where cleanup is necessary to allow people to return has not impressed Fukuda.

“Even if I were to return, the land plots next to mine would remain contaminated with high radiation levels and with everything left in a dilapidated state,” he said. “How could I take up residence in such a place? I want the central government to clean up all the areas and restore them to their original state before letting us decide whether to return.”

Under the new plan, which was presented by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga during the joint meeting, residents of the areas in question will be surveyed.

After that, the surroundings of the homes of those who wish to return will be decontaminated, and the government will develop key infrastructure to facilitate their return.

There is no prospect for evacuation orders to be completely lifted in those areas because the decontamination work will be done only in limited areas at the request of those who wish to return.

The decontamination process will be funded by two special central government accounts: one designated for rebuilding from the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011; and another designated for energy policy measures, financed by revenues from electricity rates.

The difficult-to-return zones straddle six towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture.

Some areas in those zones, including the surroundings of town halls, village offices and residential districts, have been designated “Specified Reconstruction and Revitalization Bases” by the central government.

The goal is to lift the evacuation orders in those places sometime between 2022 and the spring of 2023.

The central government is funding cleanup, construction of public housing complexes for disaster survivors and other work currently under way in these locations.

The areas outside the “specified bases” account for more than 90 percent of all the landmass of the difficult-to-return zones and slightly less than 40 percent of the population. Cleanup and other related work will only be conducted in those outside areas after considering whether the residents are expected to return.

Local governments had called on the central government to set a date to lift all the difficult-to-return zones so residents outside the designated reconstruction bases will not be left behind.

The central government has so far lifted evacuation orders for areas home to about 45,000 people. Only about 14,000 of those residents–about 30 percent–have returned to their home communities, although the government has spent some 3 trillion yen ($27 billion) on cleaning up those areas alone.

The government remains skeptical that large-scale decontamination will be effective for post-disaster rebuilding, so it has decided to clean up only limited areas based on requests.

September 25, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima aims to attract new residents

A sign gives notice of decontamination and building demolition in areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones within Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 20, 2021

FUKUSHIMA – The central and local governments have begun encouraging people from outside Fukushima Prefecture to move into areas surrounding Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, hoping that new residents will revive the areas.

The central government plans to lift evacuation orders in all areas categorized as difficult-to-return zones so that residents wishing to return to their homes can do so within the 2020s. However, in areas where such an order has already been lifted, residents have been slow to return.

300 newcomers sought

I’ve long wanted to contribute to the reconstruction of Fukushima, said Daisuke Yamamoto, 49, an engineer who moved from Sapporo to the city of Tamura, Fukushima Prefecture, in August.

Yamamoto said he aimed to set up his own business there.

The central government’s financial support system, which began in July, encouraged him to move in. The system grants up to 2 million Yen to those who move into 12 municipalities near the nuclear plant from outside the prefecture. Additional funds of up to 4 million Yen will be paid if they launch a business there. The government’s goal is to bring in 300 new people this fiscal year alone.

Local municipalities are preparing for new residents. In July, the Fukushima prefectural government set up a joint support center with the 12 municipalities. In Minami-Soma, vacant houses will be renovated into rental housing. In the village of Katsurao, eight units of municipal apartment housing will be constructed.

10% want to return

Behind the move is the slow return of residents to areas where the evacuation orders were lifted. The Reconstruction Agency and others surveyed the residents of five towns, including Futaba and Okuma, and found that only about 10% wanted to return.

The town of Namie, where the evacuation order was partially lifted in 2017, now has a population of 1,717. In fiscal 2019, 70 people in 49 households moved into the town from outside the prefecture, thanks in part to the presence of factories opened by 10 companies, but the population is still only about a tenth of its pre-disaster size.

The only way to keep the town going is to further increase the number of new arrivals, a town official said.

Commuting, restoring

Over 10 years after the nuclear accident, people who have rebuilt their lives in areas to which they evacuated will have the option of having residences in two locations, commuting to Fukushima Prefecture while carrying on with their present lives elsewhere.

A 66-year-old man who moved his family to Hitachi, Ibaraki Prefecture, has a home in an area categorized as a difficult-to-return zone in Namie. In order to return to that home, he would need to repair the now dilapidated house. His children have found jobs in Ibaraki. The man’s life in Ibaraki, where he grows vegetables in rented fields, has become settled.

I have no choice but to spend two hours each way to get to and from Fukushima, he said.

In a survey conducted last fiscal year by the towns of Futaba, Okuma and Tomioka on their residents, about 60% said they wanted to maintain ties with their hometowns.

The evacuation order for Naraha was lifted in 2015, but the number of residents in the town now has leveled off at 50% of the population before the accident. The town aims to raise the figure to 60% by 2030, or 5,130 people, by subsidizing JR train fares for residents who live in two locations.

The town of Tomioka supports residents who have been evacuated outside the town in the hope of bringing about reconstruction by commuting. It opened social center and support office facilities in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and Saitama City, which are two places where many evacuated Tomioka residents now live. In those facilities, staff check up on the health of the evacuees or give counseling.

Those who want to go home someday will become important people for the progress of reconstruction, said Yusuke Yamashita, a sociology professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University. The central and local governments should continue to provide assistance from the perspective of reconstruction by commuting.

September 20, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Clear vision needed for future of still-evacuated Fukushima areas

Access is restricted to the “difficult-to-return zone” in Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture.

September 16, 2021

More than a decade after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident, there remains more than 30,000 hectares of land where the evacuation order is still in place and is not expected to be lifted any time soon.

The government recently announced a plan to rebuild ravaged communities in these areas near the crippled plant with high levels of radiation, known as “kitaku konnan kuiki” (difficult-to-return zone).

Under the plan, the government will decontaminate the land and houses of local residents who want to return to their homes so that the order can be lifted by the end of the 2020s.

Initially, the evacuation order covered more than 110,000 hectares. The measure was lifted for some 80,000 hectares by March last year.

In 2017 and 2018, the government thrashed out a plan to designate some 2,700 hectares of land in six municipalities within the zone as reconstruction priority areas eligible for preferential policy support to help improve the living environment. The plan requires the government to make intensive decontamination efforts in the areas and lift the evacuation order by the spring of 2023.

The local administrations involved asked the national government to make clear when the order will be lifted for the remaining areas in the difficult-to-return zone.

The latest plan unveiled by the government may represent a step forward as it offers a specific timeframe for lifting the measure, albeit for only those who wish to return to their homes. The blueprint has brought a ray of hope to local residents who have been facing a distressingly uncertain future outlook. 

But the fact remains that the government has yet to offer a realistic road map to deliver on its promise to lift the evacuation order for the entire restricted zone sometime in the future, no matter how long it will take.

The government has pledged to tread carefully in this undertaking, holding multiple meetings with residents to ask about their desire to to return home as well as talks with local administrations on the range of areas to be decontaminated.

But it has yet to announce specifics about the decontamination, such as the areas to be covered or the method to be used. 

The residents in these areas have been living as evacuees for more than 10 years. Many of them are likely to find it difficult to decide even if they want to return to where they once lived.

If the government proceeds with the latest plan, it needs to work out details of how it will tackle the challenge in a “careful” manner. The details should cover how the government will confirm the local residents’ wishes and ensure the level of decontamination that can reassure them of the safety of returning to their homes.

Moreover, the land and buildings that nobody wants to return to will not be covered by the plan to lift the order. This will remain a serious issue for the future.

The government has so far spent some 3 trillion yen ($27.45 billion) on decontaminating areas subject to the evacuation order. This effort has allowed some 14,000 residents, or 30 percent of the local population, to return home. It will cost taxpayers a huge additional amount of money to accelerate the cleanup work in the difficult-to-return zone, where nearly 22,000 people are still registered as residents.

The government says the necessary funds will be budgeted from the Fukushima reconstruction special account and other appropriate financing sources. But it admits the total amount of money required cannot be estimated since it depends on the number of local residents who want to return.

In other words, it has no clear and viable plan to raise the necessary funds.

The 2011 special law to deal with contamination by radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant stipulates that it is the government’s “obligation” to deal with radiation pollution caused by the accident.

The government has a duty to offer as soon as possible a clear future vision for tackling this formidable challenge, specifying when and how the evacuation order will be lifted and what kind of policy support will be provided to residents including those who choose not to return to the areas.

September 17, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , , | Leave a comment

Legacies of Fukushima.


Kyle Cleveland

Abstract: This special collection of papers reflects the work of contributing authors to the newly released book Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). The edited volume addresses the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, taking a multi-dimensional, cross-disciplinary approach to understanding this epic disaster. The book is an intersectional collaboration that is unique in that it incorporates the work of Japan-area scholars, journalists, nuclear experts and Science, Technology and Society (STS) scholars from Japan and abroad, who discuss the trajectory of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the first decade since its inception. There are 19 authors whose work is included in the book; this special edition of selected papers for The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus evokes that work, and while they do not entirely represent the scope of the material included in the edited volume, these papers delve into issues that any disaster studies scholar or student of the Fukushima nuclear disaster will find compelling.

The 3.11 disasters were an implausible convergence of events, the massive 9.0 earthquake (the largest on historical record in Japan), a tsunami that took nearly 20,000 lives, which put the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant underwater, leading to 3 nuclear reactors in meltdown, the most convoluted nuclear disaster in history. When the tsunami pushed ashore onto the coast less than an hour after the earthquake, it swamped the Daiichi plant, inundating the reactors and taking out the electrical backup generators, causing a total station blackout. With no power to run instrumentation or take remedial actions, the Daiichi nuclear power plant descended into chaos. The Fukushima crisis was the first multi-reactor meltdown and the only total station blackout (the only time this had happened in the history of nuclear energy). This “beyond-design-basis” event was unprecedented in the history of nuclear energy, and it was considered so unlikely that it left nuclear authorities wholly unprepared to deal with the crisis as it cascaded out of control. TEPCO (the utility that ran the doomed plant) has since maintained that they should not be held legally accountable because these conjoined events, taken together, were the ultimate “Black Swan” disaster. As Charles Casto, a former plant manager and high-ranking administrator in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who was the chief liaison for the U.S. government during the crisis and who worked closely with the operational staff at the Daiichi plant put it: it was comparable to having the San Francisco earthquake, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the Katrina hurricane all happening on the same day.1

Yet as unlikely as they would seem to be, the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami were hardly unprecedented. Japan is roiled by earthquakes constantly, and while the magnitude of the 3.11 quake was unique, in the months that preceded and followed this event there were clusters of smaller quakes, many in the 7 magnitude (Richter Scale) range, that would be significant outside the context of the penultimate quake of 3.11. And the Sanriku coast in Northeastern Japan has been inundated by tsunami often enough that oral tradition among inhabitants of coastline communities has produced a cautionary mindset in which tsunami have always loomed large in the collective imagination. Under the harsh scrutiny of nuclear critics, scholars, journalists, and industry and governmental officials who were by necessity compelled to address its consequences, a more nuanced and critical perspective eventually took hold and Fukushima, much like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear disasters, seems now in retrospect to be all too predictable, and, avoidable.2

Scandals now buzz around Fukushima like parasites on a dead thing, and a withering indictment of nuclear energy in Japan prevails. Corporate collusion, precursors ignored, lessons unlearned, the failure of regulatory oversight, and a lack of accountability have become commonplace in discussions of the nuclear enterprise in Japan. This is not only a scathing indictment of the hubris that brought Japan to this point in the first place, but it reveals a lack of foresight and analytical rigor that sustained the nuclear authorities in their wishful thinking that such an outcome was unimaginable. March 11, 2011, was a day of reckoning and yet the manner in which the disaster has been addressed betrays a callous disregard for human suffering in the aftermath, as communities have been destroyed and people have been offered little solace nor justice by the institutional authorities who were charged with looking after their best interests.3

In an effort to restore its reputational damage, the government and nuclear industry alike have promoted a narrative of resiliency among those most egregiously affected, but the nuclear village itself has proven perhaps to be the most resilient of all: the government maintains a long-term nuclear agenda to restart most of the reactors, despite the humanitarian cost. Japan is invested in nuclear energy not only because it elevates the country’s status as a member of the league of nuclear nations, but has offered, in its most idealistic construct, a potentially significant portion of its overall energy output, with the economic benefits that would entail. By 2011 nuclear power comprised roughly 30% of Japan’s energy supply, but after the nuclear disaster the entire fleet of 54 reactors that were online in 2011 were shuttered to undergo testing and retrofitting under a newly established regulatory regime. Having replaced Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority set stringent new standards, and deemed that 33 reactors are classified as operable. Of these only 9 units at 5 power plants (all in Western Japan) have restarted; another 16 are at various stages in the process of restart renewal. Two reactors are under construction but are stalled pending approval to move forward, and another eight reactors proposed to be deferred indeterminately. The government now plans for 20% of its energy supply to come from nuclear power by 2030 (at the time of this writing in summer, 2021 only 6.5% of Japan’s electricity is nuclear generated).4

As the government seeks to return nuclear energy to a semblance of its former self, throughout the Tōhoku region, and most especially in the evacuated villages in Fukushima adjacent to the Daiichi plant, a sense of foreboding remains and is unlikely to lift anytime soon. Much of the area most affected by the nuclear disaster is in a remote, mountainous region where agriculture and fisheries were major industries before the radioactive fallout irrevocably wrecked the Fukushima brand. A massive exit migration has depopulated towns (a process that was well underway in the economically stagnant rural areas, long before the Fukushima crisis accelerated this process), or resulted in an age stratified population that remains. Elderly landowners, with ancestral roots and property investments have remained, but those under 40, especially with young children, have sought safer domains, free of the worry of radiation exposure and with better long-term career prospects.

Moreover, not only has the agricultural economy and the Fukushima brand been irrevocably tainted by its association with radioactive fallout, but the shuttering of the nuclear plant itself has removed tens of thousands of jobs, as a skeleton staff remains to implement the plant decommissioning at Daiichi. In Tōhoku the nuclear plants had, in an earlier time, been the hub around which communities where organized, and the tertiary industries that helped feed the beast have diminished to such an extent that many men (and in this culture, the nuclear industry is notably gendered) have had to resort to being employed in the emergent massive decontamination industry, essentially now being paid to clean up their own back yards, while subjecting themselves to continuous radiation exposure in the process. Claims that the true radiation exposure incurred in the process are minimal are cold comfort to those who long ago lost faith in the honesty of institutional actors, and it does not forbode well for authorities in their efforts to repair the reputational damage, however well-meaning their actions may be.

Trust in institutional authority is not a renewable commodity. The government and nuclear authorities are now left to reap the whirlwind sown in the toxic breeze of March 2011, as radiation was released on an ill-informed local population, that only days before could never have imagined such a calamity. Although as a matter of the normal regulatory process disaster protocols were in place, these had never been tested in extremis, and there was little concern among those within the nuclear industry and the locals whose communities were dependent on the nuclear plant’s operations for their livelihood that such an event could happen.

In 2016 and again in 2018 I joined with several colleagues to interview the mayors of Namie, Tomioka, Kawauchi, Futuba and Minami-Soma, the evacuated towns most severely affected by the nuclear disaster as it unfolded in the first few weeks of the disaster. In far reaching interviews with the mayors and their administrative staff, the sense of abandonment and betrayal in those more dire times generated a level of animosity that was palatable. Years later, as the political discourse on Fukushima promoted heroic tropes of long-suffering TEPCO staff at the plant5 and the resiliency of locals who remained to rebuild their lives, these feelings had only deepened as the confusion lifted and was given perspective by time and revelations that had not been known until much later, as secrets were revealed and investigative panels painted a more 3-dimensional picture of what had really unfolded in those darkest days. A lack of real-time support during the evacuations, brusque, tone-deaf messaging by TEPCO and the Japanese government, economic finagling that protected TEPCO from ultimate financial and legal accountability and a lack of sheer decency and empathy for those who had suffered the most was burned into the memory of the victims of Fukushima.

These wounds will be slow to heal and leave scars upon the psyche and land that will remain in the lived experience and subsequent oral tradition of this region,6 irrespective of public relation ploys that attempt to downplay the impact of disaster and recast what is a still unfolding disaster into an artificially abbreviated narrative that celebrates recovery that is far from complete. As the 75-year anniversary of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were commemorated not long before the 10-year anniversary of the Tōhoku disasters, it has been a time for reflection for the survivors of these historic tragedies. These survivors carry the weight of history in their experiences and serve as a reminder that the cost of state actions echo in the trauma endured by Hibakusha and those whose lives were disrupted by these disasters.7

The Tōhoku disasters – and the Fukushima nuclear crisis in particular, which captured the world’s attention and resonated symbolically in a way the tsunami never could – served as a vehicle for Japan to reposition its national brand post-3.11. A decade into the still unfolding disaster, Japan hosted the Olympics in the summer of 2021, and the world’s attention returned to Fukushima, with the torch relay beginning inside the previous evacuation zone, and the baseball games being staged in Koriyama, the largest city nearby the Daiichi plant.

The Japan Olympics were essentially the ultimate consolation prize for the tragic events of 3.11, evoking sympathy for the loss of life, the destruction of a vast swath of infrastructure by the tsunami, and the toxic environment that people in Northeastern Japan have endured. By granting Japan the status of host nation, the IOC offered a symbolic gesture of good will toward Japan. Two generations after the 1964 Olympics helped usher Japan into the modern age, symbolically marking a pivot point in history following the devastation of WWII, which utterly devastated 67 Japanese cities through firebombing and the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bomb attacks, the 2020 Olympics promised to cast Japan as an exemplar of long-suffering fortitude and civic-minded communitarian spirit. This was soft-power politics refracted through the prism of disaster and recovery rather than pop-culture consumerism.8 The Olympics hold out the prospect of being the ultimate exercise in soft-power and have often been employed as a form of nation building, an opportunity for the host country to showcase an idealized representation of itself. This was a difficult enough feat to achieve with resentment toward the government’s inept response to the events of 3.11 still lingering in the collective memory, but the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis in 2019 largely eclipsed the grand narrative of Fukushima as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 Olympics became inexorably linked.

The opening ceremony of the Olympics were an eerily sedate and symbolically resonant reflection on how COVID-19 had disrupted the normal operations of the Olympics, evoking confusion and alienation from inter-personal relations upon which the sentiments of Olympian solidarity are grounded. It was as much a commentary on the organization of the games as it was on the higher values the IOC and host nations strive to promote to sustain the idealistic brand of the games.

By the time the Olympics were actually staged, the Japanese authorities had gone down a convoluted path of trying to manage a message that would sanctify the games and burnish Japan’s reputation. Originally this was directed toward the powerful associations attached to the “Fukushima Olympics,” which in the runup to the games was a central concern. Later, this would be almost entirely eclipsed by the COVID pandemic.

“Dreams of Fevered Imaginations”: MOCCO, the Fukushima Reconstruction Puppet.

On The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games website, MOCCO is characterized by its creators in this way:

“The local dialect where I was born in Miyagi includes the word ‘Odazumokko’, which refers to a popular person who is lively and mischievous. An example sentence is ‘the only son of the family who runs the stationery shop has always been an incorrigible odazumokko, but he’s made it to Tokyo and is doing shows there.’ The word ‘mokko’ originates from a word for carrying a basket, so we used this word for MOCCO to express that he travels bearing people’s thoughts and ideas.” (Kudō Kankurō, scriptwriter, director, actor) 

“MOCCO appears abruptly out of nowhere. Neither adults nor children are afraid of him and while he might look a bit scary, it is kind of a cute scariness. There is lively talk about MOCCO all over and everyone has respect for him, which he fully realizes. Everyone knows that MOCCO carries with him dreams and hope, so while you’re having fun with him you should make a wish in your heart. Stomp stomp stomp, MOCCO is here!” (Arai Ryōji, picture book creator, illustrator). 

“MOCCO is with you when you are happy or sad, and is somewhere in your tender memories. MOCCO is there when you don’t know what tomorrow holds. MOCCO is always together with everyone”. (Kameda Seiji, music producer of Tōhoku no Sachi).

The design was revealed in May 2019, but the full-motion final rendering of the puppet was performed in Iwate Prefecture, Tōhoku, 50 days before the anticipated start of the 2020 Olympics, and then debuted in Tokyo on July 17, 2020, and was thereafter put on display in Tokyo throughout the duration of the Olympics. Conceived as a collaborative project between children and the puppeteers, who discussed their artistic scribblings of the disaster with the puppet creators, MOCCO looks to be a skeletal bricolage of tsunami debris, rendered in human form. In its dramatic unveiling, MOCCO comes to life bellowing smoke from its mouth, knocking the puppeteers to the ground. Did they imagine this represented the radiation plume? Lacking the redeeming qualities of kitsch that animated the radiated lizard, MOCCO seems nothing less than a modern-day Godzilla for the 3.11 disasters. It immediately reminded me of the grotesquerie of Gunther von Hagen’s platinated human corpses, that were put on display in his exhibit “Human Body Worlds,” discomforting audiences around the world.

Although inspiration may have been provided by children whose lives were disrupted by the Tōhoku disasters, MOCCO seems less the product of an idealist vision of future hope and recovery than an embodiment of their nightmares of having lived through a disaster beyond their imagining. The French playwright Philippe Néricault, (a.k.a. Destouches), famously said: “La critique est aisée et l’art est difficile” (Criticism is easy and art is difficult) and so it is perhaps a cheap shot to parody the intentions of these well-meaning artists who brought this vision to life and paraded it in front of the victims of 3.11 in service of the grand notions of resilient nationalism. But art resonates in our collective unconscious in ways not easy to articulate, and it is hard to imagine that this 10-meter animated puppet comprised of tsunami flotsam on a skeletal frame would be a comforting presence for those who recall the vision of the devastation that lay strewn before them as the tsunami destroyed everything in its path.

Billed as “The Reconstruction Olympics,” Japan was selected as the Olympics host partly in sympathy for the impact the 3.11 disasters had on Japan (the most expensive set of conjoined disasters in world history) and as a form of nation branding in service of a narrative of resiliency, not only with regard to the people of Tōhoku who endured the worst of it, but also of the Japanese nation itself. It is ironic, but hardly surprising, that a kind of political alchemy has rendered the suffering of the victims of the nuclear disaster as a symbol of long-suffering fortitude, while implicitly endorsing the structure of collusive interests which sustain the nuclear village, which set the conditions for the disaster in the first place. For those on the receiving end of this, there has been a withering retrospective accounting of disaster management after 3.11 and hard-earned suspicions about the State’s ability to protect public health while promoting the reactor restarts under the guise of recovery on an Olympics timeline.

The Olympics long ago lost their idealistic luster as representing the epitome of “amateur” athletics and have become a marketing juggernaut and form of symbolic nation branding, providing incentive to hold the games irrespective of the long-term costs they lay at the feet of the hosts. Although the host nation may bask in the short-term glare of world attention and the adoration of their athlete stalking horses, the collusive interests between marketing conglomerates, the International Olympic Committee, and nation-states, they ultimately inherit the economic burdens created by cost overruns and infrastructure projects whose functional use is short-lived and cause for regret as the transient games are played out and the host nation is thereafter left to settle accounts.

At the time of the 10-year anniversary of the 3.11 disasters, competing discourses muddied the waters of institutional memory. The cruel timing of the emergence of the COVID viral pandemic, right on the cusp of the initial scheduling of the Olympics to start in the late summer of 2020, eclipsed the previous focus on Fukushima as the defining motif of these times. Having been saddled with the economic cost of the Tōhoku disasters (the most expensive in world history) the COVID-19 viral pandemic undermined the feel-good rhetoric of the Olympics, which had been branded as the “recovery” and “reconstruction” Olympics, an ode to the protracted efforts of the government to dig itself out of the scurrilous association with its inept response to the crisis. But with COVID-19 running rampant and Japan at the end of the line for vaccinations (with the lowest rate of implementation among affluent countries, in the single digits as of summer 2021), the Olympics were initially postponed and then reluctantly held in defiance of public sentiment (at one point nearly 80% of Japanese citizens opposed holding the Olympics) while Japan imposed a de facto immigration firewall against foreign contagion, a longstanding trope of Japan as an insular, island nation unnerved by the threat of foreign invasion. This was entirely antithetical to the notion of universal inclusion that defines the Olympic mission, and it undermined Japan’s efforts to construct an artifice of salutary resiliency in the face of adversity.

It is difficult to gaze upon the spectacle of the 2020 Japan Olympics being undone by the COVID-19 pandemic and not see this through the lens of the Fukushima disaster response.9 Karl Marx wrote that “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”10

There are obvious parallels between the manner in which the Tōhoku disasters were handled and the Japanese government’s response to both the COVID-19 viral pandemic and the Olympics. These are all epic, culture-transforming events that are historic in scale, and they cast into stark relief all the deficiencies of the State in its inability to address disasters at this scale. Major disasters expose the weakness of governmental institutions to address multi-dimensional complex disasters effectively. While certain aspects of Japanese culture were complicit in this, culture alone cannot account for the systemic failure of institutions, especially when in calmer times these same institutions are held up as exemplars of bureaucratic competence. One of the most shocking things about the Tōhoku disasters is that it highlighted a yawning gap between the stereotype of Japanese hyper-competency and the abject failure of institutions to effectively address the immediate needs of the moment as these severe disasters wreaked havoc, and it exposed an inability to care for people in their darkest hours of need.

In the nuclear crisis, a lack of governmental coordination left local authorities to fend for themselves, playing catch-up in a reactive mode that left them feeling embittered and abandoned. With the COVID pandemic response, a similar dynamic has played out. Despite having experienced at close hand the SARS-COVID outbreak in 2002/2003—which, like the 2019 SARS-2-COVID pandemic, broke in China—and having been reminded by the glancing blow of the 2009 H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) and the MERS Coronavirus crisis of 2012, Japan remained woefully unprepared at a national level to deal with this emerging pandemic. Although comparatively benign “lock-downs” (largely in name only, with no strict enforcement sanctions) limited the spread of the virus, the Japanese authorities doggedly refused to implement wide-spread testing to monitor the pandemic progression, and relied primarily on a local level response whereby medical clinicians were left to their own devices to assess patients, often with no COVID testing to verify their diagnoses, except in the most extreme cases.11

Japan has no national level coordinating body for infectious disease (comparable to the WHO or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.), and thus little guidance was given to medical authorities as to what actions were necessary. The political messaging also reflected this, with the government providing periodic announcements while remaining obstinately reactive to the pandemic as it worked its way through the population. With the penultimate date of the Olympics approaching, the Japanese authorities dithered until they were eventually forced to concede to reality and cancel the Olympics. As the COVID pandemic was amplifying in 2020, this may have been the most prudent decision, but then having had this dress rehearsal and a year-long intermission before the Olympics were set to restart in the summer of 2021, the most obvious mitigating action of vaccinating the population was delayed. A couple of months shy of the start of the 2020 Olympics, Japan still had not implemented a wide-spread testing regime or distributed vaccines. Only 3% of the population had been vaccinated by this time – the lowest among affluent countries by far – and what vaccines that had been given targeted those over the age of 65.

Japan enforced a strict exclusionary policy of closing the borders for immigration, allowing only Japanese nationals and long-term residents with occupation-specific visas to enter the country. At the same time, it was obstinately committed to holding the games despite every indication that it would be a logistical shambles and public opinion polls showing that 80% of the population was opposed to holding the Olympics, it was prohibiting immigration, with the result being that no foreign fans were present. As the virus continued to spread, it was decided that even local Japan-based fans could not attend except in limited circumstances and venues. Japan had great incentive to act decisively on “best-policy” practices and had all the essential information to make informed decisions, both to package the Olympics in a coherent and safe manner, and to protect its population from this insidious disease. And yet, with a series of embarrassing off-brand mishaps that highlighted the tone-deaf messaging of the Tokyo Organising Committee, it let opportunity after opportunity slip by with an almost fatalistic concession to circumstances as though they were beyond their control. They weren’t. Now, as with Fukushima, it is a time of reckoning, and an occasion to reflect on lessons unlearned, a lack of institutional accountability and reform and the consequences of governmental dysfunction and neglect.

In his classic work on suicide, the sociologist Émile Durkheim discussed anomie, a state or condition of normlessness, in which social values and norms are disrupted by social change, leading to a state of moral confusion. This well characterizes the decade following the 3.11 disasters in Japan: the economic disruption, loss of faith in government and legal authority, the disorientation of survivors, a spike in suicide and a general malaise as the Tōhoku region recovers from the tsunami and the Fukushima area is decontaminated and warily reinhabited by returning evacuees. Written over a century ago, Durkheim’s work seems prophetic as it encapsulates the anomic times Japan has experienced through the 3.11 disasters and the COVID viral pandemic, with the sideshow of the Olympics failing to provide the grand narrative of recovery that might have helped redeem State authority and mark a transition point to a return to normalcy. In this light, Durkheim’s words seem not only an indictment of the pursuit of economic solutions to social problems, but a commentary on the 2011 triple-disasters on top of the de facto triple-disasters of 3.11, COVID and the Olympics. Durkheim writes:

“The sphere of trade and industry… instead of being still regarded as a means to an end transcending itself, has become the supreme end of individuals and societies alike. Thereupon the appetites thus excited have become freed of any limiting authority. By sanctifying them, so to speak, this apotheosis of well-being has placed them above human law. Their restraint seems like a sort of sacrilege. So long as the producer could gain his profits only in his immediate neighborhood, the restricted amount of possible gain could not overexcite ambition. Now that he may assume to have the entire world as his customer, how could passions accept their former confinement in the face of such limitless prospects?… From top to bottom of the ladder, greed is aroused without knowing where to find ultimate foothold. Nothing can calm it, since its goal is far beyond all it can attain. Reality seems valueless by comparison with the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is therefore abandoned…”12


Aven, T. (2015) ‘Implications of black swans to the foundations and practice of risk assessment and management,’ Reliability Engineering & System Safety, 134, pp. 83-91.

Casto, C.A. (2018) Station blackout: Inside the Fukushima nuclear disaster and recovery. Radius Book Group.

Downer, J. (2014) ‘Disowning Fukushima: Managing the credibility of nuclear reliability assessment in the wake of disaster.’ Regulation & Governance, 8(3), pp. 287-309.

Durkheim, E. (1951) Suicide: A study in sociology. Translated by J. Spaulding and G. Simpson. The Free Press.

Erikson, K. T. (1995) A new species of trouble: The human experience of modern disasters. WW Norton & Company.

Funabashi, Y. (2021) Meltdown: Inside the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Brookings Institution Press.

Haruta, J., Horiguchi, S., Miyachi, J., Teruyama, J., Kimura, S., Iida, J., Ozone, S., Goto, R., Kaneko, M. and Hama, Y. (2021) ‘Primary care physicians’ narratives on COVID‐19 responses in Japan: Professional roles evoked under a pandemic, Journal of General and Family Medicine.

Johnson, D.T., Fukurai, H. and Hirayama, M. (2020) ‘Reflections on the TEPCO trial: Prosecution and acquittal after Japan’s nuclear meltdown’ The Asia‐Pacific Journal, 18(2), pp. 1-35.

Kadota, R. (2014) On the brink: The inside story of Fukushima Daiichi. Kurodahan Press.

Marx Engels Internet Archive. (1995) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte [Online]. Accessed: June 5, 2021. 

Muto R., and Field, N. (2020) “This will still be true tomorrow: Fukushima ain’t got the time for Olympic games: Two texts on nuclear disaster and pandemic,” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 18(13), no. 2, pp. 1-20.

Ronalds, P. (2019) ‘The ruptures of rhetoric: Cool Japan, Tokyo 2020 and post-3.11 Tōhoku,’ The Japan Foundation: New voices in Japanese Studies, 11, pp. 26-46.

Sakaki, A. and Lukner, K. (2013) ‘Introduction to special issue: Japan’s crisis management amid growing complexity: In search of new approaches,’ Japanese Journal of Political Science, 14(2), pp. 155-176.

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, 2020. [Online] Accessed July 6, 2021.



Casto, C.A., 2018.2

Funabashi, Y., 2021. 3

Johnson, D.T., Fukurai, H. and Hirayama, M., 2020. 4

World Nuclear Association, 2021. 5

Kadota, R., 2014. Kadota was the only journalist to interview Daiichi plant manager Yoshida Masao before his untimely death by cancer (not attributable to the Fukushima disaster, according to TEPCO). Kadota’s book promotes a narrative of epic heroism by “The Fukushima 50,” a self-selected group of operational staff at the plant who elected to stay on to fight the battle despite facing the prospect of lethal radiation doses if they remained. This was the basis for a major production film as well. 6

Erikson, K.T., 1995. 7

Ruiko, M., and Field, N., 2020.8

Ronalds, P., 2019.9

Sakaki, A. and Lukner, K., 2013.10

Marx Engels Internet Archive, 1995.11

Haruta, et al., 2021.12

Durkheim, E. 1951, p. 279.

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Media Coverage of Fukushima, Ten Years Later.

Martin Fackler

Abstract: When taking up the unlearned lessons of Fukushima, one of the biggest may have been the need for more robust oversight of the nuclear industry. In Japan, the failure of the major national news media to scrutinize the industry and hold it accountable was particularly glaring. Despite their own claims to serve as watchdogs on officialdom, the major media have instead covered Japan’s powerful nuclear industry with a mix of silent complicity and outright boosterism. This is true both before and after the Fukushima disaster. In the decades after World War II, when the nuclear industry was established, media played an active role in overcoming public resistance to atomic energy and winning at least passive acceptance of it as a science-based means for Japan to secure energy autonomy.

During the Fukushima disaster, the media served government objectives such as preservation of social order by playing down the size of the accident and severity of radiological releases, resulting in widely divergent coverage from serious overseas media. While a short-lived proliferation of more critical and independent coverage followed the disaster, the old patterns returned with a vengeance after the installment of the pro-nuclear administration of Abe Shinzō. This article will examine the roots of the Japanese media’s failure to challenge or scrutinize the nuclear industry, and how this complicity has played out in the post-Fukushima era. It will use a historical analysis to look at how the current patterns of media coverage were actually established in the immediate postwar period, and the formation of public support for civilian nuclear power. 

During my 15 years as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo, including a six-year stint as Tokyo bureau chief of The New York Times (2009-2015), I often covered the same news events as Japanese journalists, standing shoulder-to-shoulder at more press conferences than we’d care to count. While I admire many Japanese colleagues individually as journalists, I was frequently struck by the shortcomings of Japan’s big domestic media and Japanese journalism as an institution. 

But never did I feel these structural weaknesses as keenly as I did in the tense weeks that followed the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

In Minami-soma, a city 25 kilometers north of the stricken plant, where some 20,000 remaining residents were cut off from supplies of food, fuel and medicines, I discovered that journalists from major Japanese media were nowhere to be seen. They had withdrawn from Minami-soma, forbidden by their editors in Tokyo from approaching within 30 or 40 kilometers of Fukushima Daiichi. 

By doing so, they had essentially abandoned the already isolated residents. But you would never know that from the media’s stories, which made no mention of their own pull out or the perceived risks that had prompted this retreat. Instead, the main newspaper articles uniformly repeated official reassurances that there was no cause for alarm because the radiation posed “no immediate danger to human health,” as the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Edano Yukio, so famously put it.1

The mismatch between word and deed—between what the newspapers were telling their audiences and what they were actually doing to protect their own journalists—was glaring. It turned out that this was only the first of several instances during the Fukushima disaster where I witnessed Japan’s major media adhering to the official narrative regardless of the facts on the ground. I refer to this phenomenon as “media capture,” borrowing from the more widely used term “regulatory capture,” which is used to describe a similar failure of government oversight of the nuclear industry.

Over the months and years that followed the meltdowns, I saw numerous instances of national media refusing to take a critical or distanced stance in their coverage of the nuclear industry and its government regulators. Instead, they repeatedly chose to internalize the official narratives and even adhere to the government-approved language. We saw this is the widely diverging narratives that started appearing in the serious foreign press versus the major domestic media as the accident worsened. 

To cite a straightforward example, we started using the word “meltdown” within hours of the first reactor building explosion at the plant, reflecting the almost unanimous view of outside experts that a melting fuel core was the only realistic source of the hydrogen that caused the blast. However, the domestic national dailies and NHK avoided the word “meltdown” (in Japanese, merutodaun) for months, following the insistence of the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI), the powerful government agency that both promoted and regulated Japan’s nuclear industry, that a meltdown had not been confirmed. The big Japanese media used other official euphemisms as well, including “explosion-like event” to describe the massive blast at the Unit 3 reactor building, which blew chunks of concrete hundreds of feet into the air. 

In fact, I even had Japanese journalists calling me to berate me and my newspaper for using the M-word without METI’s permission. Readers of the Japanese national dailies didn’t see the M-word until mid-May, when METI and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO, conceded in public that Fukushima Daiichi had indeed suffered a meltdown in mid-March—three meltdowns, in fact.

In the chapter that I wrote for Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context, I tried to explain some of the reasons why the civilian nuclear power industry could have such a peculiarly strong grip on the media and their narratives. The nuclear industry was a national project that was promoted by the powerful central ministries as a silver bullet for resource-poor Japan’s dependence on imported energy. This gave it an elevated status as the elite bureaucrats guided Japan’s postwar recovery and economic take-off.

I looked at the media’s dependence on Tokyo’s powerful central ministries, which takes its most visible form in the so-called kisha kurabu, or “press clubs.” These are arrangements that allow national media to station their journalists inside the ministries and agencies, where they are given their own room and exclusive access to officials. Much of the reporting by the major Japanese media starts in the kisha kurabu, where journalists gather to wait for the next press conference or off-record briefing from officials. The kisha kurabu system fosters a passive form of journalism, in which reporters become dependent on the ministry within which they are embedded. In pursuit of a scoop that can make or break a career, the journalists compete for handouts from ministry officials. All too often, they enter a Faustian bargain in which the journalists swap narrative control in exchange for exclusive access to information. The result is a passive form of access journalism that ends up repeating spoon-fed official narratives. 

I also looked to the past at the emergence of newspapers like the Asahi Shimbun during the early to mid-Meiji era, when the national priority was to protect autonomy by finding a way to catch the industrialized West. I argued that this history baked into the mindset of Japanese journalists a feeling of responsibility for the fate of their nation, including its vital energy needs. It also led to an identification with the government, and particularly the elite officialdom, as protectors of Japan and its people from predatory foreign powers. This inclination to side with the state has continued in the postwar period, when journalists have clearly seen themselves as members of a national elite attached to a broader bureaucratic-led system. 

One point that I wanted to underscore was that this media capture was not something so simple or venal as corruption. This is how it is often portrayed by critical Japanese writers, usually freelancers and book authors, who focus on the so-called Nuclear Village, a nexus of business, government, labor unions, academia and news media linked by the cash flowing out of the highly profitable nuclear plants. While money doubtlessly plays a role in many of these relationships, including perhaps the for-profit commercial TV broadcasters, I see no direct evidence that it sways the coverage of the national newspapers. These are privately held companies for whom advertising is a much less important revenue source than subscriptions (or the rent from their valuable real estate holdings in central Tokyo and Osaka).

Regardless of the cause, the result has been generations of postwar journalists who have consistently failed to serve as watchdogs on one of the nation’s most politically powerful industries.2 Starting in the 1990s, public scandals started plaguing the industry, and TEPCO in particular. In 2002, government inspectors announced that TEPCO had been routinely falsifying safety reports to hide minor incidents and equipment problems at reactors including several at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO eventually admitted to more than 200 such violations stretching back to 1977. Five years later, TEPCO revealed even more cover-ups of safety issues, which the company had failed to report in the previous inquiry. 

Despite what was clearly a chronic and systemic failure of both internal compliance and government oversight, no one was arrested or charged, and the existing regulatory framework left unchanged. The media could have played a role of holding the regulators’ feet to the fire by exposing the structural problems behind this abysmal record of obfuscation and cover-ups. Instead, the watchdogs chose to remain largely silent, reporting on the government’s revelations, but making few efforts at independent investigative reporting.

Of course, such criticisms enjoy the benefits of hindsight, with the accident in 2011 making it easier to see these failures as part of a broader narrative that leads inevitably to Fukushima. But how about after 2011, when the severity of the disaster led to numerous calls for reform? During that time, the national media have also been held up to uncomfortable scrutiny by a jaded and distrustful public, who felt betrayed by their early coverage of the accident. 

Unfortunately, ten years later, nothing seems to have changed.

This was apparent in mid-April of 2021, when the Japanese government announced a decision to release into the Pacific Ocean more than 1.2 million tons of radioactive water that has been building up in hundreds of huge metal tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (The accumulation of contaminated water has plagued the plant from the early days of the disaster. TEPCO has resorted to some high-tech solutions with mixed results, including a mile-long “ice wall” of frozen dirt that failed to fully block the water, much of which flows into the plant from underground.) 

The water stored in these tanks contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is best known for its military use as the fuel for thermonuclear warheads (hence the term “hydrogen bomb”). On the spectrum of radioactive substances, tritium emits relatively low levels of radiation in form of beta particles. But it is a radioactive substance nonetheless, a fact that major media played down or even omitted by choosing, once again, to adopt the industry and government’s language to describe the dump. The main news stories in the major national newspapers and TV broadcasts used the official term for this water, which is shorisui, or “treated water.”

While technically correct, this term euphemistically glosses over the fact that this is not the same as, say, treated sewage water. Nor does treated water convey the fact that this water still contains a radionuclide that emits beta radiation. 

One result was an interesting battle of words that pitted the mainstream media, which used the approved “treated water,” against journalists who were outside the press club’s inner circle. These publications and web sites chose to use clearer terms such as osensui, or “contaminated water.” The leftist daily Tokyo Shimbun, a smaller regional newspaper that has stood out for its more critical coverage of the nuclear disaster, compromised by calling the water osenshorisui, or “contaminated treated water.”3

More eye-opening was the fact that there were actually efforts to enforce use of the officially approved term. As many journalists discovered, there was an army of social media trolls at ready to pile onto anyone with the temerity to use more critical terminology, and particularly “contaminated water.” TEPCO and the government mobilized university experts and PR professionals to police the public sphere for use of words that were deemed “unscientific” and “ideological.”

Of course, the choice of the word “treated” is itself also highly political. It buttressed the larger message put forth by the government and the plant’s operator that the release of this water was no cause for alarm, but something very common and normal that nuclear plants around the world do all the time. By accepting the official terminology, the media were implicitly adopting this framing of the issue, which focused on the claim that the water could be diluted to the point of being harmless when dumped into the Pacific.

Scientifically, this is a valid claim. My point here is not to take sides. Rather, I am criticizing the large domestic media for failing to do the same: i.e., not take sides. By adopting the official narrative, the media were complicit in the government’s and TEPCO’s exclusion of other, also valid counterarguments. One of the biggest is the fact that this release is anything but normal. No nuclear plant has ever conducted an orchestrated release of such a huge quantity of tritium-laden water. (At the time of writing, the amount, 1.2 million tons, is enough to fill almost 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.) Worse, the release is to be carried out in the same closed, opaque manner as the rest of Japan’s decade-long response to the disaster. Unless TEPCO and METI break with past precedent to allow full international oversight to verify that the water is as clean as they claim it is, we are left once again to trust actors who have consistently violated public faith. 

Just as importantly, there are valid reasons to at least question whether the water is as clean as TEPCO says it is. The company has been telling us for years that it has installed state-of-the-art treatment and filtration technologies that scrub the water of every radioactive particle except tritium. However, in 2018, the plant operator suddenly revealed that 75% of the treated water at the plant still contained excessive amounts of other, more radioactive substances including strontium 90, a dangerous isotope that can embed itself in the living tissue of human bones.4

To be fair, TEPCO may be right in its assessment of the water’s safety. Even so, it is the job of conscientious journalists to take a skeptical attitude toward such claims until they can be independently verified. The media also need to remind why this is necessary, given the company’s and the industry’s history of cover-ups. My goal here is to fault the major domestic media for once again failing to do this, despite the bitter lessons of 2011. Adopting the language of METI and TEPCO privileges the official perspective over others. It shows that the journalists are internalizing the official framing of the event and how it should be discussed and understood. 

Officialdom is thus allowed to set the boundaries of public debate, excluding more critical perspectives as “political,” “unscientific” or even “foreign.” The last characterization reflects the fact that the Chinese and South Korean governments raised some of the loudest objections to the release. The media have tended to frame these as the latest in a litany of self-serving complaints by Asian rivals that like to accuse Japan of failing to apologize for World War II-era atrocities. While Beijing and Seoul may have political motives for seizing on the water issue, this shouldn’t be a reason for journalists to avoid taking up more substantive criticisms about the release. Opposition has appeared in many other countries and reflects the failure of Japan to consult with other nations that share the Pacific Ocean, which will be the site of the mass water dump. 

This is a failure by media, once again, to inform their readers of the existence of alternative narratives that take a dimmer view of the actions taken by Japan’s officialdom, or that point out where government interests diverge from those of Japan’s public. This is also a failure of a different sort: of media to protect their own intellectual independence. By uncritically adopting the official narratives, the journalists are relinquishing the right to frame in their issues. This surrendering of agency is the central fact of the media capture that I described above.

To be clear, Japan is not unique in suffering from the problem of media capture. The press in other democratic countries face similar challenges. In the United States, we use the term “access journalism” to describe the pitfalls of journalists, often in Washington, who trade autonomy for exclusive access to official sources. However, Japan’s version of access journalism is more extreme, producing a uniformly monolithic coverage closer to that in non-democratic societies. The most apt American equivalent may be the period of extreme patriotic fervor between the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when U.S. media failed to adequately challenge the erroneous claims of the Bush administration that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction.

In Japan’s ongoing Fukushima disaster, this lack of agency manifests itself as a failure to not only set the narrative, but even to decide what is newsworthy. Most of the coverage is essentially an act of regurgitating the information that was distributed at the ministry’s kisha kurabu. Since the news reports are based on information received from ministry officials, not surprisingly they usually showcase the actions of those officials. Both the pages of Japan’s national dailies and the evening news broadcasts of NHK are filled with stories of Japanese officialdom in action, solving some problem or punishing some wrongdoer. Most news reports are mini-dramas in which officials play the starring role. As such, they serve as demonstrations that agency lies in the elite bureaucracies at the center of the postwar Japanese state, and not the major media, which seems to serve as an appendage. 

Even when critical stories appear, they are rarely the work of enterprising reporters unearthing facts that the powerful would rather keep covered. Rather, the revelations tend to come from official actors when they have decided to take action against malfeasance. One example was TEPCO’s cover-ups, mentioned earlier, which were exposed by nuclear regulators, not investigative reporters. A more recent example is revelations that started to become public in March 2021 of years of security lapses at the huge Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata, facing the Sea of Japan. Over the next two months, news stories dribbled out about workers who were able to access the sensitive areas around the plant’s nuclear reactors without proper ID. In one case in 2015, a man entered the reactor area using the ID of his father, who also worked at the plant. Once again, there lapses were not exposed by intrepid reporters but regulators themselves, who leaked them to prepare the public for their decision to reject TEPCO’s request to restart the plant.5

The lack of media agency is all the more glaring because there have been very notable exceptions. Japan’s journalists have shown that they are capable of true investigative reporting that can define and drive the public narrative. For a brief window of time during the early years of the Fukushima disaster, some major Japanese media experimented with more autonomous journalism. This began in the late summer of 2011, as public disillusionment in the domestic press’s compliant coverage grew. This prompted some media to try to re-engage readers with more hard-hitting reports that challenged the official claims.

The most notable of these efforts was launched by the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest daily, which beefed up a new reporting group dedicated to investigative journalism. (By investigative journalism, I mean journalists taking the initiative to pry out hidden truths and assemble these into original, factual narratives that challenge the versions of reality put forth by the powerful.) The Asahi’s investigative division got off to a strong start by winning Japan’s most prestigious press award two years in a row. It scored what it trumpeted as its biggest coup in May 2014, when two of its reporters wrote a front-page story that exposed the dangerously poor crisis management at the plant as it teetered on the brink of catastrophe. The story revealed that the government had hidden testimony by the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s manager during the accident, Yoshida Masao, who later died of cancer. It also recounted what it said was the most explosive revelation of this secret testimony: that hundreds of workers and staff had fled the crippled plant at the most dangerous point in the disaster, despite the fact that Yoshida never gave them the order to leave.

However, the Asahi erred by giving the story a misleading headline, which left readers with the impression that the workers had fled in defiance of Yoshida’s order to stay. (In fact, Yoshida himself says in the testimony that his order didn’t reach these workers—a stunning breakdown in command and control that was lost in the subsequent blow up over the article.) This misstep gave critics the opening that they needed to try to discredit the entire story, and by extension the newspaper’s proactive coverage of the disaster. A host of critics, including the prime minister himself and the rest of the mainstream media, set upon the Asahi with unusual ferocity. After weeks of withering attacks, which essentially accused the newspaper of lacking patriotism and of belittling the heroic plant workers, the Asahi’s president made a dramatic surrender in September 2014, retracting the entire article, gutting the investigative team and resigning his own job to take responsibility for the fiasco.6

Thus marked the end of the Asahi’s short-lived foray into investigative journalism, which I have described in more detail in this journal.7 Suffice it to say here that when forced to make a choice, the Asahi, the nation’s leading liberal voice favored by the intelligentsia, chose to remain on the boat. To preserve the privileged insider status as a member of the kisha kurabu media, the newspaper chose to sacrifice not only its biggest reporting accomplishment of the disaster, but also the journalists who produced it, who were sent into humiliating internal exile. For years afterward, the newspaper shunned proactive reporting on Fukushima, staying within safe confines of the official storyline.

The Asahi’s biggest mistake was its failure to stand behind its journalists. Investigative reporting is by nature a highly risky undertaking, and one that pits a handful of underpaid journalists against some of the most powerful members of society. By not only failing to stand up for its investigative reporters but trying to scapegoat them by punishing them for the mistakes in coverage, the Asahi sent a chilling message to all mainstream journalists: Newspapers don’t have your back. In such an environment, what journalists in their right mind would want to challenge the powers that be?

Admirably, some of the Asahi’s investigative reporters did stand their ground even at the cost of their careers at the newspaper. Soon after the debacle, two of the investigative group’s top reporters quit to launch Japan’s first NGO dedicated to investigative journalism, which in 2021 was renamed Tokyo Investigative Newsroom Tansa.8 Another resigned to join Facta, a Japanese magazine dedicated to investigative coverage (and offering stories that cannot be found in the large national newspapers). These decisions to place principle over company and career underscore my broader point: The sources of Japan’s media capture are bigger than the individual reporters and embedded in the structure of media institutions and the practice in Japan of journalism itself. 

The Asahi’s capitulation in 2014 marked the end of not just the Asahi’s but all the mainstream media’s efforts to create new, more critical narratives of the Fukushima disaster. These days, most reporting tends to fall into one of a few prepackaged, safely uncontroversial storylines. There is the Fukushima 50 narrative of successfully overcoming Japan’s biggest trial since World War II. Another is the “baseless rumors” (fuhyō higai) narrative, which casts fears of radiation as over-exaggerated, and usually the creation of women, leftists and foreigners. 

Journalists have told me that the Asahi’s surrender created a powerful prohibition on critical coverage. Having seen what happened to Japan’s leading liberal newspaper, and the star reporters there who lost their careers, few journalists have the stomach to challenge the status quo. The result is a grim new conformity. 

Adding to the pressure to toe the line has been the appearance post-Fukushima of another new, problem-plagued national project: the Tokyo Summer Olympics, originally scheduled for 2020. Coverage of the Olympics has again tended to adhere to official narratives, even as public misgivings grew in Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s decision to go forward with the Games a year later, in 2021, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

From the start, the government has used the Olympics to divert attention from Fukushima while proclaiming that the disaster is now in the past. While there has been critical coverage, it has been the exception and not the rule. Indeed, the media’s silence was deafening when the previous prime minister, Abe Shinzō, told the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires in September 2013 that the plant’s “situation was under control,” even as contaminated water was then still bleeding into the Pacific. 

By failing to take the initiative in Fukushima, the media have ended up supporting official efforts to use the Games to put the lid back on the nuclear disaster. The Olympics have become yet one more means for Japan’s elites to regain control of the public sphere, or at least the part of it controlled by the big legacy media. (They have had less success asserting control over the much more anarchic and anonymous world of social media.)

The media’s reluctance to challenge the government has also been apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m still waiting for the investigative articles that expose the truth behind Tokyo’s biggest failures during the pandemic. The major media emitted barely a peep in response to the government’s blatantly discriminatory decision during the first six months of the pandemic to close Japan’s borders to all foreign nationals, including long-term residents, while allowing Japanese nationals to come and go. More importantly, I would be the first in line to read an investigative exposé into what delayed the roll out of vaccines in Japan.

All too often, coverage of COVID-19 ended up repeating the pattern that we saw in Fukushima. The media once again surrendered their biggest public asset: their power to challenge the official narrative and expose the facts that officials don’t want us to know. Instead, the major domestic media once again show themselves more interested in preserving their privileged insider status. By doing so, they once again do a disservice of their readers.

The need to serve their readers by finding an independent and critical voice should have been the media’s biggest takeaway from Fukushima. Instead, they appear to be merely repeating the mistakes of a decade ago.


Brown, A. and Darby, I. (2021) ‘Plan to discharge Fukushima plant water into sea sets a dangerous precedent’, The Japan Times, April 25 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Fackler, M. (2016) ‘Sinking a bold foray into watchdog journalism in Japan’, Columbia Journalism Review [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Fackler, M. (2016) ‘The Asahi Shimbun’s failed foray into watchdog journalism’, The Asia Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 14(24) [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Jomaru, Y. (2012) Genpatsu to media shinbun jānarizumu ni dome no haiboku [Nuclear Power and the Media: The Second Defeat of Newspaper Journalism]. Tokyo: Asahi Shimbun Shuppan.

Kyodo. (2021) ‘Another security breach at Tepco nuclear plant uncovered’, The Japan Times, May 9 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021. 

Ogawa, S. (2021) ‘Fukushima dai ichi genpatsu no osen shorisui, seifu ga kaiyō hōshutsu no hōshin o kettei e 1 3 nichi ni mo kanei kakuryō kaigi [Government Moving Toward Decision to Release the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant’s Contaminated Treated Water in the Ocean], Tokyo Shimbun, April 9 [Online]. Accessed: June 25, 2021.

Tansa. (2021) Tokyo investigative newsroom Tansa [Online]. Accessed: June 4, 2021.



SankeiNews (2011). “Edano kanbōchō kankaiken No1 ‘Tadachi ni kenkō shigai wa denai…’” [Chief Cabinet Secretary Press Conference Edano No1 ‘No Immediate Health Damage’]) [Online Video]. Accessed: August 23, 2011.2

Jomaru, 2012.3

Ogawa, 2021.4

Brown and Darby, 2021.5

Kyodo, 2021.6

Fackler, 2016.7

Fackler, 2016.8

Tansa, 2021.

September 8, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021, Japan, media | , , | Leave a comment