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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Fukushima Workers Tell The Harrowing Story Of How They Tamed One Of The World’s Worst Nuclear Disasters

When the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant overheated in March 2011, these heroic workers stepped in. To this day, most people are unaware of their achievements.


This story, by Fukushima Central Television, Co., Ltd., was published in partnership with HuffPost Japan and is translated from the original Japanese footage.

In 2011, three nuclear reactors melted down, provoking a series of hydrogen explosions and resulting in the world’s most severe nuclear accident. It happened in Japan, which had been long celebrated as a technology powerhouse.

At the time of the accident, the site became a veritable death trap, with extremely high levels of radioactivity and chunks of concrete from the explosion raining down on workers. And yet, there were some who remained on the ground to try and bring the overheating nuclear power plant to a halt.

“I just couldn’t run away when my country was about to sink,” one of the workers said. If this story can be told at all, it is precisely thanks to those who faced one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters out of a sense of pride in their country’s technology, attachment to the community and loyalty to their jobs.

The magnitude 9 Great East Japan Earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time on March 11, 2011. Soon after, a large tsunami hit the ground level of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which consisted of six nuclear reactors.

Satoru Umematsu, a veteran electrical engineer who had taken part in building the ground floor, was there when it happened. Umematsu was 60 at the time, and fast approaching retirement age.

When the nuclear power plant’s power transmission tower was knocked down by the force of the earthquake, causing the loss of external power supply, emergency generators kicked in, ensuring that cooling pumps could continue to function.

When the tsunami struck, however, the emergency generators of reactors 1 through 4, located about 33 feet (10 meters) above sea level, were flooded and stopped working.

When Umematsu rushed to the plant’s earthquake-proof building, about 115 feet (35 meters) above sea level, where the emergency response room was set up, it was packed with people. Inside, ashen-faced power plant executives were bustling around in a frenzy.

A Strategy Forms

As Umematsu and the others realized that the reactors could no longer be cooled down, they moved to secure a vehicle-mounted generator and power cables in order to generate electricity and restore the power supply.

“It was unimaginable that a nuclear power plant would lose all power. So, when it did actually happen, we were overcome by a tremendous sense of urgency,” he said.

For Umematsu, who had experienced all kinds of situations at different job sites in the course of his career, this crisis was an absolute first.

After graduating from junior high school and acquiring engineering skills at a vocational training center, Umematsu had accumulated over 40 years of experience in electrical construction sites, including power generation dams and nuclear power plants. He was familiar with most electrical systems in nuclear power plants. He was proud of the technological capabilities Japan had acquired after World War II and would proudly tell his relatives of his work at the nuclear power plant. He was relied upon by subordinates and colleagues, who respectfully referred to him as “Ume-san.”

Satoru Umematsu belonged to an electric construction group, affiliated company of TEPCO.
Satoru Umematsu belonged to an electric construction group, affiliated company of TEPCO.

In order to complete their task in the shortest possible time, Umematsu and his crew devised a simple strategy. To restore the power supply, they would park the vehicle-mounted generator next to the reactor building and link it to the nuclear power plant by connecting the power cables.

Opening A Path For The Truck-Mounted Generator

However, even the task of moving the truck-mounted generator closer to the reactor building was a daunting one. All kinds of debris and rubble brought by the tsunami littered the area around the reactor building, obstructing the passage of vehicles.

It wasn’t the power plant staff, the Self-Defense Forces, the fire department, nor the police who tackled this problem — it was a local resident.

Yoshishige Tochimoto was the managing director of a local company with about 10 employees. He was 51 at the time. When the earthquake struck, he witnessed the destruction of the nuclear power plant’s critical equipment.

Yoshishige Tochimoto.

“When the power transmission tower on the slope was brought down by the earthquake, it generated huge sparks. They were pink in color. Between 10 to 20 meters in length,” he said.

Situation of damage caused by the tsunami (Photo: TEPCO)

Tochimoto was on the premises as a subcontractor, doing seismic retrofitting work on the nuclear power plant. As he felt the ground shaking, he said he was unable to stand on his feet.

His own car was washed away by the tsunami that followed the earthquake. Luckily, his company’s excavator had suffered virtually no damage and only the caterpillar tracks had been submerged.

Wary of being exposed to radiation, Tochimoto had not actively sought out nuclear-related work in the past. But now he accidentally found himself on the scene of a nuclear disaster.

“This could be really bad, I thought,” he said.

‘I Won’t Be Gone For Long’

Workers from Tochimoto’s business and other local companies assembled in the parking lot in front of the earthquake-proof building.

They took a roll call to ensure everyone was safe. Then, the prime contractor company instructed them to “disband,” as it was feared that some of the workers would have lost some family members, or their homes would have been damaged. Tochimoto remembered what the other workers were talking about at the time.

“There was talk of opening a vent hole to prevent a hydrogen explosion,” he said.

A hydrogen explosion. He was unfamiliar with that word. The matter, however, seemed completely unrelated to him.

Exhaust tower of Units 1 and 2 (Photo: TEPCO)

Worried about his wife and children, he decided to go back to his home, approximately 8 miles (13 kilometers) away. Since his car at the nuclear power plant had been washed away by the tsunami, he asked an acquaintance for a ride home.

What would normally be a 30-minute ride ended up taking them two hours, as the road was heavily congested with people evacuating. After getting home and making sure that everyone in his family was safe, he got a call from the prime contractor company.

“Will you help us fix the nuclear power plant?”

Land side of the reactor building (Photo: TEPCO)

The roads inside the nuclear power plant were impassable by vehicles as they were covered in rubble and fissures in the asphalt had caused uneven gaps. Tochimoto thought that, if it was only a matter of fixing the road, it would not take long and he would be back home soon.

“I won’t be gone for long,” he told his family as he headed toward the Daiichi power plant. The time was around 7:30 pm.

Restoring Power, Fighting Against Fear

It took until nighttime to prepare the equipment needed to restore power. With preparations over, Umematsu gathered some young workers from the power plant and explained to them how to handle the power cables and how to route them.

The cables in question were special high-voltage cables called “Triplex,” which could suffer damage if dragged over the ground. The workers would have to connect the heavy cables, each 1-meter section weighing about 13 pounds (6 kilograms), from the truck-mounted generator parked outside the building to the power panel inside. Due to the building’s complex structure, they would have to lay the cable over a distance of about 130 meters. Many of the team’s members had no previous experience in handling that kind of equipment.

“As graduates of Japan’s most prestigious universities, they knew the theory, but had never actually connected a high-voltage cable. I was the only one who could tell them how to go about it.”

TEPCO employees recording data in the central control room of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1 and 2 (provided by NISA)

However, at around 11:00 p.m., radiation levels several tens of times higher than usual were detected inside the building of the Unit 1 reactor. The pressure on the steel “containment vessel” enclosing the reactor holding the nuclear fuel was about to exceed the permissible values. The director of the power plant immediately forbade anyone from entering the Unit 1 building. The signs were unmistakable that the feared meltdown had begun.

If the workers did not complete the operation swiftly, they too could have been exposed to lethal doses of radiation. If only the power supply could be restored, the looming crisis could be averted. It was up to Umematsu to make it possible.

“I’m pretty sure we were all scared. Extremely scared,” he said. “But being scared is different from being hesitant. Some were actually hesitant and did not want to go. We were certainly scared. Incredibly scared. After all, we were going to an unknown site. However, while being scared, we behaved normally.”

Unit 2 Central Control Room, which became pitch black due to a power outage (provided by NISA)

Since Umematsu was not a regular power plant employee, normally he would have been advised to go home. Instead, the power plant managers, relying on his skills, asked him to stay. Umematsu could have walked away while he still did not know how much radiation he would be exposed to. Instead, he chose to listen to his heart.

“I knew my skills were about to be put to the test,” he said. “I was glad my know-how could be of help in such a situation. When your country is as likely to stay afloat as it is to sink, you can’t quit just because you’re scared or because radiation levels are high.”

At that point, he still hadn’t been able to contact his wife and children. Nonetheless, as an engineer, he decided to throw himself into the task and went to work near the reactor building.

An Unsung Achievement

The truck-mounted generator, however, was still a long way away from being able to approach the reactor building. The road had yet to be repaired in order to make that possible. Fissures in the road caused height differences as much as a meter high. Tochimoto’s team studied the situation and considered what to do.

A proposal was made to bring in gravel from a nearby quarry to fill in the gaps, but was abandoned because it would have taken too long. Tochimoto thought that, as long as vehicles could pass, anything would do.

When he tried to turn the key to his company’s excavator, the engine came to life. Using the tip of the excavator’s bucket, he began to strip the asphalt coating in the parts of the road where the gaps were. He then proceeded to remove the gravel from under the paved surface and to press the surface down so as to create a gently sloping incline, at which point it looked as if a car might just be able to go through.

Removal of rubble by heavy machinery (Photo: TEPCO)

“While I was trying to open a road with the excavator, most of the people were actually watching me,” he said.

It seems that it was only thanks to Tochimoto and his excavator that the road was fixed. In just three hours, working by himself, he managed to repair the road inside the nuclear power plant so that vehicles could reach the reactor building.

Had Tochimoto not been there, it wouldn’t have been possible for the truck-mounted generator to approach the building to restore power, nor for fire engines to reach the same building and try to cool down the reactor.

To this day, most people are unaware of his achievement.

Because the road was fixed quickly, vehicles were able to reach the area around the reactor building by midnight. In the following hours, Tochimoto joined forces with workers from other companies to remove the rubble scattered around the reactor building.

A week after the accident, when a Hyper Rescue Team from the Tokyo Fire Department entered the area to cool off the fuel, one of its leaders said: “We were utterly surprised to see how the area surrounding the power plant had been cleared of debris to the point that not a single stone was visible, and our vehicles were able to approach without a hitch.”

Situation of rubble scattered by the explosion (provided by the Ministry of Defense)

The Real Risky Work Begins

Around midnight, a movable generator and a truck loaded with high-voltage cables smashed the nuclear protection gate and headed toward the reactor building.

Directing operations was Umematsu, the veteran engineer. He was hoping that, by connecting the movable generator to the power supply point near the Unit 1 reactor building, power could be restored, and the cooling pumps could start functioning once again.

The power cable was laid out near the reactor building, where radiation levels kept rising. The riskiest part of the work was about to begin.

Unit 2 power supply room (photographed by TEPCO)

Their efforts, however, had to be repeatedly interrupted as magnitude 4 and 5 aftershocks followed one after another. After a tsunami of such enormity, it was only natural that the area would have to be evacuated every time a tremor hit. Umematsu was getting impatient.

“We could have restored the power supply in five or six hours. However, we had to stop working and leave every time an aftershock struck, so things hardly moved at all. We went at it all night long, but most of the time we were sitting on our hands,” he said.

Radiation Levels 30,000 Times Higher Than Normal

A few hours have passed. At a press conference at 3 a.m. on March 12, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary at the time, announced that he instructed workers to open a vent to release the pressure accumulated inside the Unit 1 reactor. Unless internal pressure is lowered in the reactor, he explained, the entire steel pressure vessel enclosing the nuclear fuel will explode. If that were to happen, huge amounts of radioactive material would be scattered across the surrounding area.

However, opening the required valve to ventilate the reactor building was an extremely difficult operation. The power plant operators assembled a “suicide squad” that rushed to where the valve was located, but radiation levels were so high that they had to turn back.

Umematsu wearing a mask and white protective clothes in the bus heading to the site.

Around 6 a.m., just outside the building, Umematsu’s crew began full-scale operations to connect the power cable. Umematsu used a phone to report on progress to the emergency response office. As reception was poor, he kept moving around looking for a place where it would be easier to talk.

Without realizing it, he ended up nearby the exhaust tower through which steam exited the vent. At exactly the same time, efforts to open the valve from the outside finally succeeded.

Steam containing huge amounts of radioactive particles instantly rushed out of the exhaust tower, thoroughly irradiating Umematsu. “When I was near the exhaust tower, the dosimeter, which had been unresponsive for a while, suddenly came back to life with a loud BEEEEP. While cursing my luck, I had no choice but to continue working,” he said.

Japanese law sets maximum exposure levels for the general public at less than 1 millisievert per year (approximately 0.0027 millisieverts per day). Umematsu, on the other hand, was exposed to over 80 millisieverts in just one day.

Just As The Cable Was Connected …

The release vent is believed to have been successfully opened around 2:30 p.m. on March 12. Immediately after, efforts to connect the power cables, which had continued throughout the night, came to a successful completion.

It was now simply a matter of turning on the movable generator to restore power. Umematsu’s crew, in order to exchange places with the group that would operate the movable generator, had to leave the area and temporarily adjourn to the emergency response office in the earthquake-proof building.

“I believe it’s the same in power plants everywhere. Before moving on to the next job, you must let everyone know and get permission. You can’t proceed solely on your own judgment,” he said. “I would always let machine operators know that I finished this task, that I performed that check, and so on, then I would clear things with my superior, and only then would I proceed to the next task.”

Rubble was scattered all over due to the hydrogen explosion (Photo: TEPCO)

It all happened exactly at moment Umematsu and his crew arrived at the emergency response office.

“It wasn’t a ‘whump,’ or a ‘thud,’ it was more like a popping sound,” he said.

At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion shook the Unit 1 reactor.

For an unknown reason, the hydrogen that had filled the reactor building suddenly caught on fire and exploded. Concrete chunks from the gutted building flew across the entire area of the nuclear reactor at tremendous speeds.

“Find an empty car!”

Umematsu was shouting at the nearby workers at the top of his lungs. Radioactive rubble and insulation material was falling from the sky. He sensed that he would be exposed to considerable amounts of radiation just by touching it.

Fukushima Central Television

A fire engine happened to be parked nearby. The workers squeezed into the front and back seats one after another. Over 10 people crammed into a space normally meant for six. They kept the door closed for about 10 minutes. Holding their breath, they waited for the pollutants to pass by.

“‘There’s no going back now. The unthinkable has happened,’ I thought to myself. At that point I felt courage sweep over me. If you are on the scene of a Chernobyl-like disaster, it makes no difference anymore whether you’re inside or outside the reactor,” Umematsu said.

The hydrogen explosion shredded the power cables.

The surrounding area was once again littered with rubble. The repair work being carried out at reactors 2 and 3 had to start anew, which led to the following crisis.

The hydrogen explosion in the Unit 1 reactor could have been averted if only power could have been immediately supplied through the cable Umematsu’s crew had connected … The future could have been different. The expression on Umematsu’s face as his thoughts wandered back to those days, betrayed a deep anguish.

“Back then, if someone could have been with me at the site to issue instructions, if someone had said to me, ‘Leave things with me here and get ready to run power through the cables the instant they are connected,’ we could have done it,” he said.

Satoru Umematsu. Fukushima Central Television

“I immensely regret that we all went up to the office, even though the cables had been connected and we were ready to go. Looking back now, I feel we may have been too complacent,” he said.

Umematsu continued to work to connect the power supply into the following day, but from March 14, his radiation exposure had been so high that he was no longer allowed to work on-site. On the 15th, he had to evacuate the area and move outside of the nuclear power plant site.

It was then that, for the first time since the earthquake, he was finally able to talk on the phone to his eldest son.

Umematsu said: “We’re really in a dire situation, but we’re not panicking yet, so don’t worry!”

One week later, Umematsu returned to the Daiichi power plant.

TEPCO Fukushima Central Television

While he was not allowed to work on-site, he could still help out by preparing food and drinks for those working on-site in a contaminated environment.
“If it hadn’t been for them, the emergency wouldn’t be over, you know.”

Stronger Than Fear, An Obligation To Help

At the time of the Unit 1 reactor explosion, Tochimoto, who had been working on repairing the road and removing rubble, was taking a break in the earthquake-proof building.

“‘What the hell is this!’ I thought. It came as a huge shock,” he said.

He waited for a few minutes and when he went outside, concrete and heat-insulating materials were scattered everywhere. Realizing that unless the area was again cleared of debris, vehicles wouldn’t be able to pass, he resumed working next to the reactor building.

“There was definitely radioactivity in the air, but I hadn’t been given a dosimeter so I had no way to tell,” he said.

Fukushima Central Television/Provided by: Ministry of Defense

Around him, some workers were scared of going to the work area, fearing that another explosion might follow. After all, who wouldn’t be afraid of working at a site rife with radiation as chunks of concrete rained down?

As for Tochimoto, however, another thought had begun to take hold in him. “Stronger than fear was the awareness that I had to do something about it. I felt I had to do everything in my power to help with the situation, even more so since I was a local,” he said.

Tochimoto was born and raised in Fukushima’s Futaba district, where the Daiichi power plant is located. Up until the time the nuclear power plant was built, the area was jokingly referred to as “the Fukushima boondocks,” because of how poor it was.

During the off-season for farmers, Tochimoto’s father would go look for work in big cities like Tokyo. In order to make ends meet and put food on the table, that’s what a lot of families had to do. As his father would only come home once a month, and sometimes not even then, Tochimoto says they never really had time together as a family.

After years of working hard away from home, his father learned how to operate a dump truck and eventually established the family’s heavy machinery company.

Fukushima Central Television

In the following years, the building of the nuclear power plant brought jobs and employment to the area, and the Tochimotos had a family life for the first time. They lived a quiet life, and the sight of his father playing with his grandchildren brought a smile to Tochimoto’s face.

“After things calmed down, my dad used to play a lot with his grandchildren. He would give them rides on his machines and play in many different ways with them. They were so cute,” he said.

The daily lives of local families, the foundation for which had been laid by his father’s generation, had prospered and continued to this day. Tochimoto recounted that while he faced extreme danger at the plant, as a local man, these memories were very strong in his mind.

To Leave Or To Go Back To The Nuclear Power Plant?

Tochimoto was once again opening a road through the rubble so vehicles could pass through. Unaware of how radioactive the scattered debris really was, he worked in close proximity to them, removing them one by one with the excavator.

At some point, the power plant’s female employees tried to evacuate from the area by minibus.

“They were already in the bus, but they couldn’t find a driver. When they asked if anybody could drive them, everyone fell quiet. Knowing that someone had to volunteer, I told them I’d do it. I felt I had to help in any way I could,” he said.

Fukushima Central Television/TEPCO

Driving the evacuation bus meant he would have to drive it back to the nuclear power plant so that more people could be evacuated again. Those being evacuated, on the other hand, would not return to the plant. He got at the wheel of the bus carrying the evacuees and headed to a junior high school outside the nuclear power plant premises. The thought of joining the evacuees himself crossed Tochimoto’s mind.

But eventually he made his way back to the nuclear power plant.

“A part of me didn’t want to go back, but there were still people working at the nuclear power plant. I headed back to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant while thinking all the time I really should be heading home,” he said.

A ‘Local Guy’ Fighting Alongside Special Forces

After returning to the nuclear power plant, Tochimoto, in addition to removing rubble, also took part in efforts to secure water to cool the reactor. They would go around the site in search of water accumulated in the facilities and transport it to the fire engine.

The system for directly cooling down the reactor was out of order at the time. They were therefore trying to cool it by connecting the fire hoses to pipes that would directly inject water into the reactor.

Fukushima Central Television/Ministry of Defense

On March 14, the Ground Self-Defense Forces arrived at the site where Tochimoto was working. It was the Central Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit, which was qualified to deal with chemical weapons, including radioactive materials.

After filling the water truck of the Self-Defense Forces with water from the pressure filter tank near the reactor building, six people, including Colonel Shinji Iwakuma, who led the unit, headed to the Unit 3 Reactor. Tochimoto and his crew were also busy pouring water from the same tank into a sprinkler truck.

“I heard a ‘BOOM!’ I looked up and I saw what resembled a mushroom cloud,” he said.

At 11:01 a.m. on March 14, a hydrogen explosion occurred in the Unit 3 reactor.

Once again, countless chunks of concrete fell down from the sky. The members of the Self-Defense Forces were directly below. Four out of six were seriously injured. One of them was bleeding and had to be urgently transported to a specialized medical center by helicopter due to the risk of internal radiation exposure. Tochimoto immediately jumped into a car and left the scene

Around the reactor building after the hydrogen explosion.
Fukushima Central Television/TEPCO

Tochimoto’s crew, in spite of witnessing two hydrogen explosions, resumed their work of removing the scattered rubble shortly after.

“I was told they were having problems at the power plant, so I was asked to help out. I couldn’t just say no. I thought I had no choice but work together with them. We had to assume we could turn things around,” he said.

Radiation levels within the nuclear power plant suddenly soared, and on the night of the 14th, Tochimoto too was finally ordered to evacuate. “Take it from here,” he said to the power plant staff, handing them the excavator’s key.

In spite of never having been closely associated with the nuclear power plant, he fought at the risk of his life until the very the last minute.

Like Umematsu, Tochimoto would later return to the Daiichi power plant. During the two weeks he was away, he learned how to remotely operate a concrete pump for injecting water into the reactor’s spent fuel pool and remained at the forefront of the efforts to resolve the emergency.

Eleven Years Later, ‘One Step At A Time, I Think Progress Is Being Made’

Following the successive meltdowns and hydrogen explosions, during a brief period of comparative calm, a system for cooling the reactor and the nuclear power plant began to be put in place. While Umematsu and Tochimoto were away, the Self-Defense Forces, the National Police Agency, the Tokyo Fire Department and the power plant’s own response team entered the site and began to work to restore power.

Thanks to them, it was finally possible to bring the overheating nuclear power plant to a halt at the last minute.

The worst-case scenario envisioned by the Japanese government, in which half of Japan would be destroyed and Tokyo itself would become uninhabitable, was thus averted by efforts on all sides.

The power plan at the center of this disaster continues to pose great risks. The nuclear fuel debris resulting from the meltdowns remains underground inside the plant. It is estimated to total about 880 tons and it continues to emit lethal doses of radiation, making it impossible for workers to approach it.

The Japanese government has joined forces with the power plant and Japanese companies like Toshiba, Hitachi and many others to tackle the removal of the debris, a difficult project and the world’s first of this kind. The only way to remove the debris is by remotely operated robots.

Eleven years after the accident, veteran engineer Umematsu returned to the site for an inspection.

He wanted to see once again the scene of the nuclear accident that had shattered Japan’s pride in the technological capabilities that had supported its postwar reconstruction, and which may still yield the opportunity for regaining that pride.

Robots small enough to navigate even the narrowest spaces inside this highly radioactive area were removing the rubble from inside the nuclear power plant piece by piece, while sending back images. All the workers operating the robots were young and are allowed to work only after months of training and simulations.

“Even a single piece of rubble is highly radioactive and dangerous. Even the smallest mistake can cause a huge accident, so we cannot afford to make any mistakes,” an engineer said.

Umematsu stared in silence at the young engineer who had said these words. And standing, for the first time since that day, at the site where he had supervised efforts to restore power, he said: “I really think we gave our very best at that time, and yet we didn’t succeed. Power was not restored. But I don’t think it was all in vain.”

“Oftentimes you must suffer multiple failures in order to attain a single result,” he added. “That’s how you move forward. From the perspective of removing the nuclear debris, I think advances are almost insignificant. And yet, one step at a time, I think progress is being made.”

Even though 11 years have passed since the accident, the removal of fuel debris has yet to start. Nonetheless, Umematsu thinks that “nothing is ever in vain.” And the simple fact that he can say these words is proof that the biggest problems have been overcome.

March 14, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima students speak on 2011 disaster in Berlin

August 09, 2019
BERLIN (Jiji Press) — Nine high school students from Fukushima Prefecture gave speeches in Berlin on Thursday about their experiences of the March 2011 triple disaster that hit hard the prefecture.
Addressing German high school students, the nine from Fukushima recounted in English what they experienced in the disaster, in which a huge earthquake and deadly tsunami struck, followed by a meltdown accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
An audience of several hundred listened attentively.
Kae Togawa, 15, from Namie, most of which is still in a no-entry zone due to high radiation levels, talked about her experience of being bullied because of the accident, with tears in her eyes.
“I was told such bad words many times [as] ‘You are an evacuee, you get compensation. You bring in radiation,’” Togawa said.
Sumire Kuge, 16, from Koriyama, said: “I can’t forget many foreigners who I watched on the news. They aren’t Hollywood stars or [a] president. But they helped our country.”
“I want to be like them. One thing to learn is if I have courage, I can help someone,” Kuge added. She received big applause.
The speeches were given as part of a high school student exchange project between Fukushima and Germany led by the Japanese nonprofit organization Earth Walkers. Under the project, students from Fukushima will stay in Germany for two to three weeks and learn about renewable energy and other topics.

August 12, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

“Fukushima, the Silent Voices”, a documentary with the Japanese culture in the background through the lens of a disaster



Lucas Rue has been working in the cinema industry for 15 years. He studied at the Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle in Paris. With multiple talents he worked on 60 films as assistant director, director, cameraman. Lucas has also been an actors coach for 10 years.

Lucas Rue and Chiho Sato met in 2010 on a shooting. Their passion for the 7th art unites them in filming and in life since they married in 2013.



Chiho worked for an audiovisual company after studying at an art university in Tokyo and living in Japan, she came to France in 2010. She studied French in Paris and then in Nice,  then worked freelance on coordinating Japanese TV crews coming to France. She was assistant photographer, then assistant camera and has always been attracted by the cinema. Through her projects, Chiho aimed to bring another perspective on Japan, to have a more international vision. She wanted to see Japan from the outside, to look back at Japanese culture from a distance.

Lucas and Chiho speak passionately about their documentary “Fukushima, the Silent Voices“, a documentary born out of Chiho’s desire to talk about this event through the eyes of her parents, her parents very discreet on this subject. They hesitate to talk about this disaster even they are living next door.

Lucas explains that this documentary is not an anti-nuclear film. They do not try to prove this or that. Japanese culture is the backdrop of this film through the prism of this catastrophe, with the difficulties encountered in expressing personal thoughts and emotions in Japan. The team of this documentary is composed of enthusiasts around Lucas Rue and Chiho Sato.

Despite some difficulties and obstacles encountered in terms of production and filming, the reception of the public was more than warm. People have been touched and the film has achieved its objective since the public after watching their film comes out with more questions about that disaster and also thoughts about if it would happen to them.



This very personal film is the 2017 Gold Winner of the International Independent Film Awards festival which recently took place in California USA, and has been currently officially selected at two Canadian festivals.

In their upcoming projects, Chiho and Lucas have two scenarios for full length films pending production. I wish them all the best for the future.



April 18, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment

About the documentary film “Fukushima the silent voices”






Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, the film directors

Yesterday, Saturday March 18. 2017, I went to watch for the second time The silent Voices, a documentary film directed by Chiho Sato and Lucas Rue, a screening organized by the French-Japanese Asuka association, an association founded by Kyoko Kugawa-Albu after the March 11. 2011 with the purpose to inform the general public about the Fukushima catastrophe.

I was very happy to meet again and spend some time with the two young movie directors, a very nice, sincere and talented couple, and with Kyoko Kugawa-Albu an antinuclear friend of mine.

This second time watching the movie confirmed my first impression, this movie is definitely the best documentary which has been made about Fukushima in the past 6 years, and you can believe it as I have watched many.

It is the best because of its unique approach, as Chiho Sato is herself from Fukushima she has been able like no one else to enter the intimacy of the Fukushima people by interviewing her own family members and her family close friends.

Chiho Sato was able to make them open up and talk about what usually nobody wants to talk about, as to talk about the catastrophe and its consequences has become kinda taboo among the Fukushima people, who never talk about it as different opinions could caused conflict, antagonism and create divisions. So after 6 years of an ongoing unresolved nuclear catastrophe, today nobody talks about it and everyone keeps it buried deep inside.

Chiho Sato for the first time succeeded to make those silent voices to talk, about the problems resulting from the catastrophe in their everyday life, their present and future inner fears.

Watching it for the second time, convinced me that I really need to write an article about it, to come in the coming weeks, because this film contains some very important testimonies that everyone should hear.


March 22, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , | Leave a comment

Can 3.11 Radiation Victims Speak?



Can 3.11 Radiation Victims Speak? Translators’ Notes: The article below began circulating in Japanese just a few days after we found out that Chikanobu Michiba (道場親信), a well known sociologist who wrote on Japanese social movements, had passed away. He was the partner of Mari Matsumoto, who has been a long-time inspiration for us through her work on the radiological effects of 3.11. We felt it was important to translate the article into English because it articulated a dimension of the disaster that has been difficult to put into words, and that is critical to intervening in the “myth of safety” (安全神話) – a widespread discourse that attempts to mitigate the consequences of the 3.11 nuclear disaster.

The Japanese state and nuclear industry’s implementation of the “myth of safety,” which has been supported by international regulatory agencies such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and World Health Organization (WHO), has been very successful, both domestically and internationally. In part, this may be due to the previous success of similar discourses in the wake of extensive nuclear weapons testing, [1] nuclear war, [2] and other nuclear disasters such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. [3] In the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in New Mexico, a short panel on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster reads:

There were no deaths caused by the immediate exposure to radiation, while approximately 18,500 people died due to the earthquake and tsunami. Future cancer deaths from accumulated radiation exposures in the population living near Fukushima are predicted to be extremely low to none. In 2013 (two years after the incident), the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that the residents of the area, who were evacuated, were exposed to so little radiation that radiation induced health impacts are likely to be below detectable levels. Plant workers and emergency responders received radiation doses which increased their risk of developing cancer in the future.”

While we believe that avoiding radiation exposure should be a focus for anti-nuclear struggles, we recognize that it is at the moment perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to fight for, especially for low-income and working class people. Invisible, odorless, and tasteless radioactive isotopes attack the human body at the cellular level, manifesting as innumerable illnesses across different time spans. Few people, including Matsumoto and Matsudaira, who is fighting late-stage cancer, have publicly spoken out about health damage (健康被害) as everyday people living the consequences of the 3.11 disaster. It may be useful for readers of this article to familiarize themselves with a number of state policy and state-supported public discourses that emerged in post-3.11 Japanese society:

Support by Eating program

A state-led campaign which enlists food businesses to purchase produce from the Tohoku area (the northeastern region of Japan, including Fukushima). This is a tactic to shift responsibility for the consequences of nuclear disaster onto consumer relations: i.e. the only way to support farmers and others making their livelihoods in affected regions is to consume their products.

Lack of financial assistance for evacuation

Tens of thousands of people who lived outside the state-mandated evacuation zone fled without much financial assistance, and continue to live away from home to this day. A mother of two shared that she decided to move from Fukushima because she witnessed her son suffering heavy nosebleeds on multiple occasions. He asked in tears if he would be okay living in Fukushima. [4] In March 2017, the government of Japan will be ending subsidies to support housing costs for those they call “voluntary evacuees” (自主避難者). These evacuees will ultimately be given two options: bear the financial burden of living in their new homes (many of these evacuees already face poverty and have been forced to live on welfare programs), or be forced to return to their hometowns in Fukushima where radioactive contamination still remains. Naturally, because of the lack of governmental assistance, most of the population in Eastern Japan, including Tokyo, never even moved out of the area.

Recovery programs & businesses

This includes implementation of festive events on a national scale (i.e. the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo) to actively orchestrate the population to turn their attention toward the positive activities and away from the gloomy state of affairs that has dominated the country since March of 2011. This was also the case internationally. In 2012, the Japanese National Tourist Organization began hosting an annual “Japan Week” in New York City on the anniversary of 3.11. Their 2016 exhibit was themed around the revival of Tohoku to “commemorate” the disaster. Global nuclear capitalists have begun attacking the population through rezoning and development, which also corners poor people into further marginalized positions.

It is also important to note that even liberal NGOs and civic groups have participated in government-led recovery programs and uncritically endorsed standards and information on radiation disseminated by the government and TEPCO.

In this context, Matsumoto and Matsudaira’s statements about the policing of discussions about radiation, and the difficulty of deciding whether they have experienced tangible effects/losses/damages from radiation exposure, are especially critical. Accounts that emphasize the health consequences of the disaster tend to focus on identifiable syndromes or illnesses that can be directly linked to the triple meltdown. Who should decide whether these are “real” injuries or not? Should that even be up for debate? Members of the 3.11 Health Victims Group are speaking out to us.

We’d like to thank the authors Matsudaira Kōichi, Matsumoto Mari, and the magazine Jyōkyō for letting us translate the article.

Support the activities of 3.11 Radiation Health Victims! We are running a fundraiser to support Matsudaira Kōichi’s medical expenses. You can send him food items and more through his amazon wishlist (in Japanese) or donate through our paypal (credit cards accepted):

Can 3.11 Radiation Victims Speak?

by Matsudaira Kōichi

Original text: 3.11被曝被害者は語ることができるか

English translation by Sloths Against Nuclear State & Friends

What, and who, are the “radiation [5] victims of 3.11?” I want to raise this question. The Fukushima nuclear accident [6] caused untold damage to Fukushima prefecture’s local residents and the workers at Fukushima nuclear power plant, yet we still do not understand the true extent of the disaster. The term “disaster victims” [7] of the Fukushima nuclear accident refers mainly to residents of the government’s mandatory evacuation zone in Fukushima prefecture. And when speaking of the “health victims” of the accident, the focus today is on laborers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and on young patients with thyroid cancer in Fukushima prefecture. However, I would like to broaden the denotation of “3.11 radiation victims” here. All beings residing in the prefectures neighboring Fukushima, or eastern Japan including even the Kantō area, [8] could potentially be “3.11 radiation victims.” And many people living in eastern Japan who have fallen ill could, in fact, be potential “health victims.” However, in order to argue that specific patients residing in eastern Japan could be “radiation victims” or “health victims,” epidemiological and scientific examination becomes necessary. If this is carelessly argued, one runs the chance of being denounced and criticized as having “radiation brain.” [9]

Radioactive contamination was observed in many areas of eastern Japan after the nuclear accident. According to the ICRP’s 2007 recommendation, [10] the annual radiation exposure limit was set at one millisievert (mSv) or less. However, there is a terrifying number of people who were exposed to radiation beyond this limit in eastern Japan.

If we rethink what damage from radiation exposure should really mean, we can say that people who received even a tiny amount of radioactive contamination from the nuclear accident, excepting natural radiation, should all be defined as “3.11 radiation victims.” In this sense, I can say that I, Matsudaira Kōichi, born and raised a Tokyo-ite these 38 years, am surely a 3.11 radiation victim.

And now the name Matsudaira has been added to the list of people with an illness that is unremarkable these days. And there is a possibility that Matusdaira is also the name of a health victim of the Fukushima nuclear accident. In other words I, we, the afflicted residing in eastern Japan, can identify ourselves as “3.11 radiation victims.” But at the same time, as for whether we can say we are “health victims of the Fukushima nuclear accident,” a brute courage is sometimes necessary. In this cultural criticism column [11] I hope to use the imaginative potential of language to shift from the position of “3.11 radiation victims” to the position of “health victims from the nuclear accident,” and to thereby reexamine the historical role that health victims should take.

Interview with Matsumoto Mari

Thinking About Radiation Damage Five Years After the Accident from a Feminist Perspective”

(This piece was formed by editing the comments that Matsumoto Mari delivered at the May 5, 2016 assembly of Health Victims of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident (below, Health Victims Group), Kantō Area Radiation Damage Vol. 2: Expanding Damage, Connections, the Hope of Evacuation. They were edited into the format of an interview with Matsumoto Mari.) [12]

The Health Victims Group was a gathering started by people who met each other through the anti-nuclear movement after 3.11, or during demonstrations in front of the Diet. [13] Originally, we were protesting to reveal the state and TEPCO’s responsibility for the nuclear accident, and to push for support for Fukushima children who had suffered health damages and for struggling evacuees. However, five years have passed since the accident, and it was in the fifth year after the 1986 Chernobyl accident when various types of damage to people’s health began to increase explosively. In this context, we began discussing whether we noticed various health damages appearing around us. We then realized anew that we had many friends suffering from illnesses like colon cancer, heart problems, thyroid abnormalities, the aggravation of skin diseases and allergies, exacerbated inflammation of the esophagus, and the aggravation of multiple-chemical sensitivity syndrome. We are also aware of exactly how hard it is to talk about health damage from Fukushima, or about wanting to evacuate. To change these conditions, those of us suffering health damages in Kantō, young and old, have to raise our voices. We hope to create a climate where people can openly say that anyone can suffer health damages from radiation exposure, and that the state and TEPCO must fulfill their responsibilities for this.

Today, we would like to speak with Matsumoto Mari from the Health Victims Group. Matsumoto-san was originally publishing feminist research and articles in the field of contemporary philosophy. Since the nuclear accident, she has been writing articles precisely on this problem of radiation exposure. What is necessary for us, as people who suffer from health damage and those who are concerned?


In the past I was wrote on feminism and various issues related to women. After 3.11, at first I wrote a few pieces about the nuclear disaster. However, after that, I became sick. I had argued in my writings that [protection from] radiation exposure should be our main objective, but the response from those around me was so cold and indifferent—when I reflect on why I became sick, it was because of this indifference about radiation that was normalized around me. [14]

There were a lot of simplistic criticisms that portrayed mothers trying to protect their children from radiation exposure as “maternalistic.” I felt it was horrible that even the left and feminists were heavily criticizing them. Looking back, given that health damages are manifesting today, these criticisms actually benefited the discourse of the “reassurance wing” [15] which basically ended up benefiting from insulting mothers as being “overprotective”.

This is a somewhat personal story, but in 1985 I was in Kiev for a short while, just one year before Chernobyl. Afterwards I kept in touch with some of the people who were studying Japanese there, but we slowly fell out of touch. There were issues with the postal system, but I remember being shocked, even though I was still young, when one time a young person said that she had developed cataracts. I had no idea that young people could get them. Of course now I know better. But I think I remembered it so clearly because I felt like that society, a society that had experienced a nuclear accident, was slowly beginning to crumble.

Because of this, the first thing I thought about after the nuclear meltdown on 3.11 was radiation exposure. But in the metropolis in particular—and let me say first that I don’t want to criticize this outright, and that I am certainly against restarting [the nuclear power plants]—most people at that point were still mainly talking about opposition to restarting the nuclear power plants. There were lots of protests and gatherings organized around this issue. But I felt like something was getting left behind in the midst of this, that there was something that we needed to say that was getting bottled up while people were getting involved in movements and political activities, that we were going forward while ignoring the thing that we should actually be seriously focusing on. I couldn’t talk about that thing directly, and even if I say something I can’t reject [people’s need] to say things like, “It’s fine,” or, “I just want to think positively.” I can’t deny that people want to think that it will be ok as long as they are careful.

But because I was suppressing this unease somewhere deep down in my heart, I started to be harsh to people sometimes. For five years, people around me didn’t understand what was wrong, and I also put up walls of my own.

During all of this, I kept in touch with mothers who had evacuated. There are also lots of people, probably across the entire country, who evacuated voluntarily and are now doing their best to make themselves heard, or who have started their own autonomous activities in their new homes. I do feel more connected with people who are doing work based on their experience of this diaspora. It’s like I can’t talk to those close to me, but can with those far away, which makes me feel like I’m experiencing this strange kind of recalibration of distance that’s been produced by the nuclear accident. You can’t see it, and you can’t reduce it to something economic or physical, but this breakdown of relationality is, to some degree, another injury caused by the nuclear accident, and is part of the current situation.

In the meantime, in January of this year my partner was suddenly diagnosed with an intractable form of cancer at the age of 48. There were no signs whatsoever beforehand, and it’s a difficult type to detect in the first place. He’s in treatment now, but it was already in stage four when it was discovered. This is hard to understand unless you experience it yourself, but I knew from the beginning, at least on an intellectual level, that thyroid cancer would be more common because there was a nuclear disaster. But now we’re fighting a completely different battle than something as simple as having the statistical knowledge that the number of cancer patients will increase. As someone who now provides care and nursing, I’ve realized what it means for an individual human to get cancer, and I’m in the process of learning. While I can accept that indeed statistically the number of health problems will increase, I also feel resistance to thinking about things only from a statistical perspective. I feel like I’m still not quite able to express this feeling.

Our bodies are all individual, and our illnesses and symptoms are individual. With cancer, a child’s thyroid cancer is different from a 48-year-old’s, which is different from an elderly person’s. It’s different for men and women. Each person’s treatment and the problems that they face and must overcome are all radically different. So even though it is not wrong to say things like, “The number of cancer cases increases after a nuclear accident,” or, “More people get sick,” I feel that today we need different language, a different approach, words that can help people who are sick connect with each other. We need an environment in which people who are sick, people who care for them, and people who are offering support can speak more easily.

For myself, when I speak about my partner’s cancer, it’s not that he is thinking, “This is an effect of radiation exposure.” In other words he hasn’t concluded that radiation exposure was the only influence, and there are no materials [to prove] that either. But, he and I think it is probably one cause among many; we don’t “deny” it. That is our position.

And in January 2016, when we were informed [of the cancer diagnosis] and were running around pell-mell, the 3.11 Thyroid Cancer Families’ Society was established in Fukushima. When I saw an interview with them—and let me say young children getting cancer is different from getting it one’s 40s—but I thought, on the verge of tears, “This kind of [message] is really needed.” Apparently there were extremely few cases of children’s thyroid cancer until then. Rare cases.

Now there are self-help groups and organizations for patients at hospitals and other places. That is something that’s really great. But there have been few cases of rare cancers, rare cases until now, so it is difficult [for people] to connect. I was impressed by people’s efforts to get on their feet by at least connecting at first, to do necessary mutual aid kinds of things, in such circumstances.

At the same time, reading articles on blogs like “Health Victims’ Group,” I was also moved by passages like, “Instead of the rallies, now our own bodies and hospitals are becoming the site of struggle.” It made me realize that this is a crucial awareness to have in a society in which a nuclear accident, with its irreversible impact, has occurred.

This is what I wanted to say right after the accident. Until now radioactive material has been falling on the metropolis, which is both a political issue and simultaneously a problem that individuals must face. At the same time, voluntary evacuation and relocation are problems that are being “individualized.” While these issues must be fought on the individual level, we should also hold on to their political and social aspects. And although damage to health is something that affects people of all genders, it’s also true that care and nursing generally end up being women’s issues.

Right after the nuclear accident, I wrote about mothers’ care for their children from the perspective of “reproductive labor” and “care work” within the context of capitalism. The issue is who has to bear the liability for massive environmental disasters. This is also a sphere that can’t be converted into currency. Some feminists said that this was “simple maternalism” or that it would “strengthen familism,” but they are missing the point. These days such people have stopped saying anything at all, maybe because their initial stance is inconvenient for them now. They offer no helping hand regarding the outbreak of pediatric thyroid cancer in Fukushima, and offer no support for the single-mother households of voluntary evacuees. At some point they need to seriously consider their criticism of people tied to the accident, and the incorrect assessments of the situation they made initially.

Thinking back on it now, right after the accident there was a massive surge of both accurate and inaccurate information about the damage to health caused by radiation exposure. Honestly it was a difficult mix of good and bad, a kind of informational anarchy.

Even so, people wisely chose from among the available information, and eventually formed and attained a certain kind of literacy and understanding of the situation. And yet slowly there developed a very clear sense of “moment” or “instance” that silenced this kind of understanding, and which functioned more strongly than the visible forms of systemic censorship. It’s impossible to determinedly say that this sense was manufactured by the media or the government or the Ministry of the Environment. It was an unintended outcome, but it did create a climate in which people hesitate to talk about damage to health.

For instance, you might have heard of the “Oishimbo nosebleed incident.” [16] What I find problematic about this whole fuss—although some might find this sort of expression itself problematic—is that a town in Fukushima went and made a complaint against the comic series, which led to an additional complaint from Fukushima prefecture, which finally led to the Ministry of Environment officially making a conclusive statement that “there is no such thing” as increased nosebleeds in Fukushima.

Since I have grown quite familiar with feminism, I know that historically the repressive authority of dominant discourses has prohibited us from speaking about our own bodies. For example, menstruation has been regarded as an unclean or private matter in different historical periods. Even so, there have been efforts by women to speak up about topics that are difficult to talk about and to gain social recognition on such topics. One such effort was the fight for menstrual sick days, or to gain recognition that symptoms can be unique for different individuals.

As for health concerns and everyday concerns after 3.11, even in political spaces we’ve been coerced to be silent about these concerns and made to accept that even speaking about them is taboo. It isn’t that there is visible censorship or regulations, but there is censorship that arises from people’s own minds; we are all are expected to perform self-censorship. People around you say “That is a very complicated thing to talk about,” or, “Are you still afraid of radiation?” This kind of thing can even make you feel like your worth as a human is being judged.

It is precisely because we are obstructed from each other in this society that we need to speak up about radiation issues. To people who react to me by saying, “Still talking about it?” or, “Still worrying about it?” I’d like to respond immediately and ask, “Have we ever seen any policy or system developed or improved regarding measures against radiation exposure? For compensation for evacuees? There hasn’t been anything, has there?”

Philosopher Paul Virilio has called Chernobyl a “time accident”, meaning that it is one that will last for generations. In this climate too in Japan, we need to carefully watch and observe our society as it is being destroyed over a long time span.

Ryo Omatsu, a scholar of Russia, has studied the Chernobyl [nuclear disaster] and has published work introducing social movements ignited by residents and nuclear cleanup workers at the Chernobyl site. Similarly, we are familiar with a number of movements led by people with illnesses and people who became ill due to different types of industrial contamination.

There have been many lawsuits against nuclear power plants in the past 70 plus years since the end of WWII, and there are still many today. With these facts in mind, we need to carefully create environments and discursive spaces where people who feel that they have been affected are comfortable speaking up and where they can connect. When we refer to post-Chernobyl support systems, we are immediately met with the argument that we can’t replicate them because we have a different social system in Japan. However, I believe that Chernobyl must be studied as a historical reference regarding social support systems for nuclear disasters.

Those who are pro-nuclear can use as their strength the uncertain nature of how radioactive exposure manifests as illness. It is tricky that experiencing a nuclear accident and becoming ill are not in a direct one-to-one relationship. Nevertheless I think people need to not only keep the nuclear accident in their minds but also make some kind of record of their experiences.

The fact that those who suffered damages need to prove the damage is absurd in itself. Nevertheless, you can create records of what you were doing before and after 3.11; where you were; if you are in the Kantō region, then what the radiation levels are in the soil around your home. For instance I participated in a project where I wore a film badge dosimeter [17] to study my radioactive doses for a week (although the dosimeter is only capable of measuring doses on the external surface of your body, not total contamination levels). We could start something like this even now. An accumulation [of this data] could be our strength in the future.

I want to remind everyone that people with cancer and other intractable illnesses have always organized themselves to share their experiences, offer mutual aid, and share information. It is very necessary for people to have this kind of space today. While we hear “radiation exposure is scary” and “radiation exposure is terrible” these phrases are often used as vague images without the concreteness of illness [as it manifests in our bodies].

It has been five years since the accident; we are past the point of arguing about what is right and what is wrong. It is not a question of that. Instead we need to share concrete knowledge about how to protect our bodies, and how to act if we become sick. We need to communicate with, not isolate, each other as much as possible. It should be something like a self-support group. While being a self-support group, it should not settle itself as a closed group—its members should take political stances and open themselves to the wider society. That’s the kind of organization we need.


Regarding the Oishimbo incident and other issues, I feel that there is an implicit network of physicists and scientists of all sorts who suppress any statements by those who oppose nuclear energy. What do you think about this?


Here we’re talking about where the discourse known as “radiation exposure crushing” (hibaku tsubushi) [18] emerges from. We can consider three possibilities: whether this discourse originates in economic concerns, is linked to power relations, or if it is solely an internal issue. There are many uncertainties on these points, but I think if we look into it deeply enough, we will find some definite conclusions. What I’m concerned about, though, is the the third possibility I raised, that hibaku tsubushi discourse is coming from self-censorship. There are many people who are self-censoring and actively adopting the myth of radiation safety. I am terrified of the power that these acts have on people.

In thinking about who is producing this discourse in an organized way, it’s possible to build a solid argument by finding where exactly the money is coming from. We have seen this in the work of Ryu Honma who investigates public relations in the nuclear industry. Somewhat differently, Takashi Soeda has demonstrated the falsity of the phrase “this accident was unforeseeable” (sōteigai), which is often used by nuclear apologists when describing the nature of the 2011 disaster. There have been many investigative journalists making enormous efforts to bust those myths. Kosuke Hino’s work has also been an indispensable contribution.

We must use these exceptional reports as a guide to fully investigate discourses that have underemphasized radiation exposure post-3.11. Another troubling aspect of this discourse lies within our everyday life; what ruptures our human relations is self-censorship and willing acceptance [of safety myths]. I’d like to suggest that we constantly take note of why we actively participate in reinforcing the discourse of the ruling class.

It’s difficult for nuclear victims to connect and act in solidarity due to the fact that damage can manifest in a wide range of forms both spatially and temporally, which is one characteristic of nuclear disasters. This is especially true in today’s society where, thanks to neoliberalism, we are expected to act at our own risk and work out our own salvation.

This accident was also the first since the development of social networking. In the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC/Euratom), the ways in which social networking performs during a nuclear disaster has already become a research theme and subject of analysis.

In the first two or three years after the accident, I saw my friends and acquaintances start to actively believe in the myth of radiation safety and wondered to myself, “Why are they turning against themselves like that.” But thinking these kinds of thoughts too much just tires me out, and now I catch myself observing them as subjects who are mobilized in the creation of public consensus, when clearly the discourse of hibaku tsubushi actively minimizes the damage of the incident. I observe them to try and understand why people decide to actively conform to such discourse. This is a different case, but I’m sure similar things probably happened with Minamata disease [19] or the atomic bomb. I believe it is necessary to look at these cases and compare them to what is happening today.

It is the sixth year since the accident now. Forces that divide people, along with both tangible and intangible damage—including actualized health damages—will continue to become stronger. In March 2017, the government will terminate financial assistance for voluntary evacuees. More recently, the government began speaking about ending restrictions to the entire “difficult-to-return” [20] zone in 2021. The government of Japan is desperately fabricating the final end of the nuclear disaster, with the help of events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. People say that it is wrong to diminish memories because they are personal, while the social phenomenon of “structural diminishment” is getting stronger and stronger. This phenomenon obscures responsibility for the accident and for the management of its aftermath.

In this context, there is an urgent need to create concrete spaces of mutual aid and rebuild relationality, which includes modifying our own language and thought.

Testimony: Matsudaira Kōichi’s colon cancer—radiation damage and cancer patients

Matsumoto went to Kiev right after the Chernobyl accident, and she became concerned about the issue of radiation damage in the Kantō area very early on. I think she has spoken candidly about her very incisive hesitations regarding those who were indifferent about radiation damage from the Fukushima nuclear accident. Matsumoto says that it is important to document, and the Health Victims Group has argued since its founding that it is important to leave “testimonies as victims.” Members of the Health Victims Group and I tentatively created the following questionnaire to collect testimonies:

1.    Name, age, gender

2.    Where did you live until 3.11? (Please include your prefecture and municipality.)

3.    If your residence changed after 3.11, please tell us the new place and when you moved.

4.    What symptoms do you have, or what is the condition of your health now?

5.    Did you have any symptoms of illnesses listed above before 3.11? If so, were there any differences before and after 3.11?

6.    Please describe your everyday habits.

7.    Were you getting regular health check-ups?

8.    Do you think [your condition] is related to the nuclear accident?

9.    What do you find most difficult since you became ill?

10. What are your current hopes?

In the Health Victims Group, we are seeking people who would like to share their experiences of health damage with each other.”

I responded to these items in the following way. This is my simple self-introduction concerning my condition as a radiation victim, and it is also the health record of one patient. Below is my testimony (taken May 8, 2016) as a member of the Health Victims Group.

How is the condition of your health now?

My name is Matsudaira Kōichi and I’m a cancer patient. I am 38 years old. I was diagnosed with colon cancer in November of last year (2015). It has been almost half a year since I learned that I have cancer. When they found it, it was already stage four and had spread to my liver. I was told that my five-year survival rate is 18%. The cancer has spread widely throughout my body, and surgical resection was not possible. I am receiving chemotherapy, but there has not been much change since the diagnosis. Chemotherapy apparently helps to prolong one’s life, but I understand that it eventually stops working. Right now, because of the side effects, I always feel unwell, and I often end up sleeping the entire day. I keep going back to the hospital for stomach pain and constipation. My colon is not functioning, so I have a stoma (colostomy). I feel miserable since my problems are related to fecal matter.

How was your health until your illness was discovered?

In November, I was attacked by horrible stomach pain and went to the hospital, where I learned that I had cancer. Until it was discovered, for about a year, there were many times I felt unwell, like having diarrhea. I would have diarrhea 6 or 7 times a day. I thought it was psychological. I felt anxious leaving for work every day. In October and November, I became unable to stand in front of the toilet. It was so painful I stayed curled up on the floor, wondering if I should call an ambulance.

Please describe your everyday habits.

In terms of my habits, I ate at Yoshinoya very frequently. [21] There were some days I would go to Yoshinoya twice in one day. I also went to Saizeriya [22] often. I ate out often from ages 20 to 37.

Where do you live? Where do you work?

I have mostly lived in Fuchū city in Tokyo since I was born. Around the time the nuclear accident occurred, I would stand in the street in Ginza (Chūō ward) every day for work. I worked there from March 2011 to February 2012. From April to June 2012, I worked in Tameikesannō (Chiyoda ward); from November 2012 to October 2015 in Ariake in Kōtō ward. Although I didn’t want to drink the water around there, I drank the tap water. I also tended to drink a good amount of alcohol. When my cancer symptoms became worse, there was one time I felt so sick the day after I went out drinking that I couldn’t get up for the entire day.

Were you getting health checkups?

I got a health check-up once a year. Besides having a low pulse, I didn’t have any abnormalities. In 2015 alone, I had a routine check-up through my job in the summer. Then in October I worked for a clinical trial of new drug and was briefly hospitalized. During the checkup for the drug trial, they did not find any abnormalities. I assume that there must have been a pretty significant cancerous tumor in my body around that time. In May and September, I had two instances of pain below my right chest area, which I had assumed was caused by falling off my bike and bumping my chest. I felt sick for about 25 days [in May ’15], and about 14 days [in September ’15]. I saw an orthopedist for this pain but they didn’t find anything wrong. Had I received a thorough examination at that time, I think they would have found the cancer. I think my internal organs were probably inflamed from the cancer.

Do you think [your illness] is related to radiation from the nuclear accident?

In my case, I think the causes of cancer were too much intake of beef and food additives, a lifestyle lacking in vegetables, and everyday stress. But, it is also rare to get cancer at my age, and I think it may be related to the nuclear accident. Yoshinoya and Saizeriya are both “support by eating” [23] companies, so it is possible that radiation from the accident increased my chances of cancer. Right after 3.11 happened, I thought that I would become sick if I did not evacuate, but I didn’t dare evacuate. I think it makes sense that I would get a major life-threatening illness living in Tokyo, where it is possible to be affected by exposure to radiation.

What is the hardest thing about being sick?

I used to like cross-dressing as a woman. I am sad that I can’t anymore because having a stoma and being constantly ill prevents me from doing what I want to do. My hair has fallen out and become thin. I was also interested in marriage and raising children, but sadly I realize that it is probably no longer possible. Lately, I have started watching the anime Assassination Classroom—I cry thinking about the relationality of fate between the students who have to kill their teacher, and the teacher who has been mentoring the students yet becomes their target of assassination.

What are your current hopes?

To destroy TEPCO and Japan. I’ve been hearing a lot about the Minamata disease these days as it’s approaching the 60th year since the disease was officially recognized by the state as an illness caused by industrial pollution. I think the movement led by Minamata disease victims was a really long struggle. But if it is going to take over 10,000 years before radioactive waste is no longer toxic, then for health victims of nuclear power plants, it may take us a “hundred thousand years of war.” We are being shot from somewhere by an invisible gun called radiation, and those who have been hit are dying one by one. We must resist this. We should carry on the ambition of past anti-nuclear movements and of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and have a “hundred thousand year war” with Japan and with “worldwide nuclear empire.” [24] I will participate in this war, and my hope is that even if I am defeated, I can entrust the spirit of struggle to the future generation.

That is the extent of my testimony. However, I have an unresolved question I must continue to investigate: whether I am a “true” “health victim” “of the Fukushima nuclear accident.” To begin with, historically, the number of cancer patients in Japan has been increasing since before the nuclear accident.

In July 2016, the National Cancer Center of Japan reported its estimates of the number of new cancer diagnoses and the number of people who will die from cancer. The number of diagnoses was 1,010,200 and the number of deaths was 374,000. A tremendous number of Japanese have cancer and are dying. And there certainly isn’t one uniform cause for developing cancer.

Furthermore, although I’ll leave out the full explanation of the evidence here, even if we use a very conservative estimate employing the ICRP model, we can estimate the impact on humans of the radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster will likely lead to thousands of additional deaths from cancer in the Tokyo metropolitan area alone. We should recognize this.

One thing I want to stress in this discussion is that even if “over a million cancer cases emerge” and “thousands end up dying of cancer in Tokyo,” you are talking only in terms of a statistical figure. But each and every cancer patient in that figure struggles in their own different way in their sickbed.

By the way, I did not know this because I hate television and do not watch it, but while I was penning this article, I heard about a person named Shuntaro Torigoe who ran in the Tokyo gubernatorial election. Like me, he had colon cancer which had spread to his liver. I received encouragement from people who would say that mine “hadn’t spread yet,” and, “Torigoe had cancer even in his lungs but he’s better now and running in the gubernatorial election, so you should keep at it too.” I understand that these people acted with good intentions to help me stay optimistic. But, just because someone else recovered from late-stage colon cancer does not mean that I will too.

After being a cancer patient for a while, I feel that at times there is a kind of “cancer harassment” that happens. It doesn’t matter if someone “has the same colon cancer” or “there are other people with stage four cancer who have survived.” The fate that awaits each person is never bound to be the same.

This is completely irrelevant, but Torigoe was involved in a sex scandal, alleged to have seduced a university student, and I think that he is innocent of this. Anyhow, I got a hernia when I recently had sex for the first time in a while. A slight amount of pressure on my abdomen will cause my intestine to protrude out of the colostomy site on my abdomen. By now, stoma prolapsing is normal, and whenever I raise my body, or have some kind of emotional stress, or after I eat, my intestines spill out like a samurai who has committed harakiri. It will keep spilling out unless I hold it in with my hand. Apparently this is because my intestines are loose inside of my body. My doctor tells me that it may be the side effect of the cancer medicine working, or it could be that my cancer is becoming worse.

In this condition, it scares me to be alone with a woman. My mind goes completely blank whenever I imagine it being like this until I die. I remembered feeling frustrated at my parents who, a few days earlier, told me they “would like to see [their] grandchild’s face.” The symptoms of the hernia get better if I stay laying down, but in that case, I will have to live sideways forever. The struggle against an illness varies from person to person, even among people with colon cancer like me.

Someone compared nuclear power plants to cancer. A malignant tumor pretends that it is a companion to a human and avoids being attacked by immune cells. Malignant tumors then send their own cancerous cells to healthy organs, infect them, spread all over the body, and continue to grow more tumors. One by one, these tumors destroy major organs in the body until the body dies. For the earth, nuclear power plants are a cancer. Pro-nuclear people use flowery words to convince others of the necessity of nuclear power plants and dupe people into the idea of “energy for our bright future.” They rooted the power plants deeply into Japanese society.

The disease of pro-nuclear forces in the world is a serious problem.

I don’t know if I am a “victim of a nuclear accident,” but as a “3.11 radiation victim” there is one thing I want to say: nuclear power can never be forgiven, because it continues to increase the number of people that must die terrible deaths due to cancer.

Cancer irreversibly damages organs one by one in people, causing painful death. Cancer patients who die each have their own life, full of poetry. We cannot allow even one more person to die of cancer because of nuclear policies propelling this old and futureless technology. Enough is enough.

1, See Barker and Johnston 2008, The Rongelap Report: Consequential Damages of Nuclear War for a thorough review of research on the effects of American nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands and the systematic censorship of evidence pointing to American culpability for health damages suffered by the Marshallese.

2. See Lindee 1994, Suffering Made Real: American Science and the Survivors at Hiroshima.

3. See Stephens 2002, “Bounding Uncertainty: The Post-Chernobyl Culture of Radiation Protection Experts,” in Catastrophe and Culture: the Anthropology of Disaster; Petryna 2006, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl.

4. See discussions of the “Oishimbo incident” for more information on these politics and the success of the myth of safety, such as Ochiai 2013, “The Manga ‘Oishinbo’ Controversy: Radiation and Nose Bleeding in the Wake of 3.11”.

5. “Radiation exposure” (hibaku) is expressed as one word in Japanese, with the characters for “suffer/receive” () and either “bomb” () when referring to exposure from nuclear weapons, or “expose” () when referring to exposure from other sources. Here, the term used is hibaku higaisha (被曝被害者).

6. The official Japanese term uses the word “accident” (事故) rather than “disaster” (災害).

7. The term used here, hisaisha (被災者), can be translated as “victim,” but refers primarily to victims of natural disasters, as opposed to higaisha (被害者), which refers mainly to the victims of accidents. Except for this first instance, higaisha is used throughout this article. In the context of the Chernobyl disaster, the Ukrainian state introduced the legal category of “sufferer” in 1991 to recognize those affected. We have chosen to translate the term higaisha as “victim” to convey the sense in Japanese that harm has been wrongfully caused. For more on Chernobyl “sufferers,” see Petryna 2013 [2002], Life Exposed: Biological Citizens After Chernobyl and Alexievich 2006, Voices From Chernobyl: the Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster.

8. The Kantō region comprises the Greater Tokyo Area and the prefectures of Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa.

9. This is a reference to the way that concerns about the effects of radiation, or discussion of actual injuries from radiation exposure, have been stigmatized as a psychological or emotional hypersensitivity to (fear of, or anxieties about) radiation. This is conveyed through a play on the word for radiation, hōshanō (放射能), where the last character has been replaced with the character for “brain” or “mind” (), which is also read “nō”. C.f. Kimura 2016, Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: the Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima. There have also been many cases where those who discuss concerns about “low-level” radiation exposure have been described as “hysterical,” “irrational,” divisive, and unpatriotic. This is similar to attributions of “radiophobia” directed at victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. C.f. Petryna 2013 [2002].

10. See ICRP, The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

11. The author writes a cultural criticism column for the magazine, Jōkyō (情況).

12. This text is based on the transcription of a speech by Matsumoto Mari. A recording of the event can be found here:

13. The National Diet is Japan’s legislature.

14. Translation adapted to reflect past conversations with the author.

15. Those who endorse the safety of radiation exposure, mostly standardized by the state and nuclear industry interests.

16. The popular comic series Oishimbo ran episodes about Fukushima in which the author portrayed residents in Fukushima claiming that they experienced frequent nosebleeds due to radiation exposure. The series immediately came under fire upon publication, criticized by media and government offices.

17. Referred to as a “glass badge” in Japanese (garasu bajji; ガラスバッジ).

18. Discourses that suppress or “crush” (tsubusu; 潰す) any talk about radiation exposure and its effects, effectively censoring dissident voices post-3.11. Such voices are usually labeled as overly radiophobic, or afraid of radiation.

19. Minamata disease is a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning. It received national attention in Japan when the wastewater of a chemical factory in a small fishing village in southern Japan became contaminated with mercury. The disease began to appear first in 1953, and although the government officially recognized it in 1956, it took the factory owner years to acknowledge its liability. The victims’ families have fought for decades, and still continue to fight for recognition and compensation.

20. The official designation of the most contaminated zone around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, with an annual exposure dose exceeding 50 mSv/year. This zone includes areas from seven municipalities declared “difficult to return to” by the Japanese government.

21. Yoshinoya is a Japanese fast food chain serving gyūdon (beef over rice). In 2013 the company established joint venture, Yoshinoya Farm Fukushima Co. in Shirakawa City, 40 miles west of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, to grow rice and vegetables for their restaurants.

22. Another chain, referred to as “family restaurants” in Japanese. Comparable to Applebee’s in the U.S.

23. State-led campaign which enlists food businesses to purchase produce from the Tohoku area (around Fukushima). This is a tactic to shift responsibility for the consequences of nuclear disaster onto consumer relations: i.e. the only way to support farmers and others making their livelihoods in affected regions is to consume their products.

24. In Japanese, quotation marks are often used to distinguish a concept. Here, Matsudaira advocates fighting against both actual countries with nuclear power, and with an imperialist system of nation-states/the system that produces them.

Support Matsudaira Kōichi’s medical expenses:

February 10, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , | 4 Comments

Government inquiry into nuclear accident: some testimonies will remain secret



The commission of inquiry set up by the government after the nuclear disaster at the Fukusima dai-ichi plant has recorded some 770 testimonies. 240 have been made public since, with the agreement of the interviewees, including that of the former director of the plant, Masao Yoshida, now deceased.

TEPCO shareholders filed a lawsuit for the publication of the testimonies from 11 executives of TEPCO and 3 executives of NISA, which was the regulator at the time. They have just been dismissed.

Justice considered that if these documents were disclosed, it would be difficult to obtain the cooperation of the concerned persons in the future. The same applies to the secret portions of partially published testimonies.

January 7, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , , , | 1 Comment

These Fukushima residents are determined to reclaim their land from nuclear radiation

“We are the lessons you need to learn,” they said, on a recent visit to Chennai.

By G. Sundarrajan

Two years ago, when I visited Fukushima as part of a Greenpeace team, what deeply impressed me about the local residents was their resilience. They were ordinary citizens of a town devastated by a nuclear disaster, yet the bond they shared with their soil ran so deeply that they kept hoping to go back to Fukushima.

It was at once their dream and their challenge. They couldn’t stop talking about how good and simple life was back in Fukushima till the disaster struck. I was amazed by the fact that they wanted to go back to their homes though they knew the town would not be as they had left it.

It was from such a deep bond, from that sense of love, that the will to fight against nuclear energy emerged. “We are the lessons you need to learn” most of them told me.

It was the same kind of love, and bond, that I found in them when three survivors of Fukushima visited Chennai on March 23. Running around with them in Chennai I realized they still carry their love for their land and have now found ways to reconnect. Even if it means doing what is prohibited and what could endanger their lives.


For 62-year-old Masami Yoshizawa, it is about rearing 300-odd cows that are under a government kill order. As the manager of Ranch of Hope, Yoshizawa decided to defy government orders and rear the cattle so they ‘would be a living testimony to what Fukushima had undergone.’ The kill order was issued because after the radioactive contamination, the livestock was not a commercial success.

But rearing them in a no-entry zone, Yoshizawa feels the sight and sound of the cattle offers a ray of hope to an otherwise devastated land. “The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them,” he says.


The farm was started by his father four decades ago and Yoshizawa wouldn’t give it up easily – something that is in the residents of Fukushima. “I live 14 kms away from where the accident took place. There were four explosions on four days. I could have left like many of my neighbours. At least 80 people committed suicide in my town because they didn’t want to leave Fukushima. But I have decided to be a living lesson for the rest of my life” he says.

It is exactly the same emotion that guided 28-year-old Mizuho Sugeno to come back to Fukushima and resume her organic farming. Sugeno had just completed her studies and was practicing organic farming for about a year when the disaster struck.

“I lived 47 kms away from the power plant and evacuated for about a week. I came back and founded Seeds of hope. What else could I do?” she asks.


Besides distributing Sugeno’s organic produce, Seeds of Hope demonstrates successful methods to prevent crops from absorbing radiation. “Farms were abandoned and people were left behind. I was advised not to go back to Fukushima but I didn’t just come back. I began planting seeds. I felt the power of the soil could be restored by planting seeds.”

But deep down Sugeno had her own misgivings. She was not sure if it would really be possible to continue with agriculture.

“I spent a lot of time on it and finally found out that there was scientific proof (as well as measures and methods to take) about no soil-to-plant transfer of radio cesium in soil that has been cultivated organically over a long period of time. I was able to reduce the radiation level detected in crops down to a reading that falls below the minimum capability of the sensor,” Sugeno says.

She began to get certain results and ship crops with no radioactive contamination.

“This was our land and it was from here that we had reared cattle and cultivated fruits for several years. Now we are doing it as a form of protest. Our strawberry rice cake – a delicacy you will find only in Fukushima – has become a symbol of protest. Even now we are looked at with disbelief outside Fukushima. But again, like they say, we shall overcome”

Sugeno gets a complete body check-up once every six months, “just to be on the safer side”. For the moment, it is important that she is in good health to make Fukushima heard everywhere. “After all, we are the lessons you still need to learn,” she says again, with that wry smile.

G. Sundarrajan is an environmental and anti-nuclear activist and is a volunteer with Poovulagin Nanbargal.

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment