Ten years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident of March 11, 2011. On this occasion, we would like to express again our condolences to the many people who lost loved ones, and reflect on the magnitude of the damage caused by the nuclear accident and the suffering of many victims, both of which continue to this
The inhumanity of nuclear power
Until the day of the accident, many people simply accepted nuclear power, and used electricity generated by nuclear power. Many people were unaware of the injustice and inhumanity that the electricity generated by nuclear plants in places like Fukushima and Niigata was used not in Fukushima but in the Tokyo metropolitan area, that the nuclear plants have been imposed upon areas of the country that were economically more vulnerable, that many workers working in the nuclear plant were being exposed to radiation.
However, the situation has changed dramatically since that day when the shocking images of the explosion at the nuclear plant were shown on television. We have learned much since that day.
We have experienced firsthand that nuclear power is incredibly dangerous and that once an accident occurs radioactive materials can spread over a wide area, forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate, and that the land can be contaminated to the extent that some areas are rendered uninhabitable for over 10 years. Livelihoods, meaning in life, interactions with neighbors, casual daily conversations, foraging on edible wild plants and mushrooms, fishing in rivers, the sharing of little joys in life, dining together with family… these and other aspects at the core of community life have been lost.
We witnessed the government ignoring the concerns of citizens, setting the exposure limit at 20 times the level applicable for the general public as the criterion for evacuation and return, and forcing many people to evacuate without compensation. Although radioactive contamination and exposure are real “damage,” the government has not recognized them such, but dismisses them for causing “reputational” damage. The matter of who caused the harm and who was the victim has been distorted, and even though the real actors who caused harm were the government and TEPCO, their responsibilities have still not been questioned. The perverse situation is that those who point out the risks of radiation exposure and contamination are being treated as if it is they who are causing damage.
The damage of being made “invisible”
One after another the government has stopped support programs for evacuees. In March 2017, the provision of housing was discontinued for about 26,000 evacuees (so-called “voluntary” evacuees) from areas other than government-designated evacuation areas. Even without the program, nearly 80% of evacuees living outside Fukushima Prefecture chose to continue staying away. A short-lived rent support program for low-income earners was also discontinued in March 2019.
Some evacuees have struggled to pay rent and have been under considerable financial and emotional strain. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. However, the government has not attempted to investigate the living conditions of these evacuees, and we can only get a glimpse of the situation through surveys done by private support groups and a review by Niigata Prefecture.
Fukushima Prefecture has announced that there were 36,192 evacuees as of January 13, 2021. It has long been pointed out that there are big gaps in their official numbers, such as those evacuees who moved into disaster recovery housing within the prefecture. Simply by adding up the evacuees counted by each local government within Fukushima Prefecture, the total number comes to more than 67,000. In other words, even the most basic numbers about how many evacuees there still are have not been accurately grasped, let alone the actual living conditions of those evacuees.
Even though evacuation orders have been lifted one after another and support programs for evacuees have been discontinued, the return of people to their communities is proceeding slowly. The younger generation is not returning and many areas are sparsely populated, with households of just one or two elderly people. “Houses are being demolished one after another in my neighborhood. There is no trace of the original community. Is this really ‘reconstruction’?” So asks a man who returned to Tomioka.
“We would have children at home. We’d go out into the forest with the children, gather plants in the forest, would could teach various things. But we can’t do anything like that now,” says Hasegawa Kenichi, a former dairy farmer who returned to Iitate. “I’m considered the youth leader (despite being in my 60s) because there are no younger people around.”
“Fukkou (reconstruction or recovery)’s the last thing I want to hear ,” says Konno Sumio, who evacuated from Namie Town. “Fukkou is about things getting back to normal, and then standing up and starting again. There’s no such thing as Fukkou when you can’t go back to normal, and when you can’t rise up again”.
As the population in municipalities around the nuclear plant continues to decline, the central government decided to provide up to 2 million yen in support to people who move to 12 local municipalities near the plant in fiscal 2021. After the government mercilessly cut support for evacuees and still has inadequate policies to protect people from radioactive exposure, this policy to entice people to move here is an attempt to create the appearance of reconstruction.
The national Strategic Energy Plan is not democratic
On the other hand, many people have organized to stop nuclear power and change society. In 2012, tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s Office and in front of the Diet to speak out against the restart of nuclear plants.
In the summer of 2012, there was a national debate on nuclear power and energy. Based on the open democratic debate, the government decided to aim for an exit from nuclear power by the 2030s. However, this decision was erased with the subsequent change in ruling government.
A review of Japan’s national Strategic Energy Plan is currently being discussed by a committee consisting of people who represent the interests of big electricity utilities and industry, and “eminent” academics as well as people from industry and organizations who have played a role in promoting nuclear power. There are strong voices in the committee insisting not only on the continued operation of aged nuclear plants but also on the construction of new ones. Since 2012, the government has not held a single public hearing on nuclear and energy policy. It is exactly because energy policies affect everyone’s future that it is essential to have a process that fosters thorough discussion in a democratic and open forum, based on the participation of citizens. However, the government has made absolutely no effort to make such a process a reality.
After the accident, every single nuclear power plant owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Tohoku Electric Power Co. was shut down, and the state of zero nuclear power generation has already lasted for ten years in the eastern Japan region. Looking at the national situation, after Units 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power’s Oi Nuclear Power Plant were shut down in September 2013, Japan went through a period of nearly two years with absolutely no nuclear plants operating. Even nuclear reactors that were eventually restarted have had to be shut down one after another due to problems such as delays in the construction of anti-terrorism facilities, court decisions to suspend operations due to injunctions, and cracks in pipes. In fact, only four nuclear generating units are currently actually in operation. The costs of construction and safety measures for nuclear power plants have skyrocketed, and nuclear power can no longer be considered a so-called “stable” or “inexpensive” source of electricity.
In contrast, the growth of renewable energy has been astounding, and it likely produced as much as 20% of electricity generation for the power grid in 2020.
However, the government refuses to accept this reality, and has launched a series of policies to maintain and prioritize nuclear power, and to make the public bear the costs.
Seeking a nuclear-free society
It’s been 10 years since that day. We need to face what is truly happening.
We call upon the Government of Japan to truly grasp the current state of damage, to fully compensate all the victims of the nuclear accident, to implement policies for true reconstruction, and to rebuild the lives of the victims and restore their dignity.
We also call upon the government, for the revision of the national Strategic Energy Plan, to abandon the current archaic committee structure, and instead to adopt an open and democratic process, with the debate based on the broad participation of a wide range of people, including women and youth, victims of the nuclear accident, and citizens’ groups working on the environment and climate, as well as public hearings and meetings around the country.
To avoid a repeat of the tragedy of the nuclear accident, we wish to stand with the victims, join with people around the world, and move toward a peaceful, nuclear-free world.