As a boy, Yuji Onuma won a contest to create the town slogan for Futaba, Japan. His phrase — “Atomic power: energy for a bright future” — was enshrined on an archway over the town’s main street. But after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Onuma — like many in Japan — has turned against what he used to champion. Here, he stands in front of the archway holding a banner that modifies his slogan as statements opposing nuclear energy.
March 29, 2019
The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in central Pennsylvania 40 years ago in March did not lead to large releases of radiation, but it helped turn public opinion away from nuclear energy. In Japan, an even more catastrophic nuclear disaster occurred eight years ago this month. And like many Pennsylvanians, the Japanese have largely turned against nuclear.
The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown is known in Japan as simply “March 11.” And everyone knows where they were on March 11, 2011.
Yuji Onuma was in the town of Futaba, where he grew up and was living with his wife, who was pregnant with their first child. Their home was about 3 or 4 kilometers from the Daiichi nuclear power plant.
But right now, he’s living away from the coast in another prefecture, and he says he wants to settle in a town that is about as far away from any of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants as he can possibly be.
During an interview, Onuma showed a picture of when he was about 12 years old and getting an award from the Mayor of Futaba. A teacher had asked the kids to come up with a town slogan. In a place where everyone depended on the nearby nuclear plant for work, Onuma’s entry won:
“Atomic power: energy for a bright future” became the slogan on an archway over Futaba’s main street.
“I was very proud because this is my first ever award by the town,” Onuma said through a translator. “And all the town people praised me and said, you are very great. So I was so proud of that.”
Then he showed another photo. It’s only a few months after the accident, and no one is left living in Futaba. This time, he’s wearing a protective Tyvek suit and mask, he’s standing below the sign holding up a placard that changes his slogan to:
“Atomic power: energy for a destructive future.”
“I made the wrong slogan,” Onuma said. “If we didn’t have this accident I would have still believed that atomic energy has a bright future. But I’m glad that I realized my mistake before I died.”