Chapter Title: Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management Chapter Author(s): Adam Broinowski Book Title: New Worlds from Below [extensive footnotes and references on original]
Faced with the post-3.11 reality of government (and corporate) policy that protects economic and security interests over public health and wellbeing, the majority of the 2 million inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture are either unconscious of or have been encouraged to accept living with radioactive contamination. People dry their clothes outside, drink local tap water and consume local food, swim in outdoor pools and the ocean, consume and sell their own produce or catches. Financial pressure after 3.11 as well as the persistent danger of social marginalisation has made it more difficult to take precautionary measures (i.e. permanent relocation, dual accommodation, importing food and water) and develop and share counter-narratives to the official message. Nevertheless, some continue to conceal their anxiety beneath a mask of superficial calm.
As Fukushima city resident Shiina Chieko observed, the majority of people seem to have adopted denial as a way to excise the present danger from their consciousness. Her sister-in-law, for example, ignored her son’s ‘continuous nosebleeds’, while her mother had decided that the community must endure by pretending that things were no different from pre-3.11 conditions.75 Unlike the claim that risk is evenly distributed, it is likely that greater risk is borne by those who eat processed foods from family restaurants and convenience stores, as well as infants, children and young women who are disproportionately vulnerable to internal radiation exposures. Most mothers, then, have an added burden to shield their children while maintaining a positive front in their family and community.
Some, such as Yokota Asami (40 years old), a small business owner and mother from Kōriyama (60 km from FDNPS), demonstrated initiative in voluntarily evacuating her family. She decided to return (wearing goggles and a mask, she joked) in September 2011 when her son’s regular and continuous nosebleeds (in 30-minute spells) subsided. The Yokotas found themselves the victims of bullying when they called attention to radiation dangers, and were labelled non-nationals (hikokumin 非国民) who had betrayed reconstruction efforts. Her son was the only one to put up his hand when he was asked along with 300 fellow junior high school students if he objected to eating locally produced school lunches. He also chose not to participate in outdoor exercise classes and to go on respite trips instead. When it came time to take the high school entrance exam, he was told by the school principal that those who took breaks could not pass. He took the exam and failed. When he asked to see his results he found that he had, in fact, enough points to pass (the cut-off was 156 while he received 198 out of 250 points). The Yokotas decided that it was better to be a ‘non-national’ and protect one’s health. Their son moved to live in Sapporo.76
In March 2015, Asami reported that doctors undertook paediatric thyroid operations while denying any correlation (inga kankei 因果 関係) with radiation exposures. They also urged their patients to keep their thyroid cancer a secret to enhance their employment or marriage prospects, although it would be difficult to conceal the post-operation scar.77 Yokota also indicated she knew of students having sudden heart attacks and developing leukaemia and other illnesses.78
This seems to be supported by Mr Ōkoshi, a Fukushima city resident, whose two daughters experienced stillbirths after 3.11.
While Ōkoshi found that doctors have regularly advised women in the area to abort after 3.11, presumably to avoid miscarriages and defects, they do not discuss direct causes. He also observed regular illnesses experienced by many of his friends, and some sudden deaths. After a friend (62 years old) started saying strange things, he was diagnosed with brain dysfunction. He died quickly. Another friend (53 years old) was advised by a doctor to monitor a polyp in her breast. When she sought second opinions, she discovered she had accumulated an internal dose of 22 mSv and had a rapidly developing liver cancer. She also died quickly.79 There are many more such stories that are being actively ignored by the authorities. As Shiina put it, ‘we’re getting leukaemia and cataracts and we die suddenly. The TEPCO registrar has been inundated with complaints’.80
While radiation contamination is clearly a health and environmental issue, state-corporate methods deployed by executives to protect (transnational) financial, industry and security interests and assets also make it a political issue.81 As things do not change by themselves, rather than turning one’s frustration inward in self-blame, turning to prayer or deceiving oneself into returning to pre-3.11 lifeways in contaminated areas, Shiina states that people, particularly those most affected, must develop political consciousness.
To achieve this ambitious objective is not as complicated as it might sound. Nishiyama Chikako (60 years old), for example, returned to Kawauchi village to run for the local assembly after the mandatory order was lifted in December 2011. She found, as she commented in her blog, a link between TEPCO and the tripling of the Kawauchi budget post-3.11. Subsequently, she reported that her blog was shut down by unknown hackers on several occasions.82
This sort of information and communication control appears to be widespread. After 3.11, the central government hired advertising companies Dentsū and Hakuhōdō (formerly McCann Ericson Hakuhodo) to run a ‘public acceptance’ campaign. Young teams were dispatched nationwide to conduct ‘public opinion guidance’ (yoron yūdō 世論誘導). The teams consisted of casual labour (earning 2,000–4,000 yen per hour) hired under a confidentiality clause (shuhi gimu 守秘義務) to manipulate information (jōhō kōsaku 情報工作) and harass internet users.83
Media professionals have been subjected to similar tactics. The Asahi TV journalist Iwaji Masaki (Hōdō Station), one of the few mainstream journalists covering the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in depth, for example, was intimidated by police for interviewing (December 2012) informal nuclear workers who showed shoddy decontamination practices that entailed contaminated waste disposal rather than removal and the mother of a child with thyroid cancer. Airing the program was delayed until August 2013. Before he could complete his planned segments on the US$1 billion class action for compensation for unusual and serious illnesses filed against TEPCO, General Electric, Hitachi and Tōshiba in 2015 by sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan (which provided assistance quickly after the disaster, and among whose crew 250 were ill and three had died),84 on 29 September 2013, Iwaji was reportedly found dead in his apartment (having suffered carbon monoxide poisoning in a sealed room as he slept). Much speculation followed on social media, including both plausible reasons for suicide and testimonies from friends that knew him well that Iwaji himself stated he would never commit suicide, but the story was conspicuously ignored by major news channels.85
The former mayor of Futaba village Idogawa Katsuichi was harassed on social media for calling attention to illnesses and for the resettlement of pregnant women and children. When Kariya Tetsu characterised Idogawa in his popular manga series (Oishinbo 美味しんぼ), and depicted the manga’s main character as suffering from nosebleeds after visiting Fukushima, Kariya’s editors shut the series down following accusations of ‘spreading rumours’ from some readers, media commentators and high level politicians. Similarly, Takenouchi Mari, a freelance journalist and mother who evacuated from Fukushima in 2011, received thousands of slanderous messages and threats to her two-year-old son and her property after criticising the co-founder of Fukushima ETHOS on her blog in mid-2012. She too reported that her internet account was suspended and her request for a police investigation ignored. She was counter-sued for harassment and subjected to a criminal investigation and civil law suit.86
Among the activists who have been arrested for anti-nuclear protests, the academic Shimoji Masaki of Hannan University (9 December 2012) was arrested by Osaka Prefectural Police and charged with ‘violating the Railway Operation Act’ for walking through an Osaka station concourse while participating in a demonstration against radioactive waste incineration (17 October 2012). Shimoji had reiterated that residents, due to radioactive incineration (which was due to commence in Osaka in February 2013), would be forced to bear the burden of air, food and water contamination.8
Despite such obstacles to developing a political consciousness as well as the obvious difficulties in permanently resettling large populations, it has been not only evacuees who have had to think about their fundamental life priorities after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear distaster. Some have adopted real (not only psychological) self-protection mechanisms. The voluntary Fukushima Collective Health Clinic (Fukushima Kyōdō Shinryōjo 福島共同診療所), for example, is founded on three principles: respite (hoyō 保養), treatment (shinryō 診療) and healing (iryō 医療). Co-founder Dr Sugii, advocates a return to the 1 mSv/y limit, and seeks to inform those who for whatever reason cannot move from contaminated areas in Fukushima Prefecture.88 This is modelled on Belrad, the independent health clinic in Belarus run by Alexey Nesterenko, which prioritises knowledge, safety and open information on radiation and its health impacts. 86
To counteract the misinformation residents were exposed to post Chernobyl, over time and with limited resources, Belrad and other organisations have disseminated information and organised respite trips for children in affected areas. In 2015, for example, subsidised respite trips were organised for 50,000 children, and results have shown that over two continuous years of respite those who accumulated 25– 35 Bq/kg had reduced the amount to 0 Bq/kg. Unlike the flat limit of 100 Bq/kg of Caesium in food in Japan (50 Bq/kg for milk and infant foods, 10 Bq/kg for drinking water), Belrad recommends an internal radiation limit of 10–30 Bq/kg in the body (although it advises below 10 Bq for infants to avoid lesions and heart irregularities).89 It should be noted that these limits do not guarantee safety against the effects of repeating internal radiation exposure from consuming contaminated foods, which is relative to the length of time the radiation remains and its location in the body.
While some communities, such as the town of Aketo in Tanohama, Iwate Prefecture, have struggled to block the siting of nuclear waste storage facilities,90 others are also organising to reduce radio-accumulation in their children through respite trips,91 as well as concentrating on indoor activities, measuring hotspots and decontaminating public areas and pathways, pooling funds for expensive spectrometers to monitor internal exposure and food and water, incorporating dietary radioprotection, as well as finding ways to reduce anxiety
Many local farmers cannot admit the already near-permanent damage to their land (which may continue for hundreds of years) because it would imply the devaluation of their property and produce as well as threatening their ancestral ties to the land, commitments and future plans. While many are keenly aware of their responsibilities, the push by the Fukushima and central governments to identify and gain access to markets for produce from irradiated areas would make it easier to overlook uncomfortable factors. Some have argued that given the reassurances of safety from the highest authorities, these offical figures should therefore relocate to contaminated areas and consume these products regularly. Despite the fairness of this statement, a more utilitarian logic has prevailed. In the name of reconstruction and revitalisation of Fukushima and the nation, the dilution of Fukushima produce with unirradiated produce to return measurements just under the required limits, radiation spikes in soil and food or the mutation of plants as Caesium replaces potassium (K40), for example, tend to be minimised. In this climate, the distribution and relabelling of Fukushima produce for urban and international markets (i.e. in a black market of cut-price bulk produce picked up by yakuza and other brokers) is likely to continue.
To date, the majority of evacuees have refused to return to (de)contaminated areas. Some claim they are yet to receive accurate information to justify it. Independent specialists such as Hosokawa Kōmei (Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy), who develops models for transition to renewable alternatives, anticipate an increase in evacuee populations as they predict increased resettlement of Fukushima residents over 20–30 years.92 As some evacuees recognise the potential for second or third Fukushimas, they have sought to strengthen their collective identities and rights. Through local organisation and alternative life practices, whether in micro-scale ecovillages and transition towns93 with communal occupancies and squats, parallel currencies and local exchange systems (roughly 70 substantive projects), organic food co-ops, self-sufficient energy systems, local production and recycling, carpools and free kindergartens, such groups are seeking to reconstruct and model core social priorities, focusing on clean food, health and community cooperation rather than the internalised and dreary competition for material accumulation.
Although the accountability of authorities with prior knowledge has yet to be properly investigated, one of the largest groups of collective legal actions to be mounted in Japanese history includes some 20 lawsuits by 10,000 plaintiffs. The Fukushima genpatsu kokuso-dan (Group of Plaintiffs for Criminal Prosecution 福島原発告訴団), formed on 20 April 2012, filed a criminal case (lodged 3 September 2013, Fukushima District Court) against 33 previous and present officers of TEPCO, government officials and medical experts for ‘group irresponsibility’ and the neglect of duty of care, environmental damage and harm to human health. Mutō Ruiko, one of the key plaintiffs, declared the main aim to be symbolic: to publicly record injury, reclaim the victims’ sense of agency and protect the next generation. In short, they were seeking recognition of wrong and harm done rather than primarily financial redress. This moderate aim was undoubtedly tempered by recognition of regulatory capture: those who were cavalier with safety procedures ‘were now in charge of restarts; those responsible for the “safety” campaign were now in charge of the Health Survey; [there has been] no responsibility for the SPEEDI cover-up; and TEPCO is not being held responsible for [faulty] decontamination’.94
The judgement of this case was handed down at the Tokyo District Court on the same day as the announcement of Tokyo’s successful Olympics bid (9 September 2013). The case was dismissed on the grounds that the disaster was beyond predictability (sōteigai 想定外), which made negligence hypothetical.95 A citizens’ panel (Committee for inquest of Prosecution) overturned the dismissal and renewed the claim against three TEPCO executives on 18 December 2013. They demanded, alongside a ruling of negligence against three former TEPCO executives, the inclusion of physical, economic, social and psychological harms: illness, paediatric underdevelopment (radiation exposures, excessive isolation indoors), financial losses (unemployment, loss in property value, rental costs of two homes, relocation, travel, etc.), family and community division, ijime (bullying いじめ) and stress. Many plaintiffs also claimed that their disrupted reliance upon nature,96 as inviolable and precious,97 should be recognised as harm. This too was dismissed and again a citizen’s panel found against the three TEPCO executives.98 In May 2015, 10 groups of plaintiffs formed a network named Hidanren (被弾連, Genpatsu Jiko Higaisha Dantai Renrakukai) comprising 20,000 people. The Fukushima kokuso-dan again made a claim to another citizens’ panel, which found in July 2015 in favour of indicting the three TEPCO executives for trial.99 In addition, a civil case filed in June 2015 by 4,000 plaintiffs from Iwaki seeking to prove negligence and not just harm sought to use previously withheld evidence to show fair warning of a 3.11-type scenario was given. This case focused the court on the operator’s calculation of risk probability of a tsunami of that size and, rather than aiming at financial compensation, it sought to deter nuclear operators from future negligent practices if ruled in favour. In anticipation of out-of-court settlements, the Japanese Government increased the budget for compensation payments to 7 trillion yen (US$56 billion).