Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes but denies being told of need for tsunami steps

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Former Tokyo Electric Power Co. Vice President Sakae Muto.

Ex-TEPCO VP apologizes as defendant questioning begins in Fukushima nuclear disaster trial

October 16, 2018
TOKYO — A former vice president of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) apologized on Oct. 16 during court questioning of three ex-TEPCO top officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Defendant Sakae Muto, 68, said, “To the many people who lost their lives, their family members or those who were forced to evacuate their homes, I have caused you great pain that cannot be expressed in words, and I extend my deepest apologies. I am very sorry about what happened.”
The questioning of Muto at the Tokyo District Court over the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in northern Japan is scheduled to continue until the evening, with plans to resume on Oct. 17.
The other former executives indicted in the criminal trial are 78-year-old former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice president Ichiro Takekuro, 72. This trial marks the first time that the three top officials will be questioned in detail in a court of law about their responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
According to the indictment, while the three were aware of the possibility of a large tsunami hitting the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Plant, they neglected to take countermeasures, leading to the March 2011 accident. As a result, they are thought to have caused the deaths of 44 patients who had to evacuate from Futaba Hospital in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, near the power plant for a long period of time due to the accident, among other charges.
At the first hearing of the trial in June 2017, Muto said, “Looking back now, there was no way of predicting that such an accident could occur. I do not believe we are responsible.” The other two defendants are also maintaining their innocence in the matter.
Former vice president Takekuro will be questioned on Oct. 19, followed by former chairman Katsumata on Oct. 20.
(Japanese original by Masanori Makita, City News Department, and Mirai Nagira, Science & Environment News Department)
 
 
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Sakae Muto, former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., in January

Ex-TEPCO exec denies being told of need for tsunami steps

October 16, 2018
A former vice president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. refused to take any responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, testifying in court Oct. 16 that he was never made aware of the possibility of destructive tsunami striking the facility and, therefore, did not authorize countermeasures.
Sakae Muto, 68, is on trial on a charge of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the March 2011 catastrophe at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, along with Tsunehisa Katsumata, a former TEPCO chairman, and Ichiro Takekuro, another former TEPCO vice president.
Towering tsunami generated by the Great East Japan Earthquake inundated the coastal complex, knocking out cooling systems and triggering a triple meltdown.
Muto denied in the Tokyo District Court that he and the two other top executives once gave the green light for countermeasures against a powerful tsunami three years before the disaster occurred.
“We were never notified that such a thing could happen,” Muto stated.
To prove negligence, prosecutors must show that top executives could have reasonably predicted the scale of the tsunami that swamped the plant, setting off the most serious nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Muto’s testimony followed oral statements given in a previous court hearing by Kazuhiko Yamashita, head of TEPCO’s center tasked with compiling anti-earthquake measures.
In the statetments, Yamashita said he notified Muto, Katsumata and Takekuro in a February 2008 meeting that the height of a powerful tsunami predicted to hit the site would be at least 7.7 meters.
Yamashita’s team arrived at the figure using a simplified calculation based on the long-term assessment of the probability of major earthquakes released by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002.
Yamashita said in his statements that he took it that the three executives understood his team’s projection was based on a government assessment and that they approved taking anti-tsunami measures.
Yamashita’s statements were made to prosecutors between 2012 and 2014, when he was under investigation in connection with the nuclear disaster. The court accepted them as evidence.
A TEPCO subsidiary’s civil engineering team came up with a figure of 15.7 meters after conducting a more detailed study.
The update was conveyed to TEPCO executives in June that year. But Muto, who was deputy chief of the company’s nuclear power and plant siting division, instructed subordinates the following month to shelve the anti-tsunami measures, according to witnesses who testified in previous hearings.
Asked about the February meeting, Muto denied that he was notified destructive tsunami could strike, or safety steps were required.
“No such topics were raised during the meeting,” he stated.
Muto also characterized the meeting that included Katsumata and Takekuro as “not one to make a decision as an organization, but one to share information.”
With regard to the projection of 15.7 meters, Muto said, “I was briefed that the (government’s) long-term assessment is not credible and thought that no new scientific expertise was available.”
He also rejected suggestions that he postponed taking anti-tsunami measures.
“I simply thought it would be difficult to come up with a design for a strong sea wall straight away,” he said.
Asked whether it was possible that his division alone was empowered to halt plant operations in anticipation of encroaching danger, he emphatically denied this was so.
He said a decision of such gravity is “too weighty in terms of business management that the nuclear power and plant siting division’s decision alone cannot make it happen.”
Muto went on to state: “It would have been necessary for the division to consult with not only many divisions and sections of our company, but also other utilities and central and local governments and explain to them the grounds and the need to halt operations.”
He started his testimony by offering a “deep apology” for causing “trouble beyond description” to people affected by the nuclear disaster.
The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s reactor buildings sit on elevated land 10 meters above sea level. The tsunami spawned by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake reached 15.5 meters around the reactor buildings, according to traces left there.
Prosecutors had initially declined to press charges against the three former executives, citing insufficient evidence. However, a committee for the inquest of prosecution twice concluded that the trio should be indicted.
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Whether tsunami predictable, damage avoidable focus of TEPCO nuclear disaster trial

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The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) headquarters building in the capital’s Chiyoda Ward is seen from Shiodome City Center in Tokyo’s Minato Ward in this file photo taken on Aug. 24, 2011.
 
October 15, 2018
TOKYO — The criminal trial of three top former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) officials indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster will reach a climax as the defendants will begin to answer questions from prosecutors and their defense lawyers on Oct. 16.
They will face these two focal questions: Was it possible for them to predict the massive tsunami that triggered the triple core meltdowns at the TEPCO plant in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, and was the damage from the natural disaster avoidable?
The three former TEPCO executives to undergo questioning are former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto. All of them essentially answered no to those two questions in the opening session of the trial in June last year; that they could not foresee the tsunami, and therefore have no criminal responsibility for the damage caused by the natural disaster leading to the nuclear accident.
This unusual trial took several years to come to the Tokyo District Court as prosecutors’ two refusals to indict the three ex-executives were overridden each time by the committee for the inquest of prosecution. As a result, the defendants were forcibly indicted by lawyers serving as prosecutors.
The trial’s eight months of cross examinations of various witnesses that ended on Oct. 3 gave rise to the view that the former management essentially postponed taking sufficient countermeasures against the level of tsunami that hit the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station on March 11, 2011 out of cost considerations.
The gushing seawater sent to the Fukushima shore by the Great East Japan Earthquake halted diesel power generators at the plant, making it impossible to cool down the nuclear fuel cores that melted down to the ground and resulted in the release of a massive amount of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. This nuclear disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents around the plant, and many of them are still unable to return to their homes seven years after the incident.
— ‘Management first, countermeasures second’?
In the 24th session of the trial on Sept. 5, an affidavit given to the prosecution by a former top TEPCO official in charge of tsunami countermeasures was read out: “Our business environment was deteriorating because of the Niigata Chuetsu offshore earthquake of 2007 that halted the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power station, and we wanted to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 plant from stopping by all means.”
The statement said that the former management once decided to introduce measures to protect against possible tsunami damage but decided to postpone them after finding out that they were more costly than expected, implying that managerial decisions were behind the delay.
Earlier, all TEPCO tsunami countermeasure officials who testified before the court had agreed that such steps must be taken in response to a 2002 government estimate that “a massive tsunami could occur off the Fukushima coast.” Their testimonies, however, did not explain why the process was delayed.
According to the affidavit, the three defendants including Katsumata approved countermeasures at a top-level TEPCO meeting in February 2008 after a report was presented to the meeting that an estimated wave 7.7 meters high or more could hit the Fukushima facility. But more detailed calculations showed that the potential maximum height would be 15.7 meters, and it was reported to Muto, the former vice president, that it was now estimated to cost tens of billions of yen and take more than four years to complete the countermeasures. Following this estimate, Muto decided to ask experts to re-evaluate the reliability of the 2002 government estimate, effectively shelving steps to mitigate damage from tsunami.
Implementing tsunami countermeasures could mean a halt to the Fukushima nuclear plant as construction work could not be completed in time. If that was the case, it was better to work behind closed doors and influence regulators so that they would clear the facility as safe, according to the testimony by a former tsunami countermeasure official presented in September this year.
If the management really postponed measures to curb tsunami damage as explained in the affidavit that would fit with the argument by the prosecution — as highlighted by designated lawyers in the special trial. Another focal point of the trial would be how the three defendants would explain this point.
Moreover, it is still not clear what Katsumata, the then chairman, and Takekuro, another vice president back then, were thinking about the results of tsunami damage estimates reported to the February 2008 meeting. The level of involvement by these two defendants is also a highlight of the questioning session starting Oct. 16.
According to the 2002 government estimate, there was a 20 percent chance that a magnitude-8 earthquake could occur along the Japan Trench off the northeastern Japan coast of Sanriku and the eastern coast of Boso during the next 30 years. Fukushima lies alongside this area, which triggered three major tremblers that caused massive tsunami during the past 400 years as shown in historical records.
Professor Fumihiko Imamura of Tohoku University, a tsunami dynamics specialist, questioned the validity of the government evaluation during the trial saying, “It cannot be ignored but has many issues,” siding with the three defendants. But professor emeritus Kunihiko Shimazaki of the University of Tokyo, a seismologist who headed an expert panel that compiled the 2002 estimate, testified that the panel’s conclusion didn’t face any objections from panel members. “It was a consensus conclusion. The (2011 nuclear) accident could have been avoided if countermeasures were taken according to the long-term evaluation,” Shimzaki said. His testimony indicated the defendants failed to act properly.
In class action damages suits filed by evacuees from the 2011 nuclear accident and others, five district courts have ruled that the massive tsunami that triggered the core meltdowns could have been foreseen based on the 2002 estimate. But criminal trials require stronger proof and sometimes end with different conclusions than civil suits.
Meanwhile, about the question of whether the damage caused by the tsunami was avoidable, a former TEPCO employee at the time of the nuclear disaster said in the trial that “damage from tsunami could not be prevented even if countermeasures were taken.” The superior of the employee testified that “countermeasures, if implemented, could be too late, but I think something could have been done.”
A former employee of the Japan Atomic Power Co. testified that his company constructed soil embankments around its Tokai No. 2 nuclear power station in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture to the south of Fukushima, to fend off a tsunami to a height of 12.2 meters. This measure was based on the 2002 government estimate, and the facility was spared of damage from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The prosecution argues that such a measure would have prevented the Fukushima nuclear facility from causing the devastating damage.
(Japanese original by Ei Okada, Science & Environment News Department, and Masanori Makita, City News Department)

An insider’s perspective on Fukushima and everything that came after

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Ars chats with Naomi Hirose, who became TEPCO’s CEO after the Fukushima meltdown.
Naomi Hirose, vice chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. (TEPCO).
 
October 5, 2018
The meltdown of the reactors at Fukushima Daichi has changed how many people view the risks of nuclear power, causing countries around the world to revise their plans for further construction and revisit the safety regulations for existing plants. The disaster also gave the world a first-hand view of the challenges of managing accidents in the absence of a functional infrastructure and the costs when those accidents occur in a densely populated, fully developed nation.
Earlier this week, New York’s Japan Society hosted a man with a unique perspective on all of this. Naomi Hirose was an executive at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) when the meltdown occurred, and he became its CEO while he was struggling to get the recovery under control. Ars attended Hirose’s presentation and had the opportunity to interview him. Because the two discussions partly overlapped, we’ll include information from both below.
The accident and safety
During his presentation, Hirose noted that the epicenter of 2011’s Tōhoku earthquake was only 180 kilometers from Fukushima. But initially, safety protocols kicked in; called a scram, the protocols led to control rods being inserted into the reactors to shut down the nuclear reactions and bring the plant to a halt. Since this had happened previously in response to earthquakes, Hirose said people were feeling confident the situation was under control.
But the earthquake itself had damaged the power lines that fed the plant, leaving it reliant on internal power to run the cooling pumps. And the source of that power was swept away when the tsunami generated by the quake inundated all six of the reactors on the site. This left the plant unable to cool its reactors; several melted down, and the hydrogen they generated ultimately led to explosions that wrecked the buildings that housed them. Hirose suggests that these explosions were likely sparked as things shifted and fell due to aftershocks.
This has led countries around the world to tighten their rules regarding backup equipment and to re-evaluate the infrastructure they assumed would be available to help manage the accident. We also got a chance to ask Hirose about how he viewed the risks of nuclear power after this experience:
We learned that safety culture is very important. We saw that we were probably a little arrogant. We spent a huge amount of money to improve the safety of that plant before the accident. We thought that this was enough. We learned that you never think this is enough. We have to learn many things from all over the world. 9/11 could be some lessons for nuclear power stations—it’s not just nuclear accidents in other countries, everything could be a lesson.
So we learn: “Do not stop improving the safety.” This is a technical matter, a scientific matter, and we can make these risks as small as possible.
Re-establishing control
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, what had gone wrong in some of the reactors wasn’t even clear; contaminated groundwater was a massive issue, and a substantial exclusion zone forced the evacuation of thousands of residents nearby. Just to do anything on the site required huge amounts of safety gear.
“[In the] first several years, we didn’t have a really clear plan, because it’s troubleshooting,” Hirose told Ars. “Many, many things took place, so we had to settle down these things. Now the condition of the plant is very stable.”
With the stability, one of the first steps chosen was to remove spent fuel, which was stored in elevated tanks in the reactor buildings. Reactor four shut down when the earthquake struck, and more than 1,500 fuel rods have since been safely removed. At reactor three, rubble covering the spent fuel pool has been cleared, and a new roof incorporating a crane has been built, paving the way to remove the spent fuel there.
But the melted-down reactors pose a much larger challenge. “We don’t know exactly the condition of the debris, so we developed several different types of robotics and let them go into the reactor building,” Hirose told Ars. “Now the robotics are taking movies, collecting all the data—temperature, radioactivity. Now we are planning how to attack, how to go to those debris. So maybe it takes a few more years; it depends on analyzing the situation.”
Meanwhile, decontamination work and time have reduced the onsite risk so that workers only need to wear exposure-tracking badges. The area of the exclusion zone with above-background radiation levels has also shrunk considerably.
“There are only two towns left in the evacuation zone—it’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” Hirose said during our interview. “Even those two towns—they are planning to develop a new city hall, new spaces for commercial [activity]. Since it’s been 7.5 years already, all the people will not come back. Kids start going to school in the places they went. Each has different situations. But we’d like to have those towns available for everybody. Still, those two towns are prohibited to come back, but we’d like to have that situation cleared.”
Bearing the costs
None of this comes cheaply. When we were discussing risks, Hirose acknowledged, “Once there is a serious accident, the costs of these things is enormous. And we understood that, and everybody realized that.”
But who carries that cost? In the US, the government steps in once costs exceed $12.6 billion. That’s not the case for TEPCO. “Japanese law—it’s called nuclear damage compensation law—clarified that no matter what the size of the damages, it’s singly the nuclear operator that has all the responsibility without fault. So even if we did [make any] mistake, the operator has to pay. The Price-Anderson Act in the US stipulates the limit in the damage. Maybe we need that kind of limit. It’s been discussed in Japan, and it’s a really difficult point.”
(“I mean, we had the accident, so maybe we shouldn’t say anything about this,” he said at this point.)
In the immediate aftermath of the accident, this pushed TEPCO’s finances to a very bad place. Once the site stabilized, so did the costs, but they remain enormous. During his public discussion, Hirose said that they’re running at about $5 billion a year, and that’s expected to continue for 30 years. “We’ve made enough for the past three years, but we have to do it for 27 more,” Hirose told the audience. That will fundamentally limit the actions the company can take for the next several decades.
Japan’s future
What’s that energy economy going to look like? Prior to Fukushima, Hirose was a big advocate of increasing electrification of energy use. He brought that up in our discussion as well.
Electrification definitely will expand—like electric vehicles and heat-pump technology. Those things are much, much more efficient compared to combustion engines or conventional heating systems. Electric vehicles are very efficient, so they don’t use a lot of electricity. Based on our calculations, even if all the automobiles turn into electric vehicles in the Tokyo area, our demand for electricity only goes up 15 percent or so. So it’s not a big, big potential transition.
And still, the total energy consumption would decline very, very much, because we don’t use any gasoline. And if that electricity is provided by renewables or nuclear, carbon dioxide would decrease dramatically. I think electrification is one of the things that will decrease the total demand for energy. It’s just how to generate that amount of electricity, which depends on if it’s nuclear, solar, wind… Electrification and decarbonization are the two key things.
Any increased demand due to electrification, however, will take place against a general decline in energy use in Japan. While already a very efficient society, the Japanese managed to curtail energy use even further as all of the country’s nuclear plants were shut down in the wake of Fukushima. “Have you been to Tokyo? Shops are very bright, very, um, shining with lights. It’s gorgeous—maybe you need sunglasses,” Hirose suggested. “But people started thinking that maybe that was too much.”
Critically, what might have been temporary measures have produced what appear to be permanent changes. “The consumption of electricity has not come back yet,” Hirose told Ars. “Maybe it never will, because the population of Japan is declining. I don’t know if in the long term the demand for electricity goes up.”
Still, the country will need to continue to produce electricity while decarbonizing its grid to meet international agreements. And the government’s plans for doing so include continued use of nuclear power. “The Japanese government set a target: 20-22 percent is generated by nuclear in 2030,” Hirose said. “In order to keep this number, we need to develop new nuclear power. So far, all the electric power companies and operators focus on the restart of the already existing nuclear power plants. Everybody is not in the mood to build a new one, because they are busy handling the restart of the existing plants.”
If the new plants are ever built, Japan will get the chance to see if it can avoid the massive cost overruns that have plagued projects elsewhere.
But that’s a very large if, and during Hirose’s presentation, an audience member pointed out that more than 60 percent of the Japanese population would like to see the country eliminate nuclear power. Other low-carbon sources, however, face significant hurdles in Japan. “Solar is very popular. Wind is possible, particularly offshore wind. But the Japanese Sea suddenly becomes deep, so it’s not like Northern Europe,” Hirose told Ars. “It’s a little technically difficult. Geothermal is very possible. Unfortunately, all the possible places are in national parks or hot-spring towns, so there aren’t many good places. But technically, it’s possible.”
All of which leaves Japan’s long-term energy future unsettled. But, in the immediate future, attention will remain on the restart of the existing nuclear power plants and the identification of the melted fuel on the floor of the remaining reactors.

Touching from a Distance: The workers of Fukushima Daiichi

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A hill looks out over Unit 2 (left) and Unit 3.
By Andrew Deck | Posted on September 28, 2018
Our tour van came to a stop in the pass between the Unit 2 and 3 reactors. The gap, once consumed by radioactive rubble, had been cleared several months before our visit to the Fukushima Daiichi plant in June. “You’ll have 10 minutes outside before we move onto the next location,” our guide announced to the vehicle, a portable Geiger counter in hand. We buckled our construction helmets, tightened the strings of our face masks and stepped out onto the open road. The Pacific coast was no more than 200 meters in front of us and on either side were nuclear reactor buildings. While Unit 2 was weathered but structurally intact, Unit 3 showed visible scars from the explosion it had suffered seven years earlier, marked by protruding support beams and fractured cement walls.
Since our day began at the edge of the exclusion zone in Tomioka, Fukushima, we had passed through half a dozen security checkpoints and received a full-body scan to measure internal radiation, a baseline reading for later comparison. Now, at the power plant, facing the shells of two nuclear meltdowns, our observation time was further regulated to minimize exposure. A visit to this part of the plant came with the understanding that just steps away were structures housing melted nuclear debris, the epicenters of one of the largest nuclear disasters in history.
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There were no hazmat suits or gas masks, the biohazard uniform most would imagine for this portion of the tour. Pants and a long-sleeved shirt was the required outfit, a protective layer augmented by gloves, a helmet and what could pass as a kafunsho (hay fever) mask. We were directed to tuck our pant legs into four layers of neon blue socks, which we slid into black ankle-cut rain boots. A personal Geiger counter was placed in the chest pocket of our mesh vests. It would set off an alarm when it reached the tour’s daily allowance for radiation exposure, 100 microsieverts, equivalent to a roundtrip flight between Narita and JFK. In our meticulously planned day-long tour, these counters wouldn’t reach more than 30 microsieverts.
The optics of this moment, standing in plain clothes next to two nuclear reactors, were not lost on Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates Fukushima Daiichi and facilitated Metropolis’ tour of the 3.5km² power station, known internally as 1F. Our guide remarked that they often bring visitors to this spot. Safely getting up close to one of the reactors, even if only for 10 minutes, is a gesture they hope will show conditions at the plant have improved substantially since the 2011 disaster.
In the past year, TEPCO has expanded the number of power station tours for journalists and the general public. These tours are an effort to increase transparency and educate the public on the plant’s status. They are also an effort to build goodwill for a company that is still maligned by many for its culpability in the disaster. Three retired TEPCO executives, Ichiro Takekuro, Sakae Muto and former chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, are currently on trial for “professional negligence resulting in death and injury,” a criminal charge for ignoring internal reports that Fukushima Daiichi was at risk from a debilitating tsunami wave. The indictment was brought by a civilian judiciary panel, overruling prosecutors who had twice declined to press charges. The criminal trial follows a string of civil suits, including a ruling by a Tokyo court last year that ordered TEPCO to pay ¥11 billion (100 million USD) in damages to the residents of Minamisoma, Fukushima.
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As part of these tours, TEPCO is promoting what they consider major improvements to working conditions on the plant. Currently, 96 percent of 1F can be accessed with the “regular uniform” we wore during our tour. One of the most advertised portions of the plant is Sakura Dori, a roadway at the edge of  1F that has been specially maintained in order to match regularly-occurring radiation levels in Tokyo. Before the disaster, families of plant workers and local residents would gather under the road’s 1,000 blooming cherry blossoms trees for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) every April. This past year TEPCO invited journalists to Sakura Dori for a photo-op of the 380 trees that remain.
These entwined motivations of public education and public relations valence any visit to 1F, including Metropolis’. But even a manufactured look behind the power plant fences provides insight into the personal and working lives of the 5,000 people who are employed at Fukushima Daiichi daily. Their roles are diverse, from nuclear engineers and security guards, to bureaucratic liaisons and cafeteria servers. Decontamination workers stand alongside janitorial staff. There is even a fully-stocked Lawson convenience store tucked away in an administrative building with cashiers working the registers. Each of these workers wakes up every morning and must pass into the Fukushima exclusion zone on their way to work. Some even enter reactor buildings, earning their livelihood by putting themselves in proximity to dangerous nuclear debris.
As we walked down Sakura Dori towards our tour van, we passed a couple dozen workers; some matched us in attire, others wore blue TEPCO-issued coveralls, others wore anorak body suits and full-face masks, used in the plant’s most radioactive areas, or “R zones.” It was a muggy summer afternoon with grey clouds forecasting heavy rain. We were told heat stroke is a common problem when wearing full-body protective gear, one motivation behind efforts to make 1F more accessible with regular clothes. Without fail, though, each worker shared a hearty “otsukaresama” as they passed one another. The greeting is used to offer thanks for hard work; its literal translation addresses “someone who is tired.” Unlike PR officers, TEPCO executives and Diet legislators based in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, it is 1F’s decommissioning workers who must walk Sakura Dori every day — not just when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. In some form, they will likely be walking this road for decades.
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On March 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm, a tsunami wave 13 meters tall crested over the six-meter seawall of Fukushima Daiichi’s complex, flooding the grounds with a force that crippled the nuclear power station’s vital cooling systems. Without electricity required to pump water into the reactors, the waterline dropped below the core rods in Units 1, 2 and 3, instigating a nuclear meltdown in each. Inside these reactor walls, boiling pools of stagnant water produced volatile amounts of hydrogen gas (a Zirconium-steam reaction). Within days Units 1, 3 and 4 (connected to the Unit 3 building by pipes) had all suffered explosions, carrying nuclear fallout over the Pacific and inland, disseminating across the towns of eastern Fukushima Prefecture. The nuclear fuel in Units 1, 2 and 3 soon melted through their primary containment vessels (PCVs) and pooled in the cement basements of each respective building, where it remains to this day.
Masahiro Yamamoto, 42, was there on March 11. In fact, he’s been at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant for over 20 years, his first and only job since university. Born in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, where southernmost Honshu meets the tip of Kitakyushu, Yamamoto enrolled in a TEPCO-affiliated high school. Trained as an engineer, the feeder program placed him at the Fukushima plant back in 1994, where he worked a steady engineering job and raised his three children in Futaba. One of two towns that border 1F, the evacuated municipality currently has an actual population of zero.
“Before the disaster, I worked just like an average salaryman. But as disaster struck and the situation worsened, it was as if I was dropped right in the middle of a battlefield,”  he says. We don’t dwell on this difficult time, but Yamamoto shares some fragmented memories. “The monitors for the reactors started to show signs of abnormality, and I thought to myself, ‘what is going to happen now,’” he remembers. “My family lived nearby and I wanted to check their safety, but I had no way of communicating with them so I didn’t know whether they were swept away by the tsunami or injured by the quake. I had many worries, but I had to bury my feelings and focus on my duties. I managed to control myself up to that point.”
The Self-Defense Force came first; then other government agencies arrived — “When I was walking down the aisle to go to the restroom, the Prime Minister passed right by me.” Yamamoto’s workplace in a quiet seaside town had overnight become ground zero for a Level 7 nuclear accident, matched in severity only by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. He describes himself and his team as co-workers that were suddenly required to be soldiers faced with daily life-threatening work. “When Unit 1 exploded, I was wearing my mask to go outside and work onsite at the reactors. I felt [the blast] blow across my face. Things took a turn for the worse and every time we had to go near the reactor buildings, our team was assembled knowing that there may be an explosion and we might die. We had to go through that many times, and it was psychologically hard on me.”
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Seven years later, the realities of working at Fukushima Daiichi have changed dramatically for Yamamoto. Along with 750 other TEPCO employees, he lives in company dormitory housing in the town of Okuma, just outside the exclusion zone. His family evacuated during the disaster and they have been living in Tokyo’s Otsuka neighborhood ever since. Long train rides on weekends are the only way he spends time with his wife and three children before returning to his duties at the plant.
“There’s nothing special about my job,” Yamamoto says, despite all signs to the contrary. “I think any work is hard and challenging.” He describes his average day, far removed from the emergency response. Early mornings begin with weight training; nights are spent studying eikaiwa (English conversation). He’s working to improve his English skills, in part, to share his experiences at the power plant and dispel fears about visiting Fukushima Prefecture. “I’d like many foreigners to come to Japan to learn not just about the fun things, but also about [Fukushima Daiichi] and the reality.”
Yamamoto currently serves as Team Leader at Units 5 and 6, two reactors that were spared from nuclear meltdowns but are set for decommissioning. While important work, this is only one part of an elaborate operation that also aspires to full decommissioning of Units 1, 2, 3 and 4 by 2050. Now seven years into this proposed timeline, some critics have questioned its feasibility. According to Daisuke Hirose, a TEPCO spokesperson who debriefed Metropolis on the state of decommissioning, there are three major priorities in fulfilling the plan as scheduled.
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The most complex is the location and extraction of nuclear fuel debris. Hundreds of tons of melted fuel remain buried deep within Units 1, 2 and 3, the exact locations of which remain unknown. Rubble and fatal radioactivity levels have rendered these parts of the reactor buildings inaccessible to humans, leaving remote-controlled robots the most viable method of investigation. Only minimal fuel debris in Unit 2 has currently been identified and the means of extraction have not been finalized, but Hirose says TEPCO will meet a 2021 benchmark for initial fuel extraction. Alongside the handling of nuclear debris, the plant must confront a rapid accumulation of contaminated water on site, perhaps the most urgent task facing the operation. 
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Despite the pressing and complex problems facing the project, Hirose argues that improving the safety of the plant must rank above all other priorities, “Decommissioning is something done by people. Our most important task is improving conditions at 1F for decommissioning workers.” Yamamoto, for one, insists he does not worry about his health while working at the plant. “At the time of the disaster, I couldn’t comprehend all the issues about contamination and radiation exposure, so I was very worried back then,” he says. “I don’t have those worries now.” Yamamoto’s duties at Units 5 and 6 include routine exposure to radiation, but he does not currently conduct work in the plant’s most radioactive locations. While we requested to speak to an employee with work duties in the R zone, TEPCO declined the request citing the priority for these employees as decommissioning work. “Of course, to be honest, there are some people who’ve suffered health damage, as has been reported in newspapers, so it’s not a zero,” he adds. Currently, 17 employees at 1F who’ve developed cancer have applied to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare for compensation as a work-related illness. In September, the Ministry acknowledged the first death related to radiation exposure at 1F, a subcontractor in his 50s who died of lung cancer.
Once a meishi (business card) that held tremendous social capital, TEPCO is now a company irrecoverably associated with the disaster. To many, the workers of Fukushima Daiichi are the face of this institution. Yamamoto shares stories of coworkers’ doors being vandalized with graffiti and trash being dumped in front of their homes. It is difficult to find sympathy for the TEPCO workers at 1F when considering the continued injustices suffered by the residents of Fukushima, but the victims of the nuclear disaster and the rain boots on the ground at 1F are not necessarily distinct populations. Around 60 percent of the employees at Fukushima Daiichi are from Fukushima Prefecture, a number that TEPCO says may be underreported since it only includes those born in the prefecture. In many instances, including Yamamoto’s, the workers at 1F are working towards recovering their own communities in the entwined futures of decommissioning and Fukushima’s restoration.
7
Our coach passed the border of the “difficult to return zone,” a government-designated boundary that separates areas of Fukushima deemed habitable from those deemed uninhabitable. Suddenly we were facing the Fukushima “ghost towns” of popular imagination. While Fukushima Daiichi is ground zero, the heart of this disaster is in the abandoned towns of the prefecture: homes and businesses and schools left behind in an instant, hard evidence of the 160,000 residents that were displaced by the disaster. Abandoned vehicles, shattered windows, hollowed-out storefronts, a dilapidated pachinko parlor and seven years of weeds rising from cracks in the cement — they all passed by the coach windows on our approach to Fukushima Daiichi.
We were not the only vehicles on this highway, trucks rumbled past us and cars lined the road. Calling these “ghost towns” is a misnomer: these towns may be uninhabited, but they are not unoccupied. Many of these vehicles belonged to a decontamination project that spans the original 20km exclusion zone and beyond. It is not operated by TEPCO, but rather a web of government agencies and municipalities. Their job, first and foremost, entails the mass removal of dirt, stripping entire towns of topsoil and manually washing down rooftops and other surfaces that were doused in radioactive particles in an effort to clean away radiation. Fields of black refuse sacks, millions of which are filled with contaminated soil, now litter the prefecture without plans for their permanent storage or removal. Regardless of this work’s efficacy, it is an undertaking that requires a massive labor force; Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reports that more than 46,000 were employed in Fukushima decontamination work in 2016.
The harsh reality is that the disaster has disrupted the industries that once thrived in Fukushima Prefecture — fishing, agriculture and service jobs. Currently, only half of the region’s 1,000 fishermen are going out to sea and they face highly reduced demand. The decontamination industry is one of the few thriving seven years later, but this line of work is not without its risks. In early September, the UN human rights division released a statement warning of possible worker exploitation in the recovery effort, both within the prefectural decontamination projects and on the 1F site. “Workers hired to decontaminate Fukushima reportedly include migrant workers, asylum seekers and people who are homeless,” wrote three UN Special Rapporteurs. “They are often exposed to a myriad of human rights abuses, forced to make the abhorrent choice between their health and income, and their plight is invisible to most consumers and policymakers with the power to change it.” Japan’s Foreign Ministry responded by calling the statement “extremely regrettable.”
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We met Yamamoto in the parking lot of the plant after our tour. His TEPCO uniform had been exchanged for pants and a graphic-T. It is the second time we’d met that he had worn this particular gray short-sleeved shirt with a Ghostbusters logo emblazoned on its chest, one of his favorite movies as a child. Outside the plant, Yamamoto sheds his professional facade to reveal a youthful energy. During the night ahead we would visit an izakaya (Japanese pub) in Iwaki City and share stories over local sake and sashimi (sliced raw fish), once celebrated Fukushima products that have since been cast off supermarket shelves as new associations and stigmas took hold of the prefectural name.
There are many people who shoulder the burden of the nuclear disaster: parents sending their children to school with Geiger counters on their backpacks, farmers who have lost their livestock and livelihood, elderly left to care for deserted towns as the young set roots far from Futaba-gun, multi-generation Fukushima lineages that have been forced to abandon their familial homes for prefabricated temporary housing units. Yamamoto carries one small burden of this sweeping tragedy, as do the other workers of Fukushima Daiichi, as do those who labor in irradiated fields without other means of income. They are trying to extinguish a danger that can’t be seen, but its presence is felt in every aspect of their work. At times the job they’ve been assigned feels beyond comprehension, but Fukushima is not a supernatural disaster and Yamamoto is no ghostbuster. This disaster is deeply human, founded in both nature and negligence. “If you think in terms of decades, the long road ahead and the abstractness of it all will crush you,” says Yamamoto. “But just as with any other work, if you split up big projects into smaller pieces, the feeling of accomplishment from each small victory will keep you motivated.” Inside the exclusion zone, we witness the people of Fukushima trying to take their land a few steps closer to normal.
9
 

Fukushima prof., residents seek to establish an archive of nuke disaster lessons

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In this July 17, 2018 file photo, tanks containing water contaminated with radioactive materials are seen on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture.
 
September 12, 2018
KATSURAO, Fukushima — A Fukushima University professor and his team are gathering materials for an archive project to pass on the lessons learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster in this prefecture in northeastern Japan.
In a March 2017 plan finalized by the Fukushima Prefectural Government, the archives will be inaugurated in the summer of 2020 at a cost of approximately 5.5 billion yen in the town of Futaba, which has been rendered “difficult to live” due to radioactive fallout from the triple core meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)’s Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. The facility will have a total floor space of 5,200 square meters with areas for exhibitions, management and research, storage, training sessions and holding meetings. The design was modeled after a similar center in the western Japan city of Kobe that was built to store records of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, but with more focus on the nuclear disaster than the quake itself.
Professor Kenji Yaginuma of Fukushima University’s Fukushima Future Center for Regional Revitalization and his team are visiting places affected by the nuclear accident and collecting testimonies of residents, documents, pictures and images for the project.
Yaginuma recently interviewed Tetsuyama Matsumoto, 61, who used to be a cattle breeder in the village of Katsurao, to hear his story about how his cows had to be slaughtered after the nuclear accident.
“I can’t believe they killed the cows without running any tests first,” Matsumoto fumed about the action taken after the central government decided that all cattle inside the no-go zone, within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled plant, had to be culled. All eight cattle Matsumoto was keeping had to be killed because his farm was inside the zone. “The cattle were supporting me and my family,” Mastsumoto said as he looked over pictures of what happened after the disaster.
Yaginuma listened to Matsumoto’s tale intently, using a video camera to record the interview. “The value of relevant documents goes up with testimonies,” explained the professor.
On the same day, he also visited the village’s board of education as well as the former municipal Katsurao Junior High School to confirm the existence of whiteboards with plans for March 2011 written on it as well as what was written on the blackboards at the school. The school held a graduation ceremony on March 11 that year, the day of the quake disaster. According to the professor, sometimes it takes months for some residents to build up enough confidence to give him some important papers they have.
Yaginuma’s team is collecting just about anything that shows the daily lives of residents before the quake, or items that show what happened in the disaster and the ensuing nuclear accident, as well as materials indicative of post-disaster situations.
In November 2017, Yaginuma and his team visited the prefectural Ono Hospital in the town of Okuma, which is just 4 kilometers away from the nuclear plant and is still included in the “difficult-to-return” evacuation area designated by the government.
On the day of the earthquake seven and a half years ago, the hospital accepted many people injured by the jolt and the subsequent tsunami. But all patients and medical staff needed to evacuate at 7 a.m. the next morning using buses and ambulances after an evacuation order due to the nuclear accident was issued. Near the clinic’s entrance, papers with patients’ names and conditions are posted on a whiteboard. Stands to hang intravenous drip bags are also scattered around, reminiscent of the tense atmosphere of the time.
“We want to make it possible for people to look back on and study the earthquake and nuclear accident from every angle based on these documents,” said Yaginuma.
(Japanese original by Takuya Yoshida, Mito Bureau)

Japan’s 2020 Olympic Games a public relations cover-up of the Fukushima fiasco, for the nuclear industry

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Pay no attention to that radiological disaster behind the curtains
by Bo, 14-08-2018

The government of Japan is clearly intending that the 2020 Olympics will function as a public relations win in which the image of Japan, and especially of Northern Japan and Fukushima are cleansed of images of radiological contamination. Even as the Fukushima Daiichi site itself, and the traces where the plumes of its explosions deposited fallout throughout the area remain un-remediated, the public perceptions will be remediated. This is typical of the behavior of governments in the developed world that suffer radiological disasters. The disasters themselves are so difficult to clean up, and take decades to even begin the clean up, that money is allocated for extensive public relations efforts. These become tasks that CAN be completed and CAN be considered successful. They function both to advance the public image agenda of the governments, and also deliver a sense of agency when the overall tone of nuclear disaster remediation is one of lacking effective agency.

Towards that end, the Japanese government is planning to integrate Fukushima sites and perceptions into the upcoming Olympics media fest. The journey of the Olympic torch through every prefecture of Japan will begin in Fukushima, a symbolic rebirth intended to facilitate the repopulating of the local communities that were evacuated, many of which have had few returnees since the government has declared them “safe” and cut public funds to those forcibly evacuated.

The government is also planning to hold multiple Olympic events in Fukushima prefecture including baseball and softball events. “Tokyo 2020 is a showcase for the recovery and reconstruction of Japan from the disaster of March 2011, so in many ways we would like to give encouragement to the people, especially in the affected area,”said Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori last March.

This active rebranding of Fukushima as safe involves removing physical reminders of ongoing risk. The central government has recently announced that it will be removing 80% of public radiation monitors from the region. An argument can be made that the presence of these monitors is theatrical in that they only measure external gamma radiation levels, which are not the primary risk to residents (this comes from internalizing radioactive particles that blanketed the region in the fallout of the plumes of the explosions of March 2011), and that positioning these gamma detectors in midair produces low readings since the particles are primarily on the ground. However, they are a tangible, embodied reminder that risk remains.

While there is a clearly an active campaign to rehabilitate the image of the region leading up to the 2020 Olympics, an effort that will no doubt intensify as the event draws near, there is also pushback and resistance in the local and national communities. A recent sculpture unveiled at the JR train station in prefectural capital Fukushima City (about 80km from the Daiichi nuclear site) has been stirring up controversy.  A Guardian article explained:

“The statue, by Kenji Yanobe, depicts a child dressed in a yellow Hazmat-style suit, with a helmet in one hand and an artistic representation of the sun in the other.
Yanobe said his Sun Child, which was installed by the municipal government after appearing at art exhibitions in Japan and overseas, was intended to express his desire for a nuclear-free world.
The artist said he did not mean to give the impression that local children needed to protect themselves from radiation more than seven years after the Fukushima Daiichi plant became the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
He pointed out that the child was not wearing the helmet and that a monitor on its chest showed radiation levels at ‘000’.”

While some, including the mayor of Fukushima City, have praised the statue for emphasizing a hopeful future for local children, others have criticized the statue for suggesting that there is any danger to local children.

Regardless of how one interprets the sculpture, it does confront people with the fact that things are far from normal in the region. This, in spite of the central government’s strong efforts to implore people not to pay any attention to what is happening behind the curtains it has been raising.

https://globalhibakusha.com/page-2/?permalink=hiding-fukushima-behind-the-curtains-in-official-japan

Japan’s 3.11 Nuclear Disaster and the State of Exception: Notes on Kamanaka’s Interview and Two Recent Films

Margherita Long
August 7, 2018
This essay accompanies Katsuya Hirano’s Interview with Kamanaka Hitomi, “Fukushima, Media, Democracy: The Promise of Documentary Film”
Documentary filmmaker Kamanaka Hitomi’s interview with historian Katsuya Hirano takes the post-Fukushima debate in a number of fresh directions.
 
At the level of facts, Kamanaka draws from her vast knowledge of Japanese nuclear politics and the global nuclear industry to share developments that may startle even those who have tried to keep up with the unfolding crisis.
 
At the level of political critique, she finds synergy with Hirano and his insights as a chronicler of post-3.11 local politics to develop two broad points. First is that nuclear “recovery” (fukkō) as charted in Fukushima is neoliberal in the sense defined by Michel Foucault and developed by political theorists like Wendy Brown. Understanding the value of human life purely in economic terms, neoliberalism dismantles democracy by reducing all politics to market principles. Although Kamanaka and Hirano do not use the term “neoliberal,” I’ll argue that their criticism of neoliberal politics is explicit. The second point is that the suspension of human rights required by Fukushima’s “recovery” is a prime example of the state of exception that Giorgio Agamben identifies as an increasingly dominant paradigm of government in modern democracies. Kamanaka and Hirano reference Agamben’s work directly, and I’ll elaborate why they find it useful.
 
At the level of activism, the interview also extends beyond critique to develop an affirmative theory of artistic practice for change. For much of the conversation this falls under the rubric of “the exercise of democracy.” When Kamanaka and Hirano use this term, they do not mean simply that documentary cinema prompts people to elect better leaders. Rather, they mean that documentary cinema empowers viewers to intuit the difference between politics and economics, which collapses under neoliberalism, and between good government and executive expediency, which collapses during a state of exception. The first three sections of the interview focus on how to inspire people to reopen these gaps, which are essential to a functioning democracy.
 
Also concerning activism, Kamanaka advances a second affirmative practice that she refers to evocatively toward the end of the interview as a “revolution of sensibility” (kanjō no kakumei) and “a revolution underfoot” (ashimoto no kakumei). Here, in two much shorter sections, the emphasis falls less on reopening gaps than on closing them: between reality as we construct it (however democratically) in language, politics, economics and law, on the one hand, and reality as we live it materially and bodily (“underfoot,” “through our senses”) on the other. What would it mean to stop operating under the standard modern assumption that the two are separate? What would it mean to close the distance between our discursive reality and internal radiation, in the worst case scenario, but also between discursive reality and what sustains daily life: food, shelter, clothing and energy at their most elemental? Although the interview stops short of fully developing these points, it is possible to read Kamanaka’s two post-Fukushima documentaries as answers to precisely these questions. Focusing on the power of nuclear care and carework by doctors and mothers, Living Through Internal Radiation (Naibu hibaku o ikinuku, 2012) and Little Voices of Fukushima (Chiisaki koe no kanon, 2015) suggest that the nuclearized body is a site not only of suffering, but also of insight, perhaps even the energy to sustain activism. This is what I argue in the second part of this essay.
 
 
How Neoliberal is Fukushima’s “Recovery”?
 
Wendy Brown has written that neoliberalism replaces democratic values like law, participation, and justice with marketplace strategies like “benchmarks,” “buy-ins” and “best practices.” The milestones the Japanese government has set for Fukushima are good examples. Rather than actual decontamination, which is extremely difficult, the Ministry of the Environment asks Fukushima Prefecture to measure its recovery in the same increments as its soil removal (josen) campaign, with elaborate graphs, maps and percentages updated regularly online and at its local office in Fukushima-city.1 Prime Minister Abe Shinzō, in a famous speech, pegs recovery much more simply to the year 2020, and the opening of the Tokyo Olympics.2 More recently, the administration has begun marking the end of the crisis with the end of subsidized evacuation, and the successive opening of more and more areas within the thirteen towns initially impacted by restrictions and mandatory evacuations.3 In this way, benchmarks and timelines focus collective thinking on shared economic goals (“recovery!”) in order to avoid acknowledging the true scale of the disaster, and erase the need to negotiate conflicting interests. What makes the process uniquely perverse is the active consent of those who suffer most. In Wendy Brown’s words, “the citizen releases state, law and economy from responsibility for and responsiveness to its own condition and predicaments and is ready when called to sacrifice to the cause of growth.”4 It’s a phenomenon Hirano says Fukushima activist Mutō Ruiko told him she’s witnessed time and again: the moment when even a long-term anti-nuclear ally will buy into the reassurances of government-dispatched “safety experts” when faced with the prospect of economic collapse.
 
True, radiation makes Fukushima’s recovery different from the United States’ recovery from the crash of 2008, on which Brown focuses. When Americans were persuaded to accept the intensification of inequality as basic to capitalism’s health, the resulting reductions in jobs, pay and benefits affected their bodies with much less cellular precision than the food from the stricken area (“Namie Dishes” and “Fukushima Plates”) that Kamanaka describes Tokyo University students eating in the name of economic solidarity. There is also a difference in levels of awareness. The American neoliberal subject theorized by Brown is better able to understand what he or she is being asked to sacrifice, economically, than the cesium 137-exposed Japanese subject is able to understand it, biologically. Nevertheless, one of the main points to which Kamanaka opens our eyes in the interview is that, like the American stock market which was supposed to be “smart” and “rational” but was actually unstable, the Japanese nuclear industry was also a “too big to fail” behemoth which proved to be incapable of making money without massive infusions of state cash. According to Kamanaka, the true source of the industry’s profitability for the past thirty years has been a national Y600 billion ($US 5.5 billion) Energy Development Budget (Enerugii kaihatsu yosan), of which 60 or 70 percent every year goes to plant construction. Kamanaka explains that, in addition to having new infrastructure underwritten by the government, electric companies are allowed to add a 3.8% surcharge to capital expenditures, which they tack onto peoples’ electricity bills. Given that these same electric companies receive a “subsidy for electricity generating locations” (dengen ritchi kōfukin) directly from the tax base, it is easy to see how the bigger the “nuclear village” grows, the more money the state and electricity consumers are obligated to feed it. So while claims that “nuclear is the lynchpin to economic growth” had been accepted as gospel since Japan’s 54 reactors were first built in the 1960s and 70s, in actual fact it is just the reverse: nuclear power is a house of cards that tumbles quickly in the absence of state subsidies, as demonstrated in the wake of the 3.11 triple disaster.
 
As evidence Kamanaka offers the fates of Toshiba and Mitsubishi, and their relationships with two corporate purveyors of nuclear fuel and technology, Westinghouse in the U.S. and Areva in France. Both Westinghouse and Areva have seen losses mount in the face of demands for greater safety after Chernobyl, 9/11 and Fukushima, and both are currently mired in long-overdue construction projects that push them further and further into the red. What does it say about the Japanese nuclear industry, Kamanaka asks, that Toshiba and Mitsubishi have been willing to step in with infusions of cash just as other investors are backing away? In the months since her interview with Hirano, her insight into nuclear unprofitability has been borne out spectacularly in the case of Toshiba, which all but bankrupted itself purchasing Westinghouse and hitching its star to failed reactor construction at the Vogtle Plant in Georgia.5 Meanwhile, Mitsubishi’s president, his company having underwritten heavy losses at Areva’s twelve-year late project in Olkiluoto, Finland, insists that fresh investments are safe even while the Nikkei Asian Review wonders whether Mitsubishi is “doubling down out of a sense that it is in too deep to pull out.”6
 
What Kamanaka underscores are the accounting gymnastics required to perpetuate the myth that nuclear energy and economic growth go hand in hand. She notes that when all 54 of Japan’s reactors were idled between September 2013 and October 2015, government officials and business leaders complained that to continue indefinitely in the absence of nuclear power would be like “returning to the Edo Period.”7 Her point, in contrast, is that Japan’s standard of living went largely unchanged, and what was actually set back was the bottom line of what fellow filmmaker and antinuclear ally Kawai Hiroyuki calls the “immense profit-sharing community” comprised of the electric companies and their subsidiaries.8 It is this community that benefits now as the Abe administration ends its aid responsibility to evacuees and puts its full weight behind nation-wide reactor re-starts. Although neither the profits nor the hardship are shared, people are convinced that the government is doing its job because economic growth has become both its end and its legitimation. Meanwhile Kamanaka is left worrying, like Wendy Brown, “What happens to the constituent elements of democracy – its culture, subjects, principles, and institutions – when neoliberal rationality saturates political life?”9
 
 
Watching Documentaries as “An Exercise in Democracy”
 
One of the most emotionally difficult points Kamanaka makes – and perhaps one she would only make in an English-language publication – is that whereas neoliberalism generally charts a hollowing out of liberal democracy, places like Fukushima may have never enjoyed democratic culture to begin with. It was vulnerable to plant construction in the 1960s and 1970s because it lacked the sense of local autonomy it would have needed to recognize TEPCO’s promised wealth as a poor substitute for control over its own land, safety, and solidarity. And it was further hurt by what Kamanaka identifies as one of the electric company’s favorite tricks, setting pro- and anti-nuclear factions against each other. Animosities would revive and deepen when the community was forced to decide whether or not to evacuate after 3.11. Kamanaka’s account of these disputes is one place where she speaks of the need to reassert democracy by opening the kind of civic space or gap by which it functions. That is, in places with strong histories of civic activism – she mentions Hokkaido, Nagano, Shiga, Shimane and various Kyushu Prefectures – experience with collective action allows “people to work toward a single goal even with those with whom they disagree.” The goal acts as a rallying point, and what keeps the community together is not achieving it but orbiting around it, despite differences. Conceptually, this is the same gap to which Wendy Brown gestures when she says that even though liberal democracy almost always falls short of its ideals, it is precisely the divide “between formal principles and concrete existence [that] provides the scene of paradox [and] contradiction that social movements of every kind have exploited for more than three centuries.”10
 
So how can documentary film help open this divide? Early in the interview Kamanaka identifies factual accuracy as a key subject of her films. Especially with Living Through Internal Radiation in 2012, her goal was to empower viewers by replacing the safety myth with “radiation exposure literacy.” But to inquire after the divide in question is to linger on lengthier passages at the heart of the interview that focus on ideals rather than facts. With reference, one imagines, to the joyfulness at the center not only of Living Through Internal Radiation but also of Rokkasho from 2006, Ashes to Honey from 2011 and Little Voices from 2015, Hirano remarks, “Your films make us feel especially keenly your conviction that democracy is fundamentally a matter of building community in the place where you live, by your own will and determination, according to your own vision.” It’s an evocative phrase, “In the place where you live.” Kamanaka’s films are full of scenes of hands, mouths and bottoms in contact with the soil, the sea, and the food they provide. What sustains viewers amidst themes of nuclear sacrifice and collusion are the bonds between the people attached to these hands, mouths and bottoms, and their celebration, against all odds, of living lightly on and with the earth.
 
Kamanaka speaks in the interview of a “chemical reaction of consciousness” (ishiki no kagaku henka) that she wants audiences to experience at her community screening events.11 With this phrase, she gestures toward at least two kinds of transformation. “This is how angry I am at the government for telling lies,” she wants them to be able to say out loud, especially if for the first time. “This is how much I want to begin speaking about the crushing anxiety I’ve been feeling.” This is one transformation. The second, more classically democratic transformation, begins, “This is how much I too want to build a community-in-place.” “This is how much I admire the people in Kama’s film, who find a way to begin speaking with each other, across fear, across isolation, across differences.” Her films set up a yearning, a desire to bridge the gap between the reality and the ideal. Audiences may arrive afraid and alone, pressed by what characters from Little Voices identify as the government’s perceived injunctions: “Evacuate or not! Live or die! It’s your responsibility! You choose!” (Figure 1). But after an hour of post-screening discussion they break free from the lonely quarantine of neoliberalism’s “responsibilized” individuality and find themselves part of a group. As Hirano remarks with admiration, “It’s the spontaneous birth of activism.”

Figure 1: Noro Mika in Little Voices of Fukushima

 

Will You Still Say No Crime Has Been Committed? Agamben and the Japanese Constitution

One of the most gratifying moments in the interview is when Kamanaka and Hirano speculate about how a post-3.11 “state scholar” (goyō gakusha) like Yamashita Shun’ichi could have justified his actions to himself. When the Nagasaki University Medical Professor and author of a World Health Organization study of Chernobyl’s epidemiological legacy12 was dispatched to Fukushima after the triple-meltdowns to assure residents that children didn’t need to take iodine pills and that there were “no immediate health risks,” was he himself convinced? Of course not, Kamanaka replies. But this is where political theorist Giorgio Agamben’s work is relevant, as Hirano points out by introducing the phrase reigai jōtai no kōzō, or “state of exception.” What Hirano means is that Yamashita is thinking in much the same way as mid-century political theorists like Carl Schmitt and Clinton Rossiter, who justified authoritarianism with the logic that “no sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself.”13 Agamben cites thinkers like Schmitt and Rossiter in order to warn us that “states of exception” have come to define modern democracies. They are not, as we like to think, extreme cases: rare situations in which democracy fails when executive orders override the rule of law. Rather, states of exception increasingly operate as democracy’s default mode.

In Fukushima, when Yamashita put nation ahead of region; when he put “what the Japanese government ha[d] decided” over what the people of Fukushima deserved, he perhaps more vividly than any single actor helped abandon Fukushima to what Agamben calls “the no-man’s land between public law and political fact.”14 The Japanese constitution of 1947 guarantees “individual dignity” (Article 24), “public health” (Article 25) and “life and liberty” (Article 31); this is the law.15 But according to Kamanaka, the political fact, at least in Yamashita’s mind, was that securing these rights for the majority would require denying them to Fukushima. Rather than acknowledge that public law would be suspended, he convinced himself that the safety myth would do a better job of “avoiding the escalation of fear, social panic, and community destruction” that would have been caused by mandatory evacuations. This is how the government rescinded basic human rights without anyone speaking about criminal responsibility.16

Meanwhile, as Kamanaka points out, there is no better way to destroy a community than to force it to disavow its own panic and accept temporary crisis measures as permanent arrangements. Here the raising of the legal allowable annual radiation exposure from 1 to 20 millisieverts is but one obvious example.17 A compelling moment in the interview comes when Kamanaka describes the psychological effects of inhabiting the compressed temporality of this sort of endless emergency:

It’s as if people are living only by their reflexes, playing some sort of mindless video game. They no longer think in terms of contexts and narratives; there’s no sense of history, or reflecting on cause and effect within the flow of time and the particulars of chronology. What we’re seeing is the proliferation of a style of living only with what is right in front of one’s eyes.

By using social media to gather community members and put her films in front of their eyes, each others’ voices in their ears, Kamanaka aims to reopen time, reopen contexts and narratives and relationships. It’s a task made difficult, she says, first by the Japanese education system’s failure to nurture self-expression, and second by the post 3.11 pro-nuclear faction’s success in labeling those who give voice to the collective injury of sustained worry as part of the problem – as circulators of “fūhyō higai” or “harmful rumors.” Kamanaka’s point is that it is essential to reopen a space between the mainstream media as sole purveyor of truth, and alternative media as at least equally true. The harder it is to open the distinction, the more valuable it is for Japanese democracy.

She explains that back in March 2011 local newspapers like Fukushima Minpō and Fukushima Minyū had no idea that high radiation readings were making the failure to evacuate many areas of the prefecture a violation of national law.18 The reason these papers waited to report on the accident until Tokyo told them what to say, repeating it obediently with no analysis, was that the very possibility of local investigative journalism had long since been shut down by the nuclear industry itself. Since the 1960s when the plants were first built, TEPCO had been the single biggest source of advertising revenue for every newspaper, television and radio station in the prefecture. As a result, there was no history of interest in or talent for nuclear reporting beyond the safety myth. This is how it was possible for Yamashita Shun’ichi to reaffirm that myth at precisely the moment it seemed most absurd. By contesting it, Kamanaka is making a crucial intervention.

Another reason Agamben is useful for framing Kamanaka’s intervention is that he keeps us from reading Fukushima’s state of exception as a uniquely Japanese political phenomenon, a return of pre-war Japanese fascism. As Hirano points out, Kamanaka’s films, particularly Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003), show how Japan learned to mix its schizophrenic cocktail – both affirming the need for nuclear sacrifice and denying the extent of nuclear harm — directly from the United States. At the Cold War nuclear production site in Hanford Washington, featured in the film, only a small fraction of cancers suffered by people living downwind of nine nuclear reactors and five large plutonium processing complexes is publically acknowledged to be the effect of radioactivity. What is more, when Kamanaka interviews Hanford families for her 2003 film, we witness their willingness to justify this small percentage with a rhetoric of heroic sacrifice: “This is how we won the Cold War” they say, in Hirano’s paraphrase.

Agamben’s point is that this sort of suspension of human rights is integral not only to the smooth operation of fascism but increasingly, throughout the 20th century, to those very democracies that like to uphold themselves as examples for the rest of the world: England, France, Italy, the United States. He helps us see how vulnerable we have been to authoritarianism all along, and how crucial it is to strengthen democracy not by petitioning our respective executive branches, which are already far too good at overriding the legislative branch, but by practicing representative government locally, in towns and villages. It’s in this context that we can perhaps best appreciate Kamanaka’s remark,

Especially when faced with “national this” and “the Abe administration’s that,” I think being able to decide how to solve problems at a local level – the problems we face in the places where we live, and where we’ve put down roots – is crucial to cultivating a democratic society. That’s why I don’t spend much time at weekly protests in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence (kantei mae). If I’m always making the rounds with my films. . . to the prefectures, it’s because I’ve come to believe that the center has no hope of changing if these other places don’t change first.

 

Two Different “Revolutions Underfoot”

There’s no question that when Kamanaka speaks of “ashimoto no kakumei” at the end of the interview she is referring to this sort of “revolution from below” — to democratic activism as an exercise in local autonomy. But let me quote from the final sections to suggest an additional meaning. Kamanaka says:

True transformation emerges from everyday living, not from historical principles or dogma. In this sense I have to say that, like Mutō Ruiko, I believe in “women’s sensitivities” (onna to iu kanjō).19 It’s because women are the ones who live daily life most intimately. Whether they live in the city or the countryside, women cook, women do laundry, and women sort the trash. [. . .] Where the maintenance of daily life is concerned, [they] are the ones who do it closest to the source. Of course one could object that statements like this presume natural gender differences. But my point is that in society as it actually exists, clearly it’s overwhelmingly women who do this work. Isn’t that why women are the ones who are best able to sustain political movements that derive from daily life? The discovery of potential within the act of living itself seems old, but it’s quite new.

In the interview, Kamanaka stops short of explaining how the kinds of carework (cooking, laundry) she references can fuel political transformation. But what’s remarkable about both her post-3.11 films is that they document the potential inherent in nuclear carework in particular – the potential unleashed when people attempt to keep food and bodies safe from an ionizing radiation whose impact can never be fully measured or known. In addition to “revolution from below” as radical democracy in the form of local autonomy, the films also document a revolution that begins from a lack of autonomy. That is, they document what happens when we acknowledge that humans are not in control of the unfolding nuclear event, and that its bearing on our health is as much in the hands of external material forces as in our own.

How is this revolutionary? As the fields of philosophy of science and Science and Technology Studies have long argued, what Kamanaka calls “the potential within the act of living” is a material potential, a physical impetus that forces innovation in both thinking and living.20 Living Through Internal Radiation, from 2012, documents this innovation in the affective labor of frontline radiation doctors. Little Voices of Fukushima, from 2015, documents it in the affective labor of mothers. What we appreciate watching the films together is that they portray the doctors and the mothers doing much of the same work, work that philosopher of science Isabelle Stengers has dubbed “small-s” science for the humility and patience necessary to acknowledge “the possibility that it is not man but the material that ‘asks the questions,’ that has a story to tell, which one has to learn to unravel.”21 Attuning themselves to the interval between what Kamanaka calls in her interview “the time it takes for the radioactive material to establish itself in the body, and for the body to begin changing in response,” her doctors and mothers know that to study radiation is to listen as it asks its own questions of the bodies it affects, and not assume that they are in charge. Hida Shuntarō, the Hiroshima oncologist who became a mentor to Kamanaka when she returned from making Hibakusha at the End of the World in Iraq, explains the medical consequences of this with wonderful simplicity. He says, “there is no treatment for exposure itself; there is no safe amount of exposure; any amount can cause illness. But there is healthcare for extending life.”22

The Four Doctors of Living Through Internal Radiation

We get a vivid example of this kind of healthcare from the first doctor in Living Through Internal Radiation, Valentina Smolnikova. Working as a pediatrician in a town in Belarus 160 kilometers from Chernobyl, Smonikova discovers that thyroid cancer, the most direct effect of nuclear exposure, is far from the dominant problem.23 Given that the half-life of Cesium 137 is 30 years, and that internal exposure through contaminated food, air and even placental nutrients lodges in the body, what Smolnikova says she has treated most frequently since 1986 are compromised immune systems, anemia, weak bones, low birth weights, congenital defects, respiratory problems and, not least, mental health (stress, headaches, insomnia, fear). Kamanaka’s film gives equal attention to the long arc of Smolnikova’s expertise, built over decades of experience, and to short snatches of her maternal care — for her own family, and for patients like a depressed orphan in his late teens, abandoned when his parents turned to alcohol. These scenes underscore the interrelationship of medical care and affective care, emphasizing the emotional intensity of both, and the patience and humility necessary to understand how radiation manifests differently in different bodies over time.

Figure 2: Valentina Smolnikova in Living Through Internal Radiation

Humility and emotion are emphasized also by a second doctor, Smolinkova’s Japanese colleague Kamata Minoru, when he explains the key concept of “hoyō,” or respite care. Recalling his own work in Belarus, Kamata relates how studies undertaken in part through the Japan Chernobyl Foundation in the 1990s and 2000s proved that regular respite care in clean environments with clean food can reduce internal radiation significantly.24 Although these reductions are measured in discrete units, the emotional support and nutritional cleansing that coax them to happen are impossible to quantify. Precisely because the cause-effect relationship remains imperfectly understood, Kamata asserts (Figure 3), “It’s not enough to check kids’ thyroids. We need to have a system for looking after the body in its entirety, the emotions in their entirety.” In such scenes, Kamanaka affirms that radiation is asking its own questions of childrens’ bodies and minds, and that the responses can only begin to be unraveled, however partially, by doctors for whom paradigm-shifting epidemiological discoveries like hoyō are linked to everyday care.

Figure 3: Kamata Minoru in Living Through Internal Radiation

In perhaps the most powerful scene from Living Through Internal Radiation, 94-year-old Hida Shuntarō, himself a Hiroshima survivor, moves seamlessly from the technical language he needs to explain recent developments in oncological science to the elemental language he needs for his medical practice, and his own self-care. Having cited a paper by a Russian researcher that proves ionizing radiation causes illness not, as everyone had assumed, by harming genes in the nucleus of cells, but rather by affecting cytoplasm and mitochondria outside the nucleus, he continues (Figure 4):

Figure 4: Hida Shuntarō in Living Through Internal Radiation

There is only one thing humans can do, and that is,

use the force of living to gather all their might,

and determine to live a long healthy life.

Thinking and living this way require courage and stamina.

. . . .

You can never live just any old way.

From the way you eat your meals, to the way you sleep at night,

to the way you make love, to the way you work,

and the way you play.

You have to concentrate [your courage and stamina].

This is the only way to fight ionizing radiation.

Kamanaka’s cinematographer Iwata Makiko lingers over Hida’s fingers here, and his healthy skin, and the way he leans back in his leather chair in his own home, comfortable and open, as she records the precision with which his ninety-four year-old-lips form their syllables. Viewers’ filmic interaction with Hida is thus itself quite loving, and helps us intuit how Kamanaka decided to follow up her 2012 doctors’ film with a 2015 mothers’ film. Kodama Tatsuhiko,25 a medical doctor who directs the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo, is the fourth doctor she introduces in Living Through Internal Radiation. In this scene (Figure 5), he makes the connection between doctors and mothers explicit:

Figure 5: Kodama Tatsuhiko in Living Through Internal Radiation

 

Mothers who are taking radiation seriously are truly turning the tide in Japan; I’d be grateful if you could convey my thanks to them. Watching their efforts, we [scientists] find it easy to cheer them on, and we’re pleased that they exist not only in Fukushima but throughout the country. [. . .] Government officials are constantly telling them that a certain level of radiation is fine, that they shouldn’t worry. But they are having none of it, and their arguments are revolutionary. I think they should absolutely be proud, and continue fighting.

Because the sound quality of Kodama’s clip is not good, Kamanaka may have vacillated on whether to include it. No doubt she kept it because Kodama is rebutting so forcefully the idea that carework amounts only to unpaid, apolitical female labor.26

 

Care as Filmmaking, Filmmaking as Pedagogy: Little Voices of Fukushima

In Japanese, the title of Little Voices of Fukushima is Chiisaki koe no canon: A Canon of Little Voices. Because this film too emphasizes what post-Fukushima Japan can learn from post-Chernobyl Belarus, “canon” may conjure a single melody sung first in one place and then another. Yet we soon realize that there is little straightforward repetition. Little Voices toggles between lessons learned and taught first by Smolnikova and other mothers in Belarus, second by a group of mothers in the town of Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, and third by the women directors of a respite care center in Hokkaido where both Belarusian and now Japanese children come to recover.27 In each case, women struggle mightily first to master the melody and keep it going. Because it can only be sung in harmony with radiation itself, it takes its toll. In this sense, the “littleness” of the voices refers also to their tentativeness. Each new chorus must attune itself to a different set of material circumstances, a differently irradiated set of bodies.

We follow the Nihonmatsu mothers as they begin to channel their fear and anger into acts of resistance that are also acts of radiation care: starting a vegetable co-op to distribute safe produce, removing contaminated vegetation along school routes, taking tentative first respite-care trips with their kids, and, Kamanaka is careful to emphasize, providing the emotional support for each other that sustains the mental health of the entire community. Despite triumphant scenes of the formerly apolitical mothers attending a Prefectural Health Survey meeting and speaking out at an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo,28 their gains are summarized most poignantly late in the film. After letting us enjoy the high spirits of the expanding vegetable co-op, Kamanaka takes us outside alone with Endō Fumiyo, whose chubby face, ready wit, and tearful doctor visits have endeared her to us in several earlier scenes. When Kamanaka asks, “do you feel supported?” she replies “Yes. Things are expanding in a circle, no, – no, in a spider’s web. And it must be rough for [our supporters who send us the vegetables and invite us on respite trips], because we’re all so heavy!” What Endō has discovered is that the kind of health care capable of extending irradiated life is not geometrically sturdy like a circle. Rather, it is delicate and fragile, almost invisible, like a spider web. Difficult to spin and even more difficult to inhabit, it is what she has learned she must count on, nonetheless.

This sort of reliance on the most tenuous of connections can at times feel remote from the lessons Belarus is teaching. When Kamanaka shows us a map (Figure 6) that applies Belarusian safety standards to Fukushima, it seems clear that, at least since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus has taken much better care of irradiated citizens than Japan since 2011.29 As we see from the red shading for “enforced evacuation zone” (kyōsei hinan kuiki), if Endō’s town of Nihonmatsu were in Belarus, it would have been declared uninhabitable and its citizens relocated with state support. Yet even if Belarusian measurements are confident and straightforward, how the country treats exposed citizens is not.

Figure 6: Map of Fukushima with Post-1991 Belarusian Evacuation Standards Applied. Areas in red represent what Belarus would consider “mandatory evacuation” zones. Areas in pink show actual mandatory evacuation zones as determined by Japanese standards.

 

In a voiceover, Kamanaka explains that by means of a state respite care system, children between the ages of 3 and 17 who live in places with annual radiation readings greater than one millisievert are sent to one of 14 national recuperation centers for 24 days at a time, twice a year.31 Little Voices spends a long time in these centers, observing what Kamanaka’s voiceover calls “gentle, holistic and natural” treatments that eschew western-style drugs in favor of therapies like “mucous membrane stimulation for the immune system,” “mineral-rich asthma treatment,” “carbon dioxide gas-baths to stimulate the production of oxygen,” “massage for bronchitis and lung disease,” and “salt therapy for respiratory issues.” Viewers may feel a degree of prejudice toward the former Soviet Bloc’s kooky-looking, low-tech medical apparati when they first watch these scenes. But what are these treatments if not ways to inhabit the interval between exposure and cellular response, and to cajole damaged DNA toward rest and regeneration? In the face of humanity’s failure to control its most advanced technology to date, mucus membrane stimulators and carbon dioxide baths remind us again that it is not humanity but the material that gets to ask questions, which we must learn to unravel.

Perhaps the most powerful scenes in Little Voices of Fukushima are shot in Hokkaido at the respite care (hoyō) center, which occupies a repurposed elementary school. When interviewing in Fukushima and Belarus, Kamanaka typically speaks to children and mothers directly, in respectful tones and at their height. In Hokkaido she asks fewer direct questions, and camerawoman Iwata Makiko’s lens moves distinctly lower. Viewers find themselves increasingly alone with kids who are crying, or fighting, or urinating. With no other grownups in the frame, they talk to the camera as if it were the parent on duty. In one scene, the camera hurries over to two brothers on the school stage, one of whom has just burst out crying. When we arrive the other looks at the camera and explains, “He said he hit his head.” (Figure 7)

Figure 7: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In another, several boys are jumping in a plastic-lined pool dug into a ditch filled with warm water. One tumbles in head-first and wrenches his neck. Wailing, he looks at the camera while two others look at him and tell him he’s an idiot. (Figure 8)

Figure 8: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In a third scene, a toddler trails his fingers slowly along the wall of an empty corridor making his way slowly away from the camera, which is at his height. When he calls out “mommy?” “mommy?” we feel like answering him. (Figure 9)

Figure 9: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

In a fourth, a child walks alone to the bathroom to collect a urine sample. Although we hear him talking to one of the women who runs the center, the camera does not show her. Instead it crouches with him at knee-level as he holds up his shirt with one hand and aims into the bottle with the other. Looking into the camera he asks, “could you hold it a little lower?” (Figure 10)

Figure 10: At Noro Mika’s Respite Care Center in Hokkaido, from Little Voices of Fukushima

Kamanaka’s lesson for viewers is that we too have something to learn from carework. Rather than dismiss it as abject or apolitical, she performs it, and honors it. “True transformation comes from everyday living” when we learn how to close the distance between the discourses that govern our lives, and the material origins that sustain and challenge them.

 

I would like to thank Kamanaka Hitomi and Katsuya Hirano for giving me a window into their respective projects and politics, and for their inspiration and insight. I would also like to thank Norma Field for her support and passion, and Mark Selden for his editing.

Notes

1The Ministry of Environment maintains a large “Decontamination Information Plaza” (Kankyō saisei purazā) at 〒960-8031 Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima, Sakaemachi, 1-31. In addition to extensive decontamination charts updated regularly at the plaza, the Ministry maintains interactive web-maps of “prefectural decontamination information by every city, town and village.”

2A script of Abe’s September 2013 speech to the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires is here. Documentary-makers Yoh Kawano (Human Error, 2017) and Kawai Hiroyuki (Nuclear Japan, 2014) both include a clip of the opening lines to underscore how defensive Abe’s Olympic bid sounds when he insists Tokyo is “one of the safest cities in the world, now and in 2020.” Despite the widely-reported dishonesty of this statement (see for instance http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-nuclear/abes-fukushima-under-control-pledge-to-secure-olympics-was-a-lie-former-pm-idUSKCN11D0UF), the 2020 benchmark is being honored, both with the games at large in Tokyo and with baseball and softball events which will take place in Fukushima, to “show the world the extent of its recovery.” See here.

3These towns include, from north to south, Iitate, Kawamata, Minamisōma, Namie, Katsurao, Futaba, Tamura, Ōkuma, Kawauchi, Tomioka and Naraha. Fukushima Prefecture updates its status maps in nine languages. As Katsuya Hirano points out in his interviews with both Namie municipal worker Suzuki Yūichi and Namie mayor Baba Tamotsu, policies of “return” (帰還) and “recovery” (復興) do not make total sense even to those charged with implementing them. Nevertheless, that they are the only recognized government benchmarks is clear from the naming of the affected areas. Every effort is made to turn the most toxic “difficult to repatriate” zones (帰還困難区域) into purportedly less polluted “residence-restricted zones” (居住制限区域). In turn, “residence restricted zones” are assigned dates for transition to a third category, “zones in preparation for the cancellation of evacuation” (避難指示解除準備区域). Upon cancellation, these zones return to “normal.”

4Wendy Brown. Undoing The Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (New York: Zone Books, 2015) 219.

5Kana Inagaki, Leo Lewis and Ed Crooks, “Downfall of Toshiba, A Nuclear Industry Titan,” The Financial Times, February 14, 2017.

6Mitsubishi Heavy Doubling Down on Areva with Fresh Investment,” Nikkei Asian Review, April 24, 2017.

7In the interview Kamanaka paraphrases their complaint as “江戸時代に戻るわけにはいかないんだ.”

8Kawai Hiroyuki, Nuclear Japan, documentary, (2014; Tokyo: K Project), iTunes, 0:40:00.

9Brown, Undoing, 27.

10Ibid., 206.

11In English, some of the best work on Kamanaka to date is by film scholar Hideaki Fujiki of Nagoya University. Fujiki discusses Kamanaka’s films in the larger context of these jishū jōei, local self-screening events, in “Networking Citizens through Film Screenings: Cinema and Media in Post-3/11 Social Movements.” Media Convergence in Japan. Ed. Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Carlin. Online Publication: Creative Commons, 2016. Fujiki discusses Kamanaka’s position on science, environmentalism, and documentary technique in “Problematizing Life: Documentary Films on the 3.11 Nuclear Catastrophe.” Fukushima and the Arts: Negotiating Nuclear Disaster. Ed. Barbara Geilhorn and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt. London: Routledge, 2016.

12See Yamashita and Repacholi, Chernobyl Telemedicine Project 1999 – 2004: Final Report of the Joint Project with the World Health Organization, the Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation and the Republic of Belarus. In the introduction to her study of Chernobyl, anthropologist Adriana Petryna cites the key role played by the World Health Organization in minimizing the accident’s significance for local and global health (xv). Petryna’s analysis of the supporting roles played by NGOs and other providers of “international assistance” singles out “the Japanese Sasakawa Fund” in particular for sending foreign experts to the Zone to abstract data without understanding the “complex interdependencies between thyroid and other physiological systems” (159). See Petryna, Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013).

13Clinton Rossiter in Constitutional Dictatorship (1948), quoted in Giorgio Agamben. State of Exception. Trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005) 9.

14Agamben, 205.

15See here.

16It is in this context that the legal efforts of the “Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster” (Fukushima genpatsu kokusodan) are so significant. Norma Field and Matthew Mizenko have translated their publication Will You Still Say No Crime Was Committed? Statements by 50 Complainants, as an e-book available on amazon. For updates on the trial, see here and here. For accounts of activist Mutō Ruiko’s central role in bringing the case to trial, see Tomomi Yamaguchi, “Mutō Ruiko and the Movement of Fukushima Residents to Pursue Criminal Charges against TEPCO Executives and Government Officials, APJ-Japan Focus, July 1, 2012. Also on Mutō Ruiko see Norma Field, “From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step, APJ-Japan Focus, September 1, 2016, and Katsuya Hirano, “Interview with Mutō Ruiko”.

17On the raising of annual allowable radiation exposure, see Note 18.

18Until April 2011 the Japanese government followed standards set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (IRCP) allowing a maximum exposure of 1 millisieverts per year for the general public and 20 millisieverts per year for nuclear workers. When Kamanaka remarks that Fukushima’s local newspapers “did not know that by Japanese law people cannot live” (日本の法律で[放射線管理区域に]人は住めない) in areas with official measurements above one millisievert per year, she is referring to these standards. For more on the standards themselves, and the Japanese government’s decision to raise them in April 2011, see Norma Field, “From Fukushima, To Despair Properly”, note 7, and Katsuya Hirano, Yoshihiro Amaya and Yoh Kawano “Reconstruction Disaster: The Human Implications of Japan’s Forced Return Policy in Fukushima,” note 1.

19On Mutō Ruiko, see Note 16.

20In science and technology studies, see Bruno Latour, especially We Have Never Been Modern, Trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993) and Facing Gaia, Trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2017). In philosophy of science, see Isabelle Stengers, especially In Catastrophic Times, Trans. Andrew Goffey (Online: Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Another Science is Possible, Trans. Stephen Muecke (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018). In feminist philosophy, see Elizabeth Grosz, especially The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics and the Limits of Materialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).

21Isabelle Stengers, Power and Invention: Situating Science. Trans. Paul Bains (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 126.

22Hida Shuntarō, quoted in Kamanaka Hitomi, Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara (Tokyo: Kage shobō, 2009) 33. For a biographical sketch of HIda, see here.

23For a biographical sketch of Smolnikova, see here. After Chernobyl, Smolnikova’s town of Buda-Koshelvo, 150 km from the disaster, accepted many refugees from towns that were closer and more contaminated. But she is careful to document significant health problems from radiation exposure among children from her own town, and among children born long after 1986.

24For a biographical sketch of Kamata, see here. On the Japan Chernobyl Foundation (JCF), see here.

25For a biographical sketch of Kodama see here. In his capacity as Tokyo University Radioisotope Center Director, Kodama was assigned a leadership role in Fukushima decontamination. In July 2011 he delivered a livid speech before the House of Representatives Health Labor and Welfare Committee (shūgiin kōsei rōdō iinkai) decrying the government’s failure to acknowledge the scale of the public health crisis or deal with it adequately. For Kyoko Selden’s translation of the speech, see here.

26This is the conclusion drawn in anthropologist Aya Hirata Kimura’s major new book Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima (Duke, 2016). Kimura argues that mothers who band together to monitor food safety after Fukushima are constrained by three mutually constitutive social forces: “scientism,” neoliberalism, and post-feminism. When they measure and publicize radiation in food, their work is recognized as “scientific,” but only to the degree that it satisfies the neoliberal expectation that private citizens take care of themselves rather than count on state protection. Like the philanthropic work of civil society writ large, which is allowed to compensate for aggressive profiteering but never question it, citizen science is gendered female: nurturing, non-productive, and non-threatening. In Kimura’s analysis, the result is classic post-feminism: female citizen-scientists are allowed “an entry into the public sphere, but only on the condition of complacency with the existing power structure and of adherence to hegemonic femininity”(17). See Aya Hirata Kimura, Radiation Brain Moms and Citizen Scientists: The Gender Politics of Food Contamination after Fukushima (Duke University Press, 2016).

27The respite care center in Shiribeshi, Rusutsu-mura is run by Noro Mika and her organization “Bridge to Chernobyl,” which began collaborating with Smolnikova’s non-profit “Children of Chernobyl” in the early 1990s. For a biographical sketch of Noro, see here. The vegetable co-op is overseen by Sasaki Ruri at the Shingyōji Temple run by her husband, Pure Land priest Sasaki Michinori. For profiles and interviews with both Ruri and Michinori, see Iwakami Yasumi, Hyakunin hyakuwa dainishū (Tokyo: San’ichi shobo, 2014) 189-209.

28We see them react incredulously as the Review Board (kentō iinkai) of the 14th Fukushima Prefectural Health Survey (kenmin kenkō chōsa) announces that a 100-fold increase in thyroid cancer is the result of more extensive screening, not actual illness. For the published results of the survey see here. One of the anti-nuclear rallies they attend is the “Million Mothers’ Tanabata Project” (Hyakuman’nin no hahatachi tanabata purojekuto) on 7 July 2013. For background see here.

29The map charts standards outlined in a piece of Belarusian legislation from November 12, 1991 that Kamanaka also introduces visually (in Russian,) “On the Legal Status of Territories Contaminated as a Result of the Chernobyl Accident.” See English translation.

30In another scene we see Smolnikova explain to mothers in a Belarusian community center that “you can remove half the radiation in a child’s body in 21 days” (1:09:05). At the hoyō center in Hokkaido, Bridge to Chernobyl NPO Director Noro Mika discusses hoyō in terms of one month: “It’s hard work to go from 20 Becquerels to ND (not detected) in one month” (1:35:20). Interpreting the results of the Hokkaido urinalysis by bar graph (1:38:14), Kamanaka’s voiceover highlights one boy whose numbers plummeted by 70% in just 12 days. As if in response to viewers’ surprise that so much can be accomplished in so short a time, Noro says, “back [when we first started treating children from Chernobyl], we didn’t understand why they recuperated so quickly. But now we think the reason kids recover in three weeks is because they’re kids.”

Source: https://apjjf.org/2018/16/Long.html