Nuclear Free World and Women’s Lives in Northeast Asia

from the Viewpoint of Japanese Women

 

 

 

Kimiko Hirata

- Director, Kiko Network -

 

 

The Tohoku earthquake and Tsunami of 2011caused extensive and severe damage to both human populations and infrastructure. More than 15,000 people were killed by the event itself and more than 120,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. And thousands of people are still missing.

 

 

But the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi(Number 1) nuclear plant deepened the tragedy. I don’t know how to explain our fears regarding this accident. It has totally changed the situation in Japan. Our land has been widely contaminated with radiation. 150,000residents inside the 20 km evacuation zone and surrounding areas where radiation level is significant were forced to evacuate their homes. One year has passed since then, but no one can tell them when they can go home, or whether they can. They have lost their hometown, jobs and daily lives. We will never be able to restore the environment to its previous state. A thorough decontamination is simply impossible.

Although the evacuation should have minimized the risk to human health, there are never the less concerns about radiation exposure. The 15th, 21st and 22nd of March were worst days when a high level of radioactiverain fell down in East Japan. But the government didn’t disclose a radioactive pollution prediction in advance, thus people were not warned to escape or to stay at home. We went out as usual.

 

 

I live in Chiba, about 250 km away from Fukushima. On the 21st and 22nd of March radioactive materials were driven by wind to our region, creating so-called ‘hotspots’. I myself have two children aged 5 and 7. After spending a couple of sleepless nights after the accident, without any reliable informationI decided to take my children to Kyoto in the weston the 14th of March. That was the day of the No. 3 reactor explosion and the day before the first radioactive clouds arrived. We were lucky. But I decided to come back on 22nd of March, the day that radioactive rain fell for the second time over Tokyo. If I had known this in advance, I would not have come back. But I had no such information.

 

 

Even now many people live in highly contaminated areas as if nothing has happened. It is just unbelievable. The government response to the accident was far from honest and adequate. Poor communication with the public has caused further and unnecessary exposure. In our daily life, we cannot feel safe. Overwhelming questions arise every day. Is the environment condition safe enough for us to live in? How far do we need to move away from Fukushima to secure our children’s safety? What food from which area is truly safe? Concerned experts expect that health effects will produce a range of symptoms in the coming years, especially to children in Fukushima. Nagging concerns about contaminated food, hotspot sand possible illness increase our stress in daily life.

 

 

We’ve learned several facts from our experiences, such as the following:

 

 

Firstly, once occurred, nuclear accidents are beyond human control. In the Fukushima Daiichi plant, contamination is so high that emergency workers cannot go inside to the reactors. The only thing they can do is to speculate the conditions of the containment vessel of reactors from half broken thermometers. No technologies exist to decommission such damagedreactors where fuel rods have been totally meltedon to the soil. It is said that at least 40 years are needed for decommissioning reactors, but we all know that this estimation is highly optimistic.

Secondly, radioactive materials are horrifying. They have no smell, no color, and are impossible to feel. Yet their effect is incredibly strong and they are extremely harmful to our body, especially infants and children. How are human beings supposed to live with such dangerous technologies? Do we really need to rely on such complicated technologies to produce just electricity? We have to seek other means to produce electricity, such as renewables.

Thirdly, nuclear accidents fundamentally destroy the local economy. Farmers, fishermen and workers from various industries have been affected significantly. Local governments are also faced with the difficult problem of having to clean up contaminated soils and wastes, with this task being far from solved.

Forthly, nuclear plants are very expensive. The governmenthas claimed the contrary, but a government’s new analysis has revealed that they in fact are. Even during regular operation, it is already very costly because safety measures and the management of radioactive waste over a long period of time demand huge expenditures. Further more once accidents occur, the financial burden becomes infinitely large. The government is struggling to cover the financial needs for Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors’emergency treatment, decommissioning, compensation and cleanup of vast areas of land. This has put Japan’s economy at serious risk.

Lastly, the government is not doing much to help the people. Rather, it tends to protect the interests of power companies and industry. Furthermore, it tends to avoid assuming the financial burden for the disaster and prioritizing to save small children and expectant mothers. I feel a strong anger to see that people in Fukushima are virtually abandoned.

 

 

From our experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we have witnessed now on three occasions of the true danger of nuclear. But in recent years, many of us seem to have forgotten about our history. Until now people had hardly questioned the so-called‘peaceful’ use of nuclear. Our education system didn’t allow us to consider its risk. As a result, we were careless and went so far as to construct 54 nuclear power plants in an earthquake-prone country, such as Japan. Now many of us have realized that this was wrong. Local governors and residents are now opposing to the restarting of reactors in their regions. Next month in April, the number of nuclear plants in operation will probably become zero. Public opinion has last been made clear.

 

 

Some promising signs are emerging. Throughout the year, despite the absence of nuclear power generation we didn’t have any problems maintaining an electricity supply. Moreover, national import of fossil fuels in 2011 didn’t increase in comparison to 2010, with CO2emissions in 2011 slightly decreasing from 2010 levels. This is testimony that the results of our efforts to reduce energy consumption have compensated for a sudden decrease of electricity generation from nuclear. We are gaining confidence that if we pursue increased energy efficiency and renewable energy, we can permanently reduce our nuclear dependence. This fact gives us a hope for our future. We now know that the key is to reconsider our energy intense economy and lifestyle.

 

 

This year will be very important to us. The government will decide a new energy policy and climate target by this summer. Yet resistance by the vested interests and industries to keep nuclear is far from small. The current debate is mixed and positions are divided. I cannot prejudge which path Japan will take. Our challenge for towards an energy shift has just started.

 

 

But I strongly feel that we need to take the decision of nuclear energy into our own hands. It is there sponsibility of our generation. Representing Japanese women today, I call for joint efforts to that end. And I hope various challenges and efforts taken by the people of 6 nations for nuclear free sustainable world will be connected, harmonized and become an even larger movement.

 

 

Thank you for your attention.

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