The Fukushima Daiichi disaster opened the door to see how this is not merely a Japanese crisis. It is a crisis that transcends geography and time. We traced the roots of this crisis back 60-years to the fishing boat Daigo Fukuryumaru, or #5 Lucky Dragon, and American efforts to force nuclear power upon the Japanese people.
Three Years After The Fukushima Dai-Ichi Disaster: Bringing The Focus Back On Life
Hi I am Chiho Kaneko, a member of the Board of Directors of Fairewinds Energy Education
Whenever I return from Japan, people in the United States ask me, "So, how is Japan now?"
The Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster opened the door for me to see how this is not a mere Japanese crisis. It is a crisis that transcends geography and time.
The situation at Fukushima Dai-ichi continues to be dire. Every so often, we hear the news of "yet the highest level of radioactivity detected in the monitoring well," or "there was another breach in the tanks that are holding contaminated water." But an average person in Japan seems to be paying less and less attention to the news. People do get used to things, even when they are extremely abnormal.
On this third anniversary of the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, I would like to talk about an event that took place 60 years ago.
A covert US military operation called Castle Bravo, the experimental detonation of a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands took place March 1, 1954. The power of this H-bomb turned out to be much, much, more powerful than the US military had calculated, so many people ended up being negatively impacted by the considerable fallout, including the residents of downwind islands. This fallout also hit the 23 crewmembers of a Japanese tuna-fishing vessel, named the Daigo Fukuryumaru, or "#5 Lucky Dragon" when translated into English, that happened to be located 100 miles from the test site.
I have read interviews given by one of the surviving fishermen, Matashichi Oishi, who was 20 years old at the time.
Mr. Oishi witnessed brilliant lights on the horizon early on the morning of March 1, 1954, and a little later, a deep rumbling sound came up from underneath. Then a huge mushroom cloud was seen on the horizon, but no one on the ship knew what it was. In a couple of hours the mushroom cloud came rushing toward the ship, and pure white ash descended on him and the other crewmembers. They still didn't know what it was - the ash was neither hot nor cold.
Soon, the fishermen experienced nausea and dizziness. Two or three days later, any skin that had been exposed to the ash (which really was blown up coral reef) developed burns. Ten days later their hair started to fall out. The vessel managed to come back to the shore of Japan on March 14. It's speculated that they intentionally didn't send SOS signals because they feared the possibility of being sunk by the US military.
One of the crewmembers died six months later triggering a massive anti-nuclear movement in Japan. The Japanese government also tested and found tuna that was radioactive, contrary to the assurance by the US government that the ocean would dilute the radioactive pollutant to a negligible level. By the end of the year 1955, more than 30 million Japanese people signed a petition calling for a ban on nuclear weapons.
The rising anti-nuclear and anti-US sentiments were just what the US did not want in the aftermath of WWII. Soon the US government implemented measures to protect its interests. In April 1954, Operations Coordinating Board (OCB) - an Executive committee created by President Eisenhower the previous year - issued an internal document titled: Outline Check List of US Actions to Offset Unfavorable Japanese Attitudes to the H-Bomb and Related Developments.
An OCB report also recommended that the US should offer to build an experimental nuclear reactor in Japan. President Eisenhower had founded the US Atoms for Peace program as part of the US effort to spin the image of nuclear technology in the minds of the Japanese people from that of a lethal war technology to the symbol of stability and prosperity. To meet this goal, the US government offered Japan, practically a US colony after WWII, an opportunity to share the economic and strategic benefit of the burgeoning nuclear industry.
The Japanese government willingly accepted the deal for its own ambitions, and it soon became the one of the most aggressive champions of nuclear power.
In 1955, the Atomic Energy Basic Law was enacted in Japan, and by mid 1960s, Japan had its first commercial nuclear power plant.
This is but one tiny example of how nuclear power has been forced upon the people of Japan and the people of the world.
I mentioned the name of one Daigo Fukuryumaru crewmember - Matashichi Oishi. But there are many, many, people whose names we don't even know, who nevertheless were exposed, got sick, and probably died from their exposure to fallout. The residents of the Marshall Islands were forced to evacuate in the aftermath of this test, only to be returned in a couple of years to their contaminated homeland, where they were further exposed to radioactive contamination through water they drank and the food they harvested.
Mr. Oishi received 2 million yen -- worth about $5,500 at the time -- from the US government. Some Japanese people called him all kinds of names and berated him for accepting this money. He also experienced discrimination for being the Hibakuksha - "the exposed." Mr. Oishi was forced to relocate, and hide his true identify for many years, just as some people from Hiroshima and Nagasaki had to do, and just as some people from Fukushima must do today. The money Mr. Oishi received from the US government stripped him of the right to complain forever, even when his child was stillborn, and when he subsequently developed liver cancer.
For all these decades, each one of us has been forced to allow more and more radiation into our environment and into our bodies. The radiation that we cannot see, smell, or taste contaminates our environments from the nuclear disasters, including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, through all those nuclear weapons tests, from all those depleted uranium arsenals still being dropped in Iraq and elsewhere, from all the abandoned uranium mines that are contaminating the waters and the soil in the upper Great Plains and compromising the health of not only the residents of the Plains but everybody in this country who eats the food that comes from there, and from all the smoke that comes out of operating coal plants that use coal from the Plains that is naturally laced with uranium.
Radiation exposure is difficult to quantify. Data regarding the effects of radiation on the human body has been collected since WWII, but covered up by the nuclear industry and governments that want the power of weapons and nuclear energy. Much of the real information from the past disasters is classified and often manipulated by world governments. What Mr. Oishi experienced on the ship in 1954 was an acute form of radiation exposure; but even for him any connection between his illness and the incident has continued to be denied.
The same pattern is repeated over and over throughout the world.
The end of this month will mark the 35th anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident. There are anecdotes of human illnesses and mutations in the local population, substantiated by the epidemiology studies of Dr. Steve Wing from the University of North Carolina. However, officially the US government has refused to recognize the abnormalities in the health of the affected residents.
Then, I think about what's unfolding in Japan today. I sense something grave is happening. I have heard many Fukushima people's personal accounts of their family members or friends dying suddenly. In one case, a baby suddenly died. And, these illnesses and sudden deaths are not happening only in Fukushima Prefecture. People are sicker in Tokyo. And it's not just people who are sicker. I met a home gardener who lives in Kawamata, Fukushima, 30-miles from Fukushima Dai-ichi, and she grows luffas whose fruit is often dried to make bath sponges. Last year, with some trepidation, she used the seeds saved from the year before; she found flower buds directly growing out of the fruit. And some of her pole beans were abnormally gigantic. Near Fukushima city, another person saw a frog so severely deformed that at first it was difficult to tell that it was a frog save for its hopping. These are true events described by people I met, who took notes and photographs of these environmental anomalies.
During my month-long stay in Japan in December and January, I, too, experienced unusual symptoms. I developed a skin rash that doesn't heal. When I was in Fukushima I developed a scratchy throat and pain in my eyes.
Something is happening, and yet we cannot prove anything.
The IAEA and Fukushima Medical University are working together to collect and collate the health data of Fukushima residents. Many residents fear that this effort is just a show, or worse yet, just for the sake of collecting secret data. Many people fear that "the experts" already have a forgone conclusion: The conclusion that if people get ill, it is not because of the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster.
As of December last year, of the 254, 280 young Fukushima people who were 18 years old or younger at the time of the power plant catastrophe, 74 were found to either have thyroid cancer or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Thirty-three of these children have already needed and gone through surgery. There are different statistics for the rate of thyroid cancer among children prior to the Fukushima Dai-ichi; some say 1~2 in 1 million, others say 17 in 1 million. Compared to either of them, the current number in Fukushima is staggering.
Disturbingly, the Japanese and the international radiation experts continue to maintain that these thyroid cancers are NOT related to the Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster.
The same pattern is repeated over and over.
How long will this pattern continue?
Many Japanese people are confronted by different choices they must make each day:
Whether or not to wear a mask.
Whether or not to move with their children from their home to a less contaminated area.
Whether or not to buy this spinach that may contain cesium.
Whether or not to eat fish because now it's known that huge amounts of strontium-90 are pouring into the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima Dai-ichi. But the most important choice of our lives was never available to any of us. We were not allowed to choose whether or not we wanted to accept all the unearthed uranium and the resulting radionuclides in our lives.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster opened the door for me to see how this is not a mere Japanese crisis. It's a crisis that transcends geography and time.
What can we do now?
Sometimes a big part of me feels the situation is too late to remedy.
This is a situation mired with the world politics and economy - the struggle for power and money. It's hard to stop the march of heavily armed people with a prayer.
But, I dare say this: Every life is sacred, no matter how small it is.
If we care about life, we must try to find ways to at least slow the pace of nuclear contamination. And we must focus on what's actually happening to humans and animals and birds and everything else on this planet, instead of keeping consigning the interpretation of radiation's effects to the so-called experts.
The truth is that once we have lost everything that sustains us from our soil to air to water, our home, our community, and our family, no amount of money can restore them.
Thank you for being here today to listen, and for having expressed your concerns for this Japanese tragedy during the past three years.
Your compassion has given me so much strength.
I am also grateful to the courageously committed people in Japan:
The mothers in their twenties and thirties and forties who tirelessly petition the local government and schools to do more to protect the children;
The citizen scientists who are testing soil and food on their own and sharing it with others;
The labor advocates who are shining a light on the abominable treatment of the Fukushima Dai-ichi workers who are jeopardizing their lives every moment;
The doctors who express alarm after having seen the jump in health abnormalities among children in the Tokyo area.
These people are the real heroes, especially given the environment in Japan today, which is getting more and more hostile to those who criticize the government policies.
I hope to keep witnessing what's happening, and to seek truth.
And, I pray for all the souls of this planet.