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This Will Still Be True Tomorrow: “Fukushima Ain’t Got the Time for Olympic Games”: Two Texts on Nuclear Disaster and Pandemic

Muto Ruiko

Introduced and translated by Norma Field

June 25, 2020
Volume 18 | Issue 13 | Number 2
Article ID 5410

 

Abstract1

The fear of being forgotten that haunts the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster set in quickly in the months following March 11, 2011. The Tokyo Olympics, touted as the “Recovery Olympics,” has served as a powerful vehicle for accelerating amnesia, on the one hand justifying the rushed reopening of restricted zones and other decisions of convenience, on the other, programming moments highlighting Fukushima in the Games. As preparations for the latter, especially the torch relay, reached fever pitch, the novel coronavirus intervened to force an abrupt postponement. It also disrupted ongoing and special events planned for the ninth 3.11 anniversary. The essay below elaborates on that context as an introduction to two texts by Muto Ruiko, head of the citizens’ group whose efforts led to the only criminal trial to emerge from the Fukushima disaster. The first, a speech anticipating the torch relay, outlines what the Olympics asks us to forget about Fukushima; the second is a reflection on living under two emergency declarations, the first nuclear, the second, COVID-19.

Key words: Olympics; Fukushima; torch relay; COVID-19; coronavirus; Dentsu; activism; Muto Ruiko



Prologue from an Ever-Shifting Present

Everybody has experienced, from childhood on, time crawling and time galloping, or time simply standing still, against the indifferent tic-toc of the clock. For much of the world, there is now a recent remote past—before the pandemic—and a present of bottomless uncertainty. But time continues to move unevenly in the new present, marked by unpredictable drama, as in the case of a tweetstorm that forced Abe Shinzo’s government to shelve a bill extending the retirement age of prosecutors, or by unexpected power, as in the global fury unleashed by the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The former, exploiting the attractive anonymity afforded by Twitter, punctuated years of quiescence following the demonstrations provoked by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, when tens of thousands of Japanese were willing to show their faces in protest. The latter seems the logical culmination of only the most recent instances of police brutality hurled before our eyes by the unabated racism and structural inequality prevailing in the U.S. Although the Japanese instance has been related to the coronavirus, the U.S. case is indisputably magnified by the overwhelming disparity in COVID-19 suffering, whether in numbers of death, the preponderance of minorities in the under-compensated, risk-burdened ranks of essential workers, and the economic nightmare, owing to job insecurity and paucity of savings, produced by the pandemic, such that “logical” now has the force of “inevitable.” And yet, is so remarkable as to also seem unpredictable.

As one recent remote past is replaced by another, we cannot forget that the issues thrust upon us by each of these recent pasts have hardly been resolved. Even as they momentarily recede from the foreground, they constitute a cumulative, living—and therefore, shifting—seismic force upon our present. This is the spirit motivating the following examination of the Tokyo Olympics and the Fukushima nuclear disaster, meant to serve as an introduction to two reflections by Muto Ruiko, head of the Complainants for the Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster. The first was delivered in anticipation of the 2020 Olympic torch relay to be kicked off in Fukushima; the second, written in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency declaration. 


No time for Olympics: Azuma Sports Park, Fukushima City
March 1, 2020.
Source

 

A Dream Vehicle for Amnesia

In the early spring months of 2020 in the northern hemisphere, the grim march of infection numbers was punctuated by reports of miraculous sightings, some true, others false: swans (false) and fish (true) in the lagoons of Venice; or blue sky in New Delhi. It felt as if decades of devoted action, joined in recent years by youth from the world over demanding that the earth be habitable for them, were being mocked. As if only a pandemic could bring about conditions seemingly more hospitable to life forms even as livelihood for many threatened to imperil health or simply vanish.2

In Japan, as if to scoff at the concerted efforts to protest that fabulous exercise in deceit called the “Recovery Olympics,” postponement of the games was abruptly announced on March 23, 2020, a scant four months in advance of the opening, when the torch—dubbed the “Flame of Recovery”—had already begun its triumphal progress3 in northern Japan. Does this mean that the effort expended in opposing the Olympics was wasted? The question is rhetorical, of course. In the coming months and years, we will need to reflect on the political, socioeconomic, and experiential impact of the assaults brought on by two kinds of invisible agents, radionuclides and a pandemic-causing virus. But for now, let us pause over the actions of antinuclear activists confronting the convergence of Covid-19 and the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

There is nothing bold about claiming that a major design of the games was to put paid to the 2011 triple disaster, most especially, the nuclear disaster. That objective is trumpeted in the official moniker, the “Recovery Olympics” (or in the even less merchandise-friendly translation of fukko, “Reconstruction”). It is still worth remarking how quickly those wheels were set in motion—the goal announced and declared achieved in virtually the same breath, as in Prime Minister Abe’s “under control” statement before the International Olympics Committee in Buenos Aires, a claim at which even TEPCO would demur shortly after it was made. That was September 2013. But the domestic selection of Tokyo as Japan’s candidate city had taken place on July 16, 2011, an indecent four months after the terrifying explosions. Only one month earlier, the Japanese government had admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency that the molten fuel in reactors 1-3 had suffered a “melt-through” and not a mere “meltdown.” The daunting physical trials posed by the Fukushima Daiichi plant generated correspondingly difficult administrative challenges for Kan Naoto’s Democratic Party government. In late April, University of Tokyo professor Kosako Toshiso, hitherto a reliable government expert testifying against A-bomb survivors pressing for recognition, resigned as special cabinet adviser in a tearful press conference: as a scholar and from the standpoint of his “own humanism,” he could not condone raising the annual exposure rate for workers from 100 millisieverts (mSv)/yr to 250, or from 1 mSv/yr to 20 for primary school playgrounds in Fukushima.4 How could anyone in a position of responsibility have had the spare time to be plotting an Olympic bid during that period? 


“And in any case, I absolutely cannot inflict such a fate on my own children”
Special cabinet adviser Kosako Toshiso announcing his resignation at press conference
April 29, 2011. Source

A quick review suggests it was more a case of who was sufficiently determined to press on with pre-existing ambitions in the face of a catastrophe. Right-wing, nationalist politician Ishihara Shintaro, then Governor of Tokyo, had felt thwarted by the loss of the 2016 games to Rio de Janeiro.5 With strong encouragement from former prime minister Mori Yoshio (who would become head of the 2020 organizing committee), Ishihara declared that Tokyo would bid again once he was reelected on April 11. On that same day, Matsui Kazumi, a Hiroshima mayoral candidate opposed to that city’s Olympic bid, was elected, and in short order, withdrew the city from the running, leaving Tokyo as the de facto candidate from Japan.6 Ishihara, speaking in Tokyo on July 16, 2011, “passionately” proclaimed the purpose of the “Recovery Olympics” (fukko gorin) to be the demonstration of Japan’s recovery from the 2011 disaster. By the end of 2011, a pet scheme opportunistically harnessed to the disaster by conservative politicians had won support across party lines. Noda Yoshihiko, who succeeded Kan as prime minister even or especially as the latter showed himself susceptible to public sentiment favoring de-nuclearization, declared that the Fukushima plant had successfully entered a “cold shutdown” on December 6. (See timeline here.) 


Preparing for official 2020 Tokyo bid:
Governor Ishihara Shintaro with Jacques Rogge, IOC chair
July 2, 2011. Source

With hindsight—and not much of that—it is easy to grasp that the disaster and the 2020 Games were a match made in Olympic heaven. Without this bit of serendipity, the 2020 bid might have floundered in search of a convincing brand. (The mission of the failed 2016 bid was “Uniting Our Worlds.”) In the coming months and years, one worthy goal or another was accentuated for Tokyo 2020, but Recovery has been the mainstay.7 The serendipity has proven to be priceless because the promotion-proclamation of recovery, regardless of cost to people, the environment, and even government credibility, was the guiding principle behind managing the disaster from the start, as reflected in the watchwords of “ties that bind” (kizuna), “recovery/reconstruction/revitalization” (fukko), and “reputational harm” (fuhyo higai). This triplet of key words—two carrots of hope, one stick of warning—has managed to police Fukushima discourse to the present day: who would resist the call for solidarity in the hope of recovery? Or impede recovery by expressing worries about food safety? The expression of anxiety, whether on the part of mothers who stayed on or Tokyo consumers, is susceptible to the charge of causing “reputational harm,” which can further be seen as participating in discrimination against Fukushima.8 Redefining evacuation zones, ever so narrowly defined from the start, along with assistance cutoff, began as early as September 30, 2011, well before the Olympics were secured, but convenient markers of recovery gained tacit and explicit reinforcement as soon as the Olympics appeared on the horizon.9

True to the adage that a good offense is the best defense, Fukushima itself was assigned a prominent role: to host the opening matches in baseball and softball, and perhaps even more significantly, to serve as the starting point of the torch relay.10 In other words, the intractable nuclear disaster, which had often taken a back seat to the earthquake and especially, the dramatic tsunami in invocations of the “triple” disaster, was to be featured front and center, albeit momentarily, in the form of its erasure: Fukushima would be displayed to the world as having recovered. And to further drive home the point, J-Village, the former national soccer training center that served as the frontline base for operations for Fukushima Daiichi (workers lodged, vehicles washed, protective gear donned and disposed of) from March 15, 2011, was selected for the start of the torch relay. Not surprisingly, despite extensive efforts to clean up and beautify—including having local elementary students planting grass seedlings—radioactive hot spots continue to turn up.11


Getting ready for the Olympics in Fukushima
Children at work on turf seedlings at J-Village
May 8, 2018. Source

 

The Astonishing Journey of the Torch

By February, the crescendo of 2020 Olympics preparation in Fukushima took on a manic quality before descending into a surreal sublime and finally, sputtering into silence. Day one of the torch relay was to take runners through areas close to the plant. Futaba, one of two adjacent towns hosting the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, its entire population still under mandatory evacuation, was not on the original route. With a partial lifting scheduled for March 4, the organizing committee decided on February 13 to respond to the wishes of the prefecture and rearranged the schedule to include Futaba. This would, said the grateful mayor, “light the flame of hope in our hearts and become a boost for recovery.” On March 14, the severed sections of the Joban train line that connected this portion of Fukushima with Tokyo were reconnected for the first time in nine years. Some gathered to cheer on the platforms, despite the fact that not much of the land beyond the station was accessible, for most of the town was still designated as “difficult-to-return-to” in the tactful—that is to say, strategically obfuscating—parlance of Fukushima disaster management.12 The plan was to have the flame, carried in a lantern and accompanied by runners, transported by train to newly reconstructed Futaba Station as part of the relay on March 26. 

Back in the metropolitan region, in the meanwhile, the number of people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama testing positive for the novel coronavirus shot up from 10 to 700 between February 4 and 28. With the Abe regime clearly hell-bent on holding the Olympics as scheduled, local organizers scrambled to stay one step ahead of the virus. They could not bring themselves to relinquish plans for displaying the torch in the three disaster-hit prefectures prior to the relay, not to say the relay itself. Whatever the precautionary advice, nothing like social distancing was on display as people flocked to see the “Flame of Recovery” at its various resting places. Most provocative, though, was the flame’s journey on the local Sanriku Railway in Iwate Prefecture. Secured in a lantern, it was placed between facing seats before a window, through which the “coastal townscape of recovery proceeding apace spread before the eye.”13 Passengers had been excluded, but the lantern could be viewed at key stops, where people gathered to welcome and then send off the flame.

Lantern transported on Sanriku Railway from Miyako to Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture

March 22, 2020—two days before postponement announced. Source

Lantern transported from Kamaishi to Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture on

SL Ginga [Milky Way], inspired by the work of Iwate-born writer Miyazawa Kenji

March 22, 2020. Source

Even as this frenzied prelude unfolded, anxiety mounted as to whether the torch relay itself could in fact take place. On March 17, it was announced that the relay would be held, but without the ceremonies planned at stopping points. Spectators would be permitted as long as they “avoided” overcrowding, though one resident expressed disappointment: she had thought “the sight of overflowing crowds would symbolize recovery.” In less than a week, on March 23, this plan was replaced by a new proposal: a torch relay with no spectators—and no runners. The flame would be driven around Fukushima Prefecture, stripped even of the romance of rail travel. The following day, however, the other shoe dropped: the Games were to be postponed until 2021, and the 2020 torch relay canceled altogether. Ever resilient, organizers put the flame on display at J-Village for a month beginning April 2, with the hope that it could tour other parts of the country in the interest of “revitalization.” This, too, came to naught within the space of one week, with the Prime Minister’s declaration of a state of emergency.14

It could be taken for parody, this frenzy over the torch relay. The Olympics were meant to be a magic wand waving a spanking new post-disaster world into existence. As those prospects began to dim, the flame burned ever more brightly. The fuel? Greed. Pride. A yearning for fantasy in the midst of a dubious recovery, and an appetite for exploiting it. And the apparent means to do so. Or deciding that the means existed, despite mounting cost overruns.15

Recently, it was reported that the Foreign Ministry was directing $22 million to AI monitoring of overseas coverage of Japan’s pandemic response—as if this were more a “PR challenge than a profound public health crisis” (Kingston 2020). Perhaps this mode is even more far-reaching than we cynically, or more neutrally, abstractly, imagine. About one year ago, Taakurataa, a remarkable little magazine published in Nagano Prefecture, managed, through tenacious use of Japan’s version of freedom-of-information requests, to discover that in the seven years between 2011 and 2018, the central government and Fukushima Prefecture had paid $224 million to the PR firm Dentsu. The Environment Ministry was by far the greatest customer, using approximately half that budget for Dentsu’s services in the campaign to inform the public about its decontamination and debris cleanup efforts. The guidelines were to make people feel “safe and secure” (anshin anzen) again, “bring people back to their home towns,” and “have citizens recover pride in their hometowns.” A study group was created, consisting of staff from the prefectural forestry and fishery division as well as newspaper and TV marketing divisions, not to purvey a message, but in order to monitor twitter users and identify those who could be classified as “sources of reputation harm,” “supporters of the right-to-evacuate trial,” or simply “noise,” if they said anything that would dampen enthusiasm for Fukushima agricultural products.16 It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a marketing firm had been appointed a principal actor, with potential censorship power, in deciding Fukushima policy. And of course, that same firm is a major player in Tokyo 2020: Dentsu Inc. is the Games’s official marketing agency

A briefly revealed, quickly forgotten detail about the Olympics-Dentsu chain of operations makes Fukushima seem a minor, though useful, link in that chain: a former Dentsu executive and member of the organizing committee disclosed, a few days after postponement was announced, that he had played a key role in securing the support of an African Olympics power-broker now under investigation by French prosecutors. He, Takahashi Haruyuki—still on the organizing committee—had been paid $8.2 million by the Japanese bidding committee, which presumably had some relation to the $46,500 the bidding committee paid to Seiko Watch. Seiko watches and digital cameras, said Takahashi, were “cheap,” and common sense dictated that “You don’t go empty-handed.” Dentsu’s contracts for Fukushima recovery—as known to date—come to seem almost reasonable, at $224 million over seven years, or $32 million per year. Takahashi singly was paid one-quarter of that to procure the Recovery Olympics. 

Perhaps this is all unsurprising—a version of normal operating procedure most of the time for certain strata of the world. If so, then here, as in countless other instances, we need to make the modest yet seemingly immense effort to refresh our capacity for surprise. And anger. That there is so much profit to be made in doing anything but genuinely contribute to Fukushima remediation, to in fact, profit by diverting attention and burying the disaster, as if “nothing had happened,”17 should rouse us all, in solidarity both with the few who sustain the struggle and with those who gave up long ago, too exhausted from maintaining daily life to keep insisting not only that something had happened, but that it was still happening. Some of the struggle-weary were likely in the throngs greeting the arrival of the flame from Greece, or taking selfies with the lantern-encased flame. And as astonishing as it seems, there is already a new generation of children who were infants or unborn in 2011 now grown old enough to enjoy a spectacle touting the recovery of their region, their pleasure untainted by responsible education about the long-term impact of a nuclear disaster.18 Their parents may have welcomed the chance to banish recurring reminders of the disaster: reports of the re-dispersal of radionuclides and especially conspicuous, images of decontamination waste bags unmoored in the flooding brought on by Typhoon Hagibis; or the agonizingly protracted, risky dismantling of a highly contaminated vent stack at the Fukushima Daiichi plant itself; or the Olympic plans themselves putting hot spots back in the news.19 Bread and circuses is the bright side of the coin whose other face is expert exhortation to accept living amid decontamination waste for the foreseeable future: “Why would other prefectures want to accept waste that you yourselves don’t want?”—exhortation sweetened by the assurance that Fukushima contamination is not, for the most part, harmful. Anxiety, after all, is a matter of the mind/spirit (fuan wa kokoro no mondai).20

Radiation instruction for the very young:
“Let’s block beta particles with ‘scissors’!”
Fukushima Prefectural Centre for Environmental Creation, Community Relations Wing -
July, 2018

 

It was back in June of 2019, an eternity before Covid-19 would appear on anybody’s horizon, that the torch relay route was announced, omitting Futaba. Was that omission owing to the last, frayed shred of realist perception, in view of the fact that the town was still off limits to the entire population? As Kowata Masumi, councilor of Okuma, the other town hosting the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and one of the painfully few elected officials in Fukushima willing to address radioactive contamination, observed, “National Route 6 still has high radiation levels. There are places where hardly any residents have returned, and conditions are not suitable for people running or cheering from the roadside.” Voicing the common complaint that the Olympics were deflecting workers and materials from Fukushima, she told Our Planet-TV, “They seem to have turned the idea of recovery on its head.” Any legitimacy accruing to the commonsensical had long ago been extinguished in the fever dream of the Olympics. 

 

Protest and Pandemic

“It’s all Olympics all the time,” said emails from Fukushima. But as February wore on, with the drumbeat of news from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the novel coronavirus became an ominous competitor for attention. Emails began to say, “It’s exactly the same. Deny it’s happening. Don’t test. Find experts who’ll support that policy.” And rather sooner than later, “Is anyone taking responsibility?”21 If COVID-19 cast a shadow on Olympic plans, it also was a challenge for groups long opposed to the games. This was the run-up period for the 9th anniversary of March 11, a difficult time for survivors and a crucial occasion for them and antinuclear activists to remind the rest of the country of what had happened and how much remained unresolved, with some hardships predictably aggravated, rather than alleviated, through the passage of time. Anguished discussions took place about canceling or proceeding with activities that had already consumed months of painstaking preparation. Sharing with other progressives a deep-seated antagonism to the Abe administration, activists were reluctant to relinquish the platform of the anniversary occasion, given already fading public interest exacerbated by the Olympics. Wouldn’t cancellation have a ripple effect on other organizations? Wouldn’t the government exploit this to apply pressure for “voluntary restraint” (jishuku)22 across a range of activities? At the same time, wasn’t the desire to safeguard health at the heart of the antinuclear movement? Was it appropriate for those who had made the agonizing choice to leave, not just Fukushima and immediately adjacent areas but the Tokyo region as well, to put themselves along with others at risk of exposure? If a valued keynote speaker were willing to appear remotely, were the organizers obliged to follow through? What were the ethics of putting one’s body on the line in these circumstances?23

Anniversary events, large and small, were postponed or canceled outright. One of the largest had been planned by FoE Japan (Friends of the Earth). Although not exclusively dedicated to the nuclear issue, it has been a leader in the field since 2011, remarkable for the depth of on-the-ground work underlying its educational and watchdog activities. Besides issuing its own carefully researched public comments, FoE has taken initiative to hold public-comment writing workshops, so that citizens unaccustomed to expressing themselves in this medium—never mind on such topics as evaluation of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility or the release of contaminated water into the Pacific—could be empowered to participate. In 2019, it launched an ambitious “Make Seeable” (mieruka) project to contest the Olympics-accelerated obliteration of traces of the disaster, whether the number and circumstances of evacuees, the disposition of contaminated soil issuing from “decontamination,” or health effects. The March 2020 symposium would have brought together workers from Fukushima, a liquidator from Chernobyl, evacuees, physicians and scholars, a physician and energy specialists from Germany, for presentations in Tokyo followed by two venues in Fukushima.24 In April, as part of the “Make Seeable” project, FoE Japan planned to send young people to a workshop in Germany where they could network with youth from France and Belarus as well as Germany. This, too, was not to be. Here, as elsewhere in the world, the novel coronavirus, itself as invisible as radionuclides, asserted its power in unmistakably visible fashion—revealing what had been obscured and providing opportunities for new concealment in the process.

The days of “voluntary restraint” from activity, without economic support to speak of, have imposed hardships, predictably severe for the most vulnerable. They have also intensified antinuclear activists’ sense of urgency: not only have they witnessed the power of the coronavirus to swiftly and therefore visibly impact all sectors of society, but they soon came to realize that it provided cover to proceed with activities they strenuously opposed, such as paving the way for dumping “treated” water from the damaged reactors into the Pacific.25 On another front, court dates for the approximately thirty Fukushima-related cases winding their way through jurisdictions around the country have been postponed or even cancelled, eliminating a precious occasion for plaintiffs, lawyers, and citizen supporters to rally at the courthouse and hold press conferences—for themselves, for all of us who should care, and for the judges, who need to know that there is still a caring public. One of the most active and inclusive groups of plaintiffs (both mandatory and “voluntary” evacuees, from within and without Fukushima) seeking compensation, their attorneys, and supporters centered in the Osaka area put together a composite video message to fill the lacuna, reminding us of their goals—securing normal lives, the right to evacuate, and a safe future—and giving us a glimpse of how nuclear evacuees are experiencing the coronavirus. The video format also reveals the still differing degrees of visibility participants feel able to tolerate—from full face, full name to full face but first/assumed name only to voice only.

With the pressure of the Olympics removed for the moment,26 these groups are having to grapple with the coronavirus as they continue to address the consequences of the nuclear disaster.

 

 

 

From Olympics to Pandemic: Two texts by Muto Ruiko

Muto Ruiko, who was propelled to antinuclear activism by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, captured the nation’s attention with a breathtaking speech at the first “Sayonara Nukes” rally in Tokyo in September of 2011.27 She became head of the Complainants for Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, which, against all odds, led to the only criminal proceeding—against three former TEPCO executives—to result from the disaster.28 She is a respected leader, vital to many of the activities referred to above and more. The first text below, “Fukushima ain’t got the time for Olympic Games” is a speech delivered at Azuma Sports Park in Fukushima City on March 1, 2020, just as storm clouds were gathering for the Olympics-pandemic collision. It was an action jointly organized by Hidanren—Fukushima Gempatsu Jiko Higaisha Dantai Renrakukai (Liaison of Fukushima Nuclear Accident Victims’ Groups) and Datsugempatsu Fukushima Nettowaku (Fukushima Denuclearization Network). It is translated here with permission from Muto Ruiko; the original may be found here. The second is a reflection from May on the two overlapping emergency declarations: the nuclear emergency, issued March 11, 2011, at 19:03 and as yet unrescinded;29 and the novel coronavirus emergency, declared on April 7, 2020, and rescinded in stages, by locale and region, between May 14 and May 25, 2020. The second piece was written before the coronavirus emergency declaration was lifted, for the newsletter of Tomeyo! Tokai Daini Gempatsu Shutoken Renrakukai (Shut it down! Liaison of Citizens from the Metropolitan Prefectures Seeking to Close Unit 2 of the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant).30 The piece, from Nyusu No. 4 (June 2020) is translated here with their permission.

 


Muto Ruiko outside Tokyo District Court on the morning of September 19, 2019, before the judgement. (Photo by N. Field)

 

 

 

Fukushima Ain’t Got the Time for Olympic Games

With the risks of the coronavirus in mind, we went back-and-forth about whether to proceed with this action, but considering that it would take place outdoors, that it wouldn’t involve large numbers, and that we would be equipped with face masks and alcohol, we managed to arrive at the decision to go through with our plans.

 

Nine years since the nuclear accident, the Olympics and the torch relay now dominate the news and the whole atmosphere of Fukushima Prefecture. 

 

Night and day, athletes are giving their all to prepare for the Olympics. 

Middle-schoolers have hitched their dreams to the torch relay and are eager to run. 

And probably, there are people looking forward to watching the relay and the ball games. 

 

Then why must we take this kind of action? 

Because we think this is no time to be hosting an Olympics in Fukushima. 

 

Have on-site conditions been stabilized since the accident?

Is the contaminated water under control?

How many workers have had to climb the vent stack to dismantle it?

Have victims been properly compensated?

Have their lives been restored?

Has industry returned to pre-accident levels?

Will these Olympics truly contribute to recovery?

 

Is it certain that neither athletes nor residents will be subject to radiation exposure?

With problems piling up one after the other, the people of Fukushima, both the ones living here and the ones who’ve left, are desperately trying to live their lives. 

There isn’t a single person who doesn’t wish for a true recovery from the disaster. 

In Fukushima today, what is it that we should be prioritizing first and foremost?

Stupendous sums of money are being poured into the Olympics and the torch relay. Multiple problems, hidden by the Olympics, are receding from view. We are worried about what will be left once the Olympics are finished.

It’s not the Fukushima that looks recovered on the surface that we want to make known. It’s the true conditions we want the world to know, about the cumulative problems that can’t be solved in nine short years—the suffering and the struggle caused by the harms of the nuclear disaster.

Then let us today, all together, proclaim heartily, “Fukushima ain’t got the time for Olympic Games!”

 

 

Life Under Two Emergency Declarations

In Fukushima, the “declaration of a state of emergency” issued with the spread of the novel coronavirus was superimposed on a “declaration of a nuclear emergency situation” that has never been rescinded. For victims of the nuclear accident, this occasion calls up many memories of that experience: staying indoors; wearing a mask; searching frantically for information; fighting the mounting tide of anxiety. In the early days of the contagion, we felt terribly oppressed, psychologically. 

But gradually, it became possible to see that there were commonalities and differences between the nuclear accident and the spread of the coronavirus. Fearing that people would panic, the government concealed the truth. It limited testing as much as possible, and without disclosing accurate case numbers, made them seem trivial. Ad hoc measures led to the sacrifice of the most vulnerable. Expert opinion was distorted to suit political power. Taking advantage of the disaster, opportunistic capitalist ventures rose to press their interests. These are some of the commonalities.

Some of the differences are the speed with which the infection has spread, making it more readily graspable; the dispersal of the afflicted in large numbers throughout Japan; and large-scale citizen protest prompted by the government’s coercive actions with little regard for laws and statutory authority, such as the sudden request for school closures or the proposal for revision of the Public Prosecutor’s Office Act.

After the nuclear accident, we anticipated a transformation in values, in worldview. It turns out that such a wish is not readily granted. Maybe this time—we can’t help hoping. But, in a world where more chemical substances are added to the environment by the day, where climate change is intensifying, it is possible that the next emergency is already waiting in the wings. Rather than tossing and turning between hope and despair, we need to work hard, together, to gain clarity on what we should prioritize for protection in the event of such an emergency. Otherwise, we run the risk of letting our fear and sense of oppression invite the heavy hand of authority.

Eventually, the state of emergency occasioned by the coronavirus threat is likely be lifted, although questions about appropriateness of timing and extent will remain. But how long will the “declaration of a nuclear emergency situation” remain in effect, imposing on people annual exposure levels up to 20 millisieverts per year, or leaving behind waste with levels of radioactivity 80 times pre-disaster levels? In the shadow of the coronavirus, problems that demand resolution are accumulating, while opportunistic measures are advanced, such as the use of the torch relay to trumpet Fukushima recovery, or the release of contaminated-ALPS-treated water into the environment.

Living under a double state of emergency, I have come to hold, more than ever, that we must commit ourselves in earnest to the following simple task: “to learn the truth and to help each other.” Failing that, it will be difficult for us humans, along with other living things, to survive on this planet. 





March 1, 2020.
Source

 



 



Notes

1

The original wording, “Fukushima wa orimpikku dogo de nee,” which quoted a senior citizen from a township hard hit by the nuclear disaster, has been adopted by many activists. My translation used in this article, "Fukushima ain't got the time for Olympic Games" is an attempt to suggest the flavor in English.

2

Although the extent to which air quality has improved is debatable. See, for instance, NPR (May 19, 2020).

3

The imperial allusion is intended. See note 12, below.

4

20 Millisieverts for Children and Kosako Toshiso’s Resignation (APJ-Japan Focus, December 31, 2012). It has been standard for most countries to follow the recommendations of the International Commission for Radiological Protection (ICRP): 20 mSv/yr for occupational exposure (averaged over a 5-year period, not to exceed 50 mSv in any given year), 1 mSv/yr for the general public. See Japanese government site providing a Comparison between ICRP Recommendations and Domestic Laws and Regulations. These standards are subject to fierce contention worldwide, from both those who find them too protective and those who find them inadequate. The Japanese government has made 20 mSv/yr the de facto threshold for reopening restricted areas. See discussion in Jobin, The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Civil Actions as a Social Movement (APJ-Japan Focus, May 1, 2020).

5

On Ishihara and the Olympics, especially with respect to overlapping aspects of 1964 and 2020, see Tagsold (APJ Japan Focus, March 1, 2020).

6

In 2009 Hiroshima City and Nagasaki City submitted a single bid for summer 2020, appealing to the principle of promoting peace that, after all, constituted a cornerstone of “Olympism.” The mayors of the two cities linked the bid to the goal of nuclear abolition by 2020 (Asahi Shimbun, October 10, 2009), but the plan failed to make headway against the one-city rule. The Hiroshima-Nagasaki bid was not necessarily supported by hibakusha, as exemplified by the trenchant criticism, utterly applicable to Fukushima, of Yamada Hirotami (age 78), then Secretary-General of the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Survivors Council (Nagasaki Gembaku Hisaisha Kyogikai): “If the Games were to be held in Nagasaki, it would be an enormous technical and financial burden. […]They say that holding the Olympics in the cities where the atomic bombs were dropped means lots of people coming from all over the world, and that would raise awareness about nuclear abolition, but I think it would just detract. During the 1964 Olympics, even here in Nagasaki, everybody was swept up. How many gold medals did we get—that sort of thing was all that anyone could talk about. In that kind of frenzy, any interest in nuclear abolition goes out the window. [As with previous Olympics] there’s the risk of getting distracted by commercial priorities. […] There’s an atmosphere that makes it hard to voice opposition when they say that the Olympics are for the cause of spreading peace, but we need to discuss this rationally. […]The activism of Japanese hibakusha has gained the respect of NGOs around the world. We’re not about performance” (Nagasaki Shimbun, October 24, 2009). The Olympic-nuclear connection is worthy of examination in its own right, beginning with the striking use of Hiroshima in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. There, the runner of the last leg of the torch relay, the one to light the cauldron, was Sakai Yoshinori, born on August 6, 1945 to be sure, but in Hiroshima Prefecture, not City. That fact was conveniently overlooked, and he was quickly dubbed “Atomic Boy.” Perhaps this was an initial source of ambivalence (Tokyo Shimbun, June 3, 2020), but he became a lifelong believer in spreading the message of peace through the Olympics (Withnews, September 10, 2014).

7

On the challenges of branding Tokyo 2020, see Kingston (APJ Japan Focus, February 15, 2020). Kingston has edited two special collections on the Olympics, here and here.

8

A position elaborated in a collection with the title, Shiawase ni naru tame no “Fukushima sabetsu” ron (2018) (Discourse on “anti-Fukushima discrimination”: For our happiness). “Real harm” (jitsugai) is sometimes used to contest the widespread use of “reputational harm.”

9

See Fukushima Prefectural maps of zone changes here.

10

The addition of baseball and softball was finalized in August of 2016 though both sports have been dropped from the roster for Paris 2024. Azuma Stadium in Fukushima City was approved in January of 2017. The decision to start the torch relay in Fukushima came more than a year later, in August of 2018. Only one baseball game, in contrast to six softball matches, have been scheduled for Azuma Stadium. Olympic softball is a women’s sport, cautioning us to keep in mind research showing radiation exposure resulting in disproportionately greater harm to women and girls than to men and boys. See Gender and Radiation Impact Project.

11

On March 23, 3030—the day before postponement of the Games was announced—TEPCO held a press conference at which it disclosed that, in accordance with its own standards, it had returned J-Village to its owner foundation without first decontaminating it (Okada, Toyo Keizai, March 27, 2020). Subsequent disclosures, both through TEPCO’s press conferences and responses to Toyo Keizai magazine’s freedom-of-information filings, have revealed additional egregious transgressions, such as TEPCO’s storing radioactive waste exceeding 8000 Bq/kg on J-Village grounds and the prefecture’s demanding that TEPCO not disclose the location of such storage (Okada, Toyo Keizai, June 25, 2020). See Shaun Burnie’s “Radiation Disinformation and Human Rights Violations at the Heart of Fukushima and the Olympic Games” (APJ-Japan Focus, March 1, 2020).

12

See celebratory account in Hirai and Watabe, The Mainichi, March 14, 2020, and a more guarded one by McCurry, The Guardian, March 4, 2020.

13

The positioning of the lantern makes it seem as if this passage were written from the viewpoint of the flame (Yomiuri Shimbun, March 22, 2020). The extraordinary treatment accorded the flame, the rhapsodic attribution of hope made real, invokes the journeys—progresses—of Emperor Hirohito through the war-devasted country.

14

See Kingston, PM Abe’s Floundering Pandemic Leadership (APJ-Japan Focus, May 1, 2020) on the consequences of action delayed for the sake of the Olympics.

15

Reports of cost overruns have been predictably common, with the postponement now adding a hefty $2.7 billion according to the organizing committee.

16

See report on the first disclosures by Taakurataa by Our Planet-TV 2019. As for bringing “people back to their home towns,” the meagerness of such assistance as was provided beleaguered evacuees, both “mandatory” and “voluntary,” has also served as a powerful inducement to return. Late in 2019, Fukushima Prefecture doubled rents and threatened legal action (Our Planet-TV, August 29, 2019 and Taminokoe Shimbun, November 30, 2019). The Prefecture has taken four households to court even as their conditions have become further straightened because of the pandemic and associated loss of income (Hidanren, March 27, 2020).

17

A phrase often repeated in Fukushima. See Ogawa, “As If Nothing Had Occurred: Anti-Tokyo Olympics Protests and Concern Over Radiation Exposure” (APJ-Japan Focus, March 1, 2020).

18

In March of 2018, the Reconstruction Agency issued a 30-page pamphlet titled “Hoshasen no honto” [The truth about radiation] for widespread circulation through other government agencies, events within Fukushima and elsewhere, PTA gatherings, etc. True to the mission of the authoring agency, it argues in multiple ways that harmful health effects have not been shown to have resulted from the nuclear disaster. The text may be found here. In October of 2018, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry issued revised editions of supplementary readers, “Hoshasen fukudokuhon,” for elementary and middle/high school levels. These may be found with the 2014 versions here. The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) critically reviews both sets of documents here (2019).

19

On the redispersal of radionuclides following weather events, see Burnie, Radioactivity on the move 2020: Recontamination and weather-related effects in Fukushima (Greenpeace International, March 9, 2020). Specifically with respect to the Olymics, see Burnie, Fukushima and the 2020 Olympics (Greenpeace International, February 5, 2020). Arnie Gundersen writes of the sampling trip he and Marco Kaltofen (Worcester Polytechnic Institute) took in 2017: “When the Olympic torch route and Olympic stadium samples were tested, we found samples of dirt in Fukushima’s Olympic Baseball Stadium that were highly radioactive, registering 6,000 Bq/kg of Cesium, which is 3,000 times more radioactive than dirt in the US. We also found that simple parking lot radiation levels were 50-times higher there than here in the US [emphasis in original]. Atomic Balm Part 1: Prime Minister Abe Uses the Tokyo Olympics as Snake Oil Cure for the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Meltdowns (Fairewinds Energy Education, March 1, 2019).

20

Tanaka Shunichi, former head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority and now reconstruction adviser to Iitate Village in lecture at Fukushima City on September 18, 2019. Quotations taken from Fukushima Minpo’s lavish report, “Fukko arata na kyokumen e” (November 1, 2020). Much like a school teacher chastening and encouraging his pupils, Tanaka—himself only recently in a position of responsibility for government nuclear policy—directs the people of Fukushima to forget the promise by the central government to remove decontamination waste from the prefecture in thirty years’ time. This was, after all, their “own” waste. The article reports that 85% of the overflow audience of 2800 responded they were satisfied by the contents of the lecture. Only one critical respondent is quoted by the paper, to the effect that a promise by the government is a promise. The photo of the audience in rapt attention as they are being “given courage,” as one respondent puts it, to, in effect, embrace their victimization is haunting.

21

Personal emails. An immediate example of the “don’t test” approach is the prefectural survey of pediatric thyroid cancer. See Aihara, Follow Up on Thyroid Cancer! Patient Group Voices Opposition to Scaling Down the Fukushima Prefectural Health Survey (APJ-Japan Focus, January 15, 2017).

22

Government measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus have taken the form of “requests” (yosei) for “voluntary restraint,” or jishuku. See, for example, Japan Declared a Coronavirus Emergency. Is It Too Late? (New York Times, April 7, 2020.) The extent to which jishuku can lead to mutual policing and censorship will be familiar to those remembering the long final illness of Emperor Hirohito from late 1988-early 89.

23

These are examples of issues raised on a listserv focused on evacuees and their supporters.

24

For the original program, see here. For written and video messages from presenters, see here. The video messages of those who have stayed and those who have left are short, but informative and moving. Two are now available in multiple languages: former dairy farmer Hasegawa Kenichi here and evacuee Kanno Mizue here. See FoE’s informative statement in English released for the 9th anniversary here.

25

Contaminated water leaks have been a persistent issue for TEPCO, whether contaminated groundwater escaping from the basements of the reactor buildings and underground tunnels containing cables and pipes (Radioactive Water Leaks from Fukushima: What We Know (Scientific American, August 13, 2013) or from storage tanks (Fukushima daiichi gempatsu: Konodo osensui ga tanku kara moreru (NHK News Web, October 7, 2016). The difference now is that TEPCO is attempting to make contaminated water release the explicit solution to ever-accumulating storage tanks. “Treated water” (shorisui), the compliant media now call it, having cast aside the earlier designation of “contaminated water” (osensui). In 2018, TEPCO itself admitted that the ALPS filtration system had failed to remove, not just tritium, but other radionuclides at levels exceeding allowable limits in 80% of the contaminated water store in the forest of tanks. FoE Japan uses the term “ALPS-treated contaminated water” (ALPS shori osensui) and has taken a leadership role in public-comment workshops. See its summary of remaining radionuclides and the circumstances of TEPCO’s admission here.

26

See, for example, The Tokyo Olympics Are 14 Months Away. Is That Enough Time (New York Times, May 20, 2020). Just recently, Takahashi Haruyuki—he of the Seiko cameras as bargain bribes—became the first official to suggest that further postponement was possible, but that cancellation had absolutely to be avoided (Nikkan Sports, June 16, 2020).

28

For an authoritative account of the criminal trial and district court ruling, see Johnson, Fukurai, and Hirayama, Reflections on the TEPCO Trial: Prosecution and Acquittal after Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown (APJ-Japan Focus, January 15, 2020). On the significance of Fukushima-related trials, Jobin, The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Civil Actions as a Social Movement (APJ-Japan Focus, May 1, 2020). For statements by 50 complainants, Field and Mizenko, Fukushima Radiation: Will You Still Say No Crime Was Committed? (Kinyobi, 2015).

29

See also former Kyoto University nuclear engineer Koide Hiroaki’s views on the Olympics and the nuclear emergency declaration in The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics (APJ-Japan Focus, March 1, 2019).

30

For a general account of the Tokai Nuclear Power Plant, see here. Tatsuya Murakami, who was mayor of Tokai Village at the time of the JCO criticality accident and took personal initiative to evacuate the residents, has been a leading voice in opposing nuclear restarts. TEPCO, on life-support with taxpayer money after the Fukushima disaster, has committed to supporting the aging Tokai No. 2 plant to the tune of $2 billion (The Asahi Shimbun, October 29, 2019).

Muto Ruiko

Muto Ruiko, born in Miharu-machi, Fukushima, began her antinuclear activities in the late 1980s. As it became more and more likely that no one would be held responsible for the devastating disaster that began on March 11, 2011, she embarked on organizing citizen complainants, gathering 1,324 Fukushima residents for the first round, 14, 716 other citizens for a second. (See Field and Mizenko, Fukushima Radiation: Will You Still Say No Crime Was Committed for statements by fifty complainants.) She led the Complainants for Criminal Prosecution of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (Fukushima Gempatsu Kokusodan) through a series of defeats until finally, in July, 2015, a prosecution review commission determined that three former TEPCO executives were appropriate subjects of indictment. A new group, Supporters of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Criminal Trial (Fukushima Gempatsu Keiji Sosho Shiendan) was established, with Saito Kazuyoshi, Iwaki City Councilor, as chair and Muto as vice-chair. With the district court finding the defendants not guilty in September of 2019, the group is preparing for the appeals process. (See their succinct English-language account of the gist and implications of the judgment: Not Guilty: Making Way for the Next Nuclear Disaster.) Muto continues to be involved with groups addressing evacuee needs, contaminated water disposal, and children and health effects, including the 3.11 Fund for Children with Thyroid Cancer. She is the author of numerous articles and two books: Fukushima kara anata e (From Fukushima to you, 2012) and Donguri no mori kara (From the acorn forest, 2014). On the APJ-Japan Focus site, see Muto Ruiko and the Movement of Fukushima Residents to Pursue Criminal Charges against Tepco Executives and Government Officials (July 1, 2012) and Katsuya Hirano’s interview, “We need to recognize this hopeless sight …. To recognize that this horrible crime is what our country is doing to us” (September 1, 2016).

 

Norma Field

Norma Field, translator, is a professor emerita, University of Chicago. Recent publications include Fukushima Radiation: Will You Still Say No Crime Has Been Committed? (editor and co-translator, 2015); “From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, To Find the Next Step (September 1, 2016); For Dignity, Justice, and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature (co-editor and translator, 2016; see The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, “Art as a Weapon,” February 15, 2018); Ima heiwa o honki de kataru ni wa: Inochi, jiyu, rekishi (To seriously talk peace today: Life, freedom, history, 2018); “No One Who Is Alive Today”… An Introduction to “The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the Tokyo Olympics” (March 1, 2019).