Saying “no” to another Fukushima

October 11, 2011

Peter Rugh looks at recent protests by Japanese and American activists fighting to make sure that there are no more nuclear catastrophes.

OVER SIX months since the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear meltdowns, Japan is still grappling with the disaster's catastrophic effects. Japan's environmental ministry said on October 5 that the disaster has contaminated 29 million cubic meters of top soil with radiation. Authorities don't know what to do with the radioactive waste, enough to fill 23 sports stadiums.

Two weeks ago, fears were stoked by the discovery of large quantities of radiation in tests of pre-harvested rice 35 miles from the volatile nuclear plant. As if that wasn't enough, plutonium was recently detected some 50 miles away from the Fukushima plant.

Low-wage workers continue to bear the brunt of the clean-up effort inside the plant. Many have been recruited by the Japanese mafia, which is working in collusion with subcontractors used by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company to avoid liability. Workers are housed at a nearby facility and bussed into the Fukushima, preventing them from making contact with the public and keeping them from the media's eye.

As part of a concerted effort to continue as if nothing has happened, revamp the nuclear industry and continue business as usual, the government has played down the toxic consequences of the nuclear meltdowns. It is raising the evacuation threshold by 20 times the previous amount of radiation.

Along with workers at Fukushima, children, whose bodies are still developing and are therefore more susceptible to illnesses that radiation exposure can cause, are disproportionately effected by the disaster. Some 300,000 children have not been evacuated from the area surrounding the melted-down reactors. Instead, the government has handed them Geiger counters to wear over their hearts that monitor the amounts of toxic radiation to which they are exposed daily.

New regulations from the Japanese government have raised the level of radiation children can legally be exposed to to four times the previous legal limit for nuclear workers. A study conducted in August by the Japan Chernobyl Foundation and Shinshu University Hospital found hormonal and other irregularities in the thyroid glands of 10 out of 130 children that were evacuated from Fukushima prefecture.

IT WAS with children in mind that a delegation, which included a farming family from the Fukushima prefecture, whose land has been poisoned by radiation, along with anti-nuclear campaigners from Japan, traveled to New York last week.

The delegation came to the UN because, over six months after the disaster, their government still has not done nearly enough to protect its citizens from radiation exposure. They submitted a petition to the UN High Commission on Human Rights calling on the world body to recognize and address the plight of children in the Fukushima region.

In front of the UN building, the delegation confronted their prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda.

When it comes to nuclear power, Noda has been speaking out of both sides of his mouth to the Japanese public. He has called for reducing dependency on the dangerous energy source, but at the same time has called for nuclear plants across Japan to be brought back online. The activists and the Fukushima victims demanded Noda do more to protect children near the crippled plant, halt the spread of contaminated food and phase out nuclear power completely.

Instead, addressing a meeting on nuclear security at the UN, Noda pledged that Japanese nuclear facilities would become the safest in the world.

The Japanese delegation also met with anti-nuke campaigners in New York City, including those with Shut Down Indian Point Now! and visited the Indian Point nuclear plant, located just 25 miles from the Bronx. While the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) advised U.S. citizens in Japan to keep 50 miles from the Fukushima plant, no such evacuation would be possible for the 21 million people living within the 50-mile radius of Indian Point.

As with Japanese authorities, the U.S. government is complicit with the nuclear industry. The NRC routinely lowers the safety standards of the plants to keep them operating, jeopardizing the public.

The NRC has noted that Indian Point, of all plants in the U.S., is the most likely to suffer reactor core damage from an earthquake. The plant sits near two fault-lines, beside natural gas pipelines which can rupture and ignite from an earthquake. Yet the NRC has issued a waiver excluding Indian Point from abiding by safety system fire regulations. A strong earthquake hit eastern U.S. just a few months ago, raising the specter of a Fukushima scenario on the Hudson River.

STRONG BONDS were formed with activists from Japan and the U.S. The Japanese delegation told their U.S. counterparts that activists must work together toward the global challenge of ridding the world of dangerous nuclear power.

With the energy industry blinded by profit and complicit regulators unwilling to protect the public, more and more people are taking to the streets to demand that we move off destructive forms of energy production and move towards a green tomorrow. In Japan this September, tens of thousands of anti-nuclear activist packed the streets of Tokyo, demanding that the government phase out all existing nuclear reactors.

In New York, environmentalists have concentrated their efforts on a grassroots level towards shutting down Indian Point, opposing natural gas drilling and agitating for investments in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Taking up the banner for a nuclear-free future, demonstrators rallied in New York on October 1.

Beth Mansfield from Kean University in New Jersey said she came to the anti-nuke rally "to make a presence." She added that to move off nuclear energy requires a worldwide movement: "We realize that now, through Fukushima...through the spreading of radiation. It can't just be one country that stops nuclear power. It has to be all of them. We are all connected by this earth."

Australian anti-nuke campaigner Dr. Helen Caldicott, the cofounder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, was on hand at the New York rally. For decades, Caldicott has been standing up the to nuclear industry.

Caldicott told the crowd of 300 who had assembled in the wind and the rain at Manhattan's Pier 95, "I've been doing this for 41 years...Soon, I'll be 'dropping off my perch.' And I'm sick of it. We've got to get some indignation in our guts."

Citing the estimated 1 million deaths that have occurred in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, Caldicott went on, "The nuclear industry is a death industry...It's a cancer industry. It's a bomb industry. Any country that gets a reactor can make bombs and then you get proliferation [nuclear] weapons."

Caldicott commended the anti-Wall Street protesters who have been occupying New York City's financial district since mid-September, saying, "What they are doing is extremely important...standing up to corporations. We got to stop being so goddamn polite. We're talking about the sanctity of life, not money!"

Evan Giller contributed to this article.

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