20 March 2016 | 2:30 PM: The Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace conducted a programme called ‘Voices from Fukushima: Five Years of an Ongoing Accident’ at JNU to raise awareness of nuclear disasters. Speakers included residents of Fukushima who explained how painful the consequences are and how difficult it is to endure a nuclear disaster, even for an advanced country like Japan. They insisted that we reconsider establishing nuclear projects, especially in India where local people have protested and expressed their concerns at the sites of nuclear plants like Kudankulam.
The programme, which was scheduled to be held in SSS1 Auditorium, instead took place in the SSS1 Committee Room due to a scheduling conflict. Despite the significance of the matter, only approximately 30 attendees were present, perhap due to the many academic demands students are facing near the semester’s end.
Teesta Setalvad, well-known human rights activist, delivered the welcome speech. She said that nuclear plants are a threat to nature and future generations. She also mentioned that Fukushima is a lesson for India; she emphasized how one must not forget the plight of those who are displaced and denied compensation in the wake of nuclear disasters.
Emiko Fujioka, the leader of the awareness programme, said that it is our responsibility to support the victims and share the realities with the whole world. He asked the audience to take a stand against the establishment of nuclear plants. He informed that they have published a booklet, originally in Japanese, entitled ‘10 Lessons from Fukushima: Reducing Risks and Protecting Communities from Nuclear Disasters’ which has been translated into 8 different languages.
Emiko Fujiko, who is also the Secretary General of the Fukushima Beacon for Global Citizens’ Network, explained how Fukushima has been contaminated after the disaster and how it has affected every phase of their lives. Providing an insight into the magnitude of the disaster, he mentioned that the waste generated is 18 times larger than the biggest stadium of Japan, and that there is no place left to dump the garbage. She described a recent study which states that 166 out of 300,000 children suffer from thyroid cancer, as the disaster has resulted in all kinds of diseases and physical illness. Both industrial and agricultural sectors have been severely affected and contamination has made it difficult for the citizens to resume their previous occupations.
Mizhuho Sugeno, who is only 28, presented a more hopeful picture of Fukushima and explained how efforts for recovery are in progress. She was interested in organic farming before the Fukushima disaster happened; the disaster fuelled her passion for and her commitment towards sustainable practices. She began researching ways that the contaminated land of Fukushima can be made useful again. She started a company called Seeds of Hope, which is working to restore the environment in Fukushima and to help people cultivate once again.
Sugeno said that she conducted substantial research along with peasants and scientists to discover that the soil is still fit for cultivation. They started cultivating rice and vegetables, for which they had to go through lengthy processes that took much time and effort to ensure that the produce is fresh and free of contaminants. The government too helped them in their research. The rice cultivated, in spite of being 99.98% free from contamination, remained unsold in markets due to the fear and stigma attached to the place.
Sugeno invited everyone present to Fukushima and said that only visits can help people get rid of their prejudices. The forests however are highly contaminated and it will take a long time to restore normalcy. She insisted that only the use of local resources can bring about change.
Masami Yoshizawa, a resident of Fukushima and manager of ‘Ranch of Hope- Fukushima’ narrated his personal experiences from the day of the disaster. He said that he has still kept his cattle alive to show others how they have been affected.
Fukushima is a lesson for India; even a highly advanced country like Japan could not stop a disaster or prevent the consequences that followed in its aftermath. Five years have passed, and yet only 5% of the original inhabitants have returned to Fukushima, in spite of the steps taken by the government to ensure their well-being and safety. The 20 KM belt around the plant will remain a desert for at least 20 years because no life is possible over there. Yet the governments worldwide, including that of Japan, are not ready to give up on nuclear projects. The Japanese Prime Minister has stated that 20-22% of fuel comes from nuclear resources. The team concluded that they hope their efforts will bring change and create awareness about the fatal long-term consequences of nuclear disasters.
Iqbal Vavad is a research scholar at CSSS, and works for The Informer.
Photos contributed by Sibel Guner, a CSSS student who works for The Informer.