Silence and contamination, legacies of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Feature Story - 19 February, 2012
Nearly a year after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster, it’s time to take a look at its legacy and take an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the people who continue to suffer the impacts. We’re calling for a nuclear free, renewable future and asking you to join us in sending messages of support and hope to Japan.

Capturing the heartache

The silence and contamination left behind by the Fukushima disaster have been captured in the online photographic exhibit Shadowlands by photographer Robert Knoth. Robert’s haunting photographs of empty villages, deserted schoolyards, and abandoned farmlands not only act as a reminder of the costs of nuclear energy, but an impetus to continue demanding a future free from nuclear risk. We also bring the stories of several people whose lives have been seriously disrupted, some of whom live with constant worry about how their children’s health has been affected by radiation.

For me the exhibition is about the loss of beauty and loss of tradition. Both are kept in high regard in Japan. For around 2000 years the villages now evacuated have been inhabited. With great precision and care people have been adjusting themselves and the landscape into an almost perfect blend. You can see their respect for nature and their environment in the way they build and paint their houses, their gardens and the way the farmers are growing their crops or keep their cattle. Everything deeply rooted within their culture and nature itself. And carefully preserved for centuries. Fukushima made a dramatic impact into the lives and environment of the people living there.Quote from photographer Robert Knoth

Fraught with failure
The nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant that began unfolding on 11 March  2011 is the biggest since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The disaster was not simply the result of the earthquake and tsunami hitting the east coast of Japan, but due to the failure of Japanese authorities to regulate the nuclear industry and protect people. Just last week, Japan's nuclear safety chief admitted that Japan ignored the nuclear risks and that the regulations were fundamentally flawed. A story echoed around the world at many nuclear plants.  Following the accident, the Japanese public were withheld full information on radiation levels.

Radiation expert Rianne Teule, worked as a Greenpeace nuclear campaigner for ten years. Rianne made several trips to Fukushima following 11 March to conduct on-the-ground radiation testing, and to conduct monitoring and provide information to local people. Not only had people’s lives been completely disrupted, but the disaster then struck the most vital of necessities: radiation measurements of food supplies began to show contamination. “The most disturbing thing for me was the lack of information provided to the people being affected, they often had no idea of the radiation risks they were exposed to” Said Rianne.

A year later, 150,000 Japanese people in total have been displaced from their homes by the Fukushima disaster – some may never be able to return.

The world takes note. Does Australia?

After the Fukushima fallout, around the world citizens are urging their governments to abandon nuclear ambitions. And many governments are listening. In 2011 Germany announced a phase out of nuclear power by 2020, and in Italy, 23 million Italians voted ‘no’ to nuclear power in a referendum.

Meanwhile in Australia, our political leaders  are turning a blind eye to the risks of nuclear power. Earlier this year, the ALP overturned its policy ban to export uranium to India, which isn’t a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty. And just this month, the NSW Government announced a change to its 26 year policy to ban uranium exploration.

JOIN THE SNAP RALLY: Wed Feb 22,12:30pm @ NSW Parliament House ‘NO uranium exploration in NSW

The Fukushima disaster has shown that nuclear power is never safe. And more than that, it is not necessary. We have clean, safe, renewable energy technologies that can power our lives today.

In solidarity
Today, Rianne is sending her own message of solidarity to the people of Japan:

“My thoughts are with you. I truly hope that your suffering will not go unnoticed, and that it will act as a wake up call for the rest of the world. I pray that the Fukushima disaster will contribute to speeding up the Energy [R]evolution and help push the world into a truly clean energy future.”

You can also send your message via Facebook or on Twitter twitter link  #msgFukushima

Greenpeace will be travelling to Japan to participate in commemoration ceremonies and to personally deliver some of your messages to the people of Fukushima.