As we mark the second memorial of the March 11, 2011 disaster, we see tragedy, but also hope in Japan.
While people mourn for the mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents and children who were lost in the earthquake and tsunami, many of those who fled the natural disaster have been able to return home and start rebuilding their lives and communities as best they can.
The tragedy continues, however, for those still suffering from the impacts of radioactive contamination from the triple meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Many areas remain uninhabitable, leaving 160,000 evacuees in limbo, unable to go home, but also unable to rebuild their lives because they lack proper compensation and support.
Families and communities are breaking up, financial ruin is common and the divorces and mental breakdowns are stacking up. Recent estimates suggest cancer rates are likely to increase in Fukushima, which weighs heavily on people’s minds. The pressures have also led to increased suicides in the area. It is untrue to say nobody has lost their lives as a result of the nuclear accident.
This ongoing tragedy for the victims of the nuclear disaster is the fault of a system that is supposed to provide fair compensation when there is a nuclear disaster, but doesn’t. This system essentially protects the nuclear industry, not people.
That the nuclear industry is protected before people is a sad and totally unjust reality for most of the world.
It is estimated that the cost of the Fukushima disaster will eventually reach US$250 billion, but the costs up until now have already crushed plant owner TEPCO, forcing the Japanese government to nationalise it. TEPCO is one of the largest energy utilities in the world, yet it had to be protected from its responsibilities. Taxpayers are now picking up the tab.
Worse still is that the system offers even greater protection to companies like GE, Hitachi and Toshiba. They built the Fukushima plant based on a flawed reactor design. Yet the regulations allow them to walk away and pay nothing to help victims. They also do not show much moral responsibility to help.
The big gap between the costs of a nuclear disaster and what the nuclear industry pays should outrage every taxpayer in every country with a nuclear plant.
This reality, like other painful truths about nuclear power, has hit home with many Japanese people. They are standing up in protest.
Last year I wrote about hope and the emerging “Hydrangea revolution”. Hundreds of thousands of protestors flooded the streets of Tokyo around the prime minister’s residence and the parliament. These protests continue and the support for a total nuclear phase out in Japan is growing.
People are upset, first at the previous government’s decision to restart a nuclear power plant after all were switched off following the Fukushima meltdowns, and now at the new government’s plans to restart more reactors, and to resume building them.
Their mobilisation has already had some success, as only two of Japan’s reactors are currently online. The rest remain offline. It will not be long until the lone two reactors working at the Ohi plant are once again shut down for maintenance, leaving Japan nuclear-free once more. We want an end to our disastrous experiment with nuclear power. We showed that we can live without it last summer, and we will do so again.
The hope coming out of Fukushima is that people continue to speak out, loudly and clearly, about this man-made disaster, to speak out against nuclear power.
Over the last week they have again been joined by Greenpeace activists in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, India, Jordan, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, and the USA, as well as tens of thousands of other people online calling for nuclear companies to be made responsible for the damage they can, and do, cause.
You can help. We cannot stop natural disasters, but we can prevent man-made ones.
We cannot give the people of Fukushima back what they have lost, but we can stand together and ensure they get compensated, that they are remembered, and that no one has to suffer through a nuclear meltdown ever again.
We hope that the Japanese government will listen to the voices of its people, stop talking about nuclear and push renewables much harder.