On the seventh anniversary of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear accident, our thoughts and deepest sympathies continue to be with the people of Japan.
Every one of the tens of thousands evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi triple reactor meltdown has a story to tell.
In our latest radiation survey we had the privilege to hear the experience of Mrs Mizue Kanno. As we entered the exclusion zone of Namie, Ms Kanno told us of the events seven years ago that were to change her life, her family and those of thousands of others.
Mrs Kanno was a social worker in Futaba less than 10 km from the nuclear plant. Eventually she made her way home after the devastating earthquake, and over the next few days thousands of people were evacuated to her home district of Tsushima. Families moved into her home. But soon they were warned by men in gas masks and protective clothing to get out immediately. The radioactive fallout from the nuclear plant, about 32 km away, had deposited high levels of contamination in this mountainous area of Namie.
Mrs Kanno now lives in western Japan, many hundreds of kilometres from her home in Fukushima. While she is a victim of nuclear power, she isn’t passive observer – instead she’s a female activist determined to tell her story. She campaigns across the Kansai region against nuclear power and for renewable energy.
Like thousands of other evacuees, she has joined lawsuits filed against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and the Japanese government. Already found guilty in multiple court proceedings of being criminally negligent in failing to take measures to prevent the meltdown, TEPCO and the government can expect many more rulings against them.
Because of the support of Mrs Kanno and her friends and neighbours, Greenpeace has been able to conduct a wide ranging survey inside the exclusion zone of Namie, published in our report, Reflecting in Fukushima.
While our survey report is filled with microsieverts and millisieverts, it’s far more about the lives and the land of Mrs Kanno her family, friends and neighbours.
Measuring thousands of points around homes, forests and farmland, it’s clear that this is an area that should not be opened to the public for many decades. Yet the government opened a main artery, route 114, while we were working in Namie.
One consequence is that people are stopping off and visiting areas high in radiation. At one house, radiation hot spots were over 11 microsieverts per hour (μSv/h) at one meter, and 137μSv/hat 10 centimetres. These levels are thousands of times the background level before the nuclear accident, and mean you’d reach your recommended maximum annual exposure in six days.
Yet, two people were working 10 meters away from the hot spot with no dosimeters or protective clothing. Mrs Kanno and our radiation specialists explained the levels of contamination and why it was necessary to take precautions.
In one zone in Obori, we measured radiation that would expose a decontamination worker to the 1 mSv/y limit in just 10 working days. The whole area is contaminated to varying high levels that will remain a threat into next century. How could the government be thinking of opening this area as early as 2023? More importantly, why?
It’s actually simple and wholly cynical. The Japanese government is desperate to restart nuclear reactors. Today only three are operating. Having areas of Japan closed to human habitation because of radioactive contamination is a very major obstacle to the government’s ambitions to operate 30-35 nuclear reactors. It’s a constant reminder to the people of Japan of the risks and consequences of nuclear power.
Yet, there are signs of positive change. Last month a panel of experts established by the Foreign Minister called for a mass scaling up of renewables, and warned of the risks from depending on coal plants and nuclear power. The voices of Mrs Kanno, the other thousands of Fukushima evacuees and the majority of people in Japan, and their demand for a different energy future, will be heard.
Throughout our time in Namie, as we visited the highly contaminated area of Obori and Tsushima – quiet, remote areas of natural beauty – Mrs Kanno told us about the life and traditions of families who for generations had supported themselves by farming. Now all of them are displaced and scattered across Japan. Yet the government is failing to even acknowledge their rights under domestic and international human rights law.
This week, we will be traveling to Geneva with mothers who are evacuees from Fukushima to the United Nations Human Rights Council session on Japan. The Japanese government has been under pressure to stop its violations of the human rights of Fukushima evacuees. Last week it accepted all recommendations at the UN to respect the human rights of Fukushima citizens. This included the German government recommendation to restore to a maximum annual public exposure of 1 mSv. This global safety standard has been abandoned by the Abe government.
The government’s decision is important, but now they need to be implemented if they are genuine in their commitments to the United Nations. On the 16 March this year, Mrs Kanno and other evacuees and their lawyers will attend the Tokyo high court for a ruling on Fukushima against TEPCO and the Government. One of the evacuee mothers, Akiko Morimatsu, together with Greenpeace, on the same day will speak at the United Nations to challenge the Japanese government to now fully apply the UN recommendations.
While we will be thousands of kilometers apart, we will be with Mrs Kanno on her day in court in Tokyo and she will be with us in Geneva. The Fukushima nuclear disaster has shattered lives but it has also brought us together determined to prevent such a terrible event from ever happening again and to transition Japan to a secure and safe energy future based on renewables.
Kazue Suzuki is an Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace Japan and Shaun Burnie is a Senior Nuclear Specialist at Greenpeace Germany