On March 11, 2011 one of the most powerful earthquakes in Japanese history produced a massive tsunami that decimated parts of the Eastern coast of Japan north of Tokyo. This resulted in a meltdown and explosions at the Fukushima dai-ichi nuclear power plant causing deadly radiation to be dispersed across parts of Japan. Three years later, the recovery process is ongoing and radiation is still a significant issue, but most people have forgotten about the events of 3/11, as it is commonly called in Japan. This prompted Assistant Professor of Geography and Asian Studies Dai Yamamoto to organize a forum titled “Fukushima: Three Years Later and Beyond,” in which speakers from Japan came to campus to reflect on the disaster. Colgate students and community members filed into Persson Auditorium on Monday, April 14 to hear their thoughts.
The forum started with a short presentation from sophomores Duncan McRae and Julia Horne, students in Professor Yamamoto’s Japan course, which provided the audience with some background information about 3/11. Through maps and charts they showed how the radiation led to “no-go” zones around the nuclear power plant in which thousands of people will be unable to return to their homes for the foreseeable future.
“Forums like these remind us that the Fukushima disaster didn’t end when the streets were finally dry again. It’s ongoing, and we need to pay attention,” Horne said.
Professor Mitsuo Yamakawa, of Teikyo University and formerly of Fukushima University, then spoke about “Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Evacuees.” He provided statistics that spoke to the unfortunate experiences refugees from the disaster have faced. For example, the vast majority of refugees have moved shelters more than three times and 25 percent no longer wish to return to their homes, most fearing that it will never be safe from radiation. The unemployment rate in Fukushima more than doubled as refugees found it difficult to start new lives.
Yuta Hirai, a journalist, researcher at Fukushima University and a member of the Fukushima Co-op, then spoke about his research and experiences. As a member of the Co-op, Hirai discussed two recovery projects in which he has been involved. The first was the Soil Screening Project, which deepened the relationship between farmers and consumers in the Fukushima area by facilitating lectures with Fukushima University professors and testing farmers’ soil to assess the level of radiation contamination. The project tested at more than 120,000 sites, while the government only tested at 31 sites in the same area. In the second project Hirai discussed, he interviewed refugees from in and around
“I want to forget about the disaster…but I don’t want to be forgotten,” one interviewee had said.
Proving the point that society tends to forget about disasters over time, another interviewee stated, “It seems like society is pushing all the problems to Fukushima to forget about them.”
Continuing the conversation about refugees and expanding it to the Japanese economy, Professor Noritsugu Fujimoto, or “Fuji,” spoke on why people in Fukushima choose to remain there. An Associate Professor at Fukushima University, Fujimoto first addressed some popular misconceptions about Japan and 3/11. First, many people believe that there is no room to build a new city in a densely populated Fukushima prefecture, but in reality Fukushima has one of the smallest population densities in Japan with room to expand. Many people also believe that farmers in the area have been holding their land for generations, while in reality that is the case for only about 10 percent of farmers. He then compared the Fukushima disaster to the earthquake in Haiti and ended with the quote, “A true story about Fukushima will never be spread unless the researchers tell the truth.”
Arthur Binard ’90 addressed some of the lies that have been told regarding Fukushima, primarily regarding those who ignore the effects of radiation. Binard, a poet, writer and translator, became interested in Japan and Japanese culture during his senior year at Colgate and moved to Japan shortly thereafter. He is very familiar with Fukushima and lives in both Tokyo and Hiroshima, the site of another disaster in Japan. Besides emphasizing the lies the government and nuclear power companies spread about radiation, Binard compared Fukushima to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He also challenged the audience to think about what they would do if relatively local nuclear power plants in Oswego or Rochester were to melt down. Do we wait until something catastrophic happens, or do we take action sooner? Overall, Binard emphasized that, no matter what anyone says, decontamination will never happen fully because the nuclear radiation can never be eliminated. Even if it is washed out to sea, it will impact the ecosystem and the fish people eat. There was a quick question and answer period following what was a thorough analysis from many angles about 3/11. As the disaster becomes part of the more distant past, Yamamoto feels it is important for the Colgate community to remember that the recovery process is ongoing and the people of Fukushima should not be forgotten.
Contact Jared Goldsmith at [email protected]