Monday, May 16, 2011

my personal thoughts revolving around the earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident

I started blogging last year. Blogging is kind of obsolete. I used to like to read some well known, for example, Iraqis’ blogs. But they kind of ceased to post around 2007. Many are twittering or using Facebook. But I like slowness of blogging. I write about art, books, and things the world media bring up.

I still consider myself a musician, but also have recently started working as a translator. So my news sources are many, such as, BBC, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The New York Times, Democracy Now!, PBS, Comedy Central, you name it. I don’t always check all of them. These several months I’ve been checking Al Jazeera, because of what’s going on in the Middle East. I was staying up all night when it was showing Egyptians celebrating Mubarak’s resignation. I was moved. I’m definitely for those emancipatory movements. I have no theoretical background, but I believe at least we should be able to imagine a better world.

But, I hadn’t paid attention to nuclear power plants until the earthquake hit. Though I wasn’t very sure about the safety of those Japanese nuclear power plants since I knew some accidents, I wasn’t really serious. I even thought EDF, the French electric power company, was fine because I was informed that it was operating much safer plants than those in Japan.

I wasn’t really interested in what was going on in Japan. I don’t have a TV. I don’t buy Japanese newspapers. If there weren’t the earthquake and the nuclear disaster, I couldn’t become interested in the Japanese alternative media, or the Japanese media in general. When I felt the earthquake here in Tokyo, I remembered the 1995 Kobe Earthquake and intuitively anticipated this would be a huge disaster. Then I immediately started checking NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster, BBC, and Al Jazeera, at the same time.

There is of course a gap between the Japanese media and the world media, and also the mainstream and the alternative. Wherever you live in, you can find this kind of gap. And I’m much more informed by some Japanese alternative media about the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident and Japan’s nuclear policy. I’ve discovered the fact that many Japanese activists, lawyers, scientists, and engineers have long been against Japan’s nuclear policy, and I’ve eventually judged they have been right. Now many Japanese people know not only the structure of nuclear power plants or its danger, but also its history and its injustice. For example, Japan’s nuclear policy started in the 1950s as part of America’s Cold War strategy, and the Japanese mainstream media cooperated with it and orchestrated massive propaganda in order to make people see the future in nuclear power. And also, we now know the plant workers have been dying for radiation exposure: the workers who do the most dangerous job are poor, uneducated, unemployed, and even homeless. They first clean inside of the reactors and then engineers come in. Tokyo and Osaka have districts such people are staying. Recently a newspaper reported such people are recruited into Fukushima without being noticed where they would be headed. Japan’s nuclear policy exploits poor people and poor areas. The TV broadcasters may still be clueless, but I note that not only the Internet news, but also, at least some radio stations and the local newspapers no longer turn a blind eye.

By the way, I’m translating a text appearing on a Japanese website, which was written by an engineer who had for twenty years been working at some nuclear power plants. I’m doing this for Canadian students studying Japan. The website says the author Norio Hirai died in 1997, and I guess the text is based on the author’s lectures that took place around 1996. He knew soon he would die because of radiation exposure, so he was determined to speak out. He says nuclear power plants cannot be operated without exposing many workers to radiation. The workplace is extremely dangerous, so it is impossible to maintain the plants properly. The government and the power companies have hidden many accidents. I cannot verify who Norio Hirai actually is, but things he says are now unfolding in Fukushima. The authorities are now still trying to cover up all this, but actually failing to do so. This Fukushima accident is that serious. Irreversible damage has been done, and still is being done.

The authorities fail to hide things, in a way, on their own. For example, a weather woman appearing in NHK news explains, “This level of radioactivity detected in this area is equivalent of taking radiography once,” and the anchorman immediately follows, “It’s safe, safe, safe.” Any normal person must think, “Wait a minute, no one takes radiography everyday. Doesn’t this anchorman exaggerate ‘safe’ too much?” Everyone is anxious. And then the authorities say, “Don’t speak up your anxiety, it makes things worse.” Japanese people don’t talk about the elephant in the room, we are told.

There may be, in Japan, a coercive force to silence those who are trying to make noise: “You can evacuate from Fukushima if you want, but you’ll be treated as a traitor.” But, this kind of forces can be found everywhere in the world. Perhaps, Japanese people, including myself, have been too much afraid of this coercion. What if this once seemed to be thick wall is merely a painting painted on a piece of paper? I admit I haven’t been courageous enough to try to break this wall, but these two rallies--one took place on April 10 in Koenji, the other on May 7 in Shibuya--prove that I have been wrong. People from all walks of life were getting together and expressing their anger in their own ways. And they were quite spontaneous and bottom-up. There were some organizers, such as Shiroto No Ran, which is seeking for an alternative way of life and community, but they were not really organizing. It wasn’t led by neither unions nor NPOs. By the way, I respect those NPOs, such as the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center and No Nuke Plaza Tokyo, which have long been helping nuclear power plant workers and fought against construction of plants. They know how to use legal means to fight against nuclear power plants and many scientific data that prove the danger of nuclear power plants. But, spontaneous popular movements are necessary in order to change the system.

This battle will continue. I’ve heard that a film school tells their students not to assign their work about ongoing anti-nuke rallies, because such a work is, the school says, “political.” I must say, “It’s politics, stupid!” That film school may want students just to make imitations of Hayao Miyazaki without poison. Universities and schools don’t want their students to be politically awakened.

Japanese are those who endure the unendurable, we are told. The authorities like this narrative. The American media also like this. After the earthquake hit, many Americans were busy discussing why no looting were taking place in the disaster area. They were apparently and tacitly comparing Japanese with Haitians or black people. They were stereotyping Japanese, Haitians, and black people, all together. I don’t buy that. It’s time to question this self-image. Japanese people have long been protesting since the medieval times. This self-image is a by-product of the authorities’ effort to establish “harmonious” capitalism with Asian or Japanese values.

At least people are now examining the history of nuclear power plants. Many are rediscovering the fact there have been many protests in the past. Even there have been TV programs that report how a Japanese media tyrant--a Rupert Murdoch kind of figure--cooperated with America and the Japanese government to make this nuclear policy possible, how the IAEA tried to downplay the misery of the Chernobyl Accident, how some scientists were fighting against the nuclear policy, and how horrible the 1999 critically accident at Tokai nuclear fuel plant was.

By the way, two workers were killed by this criticality accident. They were exposed to too much radiation, and there was no hope to help them. But the authorities brought them into the best equipped hospital and tried to prolong their death. One of them survived 83 days. Now many people know the graphic photos of this worker. The authorities tried to save the workers’ lives in order just to save the authorities' face.

Ironically many of those reports were made by NHK, and they are now circulating around the Internet. NHK is a complicated thing. It sometimes makes excellent in-depth reports, but the way it deals with the current problem like the Fukushima accident is bureaucratic. I believe it will make a good program about this accident ten years later. On the other hand, NHK World is completely bureaucratic. There is no in-depth reports, no analysis, no debates. Even it doesn’t try to contextualize things.

Additionally, I want to point out this: now in Japan it’s getting popular to say that the world is criticizing Japan for its management of the accident, but I don’t subscribe to this view. For example, when Tokyo Electric Power Company intentionally discharged the “low level” contaminated water into the sea in order to make room for extremely high level contaminated water leaking from those broken reactors, some Japanese independent journalists said that the world was calling it a state nuclear terrorism. This was not true. I checked over, and neither CNN nor BBC said such a thing. The world media are also more or less downplaying this nuclear issue. They say calling this accident “level 7” is an overestimation and nothing can compare to the Chernobyl Accident. Though they sensationalized the Fukushima accident for a couple of weeks, they didn’t touch the essential problems revolving around nuclear power plants. BBC put someone’s opinion that said low-level radiation is not so dangerous so we can live with it. Many were talking rather about how to live with risks than about the danger of nuclear power plants. When Germans started rallying against nuclear power plants, they rather said those Germans were overreacting. The Guardian, which is very enthusiastic about reducing greenhouse gas, is rather muted about this issue. They cover protests in Japan only when the participants were few. The nuclear industry consists of those multi-national corporations, and also the International Atomic Energy Agency is part of it. Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the IAEA, and now seemingly the Western favourite Egyptian presidential candidate, tried to downplay the affect of the Chernobyl Accident. There are many people in the world who don’t want Japan to abandon its nuclear power plants. Those Japanese nuclear power plant manufacturers such as Hitachi, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi are deeply connected to General Electric, Westinghouse, and Areva, respectively. The nuclear issue is about the international politics. I hope, for example, the residents in Sellafield and the residents in Rokkasho will work together to abolish their reprocessing plants. Or, the people in the industrialized countries and the people in the developing countries should work together. Now those multi-national corporations are exporting the plants, since it has been becoming more difficult to build them in their own countries.

The nuclear problem is about commons. Whose lands and waters are we polluting? We should share things, lands, waters, natural resources, and intellectual properties. And also, we should share risks as well. This Tohoku Earthquake is a tragedy. But, we should remember an earthquake can kill ten times higher number of people in South Asia and Haiti. Poor people die first.

Two months later the earthquake, the Japanese prime minister finally announced the government would rewrite its energy policy from scratch, and that’s good news. At least about the energy policy, I’m cautiously optimistic. But, we should go beyond a state's energy policy.

I cannot tell how Japanese people will become from now on. This accident has eventually awakened many people. The worst case scenario for me is that what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism will take over Japan. The best case scenario--this is difficult to tell. Let me put it this way. Now, Hiroaki Koide, a senior reactor engineering specialist at the Research Reactor Institute of Kyoto University, who has long been against the government’s nuclear power policy, is much admired. He has been studying nuclear power in order to abolish it, he says. Why is this possible for him? It is because he believes that duty of scientists, especially of university, is not to make something immediately useful for companies, but to examine fundamental things and meanings of things, and to discuss things freely, not being restricted by the demands of the times. It’s rather company researchers’ job to study practical things. What Koide tells us is about what Immanuel Kant calls public use of reason. He teaches us what a philosopher is supposed to do. He says he learnt this during the 1968 students’ revolt when he was a student. We are apparently learning the best part of the 1968 now. I hope grandchildren of the best part of the 1968 will take over this country.

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