I first met Kenichi Hasegawa on May 6, 2011, the day the national government designated Iitate as a "planned evacuation area" and ordered the entire village to evacuate completely by the end of May.
On that day, I was given a tour of the village by Naomi Toyoda, a photojournalist, and Shojiro Akashi, a freelance journalist. It was a classic spring day in a mountain village. Iitate was in full bloom, its landscape adorned with beautiful flowers and the green earth, with bees and other insects flying around busily, and Japanese bush warblers--uguisu—singing joyfully of the arrival of spring. Cows still grazed in the pastures as if nothing had happened. But when we approached the grass with a Geiger counter, the ominous beeping began, indicating radiation levels exceeding 0.6 microsieverts. It was an incongruous sound in the natural scene before me, and the alarm echoed through the landscape.
I met Hasegawa at his home in the Maeta area of Iitate. He was standing in his barn with the cows who lived with his family. Feed had become scarce, and the cows had grown thin. As Hasegawa talked about the cruelty of this new reality that he had been forced to confront, he pleaded with me that the misery, starvation and death endured by the animals left behind in areas closest to Fukushima Daiichi not be repeated on the cows of Iitate.
By this time, Hasegawa and his dairy-farmer friends and colleagues had already decided to suspend their businesses. He felt very much alone, and worried about how to make TEPCO acknowledge the farmers’ "legitimate demands" for compensation for damages suffered because of the power plant accident, including reparations for lost business.
In his book, Hasegawa speaks plainly and eloquently about his lonely battle and his state of mind following the earthquake.
Japan’s Unchanging System
—From Yakugai AIDS to Fukushima Daiichi--
“Hard to believe.” This single phrase sums up what Hasegawa told me about the situation that Iitate residents unexpectedly found themselves in following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and the severe accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
As I listened to him recount the events and describe the extremely dangerous situation that residents were placed in, it occurred to me that their situation was structurally identical to the Yakugai AIDS scandal that I myself had experienced many years before.
The Yakugai AIDS Scandal (薬害エイズ事件; Yakugai Eizu Jiken; "HIV-tainted blood malpractice scandal") was Japan’s largest post-war Japanese medical malpractice case, in which unheated imported blood projects were used in blood transfusions to treat hemophiliacs. These tainted blood products carried the AIDS virus, which then infected thousands of patients, ultimately killing many of them. Through the course of the incident, the truth was systematically hidden from the public, the risks were downplayed, and the damage continued to be minimized even after many people became infected with HIV. In 1981 the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper reported that American hemophiliac patients had contracted AIDS from suspected contaminated blood products. In 1983, an AIDS research group was established within Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare (now the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) led by Takeshi Abe (former vice president of Teikyo University). The group examined the use of safer domestically-produced heat-treated blood products, but in the end decided to continue using unheated, imported products. With the help of hemophilia medical specialists, the Ministry of Health and Welfare, along with drug companies, concealed factual and verified information from patients and from the public.
In August 1983, a meeting was held in Tokyo for hemophiliac patients. The leader of the government research group, Takeshi Abe, stood in front of hemophiliacs and their families, who were understandably worried about AIDS, and declared that "There is no reason to worry about HIV infection." The audience believed Abe, who was an authority on hemophilia. Treatments using tainted blood continued, and as a result, nearly 2,000 hemophiliacs were infected with HIV.
I also have hemophilia. At the time, I worked as an official in a patient advocacy group. I completely believed the safety declarations made by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and by other academic authorities. They said that everything was daijōbu, OK. As a result, I unwittingly contributed to the catastrophe that took the lives of many of my friends.
As I listened to Hasegawa’s story, I recalled these painful memories.
Following the research group’s safety declaration, seminars led by hemophilia specialists were held all over the country. One after another, hemophiliacs, and parents of small children who had until then been too frightened to use blood products, agreed to treatment with unheated blood products, and were then infected with HIV.
But in Iitate after 3/11, the residents were deprived of even the chance to voluntarily evacuate from the village, due to the completely baseless safety declarations by Fukushima Prefecture "Radiation Health Risk Management Advisors" such as Noboru Takamura and Shunichi Yamashita.
HIV infections in hemophiliacs came to light in Japan in 1986. Then, due to ignorance and a prejudice surrounding AIDS, discrimination was a frequent occurrence in every region of the country, as organizations such as preschools expelled children with HIV. In the midst of this terrible prejudice and discrimination, in 1989, HIV-infected victims sued the government and the pharmaceutical companies for damages, and following a long and painful battle, won a historic settlement in 1996.
The government, represented by the then Minister of Health Naoto Kan, acknowledged its responsibility, apologized, and promised to address the problem. Kan accused the Ministry of Health and Welfare of burying information by claiming it didn't exist, and he finally made these materials fully public. In addition, Kan's right-hand man, Yukio Edano—a new Lower House member (Japan New Party) who joined in 1993—worked on behalf of victims to provide benefits and to address institutional problems.
However, it was the same Naoto Kan, now Prime Minister, who concealed information from Iitate and other residents about the Fukushima Daiichi accident, as well information about the spread of radiation and radioactive materials. And it was his chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, who kept repeating the now-infamous words: "There is no immediate health risk." Each time he uttered this statement, the evacuation of residents was further delayed.
What an irony of history.
Given my own experience, I am acutely aware of the fact that Fukushima Daiichi was a man-made disaster, and structurally identical to the Yakugai AIDS case. The institutional structure that has contributed to these catastrophes has remained unchanged in Japan since the beginning of the Shōwa era (1926).
In this case, a power company, pursuing profits above all, and a government, fully conjoined with that power company, together allow and promote the expansion of nuclear power plants at sites all over the country. And with their ample funds, the "nuclear power village," as these power companies are called, support yet another power: the power known as researchers and experts. Together, these forces, operating within this conjoined structure, brought about this nuclear accident. We have seen it before: Minamata disease, Kanemi Yūsho disease, Yakugai AIDS, and now Fukushima Daiichi. However one approaches these different cases, in the end aren’t they all structurally the same?
When I listen to Hasegawa talk about the reality he has overcome, I find it hard to believe that citizens could be abandoned by their government to such a degree. What stands out to me in particular is the mercilessness of the government and TEPCO immediately following the nuclear accident. And it was in the village of Iitate where the cruelty of this initial response was most concentrated.
The Inevitability of Fukushima Daiichi
The 9.0-magnitude Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011 at 2:46 p.m. off the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region. Thirty minutes later the Tohoku coast was hit by a massive tsunami, which caused the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant to lose all power, including power for reactors in operation. Cooling function was thereby lost, and soon thereafter three meltdowns occurred in Reactor Units 1, 2, and 3.
At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion occurred in Reactor Unit 1, blowing the roof off the building. Another hydrogen explosion occurred at 11:01 a.m. on March 14, this time in Reactor Unit 3. Around 6:00 a.m. on March 15, an explosion occurred in the spent fuel pool of Reactor Unit 4. Around the same time, there was another explosion in Reactor Unit 2. From March 11 to March 15, a series of explosions occurred at Fukushima Daiichi resulting in the release of large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.
In response, Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a "nuclear emergency declaration" at 4:36 p.m. on March 11. At 9:23 p.m., an evacuation order was issued for residents living within 3 kilometers of the plant. Those within a 10-kilometer radius were instructed to remain indoors. However, these orders were presented simply as precautions “just to be on the safe side.”
At 5:44 a.m. on March 12, residents within a 10-kilometer radius were ordered to evacuate. At 6:25 p.m., the radius was extended to 20 kilometers. At 11:00 a.m. on March 15, residents living within 20 to 30 kilometers of the plant were ordered to remain indoors.
During this time, venting work was occurring in Reactor Unit 1 (March 12) and Reactor Unit 3 (March 13).
Since most of Iitate lies beyond a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, only one area of the village—known as Warabitaira—was subject to the order to remain indoors.
However, as Hasegawa points out in the book, hourly readings of 40 microsieverts/hour were being recorded at the Iitate village offices at that time.
On the other hand, the government had implemented the Ministry of Education's SPEEDI system (System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information), and so they knew about the spread of radioactive material northwest (in the direction of Iitate) from Fukushima Daiichi. Despite the fact that they had predicted the spread of radiation beyond 30 kilometers, this critical information was not utilized for the sake of the residents whose lives depended on it. The residents of Iitate were ignored until the government designated the entire village a "planned evacuation area" with an evacuation deadline date of May 31, 2011.
Hasegawa describes how he, his family, and the people of Iitate were misled by experts and the government for five months between May and August 2011. Hasegawa himself evacuated to temporary housing in Date (a city in northern Fukushima prefecture) in August 2011, after seeing to the evacuation of all the other residents. But because of the delayed evacuation order and the declarations of safety made by radiation experts, Iitate residents were slow to evacuate on their own, which means that their health risks greatly increased. During those five months, the residents, including small children, were continuously exposed to radiation.
With the exception of acute disorders caused by exposure to large amounts of radiation, it is an obvious statement to say that radiation exposure causes “no immediate health risks.” However, the problem is that one cannot say with certainty what effects this kind of exposure will have on individuals in the future.
In the Yakugai AIDS case, after many hemophiliacs realized that they had been infected with HIV, the so-called experts still told them not to worry too much since the virus probably would not develop into full-blown AIDS. But in fact, the lives of a great number of hemophiliacs were stolen by HIV, which did indeed develop into AIDS. And those who are still alive must take large cocktails of drugs daily for the rest of their lives to suppress the virus and prevent further illness.
However, those who were forced to evacuate from their homes because of the nuclear accident still have cause for hope. Despite the dearth of information provided by the national and prefectural governments, Hasegawa and others in Iitate desperately searched for the truth, and after learning the truth, fought to protect their neighbors, children and young people. Their struggle, and the way in which responded to the inescapable and cruel truth that threatened his community, holds lessons for us all.
Nuclear accidents and nuclear disasters, perhaps once thought to occur only in the world of novels or movies, have become a reality. Wrongdoing corporations such as TEPCO (along with other electric power companies such as Kyushu Electric), as well as the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and the government - whose ostensible role is to ensure the safety of the people - hide facts about accidents while warping the truth they do tell. Their fundamentally secretive natures have not changed. The lives of more than 100,000 people have been affected by radiation exposure. They have lost the lives they labored hard to build, their work, their homes. After suffering unimaginable harm, they are now forced to live with great anxiety about their future health.
However, citizens are becoming increasingly aware of this kind of posturing by the government and are beginning to realize that the state is not working to protect their lives. And so many people seek out and exchange information for themselves in places like the internet, in order to learn how to protect themselves and their families.
All the events described by Hasegawa in this book are true, and until now, no one has told the story about the inevitability and deception surrounding this nuclear accident as faithfully as Hasegawa does.
From the very beginning, the foundation of nuclear power has rested in the "myth of safety" which was created by the nuclear power village comprised of government and academic circles. As such, “accidents” had never been envisioned, nor did Fukushima Daiichi's operators have a single idea about how to safely evacuate residents.
The nuclear power plant could not envision accidents in the first place because if and when they occur, the spread of radiation is impossible to control. In addition to this, the failure to consider safety and maintenance has been a matter of course, to say nothing of the fact that in this case there were no procedures in place concerning the provision of accurate information to residents, or procedures for emergency evacuations.
In the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, nothing was more important than quickly and safely evacuating residents in surrounding communities. And yet, it was in performing this very task that our officials failed most utterly.
"The truth about what happened in Iitate" as Hasegawa tells it clearly communicates the fact that from the beginning the government and TEPCO had little consideration for the lives of the people or the protection of their health. This is not a problem confined to TEPCO. The same can be said for all nuclear power plants in Japan, and it should come as no surprise when the people living in their shadows become part of the next "Iitate."
The Issue of Restitution
Procedures currently underway concerning restitution by TEPCO focus on the company's failure to properly evacuate affected residents.
A special civil tort law called the "Act on the Compensation for Nuclear Damages” deals with nuclear power plant accidents. According to this law, in cases where damages have occurred as a result of a nuclear power plant accident, the business operator acknowledges de facto liability without absolute fault. The law also sets forth the concentration of responsibility. Accordingly, TEPCO unequivocally bears responsibility for the accident that occurred at its Fukushima Daiichi plant. As for the details of liability, TEPCO's responsibility is no different than that recognized in other cases, such as the responsibility of businesses for pollution or medical injury.
The law is based on the idea of compensation for damages caused by torts, and guided by the principle of "restoration" and "full compensation" for harms suffered. From this point of view, “restitution” certainly includes damages associated with evacuation, such as physical, mental and financial harm, as well as the decontamination of the surrounding environment (homes and fields) contaminated by radioactive materials, as part of "restoration to the original condition." In addition, future responsibility may also arise, depending on the situation, for medical tests and the prevention of illness. In other words, TEPCO must provide full and comprehensive restitution for past, present, and future harms resulting from this accident.
The Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, which was established by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), set forth "Interim Guidelines on Damages" as a way to quickly and smoothly provide compensation. However, and unfortunately, these guidelines are actually impeding the timely processing of restitution. This is because matters not included in these interim guidelines have come to be regarded as matters outside of TEPCO’s responsibility.
Take decontamination, for example. TEPCO has not claimed responsibility for decontamination work and the costs associated with it, but from the perspective of restitution, it is clear to anyone that that TEPCO should absolutely bear responsibility.
I think the first important issue to think about in terms of damages is that of possible “exposure." Because the problem of exposure is extremely serious, early response is critically important. Of course, health damage and environmental contamination due to exposure is recognized, but in this case, isn't the complete loss of livelihood and the loss of a way of life, also ultimately caused by “exposure”?
I think this point should be central to this discussion, even more than issues such as damages sustained by the accident, restoration, and compensation. As it stands now, in the "Interim Guidelines," the financial damage associated with evacuation is situated as the single most important issue, while health problems based on exposure generally remain unconsidered (with the exception of acute health problems associated with radiation). And at this point, most of the victims are "absent residents."
Shouldn't health damage associated with exposure be at the center of any compensation scheme? The medical system should constitute the core of compensation, and include services such as health surveys of residents forced to evacuate, contamination studies of affected areas, future medical tests, and supporting research. Also on this point, these services should be administered in a way that seeks to alleviate victims’ anxiety about the future.
Furthermore, in regard to damages that cannot be recovered even after decontamination work is completed, after measuring actual radiation levels in affected areas, the independent judgments of the residents who had previously lived in those communities should be respected to the furthest extent possible, and a system to support their migration (including migrating as a group) to other areas should be created. At this point, no one can predict what kind of health problems they may develop as a result of their exposure to radiation. With that in mind, the decision to either return to their previous homes or to move to another area should be left up entirely to the discretion of the residents. Furthermore, forcing residents to substantiate future health damage is cruel, and as long as TEPCO, the wrongdoer, fails to provide sufficient proof that "there are no health risks,” a flexible response to claims of health damage should be sought.
Hasegawa and the others from Iitate have strong and poignant memories of their hometown. Many of them wish to return home following decontamination work. However, the consequences of this accident should be borne by Japanese society as a whole, since our nation has prioritized postwar economic growth at the expense of ignoring safety. We must not take advantage of the people of Iitate. We must not allow the people of Iitate to return to places where "complete decontamination" cannot be achieved. Responsibility for this belongs to all of us.
We can learn from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. While we have, of course, a responsibility to work to abolish nuclear power so that a tragedy like this one does not happen again, we must also aim for the full recovery of the present victims, however “full recovery” is defined. Then we must consider, together with those who have been affected, how this may be achieved, and take responsibility for turning that into reality. We must not let those who have been evacuated, including those from Iitate, return home before adequate decontamination work has taken place. This is also the responsibility of every one of us, since it was we who failed them during the initial evacuation.
Finally, it is my earnest hope that as many people as possible will read Hasegawa's book. Through this book you will know the truth about what Hawegawa and the people of Iitate experienced. In order to stop nuclear accidents from ever happening again, we must thoroughly examine the causes, and we should begin by making TEPCO financially responsible for any and all damages they have caused.
This is my hope, as a person who, unfortunately, was unable to put to good use the lessons we learned from Yagukai AIDS.