There's a new exhibition entitled "Life in Iitate Village" at the Kyoto University of Art and Design featuring the photographic work of Chiyoko Kanno, former resident of Iitate. This article from Vice also mentions Fukushima's Stolen Lives - Kenichi Hasegawa Book Translation Project, and describes Hasegawa's narrative as a counterpoint to "official narratives" produced by the government.
(Click here for Part 1 - background info on this translated excerpt)
Excerpt from A Criminal Complaint Against TEPCO (2012)
by Shojiro Akashi
It was May 6, 2011, almost two months after the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi. While several black cows grazed in the pastures of Iitate, we measured radiation levels in the surrounding air: 2.95 microsieverts/hour. As a warm breeze blew, the levels continued to steadily rise, eventually reaching 5.79 microsieverts/hour. The Geiger counter kept sounding its alarm. If the numbers were accurate, we couldn’t stay here for long.
Without saying a word, every member of our data collecting team had already donned a mask.
Although we hadn't been invited, we decided to stop by the home of a dairy farmer family in the Maeta district of Iitate. A number of farmers’ wives happened also to be there for some kind of get-together. Tea and sweets were arranged on a table. When I inquired about the occasion, they told me it was the final meeting of the Iitate dairy farmer wives’ association. The evacuation of the entire village was close at hand.
They graciously invited me in, so I removed my mask and entered the room.
A: Dad was on the news this morning. He said that we dairy farmers had no choice but to suspend our businesses for two years. The cows will be slaughtered, and we will leave the village. After the broadcast, we got so many telephone calls from people who had seen him on TV. It was overwhelming. Finally I just said, “That's it, I don’t want to answer any more calls.”
Some of the callers were supportive and encouraged us not to give up, but others were not. They said things like, "Those cows are like members of your family, right? But now you’re going to hurry up and get rid of them because you value your life so much more than theirs?"
A lot of people called to scold us with these protest-like statements. I wanted those people to know what it really feels like to be in our position and what it was like for us to make the decision to stop dairy farming. But I didn't say anything.
Akashi: People here have gotten favorable coverage by the media, haven’t they?
B: That's true, but it's just that some people only see this as a matter of "animal welfare."
C: Yes, they only see it from that angle.
D: Right, right.
Akashi: Are you all going to leave Iitate and evacuate on your own?
A: Probably, yes.
Akashi: So it's going to be difficult to have this kind of gathering in the future...
B: Yes, of course. But we'll meet again in two years when we all come back.
Akashi: Are you all evacuating to locations within Fukushima Prefecture?
C: I'm still not sure where we're going. Everyone's leaving separately for a while until the other temporary housing is finished. But then again, it's not like they're building any kind of large-scale structures that can house an entire village, so yes, I guess everyone will be scattered....But it also sounds like even now they're still just looking for suitable sites to build on.
Akashi: Yes, that's how it sounds to me, too.
E: Even the vice-mayor said that it’s not going to be ready in May.
B: But the national government is telling us to leave by the end of May.
A: So where are we supposed to go?
C: Iitate is the very last place to be evacuated, and the entire village has to go. All of a sudden they say "evacuate" but all the housing is already full of other evacuees, the ones who lived near the plant, so there's no way we can find a place as quickly as they tell us we have to.
A: We can't leave.
B: We can't leave without first taking care of the cows. We could never leave them as they are now, just in order to evacuate ourselves.
Akashi: I see. So it sounds like from the beginning, the national government has really only considered disaster prevention within a 10 kilometer radius of the plant.
A: And Iitate is 40 to 50 kilometers away.
Akashi: So it's not just TEPCO that has brought about this situation. The government is also responsible.
C: Yes, and until now all they have been saying is that the plant is safe. "It's safe, it's safe." But they were completely wrong.
A: My health has really started to suffer because of all this.
At this point in the interview, I asked Yukuo Yasuda, a lawyer, to join our conversation. He had been waiting outside in the car.
Yasuda: How many cows do you have?
A: Right now we have 32. About half of them have been evacuated. Originally we had about 50.
Yasuda: Where are the other ones now?
A: We sent away the calves and the pregnant cows. They're at a dairy farming center in Shirakawa [in southern Fukushima Prefecture]. This was supposed to be part of the temporary evacuation plan. But now there are "movement restrictions" on dairy cows because of the contamination, and we can't move them anywhere. That's why all the farming families are so upset.
It's an incredibly painful decision (to slaughter them). Some farmers in other areas have offered to take the Iitate cows. They're good cows, and people have said they want to take care of them.
But as long as there are "movement restrictions," we can't send them anywhere.
C: So we have to just keep throwing out fresh milk.
B: Yes, the cows have to be milked every morning and evening. But no one is going to buy that milk, so we have no choice but to throw it out. Our milk is our livelihood. And every day we are throwing it away. We can't sell the milk, so we won't be able to buy the feed. It's like we're buying food every day just to throw it out. And then our debts increase.
We're at our limit now, so we’re just giving the cows as much grass as they can eat from our own fields. Just to give them something to fill their stomachs. They aren't eating their usual feed, and they're wasting away, but they still produce milk. No matter how much we feed them, they get thinner and thinner. We understand what's happening, but there's nothing more we can do.
A: Apparently there's only enough pasture grass to last until the end of June. If that’s true we’ll have to go out and mow some more. Because of the accident, we're not adding extra fertilizer to the fields, and now they're telling us that we must not even cut the grass because it's too contaminated. That's why we're going to run out of food. We’ve told this to the government so many times, but no one is listening. We want to save the cows, but pretty soon we won't be able to feed them.
Akashi: Which governmental bodies have you discussed this with? Have you talked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries?
A: Yes. We asked them to please buy the cows. They said, "Dispose of them, and the government will pay the difference (between what you get and the ordinary cattle market sales price)."
But how can we dispose of them? Nobody will buy Iitate cows, and nobody will even come to get them. So naturally, we have to make a decision about what to do all by ourselves, you know? Because the government isn't going to buy them.
That's why we had to make a painful choice, and that's what Dad was talking about on TV. And then we got "complaint" phone calls from people all over the country.
Yasuda: Did you get any kind of explanation from the Ministry of Agriculture?
A: About a month ago, on April 9, Michihiko Kano, the minister, came to the Iitate village office. Dad went to see him there and had an opportunity to talk to him about the future of dairy farming in Iitate.
Apparently some other people from the department in charge of dairy farming came with the minister, and they gave Dad their business cards. We got a phone call from them that night, asking about the situation in the village. They said they'd look into everything right away.
But then, two days later on April 11, the "planned evacuation" order was issued, and all the discussions about support for dairy farmers in the village suddenly became very vague. Dad had been negotiating a great deal over the phone with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, but now all they say is "We'll pay the difference, so..." That's the only point they make. It doesn't matter when we tell them that we can't move the cows because of the movement restrictions. Nothing we say matters. Dad says that the national government is passing everything onto the prefecture and leaving everything up to them. And now the prefecture tells us that "nothing can be done."
Yasuda: They ignore the problem, and then abruptly offer to compensate you only for lost profit.
Yasuda: In conventional legal theories about compensation for damages, compensation is paid only for profits.
But the evacuation of an entire village is an unprecedented event. And the best theories that we lawyers have about compensation come from incidents like traffic accidents. So in this case, even though it concerns a nuclear power plant accident, the incident might be likened to something completely different, like a traffic accident.
We lawyers too will also need to now study this case, but all of you must work hard as well.
Akashi: Are you saying that lawyers have never handled a case like this one?
Yasuda: Correct. There's never been anything like this. And a case of an entire population being forced out of their village is nowhere within the scope of a case about conventional traffic accidents, so naturally, our way of approaching this case must also be completely new.
Akashi: And in truth, the people here bear no responsibility for what happened to them.
C: We haven't done anything wrong.
B: We haven't received any benefits from the power plant either.
A: They just came and suddenly said "Leave the village." And with the issue of compensation, too, I feel like they're saying, "Figure it out yourselves." With everything like this, what's going to happen to us in the future?
C: We have no idea what to do.
B: Nothing can be done.
A: Now the mayor and other village officials are making appeals to somehow remain in Iitate, and taking these appeals to the media. But with radiation levels as high as they are here, the truth is that it cannot be fixed. This land is already lost, nothing edible can be harvested. So I understand that we must leave and make a life for ourselves somewhere else, but the village isn't doing much to help with that.
B: That's why we're so upset.
C: Nothing can be eaten. Nothing in the fields, nothing in the mountains.
Yasuda: It must not be eaten.
C: So even if we stayed here, we'd have to buy all our food. I can't live like that.
A: If our cows were wagyu beef cattle, we could move them somewhere else. But you have to milk dairy cows, and that's not something you can do anywhere. Even if someone took in our cows, they'd have to be dairy farmers. A lot of people feel sorry for us, and have offered to take them, but then when they really try to do it, their local dairy association tells them they must not accept the cows.
B: Rumors get going, you know, like, "Did you hear that they're going to put some Iitate cows in that pasture? Aren’t they all radioactive?"
A: So then of course people won't buy that milk.
Akashi: Has TEPCO come to apologize to you?
A: Very early on they came when Dad was out. They put an envelope in the mail holder and then left.
Just then "Dad" arrived home.
Kenichi Hasegawa (57 at the time), the leader of the district in Iitate known as Maeta, and director the Fukushima Dairy Farming Cooperative.
Hasegawa: We can't do anything by ourselves. Even trying to do something as a farming co-op is useless. So now I'm thinking that we're going to have to consult with people in the legal profession.
Yasuda: I think the co-op probably employs lawyers who can advise you, but this situation is completely unprecedented, so it might be difficult to get any really good advice, regardless of whether it comes from a lawyer or not. In times like these, the people who best understand the situation are the people on-site who are experiencing it. The more vocal you become about this issue, the more likely it is that the the advisory lawyers will be compelled to address it. There’s probably nothing more that you can do right now.
You may only be one person, Hasegawa-san, but it is critically important to continue speaking out. Also, at this point you absolutely cannot entrust the matter to other people, because everyone is saying they don't know what to do.
Akashi: It's true, they probably don't have any idea what to do.
Yasuda: Regardless of what kind of lawyer one is, not one of them has ever experienced anything like this before, with this issue of compensation on such a large scale.
Hasegawa: That seems true, even to me. I get that sense when I hear people say "JA [Japan Agriculture] will help you," or "Surely, somebody will help you." To me, this is by far the most frightening thing happening right now.
Yasuda: No, that's no good. Leaving things up to the discretion of others is how we get escorted to hell.
Hasegawa: It is by far the most frightening thing.
Yasuda: You will have to see this through to the very end, until you are satisfied. That is very important.
This is how our relationship with Kenichi Hasegawa began.
 ウチのお父さん。”Father of the house,” aka Kenichi Hasegawa.
*Translation from the Japanese by Amy Franks
"Leaving things up to the discretion of others is how we get escorted to hell." -Yukuo Yasuda, lawyer
The seed of the idea to tell Kenichi Hasegawa's story was planted in May 2011 when the reporter Shojiro Akashi and the lawyer Yukuo Yasuda visited Iitate for the first time and met Hasegawa and his family, friends and neighbors. By that time - almost two months after the accident - Hasegawa was already quite well known to visitors and reporters as a person always eager to talk to the media. He himself had learned early on that talking to outside visitors was one of the best ways to glean vital information about what was happening at Fukushima Daiichi.
The meeting of these three individuals was thus part of a natural course of events during a very unnatural time. By bringing together their different expertise, experiences, and viewpoints, these men offer a compelling, informed, and nuanced interpretation of the unprecedented events that began at Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011, and examine what can and should be done in response.
The translation that follows (Part 2) is an interview conducted by Shojiro Akashi on May 6, 2011; it is now included in a book he wrote in 2012 entitled A Criminal Complaint Against TEPCO. A fascinating, frightening and yet brilliant piece of reportage, this excerpt describes Akashi's and Yasuda's first meeting with Kenichi Hasegawa. On that day, after measuring radioactivity in the fields of Iitate, they stopped by Hasegawa's house in hopes of talking to him. Although he had not yet arrived home, his wife was there, along with other women from the "Iitate Dairy Farmer Wives Association"; the women were holding their last association meeting before the village's evacuation.
They welcomed the two men in, and talked frankly to them about what life had been like the past two months - about losing their livelihood, being unable to feed and/or relocate their cows, and not knowing where to go or what to do.
After arriving home, Hasegawa joined the conversation and voiced his own concerns. For him, the most horrifying aspect of the whole situation was that everyone he had asked for help had told him to ask someone else.
In response to these fears and concerns, Yasuda had one piece of advice: keep speaking out. Your voices matter, he told them.
Personally, I really love this piece for the way it transmits the authentic voices of the people of Iitate and explains the details of the peculiar and unprecedented difficulties they faced.
Of course, reading this excerpt also reminds me about why this story matters.
When Hasegawa told Yasuda that he was thinking about asking a lawyer for advice, Yasuda pointed out that even the best lawyer would probably not know what to do in a situation like the one he was in. Instead, Yasuda said, it was now up to Hasegawa and the others in Iitate, as people with first-hand experience of the disaster, to see this struggle through to the end. He also advised him not to entrust this work entirely to others. As Yasuda put it, "Leaving things up to the discretion of others is how we will be escorted to hell."
In a very obvious way, Hasegawa's book is the product of this advice. It is also the product of the friendship and mutual respect that developed among Hasegawa, Yasuda and Akashi, as well as their unflagging commitment to tell Hasegawa's story and to fearlessly confront both the institutional issues and personal tragedies that arose following the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.
I am very honored to be able to work on this project with people of such tenacity, intelligence, wisdom and humanity. If you haven't already, please consider making a donation to help us complete the important work of translating Hasegawa's book into English. My hope is that together, we can help Hasegawa, Akashi and Yasuda as they work to see this through to the very end.
(Translator's note: This is a working draft translation of the Afterword that appeared in the original Japanese-language edition of Hasegawa's book. I am posting it now, however, because the essay is important, even if the translation is not yet ideal. Any errors are mine.)
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.
Check out this Japan Times article about the project, written by staff writer Tomohiro Osaki, and published today.
Also, a translated excerpt is now available. Click on the "Read an Excerpt" tab above.
I woke up to the news. To an internet full of photos and videos and a surfeit of details that hardly made any of the chaos easier to understand. I watched the now-famous footage of the wave on its inevitable course. From the air, or whatever protected and elevated vantage point the images were captured from, it looked big, but not that big. Then it took everything in its path. At the time, I couldn't imagine what could be worse. Until the news started to shift to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Way back in the day, just after college, I lived in Tohoku, the northeast region of Japan of which Fukushima is a part. I lived in a town known as Shizukuishi, in Iwate Prefecture. It is a lot like what I imagine Iitate was like (before 3/11, Iitate was designated as one of the "most beautiful villages in Japan"): very rural and very beautiful, a farming community of people tied to the land they loved. They were lucky, and they knew it. Or rather, it was easy to see that they considered themselves lucky. I remember being surprised at how many people in Shizukuishi had never been to Tokyo, which is only about three hours away by train. They would mention it nonchalantly, maybe with a chuckle. It wasn't that they wanted to go but couldn't, or that they loathed the idea of such an ultra-urban existence. They just saw no reason to leave the place where they were. Why would they? They had what they wanted, and what they needed. Nothing opulent, but enough.
I've never met Hasegawa-san in person. But again, in some ways I feel like I have. When I read his book, which is full of familiar Tohoku dialect, I hear his voice and many other voices.
When Hasegawa-san talks about what he has lost, it literally is immeasurable. Unquantifiable. The first thing he talks about is his family. In Iitate, he lived in a house with his wife, his parents, his two sons, their wives, and their children. To Americans, this sense of loss is perhaps surprising, since our fantasies about ideal living situations rarely include living indefinitely with our parents or our children. But for Hasegawa-san, it is what made his life complete.
At 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake struck, Hasegawa was preparing his fields in order to plant the grass and grains that his cows would eat following the next harvest. As soon as he could, when the ground stopped shaking, he went home to check on his family. After that, he went to check on his neighbors. The power had also gone out. As a dairy farmer, he immediately worried about how he was going to milk his cows, since he relies on electricity to do so. The cows must be milked every day or else they suffer from mastitis and pain. Thankfully, he had a generator, which he was able to use. When he finished with his own cows, he took his generator to his neighbors so that they could milk theirs. This ritual continued daily. At first, the farmers donated their milk to evacuees who had come to Iitate from coastal areas. After radioactive iodine was detected in the milk, they had no choice but to dump it into the ground, day after day. Then, on March 25, the authorities came to "dispose" of his 50 cows, animals who he also describes as part of his family.
Hasegawa-san has been in the news a lot recently. His story has been picked up by the folks at Greenpeace, who have featured him in a number of articles and videos about the Fukushima survivors of 3/11. While no one can give him old his life back, we can give him our attention. We can learn from what he has to say. We can listen to his warnings about the danger and unreliability of nuclear power, and we can, like him, demand that corporations and governments provide citizens with honest and timely information about the dangers they face. And we can choose--and demand--to actively participate in the discussions and decisions about industrial development in our communities.
Three years ago today, as I watched the waves consume the coastal Iwate towns that I had often visited, I felt many things, but powerlessness was the predominant feeling. Like many others, I struggled to find ways to meaningfully respond, but in the face of such events, there was little I could do beyond checking on old friends and donating to the Red Cross. So when Akashi-san asked me to be a part of this project earlier this year, I didn't hesitate. This is not my tragedy, but it is personal. I have been the recipient of untold kindness and care from the people of Japan, and especially, from the people of Tohoku. If this is one small way that I can attempt to repay the kindness (恩返し in Japanese) that I have received, then it is my privilege to do so. Somehow, someway, I will help to see this project through to the end.
Above all and most importantly, this is Hasegawa's story. It is not mine. It is not Greenpeace's. It does not belong to certain politics or ideologies. It belongs to no one but him, and comes from his own personal and immediate experience of a devastating sequence of events. But in his almost religious documentation of the extraordinary events and facts, he no doubt had an inkling that this story would eventually be of value to us all, and to future generations as well.
Some recent articles about Iitate, Fukushima and Hasegawa-san:
The Asahi Shinbun (January 1, 2014): Dairy farmer records changes to his Fukushima village
Pacific Air Forces (July 31, 2013): Fukushima Iitate Village 6th graders visit Kadena
CNN (December 13, 2012): Trying to revive a Fukushima 'ghost town'