The Occupy Wall Street movement has acted as a spur to a host of Occupy operations including Occupy Fukushima – a movement with a distinctly Japanese feminist twist, a strong link with the anti-nuclear/peace movement and a close affiliation with Greenpeace. It is more accurate, to call this movement the Women of Fukushima against Nukes. Fukushima is Ground Zero, the site of the Great March 11, 2011 Earthquake, which spawned a massive tsunami, and which in turn, caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown. In his book, The Making of Modern Japan, Kenneth B. Pyle suggests, “[this time of nuclear crisis] is a time in Japan when the energy of anger and outrage can carry through necessary changes.” And there is much about the measures taken within the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and the Japanese ministry responsible for the Japanese nuclear power plants to fuel an activist’s outrage.
NGO worker, Yukie Tokura, is protesting the Japanese government’s plans to “dump potentially contaminated food products from Fukushima on developing countries as food aid.” Many other activists are protesting the Japanese government’s plans to distribute contaminated gravel from the reactor area to outlying prefectures, including Tokyo and Tokyo Bay. The question is: will this groundswell of outrage provide enough pressure to force change at the ministerial level?
Fukushima and Media
You may think you’ve already heard a great deal about Fukushima. However, there has actually been media silence concerning some important points. Private Japanese citizens and sympathetic world citizens have become vigorous media activists, working diligently to inform the public at large via blogs about the current state of the nuclear reactors, about the government’s plans to deal with the reactors, and with the contaminated gravel around them, and to address the food grown in that contaminated soil. Finally, these activists speak bluntly about the possible consequences of irradiation to humans.
These Japanese activists are also determined to express their fears at what could happen if actions are not taken by the government. More than one commentator has noted that the comments made by Japanese government officials, in its denial of the facts about radioactivity in Fukushima, are strongly reminiscent of the American government’s commentary after the atomic bombings of Japan.
Origins of Occupy Fukushima
The movement to Occupy Fukushima originated on April 10, 2011, with statements by the Governor of Fukushima. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that “Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato expressed anger at the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., saying both ‘betrayed’ the people of Fukushima Prefecture with repeated assurances about the safety of nuclear power plants…The central government and TEPCO repeatedly told us, ‘Nuclear power plants are safe because they’ve got multiple protection systems,’ and, ‘Earthquake-proof measures have been taken.”
The response of the Legislature for Fukushima was to promptly pass a resolution calling for the immediate closure of all ten (10) reactors in Fukushima. Ultimately, however, Gov. Yuhei Sato will make the final decision.
Asahi Shimbun’s Charges Re: Power Plants, May 20, 2011
Will Gov. Yuhei Sato, who has a distressing tendency to glory in his own press, really ignore the dangers of Fukushima? Will his future decisions be informed decisions? The following article, which can scarcely be found within the English language media, goes straight to the heart of the matter. On the Fukushima power plant failures, the Asahi Shimbun, a large and influential Japanese newspaper, reported: “On March 12, two hours before Reactor 1 had a hydrogen explosion, the SPEEDI simulation was carried out by Nuclear Safety Technology Center under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education and Science.”
The simulation showed radioactive materials flowing toward Tsushima District [in Namie-machi]. But the national government didn’t tell the residents. The result of the SPEEDI simulation was known to the Fukushima prefectural government. The Fukushima government even called up Nuclear Safety Technology Center on March 12 night to ask for the simulation result, which was then sent via email. However, the prefectural government never acted on it. The email has been deleted since, and the record of the receipt of the email is lost.
Residents evacuated from Tsushima District on March 15, but it was not until May 20 that they were informed of the SPEEDI result by the Fukushima prefectural government, because the subject was brought up in the Prefectural Assembly. Since last April the facts– that refugees have been forced to evacuate from what was left of their homes and that they have begun the slow but determined movement to rebuild – are fairly well known. What is perhaps less well known are the actions taken by Japanese citizens to protest the government’s stand on nuclear power. The Occupy movement in Japan has become linked with the anti-nuclear movement.
Woman of Fukushima Against Nukes
Four successive anti-nuclear demonstrations in Tokyo and a fifth in New York had its roots in or links to Fukushima. The largest demonstration was on Sept. 19, 2011. 60,000 people protested against nuclear energy on September 19th 2011 in Tokyo and there was a significant media presence. The majority of the protestors were older, wealthy and half were women. The protestors blamed the government for the nuclear problems Japan now faces and were outraged that the Ministry of the Economy, Trade and Industry or METI has announced plans to restart and expand nuclear power. They were determined to stop that from happening.
On October 15, 2011, in Tokyo, about 100 protesters, including women, children and senior citizens, marched shouting Occupy Tokyo according to Dow Jones Newswires, which cited the Kyodo news service. The demonstrators broadcast anti-nuclear slogans while walking by the offices of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Co). Media coverage was erratic. On October 29th, and again on November 11, 2011, the Woman of Fukushima Against Nukes held a sit-in in Tokyo calling for the permanent evacuation of at-risk children in areas of high radiation – and also the permanent shut down of nuclear reactors that are currently shut off in Japan. They set up camp outside the METI in Tokyo on October 27th to stage a protest about the effects of radiation on children and to criticize METI’s dealings with TEPCO.
These women highlighted two key issues requiring immediate action. Irradiated food. The Japanese government is considering off-loading unwanted and potentially dangerous irradiated food to the poor in other countries as a benevolent gift and irradiated rubble. Tokyo’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara, agreed that the city of Tokyo would accept a shipment of rubble from Iwate, at the same time denying it was radioactive. The governor claimed that “Tokyo is not that foolish” to bring radioactive rubble into Tokyo. But during the press event the materials shown were in a lead box and members of the press were banned from taking their own radiation readings of the rail car. A regular citizen managed to get readings of 35 mSv/h.
Here is a slightly longer summary of the demands made by the women of Fukushima:
• Evacuate children in Fukushima.
• Do not restart any nuclear power plants that are currently shut.
• Leave dangerous radioactive rubble at the Fukushima Power Plant.
• End the ongoing fires at the plant.
• Evacuate people from the immediate area in accordance with radiation levels set before March 11th.
For a longer, more detailed, statement on the effects of continued leakage from the Fukushima reactor, please refer to this hyperlink provided. The fifth demonstration, Occupy Japanese Consulate in New York!, was held on November 2. Japanese women called the demonstration, organized by Greenpeace, Occupy Japanese Consulate in NY! The initiator was: One World/No Nukes/Todos Somos Japon.
The group organized a sit-in in front of the Consulate and delivered a petition to the Consulate General of Japan. Like the women of Fukushima, they expressed only a few key demands (the petition www.stopdammit.org). What are we to make of this strong, determined political activism driven by Japan’s women? And what are its likely outcomes?
David H. Slater of Sophia University in Japan has remarked that this is the largest set of demonstrations in Japan since the US-Japan treaty protests of the 1960s and 1970s. It has brought together a disparate group of activists, young families, women, office workers, and union protestors. He notes that women have consistently been in the forefront.
The group, Woman of Fukushima Against Nukes, has skillfully exploited the privileged position of women. Women as child bearers and nurturers are at the core of Japanese society – thus their influence is far stronger than one might expect. And perhaps justifiably, with regard to this issue, the disasters have brought attention to the fact that women and children are also at much greater risk of cancer than men.
One activist points out that in Fukushima there are many families who were unable or unwilling to evacuate and that the children of those families have then been exposed to more and more radiation. It is to be hoped that these activist women can keep the pressure on the governmental Ministries and the Governor of Fukushima, affecting at least their two key points. Evacuation of at-risk children in areas of high radiation and the permanent shut down of all ten nuclear reactors currently shut down in Japan. Above all, it is hoped that Japan can learn from its own experience as the only country which has suffered for generations from the effects of two nuclear disasters.