In the thirty-minute documentary film, “Women of Fukushima,” three unseen filmmakers tell the story of the ongoing nuclear resistance through six women.
The women are of varied ages and tell different stories of what happened after “three-eleven” (as it’s referred to throughout the film) when a magnitude 9 earthquake triggered a historic tsunami and nuclear meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear plant in the Fukushima prefecture (state). Ocean water had flooded rooms housing back-up generators in the plant, causing the coolants to fail, allowing reactors to overheat and melt down, releasing radiation. In October the journal, Science said sea life off the coast of Fukushima could remain radioactive for decades.
On Dec. 1, a Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, said that 42 percent of tested people 18 and younger from Fukushima had thyroid cysts so far this fiscal year, up from 36 percent last fiscal year and that a similar 36 percent of children tested in Tokyo had thyroid cysts. It said experts said that radiation could not be the reason.
Many Japanese, however, are dubious about information coming from the media. Fukushima Voice, a blog started a year ago on the topic, questioned why Asahi Shimbun didn’t report details of the studies, such as how many children were tested before and after the disaster, since the study included test results as far back as 2003. Women featured in “Women of Fukushima” go further and say the government has been lying and covering up the severity of the radiation the whole time.
“The Japanese have been lied to,” says Setsuko Kida, in the trailer for the film.
Aki Hashimoto, the film’s website details, stayed in Fukushima with her family for a year because they were “not in a state to move,” and because of her son-in-law’s work. But now, it says, she hopes her granddaughter was not affected by radiation.
Kazue Morizono details in the first few minutes of the film, and the trailer, her immediate illnesses after the Daiichi plant meltdown. “I had all these different symptoms: terrible diarrhea, skin spots, vomiting, joint pain and canker sores in my mouth.”
Yukiko Takahashi connected with activists on Twitter after her parents fled from a city 25 miles from the plant to a city 50 miles away, only to find out radiation levels were higher there due to winds and rain, the film’s website recounts. It says, “The government and media withheld information about radiation levels to prevent panic.”
Setsuko Kida stayed mostly indoors until early 2012, but became extremely extraverted about her concerns of radioactivity in the prefecture, once speaking for three hours into a microphone in front of a train station, Co-Director Jeffrey Jousan said, next to Kida, Skyping from Japan.
On the other side of that Skype chat was a small white room full of some fifty people in Chinatown, New York City. A group of New York-based Japanese antinuclear activists screened the film, which Kida said had been difficult to screen in Japan.
Translating for Kida, Jousan said, “She says Japan is even worse than places like China and Korea. They’re just controlling information. Many places where she’s tried to get the movie shown, she’s been refused.”
Nevertheless, the film’s been screened at seven or eight places in Japan so far (at temples, universities and events) as well as in Taiwan, Australia, London and Norway, Jousan said. The Japanese version of the film is on Vimeo but hasn’t gone viral, and it’s up for two-dollar rent with English or French subtitles.
A New York Times piece in March, 2012 said that within the months after the tsunami, “there were already enough movies on the subject to constitute an all-but-instant subgenre.” In a noted forty-minute film, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, an estimate of 15,372 people confirmed dead (counts are at 19,000 now) and 7,762 missing from the tsunami itself is not displayed until the very end, after a meditation on the hopeful symbol of cherry blossoms. The creators of “Women of Fukushima” had also made a Tsunami aftermath short, called Then and Now.
But “Women of Fukushima” is about themes that the women in the film felt have been ignored by mainstream Japanese media: the true severity of radiation and the every day and weekly antinuclear and anti-radiation protests. The Chinatown screening served as an update of how far that movement has come.
The women in the film are part of that protest movement, which has ensued and grown since soon after the March, 2011 events. In September, 2011, six months in, a Radioactivists.org press release said protests related to nuclear power “recently became a daily fact of life in Japan.”
Yuko Tonohira, an antinuclear activist who co-hosted the screening in Chinatown, said the first large-scale protest was in April, 2011 both in the United States and in Koenki, Tokyo, where 15,000 people took part. (The Japan Times put it even higher at the time, at 17,500). In September of that year a sit-in, organized by the Fukushima 100, a group of women from Fukushima, commenced outside the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry demanding, as Time called it in a title, “better protection for children exposed to radiation,” and an end to nuclear power in Japan.
More than 200,000 people had been ordered to evacuate from a 12 mile radius of the plant, and residents out to 19 miles were subsequently offered assistance to evacuate and given potassium iodine to protect the thyroid gland. The 12 mile zone continues today and may be uninhabitable for decades, mainstream papers said.
Then on Sept. 30, 2011, the government lifted “evacuation advisories,” as the New York Times called it, for “five less-hit towns and cities just outside” the 12 mile radius. That previous summer, a blog called Fukushima Update titled a post, “Fukushima’s kids subject to same limits as nuclear workers,” as in the workers cleaning up the plant in white hazmat suits.
New York environmentalist Chris Williams, who visited the sit-in, described it in an essay that December:
“The sit-in has become an organizing hub for the anti-nuclear people’s resistance in Japan as well as other protest movements against free trade agreements, the American military base in Okinawa and the movement to stop any alteration of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution that prevents Japanese troops from being deployed offensively beyond the shores of Japan.”
After the March events, all of Japan’s fifty remaining reactors went offline for scheduled maintenance but rather indefinitely. The last one went offline in May 2012. In the following June and July of 2012, Yuko Tonohiro said, the largest protests swelled in Tokyo as two reactors at the Oi plant in the western Fukui prefecture went online under government approval. Police put the number of demonstrators at 75,000 and organizers put it closer to 200,000. Common word is that these protests have been the largest turnouts of popular movements in Japan since the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The Wall Street Journal reported on what it called the “largest anti-nuclear rally so far” at the time, and said that polls showed the majority of public opinion was against return of full use of the reactors. Activists argued, Williams said in his report, that even without the tsunami, the earthquake itself damaged pipes at Daiichi, releasing radiation. The New York Times in July, 2012 said a report (no longer available on its site) from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission challenged the original storyline that a tsunami was needed in the meltdown.
In January 2012, The Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom said scientists announced a 70 percent likelihood of a magnitude 7 earthquake in Tokyo within four years. The cited University of Tokyo study results were released at the time of a magnitude 5.1 tremor in northeast Japan. A year later, on Dec. 7, the Tibet Sun reported that a magnitude 7 quake triggered a one-meter tsunami in Fukushima and shook buildings in Tokyo.
A third of the country had ordinarily run on nuclear power. Japan is third in stock of nuclear plants behind France at 58 and the United States at 104, according to the European Nuclear Society, which says that 62 plants worldwide are under construction, including two in Japan. Poor in oil, gas, coal and hydraulic power, the country imports the majority of its energy sources.
GlobalPost.com attributed the restart to pressure it said Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda felt from businesses concerned with summer power use and energy loss to the manufacturing sector. It alluded to Japan’s Tsunami-bruised economy; in summer 2011, the New York Times said Japan’s debt was twice the size of its then-$5 billion dollar economy. Prime Minister Naoto Kan of the Democratic party proposed a stimulus then, but resigned that same summer, and was replaced by Yoshihiko Noda, of the same party.
In mid-December, 2012, the elections brought back former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party, which is more conservative than the Democratic party, and had been in power for decades until 2009. The Democratic Party, according to the Japan Times, said it would have phased out nuclear by 2030, but the LDP won by focusing on the economy and not on nuclear power or other topics. An analysis in the Japan Times said the anti-nuclear votes were divided and split up the vote.
In the Chinatown room, people discussed other reasons why the LDP won, including a suggestion that people living in places where the Tsunami hit were still living in shelters and may have had difficulty voting.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Japan relocated after the tsunami, filling thousands of shelters. As of November, 300,000 were still living in temporary homes, as mentioned in Chinatown, and reported in Discovery News. Evacuation zones near the Daiichi plant have been opened up by the government over time, but many have refused to return, concerned about radiation levels.
In the summer, 2011 solidarity protests in New York City, Japanese activists spoke of government campaigns to persuade citizens to eat food grown in Fukushima: officials staged personal consumption of Fukushima food. At the end of 2011 the Wall Street Journal said officials had been eating Fukushima food for months and Prime Minister Noda declared Fukushima rice the national staple.
Wall Street Journal editorialist and UC Berkeley Physics professor Richard Muller, who, in a 900 word essay favoring hydrofracking, dismissed all water-contamination concerns in a single paragraph, also dismissed Japan’s radiation concerns in an editorial, and video interview. Muller said that the level of rem, the damage done by radiation to the body, is more significant in Denver, Colorado than in Fukushima, Japan.
Muller said, “The ‘hot spots’ in Japan that frightened many people showed radiation at the level of .1 rem, a number quite small compared with the average excess dose that people happily live with in Denver,” which he said is .3 rem per year. He said some scientists attribute Denver’s low cancer rates relative to the United States at large, to immunity gained by low levels of exposure over time, but Muller instead links it to lifestyle in the culture there, compared to the rest of the United States.
Yuki Miyamoto, a Japanese transplant and professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and a writer on the atom bomb, wrote an essay on why she found Muller’s essay “shocking.” She said rather than panicking, as Muller suggested, Fukushima evacuees have been responding to standards set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection and Japan’s Ministry of Environment, which recommend evacuation after one-millisievert or .1 rem per year. She then rejected his comparison of “normal” cancers, suggesting that even the cause of those cancers are largely unknown and may be attributable to unnatural radiation as well.
“But can we really discern ‘normal’ cancers, when taking into account disasters like those at Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the more than 2,000 nuclear tests since 1945 that have been conducted around the world?” Miyamoto said.
Muller said that in the first year after the accident, radiation spread unequally from 2 rem to 22 rem before evacuation (and that the largest contributor, iodine, dropped precipitously after that). He said that if the entire region received 22 rem, there may be 194 “excess cancers,” and “a more reasonable” estimate, is 100.
Muller said, “That is bad, to be sure, but that number is minuscule compared with the 15,000 deaths caused by the tsunami,” in his defense of nuclear power in Japan.
Miyamoto described Muller’s health forecast for Japan as a “callously optimistic prognostication based on insufficient data.” She said, “If anything would serve to justify panic, it is positions like this one, holding so little concern for human welfare.”
Bloomberg Businessweek cited a Standford University study that said the accident may cause 1300 cancer deaths globally (130 most likely, it said) and altogether 2500 cases of cancer. The impact would have been worse if the plant were not so close to the sea, it reported.
In November, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said that Fukushima began a life-long project of thyroid testing for 360,000 people who were 18 and younger during Three-Eleven.
Between Kida and Jousan, it was said that children’s thyroid abnormalities in Japan have not been allowed to be shown on Youtube; it was said out of 360,000 children in Fukushima, only 80,000 have been tested for radiation so far; it was said more than 50 percent had abnormalities and two have thyroid cancer, which, the government said was not related.
Kida said the topic of thyroid cysts is a sensitive one in Japan, that people are trying to make it like a norm.
“Even if you’re pro-nuke or anti-nuke,” Jousan translated for Kida, “you need to be anti-radiation exposure.”