decolonization / kuttura

Reflections on Fukushima

Hiroshima. Nagasaki. Fukushima Daiichi. Guåhan.

What all these places have in common — some dating to World War Two, some more recent — is the use of excessive American(ized) nuclear power gone Godzilla levels of destructive. Most residents of Guåhan don’t realize, or try to forget, that there have been several known incidents of nuclear contamination in its waters, to say nothing of other toxic contamination by the U.S. military.

I was very fortunate today to be able to walk through Fukushima City and visit sites in the village of Iitate Mura in the company of some wonderful people working to help bring restorative, critical social justice to those affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

At the same time, I was absolutely horrified and brought to tears as I thought of what the levels of radioactive contamination in the vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi man-made disaster would do to a human body. We took certain simple precautions, and the levels of radiation in Iitate are relatively low, but I could not help thinking, “What if I had a baby, and something went wrong, because I was exposed to damaging radioactive contamination?” I was devastated to think of that. It was the most horrible thought. I might have a baby someday, or want to. I thought what it would be like to be a parent helpless in the face of this invisible enemy, as were women affected by the U.S. nuclear tests on Rongelap Atoll. Nothing more devastating, more destructive to future hopes. I also thought of the high rate of thyroid cancers in residents or former residents of Iitate village, among other erupting bodily disorders.

We all die, and I tried to tell myself such reassuring things as that in order to stop falling apart at the thought of approaching the vicinity of this terrible disaster. Somehow, that reassurance did not calm me. Japan has over 50 nuclear power plants that are new disasters waiting to happen. Several are located near major metropolitan areas such as Tokyo and Osaka. In the middle of life and career and children and grandchildren and many cherry-blossom dreams, how terrible to realize so personally that the future is in the hands of the unstoppable tsunami of an uncaring government.

In Japan, the government and Tokyo Electrical Power Company (the masterminds behind the Fukushima Daiichi disaster) actually lied to the residents in the vicinity on several occasions regarding the nature of the calamity and the level of danger from radioactive nuclear contamination. Furthermore, the government declined to offer any financial assistance to those residents who fled the area after the disaster but before the government issued its official evacuation orders. People left their homes, their pets, their possessions, and just fled. Elderly nursing-home residents in some cases, and others of every age, are still living in parts of the disaster area.

And now the government wants people to return to live in Iitate in just twenty months, in 2016. According to what we were told today, only 15% of the contaminated areas will have been cleaned (by the government’s standards, which are low).

I want, like so many other people, to build a family life, to have children that will live on after me. For a long time, I never believed enough in the goodness of the world, or the goodness of people, to try to have a family of my own, or children of my own. I really didn’t think I could do it, literally, physically, or emotionally. But sometimes, for some of us, someone comes along who makes us believe again in love and goodness. Makes us hope, makes us dream, even against the odds, even in the face of disaster. I started to love and hope, though it was a fragile hope, because I know perfectly well that this is a cruel and bloody world. That’s made clear to me every day I have to live here, among these spiders, so why would I bring a new life into this world? But love took over like Dylan’s green fuse, green force.

How fragile is my love? Or, how strong is it? What makes us want to go on, to try again, to bear new generations, to build our delicate fortresses against brute death? How intricate this desire, mixed with this horror.

Fukushima Daiichi made me — as it must have made hundreds of thousands of others — crushed at my insignificance in the enormity of this blooming well of death. How hubristic we are, to think we can play god with nuclear power. How evil. There will only be more disasters.

To have a child is to play god with equal arrogance, though. I always thought it was the evil of a fool. Disastrous, unpredictable, potentially heartbreaking. I didn’t understand the atavistic power of generation.

Ants scrambled across the ground outside the tightly-sealed home of Mr. Sato, a leader of the Iitate resistance. He dipped a Geiger counter into the water well. I shifted back and forth in my new pink Sketchers, picked up hastily because closed-toe shoes are supposed to offer some protection. I sweated in gloves and long sleeves, long pants, and face mask. Rain threatened, nuclear rain. Every green shadow in Iitate Mura looked like any green shadow in any lovely summer valley. Harvests of contaminated soil — scraped off to a depth of only six centimeters — sat in bulging black trash bags by the hundreds at roadside sites. A woman in a little summer dress swept the drive outside the town hall, no mask, no long pants. I felt sick from ten hours’ overnight bus ride north from Kyoto, on which I couldn’t sleep, sick with lack of sleep and heat and fear.

Soft green hills melted into the sky.

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