2016: On Forgetting Fukushima

Fukushima: 2011-03-11  -   2016-03-11
The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, Issue 5, No. 1, March 1, 2016

On Forgetting Fukushima

Robert Jacobs

Advertisement in downtown Fukushima City (by author, 2015)This month the media and social networks are busy remembering Fukushima on the fifth anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, but what we are really observing is the beginning of the work of forgetting Fukushima. Fukushima is taking its place alongside the many forgotten nuclear disasters of the last 70 years. Like Mayak and Santa Susana, soon all that will be left of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are the radionuclides that will cycle through the ecosystem for millennia. In that sense we are internalizing Fukushima into our body unconsciousness.

Forgetting begins with lies. In Fukushima the lies began with TEPCO (the owner of the power plants) denying that there were any meltdowns when they knew there were three. They knew they had at least one full meltdown by the end of the first day, less than 12 hours after the site was struck by a powerful earthquake knocking out the electrical power. TEPCO continued to tell this lie for three months, even after hundreds of thousands of people had been forced to or voluntarily evacuated. Just last week TEPCO admitted that it was aware of the meltdowns much earlier, or to put it bluntly, it continued to hide the fact that it had been lying for five years (I've written about the dynamic behind this here).

The government of Japan had such weak regulation of the nuclear industry that it was completely reliant on TEPCO for all information about the state of the plants and the risks to the public. It was reduced to being an echo chamber for the denials coming from a company that was lying. The people living near the plants, and downwind as the plumes from explosions in three plants carried radionuclides high into the air and deposited large amounts of radiation far beyond the evacuation zones, had to make life and death decisions as they were being lied to and manipulated.

Clouds hang over Fukushima City (by author, 2015)

Lying about nuclear issues is not unique to Japan or Fukushima. It began with the first use of nuclear weapons against human beings, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When announcing the first attack President Harry Truman referred to Hiroshima as a "military base," and said it was chosen specifically to avoid civilian casualties. Hiroshima was a naval base (in a country whose navy was already destroyed), but

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