Readings

#061

SPREADING CONTAMINATION

 

Yesterday, I was reading a small brochure that a NPO member gave me in Sapporo, Hokkaidō. The brochure is really well done, with interviews and an interesting overview of contamination over the years. I was going through it as I had one hour and a half train journey between Asahikawa and Sapporo, and found something very upsetting.

The interviewee was explaining how the Japanese state changed contamination maximum levels after the accident and how it was impacting victims’ daily lives. Basically, if you live outside of Fukushima Prefecture (and more generally out of the contaminated area), the normal threshold for radioactivity is 1 mSv/year. This becomes a little technical, but I won’t enter the scientific details, as I don’t master all of them (let’s be honest). This threshold has been shared among many countries and is recognized by international institutions and regulation authorities. After the accident in 2011, the government realized that if it was to respect the limit of 1 mSv/year, many places would need to be evacuated. It was for example the case of the three biggest cities in Fukushima Prefecture: Fukushima (city), Kōriyama and Iwaki. Those three cities represent around 1 000 000 people, meaning half of the population of the prefecture. How to evacuate all of them, when they were still tens of thousands of people moving out of the vicinities of the nuclear plant? It was technically, politically and economically difficult. So there was another solution: raising the threshold. Asking experts to testify that there was no danger for people (as a matter of fact, there are no studies conducted to prove that an exposition to less than 100 mSv/year can be harmful, as such a study would require to check the health of a sample of 200 000 people to be accurate), the government rose the threshold to… 20 mSv/year. This level is actually applied to people who are professionally exposed to radioactivity, such as nuclear plant workers and medical personnel in radiology services. After the accident, children were told that it was safe to go to schools that were contaminated to that extent, even though it is pretty clear that the effect on radioactivity on fully developed adults (who are, or at least should be, aware of the risks) is different than the exposure the one of young children.

This was already quite shocking to me. But in the booklet, I found something that made me feel even more uncomfortable. I already wrote an article about the issue of radioactive waste storage issues. As the Japanese government has agreed on the possibility of incinerating contaminated waste (under 8 000 bq/kg) as normal waste, radioactive ashes are piling up in storage spaces. What could be done with those? Well, recycle them! The government has given a green light for the cement industry to mix those radioactive ashes to their cement and to use it for construction works. By mixing it with cement, it is possible to lower the concentration of radioactivity. It is simple: you just spread radioactivity around the country, like jam on a toast, hoping that diluting it will cancel its effects. Who is the genius who thought about this? And I recently was told that cement from Hokkaido is actually exported. So what you say is that it is not enough to spread radioactivity around Japan, it should be shared with the rest of the world? This is all crazy. And what is even crazier is that people don’t seem to know about this. I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently, going back to 2011 and checking what has been happening during those five and a half years. The issue of cement was not mentioned. I have to look for it in more details, but this is extremely scary. There is no mobilization against the crazy laws and rules the government is implementing, simply because people are not aware of them. By controlling media and creating a law forbidding journalists to talk about certain (secret) issues, the ruling party is creating an environment of fear and self-censorship. The minority of people who raise their voices are treated as marginal lunatics, while hate speeches become more and more common. As I was reading comments on SNS after the Senate elections in Japan, I could see all the hatred and disdain some had for the student group SEALDs, which goal was to make Japanese aware of the threat the current government is to freedom and democracy: “You guys are such morons, no wonder you lost”, “Serve you right, Okuda (the leader of SEALDs)”, etc. My personal thought was that all of those hateful comments were built on a lack of knowledge (yes, the current government is threatening democracy), a fear of what is awaiting Japan (and more precisely the daily lives of its inhabitants), and a fascination for the reassuring (deceiving) discourse of our beloved Abe. By marginalizing people who oppose the government, the latter made any discourse that goes against its own line lose credibility. And by controlling what is in the media, it has made sure that no one would contradict it.

I personally believe that the state is fully responsible for the mishandling of the 3.11 accident and its aftermath. It was a criminal decision to let children be exposed to so much radioactivity and it is criminal to start spreading the radiations all around the country. I believe it is written in the Japanese constitution that people have the right to be healthy and I believe that it would be possible to sue the state for not protecting its citizens, although I doubt that any Japanese court would agree with me. Actually, I doubt many Japanese people in general would understand what I’m talking about right now. As many think that radioactivity is just an old nightmare and that everything is fine now (thank you mass media for spreading the word), who would care about a few hundred thousand people who might be sick in 5, 10 or 30 years? The state will not be held responsible, at least not as long as the number of sick people will not be impressive enough. And even if people fall ill, there will always be a way to escape: “we didn’t know”, “we did all we could with the knowledge we had”, “there is no scientific proof that it is directly linked to the accident”, etc. It is unfair but it is sadly true.

***

Listening to: BLACKPINK – 휘파람 (WHISTLE)

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