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Democracy Now: Say It Ain't So: Japan Considering Restarting Its Nuclear Programs?

Japan halted nearly all nuclear-related projects after the Fukushima disaster. However, Prime Minister Abe reversed its campaign pledge to move Japan away from nuclear energy.

Photo Credit: AFP


AMY GOODMAN: We are on the road in Tokyo, Japan. On Sunday, we’ll be headed to Hiroshima and  Kyoto, and then back to [Tokyo], where I’ll be  speaking to the Japanese Correspondents Association.

But right now, we are here in Japan. The country is about to mark the third anniversary of one of the world’s worst atomic disasters. It was March 11th, 2011, when a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that struck Japan. It struck Japan’s northeast coast. It left an estimated 19,000 people dead or missing, and forced 160,000 to flee their homes. Many have never been able to return. The twin disasters triggered a meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO. That’s the Fukushima nuclear power plant’s owner. The radiation that spewed from the plant stranded more than 315,000 evacuees. In the years following the Fukushima disaster, tens of thousands of Japanese have taken to the streets to march in opposition to nuclear power. This is protester Mitsuhiro Watanabe speaking in Tokyo last year.

MITSUHIRO WATANABE: [translated] Take nuclear energy completely offline, and I want the government to make a complet change over to natural energy sources for the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: In the nearly three years since the disaster, the Fukushima cleanup and decommissioning efforts have been complicated by leaks of highly radioactive water. The effort has also suffered from a lack of oversight, a shortage of workers, which Reuters reports has led to Japan’s homeless population becoming easy prey for recruiters.

Following the disaster, Japan halted nearly all nuclear-related projects. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, reversed its campaign pledge to move Japan away from nuclear energy just one week after coming into power in December 2012. Earlier today, Japan’s trade ministry said it would approve a revival plan for the utility responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster. That’s Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO. This will be the second attempt to restore the utility’s depleted finances.

Well, for more, we’re joined by David McNeill, longtime foreign correspondent based here in Japan. He writes for  The Independent of London, for  The Chronicle of Higher Education and other publications. He is also co-author of the book  Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.

David McNeil, it’s very good to have you here.

DAVID McNEILL: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: And for—to be here in Japan. Your book is an astounding blow-by-blow account of what’s taken place, and you continue to report on what’s happening. What should we understand about the effects of Fukushima today?

DAVID McNEILL: Well, of course, the effects of the radiation are hotly disputed, and they will go on for many years to come. You know, we are seeing reports of an increase in problems with thyroids among children in Fukushima. But the science is yet to be decided. But what is really very clear, you know, completely without dispute, is that it has caused an enormous amount of disruption to people’s lives. First of all, as you said, 160,000 people were forced to flee from Fukushima. Another number—we don’t know how many—have voluntarily fled from Fukushima. There’s a phenomenon called the "Fukushima divorce," which is families splitting up because the wife wants to leave because she’s worried about her children, and the husband doesn’t. And you also have a spate of suicides, of early deaths, of old people, you know, experiencing massive disruption because they’ve had to evacuate from communities where they’ve lived all their lives. So, when people say the death toll from the Fukushima nuclear disaster is zero, they’re not correct. People have died from that disaster. And I think people will continue to die in the years to come, whether or not the radiation is the cause or not.

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