Inside Fukushima – Part 2

Read part 1 here.

Saturday, 05.03.2016:

The next day the journey continues towards the shore and closer to the hotspot of the nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi. More mountain ranges of black decontamination bags are passed. The tallest ones, which measure three or more stories of bags are half shielded by walls of grey-blue panels. At the end of the day it is all about appearance; out of sight out of mind, or so the saying goes. Since day one of the catastrophe, the Japanese government and TEPCO (the Tokyo Electric Power Company) have worked and continue to work hard to “save face.”  To convey an impression of control over the sheer untamable situation at the Fukushima Daiichi and the surrounding exclusion zone seems to take first and foremost priority. There is not only the hard working public relations machine of the electric power company itself, but additionally also a severe lack of credible journalistic reporting by the national press.[1] The latter is due to the structure of the Japanese press system, in which journalists often have to undergo self-censorship in order to secure their jobs and future access to governmental sources.[2] Subsequently, one may notice big discrepancies between the national and the international press in terms of the reporting on the gravity of the ongoing meltdown. However, governmental cover-ups and secrecy are only one of many misconducts related to the issue. Sub- and sub-subcontractor structures (and the involvement of the Yakuza) are determinant of the way workers are employed at the plant and for decontamination work. This results in great salary gaps between individual workers, ranging from exorbitant compensation to a below-minimum-wage payment for some.[3]

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Mountains of decontamination bags

Driving past the busy-bee workers, I am told that, while the decontamination workers visible from the highway are required to wear their protective suits and masks, those further away and shielded from sight are not, and often remove the uncomfortable gear during the hot summer months. However, radiation is patchy and unpredictable. Some areas in the vicinity of the nuclear plant measure doses as low as 0.02 μSv/h. The fallout, spread by wind and rain, does not stick to human-imposed zones or artificially drawn borders. Nor does it stay where it once settled. Decontaminated school- and playgrounds are often re-contaminated through soil or dust that is blown in by the wind from other, still contaminated areas, which are often way too close to those decontaminated.

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A sign documenting the reconstruction efforts. Taken Saturday, 05.03.2016, 12:02:48

At around noon we make our way towards the ocean. Large plates beside the road document the reconstruction efforts and proclaim that it has reached 91% as of the end of November 2015. Besides a large graphic showing the construction matrix of the tsunami wall, photographs along the bottom of the sign document the development of the area beginning in 1963 (Showa 38) up to 2013 (Heisei 25). Where the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami happened, a photograph is missing. Instead black letters on white ground indicate zero hour. The last square of the succession still remains empty, a blank slate left open for the final photograph, as if to say a bright future is still possible. I sense propaganda on every corner, but I am also not sure whether I have just become overly critical?

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The Tsunami Wall. Taken Saturday, 05.03.2016, 12:08:00

Then, close to where the Minamisoma ward of Kitahara once stood, we reach the shore.[4] Despite that it is a sunny day, the landscape seems dismal. Behind us there are fields of Tsunami-emptied land, trees washed away or bend like matches, the larger vegetation reduced to patches that sit like little hoods on the remaining hills. And in front, there it is: the Wall. Defining the view, this massive concrete construction stretches from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can see. White washed and immaculate, the Wall is something that crept out of your latest science-fiction nightmare, a real life dystopia. Stretching along Japan’s Eastern coastline, each of the Prefectures along the shore have begun to construct tsunami protection walls, which once joined, will stretch more than 300km along the coastline.[5] However, the construction of this protective barrier against nature’s unpredictable forces has been the source of many controversies. While some scientists have argued that it will disturb the marine ecology, others argue that it might not even be effective. Instead of alleviating the effects of a tsunami and warding off the water masses, they argue that the Wall will keep them from flowing back into the ocean, creating a deathly pool of water on the land.

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The tsunami wall with the Haramachi power station in the distance, which was severly damaged by the tsunami.

(To be continued in the last part, where I enter the exclusion zone…)

[1] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/japan-s-nuclear-cartel-atomic-industry-too-close-to-government-for-comfort-a-764907.html

[2] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/25/national/media-national/japanese-media-self-censorship-seen-growing-abes-reign/

[3] https://www.rt.com/news/fukushima-workers-nuclear-yakuza-006/

[4] Close to Kitahara Kashimaku Minamiebi, Minamisōma-shi, Fukushima-ken 979-2312, @37.7095073,141.0023834

[5] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-to-build-250-mile-long-four-storey-high-wall-to-stop-tsunamis-10131013.html

All images and content ©Theresa Deichert, 2016.

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