Japan writers' group gets eye-opener in Chernobyl

May 02, 2012

By CHIAKI YOSHIMURA/ Staff Writer

If the pen is mightier than the sword, then senior members of the Japan writers' P.E.N. Club, who visited the shuttered Chernobyl nuclear power plant in mid-April, are now armed with some mighty ink.

"I thought I was going to learn lessons from Chernobyl, where 26 years have passed since the disaster, but what I discovered there is that the damage was still ongoing," said Eto Mori, a P.E.N. Club board member.

Eight senior members of the Japan P.E.N. Club, the Japanese affiliate of the International P.E.N. Club, visited the Ukraine in mid-April to gain hands-on knowledge of the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

The objective of the trip was to "think about the future of Fukushima and the children," the participants said, referring to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March last year.

Jiro Asada, the president of the association of progressively minded writers, on April 25 reiterated his opposition to the use of nuclear power.

"There is no end to the cleanup work," Asada told a news conference. "The situation is hopeless. We adults have to bear a responsibility for the future."

The Japan P.E.N. Club held a meeting to think about a nuclear phaseout last autumn. It also sent a delegation to Fukushima in March and issued a statement in April against restarting reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

Delegation members had to cross a checkpoint to enter a zone within a 30-kilometer radius of the Chernobyl plant. The radiation levels hovered around 5-6 microsieverts per hour when they visited the plant.

The visitors saw cracks in concrete members of a shelter that was designed to contain radioactive materials. About 3,000 people continue to work on the site to build a new shelter and to continue the decommissioning process.

According to reports, construction costs for the new shelter are estimated at 1.5 billion euros ($2 billion, or 162 billion yen). The process relies on funding by European nations, which--ironically enough--is creating jobs for the local communities.

"Some say that nuclear power benefits the economy," said Atsuo Nakamura, another P.E.N. Club board member. "That may be a joke in the opposite sense."

The names of more than 100 abandoned villages, which remain uninhabitable to this day, are engraved on a monument in a park 17 km from the nuclear plant.

"It has been demonstrated that it is impossible to decontaminate vast forested areas," Nakamura said. "And Japan is a country of forests and mountains."

At a hospital in Narodychi, 60 km from the Chernobyl nuclear plant, patients were taking radioactive iodine as a cancer treatment in an isolation ward with lead-embedded walls.

One man, who was 8 years old at the time of the disaster, developed cancer in his thyroid gland this year.

The Institute of Endocrinology and Metabolism in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev told the delegation that only 2.5 percent of children, who had been exposed to radiation prenatally, were diagnosed as healthy at the age of 7.

Medical equipment in local facilities was old and shabby. Medical practitioners in the Ukraine told the P.E.N. Club delegates that modern Japanese medical technology must be reassuring.

"Japan may certainly have wonderful medical technologies, but do we have the software that allows us to make full use of them?" Asada asked. "Will we be able to do so under the leadership of politicians? Be it in science and technology or in medicine, Japan's prestige is in danger of falling to the ground. It's a very crucial moment for us."

By CHIAKI YOSHIMURA/ Staff Writer
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A Ferris wheel stands in an amusement park in Prypyat, 3 kilometers from Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 19. The Chernobyl nuclear plant accident occurred immediately before the planned opening of the amusement park. (Provided by Akira Nogami)

A Ferris wheel stands in an amusement park in Prypyat, 3 kilometers from Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 19. The Chernobyl nuclear plant accident occurred immediately before the planned opening of the amusement park. (Provided by Akira Nogami)

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  • A Ferris wheel stands in an amusement park in Prypyat, 3 kilometers from Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 19. The Chernobyl nuclear plant accident occurred immediately before the planned opening of the amusement park. (Provided by Akira Nogami)
  • Jiro Asada (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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