German-made film takes hard look at Japan's nuclear future

May 22, 2012

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ Staff Writer

All of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are currently offline--for now, anyway.

For much of the foreign press, what’s out of sight is out of mind. Yet for Ralph T. Niemeyer, the atomic issue is still very much a live one.

A German editor and journalist, Niemeyer is also the director behind "Hibakusha--From Hiroshima to Fukushima, Nuclear Capitalism Tries to Rebound," an English-language film made in cooperation with Dorothee Menzner, a member of the German parliament.

To be sure, the future of nuclear energy in Japan is still very much in debate. Unlike the Japanese media, the 67-minute film minces no words and makes no pretense of objectivity as it condemns the “nuclear mafia” from a distinctly German perspective.

“We in Germany take a particular interest in Japan,” says Nieyemer, who presented the film at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 22. “Both our nations are highly industrialized, and enjoy technological advantages that we’ve created. We both build cameras and cars. Also, both are democracies. Germany has had a long way to come to terminate its nuclear energy, although I’m not quite sure we’ve heard the last word yet.”

The German government, in contrast with Japan’s, declared its intention to abandon nuclear power soon after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident last year. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan has not, and the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is pushing for a restart of reactors taken off-line for maintenance.

Niemeyer headed into the Fukushima evacuation zone to capture footage and also tracked down some of Japan’s most influential anti-nuclear energy speakers, among them the scientist Hiroaki Koide and actor Taro Yamamoto. Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute, claims that energy suppliers can meet the country’s needs with no nuclear reactors whatsoever. Koide also says the real reason for fast-breed reactors, such as those in Fukui Prefecture, is to provide the government with the technology at hand to develop an atomic bomb, should it deem it necessary.

Yamamoto, regularly marching at the front ranks of Japan’s anti-nuke demonstrations, meanwhile, says the Japanese won’t be able to change the system themselves--outside pressure is needed.

The picture of an enraged Japanese public about to explode at its leaders that the film draws is at odds with the real facts: The movement seems more likely to fragment before the government does, judging by the diminished numbers at demonstrations a year after the accident

There’s a stridency to the film, which was screened in Germany and France before being subtitled in Japanese. It will travel to the United States and Venezuela for screenings in both countries.

"As journalists we have to be neutral,” says Niemeyer. “But we are all human beings who bring our own ideas on how to see events. I have to say this film is biased and one-sided. We tried to find the truth, and the truth is that nuclear energy is not good.”

The film works best when it presents information lesser known to the Japanese public. For example, one of the heaviest investors in Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima plant, the film points out, is Deustche Bank, which fed close to 8 billion euros (813.5 billion yen, or $10.21 billion) into the nuclear industry from 2000 to 2009. The film also offers a viewpoint that many Japanese find hard to say themselves: That the Hibakusha, the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the support system and peace movement built around them, are linked to the nuclear disaster in Fukushima.

Sebastian Pflugbeil, chairman of the German Society of Radiation Protection, speaks to the camera about his surprise at first seeing an exhibition pushing for nuclear power at Hiroshima's famed Peace Memorial. The gift of nuclear energy, he and the film conclude, was forced on the Japanese by the American government, as compensation for their atomic suffering.

By LOUIS TEMPLADO/ Staff Writer
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Journalist and filmmaker Ralph T. Niemeyer speaks about his project at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 22. (Louis Templado)

Journalist and filmmaker Ralph T. Niemeyer speaks about his project at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 22. (Louis Templado)

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  • Journalist and filmmaker Ralph T. Niemeyer speaks about his project at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on May 22. (Louis Templado)

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