Long before the disastrous nuclear accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, physicist Yuko Fujita warned that doomsday was coming.
In fact, the former Keio University associate professor was so fearful of a nuclear disaster that in 2007 he moved to the western tip of Japan, in Nagasaki Prefecture, on the upwind side from all the nation's 54 nuclear reactors. Ironically, Nagasaki is the site of the second atomic bombing in 1945.
While Japan has turned a deaf ear on his doomsday warning for 30 years, Fujita, 69, suddenly became a much sought-after lecturer after last year's Fukushima accident following the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Fujita has been asked to speak on the dangers of radiation exposure at citizens’ gatherings across Japan on a weekly basis. But he said in a recent interview in Tokyo, “visits to eastern Japan have become a painful trip, as I have no words to console the audience.”
Unlike the evacuees from Fukushima, Fujita had the choice and the preparation time to move from his former home in Kanagawa Prefecture to rural farmland in Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, in 2007.
But tens of thousands of people, including mothers with young children, have no choice but to live on contaminated land in Fukushima Prefecture and elsewhere, and it will eventually take a heavy toll on their health, Fujita said.
“My effort to prevent a Chernobyl-level disaster in Japan ended in failure, but Japan’s handling of the accident is far worse than the Soviet Union’s reaction to Chernobyl,” he said. “I realized I have no time to give in to despair in Nagasaki.”
The 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident convinced Fujita that the alleged safety of nuclear power plants is nearly a myth.
The 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and several major quakes that followed convinced him that Japan had entered an era of increasing seismic activity, making a quake-induced nuclear disaster imminent in his mind.
After the 1986 Chernobyl accident, he conducted field research in Russia in the early 1990s, and saw miles and miles of barren land, dotted with ghost towns and abandoned farmland.
The Soviet Union evicted all residents from highly contaminated areas within a 300-kilometer radius, while providing them with housing, employment and welfare measures, Fujita said.
“At the time, I thought it was outrageous,” Fujita said. “But it is far more conscionable than what this country is doing--deceiving people into staying, taking advantage of their attachment to their homeland.”
If Japan takes evacuation measures equivalent in scale to that following the Chernobyl disaster, it will need to relocate several millions of people in this densely populated country, Fujita said.
“It probably means that this country will go bankrupt,” Fujita said. So, the government must at least provide financial and other support to families who wish to raise their children on safe land, he added.
In the former Soviet Union, “perestroika” reformist scholars, doctors, politicians and activists broke down the barriers of information control by old-guard cronies that tried to play down the damage caused by Chernobyl, Fujita said.
In Japan, the only hope lies in protest movements by citizens, who, demanding a nuclear-free Japan, gather in the tens of thousands in front of the Prime Minister’s Office every Friday night, he said.
“The fact that tens of thousands of nonpartisan people are demanding a say means a turning point in Japanese democracy,” he said. “I hope it will continue on so that it will prevent the government’s attempt to cover up nuclear damage.”
In his home in Nagasaki Prefecture, Fujita is calling for the people to make a renewed commitment to movements to prevent further nuclear disasters from occurring.
The amount of radiation spewed from the Fukushima accident was far greater and reached far more extensive areas, compared to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Fujita said. Work to decommission the plant has no end in sight, posing the threat of further unchecked radiation releases for years to come, he said.
“Also there is a fundamental, structural difference--unlike the atomic bombing, we are not only the victims but also the victimizers this time,” he said.
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