Friday, May 17, 2013

Citizens seek justice for Fukushima residents, evacuees as Japanese government continues pursuing nuclear program

Setsuko Kida, one of the most impassioned speakers amongst the six persons profiled in the  award-winning  documentary film Women of Fukushima, has recently returned to Japan from Geneva, Switzerland, where she addressed the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its hearing on issues related to Japan held at the end of April.

Kida, who was forced to evacuate her home (which was located between the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear reactors) following the disaster of March 11, 2011, has remained a tireless campaigner over the past two years for the Japanese government to recognize the rights of Fukushima citizens and give just compensation for their suffering. Her work includes attending various speaking events and street campaigning in Tokyo (including the ongoing Friday night anti-nuclear demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister's residence), where she reminds those in Japan that the ongoing repercussions of the disaster in their country are far from over.

Kida was accompanied on her trip to Geneva by Women of Fukushima producer Jeffrey Jousan, who spoke on her behalf in front of the UN Committee, as she does not speak English. Allotted only three minutes, the brief speech nevertheless poignantly and powerfully delineates the many problems that continue to face Fukushima residents following the crisis:

Setsuko Kida and Jeffrey Jousan, United Nations, April 29, 2013

In an e-mail sent to me from Geneva, Kida said the following:
It makes me sad that I have to come here and make an appeal regarding facts that the Japanese government is trying to cover up and hide from the rest of the world. I came here to let people know that Fukushima is still here, as well as to reveal the fact that the Japanese government is attempting to reinvigorate its nuclear power program in the name of economics--a move that endangers the very existence of civilization itself.

While here, I will only be able to circulate translated materials and make a short presentation. I am not sure about the extent to which this kind of lobbying will have an impact upon the committee members, but one thing is sure: continuing to merely protest in front of the Japanese Prime Minister's residence will do nothing to change the politicians in this country. If the same crowd of nearly 200,000 people were to come here and surround the UN buildings in Geneva like they did in Tokyo last year, I have no doubt that the Japanese government would get completely panicked.  In any case, the fact that a nuclear refugee such as myself has to come here on my own to make this kind of appeal makes me feel very much alone.
Kida's visit to the United Nations follows that of Katsutaka Idogawa, the courageous former mayor of Futaba Town near the nuclear reactors, who resigned in protest of the national government's failure to adequately provide for the safety of Fukushima citizens.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, citizens have wrapped up a ten-day hunger strike to protest the government's attempt to force them out of their tent outside the economic ministry offices, which they have been using as a base for grassroots anti-nuclear voices from Fukushima and elsewhere since the days following the 3.11 disaster. The hunger strike was held in the lead-up to the lawsuit, which began hearing arguments on Thursday, May 24th.

Speaking at the tent on the last day of the hunger strike, campaigner Michiko Saito (featured in the video below) told me that she has been protesting the use of nuclear power for the past 40 years--particularly following the accident in Fukushima--whose citizens she says have unfairly borne the burden of the nuclear power plants that are largely used to power electricity in the Tokyo metropolis. "Many of my friends from the movement have already passed away, and I feel horrible that they never got to see their dream of a nuclear-free Japan realized within their lifetimes," she explained."

Tokyo-based anti-nuclear activist Michiko Saito

The tent has consistently served as a space for citizens to speak out against a number of issues related to the anti-nuclear struggle, including the evacuation of children from Fukushima. A ruling is expected soon in a lawsuit on the matter, whose lawyer Toshio Yanagihara was quoted as saying, "I don't understand why an economic power like Japan won't evacuate their children - something even the fascist government did during World War II. This is child abuse."

Also taken up by activists in Japan have been efforts by the Japanese government to export its nuclear technology overseas. One such country is India, whose Prime Minister Singh is due to visit Tokyo next week, when he is expected to move closer toward signing a nuclear agreement with Japan's Prime Minister Abe. Citizens in India continue to protest several proposed nuclear power plants including one in the southern region of Koodankulam  -- the construction of which activist and author Arundhati Roy has likened to a "crime."

In anticipation of Prime Minister Singh's visit to Japan, activists in Japan and India are jointly spearheading a citizen's petition aimed at stopping the agreement from moving forward, which may be signed here. According to the petition:
Japan must refrain from exporting nuclear technology to other countries, especially non-signatories of the NPT and CTBT. The current policy option of exporting nuclear energy to countries like India, Vietnam, Jordan etc… are totally unjust while Japan is reeling under the huge financial losses posed by the Fukushima accident and its citizens are observing massive protests to demand a nuclear-free future and the victims of the triple meltdowns remain uncompensated.
       Anti-nuclear tent in front of Japanese economic ministry following end of hunger strike, 5/22/13

--Kimberly Hughes

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