Debate Article for Expressen, published today on June 29th 2011

Talking to organic farmer Fujine Syoetsu Kaori
Photo: Yoshi Fukuda
Hitomi Koizumi, political lobbyist in Soma, Fukushima
Photo: Elin Lindqvist
Last Wednesday, the Japanese government announced that they are officially expanding the zone from which all inhabitants will have to evacuate in Fukushima Prefecture because of worrying measurements of radioactivity in the area. An exact date for final evacuation will soon be established when everybody will have to leave their homes without knowing when they can come back.

The nuclear catastrophe in Japan is far from over and it is influencing the world’s general opinion about nuclear energy.

Germany has now decided to close all their nuclear plants before 2020. In Italy, Berlusconi’s motion to expand the nuclear energy industry has been rejected in a national referendum. In Sweden, Jytte Guteland from SSU argues that the Socialdemocrats should start dismantling the nuclear industry but IF Metall insists that there is not a sufficiently effective alternative available.

Sweden is famed in the rest of the world for being an environmentally friendly and innovative country when it comes to alternative sources of energy. I therefore hear admiring comments about Sweden in Japan.

–         And you probably don’t have any nuclear energy! Fujine Syoetsu Kaori, an organic farmer, exclaimed enthusiastically.

But we do.

Fact is that considering the population of Sweden, we are one of the most nuclear countries in the world and nuclear energy stands for approximately half of the electric consumption. In addition, we are one of the world’s fourth largest energy users because of the long and cold winters.

On the other hand, the Swedish public has from the beginning been strongly aware of the risks with nuclear energy whereas that critical voice in Japan has been restrained to an alternative movement. Perhaps because the nuclear industry plays a significant role for local Japanese economies. The cities that accept to host a nuclear power plant receive tax advantages and its inhabitants receive special compensations. In these areas where an ageing population barely survived on a weary fishing industry, the nuclear power plant injected new life. Those communities would not survive today without the plants unless a new energy industry replaced the former nuclear industry.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is well aware of this problematic situation and he has clearly announced that Japan will now focus on bringing the costs of renewable energies down.

According to a newly released poll organized by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun, 74% of Japanese people now want to dismantle the nuclear industry. And the Japanese individuals that I talk to embarrassingly look down to the ground when I start talking about nuclear energy. As if they felt a collective sense of shame.

–         Many thought that nuclear power was a clean source of energy, now they know that it is not, says Hitomi Koizumi, CEO for a steel factory and political lobbyist in Fukushima Prefecture.

Koizumi is very active at the evacuation centres where people who have had to leave their homes because of the tsunami or radiation live and I notice that people listen to her. She is very sceptical about the information she receives from the Japanese government but she does not want to worry people in the area. So she tries to spread optimism. The truth is that she receives a SMS every morning from a doctor who measures the radioactive ratios in the air and the ground. She has decided that if a certain amount of radiation is found, she will leave. But she does not want to say where she draws this limit.

–         It would create panic, she explains with a nervous head shake.

She leans forward and ads:

–         But if it was only up to me, I would like my daughter to leave.

Koizumi doubtfully explains that the earth will be turned on schoolyards in order to bury radioactive materials and let fresh soil appear.

Now, 34000 children between 4 and 15 years old in Fukushima Prefecture will receive a dosimeter to carry with them for 3 months. The idea is to reassure parents.

On June 27th, construction work started at Fukushima Daiichi to encapsulate reactor 1. Similar protective measures will later be taken around reactors 3 and 4. But how much damage have the radioactive materials that have already leaked out of the plant created for future generations?

The Japanese are also worried about potential similar catastrophes in the future and despite the fact that Naoto Kan now has closed the nuclear power plant closest to Tokyo, many are those who wonder why such a catastrophe had to occur for these risks to be seriously taken under consideration.

We have all gotten used to living in a society that is strongly dependent on electricity and Tokyoites now try to save more. Many department stores and shops have for example decided to limit the use of elevators, escalators and lights.

How far can our collective world sense of responsibility go?

–         By Elin Lindqvist

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