Beyond Nuclear International

Isolated and alone

A teenager’s account of the Fukushima ordeal

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Ten years after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, how has the Japanese government responded and what is it like for the people affected, still struggling to return their lives to some semblance of normality? Here is how things look:

  • Manuals are being distributed in schools explaining that radioactivity exists in nature and is therefore not something to be afraid of.
  • The government is considering getting rid of radiation monitoring posts as these send the wrong message at a time of “reconstruction”.
  • The Oversight Committee for Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Survey is discussing the possibility of stopping thyroid inspections at schools because they stress children out and overburden teachers and staff.
  • Depression and suicide rates among young people from Fukushima are likely to be triggered by being called “germs” and by being seen as “contaminated”.
  • Those who speak out about radiation are more stigmatized today than they were 10 years ago.
  • Those who “voluntarily” evacuated, recognizing that the so-called protection standards were not adequate for their region, are often ostracized from their new communities. They are seen as selfish for abandoning their homeland, friends and families “just to save themselves” and are bullied as parasites living on compensation funds, even though the “auto-evacuees” as they are known, received none.
Those who chose to evacuate were known as “auto-evacuees”. (Excerpt from Fukushima 3.11)
  • Those forced to evacuate are also bullied if they do not now return, accused of not trusting the government and its assertions that it is safe to do so.
  • The taboo against speaking out for proper radiation protection and for compensation has grown worse as the rescheduled Olympics loom for this summer and Japan is determined to prove to the world it has fixed the radiation problem and beaten Covid-19.
  • On March 1, 2021, it took three judges all of 30 seconds to dismiss a case brought by 160 parents and children who lived in Fukushima prefecture at the time of the nuclear accident, and known as the Children’s Trial Against Radiation Exposure. The class action suit sought 100,000 yen per person in damages from the government and the prefecture, due to the psychological stress brought on by the lack of measures to avoid radiation exposure after the accident.
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Fukushima Daiichi 2011-2021

The decontamination myth and a decade of human rights violations

The following is the Executive Summary from the new Greenpeace report. Download the full report.

As a result of a catastrophic triple reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on 11 March 2011, several tens of thousands of square kilometres in Fukushima Prefecture and wider Japan were contaminated with significant amounts of radioactive caesium and other radionuclides. The first Greenpeace radiation expert team arrived in Fukushima on 26 March 2011, and Greenpeace experts have since conducted 32 investigations into the radiological consequences of the disaster, the most recent in November 2020.

This report, the latest in a series, chronicles some of our principal findings over recent years, and shows how the government of Japan, largely under prime minister Shinzo Abe, has attempted to deceive the Japanese people by misrepresenting the effectiveness of the decontamination programme as well as the overall radiological risks in Fukushima Prefecture. As the latest Greenpeace surveys demonstrate, the contamination remains and is widespread, and is still a very real threat to long term human health and the environment.

Radioactive decontamination work in Iitate, Fukushima prefecture. (July 15, 2015) © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Greenpeace

The contaminated areas comprise rice fields and other farmland, as well as a large amount of forest. Many people who lived in these areas were employed as farmers or in forestry. Residents gathered wood, mushrooms, wild fruits and vegetables from the mountain forests, and children were free to play outdoors in the woodlands and streams. Since the disaster, tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their ancestral lands. The harm extends far beyond the immediate threat to health – as well as destroying livelihoods, it has destroyed an entire way of life.

Because of the government’s actions, many thousands of evacuees have been forced to make an impossible choice: to return to their radioactively contaminated homes or to abandon their homes and land and seek to establish a new life elsewhere without adequate compensation. This amounts to economic coercion and may force individuals and families to return against their will due to a lack of financial resources and viable alternatives. Given that these people lost their livelihoods, communities, and property as a result of a nuclear disaster they had no part in creating, this is grossly unjust.

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“Non-violent creative tumult”

Film documents long campaign to get Vermont Yankee shut down

Power Struggle is available for at home screening for a limited time, March 1-30. A portion of the $12 ticket price benefits Beyond Nuclear. Purchase your ticket here.

By Linda Pentz Gunter

“Our voice as the people of Vermont is what matters,” says Vermont activist, Chad Simmons, early in Robbie Leppzer’s film, Power Struggle. Later, he entreats an official from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a public meeting: “Listen to us! Listen to us”.

By the time the film ends, as the struggle to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant —which Leppzer follows for five years — unfolds, Simmons can rejoinder: “People power works.” For once, the saga of an anti-nuclear campaign has a happy ending.

Vermont Yankee, a GE Mark I boiling water reactor identical to those that melted down at Fukushima Daiichi, opened in 1972 in Vernon, Vermont, close to the Massachusetts and New Hampshire borders. Citizen protests began immediately, and went on until the plant finally closed, on December 29, 2014.

Leppzer may have set out to tell that story, but a lot more transpired during filming, both complicating but also validating the narrative. A story ostensibly about the power of protest — by the people of Vermont and its enlightened state government — quickly broadened into a condemnation of the nuclear industry as a whole. This is borne witness to at the start of the film through the observations of nuclear engineer and whistleblower, Arnie Gundersen, when Leppzer’s original narrative is abruptly interrupted by the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Nuclear engineer and whistleblower, Arnie Gundersen, at the microphone, is in many ways the star witness of Leppzer’s film. (Photo courtesy of the filmmaker)
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Making Waves

The rebirth of the Golden Rule


March 1 is Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day, the 67th commemoration of the 1954 US Castle Bravo test, the largest nuclear explosion, which had disastrous consequences for the people of the Marshall Islands and beyond.

The Golden Rule is a project of Veterans For Peace. They aim to advance Veterans For Peace opposition to nuclear weapons and war, and to do so in a dramatic fashion. They have recovered and restored the original peace ship, the Golden Rule, that set sail in 1958 to stop nuclear testing in the atmosphere, and which inspired the many peace makers and peace ships that followed.

The reborn Golden Rule is sailing once more, to show that nuclear abolition is possible, and that bravery and tenacity can overcome militarism.

The Golden Rule was the very first of the environmental and peace vessels to go to sea. In 1958, a crew of anti-nuclear weapons activists set sail aboard her in an attempt to interpose themselves and the boat between the U.S. Government and its atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean.

The Golden Rule was the very first of the environmental and peace vessels to go to sea.

At that time both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were conducting aboveground tests of very large nuclear weapons, which produced readily detectable clouds of radioactive fallout that wafted around the planet. Radiation contamination began to turn up in cows’ and mothers’ milk. Public concern grew, and for the first time many middle-class Americans began to wonder if their government knew what it was doing.

In 1958, the Golden Rule sailed from San Pedro, California toward the U.S. nuclear test zone at Eniwetok atoll in the Marshall Islands, but she never made it that far. The first time out of San Pedro Capt. Albert Bigelow, George Willoughby, William Huntington and David Gale were aboard. A week into the voyage the starboard jaw of the gaff broke.

The repair was done, but a gale, the worst in twenty years, quickly followed. As the crew reported, “David Gale was gravely ill. It was several days since he had even tried to eat or drink and we had given up trying to tell him to do so.” Twice the Coast Guard offered help and could have taken him to shore. Ultimately, Bigelow made the decision to turn back, knowing that the effort to stop the atomic tests might be sacrificed. They made it back to San Pedro two weeks after starting.

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Let’s hear it for Granola Park!

Impeachment hero Jamie Raskin lives here, but Takoma Park has long been famous

By Linda Pentz Gunter

I’ll admit that I have an ambivalent relationship with granola. Perhaps that is because my first introduction to it was muesli, which is basically chopped cardboard. My husband routinely buys granola, which languishes on larder shelves and eventually is tossed (by me) to grateful birds and squirrels. Let’s just say it’s not my breakfast of champions.

But if eating granola makes us the good guys then, well, bring it on! 

Takoma Park, Maryland, where Beyond Nuclear is headquartered, is frequently described — or, more accurately, mocked — in the press as “Granola Park”. (Sister organization, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, is also based in Takoma Park.)

Our left-leaning Takoma Park citizenry are aging, “crunchy” hippies (in reality only 11% of Takoma Park residents are over 65). And eccentrics. 

Takoma Park residents are often labeled as “eccentric” by the press. Motor Cat did not aid in their defense. (T-shirt from the 1990s)

Okay, this latter is admittedly hard to refute. We had a resident roving rooster now immortalized in bronze downtown; a cat who rode with its owner on a motorbike, replete with its own leather helmet; an animal rights activist who carried a dead fox in a trap around town to make his point; and of course our very own blind, peace-sign carrying Peace Delegate.

The Utne Reader once admiringly anointed Takoma Park as “the leftiest ‘burb in America” (take that Berkeley!) Early on, “The People’s Republic of Takoma Park”, as we are also known, had a socialist mayor. Three of President Obama’s top advisors lived here, two of whom biked to the White House.

Indeed, Granola Park is a welcome hotbed of “good guys” — just over 17,000 of us in all. These include citizens and non-citizens, old and young, men and women, black, white and brown, straight, gay and trans, and state as well as national politicians.

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When the US nuked Spain

34 years later, those forced to clean up the mess get their day in court

By John LaForge

Air force veterans exposed to plutonium after a first-ever US nuclear weapons disaster in Spain have won extremely rare recognition as a class in a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On Jan. 17, 1966, an air force B-52 bomber exploded over the village of Palomares, Spain during a routine airborne refueling. Seven airmen were killed and the bomber’s four hydrogen bombs were thrown to the earth. Conventional explosives (not the nuclear warheads) in two of the bombs detonated in massive explosions, one right in the village, gouging huge, plutonium-covered craters and spewing as much as 22 pounds of pulverized plutonium dust over houses, streets and farm fields.

On June 19, 2016, the New York Times published a 4,500-word investigative report about the lawsuit filed in the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims by chief master sergeant Victor Skaar (USAF, Rt.). Skaar, who was 30 at the time, was part of a clean-up team, dubbed Operation Moist Mop, assigned to the disaster response. A throng of some 1,700 soldiers were put to surveying 400 acres and washing the inside and outside of village buildings. Over a period of 80 days they filled 4,810 barrels with plutonium-contaminated soil and loaded the drums aboard a ship bound for disposal stateside.

Sign indicating the exclusion zone in Palomares. (Photo: Schumi4ever/WikimediaCommons)

Two years after Skaar retired in 1981, he came down with a blood disorder called leukopenia. He’s been trying ever since to have the illness recognized as service-related. In a phone interview, Skaar told Nukewatch that dozens of the veterans contaminated during the clean-up are also sick. If their claims can be established in court, they would be eligible for free health care and a disability pension.

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