Waiting for the Day


Photo: Ilcommonz

Now only two among fifty-four reactors are at work in Japan. That is, after eleven months have passed since the nuclear accident, most of the reactors (aside from those suffered the accident) have been stopped for periodical inspection. And none among them has resumed their operation so far. If this state continues, all nuclear power plants will stop by the end of this coming April. Who on earth can envision this situation a year ago, or even right after the accident?

All media are reporting the arguments concerning the need of nuclear power plants. What will replace the energy demand if all nuclear plants stop? Not to mention electric companies, financial and industrial circles are warning against electric shortcoming. The other day, for instance, TEPCO announced raise of electric fee due to the hike of fossil fuel cost replacing nuclear energy. Such argument, that seems to be reasonable at a glance, is in fact very bizarre. For the nuclear plants continue to stop its operation one after another, totally irrespective of all these debates. The reality is developing as if it were another world to the arguments. While many people are aware of it, they pretend not to be, and behave obliviously.

The government is showing, though meagerly, its de-nuke orientation. It does not declare discontinuation of nuclear operation with a concrete plan. Financial circles also seem to admit that the times are for de-nuke. But strangely enough, nobody mentions the fact that almost none of the  reactors are working. Common parlance in social criticism stresses that nobody wants to see a bad reality, but the situation in Japan is that nobody is willing to see the good reality.

The government, financial circles and the electric companies must be wary of this situation. There is no doubt that they are awaiting a chance for resuming the operation. On the other hand, the majority of the population is quietly waiting for the day all the rest will stop, as if speaking about it would mean a bad luck. The day will come, and very soon.

Another reason that nobody speaks about it is that the coming termination is a given fact and that we are already living a world almost without nuclear power. It’s hard for us to believe that we have unexpectedly come to live this present life. This is due to the lack of our sense of reality rather than the lack of our confidence.

Then, who is stopping nuclear operation? It is we ourselves. Demonstrations are taking place everywhere,  becoming part of everyday landscape. Every week somewhere in Japan, several hundreds to several thousands people are marching. With much conflicts concerning tactics, however, they do not discourage the entire impetus. Quality and number of participants are upswing. The most symbolic at the moment is the occupation of a site at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in central Tokyo. Last September, a group of people with women from Fukushima besieged the Ministry building; since this action the occupation has developed. Today, several people are stationed around-the-clock at the site where mass appeals by the mothers from Fukushima and various teach-ins are taking place regularly. An over 70 year old participant who has been living there over three months says: “We were defeated at the struggle against the Japan/US Security Treaty of 1960 as well as that of 1970. We have been continuously defeated. But this time is different. We might win, so I can push this further.” Recently the head of the METI demanded dismissal of the occupation, but a large number of protests and supports across the nation helped it remain, and the site is alive today.

About a month ago, cesium was detected in baby formula, and the producer recalled the product. It was not a public institution but a citizens’ monitoring team in Fukushima City that detected the radioactive material. In order to measure radioactivity in food, a special device is required. The group in Fukushima bought the expensive machine together and continue their measuring practice. Their slogan reads: “think ourselves, study ourselves, measure ourselves and protect ourselves.” Encouraged by such passion of the people, Nihonmatsu City has begun to research internal exposure of the residents, with an even more expensive device that no independent organization could afford. In consequence, radioactive contamination was discovered in a newly built residential building in the city, where many of the residents are small children. This is due to the unmonitored use of irradiated building materials. The popular science is achieving solid results one after another, thanks to such practices.

Radioactive materials are not those that exist in nature. They are products of science, and can be dealt with only scientifically. Now the focus of local concerns is decontamination of the contaminated areas. This consists of washing houses and roads by water, and shaving off the topsoil where radioactive materials are accumulated. By this practice it is expected that the level of radioactivity is lowered and the residents can live there again. However, there are problems: can the level be really lowered enough for living? Where will the contaminated soil be delivered thereafter? On top of these, the work of decontamination  is left to the residents themselves, who are inevitably contaminated during such work. In reality this has become the convenient measure to prevent the collapse of communities. Therefore, the central and local governments publicize the idea that this can solve everything.

What is at stake in this situation is what the residents do — especially those who live in and around the exclusion zone in Fukushima and nearby prefectures, and those who live in the high radioactive zones including Tokyo metropolis. Can they return home after the decontamination completes? Can they even continue to live there? They are to make their decisions while watching the decontamination work that may be taking more than a year. Younger people and parents of small children tend to be suspicious of the efficiency of decontamination and lean towards evacuation. But it is hard to leave their old home and there is no guarantee for them to keep their livelihood. They are oscillating between the fear of radiation and the anxiety of survival and living. Those who live in high radioactive zones are thrown into such conflict. To confront this situation, the people are first required to be a rational scientist, who measures and analyzes the radiation data in their living environment. Secondly they need to have close and patient conversations with family members and friends. Thus begins re-creating or rethinking of relationships with others. The final judgment as to whether leaving or staying is up to the individual. And it is at this moment that everyone has to directly confront the state and capitalism. The anxiety and conflicts of the people who live there or have evacuated from there can be seen from all sorts of media reports. So it can be said that the conflicts deriving from the contradiction between the fear of radiation and the anxiety of survival and living exist at the fountainhead of people’s movements and inclinations that have stopped the majority of nuclear power plants. It is not only the movements that stop the nuclear plants; rather the measuring of radioactivity, everyday struggle and the feeling that has arose in this new situation – the sum total of these is stopping the nuclear operation in Japan. The nuclear disaster has delivered the people such long lasting everyday struggles.

According to an opinion poll that took place shortly after the accident, those who are for the immediate or future discontinuation of nuclear power amounted 60% of the population. This was deemed a high number considering the previous situation. But the poll that took place late last year showed the 80% for the abolition of nuclear power immediately or in the future. After the accident more and more people have come to think that nuclear power is unnecessary. Is this surprising or natural?

The reason for this is clear. We have learned the fact that only with two remaining reactors, we are not suffering from electric shortage at all. We are confident not only about sufficiency but also about the fact that we can live by conserving electricity. For instance, a friend told me quite casually that he had reduced his electric usage from 30 to 40% during the past year. This is exactly the situation that the nuclear industries are most afraid of. The most simple and effective way to fight the nuclear power is reduce electric usage. The practices of measuring radiation doses of the air, soil and food are but increasing with innumerable individual and group participants. Once Geiger counters were unequivocally expensive, but now many new inexpensive types are introduced into the market. Since several months ago, local governments have rented out Geiger counters to the public. Now all have been reserved for several months ahead. Our habits have been dramatically changed. The singularity of the nuclear disaster is that it has been coercing us to change our living style and everyday life on a broad spectrum. It recomposes our mutual relations and transforms expression and organization of our anger. Indeed, we have changed.

Certainly the state and capital will not overlook the ongoing termination of nuclear reactors. Now it is evident that by this coming late April, all nuclear plants will be stopped for maintenance. But we all know that they will seek to resume the operation and a long struggle is waiting ahead. They will continuously tell us that it is necessary for our satisfactory living. But again, the reality is that we are living almost totally without nuclear energy. We have long been seeking to adjust our hopes to reality. But now, the reality is adjusting itself to our existence.

We cannot predict what will happen in the late April. Interminable struggles are on-going in the regions that have nuclear plants as well as in our urban everyday life. Amidst the suffocating situation notwithstanding, we are strangely in high spirits. Our minds are lightened day by day. We are truly looking forward to the coming day. The day that we have not been able to even imagine until recently will be here. We are sure of the joy of the day.

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