By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Evacuees from the Fukushima disaster deserve more, a UN expert said. She suggested the Japanese government should step up its support for displaced citizens. The 2011 nuclear disaster displaced 160,000 people.
On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The devastation was such that the tragedy earned the nickname “3/11,” similar to the September 11 terrorist attack in the United States being referred to as “9/11.”
Japanese law requires that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) compensate evacuees, but litigation against the company is piling up in light of inadequate aid. Some are calling for Japan’s government to provide housing, jobs, and other needs to displaced people, as well, including a United Nations expert who recently concluded an investigation into related human rights conditions.
At one point, 160,000 people were displaced by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. More than a decade later, 30,000 people remain displaced. In his video series The Rise of Modern Japan, Dr. Mark Ravina, Professor of History at Emory University, explores life after Fukushima.
So Much Drama in the LDP
In Japan, the prominent ruling power is the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a conservative political movement that has retained power most years since 1955. In 2009, the opposition—the Democratic Party of Japan—came into power, but by the time of the Fukushima disaster, support for the Democratic Party of Japan had cratered.
“The scope of the disaster, and government mismanagement, opened a door for the [LDP],” Dr. Ravina said. “The LDP decisively won the December 2012 elections, but once the LDP returned to power, it pretended everything was fine. The new prime minister, Abe Shinzō, returned to the status quo.”
The LDP wanted cheap electricity in order to promote the profitability of Japanese industry and it assumed it could overcome public concerns about nuclear safety after Fukushima. This was a mistake, as public opinion polls showed that 80% of Japanese citizens wanted to reduce or completely eliminate nuclear power. Literally hundreds of thousands of protestors showed up to public demonstrations.
“The breadth of the anti-nuclear sentiment blunted industry plans,” Dr. Ravina said. “It was so strong that, whereas, before 3/11, Japan’s 54 reactors had produced roughly 25% of the country’s electricity, after Fukushima, four reactors produced about 4%.”
Out with the New, In with the Old
Despite opposition, the Liberal Democratic Party proceeded to minimize alternatives to nuclear energy. For example, it quickly did away with existing government subsidies for renewable energy, especially solar power.
One outcome of these changes is that Japan has since become far more dependent on imported fossil fuels like natural gas and coal. Another outcome is that Japan soon fell behind the goals it had set for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the progress made since then has only come from reduced industrial output due to a slowing economy.
“Even a decade after Fukushima, the Japanese had no sensible plan to meet electricity demand while reducing greenhouse gases,” Dr. Ravina said. “The government and the major utilities insist that the answer has to be nuclear power. But the electorate wants the reduction—or elimination—of nuclear power.
“So the LDP’s plan is, in essence, to hope that voters forget about 3/11, so that the nuclear village can restart more plants. That’s not so much a plan as a fantasy.”
The Rise of Modern Japan is now available to stream on Wondrium.