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Fukushima: "the government refuses to admit the gravity of the situation"

Translated Sunday 21 August 2011, by Kristina Wischenkamper and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Five months on from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the crisis is far from over and controversy surrounds the way it is being handled. A French expatriate – a doctoral student in anthropology, specialising in Japanese studies – relates the confusion and disinformation that prevail in the land of the rising sun.

For [[Elodie] Name has been changed.
Blog d ’Elodie: http://bigorneau2.blogspot.com/
], the government remains deaf to the claims of those living in the exposed areas. Since May 26 she has been writing a blog describing the situation in Japan. For her, the resignations and replacements which continue to shake the Japanese government do not change the underlying problem. The people and especially the children living in the irradiated areas are not being evacuated.

What is the feeling today in Japan? Are the Japanese worried?

Elodie. The Japanese are worried, but few will say it openly. I think there is above all a sense of powerlessness. Polls announce that 80% of the population are against nuclear power. However, when meetings or marches are held, only a few hundred turn up. It is not in Japanese culture to demonstrate in the streets. In recent weeks, however, things are starting to change. Tepco, builder and operator of the Fukushima plant, and the government have lost much of their credibility. Naoto Kan’s popularity rating is ridiculously low at about 15%.

Why is the Japanese government ignoring the risks of radiation?

Elodie. There has been a series of resignations and replacements within the government but nothing has changed. Despite huge popular discontent, no one is doing anything. The residents of Fukushima want to be evacuated, but this is not even being discussed. Why aren’t they evacuated? I don’t know. Some say it would create more panic and disorder, but after five months of this status quo, fear is growing. Perhaps the government simply refuses to admit the gravity of the situation and wants to continue to pretend to be in control of the situation. Perhaps it’s too late and there is simply nothing to be done. So they remain silent. However, what is clear is that – as elsewhere in the world – the Japanese government is intimately involved with the nuclear energy lobby and so is simply trying to protect its interests, or what interests might still be salvaged.

The Japanese media broke the news about contaminated beef? Have subsequent safety measures been taken?

Elodie. The most important broadcast media are putting out a lot of information – such as the urine of children in Fukushima containing radioactive materials. But they do this very slowly. Also, footage of calls for concrete actions, such as cries for help from the Fukushima residents, have no chance of being shown on television. In fact the government has just passed a law censoring "false rumours" about Fukushima and is monitoring everything that is being written about Fukushima on the Internet. There have been other scandals. For example, local meetings were organised by the government to provide information on other nuclear power plants in Japan. Local residents were invited to take part. Many who went there were favourable to nuclear energy, a fact that was massively publicised. It turned out that these people had been paid by the nuclear industry.

As for the contaminated beef that was put on the market, it was supposedly bought by the government. But other products such as mushrooms, or tea, or fish caught in Chiba (just off Fukushima), are still on the shelves. However, we can be pretty certain about their being irradiated. For example, tea coming from Shizuoka was stopped at the French border because it violated French norms, although in Japan it is still being sold. Safety controls are random procedures defined by the mayors and prefects of each department; they are not at all systematic, nor based on samples of whole departments, so you can have irradiated areas and healthy areas a few hundred meters away from each other. In any case, the situation is not under control, and news stories come one after another, each new one giving the impression that the situation is even worse than previously thought. That’s why it’s important not to forget what is happening here, so that the Japanese government is forced to take more protective measures and be more transparent."

• The latest information from Japan

According to Euronews the forecasting system for radioactive threats, known as SPEEDI, was operative from the start. Therefore some cities were not evacuated because the Japanese authorities were withholding information. According to Japanese media, Prime Minister Naoto Kan could be replaced before the end of the month.

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