March 11, 2012 will be the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Almost a year ago, nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan died in a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that led to multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. To say that public confidence in the country’s nuclear program has fallen is an understatement. Just on Saturday, the week before the one-year anniversary, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that the government “shared the blame” for the disaster and that government officials had indeed been “blinded by a false belief in the country’s technological infallibility” and “too steeped in a safety myth.”
The massive accident turned 930 square miles of land into a “no go zone” and displaced 80,000 residents living within 20 kilometers of the Fukushima district from their homes.
“Rebel Farmers” Feed Contaminated Livestock They Were Ordered to Slaughter
69-year-old Yukio Yamamoto is one of ten farmers from Namie, which is within the “no go zone,” who is defying government orders to euthanize his 36 black-haired wagyu cows. The cows — once prized for their high-quality beef; each was once worth $10,000 — ingested radioactive caesium and Yamamoto was supposed to kill them by lethal injection. In an interview with the Guardian, Yamamoto discussed getting a permit to enter the zone to feed his animalion. Says Yamamoto about the six-hour trip he now routinely makes:
“I left like everyone else after 11 March, “I couldn’t stop worrying about my cows, so I started coming back in every other day to feed them.”…
“Straight after the disaster, my cows had nothing to eat or drink … many of them starved to death right where they were tethered.I had to decide whether to leave the ones still alive or keep them healthy, even though we were separated.”
But Yamamoto, who is very likely the last of generations of his family to raise wagyu cows, has not received any feed from the Japanese government. Private donors, including farmers in Australia, have provided him with food for his cows.
“Eventually the feed will run out, and the government has said it will kill every last cow. But that is something I can’t allow to happen. “I could never kill these cows. They are like members of my family.”
Yamamoto is pinning his hopes on studies that can properly measure the level of contamination among his cows. As Ryoichi Harada, another “rebel farmer” helping Yamamoto feed his cows, says “We accept that the meat will never go on sale, but the cows could be put to some other commercial use.”
Independent Report Says Inadequate Planning Hampered Japan’s Response to the Disaster
A report by an independent investigation panel has concluded that poor planning indeed hindered the response to the disaster. The report about how the government, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and other key players responded was based on interviews with 300 people involved in the accident, including the prime minister at the time of the disasters, Naoto Kan. Science Daily highlights their findings:
According to the investigation, the tsunami could and should have been anticipated. Earlier research on the Jogan tsunami of 869 AD showed that high water levels should not have been considered “unprecedented” along the Japanese coastline where Fukushima is located. Tepco’s own nuclear energy division understood the risk, but the company dismissed these probabilities as “academic.” Regulatory authorities also encouraged the company to incorporate new findings into its safety plans, but did not make these measures mandatory.
Many human errors were made at Fukushima, illustrating the dangers of building multiple nuclear reactor units close together. Masao Yoshida, the director of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station at the time of the accident, had to cope simultaneously with core meltdowns at three reactors and exposed fuel pools at four units. The errors were not the fault of one individual, but were systemic: When on-site workers referred to the severe accident manual, the answers were not there. And those who misjudged the condition of the emergency cooling system had never actually put the system into service; they were thrown into a crisis without the benefit of training.
Despite the report’s findings and despite the understandable hesitation of local communities, the Japanese government is working to restart idled nuclear reactors. Noda has not at all committed to the pledge of then-prime minister Kan to eventually phase out the use of nuclear power in Japan. Nuclear regulators have introduced computer stress tests to evaluate the reactors but critics charge that these are “woefully inadequate” to make sure that the reactors can withstand shocks from devastating natural disasters and wreak the kind of colossal havoc and suffering that many in Japan, including Yamamoto’s cows left on an abandoned farm in Namie, are still living with.
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