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March 11: One Year Later

Posted in Current Events,Film,Japanese film,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the February 29th, 2012

Next week marks the first anniversary of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. In recent days, we’ve been learning that the situation was in fact far more dire than the government or Tokyo Electric were willing to admit at the time. It’s come out recently that the Japanese government was even considering an unthinkable scenario: evacuation of Tokyo. The New York Times:

in the darkest moments of the nuclear disaster, Japanese leaders did not know the actual extent of damage at the [Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power] plant and secretly considered the possibility of evacuating Tokyo, even as they tried to play down the risks in public.

Just today, a newly issued scientific report concludes that the total amount of radiation released into the ocean near Fukushima was likely much greater than previously estimated. The Asahi Shinbun:

A mind-boggling 40,000 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium, or twice the amount previously thought, may have spewed from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 disaster, scientists say. […] The figure, which represents about 20 percent of the discharge during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is twice as large as previous estimates by research institutions both in Japan and overseas.

The disaster touched our own family in many ways. My wife was born and raised in Sendai, a city in the center of the affected region. I have lived there on three different occasions. In the early morning hours of March 11 last year, we watched in horror live pictures of the tsunami sweeping over neighborhoods that we know well. Fortunately, none of my in-laws were injured or killed. We did lose some very dear friends, though. And in the year since, we have watched old classmates, colleagues, and friends cope with the loss of children, spouses, parents. Their resilience has been nothing short of astonishing.

We are marking the anniversary with a number of events here at the University of Chicago. Earlier in the year, we hosted an exhibit of photographs from the region, highlighting the scale of the disaster and the enormous energy that has gone into the rescue and recovery efforts. (The same exhibit will be on display at UCLA’s Fowler Museum, March 4 through April 15: details here.)

On March 9 (7:30 p.m., Coulter Lounge in International House), we’ll host a free public screening of an acclaimed new documentary, “Fukushima: Memories of a Lost Landscape” (『「相馬看花」-奪われた土地の記憶』) with director Matsubayashi Yojyu in attendance. Details are available here.

Then, on March 10-11 we’ll host a major conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who will be retiring from the university this summer. “What March 11 Means to Me: A Symposium in Honor of Norma Field” will feature five prominent public intellectuals and activists from Japan, each speaking on the personal and pubic dimensions of the disaster and its ongoing impact. The line-up of speakers is simply amazing:

  • Amamiya Karin: a prominent activist in the “precariat” and anti-nuclear movements

    Komori Yoichi: scholar of Japanese literature and leader of the movement to preserve Article 9

    Ryusawa Takeshi: former editor-in-chief of Heibonsha, one of Japan’s most important publishing houses

    Takahashi Tetsuya: a native of Fukushima and one of Japan’s leading scholars of ethics and philosophy

    Yokoyu Sonoko: a well-known clinical psychologist and advocate for children’s rights

  • A schedule for the event and profiles of the participants can be found here.

    Finally, on May 5 we will be hosting “Atomic Age II: Fukushima,” with two very special guests from Japan: Koide Hiroaki of the Kyoto University Reactor Research Institute, a scientist who became something of a public hero for his willingness to speak frankly about the risks of nuclear power, and Muto Ruiko, an activist in anti-nuclear citizen movements from Fukushima. Details are available here.

    Remarkable progress has been made in recovery over the past year. People from the region I’ve talked to express deep gratitude for the support they’ve received from around the world. But the disaster continues: rebuilding efforts in the tsunami-affected region have barely begun, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster is still unfolding, despite glossy governmental declarations that the situation is under control. Shutting down the reactors and decontaminating the area will take decades. It will take many years to assess the real human cost, too: I dread thinking about what rates of cancer incidence in the region will look like six or seven years from now.

    I hope you can join us for some of these events. Please keep the people of Tohoku in your thoughts. One way we can help is to make sure that we all learn the lessons that the disaster is trying to teach us.

    2 Responses to 'March 11: One Year Later'

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    1. on March 13th, 2012 at 7:51 am

      The worst thing about the Fukushima nuclear incident is the fear that it has created over nuclear power! Nuclear power is vastly cleaner and safer then fossil flues and less detrimental to the landscape and ecosystem as damns.

    2. bourdaghs said,

      on March 13th, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Thank you for your comment, but the people from the coastal regions of Fukushima, who won’t be able to move back to their family homes for decades (if ever), would strongly disagree, as would the people of Chernobyl. Nuclear, fossil fuels, and massive hydroelectric projects aren’t the only options we have.