On March 11, 2011 (3.11), a magnitude nine earthquake accompanied by a catastrophic tsunami forever changed the landscape of northern Honshu. The earthquake and tsunami not only took more than 15,000 lives, but also triggered one of the worst nuclear accidents in history. YCAPS was please to arrange a tour of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site, the location of the accident so that members could learn more about the devastation.
At 7:30 am on September 3rd, 19 YCAPS participants boarded a bus in Iwaki bound for the site of the accident. Dilapidated storefronts, abandoned homes, and radiation readers along the one remaining accessible throughway primed the group for the learning experience which lay ahead of them. Throughout their journey, the group benefited from insightful commentary provided by Temple University’s Professor Kyle Cleveland, (author of Mobilizing Nuclear Bias: The Fukushima Nuclear Crisis and the Politics of Uncertainty and editor of the Japan Focus Special Issue: Legacies of Fukushima: 3.11 in Context) and Adjunct Professor David Satterwhite, in the Political Science department, Director of the CIEE Kyoto Center, and Japanese-English interpreter.
After being greeted by TEPCO employees at the newly constructed archival museum, participants were escorted to a video showing which explained in TEPCO’s own words their “sincere regret” regarding the accident and a second video regarding the nuclear waste cleanup process.
Participants were escorted by bus to the plant headquarters, where they were equipped with dosimeters, vests, gloves, and ID cards before boarding one final bus headed to the center of the accident. Standing in front of all four reactor buildings, all with varying degrees of damage, the decades of remaining cleanup became overwhelmingly evident. Over 11 years since the accident, the plant continues to generate tons of contaminated water per day in attempts to cool the blazing reactor cores. The water enters holding tanks built on the former location of roughly 1000 cherry for water where despite several filtering processes, it will never be rid of the tritium (Hydrogen-3). The plan is for it to be diluted to roughly 200 times using seawater and released into the ocean, a course of action yet to gain public support.
Participants spent a total of one hour at the site itself, during which time they were exposed to approximately three dental x-rays worth of radiation. The TEPCO decommissioning staff and Archival Museum Staff remarked that the group was the most inquisitive to have participated in the exclusive tour, expressing their surprise at the quality of the questions asked.
After visiting the TEPCO site, the group made their way across the vast abandoned townscapes once more, bound for the town of Namie, and Ukedo Elementary School. Namie was once home to 20,905 people in 2010 but was evacuated due to nuclear exposure and as for 2022 housed only 1238 people. The tsunami ravaged school remains have been preserved, highlighting the successful evacuation of the students, casualties of the surrounding area, and the tragic displacement of the community.
Participants ended their tour at the seawall stretching across the coast at varying heights, with a more nuanced understanding of the ongoing tragedy of the events of 3.11. Thank you to Kyle Cleveland, David Satterwhite, and all of the YCAPS volunteers and participants who made this learning experience possible.