By Dave Patterson
We visited with Chieko Shiina, mother and organic farmer – whose life was tied to the earth, when she came to San Diego on July 7, 2011 to help us understand what happened to the people of Japan when the earthquake and tsunami destroyed the Fukushimi Diachi nuclear plant, and what she and others have done there. What we learned is that the nightmare has only begun for the people of Japan, and how the efforts of Chieko Shiina and others are empowering the people to help themselves, as the Japanese government appears powerless, to help.
Chieko’s organic farm was 25 miles away from Fukushima when the disaster struck, and she had to stop growing food because of the nuclear contamination. Later when the radiation reached levels that equaled a continuous mammogram (0.7mSieverts), she moved to Fukushima city. Unfortunately the standard down-wind models of airborne radiation contamination do not apply, as there are now many places in Japan at great distances from Fukushima that are very contaminated. Hot spots in Fukushima City itself measure 10~30mS or higher, the equivalent of living in a full body CT scan 24 hours a day. Japan right now is not a healthy place to be, particularly for children and women.
In her new home Chieko began a life as an anti-nuclear energy activist, amid a government onslaught of good news that the place is safe to live.Part of her effort has been to demonstrate the dangers of nuclear energy, and they culminated in a recent protest in Tokyo with at least 150,000 angry citizens demanding the elimination of nuclear power. They put up a tent at the health ministry in Tokyo and filled it on a continuous basis with 3,000 women volunteers that has since grown to 7,000. They are contemplating filling it with for a year with pregnant women, hoping to get some movement from the government. Sadly, it looks like Fukushima city is on it’s own to build a public clinic where the doctors and nurses aren’t keeping the perils from the patients, and providing no mental health support. In Fukushima city when someone coughs fear takes over.
The story she told us was empowering and frightening. Empowering because we can learn to take control of our situation if such a crisis happens here, and frightening because we too can expect our government to tell us everything is OK despite the life-threatening hazards we may face. Empowering again as a reminder of what may happen at San Onofre if allowed to start up again, less than 50 miles from my home in Ramona. Frightening again as we learned that the Japanese government is collecting the radioactive waste, burning it in trash incinerators without exhaust filters, and dumping the ash in the ocean for a long slow ride on ocean currents to the California’s coast.
The cleanup is being performed by very large corporations funded by the taxpayer with money that could be used for clinics and relocation of citizens. The same large corporations that built the reactors, using taxpayer money that should have been spent on alternative and cleaner energy. From this experience they find themselves in solidarity with the Occupy movement, the 99% facing the 1%.
After the disaster Chieko helped people gain access to Geiger counters, so that now most people carry them. They are educated on how to scan their food, how to wash it and on disposal of the contaminated water. Things that we take for granted here can be deadly in such an environment. They have found that decontamination of Fukushima is actually impossible, and that either the people leave or stay in a bath of DNA disrupting contamination, with their kids bleeding from their noses and old people dropping dead for unknown reasons. However, departure for many is difficult, facing no jobs, no family or friends, and the potential for an isolated and improvised life in a foreign place. Relocation is actually discouraged by the government because they are barraging the public with propaganda that Fukushima is safe for all. After a while people give up thinking about change and accept this fate.
So far, 30,000 children have been moved away, but 300,000 remain. Chieko and friends have started a drive to find homes for all the children that can or will leave. The future for children growing up is such an environment is very grim as they are the most susceptible to long-term effects of even low doses of radiation. Already Berkeley, CA. and the government of Italy have given respite for some children of Fukushima with temporary homes while they detox, but this effort isn’t making a dent in the overall population.
Self protection is also part of the citizen’s effort, how to use respirators or dust masks, how to check themselves for contamination, and how to remove it without spreading it around. Finding food that is less contaminated required that they setup a food co-op and continuous mindfulness of what they are doing is necessary. With the findings of many children with Cesium –137 in their urine, the need for awareness on frequent screening is urgent. The need for radiation monitors where the data is made public in real-time are among the efforts of Chieko and friends, and this idea has taken root in our area already. What we learn from Chieko and others in Fukushima may be the best we can hope for right now, and taking action to keep our environment nuclear free in the short term may be our best bet. To me, keeping San Onofre shut down is a must and a beginning for a sustainable Southern California.
Dave Patterson is a member of the San Diego Veterans For Peace, www.sdvfp.org, a co-sponsor of this event. For more information contact Dave Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org No Nukes Action Committee,http://nonukesaction.