Three years after Japan suffered one of the world’s worst natural disasters and nuclear accidents.

Safia and James Minney founded People Tree in Japan more than twenty years ago. Today on the three year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster, Safia reflects on what progress has been made – and what remains to be done.

Safia Minney in Japan one year after Fukushima
Safia Minney in Japan one year after Fukushima

3 Years Ago TODAY

I was standing in the streets of Tokyo outside the People Tree office holding my colleague Masako tightly. Telegraph poles and wires flapped wildly, buildings swayed – we felt surely the concrete road would crack open as it does in the movies.
The roads did crack open in Tohoku, although not Tokyo. Nearly 20,000 people perished in the tsunami. We later learned the Fukushima nuclear plant was in a critical state, melting down and pouring out radioactive waste. Foreigners like me were leaving Japan. Days later we were told if we go outside to wear raincoats to protect ourselves as the radioactive waste fell, contaminating the farm lands and cities over huge areas of Japan. Even today radioactive pollution continues to flow into the sea at an alarming rate.
The government denies the effects of this radiation – and no one believes them anymore. Those who could afford to move have uprooted their young families and moved to other regions of Japan. But what about people who could not?

Rebuilding Japan

The tragedy raised the international profile of the Japanese as a selfless and caring people. This could have been Japan’s opportunity to develop itself into the pioneer of green technology and renewable energy, creating more jobs and a new economy. Instead, Prime Minister Abe is marketing Japanese nuclear technology in the UAE and Turkey. Is it too late to get back on the eco track?

Trust, Transparency and Accountability

Few Japanese people believe the Japanese government on radiation, contamination, safety, and the use of funds. One scandal after another has made the public dismayed and angry at the lies and contradictions on the health of their nation and the food they eat and the use of funds, and angry that corporate interest is undermining long term plans for a healthy and safe economy. If Tokyo Electric has been allowed to pay only £9,000 compensation per person each year for up to five years in the case of their losing everything – their homes, their livelihood due to the radioactive contamination of the land and sea where they used to work and fish – what chance is there for real justice?

The Future

It isn’t too late to change track. Japan has recently changed regulation to allow small renewable energy providers to supply energy and the growth of solar powered electricy is huge – 90% last year. Still this represents only 2% of energy production in Japan. The Japanese government can invest in and subsidize renewable energy, making a genuine commitment to building a renewable energy supply. Japan can also promote energy efficiency in industry, reducing Japan’s trade deficit and building a sustainable economy for the future. Japan could be promoting technology overseas to decommission nuclear power plants, not build them.

Rural development in the tsunami affected areas is being pioneered by social business and grass roots organisation Iriyado in Minami Sanriku, which took the main hit in the tsunami:

“The most important thing is to bring young people into the area to enjoy and study the ecology and volunteer. Iriyado is a guest house we built where up to 50 people can stay. People Tree’s donations helped open the centre and it’s become a really lively place. It will take time to rebuild the community – but we won’t give up.” -Tadayoshi Abe, Leader of Iriyado Project

Lessons can be learnt from citizens’ movements to bring large scale positive change. Three years is a long time to wait but the Japanese government can act now and creative positive change.

Watch the film Safia Minney created 1 year after Fukishima.

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