The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 19. 2011  
May 9, 2011  
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In This Issue


We continue to feature perspectives on Japan's 3.11 earthquake/tsunami. Christine Marran examines the Fukushima disaster in light of Minamata disease. David McNeill and Nanko Otani report from Ground Zero at the nuclear power plant at Hamaoko, Shizuoka, that the Japanese government has now decided to close in light of high risk of earthquake destruction. And M.V. Ramana offers a scientist's assessment of energy and risk in the nuclear power industry.

Many of our most import  articles on 3.11  appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" zeroes in on breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, at times on a daily basis, and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it.

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Christine Marran, Contamination: From Minamata to Fukushima


On 22 March 2011, an exhausting court battle finally ended for over 2000 victims of mercury poisoning in Kumamoto and Kagoshima prefectures. In sum, the agreement, decades in the making, was as follows as outlines in the Japan Times (31 March): "Chisso will provide some 90 percent of the plaintiffs with a 2.1 million lump sum each as well as a 2.29 billion fund, and the central and prefectural governments will shoulder part of their medical costs." Chisso Corporation's dumping of methyl-mercury in nearby waters caused Minamata disease, as the painful ailment came to be known after it was first recognized in 1956. Half a century later, time is running out for these victims to receive the official recognition they deserve, as their bodies are growing increasingly frail. The mercury that poisoned their bodies was carried through the fish they ate and accumulated as it moved up the trophic tiers in a process called biomagnifications. In this process persistent poisons, such as mercury, concentrate in the upper echelons of the food chain. In biomagnification, organisms at the top of the chain carry higher levels of toxicity in their fatty tissues.

The author reflects on the Minamata experience in light of the Fukushima catastrophe.

Christine Marran teaches Japanese literature and film at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Poison Woman: figuring female transgression in modern Japanese culture and is currently writing a book on Japanese environmental literature.  She will travel to Japan this summer on a National Science Foundation grant to research toxins and engineered landscapes in the aftermath of the tsunami.

Recommended citation: Christine Marran, Contamination: From Minamata to Fukushima, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 19 No 1, May 9, 2011.

 Read more . . .  
David McNeill and Nanoko Otani, Waiting for Doomsday: Living next to the 'world's most dangerous nuclear power plant.'

Watanabe Norihiko is pointing to his home, 600 meters from what he calls the most dangerous nuclear power complex on the planet. "There's nothing like it anywhere in the world," he says, eyes widening. "If it blows up, we're all finished."

For years, Mr. Watanabe's unofficial tour of Omaezeki, a small city of about 30,000 people, has included a pit stop at the exhibition center in the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant. The center, complete with cartoon figures for children, says the energy it generates is safe, cheap and clean: One section explains how seawater discharged from the plant's cooling system is used to incubate shellfish.

From the observation deck of the center, the five-reactor complex can be seen nestling between a bank of trees and the azure Pacific.  Just beyond its gates is Omaezeki, foregrounded by a peninsula of rolling emerald countryside with neat lines of tea trees stretches into the distance.   The tea and fish from the sea provided the area's main income until Chubu Electric Power Company came 40 years ago.

The human perspective on the Japanese government's decision to close the dangerous Hamoko reactor.

Recommended citation: David McNeill, Waiting for Doomsday: Living next to the 'world's most dangerous nuclear power plant,' The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 19 No 2, May 9, 2011.

Read more . . . 

M.V. Ramaana, Nuclear Energy and Risk

How was "risk" to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant calculated? Could risk projections run by successive cabinets and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency predict internal cover-ups of safety defects or plant-owner TEPCO's shelving of arguments by scientists and anti-nuclear activists that securing the plant against tsunami up to 5.7 meters, a number that now seems woefully small given the 15 meter wave that struck on March 11, was inadequate? 

On April 19, M.V. Ramana, a prominent physicist at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University, published a critical take on risk assessment in the atomic energy industry in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The article highlights some of the systemic problems that led to the Fukushima crisis and warns about remaining blind spots

 Read more . . .