After the nuclear meltdown: inside post-Fukushima Daiichi Japan

Cooking vegetables with bottled water,  avoiding produce from the Fukushima area, and speculating about when Prime Minister Naoto Kan will quit.  Dissatisfaction with government and nuclear regulatory agency.   Shikata ga nai -- it just can't be helped.
Can anyone do better? Welcome to post nuclear meltdown Japan.

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Speech by Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at Tokyo University. Click "CC" for English subtitles.

In the months that have passed since the March 11 earthquake devastated Northeast Japan, updates about the country's nuclear crisis have continued to unsettle people around the world. B.C. has seen an alarming spike in radioactivity levels. Imports from the region such as beef and seafood were banned or limited after studies found them to have been contaminated with radiation.

Public demand to phase out nuclear power has led the government to require Japanese citizens in July to slash electricity use by 15 per cent in order to end the country's reliance on nuclear power plants.

Still, the view from Japan is strangely calm.

Japanese residents shared their view this week with the Vancouver Observer about the nuclear crisis, food safety issues and the impact of the government's anti-nuclear policies. 

Little news about radiation

"The radiation in the water and food is still a huge problem," said Nahoko Yamada, a resident of Yokohama, Japan. "Sure, there are activists who urge people to support the quake-hit regions by buying food from that area. But if I had a choice between vegetables from around Fukushima or from down south in Kyushu, I'd honestly buy from Kyushu. I'm worried about food safety. Also, my relatives have small kids, so they've been cooking everything with bottled mineral water, not tap water.

"I don't get much news about radiation levels here, or even about the reconstruction. The media here is completely absorbed with guessing when Prime Minister Naoto Kan is going to quit -- that's their main focus now.

"I doubt anyone is really satisfied with our government, or TEPCO (the company in charge of the Fukushima nuclear power plant). They're always making new statements about the radiation that contradict their previous ones.

"But then again can anyone else do better? No one knows what to believe or who to trust anymore."

Near Fukushima, love-hate relationship with nuclear power

Hiro Watanabe, a film editor from Tokyo who spent two months volunteering in the quake-affected Miyagi Prefecture, said that food safety was a primary concern among Japanese. 
"Recently, at the Tokyo Grain Exchange, rice futures have traded again for the first time in 70 years," he said, adding that people were rushing to buy up rice that was harvested last year.
Watanabe said that many of the hardest-hit people have often expressed mixed feelings about nuclear power.

"Many people have benefited through jobs and financial compensation for having a nuclear facility in their area," he explained. "So there's this reality where they can't say they're opposed to nuclear power, even if they want to get rid of it. Oddly enough, the people who can voice their opinions relatively clearly are the residents of cities and regions that are further away from Fukushima and affected areas."

"Within Japan, there are a considerable number of nuclear power facilities. So there are quite a few people who swallow their pride to deal with more immediate concerns. Even among evacuees of the nuclear power plant, I found that many people were saying shikata ga nai -- it just can't be helped.

"Still, I do believe everyone understands that we need to stop relying on nuclear power. You don't hear the owners of small businesses or CEOs of corporations complaining about this policy. Not many people have been saying this energy-saving scheme has slowed down our reconstruction efforts."

"Sick and tired" of energy-saving requirements 

Not everyone, however, is happy with the Kan administration's demands for the public to save electricity. Takuya N., an auto company employee, expressed his frustration with the government's handling of the crisis.

"It's like we're tightening a noose around our own necks with this new energy-saving scheme," he said. "As it is, our economy has been hit hard by this crisis, and now they're telling us to save electricity and weaken our industries? It's terrible -- and all just empty rhetoric. We may as well move our factories overseas." 

Although he is concerned about the radiation levels in his country, he expressed his "unpopular view" that getting rid of nuclear power was not the solution. 

"We should gradually wean ourselves from nuclear power, maybe, but not all at once like we're doing now," he said. "I'm personally tired of all the TV commercials telling people to save electricity. I am sick and tired of the dark streets at night. Our government is overreacting, and I don't even want to think of how this nuclear fallout will affect  us 10 years from now." 

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