A Firsthand Account of the Japanese Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster
Japanese citizen Nobuko Tsukui delivered the ‘Greeting’ at the Lincoln NFP Chapter “Annual Lantern Float” last August commemorating the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nobuko, who took her Ph.D. at UNL in the ’60s, is a distinguished critic of American poetry and translator of Japanese poetry and prose. She has written about the poet Ezra Pound, worked with author John Gardner, translated the writings of the Japanese novelist Hotta and many other Japanese works, and published a number of essays on 19th-century American literature. She is also a member of Nebraskans for Peace. Recently she sent her journals and reflections on the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in Japan. Her reflections may help us to understand what Japanese people—who are not at the center of the catastrophe but still feel its power—experience in these times. These reflections were not intended for publication, but I asked Nobuko’s permission to condense them for posting on the NFP website. (Paul Olson)
#1: March 16
I just realized that I have more than a dozen friends living in the U.S., who are concerned about me, especially after the horrendous earthquake of March 11. Until now I have tried to respond individually to each of you. But for the time being, please allow me to send my e-mail to all of you simultaneously. Because I believe you (in the U.S.) are getting the reports, pictures, statistics, etc. on this present disaster from TV, newspapers, the Internet, etc., I will write more about what is taking place around me, as a kind of reflection of, or a glimpse at, the effects felt in Tokyo of the devastation in the northern part of Japan.
Our ‘Greater Tokyo area’ is divided into 5 groups and each group gets a ‘power shutdown’ according to the rotating schedule. For my area (Group #2), it started on the 15th, Tuesday, for 2 hours. Yesterday (and for the foreseeable future) it was changed to 3 hours. Yesterday was a cold day in Tokyo, and so, it became uncomfortable—without heat in my room—after the first hour, but I must not complain. At least I a.m. safe and well-protected. And after three hours, I got light, heat, and comfort back. Today I was able to cope with the ‘power outage’ better. For one thing, there was the sunlight—that helped. (I composed part of this e-mail during the three hours without electricity—I wrote by hand at my desk.)
I and others speak of ‘aftershocks.’ But that word may be inaccurate in some cases. Since the initial quake, there have been both ‘aftershocks’ and genuine quakes which are NOT ‘aftershocks’ of the initial gigantic tremor. It’s true that near the epicenter of the initial quake (Magnitude 9.0—hereafter, ‘M. 9.0’) of 3/11, 2:46 p.m., numerous ‘aftershocks’ have occurred. As of 3/14 a.m. at least 170 aftershocks of M. 5.0 or more were counted. Most notably, the initial quake (M. 9.0, 3/11, 2:46 p.m.) was followed by three BIG aftershocks within an hour: first, M. 7.5, at 3:08 p.m.; second, M. 7.3, at 3:15 p.m.; third, M. 7.4, at 3:25 p.m.
Then, Four separate quakes—not NOT aftershocks—occurred:
- 3/12 (Saturday), in the Japan Sea, M. 6.4; inland in northern Nagano, M. 6.7
- 3/15 (Tuesday), in eastern Shizuoka, 10:30 p.m. (M. 5.0 ?)*
- 3/16 (Wednesday), off the coast of Chiba, 12:55 p.m. (M. 5.0?)
- 3/16 in southern Ibaraki , 10:39 p.m. (M. 5.3)
Except for the first one, the remaining four all occurred close to Tokyo. That is to say that I felt all of them while I was in my room.
* A note on the quake of 3/15, 10:30 p.m.:
On that day, in my area, the scheduled power outage came from 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. I was trying to relax after the power was back. Then, the quake came at 10:30. It was very severe and lasted for a long time—the first big quake that was felt in my area after the 3/11 quake. I felt then that if the quake came BEFORE the power was back (that is, if I had to cope with the BIG tremor in the darkness), I would have felt more scared.
The situation at the nuclear power plants seems getting worse almost by the hour. Also, the number of the dead is predicted to be over ten thousand.
#2: March 17-18
Because of the cold temperature in and around Tokyo, and also because commuter trains have run nearly at the regular scale for most of the day, power consumption has reached nearly the capacity limit. About 6:00 p.m. tonight, 2½ hours ago, an announcement was televised to the effect that tomorrow, the scheduled power shutdown would be fully, perhaps more than fully (i.e., some groups might get additional hours of shutdown) enforced. That would mean for my area (Group #2), the power shutdown will be for 3 hours in the morning (9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.) and for 3 hours in the afternoon (4:50 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.). This schedule would make it nearly impossible for me to start my computer to write and send an e-mail to you. So, while I can, I will send you my second e-mail for the day. What I write may or may not be worth reading, but something that I was compelled to write.
An earthquake of Magnitude 9.0 is considered to be a ‘once in 1,000 years’ event. Then the tsunami followed. The devastation has been literally ‘immeasurable.’ Several communities along the coast which were hit by the tsunami have been ‘wiped out.’ Nearly all the houses and other structures are gone in these places. It occurred to me that if we were not living in our ‘civilization,’ the devastation might have been different. The examples below might explain why I thought of ‘civilization’:
- I saw on TV one pier (exclusively used and operated for Nissan Auto Co.) where 1,000 brand new ‘luxury’ passenger cars were to have been loaded on a freighter heading for the U.S.). About half of them apparently got hit by the tsunami, jammed against each other; and about a third of them were burnt (each burned vehicle retained the original structure/shape but was clearly damaged and discolored).
- I also saw on TV a graphic ‘moving picture’ taken by someone who managed to reach a safe hilltop. The picture showed the rushing tidal wave going over the outer embankment first, then moving on to and going over the dike which separates the outer embankment and the road and beyond the road into the village streets. Several boats along the embankment were pushed on to the road, and the cars floated and some banged against the buildings.
- Another photo (also taken by a survivor) showed a fairly large fishing vessel being tossed by the tsunami, then being rushed against a steel bridge before falling on its side into the water.
Since March 11, I could not help recalling all the accounts and writings by the hibakusha [survivors] of the atomic bombing.
As I understand from the reports, the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plants owned and operated by the Tokyo Power Co. withstood the earthquake. But the tsunami that followed the earthquake caused ‘unforeseen’ damage. And the whole world is watching the continuing and, thus far, worsening development.
I'm writing this part at 8:20 a.m., 3/18 (Friday). Last night, I was going to continue, but, at 9:21 p.m., the severe earthquake alert was issued. I had my TV on, and so, I quickly had to shut down my computer. And two quakes followed that alert.
In less than an hour, today’s first power blackout will begin. I hope to write—by hand during the three hours without power—more, and sometime later, I hope to send that portion in the next e-mail.
#4: March 20
Yesterday and today, we had some respite from the scheduled blackout. For tomorrow, earlier this evening the announcement was made: three out of five areas will have no blackout; the decision for the remaining two areas will be announced by noon tomorrow. And, of course, my area is one of the remaining two. Tomorrow is Japan’s national holiday. So, fewer workers will go to work, and so, electricity consumption is expected to be less than what it would be on a work day. However, the weather is NOT cooperating. We will have a rainy day tomorrow with much lower temperatures than today or yesterday. If my area gets a blackout, it will be from 3:20 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Today I found that, among my immediate family members, I am the only one whose area has experienced blackout. My oldest brother and his family, the family of my second brother who died two years ago, and my deceased sister’s (Reiko) husband—these three families live in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. My younger brother and his family live in Toshima-ku, Tokyo. My niece, the older daughter of my sister Reiko, and her family live in Suginami-ku, Tokyo. None of them has experienced any blackout last week. I was very concerned especially for my oldest brother—his wife is completely bed-ridden; she is completely unable to do anything, although she is conscious, can speak, can take food and water by mouth, but always with the help of someone. She lies in her bed with her face up and she needs to keep the oxygen inhaler on at all times. If their area should get a blackout, my brother would have to prepare for it to insure that his wife’s oxygen inhaler functions without interruption.
This e-mail will have various ‘reports’ and/or observations.
- On March 14 (Mon.), the Keio Line, the only commuter train line that runs in my area—Tama-shi—stopped running west of Chofu Station. My area—the closest train station is named “Seiseki-Sakuragaoka,” located about four minutes’ walk from my condominium—is near the 3rd major stop to the west beyond Chofu Station. Therefore, on that day, we living in Tama-shi were not able to ride on the train.
- On and after March 15, in my area, the Post Office, doctor’s offices, and stores (grocery stores included) have had to open or close according to the scheduled blackout. There are three grocery stores within 5 minutes’ walk from my condo. At two of them, from 3/15 to 3/18, they had to regulate the entrance of customers at the door: only 50 people at one time were allowed to enter the store; and shoppers were not allowed to use shopping carts to discourage their buying too many items. Today, I went to one that opened at 10:00 a.m. at about 10:30 a.m. There were no regulation numbers allowed entrance. But in the store, on many shelves, the sign, “Only one item per customer, Please,” was posted. And also there were many shelves where there was no merchandise. Packages of 12-roll toilet paper were among the first items that were ‘sold out.’ Batteries were gone, I understand, almost as soon as the earthquake subsided on March 11.
I understand that in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, Japanese citizens’ exemplary behavior in the face of the ‘unprecedented’ disaster has been reported. But of course not every individual is behaving properly—some examples:
- A man stood in front of a train station in Tokyo, holding a box with “Donate money to the earthquake victims” written on it, and soliciting passers-by to donate. Someone who put his money in the box apparently watched the guy with the box. Then this person who gave his money saw the rascal walking to a nearby fast food store; so he followed the guy and saw him buy some food and pay for it by taking the money out of the donation box. According to the news report, the vigilant person caught the rascal and took him to a nearby police station. The rascal was arrested. He was quoted as saying, “I am out of job, and I was hungry…”
- At three grade schools which had withstood/survived the earthquake and tsunami, within several hours on one day (maybe 3/17), the small containers (filled with gasoline for emergency use for the school-owned motor vehicles) which were stored in the school building under lock and key at each school had been stolen. The report speculated that the thief must have stolen the gasoline-filled containers for re-sale. The gasoline shortage is pervasive in all Japan.
Before I close this e-mail: the death toll is rapidly increasing—that is, as the work on the devastated areas progresses, with more people and more equipment being brought to these areas, more and more dead bodies are being found. Yesterday at noon, the report on TV announced the number of the dead as 7,197. Today, I kept my notes: at 7 a.m. – 7,653; at noon – 8,133; at 3 p.m. – 8,199; and at 7 p.m. – 8,277.
One more point: the people desperately working at the nuclear power plant at Fukushima—the engineers of the Tokyo Power Co., the hyper rescue team members (who belong to the Fire Defense Agency), the members selected from the Japan Self Defense Forces, and the members selected from the Metropolitan Police Headquarters—should be given the highest honor, respect and awards; they are exposing themselves to the worst conditions imaginable in ‘peace time,’ fighting against the colossal hazard produced by nuclear science and technology. The commander of the hyper rescue team last night spoke after his team’s mission was over: “My wife sent her e-mail message to me: ‘Please become the savior of this country.’ I told her, ‘I shall try to return alive—by all means possible.’”
#5: March 22-24
First of all, I wish to express my appreciation for what the U.S. is doing to help the surviving victims along the coast of the devastated region. At the news at 7:00 p.m. today (3/22), I learned that 20 U.S. aircraft carriers, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, are being deployed along the coast of the devastated region, and helicopters carrying food and other relief supplies are dispatched from those aircraft carriers. The pilot of one helicopter—a Caucasian male—was shown on the news. He flew over the devastated region and spotted ‘with his own eyes’ what looked like stranded groups of refugees—a total of 17 such groups over the stretch of the coast hit by the tsunami. He landed to deliver food and other relief goods to all 17 groups/places!! The report also showed two older Japanese women crying with joy and thanking the American pilot who handed them the relief items.
March 22 (Tuesday), 2011 (Blackout: 1:00 p.m. – 3:55 p.m. @ Tama-Shi)
(I was planning to send one e-mail on March 22, so, I started with the heading above, but I was too tired at the end of the day to do so.)
The content of this e-mail [#5] is fragmentary.
(I should also explain something about my mental state. Yesterday, 3/22, marked Day 12 since the big earthquake and tsunami of 3/11. And I started to feel that I needed to find some ways to ‘refresh myself’ or even to ‘make myself laugh.’ Shortly after the blackout began, I sat at my desk and started to write—the main purpose was to tell you what is or was taking place around me, but also in the process of writing, I found, from time to time, that there could be something funny or ironic in what I was trying to describe. This discovery had some therapeutic effect. Some of the details in this e-mail may or may not have any informative value to you, but I went ahead and included them.)
(3/22) I had a quick lunch and was getting ready for the blackout. I turned off my TV and air conditioner (about 12:20 p.m.). Then I felt an earthquake. I turned on my radio (battery-operated) and heard the report: “an earthquake in Chiba Prefecture (a neighboring prefecture to Tokyo); no tsunami,” at 12:38 p.m.
As I live in a 11-story condominium, the water-supply for the building is electrically operated. So, when there is a power outage (I'm calling it ‘blackout’), there is no running water. So, we residents of this condominium need to prepare for each of the 3-hour blackouts. I have devised my own method, but I shall spare you the details for decency’s sake…
The first blackout in my area was on March 15 (Tuesday), from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. I finished my evening meal early and got all the dishes washed, etc. (I don't own a dishwasher.) I also heated water and filled one 2-liter PET bottle with hot water. I covered the bottle with a towel and put it in my bed, at the position where my feet would come. I had extra layers of sweaters, etc. on me.
When the blackout schedule was issued, I took out two candles (which, incidentally, were purchased many years ago in the U.S.). Before the first day of blackout, I tested and made sure I could light them. But I have not used them. The use of candles is not encouraged for fear of causing fire.
About three years ago I went to an IKEA store in Tokyo with my niece's family. At this Tokyo IKEA store, I bought an ornamental light operated with three AA batteries. It is a bird that looks like a dove sitting on a narrow stem about 5 inches tall that stands on the base where the batteries are put. All parts of the bird are made of ‘unbreakable’ material, ‘Made in China.’ The on-off switch is at the bottom of the base. When you turn the switch on and light the tiny bulb about the size of a pea, the bird ‘glows’ in pleasant blue.
The first night of our blackout I discovered at least two things about this ornamental light. First, the darker the room, the brighter the bird seems to glow. My other discovery requires a little longer narration.
In my kitchen, I keep a mirror that stands on the floor—about 6 feet tall—taller than my height. When the mega-earthquake came, this mirror which was standing against the wall near the walk-in closet slid a little but did not fall; it somehow leaned over the five-drawer filing cabinet. Thus, the mirror was intact, survived the quake wonderfully for me. After the quake, I moved the mirror to a safer position.
When the light went off and the room got dark, I turned on the blue bird. Then I noted this mirror. So I placed the mirror about a foot from the glowing bird; and now I saw two glowing blue birds! I thought that part of the room looked brighter. I got a bit carried away. I brought out another small mirror that can stand on its own frame. This way, in the dark room I had multiple—not just three, you know, depending on where you stand in relation to the two mirrors—blue birds! One real and others reflected in the mirrors.
About 7:30 p.m., the NPR news was on the radio. So, in my dark room, I felt very much ‘at home,’ listening to the NPR news. After the news was a program (I don't know the title) featuring “Ed Schultz” who says—in a tone obviously (and may I say rightfully) highly critical, even indignant, that in the state of Wisconsin the existence of labor unions is being threatened. When I turned on the radio and tuned in this station a couple of days later, I caught the announcement: “Our programming is based as much as possible on the requests from the listeners; so, we run the NPR news; then the Ed Schultz Show followed by the Rush Limbaugh Show.”
Today (3/23), my area lucked out—we were scheduled to have two 3-hour blackouts, but both were cancelled. But our schedule for tomorrow is ‘with a vengeance’: 6:20 to 10:00 a.m. AND 1:50 to 5:30 p.m.!!
Strong earthquakes (I use this name, rather than ‘aftershocks’) have been occurring since last night:
3/22 – 12:38 p.m. (shortly after noon, mentioned above); 6:19 p.m. (M. 6.3—off the coast of Fukushima); 9:05 p.m.; 10:52 p.m.
3/23 – 7:12 a.m.; 7:34 a.m.; 7:36 a.m. (M. 5.8); 7:53 a.m. ; 8:47 a.m. (M. 5.0)
The number of the discovered dead bodies is still increasing:
3/21 at noon 8,649
3/22 6:00 p.m. 9,079
3/23 at noon 9,408
#6: March 31
The ongoing worsening situation at the Fukushima nuclear power plants reminds me of a number of things. I recall the words of Jonathan Schell in his book, The Fate of The Earth, 1982:
“The earth is the largest of the support systems for life, and the impairment of the earth is the largest of the perils posed by nuclear weapons.” (p.23)
Schell is talking about “nuclear weapons,” but the current disaster tells us that what is supposed to be the peaceful use of nuclear energy can cause and is causing “the perils” in the northern part of Japan.
Again Schell: “One day—and it is hard to believe that it will not be soon—we will make our choice. Either we will sink into the final coma and end it all or, as I trust and believe, we will awaken to the truth of our peril, a truth as great as life itself, and, like a person who has swallowed a lethal poison but shakes off his stupor at the last moment and vomits the poison up, we will break through the layers of our denials, put aside our fainthearted excuses, and rise up to cleanse the earth of nuclear weapons.” (p. 231)
From what we have observed since March 12 when the Fukushima nuclear power plants problems were reported, I feel that Schell’s warning against “nuclear weapons” should be applied to nuclear energy. I realize that we in Tokyo have been using electricity generated at this nuclear power plant. The plant supplies not 100% but about 20% of the electricity used in Tokyo, and so, we will be accused of hypocrisy when we speak against nuclear energy. But the enormity of the disaster at Fukushima should be our chance to reexamine our dependency on the nuclear energy.
On March 30, the (female) CEO of AREVA and its five specialists arrived in Tokyo. I understand that this company has the world’s most experienced team and the most advanced knowhow, technology, equipment concerning the problems related to nuclear energy power plants. It’s good to have an organization somewhere on this planet that is capable of those things. And I sincerely hope that AREVA’s work in Japan will be effective. (But I could not help feeling very despondent, when I think of the cause of the present disaster…)
A few days ago, the report was published that the earthquake of March 11 had the energy equivalent of 44,000 of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima.
Today’s (3/31) Japanese language paper (Asahi) reported this news: 30 years ago, in the U.S., a simulation was run and its result was reported to the NRC [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] about what would happen if all the sources of electric power were lost at a nuclear power plant. In the U.S., the NRC’s subsequent nuclear safety regulations were based on this reported result. In Japan, on the other hand, the loss of all the sources of electric power at a nuclear power plant as a hypothetical case was in effect dismissed. But the article states that what has taken place at Fukushima this time resembles the simulation presented 30 years ago.
On March 30, the TV news showed the American Red Cross collected the donation of $120,000,000 and presented the sum at the Embassy of Japan. As a Japanese citizen, I would like to express my deepest gratitude.
When the earthquake struck, at a grade school along the devastated coast, the school children were taken out of the classrooms and the school building and were assembled on the school ground; before they could take the next step with their teachers, the gigantic tsunami wave rushed in and about 70% of the assembled children are still unaccounted for. The scene that a report like this brings to my mind’s eye again makes me think of the school children who gathered on the school ground and perished in an instant as the atom bomb was dropped in Hiroshima:
The big bones must be the teacher's;
Nearby are gathered small skull bones. (A "tanka" poem by Shoda Shinoe)
#7: 4/1: I decided to go to see the Goya exhibit in Tokyo. The late Hotta Yoshie wrote Judgment, a novel on the subject of the 1945 atomic bombing of Japan (I did the English translation, which was published in 1994). He also published the award-winning tetralogy entitled Goya (1976). Let me quote Hotta’s words on Goya’s “Los Desastres de la Guerra”:
[Goya represents] the birth of the artist as the witness, testifier, and even as the accuser, of the times. (GOYA, Vol. 3, p. 230)
The era would come when the masses of people would be slaughtered all at once by inorganic industrial products, namely, by the faceless machinery of violence. Through the hands of Goya, we are compelled to witness the dawn of that era. GOYA (Vol. 3, p.274) (Both quotes are from the Japanese original, translated by Nobuko Tsukui.)
This happens not only in war. Look at our nuclear plants.
On my way to the dentist in the morning, and again on my way to the Goya exhibit, I passed by a number of vending machines for beverages. In every machine that I checked, the ‘mineral water’ was sold out! And in the grocery stores, the mineral water section was either empty, or if it was not empty, the sign was up: “Only one per customer.” I mentioned in my earlier e-mail that toilet paper was among the first items to be sold out. This situation remained the same for a long time. As I left the exhibit and walked back toward the metro station, I came to what looked like a drug store. On the shelves that stood outside the store facing the sidewalk I saw MANY packages of 12 rolls of toilet paper for sale. I was tempted to buy a package, and looked at the price—it was about 250% of the price I was accustomed to pay for the merchandise. As I had a long way to go riding the metro and transferring to the train to get home, I decided not to buy the toilet paper here. I do not regret my decision.)
As I could see, many shops along the streets that I walked this day posted the sign: “In order to conserve electricity, we have turned off some of the lights. Please bear with us.”
The Keio Line train that I ride turns off the heat, and for much of the time, except when the train goes underground, turns off the light in the passenger cars. At the stations of the Keio Line and of the metro, the ceiling lights are dimmed, and the escalators, especially going down, are stopped. At my closest station, “Seiseki-Sakuragaoka Station,” NO escalators are operated. Luckily, I don’t have serious problems with my knees—I have been doing exercises to strengthen the muscles of the legs—so that going up and down the stairs would not bother me. For the physically challenged people, the elevators are available.
Today, April 1 (Friday), the announcement has been issued: no blackout through Monday, April 4. And I believe It’s no ‘April Fool’s Day Joke’.
Number of the dead: 11,578 (at Noon)
Before I close, in my e-mail #6, I mentioned that the CEO and five other specialists of AREVA arrived in Japan on 3/30. Then, on 3/31, the French President also arrived. And, belatedly—I am ashamed of my ignorance—I learned that France is the leading promoter of the nuclear energy in the world and that AREVA is not really a private corporation but almost entirely ‘owned’ and subsidized by the French government. So, now I see that the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is extremely grievous for France. Of course, we in Japan should welcome all the help to deal with the horrendous situation at Fukushima; but, I still think very strongly that we need to re-examine our dependency on nuclear energy. And also this morning, the news showed the representatives of General Electric (GE)—the manufacturer of the reactors at Fukushima—they vehemently declared that their products are absolutely safe and flawless (not the exact quotation). Are they really?
From what I could gather from the TV news/reports and the newspaper, the U.S. is really giving tremendously generous, practical and needed help in terms of manpower, equipment, hardware, software and so on. (My reference to the U.S. helicopter pilot’s mission is only one of many valuable contributions by the U.S.) Even unmanned aircraft have been deployed, according to the news report. Or is that something that I only dreamed? ...
#8: April 3-4
I have been studying the atomic bomb literature for over 25 years, but I have not pursued the problems related to ‘the peaceful use of nuclear energy.’ It’s true that I have some knowledge of the nuclear disaster at the Three Mile Island and another and much worse disaster at Chernobyl. Furthermore, in 1999, when the disaster at the nuclear power plant in Tokai Mura (Ibaraki Prefecture) occurred, I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, travelling with Ms. Hayashi Kyoko, a Nagasaki hibakusha author. We were to visit Trinity Site in White Sands Missile Range, NM, the next day (the first Saturday of October—Trinity Site is open to public on only two days each year: the first Saturday of April and October). We learned about the terrible accident on the evening TV news in our hotel room. I remember the comments by an American woman who was interviewed by the reporter. She said something to the effect: “I live near the nuclear power plant, but I feel safe, because I know we don’t use buckets in the nuclear plant in this country.” (She was referring to the reported fact that the Japanese workers at the Tokai Mura power plant were carrying the radiation contaminated water using the buckets.) I was appalled to learn this fact—that the power company (JCO) should allow its workers to do such an incredible thing, and that the workers were not informed of the potential (or rather, existing) danger of his work. (As the world knows, this disaster caused two workers to die of severe radiation exposure. Moreover, Japan had to bring two medical specialists from the U.S. to treat these two critically ill patients as their condition grew worse in the hospital. But even the U.S. medical expertise could not save the two Japanese workers.)
Now we have the horrifying situation at the nuclear power plant at Fukushima. As I reported in my e-mail #3, the representatives of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima plant) were quoted as saying that the damage to the reactors caused by the tsunami were “unforeseen.” I wrote in #3 that TEPCO's stance was both incredible and irresponsible in my view. (I was especially saddened and angry at the news of the three workers exposed to the radiation-contaminated water—I had wrongly assumed that after the Tokai Mura accident, the power companies must have instituted completely revised safety measures and have been following them.)
This morning, on a TV program, a Japanese researcher on the military and the U.S.-Japan relations pointed out that the U.S. has just about everything (manpower, equipment, etc.) ready to mobilize in case of any nuclear-related accident or problem anywhere in the world, and that for the U.S. an “unforeseen” accident IS unthinkable. (There may be a slight exaggeration on the researcher’s part, but I must say that because of the U.S. ‘preparedness,’ Japan is able to get the crucially needed help from the U.S. in various aspects of the current disaster, including the “CBIRF” [Chemical/Biological Incident Response Force in the Marine Corps]. ) By contrast, sadly, the TEPCO revealed that the tsunami destroyed a large number of the instruments (to measure the radiation amount and to warn the person who wears the instrument on him) and that some workers had to work without the instruments on them. This revelation came AFTER the three workers suffered from the radiation burns. (They have since been released from the specialized hospital in Chiba Prefecture.) I understand that this unconscionable practice was immediately (that is, after the revelation) stopped, and that now every worker wears the instrument on him.
In my e-mail #6, I quoted from Jonathan Schell. What he warns against—“the impairment of the earth”—has become the reality, the reality that is worsening by the day, if not by the hour. The radiation is detected in the soil, in the air, and now in the sea. (My uninformed fear is that maybe already the Pacific Ocean has been contaminated—before this newest problem became known—as soon as the tsunami subsided.)
My reflection on this theme of “the impairment of the earth”: since the disaster at the Fukushima plant started, the concerns expressed have been mainly or exclusively with respect to the potential or existing damage and harm to human beings. Maybe that is all that should matter, but I wonder if Schell’s concerns (“the impairment of the earth”) are just with human beings living on the earth. I should think that his concerns must be with all life, not just human beings. And, in this light, I recall the passages from Ms. Hayashi Kyoko’s novel, From Trinity To Trinity (2000), which is based on her trip to Trinity Site in 1999 (in which I accompanied her):
[The narrator in the following passage now stands before Trinity Site, which is enclosed with the fences.]
A boundless expanse of wilderness with nowhere to hide oneself. Nothing stands above the ground level except for the human beings, the fences surrounding ‘Trinity Site,’ and the red surface of the mountain range over the distant horizon. And at the central point, the ‘Ground Zero’ monument stands before me.
With no time allowed to take a posture of attack, lay the wild plains, silence forced upon them. [Here the narrator is referring to the world’s first atomic explosion at this site, July 16, 1945.]
Until this moment, until I came to stand here at Trinity Site, I had believed that the first victims of the nuclear devastation on earth were we, the human beings. That is not so. Earlier victims, ‘senior’ hibakusha [i.e. the earth itself], are here. They are here, but they can neither cry nor shout. My eyes were filled with tears.
[The quotations are from the Japanese original – English translation by Nobuko Tsukui.]
The earth is hurting. Are we listening to its silent cry?