Facing Fukushima

Hello, again, my dear readers. I hope you are well.
Today, I’d like to make a blog post that’s a bit different than what I usually do. It’s a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, but it also relates to one of my current WIPs, and that is the subject of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

As you probably all know, on March 11, 2011, at 2:46 PM JST, a 9.0 earthquake hit off the coast of eastern Japan, specifically, off the coast of the northeastern region of Tohoku. This earthquake triggered a huge tsunami with waves that were recorded to be forty meters (133 feet) tall. This earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused massive damage to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, and later that same day, three explosions occurred and caused radiation leakage.

In this, and perhaps future posts, I’d like to discuss a bit the aftereffects of the disaster. In August of 2014, I traveled with five peers from the Journalism department at my school, along with two professors and a KALW radio producer, in a project we later dubbed “Facing Fukushima,” to interview the survivors, research the aftereffects of the disaster, and bring attention to an issue the media forgot.

If you are interested in reading the stories we brought back from our trip, as well as details about the trip itself, I invite you to view our website, http://fukushima.sfsu.edu, where we have posted pictures, videos, and stories about the people who live there. Our goal was restorative journalism – to not only be an antidote to sensationalist journalism, where journalists flock to the site of a disaster right after it occurs, but after a few months, they stop reporting on it because it’s no longer “news,” but we also wanted to bring the stories of the people of Tohoku to a larger audience. Many of the Tohoku survivors don’t speak very good English, so we can be a mouthpiece for them and help them to tell their stories to a wider audience. In addition, giving them an opportunity to talk about it also gives them an opportunity to heal – the more you talk about and process a traumatic event, the more you’re able to move on with the rest of your life.

This post will be mostly talking about the day of the disaster and what went wrong. Of course, there is no way to predict when a natural disaster will strike, so in terms of the actual earthquake and tsunami itself, there was nothing we humans could have done to stop them; we are powerless against the force that is Mother Nature. But the nuclear meltdown was something that never should have happened. There were no emergency measures in place for such an event.

The nuclear meltdown occurred just before seven o’clock PM JST, March 11, 2011. At 7:03, the government declared a nuclear crisis and ordered the two kilometers (a little over a mile) immediately surrounding the power plant to be evacuated. At 9:23 that night, the evacuation order was extended to three kilometers (1.8 miles). 5,800 people lived within three kilometers of the plant, and all of them had to be evacuated. At 5:44 PM March 12, 2011, the evacuation order was again extended to ten kilometers (6.2 miles), which meant about 50,000 people would need to leave the area. On March 15, the evacuation order was again extended, this time to twenty kilometers (twelve and a half miles, approximately). On March sixteenth, the US government released a statement advising US nationals living within eighty kilometers (about fifty miles) of the plant to evacuate, and several other countries sent advisories telling their citizens to leave Japan entirely. Even now, people from all different walks of life think that the government is not telling the full story. On April 21, 2011, the twenty kilometers surrounding Fukushima Daiichi were declared a “no go” zone due to radiation.

One interesting thing to note before I finish is that all prefectures that have a power plant in their territory are required by law to hold evacuation drills. These drills encompass about ten kilometers surrounding the respective plant. However, the March 11 earthquake proved these drills to be ineffective – no one knew how far the radiation had spread, but the ten kilometers included in these drills wasn’t enough of a distance to cover all the areas that were contaminated, and as a result, people were exposed to unnecessary risks.

I will leave you here, my readers, until next time. For the next few entries, I would like to write about the disaster, as a way to organize my notes and thoughts about what we learned, so that when I sit down to work on my novel (a novel I am writing about the Fukushima disaster) everything I want to write about is all in one place. Until next time, my dear readers. May your swords stay sharp!乙女

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