PEACE BOAT | Via CWS Asia-Pacific

March 11 2013 marked the two years anniversary for the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and the subsequent Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Although the Japanese Government declared end of 2011 that the reactors reached cold shutdown, much is not clear about the real situation inside the plant, and the facilities remain in an extremely unstable situation. Furthermore, there are still over 160,000 people living in evacuation, and millions of people – including many children – are living in areas with high levels of radioactive contamination.

Hasegawa Kenichi, a dairy farmer from Iitate Village in Fukushima who was forced to cull his dairy cows and abandon his farm as his whole village was evacuated, says: “two years have passed, but nothing has changed. We are still struggling not knowing what will happen in our future. And we are worried about the children. We are still living in evacuation. Will we be able to return in a few years from now? We have no idea. We must prevent any other place from suffering as Fukushima and Japan have.”

While the media and public interest may be fading, the radiation and concerns of citizens are not. Furthermore, the real effects on both the environment and for the citizens are continuing, yet to be fully understood. The effects of the nuclear disaster on children are also of great concern. In February 2013, as a result of the thyroid tests currently being carried out for the 38,000 children under the age of 18 from Fukushima Prefecture, two cases have ben confirmed and seven others suspected. It is said that the usual rate of occurrence of thyroid cancer in children is 1 in a million. Therefore parents of young children continue to live with great fear and uncertainty. It is now vital for people both in Japan and within the international community to remember that the situation is still ongoing today, and to communicate about the situation and needs of citizens to the broad public and experts around the world.

More events to join hands and connect to the world

Participants at the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Peace Boat.

Participants at the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Peace Boat.

Many citizens from Fukushima are now working together with local and international organizations to tell their stories as part of efforts to raise awareness of the ongoing situation in Fukushima. This is being done through public events held in Japan, support for Fukushima citizens to speak about their experiences with the international community, and creation of online spaces to communicate information to an English-speaking audience.

Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center and Tokyo-based NGO Peace Boat have been working to support local citizens in such efforts. On 14-15 January 2012, Peace Boat and a coalition of other Japanese citizens’ groups organized the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World in Yokohama, Japan. A total of 11,500 people from 30 countries participated, with a further 100,000 watching the conference broadcast live online. This event was followed by a second conference in December, held simultaneously in Tokyo and Koriyama City, Fukushima, with 5,500 participants.

These programs led to the launch of several Fukushima citizens’ initiatives. Following regular dialogue sessions and gatherings, the people of Fukushima created the “Fukushima Action Project” (FAP) as a vehicle to convey their voices and needs. It is important for them to ensure that their voices are heard by the Japanese government and international agencies and will be taken in consideration for future activities and policies related to Fukushima in particular and nuclear issues in general.

These events also gave the opportunity to create new connections with concerned citizens, politicians and organizations outside of Japan. Peace Boat has been involved in organizing events in many countries around the world with some citizens of Fukushima to raise awareness internationally based on their stories. Most recently, dairy farmer Hasegawa Kenichi and his wife Hanako were invited by Australian participants in the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World to be part of a nation-wide speaking tour in Australia around the second anniversary of the disaster. After visiting five cities and speaking at public events, in the media and at the national and state parliaments, Mr Hasegawa stated that he “hope[s] that hearing my story is an opportunity for people to understand more about the ongoing situation in Fukushima. It is important to make sure that what is happening in Fukushima is not forgotten.”

Youth Ambassador program

High school students from Fukushima City who participated in music and cultural exchange programmes onboard the ship in summer 2012. Photo: Peace Boat.

Peace Boat is also working together with Australian groups to send a 12 junior high school students from Minamisoma City, a heavily damaged area after the tsunami, situated less than 25 km from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This is the third Fukushima Youth Ambassadors project to be coordinated by Peace Boat, following a programme in summer 2011 which brought 49 children from Minamisoma to travel onboard Peace Boat’s ship from Viet Nam and meet with fellow tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka; and 7 high school students from Fukushima City who participated in music and cultural exchange programmes onboard the ship in summer 2012.

The 12 Youth Ambassadors will experience intercultural workshops, and learn about environmental sustainability issues through outdoor activities. In this healthy environment they will learn new skills and gain a fresh perspective on the future, an invaluable chance for them as they struggle to consider the future of their disaster-affected community. It will also serve help taking distance from the radiation-contaminated areas of Fukushima, while reducing the burden of worry on their parents. As well as the benefits for the children themselves, such opportunities also encourage the Fukushima community through the renewed energy and perspectives brought home by the participants, and bring the real voices of Fukushima youth to the international society, enhancing understanding and opportunities to consider future cooperation.

Such opportunities are vital to consider how to best continue to support the local community in Fukushima, as they struggle under tremendous ongoing pressure and stress: trauma, fear, separation from family and/or family breakdown, economic strains, community pressures, health concerns and anxiety. It is only international cooperation, and ensuring that their plight is not forgotten, which can help to support the people of Fukushima, and prevent such tragedies from happening again.

CWS-Asia/Pacific has supported Peace Boat since the beginning of the Great Eastern Japan disasters and we are pleased to continuing working together to support the people of Fukushima.