A Woman who resists alone the nuclear power plant

Atsuko Ogasawara at the Asako House in Ohma

A woman fights alone against the “nuclear aggression” entering her homeland and inspires more for the unti-nuke movement in Japan. Atsuko Ogasawara and Keiko Kikukawa hold her land and remain forefront of the protest against the development of the nuclear plants in Ohma and Rokkasho respectively.

Ohma is the fishing town famous for its tuna catch while Rokkasho village has been hosting various energy power facilities including the nuclear fuel cycle complex, the oil stockpiles as well as the gas and wind power facilities. Both are located in Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of the main island of Japan.

Members of the Women for No Nukes  visited their home of resistance in Ohma and Rokkasho and interviewed the two women. Masayo Niwa sent her report of the trip.

Ohma

Asako House

Atsuko welcomed the visitors at “Asako House”, which Asako, Atsuko’s mother, built and stayed in her last years. Asako held the land tightly against the construction of the Ohma nuclear plant.

While the local fishing cooperatives signed the agreement and the residents were giving in the late 90s, Asako refused to sell her father’s land. She remained persistent and in the end was the only one in the area who resisted the entrance of the nuclear power plant despite the relentless pressure from the company and ostracism in her community. Her resistance led to the change in the construction plan and delayed the commencement of work. The construction has been halted since the East Japan earth quakes in March 2011[1].

“My mother used to say, we, people in Ohma are very rich, we have everything from the sea and the mountains but the nuclear plant would destroy our sea and mountains and leave us poor. I totally feel so, too,” Asako said.

Asako tills the land and generates electricity from the solar panels and wind mils for household use. She hopes to expand her farm, raise chickens and goats and invite many children to play around in a field.

Recently in the area water has been running dry, affecting the vegetables and fruits in her farm. Asako concerns that it is due to the plant construction which might be destroying the water source in that area. She said she was going to request the investigation of the water source.

Asako House is surrounded by the fence of the construction and only a narrow path leads to the main road. Although most of the local people keep silent, more people from other parts of Japan have been visiting her and coming to the anti-nuke rock concert held there annually.

The path leading to the Asako House from the main road.

Overlooked from the hill, the half-built nuclear plant is located in so close vicinity of the residential area. In the sea the warm water released from the plant would increase the temperature and affect the habitat of tunas.

Half built Ohma nuclear power plant

Ohma nuclear power plant, if it is completed, would be equipped to run by MOX (mixed oxides) fuel which would be produced by reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel at the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho nuclear recycle complex. The Rokkasho reprocessing plant has been in test run without the prospect of being completed anytime soon.

 

 

Rokkasho

Rokkasho nuclear recycle complex includes a uranium enriching and plutonium reprocessing plant; a reprocessing plant; a MOX fuel fabrication facility; and low and high level nuclear waste storage facilities.

The uranium enrichment plant has been in operation since 1992 while the MOX fuel facility is under construction. The reprocessing plant has been in the stage of “final commissioning-test” since 2006 and keeps 3,344 tons of spent fuel in total[2]. There are numerous accidents and troubles since the test run started.[3]

The low level nuclear waste storage keeps total of 242,139 drums of nuclear waste under the ground sent from other nuclear plants in Japan[4].  The high level nuclear waste storage keeps total of 1,414 canisters of the processed waste[5] shipped back from France and UK where Japan sent its nuclear waste for processing. Those have to be kept cool for 30-50 years before buried in the ground for a long time.

The local government of Rokkasho receives 200 million yen a year for hosting the nuclear complex including the compensation for the fisheries, which makes Rokkasho one of the richest villages in Japan. However, the outflow of the population has been increasing.

The Village of Flower and Herb is only around six kilometer away from the nuclear recycle complex. Keiko runs the Village providing the guest house, producing organic rhubarb, strawberry and other vegetables and makes jam from those fruits. She returned to Rokkasho in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and started awareness raising and protest against the nuclear recycle plant coming into the village at the time.  She aims to live self sufficiently by selling her products and generating electricity through the solar panels and wind mills.

Keiko talks to women from Women for No Nukes in her Village of Flower and Herb, Rokkasho.

“Rokkasyo used to be a very poor village without electricity. The nuclear facility brought a lot of money to the village, and the danger, too.  The village should be able to run by itself, developing local industry.  The activities at the Village of Flower and Herb are my small attempt to step forward to it,” Keiko said calmly. She recently incorporated the Village.

Keiko asks us what living in affluence means.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant has no prospect of proper operation any time soon while spent nuclear fuel keep coming in to Rokkasho, the PR staff of the nuclear company admitted.

“I wanted to continue my Tulip Festival at the Village if I were in better health. I wish people realise and tell others that the nuclear power cannot be our choice before it becomes too late”, said Keiko.

She believes human beings will never be able to reach the perfect technology to handle the nuclear power safely.

The members of the Women for No Nukes promised to tell the world what is going on in the remote villages in Japan. They reaffirmed their commitment to standing together with the women in protest on the ground and leading Japan and the world to give up the nuclear power.

xxx

All photos are provided by the Women for No Nukes.

[1] JPOWER, http://www.jpower.co.jp/bs/field/gensiryoku/project/construction/schedule/index.html, accessed 20 August 2012

[2] As of April 30, 2012, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., http://www.jnfl.co.jp/english/operation/, accessed 20 August 2012

[3] Wikipedia, 六ヶ所再処理工場 (In Japanese) http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/六ヶ所再処理工場, accessed 20 August 2012

[4] As of April 30, 2012, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., http://www.jnfl.co.jp/english/operation/, accessed 20 August 2012

[5] Ibid.

References

Women for No Nukes (in Japanese) http://www.nnpfem.com/index.html

Asako House(Japanese site) http://asakohouse.cocolog-nifty.com/

Village of Flower and Herb (Japanese site), http://hanatoherb.jp/

“From the place with the nuclear power plant” vol. 3, Magine 9 (Japanese site) http://magazine9.jp/genpatsu/120801/

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. http://www.jnfl.co.jp/

JPower, http://www.jpower.co.jp/

Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency http://www.nisa.meti.go.jp/index.html

Wikipedia, Rokkasho, Aomori, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rokkasho,_Aomori

Wikipedia, 六ヶ所再処理工場 (Japanese site) http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/六ヶ所再処理工場

Wikipedia, 六ヶ所高レベル放射性廃棄物貯蔵管理センター (Japanese site) http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/六ヶ所高レベル放射性廃棄物貯蔵管理センター

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How women responded in face of the disaster – their proposal for reconstruction

Responding to the emergency situations immediately after the earthquakes and the tsunami and different phases of reconstruction process, women’s groups in Japan swiftly moved to ensure that the relief operations and the following processes in the disaster affected areas were gender responsive. It was based on the past experiences in disaster such as the Kobe earthquake occurred 17 years ago. Niwa Masayo reviewed the action taken by the Center for Education and Support for Women in Japan (http://shienkyo.com) since the Great East Japan Earthquake last March and the barriers encountered by the women survivors of the disaster.

Masayo

Within a month after, 50 sets of pills were delivered to the local medics through individual connections in the affected areas. The information was given to women through the 24 hour hotline service.  The distribution of the ‘informational and awareness raising cards’ with the hotline numbers was initiated by the post-disaster emergency support project (http://ssv311.blogspot.jp). 60,000 cards were distributed in various ways: directly delivered to the survivors with relief materials; placed at the evacuation centers; given to the women with colorful panties as gifts, etc.  This was done as priority based on the experience in post-earthquake Kobe, when the rape cases were hidden and few rape survivors were able to call for help.

Quickly starting up the women’s network

Rise Together: Women’s Network for East Japan Disaster (http://risetogetherjp.org/?cat=5) was launched following up the emergency project in May 2011 by women’s groups, gender experts and feminist scholars supported b the Centre. It aims to respond to the needs of women in refuges; assist their reconstruction efforts; and ensure gender responsive policies and measures with human rights based approach.  The network has proposed the guidelines for gender responsive disaster readiness planning to the central and local governments. The proposal includes among others: women consist more than 30% in the central and local disaster prevention councils (the Japanese government has pledged that women will make up minimum 30% in any decision making by 2020); wider and diverse groups of populations represent in the policy making on prevention and reconstruction; full disclosure and quick release of accurate information on the nuclear accidents be included in the emergency guidelines at central and local levels.

In post-disaster situation, it is obvious that the problems the society has in normal times appear as obstacles for the relief operation and reconstruction efforts, such as traditional gender role and discrimination based on sex, gender, nationality, ethnicity, age, etc.”

Traditional gender role persists

It was observed that the communities which had less awareness on and practices for gender equality brought up the traditional gender role in the shelters. In some shelters coordinated by women organized the same number of men and women as committee and were able to solve the problems in the shelters. However, women were not listened at all in the shelters which were managed by the leaders of fisheries cooperatives or local communities who are traditionally men. Women were expected to cook, clean and care, which was done unpaid, while men went out for work such as clearing the debris and got paid. “Having some role may encourage them in their post disaster communities, but those gendered role does not fit in all women in diverse conditions”, said Masayo. It was identified that women had less access to job opportunities in the post disaster situation.  Another obstacle for women to rebuild their lives economically independent was the traditional household system based on which the compensations and public financial aid were computed and disbursed.

Minority groups remain disadvantaged

More than 30 thousands foreign nationals lived in the affected areas. Some were the 2nd or 3rd generations, the married to the Japanese, others were migrant workers and students. There were 1,900 Filipinos registered in the affected two prefectures, Miyagi and Iwate and most of them were women married in farming or fishing communities. There were also Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese and Thai. Communication and preparation of official documents were among the major problems faced by the women who lost her husband who used to be the only one to talk with her in the family. Many local government offices in the affected areas were destroyed and unable to provide necessary assistance to them.

The response from the government did not reach out quickly to those who remained in the community while self-help and support groups struggled and provided various support in the communities.The masses were organized in Tagalog in different communities in a couple of months, which eased the Filipino women’s anxiety.

It was most difficult to obtain the information on the situation of each of them due to lack of disaggregated data. Other minority populations including sexual minority and differently abled people were left behind from the public support and had to help by themselves.

“It is the opportunity, not to reconstruct the society as it was, but to question the persistent gender role, disclose the discrimination against the minorities in the society and create the one responsive to the diverse conditions each of us are in. Ensuring decent job for all is one of the most important in this process”, said Masayo.