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Japan nuke exports to Vietnam

March 2, 2015


Illuminations bathe Ho Chi Minh in light, but nuclear project looms on horizon



Michiko Yoshii

Professor at the Department of International Communication of Okinawa University

Michiko Yoshii is a professor at the Department of International Communication of Okinawa University. She was a professor at the Center for International Education and Research of Mie University. She did her postgraduate work at Paris VII University and the University of Tokyo and earned her Ph.D. Her areas of expertise are Vietnamese anti-war songs, the plight of street children and civil society.

For Christmas and New Year's, I visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I lived for 12 years until 2005. It was my first time in a decade in the city during the holiday season.

"What the heck is this?!" I thought to myself in astonishment, as I ventured downtown at night. Every street was decked with lights ... lights ... and more lights!

Taking a closer look, I found that the illuminations on the central street leading to Reunification Palace were not for Christmas or New Year's, but rather to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Saigon's liberation in 1975.

Does this mean they will keep the lights on every night until the actual anniversary date on April 30? The sight of rows of brilliantly colored illuminations does not compare to Tokyo, or where I live in Naha, Okinawa. I became worried, thinking, "Maybe they're not using LEDs. In that case, they'll eat up electricity."

On a Sunday morning I went to a neighborhood in the outskirts, where regular people live. In one part where foreigners rarely step foot, there was a narrow market road that seemed to go on forever, where migrants from the countryside reside in tenement houses. They work at a nearby industrial park.



I asked Duc, a 38-year-old worker who handles cargo at a factory, if he was aware of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011.

"I recall hearing the name," he replied. "But I don't know what it is."

When he was younger, Duc migrated from his home in Ninh Thuan province.

I then asked, "Do you know about the nuclear power plant they're going to build soon in the area you are from?" He answered: "I've never heard about that. I just watch soccer on TV."

Duc returns to his family, who live within 20 kilometers of the site for the nuclear reactor Japan will export, each year.

He was not the only person I met who was unfamiliar with the Fukushima incident. Mai, a 30-year-old sewing plant worker, said, "I saw the earthquake and tsunami on TV, but I don't know about Fukushima."

When I told her about the planned nuclear facility, she said: "Wow, they're going to build a nuclear power plant in Thai An? That's the first I've heard of it. I only watch dramas on TV." She added: "That village is close to a water supply, so radioactive contamination would be terrible. We have to do something."

Mai was born within 20 kilometers of the plant's planned site and still has parents and siblings living there.

I went with the intention of asking Ninh Thuan natives for their opinions about the nuclear power plant, but my effort came to no avail. I felt like I only ended up publicizing the nuclear power project. I wanted to ask them what they think about the impoverished countryside of Ninh Thuan supplying the electricity used in those glittering illuminations.

I happened to notice there were numerous mini lights (also used as Christmas lights) suspended just above head level on the narrow tenement-lined road. Then I saw bulbs over the market road as well. When I asked what they were for someone told me, "They're Christmas and New Year's lights."

I asked in response, "Well, who pays for the electricity?" I was told, "The lines run from the homes of relatively wealthy people around here." It seems to be part of a social contribution by people of distinction.

Electricity is consumed like water here, from downtown Ho Chi Minh City to where the masses live. Meanwhile, people migrate from Ninh Thuan because they can't survive there. And the folks from the planned site seem for the most part unaware of the nuclear power plant project.

I felt a great sense of responsibility as a Japanese, the country exporting the nuclear technology. During the big countdown on New Year's Eve, I felt ill at ease and ended up going to bed without watching the fireworks downtown. This year, I decided I must do something to stop Japan from exporting nuclear reactors to Vietnam.


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