29 Mars 2013
March 29, 2013
Residents living near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have reacted strongly to a proposal to preserve parts of the site as a cautionary example for future generations.
The proposal includes establishing a sightseeing route there for tourists, in the same way that Chernobyl has become a destination for disaster voyeurs in Ukraine.
Some call it food for thought. Others are disgusted by the notion.
"I don't feel like listening to preserving the plant as a tourist site," said one resident in Minami-Soma, a socially shattered city located 20 to 30 kilometers from the plant. That opinion is one apparently shared by many residents of the city of 65,000 inhabitants.
The proposal's backers, eight Tokyo-based intellectuals, argue that Japan should decide now what it wants to do with the plant 25 years from now.
It is clear why talk of "tourism" might strike a raw nerve in the region.
Although atmospheric radiation release has now diminished, four badly damaged reactor buildings remain fragile and many parts remain largely off-limits to workers. Challenges relate not just to how to decommission the reactors, but also how to dispose of tons of highly radioactive water and debris. And about 160,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture remain away from their homes, a group comprising both mandatory evacuees and those who chose to leave. Many are quartered communally in makeshift accommodation.
But for all the shock presented by this radical proposal, some residents say it is right to think of a way to benefit future generations.
"We should preserve the nuclear complex as a symbol of how we used to be as a people, unable to prevent the accident. And it would be a symbol of our determination to break with a custom of 'burying' trauma," said Keitaro Harasawa, 33, a doctor in Minami-Soma.
But he said the accident remains raw and painful for many people. The population of Minami-Soma is 30 percent smaller than before the disaster, with younger people in particular choosing to build new lives elsewhere.
Among his patients, he said, talk of "tourism" would likely find little enthusiasm.
"Even today, they say they don't even want to see pictures of the crippled plant," he said.
Akihiro Tanaka, 39, who runs a job placement company, said many people there would be uncomfortable with the word "tourism," but he believes bringing in tourists could nevertheless be important. He said he wants a way to show his 2-year-old son that the younger generation will be able to overcome what happened.
"We should not forget the tragedy. We should bounce back and build a Minami-Soma with new ideas," he said. "I would like my son to appreciate us some day, appreciate what we did to make that happen."
One 39-year-old man who wouldn't give his name said the proposal would be one way to preserve the lessons of what happened.
"What I dread most is that the memory of the accident will fade," he said.
He added that if his name were used, he would say something different: that the feelings of affected people should decide the matter.
"Some people may be saddened or even incensed by the proposal," he said.
Nevertheless, he added, an idea floated by outsiders could provide something new and fresh for struggling communities.
The scars of 2011 are particularly visible in the city's Odaka neighborhood. It remains strewn with rubble and trees felled by the tsunami where the water swept in.
Kensuke Tadano, a 30-year-old assemblyman, said preserving the plant could help to bring people together.
He said radiation has thwarted cleanup work and the considerable pain from the disaster itself has now been worsened, he said, by a new sore: resentment between residents over how much damage each sustained and the amounts of compensation offered.
Tadano said many feel their community is falling apart, and in these circumstances preserving the plant for posterity could bring them together again.
"Having a symbol like this would bring down barriers between people," he said.
The proposal's backers say Japan has a unique opportunity to do something meaningful.
One of them is writer and critic Hiroki Azuma. He draws a parallel with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, a UNESCO World Heritage Site instantly recognizable as a symbol of the world's first atomic bombing in 1945.
"Like the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Japan, as a nation forced to confront the dangers of nuclear energy, should pursue the plant's preservation so that it can continue to show the world what happened in this nuclear disaster," he said.
Hideaki Shinoda, an associate professor of peace-building theory at Hiroshima University, said reaching a consensus about preserving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial proved to be a lengthy process. It was only added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites in 1996.
Although it is now a global symbol of Hiroshima and a symbol of something far bigger than the city alone, early efforts to preserve it as a legacy of war met opposition.
"It took people in Hiroshima 20 to 30 years to form a consensus about the dome," he said.
But it was not tourism that motivated the city to preserve the dome and create a powerful message for peace, Shinoda said.
"When people have suffered a devastating experience, they want to try to find a positive meaning in it," he said. "It is crucial for victims to give a concrete shape to that urge and to sublimate it."
The Fukushima proposal's backers include sociologist Hiroshi Kainuma, architect Ryuji Fujimura and journalist Daisuke Tsuda. They traveled to the region last year to discuss the proposal with residents.
What they suggest creating is a resort-style base for visitors with the provisional name Fukushima Gate Village.
Lying about 20 kilometers from the plant, it would offer accommodation and facilities such as a museum and a renewable-energy research center.
Visitors would be able to board a bus for a tour of the plant itself, to see it up close and to observe work on decommissioning the reactors.
The group is expected to outline its proposal in greater detail this summer