No more nukes

As everyone knows, a major earthquake struck the north east coast of Japan on March 11, 2011. It was the largest earthquake to occur in Japan since earthquakes were first recorded here scientifically. The death toll here in one of the top economies in the world has surpassed 10,000 lives as of this writing, and the figure is doubled when those unaccounted for are included.

This tragedy has precipitated yet another, the second greatest nuclear energy disaster to occur following the Chernobyl accident, a disaster that quickly eclipsed the actual earthquake in the public conscience both domestically and globally. Though it has been over two weeks since the tidal waves struck Japan’s coast and wrought their devastation, the nuclear disaster is still unfolding as workers at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant struggle to contain the leaking radioactive contamination. While there is much debate regarding the actual danger of the radiation outside an evacuation radius of 20km from the plant, the accident has fundamentally changed the lives of over a third of Japan’s population as residents across the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, face power outages and water contamination warnings. A privileged few who are financially or otherwise mobile have given the warnings the benefit of the doubt and voluntarily evacuated themselves from Kanto to the Kinki region, Kyushu, Okinawa, and even Hawaii, not to mention the mass migration of foreign residents that occurred during the first week.

I myself live in Chiba prefecture which borders Tokyo to the east and extends south across Tokyo bay from Yokohama. The north end of the prefecture was hit by the same tidal waves that devastated the north, and earthquake tremors caused liquefaction of the parking lot at Chiba’s Tokyo Disney Land and explosions at an oil facility, hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter. My coastal town of Kamogawa was largely unaffected thanks perhaps to the specific curvature of the shoreline, though that is only personal speculation.

I am situated roughly 270 kilometers south of the nuclear accident, and according to a simulation by a nuclear research organization in France, I may have received a dusting of cesium contamination between the 15th and 17th of March, along with much of the population of the Kanto region, though current local radiation levels are not significantly higher than natural background levels. However my daily life is now largely regulated by news of radiation. From helpful daily email updates from a local friend who owns a geiger counter, to NHK weather reports that announce the wind direction at Fukushima, radiation concerns have become and will now remain a basic part of my life for the foreseeable future.

How did this happen? What can I do about it? What can all of us do to prevent it from happening again? Just as after 9/11, I find myself fueled by a need to know why, down to the most fundamental root causes. I need to untangle the web of vested interests and ideas that is nuclear power, and I need to act on what I learn. I am currently healthy, in the prime of life, living close but not too close to a nuclear disaster of historic proportions, in the leading democracy in Asia. Rather than seeing myself as a victim, I see myself as having been handed, along with the almost 130 million people living in Japan, a responsibility to take this as a lesson, and to act on it.

Currently my days are filled with the busy activity of setting up an evacuation center for refugees of the earthquake and nuclear disaster. Such centers are springing up all across Japan as the people here ask them selves what they can do to help. The project started with a phone call from a friend on March 17, and four of us gathered to talk it over. Within hours, we were in the office of the mayer getting permission to turn a local abandoned school building (closed 2009) into an evacuee center. The frenetic activity that ensued cured me of the malaise of fear that gripped me for the first week following the earthquake. And the taste of working hard to give rather than receive, for the greater good rather than for profit, has given me a taste of what it feels like to live for a purpose other than one’s own self or loved ones.

I never imagined I would ever become an activist, but I can clearly see myself becoming one. But perhaps this is really the beginning of a new stage, one in which every responsible world citizen is by definition an activist. Perhaps then I am just another small statistic in a much greater, albeit sudden, trend. Actually, I very much hope that to be the case. I ask that you consider being a statistic too.

I am going to resurrect this blog and focus on the issue of the complete elimination of nuclear power generation from Japan and a complete transfer to reliance on renewable energy within my lifetime. I will call upon others to join together in systematically dismantling any and all arguments in favor of nuclear power in any form.

Nuclear fission based power generation should never have been adopted. Now that it has been, it should not be used any more. The way to that end is calm, rational argument tempered by a reverence for all life on this planet.

The nuclear power industry exists not because of the scientists who designed it but because of the captains of industry who implemented it. Their goal had nothing to do with calm rationality or reverence for any life. Their goal was and is shareholder value. Their excuse is that it was necessary in order to meet the ever growing demand for electricity. Calm rational argument will show that not to be the case. Much of the demand was, naturally, created by the providers of electricity as product themselves, those power companies who would profit from its increased use. Given a seemingly infinite supply of it, manufacturers of electrical devices and machinery naturally put its efficient consumption very low on their list of priorities. The result has been a snowballing of energy use which few have paused to question despite the growing concerns surrounding climate change.

These factors will now finally begin to change. Central and northern Japan will now face power shortages for many months to come. There will be an increased demand for alternative, local power generation, and for products and solutions that use less electricity to do common tasks. I have confidence that the ingenuity of Japanese industry will naturally answer to the call. It will be up to the rest of us to hold ourselves and industry to stay on the new path of ever increasing energy autonomy and efficiency, and prevent us from falling back into the trap of ever increasing consumption.

  • Lucyport2003

    Dear Chris,
    I am a friend of your sister Alex, from RIC. I saw this link on her FB wall. You have written a very informative and fluid read. I hope others read it and more importantly, share the information. Sending my family’s prayers that you and the people of Japan remain as safe as possible.
    Lucy Panagoulopoulos

  • Chris Harrington

    Thanks Lucy, please do feel free to share the link.


  • Kbellotti

    I cannot imagine living so close to this disaster, as you and your wife and community do. I am sure that writing this blog will be as theraputic to you as the work you are involved with in establishing the refugee center. I am thankful that you have done this as well; I find that I have to look harder for information on what is currently happening at Fukushima because as the days go by, more news becomes the different headline. Thank you for this first-person account of what you are experiencing and for the inspiration of what we can all do. I will also share the link to your blog and hope others will benefit as well. I send you peace and prayers,
    Kris Bucci Bellotti