Fukushima on My Mind

For the past several years I’ve averted my eyes from Fukushima.  (Who doesn’t want to make it disappear?)  Then, as the sixth anniversary loomed, I wonder, what could one possibly say?  Hadn’t it all been said?

I ponder – and then make a shocking discovery: In my mind’s eye I’d temporarily misplaced Fukushima.

In fact, I’d moved it!

At some unremembered moment, I’d relocated the nuclear reactors, shifting them from Japan’s east coast to Japan’s west coast.  I’d actually imagined the radioactive elements that are still pouring from the crippled plants as washing towards North and South Korea and thence down toward the coast of China.

We all have tendencies to warp reality to suit our particular preferences.  Members of the grand jury that failed to convict Eric Garner, apparently, did not see the police tackling Garner and choke-holding him to the pavement.  Obama enthusiasts missed his feckless policies in Afghanistan.  Meat-eaters neatly step around the slaughterhouse and lettuce lovers forget the aching back of some underpaid farm hand.

But move Fukushima?  This was full-bore creepy.

Was this a case of succumbing to the near-constant, American drum-beat of propaganda versus North Korea?  Had I unconsciously fixated on a way to undermine Kim Jong-un and his 950,000-strong army? Had I just proved myself deeply racist – preferring to allot harm to the Far East, thereby sparing the US?

Or was this a matter of magical thinking?  After all, if the toxic brew spewing out of the reactors could be re-directed, it would solve some nasty problems.

One could forget about the North Pacific Gyre – that’s the conveyor belt of ocean currents drifting from Japan up towards the Bering Strait, arcing towards Alaska, and then sweeping down the West Coast.  Ditto the toxins moving, not only with the current, but up the food chain from crab larvae, to squid, to flying fish, to tuna, to frozen fish at the nearest Costco.

One could think about the coast of California and not worry about cesium.  One could eat sushi again.  One could dream.  What about kayaking in the Pacific, enjoying the view of one of those iconic Alaskan glaciers glinting in the sun – with nary a concern about seals with strange diseases or sea otters dying?

Yes, it was convenient to move Fukushima.  But, in fact, the crippled reactors really are on the east coast of Japan.  And therefore the North Pacific Gyre is something we all need to think about.  Besides, the bottom line: the health, the dreams, the lives of millions of Koreans, Chinese, Russians, and all other nations are just as important as any American’s.  Furthermore, the radiation in the ocean will travel everywhere.  And nobody in Pyongyang, Seoul, Beijing, Tokyo or anywhere on the planet should have to ask is this piece of fish safe for me or my child to eat?

My geographic blunder is past.  Alas, my temporary mental glitch reminds me of Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan.  Pretend Fukushima is over.  Well, yes, we do not yet know exactly where the melted nuclear cores are….have they burned down into the dirt beneath the reactors?  mixed with ground-water?…never mind, the 2020 Summer Olympics full steam ahead!

Such blindness is also reminiscent of the nuclear industry.  It’s devotees continue to insist nuclear power is safe.  (There’s lots of money to be made in the over 60 new reactors now under construction world-wide.)  Eighteen of these reactors are planned for China and there’s the abiding hope – among some climate-change activists – that more nukes equal less coal.  Ergo less global warming.  (That trade-off ignores key safety issues and the virtual impossibility of dodging catastrophic accidents.  It also pooh-poohs the fiendish – and unsolved problem of what to do with the deadly poisons of nuclear waste.)

Fukushima-denial also has its adherents deep in the belly of the US war establishment. Who in the Pentagon ever raises the specter: an attack on one nuclear power plant anywhere in the world puts the rest of the world at risk?

This voyage into geographic la-la land was sobering:  We never know when we might subterfuge our own thoughts, our own better judgment.

I’m guilty.  Sometimes I hate reality.  Quick, press delete.   Kill the unspeakable, erase the unbearable.

Yet, deep in my heart, I know.  I know we must unflinchingly stare these disasters right in the face.  Only then will we be able to move swiftly and resolutely towards a better world.  And that is the world of safe and renewable energy, a world of millions of clean jobs, a world of economic justice and human rights, a world NOT-on-the-brink of yet another Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima.

Mina Hamilton served on the Board of Directors of Greenpeace, USA. She was a co-founder and co-director of the Sierra Club Radioactive Waste Campaign and President of the Delaware Valley Conservation Association. Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones magazine, the Progressive, the Nation and is a frequent contributor to dissidentvoice.org. She lives in New York City. Read other articles by Mina.