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Muto Ruiko and the Movement of Fukushima Residents to Pursue Criminal Charges against Tepco Executives and Government Officials
- Categorized in: Fukushima
The courage of one woman becomes that of many as the Japanese people of Fukushima ask for redress for the crime against humanity that is the nuclear industry and its political enablers.
Translation by Norma Field
Muto Ruiko's speech in Japanese
Muto Ruiko is a long-time antinuclear activist based in Fukushima. She is also one of 1,324 Fukushima residents who filed a criminal complaint in June 2012 pressing charges against Tepco executives and government officials.
This article introduces Muto’s activism on nuclear energy, her life before and after the Fukushima Dai’ichi disaster, and her recent effort to mobilize citizens for the criminal complaint. An English translation of Muto’s speech at the University of Chicago on May 5, 2012, follows.
Introduction by Tomomi YAMAGUCHI
On September 19, 2011, Muto Ruiko traveled from Fukushima to Tokyo to speak at the Goodbye Nuclear Plants (Sayonara genpatsu) rally in Meiji Park. Her delivery, quiet yet confident, conveyed a deep sense of sorrow, anger, and power. “One by one, each of us citizens is demanding that the state and Tepco acknowledge their responsibility. And we are raising our voices to say, ‘No more nuclear reactors!’ We have become ogres of Tohoku, quietly burning with fury.” (Muto 2012: v; translation modified)1The voice of a person who had committed her life to antinuclear activism since Chernobyl, and whose own livelihood was destroyed by the catastrophe, had a powerful impact on the audience of 60,000 gathered in the park in Japan’s largest antinuclear power rally. Posted on the internet, the video traveled far and wide, generating a ripple effect...
The Fukushima Complainants for Criminal Prosecution of the Nuclear Accident
June 11, 2012
Today we 1,324 residents of Fukushima Prefecture filed a complaint with the Fukushima Public Prosecutors Office, demanding that it press charges of criminal responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear accident.
We who have been robbed of our daily life, we whose human rights have been trampled upon by the accident—we have pooled our strength and raised our voices in anger.
To take the first step toward seeking prosecution required a great deal of courage on our part.
To ask that criminal charges be brought against other human beings has meant that we had to examine our own way of life.
We believe, however, that this process has profound significance.
•We are challenging a society that fails to value all who live in it, in which sacrifice is always being imposed on some members;
•We are coming together again, even expanding our ties after being divided and torn asunder by the accident;
•We who were hurt and lost in despair are reclaiming our strength and dignity.
We believe that this is the way to fulfill our responsibility towards children and young people.
Standing together with those who cannot raise their voices and with other living things, it is each of us individuals who will change the world.
Refusing to be divided, recognizing the power of our unity, unflinching, we will continue to pursue responsibility for the accident.
Muto Ruiko's speech:
5 May 2012, Chicago
(Translated by Norma Field)
More than one year has passed since the nuclear disaster that accompanied the earthquake and tsunami. At the time, I was running a small café in the mountains about forty-five kilometers from the Fukushima reactors. The disaster transformed my life. I would like to share with you some of the things that happened when the accident occurred.
On March 11, following the assault of the earthquake and the tsunami, there was a radio announcement stating that control rods had been inserted and the reactors had shut down. But that evening, news came that all power for cooling the reactors had been lost. I had some knowledge about the likely consequences of such a situation, and feeling the urgency, I went around the neighborhood, encouraging friends to evacuate. We ourselves got in our car to leave. At this point there had been no instructions from the government. That night, those within three kilometers of the plant began to evacuate. The next day, there was an explosion at Reactor Number One, and the evacuation zone was extended to twenty kilometers. There were some victims of the tsunami who were still alive, but rescue squads had no choice but to evacuate and were therefore unable to save these people. Livestock and pets—many living things—were left behind in the evacuation zone. Many elderly people died on the road. Seniors and people with disabilities faced severe difficulties in the course of the evacuation itself as well as in the shelters.
In the meanwhile, what was the government of Japan up to? It was not telling citizens about the information transmitted by SPEEDI or about the reactor meltdowns. In order to minimize the impact of the disaster, it embarked on a “safety campaign”—i.e., a campaign to reassure citizens that all was under control. Beginning with those areas registering the highest levels and extending to every corner of Fukushima Prefecture, people with the title of radiation risk management advisers went around saying, “Everything’s all right. You don’t need to worry.” Furthermore, the government raised the annual permissible levels of radiation exposure for humans and also raised the levels allowable for food.25
This is what happened to citizens as a consequence:
•There was virtually no distribution of potassium iodide.26
•People ended up fleeing to areas with higher levels of radiation.
•They stayed outdoors to clean up debris from the earthquake
•They took their children with them to stand in long lines to wait for water delivery trucks and to use public telephones.
•Outdoor afterschool activities resumed quickly.27
People did not know what information they could trust, and this contributed to their being divided one from the other:
•If a parent worried about water quality sent a child to school with a water bottle, that child would be told to drink tap water, like all the others.
•A middle-schooler sobbed that she did not want to escape to a safe place by herself. What would become of her friends?
•Many families have been driven to leading separate lives, the fathers, saddled with mortgages and tied to jobs, staying behind in Fukushima, and the mothers and children gone to other prefectures.
•In some towns, huge indoor play areas have been constructed, equipped with jungle gyms, swing sets, and sandboxes. The children seem happy enough as they play, but no sunlight or refreshing breeze or birdsong can reach them.
•Strange monitoring posts dot the landscape of towns and villages. They indicate the levels of atmospheric radiation from moment to moment.
And, with the passage of one year, the government has committed vast sums to decontamination, as if that were the only available means of lowering radiation exposure. Local governments, excepting those of areas where the Fukushima Daiichi Plant is sited, have begun to call for the return of residents who have evacuated:
•There is no support whatsoever for the right to evacuate voluntarily or to travel for “respite care.” 28
As for decontamination, the major construction companies have a virtual monopoly on contracts. Those who do the actual work, all the while exposed to radiation, are those same people who lost their houses or jobs because of the disaster. Or else, they are residents engaged in decontaminating their own districts. The effectiveness of such measures is doubtful. The slogan “Don’t give up [ganbare], Fukushima!” serves as a rallying cry for recovery. Although I understand the attachment we all have for the places where we grew up, the cry rings hollow in my ears.
•In one municipality, regulations limiting outdoor activities in schools have been lifted as of April 2012.29
•Plans are being made for outdoor marathons and whistle-drum parades for even young children.
•Middle-schoolers from other prefectures have come as volunteers to clear up debris in the coastal areas.
•The state’s safety campaign is adopting various guises to penetrate small gatherings or meetings for people interested in cancer prevention.30
•There have been cases of dealers falsifying the origin of ingredients for school lunches.31
•The government has been exerting tacit pressure on supermarkets and retailers who have established their own safety standards, arguing that needlessly strict standards will cause confusion.32
The government’s do-nothing stance has caused people to be subjected to further discrimination and division:
•Single mothers of children with disabilities, who face special obstacles in trying to evacuate or to travel for “respite care,” feel guilty about continuing to expose their children to radiation.
•People who are concerned about radiation and plead the need for evacuation and protection are said to “worry too much.”
•The lines demarcating evacuation or compensation zones have served to turn people against one another.
•People are worried about their children’s health. They feel the need for every possible form of protection. At the same time, they, and the parents of children with disabilities, are increasingly fearful of further division and discrimination brought on by radiation.
•Projected shortfalls of electricity are used to proclaim the need for reactor restarts; reactors are to be exported in the name of economic growth.
During March and April of 2012, there were frequent tremors; everyone is fearful about Reactor No. 4, where spent fuel rods are held in exposed pools after explosions compromised the structure.
Tossed this way and that, hurt and exhausted, people eventually abandon their wariness of radiation. They stop up their ears: we have no choice but to go on living here. We don’t want to hear anything more.
Like radiation itself, the divisions among people penetrate every aspect of life. Toward the end of 2011, the government issued a statement declaring that the nuclear accident was under control. The media reported likewise. But for the victims, not a single thing about the disaster has been resolved.
That is the nature of a nuclear disaster.
It was twenty-six years ago, when the Chernobyl disaster occurred, that I learned for the first time about the dangers of nuclear power.
Nuclear power is a form of electricity generation that involves the exposure of workers at every stage, beginning with uranium mining and extending to waste disposal. Uranium mining leads to the exposure of Native Americans; the depleted uranium produced as a byproduct of uranium enrichment becomes a weapon that continues to harm the health of Iraqi and Afghan children. The routine operation and inspection of nuclear power plants inevitably involves worker exposure. Once there is an accident, as in Chernobyl and Fukushima, ordinary citizens are exposed to devastating amounts of radiation.
Even before the current disaster, I was beset by feelings of despair about the atomic age—about all the radioactive substances scattered around the earth by nuclear tests and reactor accidents, about nuclear wastes that remain dangerous for tens of thousands of years. Might this not be something that humans should never have touched? Wasn’t this disaster, which implicates all forms of life, the consequence of human arrogance? What are we to do about the radioactive substances that have been scattered about, the rubble and sludge they have mingled with, the contaminated earth? It is a painful thing to have to impose this burden on young people.
After the Chernobyl disaster, I started a movement within Fukushima Prefecture to oppose nuclear power. I have organized various kinds of lectures, presented demands and negotiated with Tepco, held petition campaigns, called for referenda, and issued newsletters. Direct, nonviolent action is what I have felt best suited for. I have never been particularly adept at speaking in front of others or pursuing the technical or social aspects of nuclear power, but appealing directly, putting myself on the line, feels right. At the time of the serious accident at Reactor No. 3 of the Fukushima Daini Plant that began with damage to the reactor recirculation pump in January 6, 1989, I organized a “Women’s Relay Hunger Strike.” In 1992, I started a “Camp for Women Who Proclaim We Don’t Need a Nuclear Fuel Plant” at Rokkasho Village in Aomori Prefecture. It was at the time when uranium hexafluoride, an ingredient in reactor fuel, was to be transported to a uranium enrichment plant that was part of the nuclear fuel cycle facility at Rokkasho. Women gathered from all over Japan to try to stop this first shipment of radioactive materials to Rokkasho. We set up tents along the truck route and camped out for a month. On the day of the delivery, signaling with songs, one, maybe two women at a time would leave the group, find a spot that wasn’t heavily guarded, and sit down on the road. We were driven out time and again, but we did manage to stop the trucks for fifty minutes.
After the current disaster, we held an action called “Sit-in by 100 Fukushima Women Who Say We Don’t Need Nuclear Power” in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry in Tokyo. Many people were participating in a sit-in for the first time in their lives. More than 2000 women came from all over Japan. We have been negotiating with Tepco, held a “We Don’t Need Nuclear Power Gathering of Life/Earth” at the one-year anniversary, and maintained a relay hunger strike to oppose restarting nuclear power plants. Today, May 5th, all 54 reactors in Japan have ceased operations pending regular inspection and maintenance. In other words, we are at nuclear zero. We are going to encircle METI as we dance an old folk dance of Fukushima called the “Kansho dance.” (I believe they are dancing it at this very moment.)
My focus on action by women does not stem from a desire to exclude men. While it is true that women have historically been subject to tremendous discrimination and oppression, in the dog-eat-dog, cutthroat world of present-day society in which economic interests have primacy, it could be men on the frontlines who are the more oppressed. In this sense, I think that women might have a different sort of reserve power. They’re willing to act on impulse and use their intuitions. They’re supple and good at enduring patiently. They like to be comfy, and they know how to enjoy themselves. Isn’t it possible, in the way they do things—having faith that it will all work out somehow—that there’s a key to a different kind of society from what we have today? This is what I said to the women on the morning of the sit-in:
Welcome, brave women! Thank you, each and every one who has come from far and wide, using your own time and energy and money. The boundless love and clear-headed thinking of women, together with the power of nonviolence, will create a new world! Let’s sit, talk, and sing together!
The citizens of Fukushima are working on various actions all the time. Together with supporters from around the country, they are advancing plans for evacuating children and young people or arranging for respite cures. They are developing pathways for securing safe food and opening centers where citizens can bring in food to be measured for levels of radionuclide contamination. We are active in making recommendations for legislation to support victims.
In March, we launched an organization to seek the prosecution of Tepco and pertinent nuclear regulatory agencies. We are busy seeking a membership of 1000 by June.33 I believe it is important for those who have been victimized to stand up and plead their cases in their own words. This is also a process for knitting together the feelings of those who have been divided, for healing the injuries suffered by each, and for recovering our strength and dignity.
Japan, in the course of making economic growth its greatest priority, developed an unprotesting citizenry suited to become docile workers and consumers. It learned how to contain citizen anger. Society, schools, and the media all worked to ensure that no thinking would take place. We need to become conscious that we let ourselves get placed on this track. Now is the time when citizens have to recover their self-confidence and their pride. It’s important for each of us to think with our own heads and to act within our capabilities, for each of us in fact has wonderful powers.
Now, I would like to share with you a little of the life I led, close to nature, before the nuclear disaster.
In the course of my antinuclear activism, I found myself often beset by despair and powerlessness over nuclear proliferation. It was at such a moment when I turned my gaze toward my own way of life. The electricity that we turn on so casually: when I realized that its generation entailed various forms of discrimination and the sacrifice of many lives, I thought I wanted to do as much as possible to put myself at the polar opposite of such a structure. I began to clear part of a mountainside and to embark on a life of self-sufficiency as much as possible.34
I should say that I never thought of this life focused on energy conservation as hard. It wasn’t about deprivation. There’s pleasure in using our heads and exercising our ingenuity. It feels good to try to be in harmony with nature. Isn’t it possible, that in exchange for convenience, we’ve been robbed of such joys?
Because of the nuclear disaster, however, this life, modest but sustained by careful use of the earth’s energy, nourished by nature’s bounty, and full of the pleasure of exercising ingenuity, will never come back. It will take a long, long time—perhaps 300 years—for the atmosphere to recover.
We need to reflect deeply on the nuclear weapons and power plants present in the world today. And we need to rethink our consumption and energy usage. Let us consider what constitutes abundance, what sort of values will make each of us truly happy, and initiate the actions necessary for realizing these values.
The nuclear disaster of Fukushima has brought on the worst situation imaginable, but today, I am able to meet all of you gathered here. This is also a chance for citizens to join hands, support each other, and help create a new world.
Let us walk together.