Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Environmental Issues Remain in Spotlight Following Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

By: William Hoffman

Produced & Edited By: Zainab Kandeh

         When three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power plant went into meltdown after the 2011 tsunami hit, radioactive material started spilling into the water and land and became the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
         Families and businesses are still suffering from the effects of this disaster and it has caused an upheaval of environmental issues and a focus on a new green movement in Japan that has consequences in many different facets of East Asian environmental issues: radiation, agriculture, social responsibility and sustainability in business.
         One of the areas that has been most affected by the disaster is agriculture and fishery markets. Mari Takenouchi, an independent journalist in Japan, has followed the effects of the disaster, and found the government is doing a lot to hide some of the radiation’s effects.
         She speculates strontium 90 and yttrium 90 radiant raise the incidence of leukemia, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, damage of nervous systems and developmental damage to unborn babies. However, the government was slow to include these radiant in its initial reports.
         “Since the Japanese government acknowledged the severe danger of strontium 90, they are doing their best to avoid this topic,” Takenouchi said. “Since there is no scientists who do the research on this in Japan, nobody can say the negative impacts for sure, but I think it is already happening.”

Radiation Effects More Than General Area

         These effects can travel far when the fish are affected by this radiation, Takenouchi said, yet canned pacific fish are still being exported to countries such as Cambodia, Ghana, Senegal, the Congo and Sri Lanka. While no connection to the radiation can definitively be made, Takenouchi said the reports of adverse health effects come from school children out of that country are cause to stop exportation of pacific fish to these developing countries.

Taking A Stand Against Nuclear Power
Nuclear protest continue in Japan 
following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. © Courtesy of: AFP
  Takenouchi said the Japanese government has no plans to limit the sale of pacific fish but intends to restart its nuclear program. 
         “In spite of majority of people's opinion, more than 70 percent are against nuclear power now in Japan,”  Takenouchi said. “But one day, I think Japanese people's inner outrage could translate into real change when the next nuclear disaster takes place.”
         Despite the government's actions there is a strong anti-nuclear sentiment growing in Japan. The Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) is one such group which looks to spread information on the dangerous consequences of nuclear energy and strive towards a nuclear free world.

         Hajime Matsukubo, an officer with the center, said the organization has gathered eight million signatures towards its 10 million signature goal to prove there is a strong opposition to nuclear power.
         While these efforts have an impact on the startup of some nuclear plants such as the Takahama Power Plant, the government is ultimately looking to restart its nuclear program by January or February, Matsukubo said.   
      “Maybe it’s difficult that nuclear power is one of the main political issues,” Matsukubo said. “It’s only nery one political issue and to people the economic issue is more important.” 

Environmental Issues Stem From Lack of Resources 

     Many different environmental issues make-up the Japanese political landscape and many of them stem from Japan’s lack of mineral resources. The country is largely dependent on imported resources in order to sustain itself ranking it the world’s largest importer of coal and liquefied natural gas, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Japan also suffers from low levels of food production, making it more dependent on imports.

         Larry Korn, student of the farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka and English translator of Fukuoka’s book The One-Straw Revolution, said rice is heavily subsidized in Japan, a practice left over from the Tokugawa period (1603 - 1868).
Farmer Takashi Nakajima operates a tractor in his lettuce field in 
Kawakami Village, Nagano Prefecture, Japan.
© Courtesy of Masaaki Iwamoto/Bloomberg

       “They feel like they have to grow enough rice to feed the country,” Korn said. “They have to depend on other places for all of their oil and most of their natural resources, but rice they won’t let go of that one thing, so they subsidize the rice growers.”
       But very few people make their way as farmers anymore as 91.3 percent of the population lives in urban zones according to the CIA World Factbook.

Sustainability is Opportunity
         This has brought about the need for more urban agriculture in the cities. There’s been a dramatic increase in urban farm production with one-third of all Japanese agricultural output generated by urban agriculture according to a United Nations University article.

         Even businesses in the largest cities are beginning to see the advantages of incorporating sustainable practices into the work environment.

   Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) works with corporations and organizations to catalyze change within business by integrating sustainability into strategy and operations.

         “Japanese companies, if one leading company stands to do one program then a lot of Japanese companies tend to copy,” said Asako Nagai, BSR’s director in Japan. “Sustainability might be a risk … but sustainability is a lot about opportunity.”
An employee harvests veggies grown inside an office "urban farm" in Tokyo. 
The Pasona Group, an employment and staffing company, established the 
growing area to foster a work environment that "coexists with nature."
© Courtesy of Yuriko Nakao, Reuters
   As this urbanization continues to increase, these sorts of sustainable business models will be ever-more important to the long-term progress of Japan.
         “Tokyo is growing bigger and bigger and the population is concentrating into Tokyo and we’re seeing less people in the rural area,” Nagai said.
         Sean King, an Ohio University student studying in the city, said in his short time there he’s seen this urbanization turn towards animosity at the “boonies” outside of Tokyo. However, he admits the city is very clean as people never simply throw trash on the ground, a result of cultural attitudes toward litter.
        “The Japanese term is Geri,” King said. “It’s a prevailing mindset where you want to uphold your own personal standing in society — you owe a debt to everyone around you and everyone around you owes a debt to you.” 

         It’s this attitude which might just push Japan into the future.

       “I’m expecting, hoping Japan can move forward taking the global initiative to prevent climate change,” Nagai said.

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