With preparations underway to restart Japan’s nuclear plants, writer Keiko Ochiai has pledged to continue a workshop on problems related to atomic power, four years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster began.
The monthly workshop organized by Ochiai in Tokyo was first held in May 2011, two months after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, and there have been more than 50 meetings since.
“It’s unfortunate but I have to continue the workshop,” the 70-year-old writer said in an interview.
All 48 commercial still-usable nuclear reactors across Japan are currently offline after the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. But four of them have obtained safety clearance to restart under tighter regulations introduced in light of the crisis.
At the latest meeting at the end of February, about 110 people attended the Morning Study of Silent Spring in Tokyo featuring British-born broadcaster Peter Barakan, who spoke about music and whether it can help “change the world.”
During their dialogue, Ochiai and Barakan took up issues ranging from nuclear power to problems of Japanese mass media and discrimination in the country.
“We mustn’t forget the fact that, currently, roughly 120,000 people are forced to live away from their hometowns,” Ochiai said, referring to Fukushima residents who evacuated from their homes due to the nuclear catastrophe.
To date, 57 people have given lectures at the workshop, including journalists, economists, a lawmaker and a doctor who treated children in Fukushima.
A former nuclear plant designer spoke about the structural defects of those facilities, while the leader of a nonprofit organization dealing with nuclear issues talked about the demand and supply of electricity in Japan.
The name of the workshop came from Ochiai’s blog, whose title is “Journal of Silent Spring.” It’s named after “Silent Spring,” a 1962 book about the danger of pesticides such as DDT by environmentalist Rachel Carson.
“Silence does not exist for silence. It exists to be broken after we learn something. I want the participants to learn about silence-breaking days,” Ochiai said.
A popular radio celebrity since the 1960s, Ochiai has hosted the workshop at Crayonhouse, a children’s book store she has run for around 40 years near Omotesando Street in Tokyo.
Morning Study of Silent Spring is not her first attempt at a workshop.
In the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, Ochiai set up a similar study session, but it faded over time.
A mix of regret and anger for not having continued with that earlier study session drove her to organize a new workshop in 2011, she said.
Explaining why she is opposed to nuclear power, she said: “We have to think about the future generations of children. And we have to think again that there is no ‘absolute’ in what people do.”
Despite persisting safety concerns and anti-nuclear public sentiment because of the Fukushima crisis, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has been pushing to bring some reactors back online, saying it is necessary for economic growth.
“It is obvious the economy will collapse if there is another nuclear accident,” Ochiai said.
Every year as the March 11 anniversary approaches, media reports about the disaster-hit area and its residents remind others about the triple disaster.
However, Ochiai: “I think we are on a system to ‘make people forget.’ The farther we are from the disaster area, the easier we are influenced by a spate of everyday news.
“But what we can do is not forget, and think about the next step we can make.”
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