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Translation of Rue89 Interview with Wataru Iwata

April 6, 2012

Composer Wataru Iwata poses many difficult questions regarding the long-term health risks faced by the victims following the Fukushima nuclear accidents in an article by the French news website, Rue89, found here. He presents a compelling call to action, what he calls an “auto-evacuation,” whereby “people should decide by themselves to evacuate the affected zone”.

Below is the English translation of the article, by Francis Guerin.

Fukushima: “Everything has to be done again for us to stay in the contaminated areas”

By Nadine and Thierry Ribault
Translation by Francis Guerin

On March 13 2011, two days after the Tōhoku Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accidents at Fukushima occurred, the composer Wataru Iwata left his studio in the suburbs of Tokyo to take refuge in Kyoto. He was completely aware, as the entire population now is, that an unprecedented catastrophe – even larger than Chernobyl – just occurred. After countless sleepless nights, Iwata, who never engaged in activism before, either humanitarian or political, decided to go to Fukushima prefecture on March 20, propelled by a zeal even he cannot fully explain.

During the following three months, Iwata created “Project 47”, named after the 47 prefectures of Japan. Funds were raised to organize the evacuation of victims and to buy radiation measurement equipment and use it to gather data and publish it. He explains:

“The situation in Japan looks more and more like it did in wartime: television, print and Internet outlets are being called upon to impose a voluntary gag order on themselves.”

The “Project 47” observers go to farms, schools and homes with radiometers and Geiger counters to measure radiation levels and publish them on their association website. They want to create what they call “auto-evacuation”: a system whereby people can decide to evacuate the affected zone themselves, since the state doesn’t oblige them to do it.

Wataru Iwata, stubborn and an agitator

Facing the impossible nature of official oversight with regard to the disaster, “we need infinite noncompliance,” says Iwata. Indignation, so popular lately, because it is first and foremost a confession of impotence, is not sufficient. In June 2011, he canceled his lease in Tokyo and rented, in Fukushima City, a studio apartment where he lives surrounded by radiation measurement tools – thereby creating the first autonomous radiation measurement station in Japan, which went into effect on July 1st 2011.

This station adds to the actions facilitated by the new structures set up by “Project 47,” named the “Citizen’s Radioactivity Measuring Station” (CRMS). “The day we launched the Whole Body Counter [WBC, a machine used to measure radioactivity in the human body],” says Iwata, “a hundred orders were requested within five minutes. We had to close down.” Little by little, other centers opened in Kōriyama, Fukagawa, Nihonmatsu, and Tamura. On December 14, 2011, the CRMS network’s first People’s Station for the Measurement of Radioactivity opened in Tokyo.

Wataru Iwata does not belong to any hierarchical organization and does not depend on anyone. It is his own will that motivated him the day after the Fukushima accident. He is stubborn and an agitator.

On November 27, 2011, during an event organized by the CRMS in Tokyo to give information to the population at large , he stated that he is wary of the WBC, since it can be used to exonerate people who decide not to move. People from Fukushima who fled to Kyoto ask: how can we prove anything, if we come down with a disease later on? Wataru advises them to keep their children’s teeth and hair. After the meeting, he confesses considering a change in direction, to lead a more direct stuggle against the authorities and against every apathetic member of the populace.

Mothers lacked confidence in the authorities

We met Wataru Iwata on February 12, 2012, in Fukushima, during the “Protect Life from Radiation” symposium.


Nadine and Thierry Ribault: Seven months after the creation of the CRMS, how have things turned out?

Wataru Iwata:  Fukushima residents approached us when we first arrived with our radiation measurement equipment. Our objective was not to push people to flee, but to give them information so they could decide for themselves.

People could not talk about radiation, they could not mention the nuclear power plant. The central and local authorities did made no proposal to combat contamination. Instead, they raised annual “tolerable” levels of radiation.

The watchword was “Hang in there Fukushima!” And people, including children in schools, were being urged to consume food from Fukushima. People worried about the risks of radiation soon understood that they had to protect themselves from internal irradiation as much as external irradiation. Mothers, worried about their children’s nutritional health, sounded the alarm.

Mothers, then, lacked confidence in the authorities?

Yes, which was legitimate. Government officials worried little about the health and security of the people. There was a lack of precise information. Authorities confessed to me that, for example, they would select three rice samples before declaring a batch of rice safe to consume, as long as they were contaminated at less than 5,000 becquerels by kilogram. However, that is too hasty a conclusion, since contamination levels change every 100 meters.

There was an enormous discordance between reality and how reality was portrayed by the authorities. The control stations being used to measure the external flow rate were situated 20 meters from the ground, and were designed to measure radioactivity in case of nuclear weapons testing. When we opened the first station at Fukushima, we were supposed to start at 13:00 and people were already lining up at 11:00. I told them that we could not measure water, though many brought water to us anyway.

They wanted to understand and know, even the farmers. At the beginning, there were many people from the organic farming world. They were asking if they could cultivate their crops and sell them for consumption. These measurements are necessary to make such decisions.

“The authorities offered cynical apologies”

What kind of relationship do you have with the authorities?

After receiving the WBC, we developed relationships with the sanitary authorities who came to see what we were doing. People had told them the results obtained with us. They were friendly, offering cynical apologies that they could not do these kinds of activities themselves.

People do not trust them any more, but there is, within their ranks, some who have the intention to protect the people. They just don’t have all the equipment to do so. They were not trying to hide things, but people did not believe them. At Fukushima Medical University, for example, the WBC was contaminated from the start. Some residents asked to be measured but they were refused.

People then turned to us and we ended up creating relationships of dependence with some of them, since they felt that they could no longer depend on authorities anymore… but now they depend on the CRMS. Some people don’t have any autonomy anymore. Nevertheless, everything is done, and will continue to be done, for those who do not leave the contaminated areas. It is not realistic to think that everyone will leave. Therefore, the people who stay there need protection and medical follow-up.

From that point of view, we are looking to work with authorities. We have to do more than just complain. We have to act according to what the residents need. However, only 3% of them are left, and 10% of them are children. These are leftover people.  The authorities, who had decided before not to advise them to “evacuate,” are now telling these “leftover people” to “go on replenishing trips,” like we advise elderly to do in “conventional” times.

What kind of relationship do you have with scientists?

Medical examinations given as part of the public health survey supervised by Professor Yamashita’s team are free. Fukushima prefecture asked the central government to ensure that the entirety of the medical care for those under 18 year-old will be free of charge. But officially, this request has been shelved as of January 28 by Tatsuo Hirano, Minister for Reconstruction.

Therefore, some scientists have a somehow strange attitude. Conflicts arise: vice-president Yamashita, from Nagasaki, and vice-president Kamiya, from Hiroshima, are publicly at odds concerning the investigation. According to Hiroshima doctors, the non-distribution of iodine tablets on the first days of the disaster was a mistake, while others do not see it that way.

It is difficult for doctors to work independently due to the power of the medical associations that prohibit them from warning people about radiation, and some pediatricians even resent mothers who are worried about their children’s health; however, many doctors, especially from Fukushima, sincerely want to provide protection and assistance to the population. We are therefore establishing working connections with some of them, as well as with some researchers.

“Fukushima Medical University has become Dracula’s Castle”

Is the CRMS a place of truth?

The CRMS has to establish a form of trust. This is done step by step. People have been highly exposed, and we do not know what will happen in the following years. Stories spread: dead fetuses in mothers’ stomachs, malformations… but we cannot say for sure at present what is caused by radiation and what is not.

The head of the radio station in Koriyama recently had a baby born with a heart malformation similar to the ones children in Chernobyl had. Journalists took advantage of this to spread fear with these stories, but no conclusion can yet be made.

What is certain, on the other hand, is that people need follow-ups. They need to have examinations and be treated as soon as we find something. We need to look carefully for abnormalities, because the possibility of developing a disease has increased. However, as I said, the government refuses to remove the medical fees for those under 18 in the Fukushima prefecture; only “sanitary control” examinations conducted as part of the health surveys are free. The medical fees should be removed, but we also have to be aware that if such a law were passed, people would no longer be able to keep their personal information private from authorities.

People would be examined in Fukushima and those examination results would remain “stuck” to their identities like criminal records. Besides, only 20% of the population answered the survey conducted by Fukushima Medical University.

For many, Fukushima Medical University has become Dracula’s Castle. It is nevertheless the role of this university to care for people, and in order to do that correctly, those in charge need to change their policy. They have to discuss issues with residents and citizens and consider their opinions and requests while determining how the survey is conducted, for example. We need to be close to people. We need to consider the precise situation and act accordingly. You never know, once a decision is made, if it will be the right one.

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