Fukushima: A Man-Made Disaster

by Erinn Sullivan

Women of Fukushima Movie Poster, By Paul Johannessen, Available in The SIMA Classroom Catalogue

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami that slammed the country’s north-eastern coast, destroying communities, and taking the lives of tens of thousands of people. The quake was so strong that it permanently moved Japan’s main island, Honshu, more than two meters to the east. The event triggered the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It also exposed serious failures in the Japanese system for ensuring the safety of nuclear reactors, as well as collusion within the government and nuclear industry.

The earthquake led to the loss of external power at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The subsequent tsunami flooded the plant’s backup diesel generators, causing complete loss of power and failure of the cooling systems. As temperatures rose, nuclear fuel melted in reactors #1, #2, and #3. Damaged fuel led to a buildup of hydrogen gas, and eventually, explosions in reactors #1, #3 and #4. Reactor #4 experienced major structural damage.

TEPCO, the plant operator, later admitted that it was aware of the possibility of a tsunami exceeding the design limits of the Fukushima nuclear plant as far back as 2008, and of a crippling power loss as far back as 2006, but never attempted to upgrade or fortify its facilities. Three separate investigations, led by the government, Parliament, and an independent commission, revealed “systematic negligence” and declared the crisis a “man-made disaster”. More than a year later, TEPCO finally admitted that a “lack of safety culture” and “collusion with the nuclear industry” led to the meltdowns.

This week — roughly five years later — we invite you to take a local look at the disaster and journey deep into Fukushima through the eyes of six Japanese women as they offer their brutally honest views on the state of the clean-up, the cover-ups, untruths, and how it has affected their lives, homes, and families.

Where does this leave us? There is no proven method to clean up nuclear accidents like the one at Fukushima, which begs the question: “How can humanity hope to survive as a modern civilization when we continually — by fault or design — create problems that take generations of people to deal with?”-Women of Fukushima, Director Paul Johannessen.

We’ve raised awareness about the issue through advocacy, protests, films and impact media, but we need to reevaluate the way we design our societies; how we manufacture things, how we dispose of them and how we make the planet a main character in our shared narrative of humanity instead of a consequence or byproduct of it.

For more documentaries like this, head to simaclassroom.com

Erinn Sullivan is a visual storyteller, designer and activist at the Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA). Join Us in Catalyzing Impact Cinema Worldwide on Facebook and Twitter.

Article Resources: What is Nuclear?, U.S. NRC (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission), World Nuclear, Women of Fukushima Film

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