Discussion with a Victim of Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in Japan

Energy

29 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr S Njikelana (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Portfolio Committee met to listen to one of the victims of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster that occurred in Japan last year. Ms Oga Ayako, shared with the Committee her experiences of what happened, the pain felt by the people of Japan, the scars left by the disaster and what lessons that could be learned from a nuclear energy disaster.

Members asked few questions of clarity without indulging in a nuclear energy debate.

Meeting report

Welcome
The Chairperson welcomed Ms Oga Ayako to South Africa. Thereafter, he introduced himself and asked Members of the Committee to do the same.

The Chairperson also welcomed the delegation from Greenpeace and other civil society organizations that were present in the meeting. He informed everyone that the meeting would not be long because it was an information sharing session and it should be limited at that.

Address by a Victim of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
Ms Oga Ayako, Fukushima Nuclear Energy Disaster Victim introduced herself and thanked the Committee for allowing her the opportunity to share her experiences. She informed the Committee that she lived 50km of the number one nuclear reactor. On 11 March 2011, there was an earthquake and she quickly realised that there would be a nuclear incident. She wanted to warn her neighbours about evacuating however there was very little information available initially due to the earthquake. Her husband and her got into their car and drove around to search for better information, from that moment they had not been able to return to their house. Approximately 26 hours after the earthquake had struck, 90 000 citizens, who were living in the 20km radius of the nuclear plant, were ordered by the Government to evacuate the area.

Ms Ayako stated that immediately thereafter another explosion occurred in a quiet farming area approximately 250km away from Tokyo. Citizens of that area also had to vacate their homes with very few necessities. Most families had broken up and scattered all over Japan, many had lost their jobs and were currently in an unpredictable space in their lives. Given the amount of radiation, it would be impossible for this to be sorted during her lifetime. There were many cases of elderly people who became ill and had passed away after they were evacuated. In many cases proper funeral could not be arranged for the deceased. Their relatives and friends could not be contacted so that they could bury them but small funerals were organised. Personally, she was informed of the death of her 3 friends much later after the disaster.

From 12-15 March, 3 explosions occurred and the radio active material and residue was found over the wine area. In terms of counting the amount of radio active material people were exposed to in wine area was equivalent to more than 160 times compared to the nuclear exposure in Fukushima. Although the Japanese central government as well as the Fukushima local government which were questioned about the evacuation plans, an additional of 3000 citizens were evacuated 60 days after the disaster. The message they wanted to relay on government was that it was important thing to save more lives although the level of contamination was high.

Some people believe it was a political campaign and getting on with their lives. From October a radiation exposure decimetre was given to all children under the age of 15 which they wore around their necks all the time. They should close all windows at home and all children should not play outside. The radio active material had contaminated everything including roads, plants, trees, houses, walls of buildings, agricultural land, rivers, forests and every product. The rainfall was also radio active because when it was sunny and the wind blew the dust from the ground went up and settled into the atmosphere. The radio activity measurements that were gathered by the central and local government were insufficient in form, they were taken by citizens but actual needed to be qualified.

Ms Ayako stated that some villagers who abandoned their home towns felt they were discriminated against in the new places they migrated to. Government took too long to intervene which led people to be displaced from their families and friends.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked Ms Ayako for her valuable information about the nuclear disaster and passed on the condolences from the Government of South Africa to the Government and people of Japan. He requested Members of the Portfolio Committee to ask questions of clarity and appealed to them not to divulge on the matter because it was a matter which Parliament would still engage on.

Mr J Selau (ANC) conveyed his condolences to the families of victims of the Fakushima nuclear disaster. He asked what source of energy was currently used in Japan and what recommendations she give to other countries when it came to sources of energy.

Ms Ayako responded that at that moment Japan had 54 nuclear reactors, and because citizens did not want the country to continue operating those reactors, 52 out of the 54 reactors were shut down and, only 2 reactors were currently operating which would also be shut down soon. However, Japan did not suffer from the shortage of power.

Ms N Mathibela (ANC) thanked Ms Ayako for the information although it was heart breaking. She asked whether the radio active material was currently killing people in Japan.

Ms Ayako responded that 6 scientists had past away after the disaster however, it was not clear if they were killed through radio active material exposure. Because of activism and awareness the radio active exposure was not that large but it could be felt on a long term basis in 5 – 20 years. However, that situation would not remain like that which meant that Government should come up with a plan to remedy the situation.

Mr L Greyling (ID) thanked Ms Ayako for coming all the way from Japan to relate her painful story to the world. Members were all very shock to hear the news of the disaster in Japan last year and hearing some of her stories had brought back some of those memories and emotions. What other source of energy was the country using after the 52 reactors had been shut down? Was it gas or renewable energy?

Ms Ayako responded that all she knew was that the Japanese always had a form because when they generate electricity they generated much more than they were using. Perhaps the country had stocked electricity or planned for the peak of electricity which was summer time in Japan. But the generation of electricity was more than its use. After the disaster last year, Japan did not plan for other sources of energy or researched on the matter but only did awareness campaigns for energy saving mechanisms.

The Chairperson thanked Ms Ayako for the information she shared with the Committee. He emphasized that the Committee would keep in contact with her and that matter would be debated further in Parliament.

The meeting was adjourned.


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