MEDIA INFFLICTED DAMAGE TAKING ITS TOLL ON FUKUSHIMA
On August 30, a public hearing was held in Tomioka, a small fishing town in northeast Fukushima prefecture less than a mile from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant (F1) crippled in the powerful earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. The agenda: is it safe to discharge water containing radioactive tritium into the ocean? (Two similar hearings were held the following day—one elsewhere in Fukushima and the other in Tokyo.) Yumiko Nishimoto, director of Happy Road Network, an NPO in Tomioka, commented worriedly:
“The mass media’s coverage of the hearing was superficial as expected, only further complicating the situation. We in Fukushima are constantly suffering at the hands of the media, which act as though they fully understand the situation and how we local citizens truly feel. In fact, we suffer far more from the damage inflicted by the media than the disaster itself.”
Watching the day’s prime-time “Hodo Station” news show on TV Asahi, I could not but fume over the extremely shallow and one-sided manner in which the program reported on the tritium-tainted water stored at F1.
The program completely failed to provide any basic information that would allow the viewer to come to grips with how the tritium issue can be resolved. How can this program qualify as a “news show” if it doesn’t give a proper overview of the problem or the fundamental issues at hand?
If its intention is simply to focus on superficial criticism of the government and the operator of F1, TEPCO, isn’t this program nothing more than an insipid variety show? Such irresponsible reporting by the media results in an unfavorable image of Fukushima as a whole, not just the affected regions, ruining the all-out effort of the local people to overcome the tragedy and rebuild their shattered lives. Ms. Nishimoto calls this “media inflicted damage.”
The Asahi program also made a brief reference to an operation just begun at the operational headquarters of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Fukui Prefecture, to remove nuclear fuel. It is a first step towards decommissioning its failed “Monju” fast-breeder reactor after investing more than ￥1 trillion (approximately US$9 billion) over more than a quarter century. Below is the gist of the show’s report on the hearing.
Video of the hearing was aired after a female narrator read the introduction: “The tritium-tainted water is fast increasing…There are more than 900 water tanks full now…A hearing was held today on a proposal to dilute and release the radiated water into the sea.”
Tritium Is Virtually Harmless to Human Health
The footage began with an explosive statement by fisherman Haruo Ono, who proclaimed: “My colleagues and I are absolutely against releasing tritium into our sea!”
The narrator then noted that the tritium-tainted water has already surpassed the one-million ton mark and is continuing to increase; that securing a storage spot is difficult; and that a plan to dilute and discharge the tritium into the ocean is under study. She introduced a researcher’s view that “discharging diluted tritium into the ocean is safe and the best economic solution uder the circumstances.” Immediately afterwards, Ono was shown again, fiercely arguing:
“The minute the tritiated water is discharged into our sea, it definitely will affect the image of Fukushima, especially that of our marine products, regardless of whether such an action is scientifically safe. We are absolutely against the tritium discharge, and that’s not because we want to obtain more compensation for damages.”
Ono’s remarks were followed by comments by other panelists and observers, such as: “Rumors fanned by the mass media will worsen Fukushima’s image. No one will want to consume marine products from Fukushima. I currently live in another city as an evacuee, but the idea to discharge tritium into the sea further discourages me from returning to my hometown.”
It is obvious that the news show completely failed to touch on two very pertinent points: (1) how other nuclear plants, both in and outside Japan, have dealt with tritium-tainted water to date, and (2) whether or not tritium is harmful to humans.
As regards point (1), the government expects the water from F1 to be discharged into the ocean after reducing it to tritium and amply diluting it with fresh water: 62 harmful radioactive substances, except tritium, will have been eliminated through special multi-nuclide removal equipment called ALPS (Advanced Liquid Processing System), before being discharged into the sea. That is the standard universally observed by members of the international community, including China, South Korea, Russia, and the US. Japan has always followed suit, except for F1.
As for point (2), tritium is a radionuclide in the realm of nature which emits a very low level of radiation. Bearing the same characteristics as water, tritium is not condensed in the human body and is harmless when sufficiently diluted. It is created when cosmic rays strike moisture in the atmosphere, such as clouds, but causes no harm to the human body when we are exposed. The same is true if tritium is consumed. In other words, tritium is virtually harmless no matter how it enters our body.
What is behind the news show’s intention to withhold such vital information? One is tempted to suspect that its directors may be trying to support the anti-nuclear movement by turning the viewer’s eyes away from the truth about tritiated water and the universally practiced solution of ocean discharge.
Another point to note was the failure to follow up on the statement by fisherman Ono that the fishermen are “against the tritium discharge, and that’s not because we want to obtain more compensation for damages.” The ongoing confusion over tritium in Fukushima and the resultant lack of progress in the recovery are closely linked with the issue of compensation for the March 2011 tragedy.
As of the end of July this year, TEPCO had completed paying a whopping \8 trillion 300 billion (approximately US$75.5 billion) in compensation to the victims of the catastrophe.
Fukushima Wary over Media’s Biased Reportage
The government has set different lengths of time for the compensation: two years for commerce and industry, three years for agriculture, and four years for fisheries. But TEPCO has adopted a policy of extending the period to six years for commerce and industry, plus an additional two years for future projects, and to six plus three years for agriculture, for a total of nine years. As for fisheries, TEPCO is currently paying damages without setting the time of termination.
In other words, those engaged in fisheries in Fukushima can claim compensation for damages indefinitely. They are generally seen to be compensated more generously than those in commerce and industry, or agriculture for that matter. But the real situation in Fukushima is a little more complicated than that. Visiting the region, one notices that the compensation for fishermen is classified into two categories.
A: those who have been compelled to completely give up fishing are recompensed for the amounts matching their pre-March 11, 2011 revenues.
B: Those who have actually resumed fishing but failed to match their previous
Earnings are recompensed for the balance between what they made prior to March 11, 2011 and what they make today.
It is only natural for one to expect most fishermen today to be in Category B, now that more than seven years have elapsed. One hopes that working vigorously engenders the energy to overcome difficulties. The truth of the matter is that there are many who cling to Category A.
Fisheries cooperatives in Fukushima have functioned as the fishermen’s representatives for negotiations with TEPCO for both categories. Under such circumstances, a number of fishermen have been allowed to choose living largely on compensation from the state and TEPCO.
Because it is widely known that the fishermen are receiving very generous compensation, the fishermen’s claim that they are not after additional compensation for damages is not necessarily given wide support even in Fukushima. The TV Asahi news show should have reported on the controversy more fairly in its on-the-spot coverage of the news, including an honest analysis of this very delicate background.
Ms. Nishimoto observes that any opposition in Fukushima to the discharge of tritium into the sea is driven by wariness over how it will be reported by the media. She wants the media to refrain from fanning groundless fears about the discharge into the sea, which could quite easily lead to a broad refusal to buy marine products from Fukushima, making a recovery of the prefecture that much difficult, if not impossible. She notes:
“We want the media to fulfill its responsibility to accurately report on the situation here so as to avoid more damage to the image of our prefecture and its goods and services. If our politicians are reluctant to face up to the reality here in Fukushima, the media must hold them accountable and demand that they stop making their own inaccurate pronouncements on the situation. Isn’t that the role of the media—to confront the ‘men of power’?”
How will TV Asahi reply to this?
“Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 818 in the September 13, 2018 issue
of The Weekly Shincho)