Fukushima: Trauma and the History of Place

It is the nature of war and also human nature that what has remained unfinished will pass on to the next generation in one form or another. The history of place often plays a role in these traumatic repetitions. Many cultures believe that places have something like “fields of memory”. From a systemic perspective, Japan’s relationship to nuclear energy predates the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Martin Fackler’s article in the NY Times, September 9, 2011, “Fukushima’s Long Link to a Dark Nuclear Past”, it comes to light that during the latter months of World War II, Imperial soldiers forced local school children to mine uranium ore from a nearby foothill in Fukushima Prefecture. This ore was then sent to Military Factory 608 which refined it into yellow cake. Children were put to work by the military since all men had been sent away to war. These children were told that “with the stones that you are digging up, we can make a bomb the size of a matchbox that will destroy all of New York”.

Two of the 130 schoolchildren used to mine uranium ore, Kuniteru Maeda and Kiwamu Ariga, now in their eighties, became schoolteachers and later pooled their money to self-publish their experiences on the wartime bomb project. In recent years Mr Ariga has begun to tell his story to local schoolchildren who are often shocked that their country also tried to manufacture an atomic bomb. Furthermore, he tells them, “I have no doubt that Japan would have used it, if it succeeded”. Mr Ariga is now angry at the parallel he sees between that bomb project and Japan’s current nuclear crisis. The main similarity, he says, is that in both cases, the population was deceived by what he called hubris-filled leaders.

This perspective is shared by Japanese journalist Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of The Japan Times and lecturer from Tsinghua University (Global Research, April12, 2011). He was not surprised when Tokyo Electric Power Company and Japanese officials initially responded to their nuclear crisis with denial, outright lies, media control and other attempted cover-ups. No foreign nuclear engineers or Japanese journalists were permitted entry into the damaged reactor structures. Mr Shimatsu believes that confused and bumbling responses, miscommunications and half-baked reports coming from the Fukushima complex were likely driven by a much darker agenda. In his view, the most logical explanation for this smoke and mirrors performance is that industry and government agencies are scrambling to prevent discovery of atomic bomb research facilities hidden within Japan’s civilian power plants. Enrichment of uranium for nuclear warheads is forbidden under Japanese constitutional law and terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Mr. Shimatsu maintains that this hidden nuclear weapons program is a ghost in the machine now reflecting the violence inherent within an earlier secret program. If true, these new revelations about Japan’s wartime and recent attempts to manufacture nuclear weapons add another dimension to the ongoing crisis in Fukushima prefecture.

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