Thinking about Nuclear Power, from Fukushima

Public Relations Office        May 30, 2017

In the fall semester, a new university-wide special project-based learning (PBL) practicum subject was established, titled ‘Thinking about Nuclear Power, from Fukushima.’ In late October 2016, students taking this subject undertook two days of field work, in which they toured TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and other areas affected by 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake. This article will report on the students’ experiences in the field and other aspects of the subject.

Thinking about Nuclear Power, from Fukushima

Close to six years after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the general public’s view of Fukushima in the context of the nuclear power station, is likely very complex. Twenty-five first- to forth-year students participated in the field work trip, which took place over two days on October 29-30, 2016. They visited Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Okuma and Futaba, and the town of Tomioka in Fukushima Prefecture, where they conducted interviews of workers and residents.

Thinking about Nuclear Power, from Fukushima

On the first day, the group traveled to Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station by bus from the J-Village sporting complex in the town of Naraha, which is located about 20km away and which acted as a hub for the efforts to bring the situation at the power station under control.

When the students arrived at the power station, the students donned gloves, shoe covers, and dosimeters to ensure that they did not carry any radioactive material outside the plant. They then boarded a special bus, from which they viewed the area of Reactors 1-4, the area of the contaminated water tanks, and other parts of the power station. Dosimeters have been installed in various places around the site. Meanwhile, the workers’ equipment and working hours are controlled meticulously, taking wind direction and other factors into account.

The students asked many questions, such as ‘Why do nuclear power stations require such a large site?’ and ‘Are you cooperating with international organizations on the decommissioning of the plant ?’ and ‘What do you think of the way the accident at Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been reported in the media ?’ Yoshiyuki Ishizaki of Tokyo Electric Power Company, the head office representative in the Fukushima reconstruction efforts, and Naohiro Masuda, Fukushima Daiichi Power Station’s Chief Officer for Contaminated Water Countermeasures, gave considered responses to every one of the students’ questions.

One female third-year student said, ‘Until now, my impression of the nuclear power station was very negative. However, I saw that the workers on site were working animatedly with a sense of purpose, and the canteen also had a very vibrant atmosphere. Although the accident was unforgivable, I learned that the people at TEPCO are taking the situation very seriously and working hard on reconstruction and recovery.’

On the second day of the field trip, some of the students conducted field work in the town of Tomioka, an area that has been designated as a “zone being prepared for lifting of the evacuation order.” After listening to a lecture about the history and culture of Fukushima from Hiroshi Kainuma, sociologist and author of books such as Hajimete no Fukushima- Gaku [Fukushima Studies for Beginners], they walked in small groups around the almost-deserted town.

Another female student commented, ‘In a sushi restaurant, I saw the soy sauce sitting on the counter, still in the dish, and I could picture how the people evacuated urgently with little more than the clothes on their back.

It makes me sad to witness how a town that once flourished because of the nuclear power station could fall into this state, also because of the power station.’ The students also visited the temporary shops that have been set up in the shopping district of Hisanohama in the city of Iwaki, which was particularly hard hit by the tsunami. A woman working there showed the students photographs that depicted what the area looked like at the time. A male third-year student, commented, ‘Hearing directly from someone who had been directly affected about the terror of the tsunami and nuclear power station accident was beyond anything I had imagined. Even now, the people here are still suffering, but they are trying hard to overcome it and they recounted their terrible experiences with smiles on their faces.’

A female third-year student looked back on the field trip, saying, ‘Before, “Fukushima” to me seemed like somebody else’s problem, but through this subject, I am now able to think about it as my problem as well, as a fellow Japanese.’ Professor Nobutaka Murao, the subject’s coordinator, holds out hopes for what the subject can achieve. ‘The students experienced Fukushima with their own eyes, their own ears, and their own skin. I think they obtained a very different impression from the one they get from the media or online.

It was only a short trip, but there were many things that they could not have understood without coming to Fukushima. I hope that, when it comes to thinking about energy issues, these students, living in Kansai, will think about what they themselves can do and take action.’