Concerned mothers made a formal declaration and held a press conference at Osaka Prefecture Main Building (Osaka-fu-cho, in Japanese 「大阪府庁」) on Friday, December 16th at 10:00 am. A panel of three mothers read a declaration stating that the plan of Osaka Mayor, M. Hashimoto, to accept radioactive waste from Iwate prefecture for incineration, is harmful for children. The declaration was received by three prefecture representatives, one who asked genuine questions, another who seemed condescending and the third who kept quiet. The most visible news team was ABC News. The room was small and supporters, mostly standing up, numbered about 50. There were only three Western foreigners present including myself.
The event was peaceful and low-key, yet intense. One of the young mothers had a young child and is pregnant and was on the verge of tears as she spoke of her concern for them. Radiation effects are much stronger on children even at low dose of radioactivity, as is well documented after Chernobyl. A significant number were born with heart defect known as “Chernobyl Heart” which is also the title of a documentary film made in 2003 by Maryann DeLeo.
The film won the Best Documentary Short Subject award at the 2004 Academy Awards. In the film, DeLeo travels through Ukraine and Belarus with Adi Roche, the Irish founder of the Chernobyl Children’s Project International, observing the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the health of children in the area. Many children suffered from a previously unknown cardiac degradation condition known in the area as “Chernobyl heart”, in addition to other severe radiation poisoning effects. DeLeo explored the Chernobyl disaster again in 2008 with the film White Horse. [Wikipedia]
Chernobyl Heart can be watched on-line for free on the website Top Documentarty Film and last only 39 minutes. It is a must see although I had to watch it by episodes of 5 minutes as it is overwhelming, especially in our situation where our own children are endangered. According to Maryann DeLeo’s personal page, she does not seem to be have any project to get involved with Fukushima children unfortunately. They need to be evacuated contrarily to Japanese government’s declaration that the zone is safe whereas it is a no man’s land similar to Belarus. If any of our readers happen to know Maryann DeLeo, please let her know that she could save millions of Japanese children by making Fukushima her next movie project. Unfortunately, ill effects of radiation on Ukrainian and Belarussian children were most visible and accessible 17 years after Chernobyl accident when she made her movie. Hopefully, Tohoku children will not have to wait this long before their health situation is documented. Cesium is already detected in urine tests of children living in northeastern Japan including Tokyo.
At the end of the Osaka Prefecture press conference, leaflets were distributed to members of each political party. The organization led by mothers gather around 50 members in Kansai (the Osaka region) as well as a few others in the rest of the country including Tokyo, according to a question and answer exchange between the prefectural representative and the organization spokeswoman.
Although attendance and membership were moderate, a vast and silent majority support the action of the concerned mothers, as was particularly clear in the reaction of onlookers during the protest march on December 11th around Namba, one of the main shopping area in Osaka, and also with informal talks with residents. Besides, the original date of December 19th was advanced on short notice to the 16th, hence preventing more supporters to attend. A Google search with the keywords in Japanese for “Osaka” and “radioactive rubble” (respectively 大阪 and 震災がれき) gave 43,500 hits as of writing of this post so the topic is relevant to clearly more than just a few tens of people.
M. Hashimoto is rumored to have finally understood that his radioactive waste incineration project could harm his main project of merging mayoral and prefectural administrations of Osaka into a single, powerful metropolis (Osaka-to, the first such tentative administrative institution apart from Tokyo-to). Although his team may not be aware of it yet from lack of communication with foreign firm leaders, a significant number of expats, including high-level executives, are on the move – some impatiently waiting for their Japanese assignation contract to expire so that they can move to safer cities such as Singapore or even back to Europe / United States. It will probably be too late when Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry realizes that decades of efforts and investments to attract foreign companies were shattered by irresponsible policies.
I arrived early at the Osaka Prefecture through a back entrance and asked a gentleman, who seemed to be the head of Environmental Health Department, where the press conference was taking place. He misunderstood it for a supposedly larger event taking place outside Osaka-fu-cho and kindly guided me towards the main entrance where a receptionist politely explained the direction. I had thus the opportunity to discuss with this gentleman in Japanese along corridors and to briefly expose my concern for both the health of children and for the damage to the international economy in Osaka that the current policy would make. I didn’t need to labor the point as my interlocutor was aware of the issue, even if of course he declined to share his own opinion on the subject.
In the elevator, as I left the 4th floor where the press conference was taking place, I greeted another prefectural senior public servant whom responsibilities and name remain unknown to me. I suddenly declared again that if M. Hashimoto’s plan was to go ahead with incinerating radioactive waste from Iwate, it would be damaging for his larger Osaka-to project, that foreign companies would probably leave Osaka in favor of Shanghai and of course would be a public health disaster first for children and for adults as well. He was taken aback as can be imagined and I wished him a nice day on my way out.
These humble actions were probably inefficient yet I hope that some talk happens of a smartly dressed and affable foreigner who can speak Japanese politely disapproved and showed some concern for the near term future of Osaka city – and, who knows, our joint small actions may someday soon lead to a political change.
Osaka-fu-cho main entrance has a sweeping view of the Osaka Castle in its park. This December day was cold and sunny, golden leaves of ginkgo trees fell like snow and I thought to myself: “what a pity it would be to turn this city into a no man’s land”.
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