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Greenpeace on Fukushima

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We are here with Jan Benarek of Greenpeace International Group, which is active here in Japan especially in measuring radiation levels in Fukushima and the disaster zone after the earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster. And so thank you very much for taking a moment to join us today. My first question to you is: if you could tell us a little bit about what you are doing here and why is it important for Greenpeace to be here to get this message out? Well, Greenpeace is organizing a team of specialists, which arrived one week after the nuclear accident started to unfold. And we see our role primarily at the moment to take independent investigation and actually make the measurements of the levels of contamination of the background, of the foods people eat, and we also sent our flagship Rainbow Warrior to the sea to actually measure the contamination of the ocean, nd the marine life which is an important part of the diet of the Japanese population. And as we were talking earlier, you were saying that it is very interesting to see that the city has a sort of a parallel life, if you will the disaster on the one hand and people going about their daily business on the other hand. Talk to me a little bit about that. I actually find it personally quite disturbing because on one hand you see the Japanese authorities forcing people and the society to be back to “normal”, kind of o that people are going to their work again, kids go to the schools, farmers start to actually plant their fields because it is the growing season. Yet at the same time there are still extremely high levels of radiation and the contamination of not only in the soil, but also potentially in the food So for me it was really like visiting another universe. On one layer you see the normal life of a normal city. We are in the center of Fukushima Town, so it is very civilized, everything going as normal. And then you go with the radiation equipment and you see that all over in spots there is 30 to 50 times increased levels of radiation. And then in public places like the playgrounds, the school yards, along the streets where the kids go to the schools, there are hotspots where the levels are 500 to 700 times above what is normal. And this is just unbelievable because at those levels of exposure this is certainly risking the health and lives of people. And if you draw the parallel to the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviets actually decided to evacuate everyone that was living at the place where radiation levels were even 3 or 4 times lower than what we can see in Fukushima City today. This is three months after the accident started but the Japanese authorities are actually withholding information, and they don’t tell people the truth, they don’t provide them with any kind of support that the people here deserve. How exactly is Greenpeace getting involved right now? What activities are you doing and what are you encouraging? As I have said, Greenpeace is now focusing on verification and measurements that are taken independently of the government. And in that sense we’ve actually managed to force the government to, for example, extend the monitoring of the sea. And we also hear that the government is now revising at least some of the protective measures for children which is definitely good to see. But yet the government is too slow and doing too little, actually, than what the situation would deserve. For the long term, we see our role that we would like to be on stand-by be at the disposal for the communities that are impacted and we want to keep the specialists here during the course of the year, perhaps until next year as well. Especially when the harvest season comes we can expect other risks, that actually the foods will enter the markets. And then people can actually get internal contamination, which is more serious than just being irradiated from outside on the street, from the ground. In terms of a long term solution, what do you see for the future of Japan as this crisis plays out, because this isn’t something that is going to wrap up very easily? You can see from the levels of contamination, and the contaminants which are basically at the moment based on the Cesium or Cobalt isotopes that have a pretty long half-lifes that the contamination will be around for many years, perhaps even decades that therefore we are really coping with long-term serious implications and effects of the accident. In that sense what is crucial, one thing the government really takes the science first and puts interest in public health protection at the first place, and doesn’t play the politics as they have been doing so far. And the second thing is that even for the long-term, I think it is important for the Japanese to learn the lessons in the sense that nuclear power as we have seen is inherently unsafe. There is always an unpredictable combination of the nature of the catastrophe that the technological failure and human error that can result in a situation where the reactor gets out of control very fast. It was a question of a few hours when the full melt-down happened. And in that sense, it is really unsafe to take the bets and continue with nuclear power. We believe that the Japanese government and the decision makers will change the course of the country. And we are pretty convinced that it is feasible for Japan to phase out nuclear power in the next decade, by 2020. Because there is a big potential of renewable energies and efficiency that Japan can tap into. And moving past Japan into the rest of the world, what do you think that the rest of the world can learn from this? That there are definitely not only lessons for Japan itself, but it applies to other countries. We have seen a major shift already in a number of big economies. For example, in Germany, where as a result of the Fukushima disaster the government actually took a big U-turn in the policy. Although initially they advocated an extension of the life time of the current fleet of reactors now they ordered that half of them be shut down immediately. And the rest will be phased out in an increased way by the end of the decade as well. We have seen a referendum in Italy taking place this weekend, where actually 95% of the population voted no. So there is no nuclear power in the future of the country. Switzerland speeded up as well the phase-out, and basically abandoned plans to build new reactors. And even in France, which is one of the strong-holds of the nuclear industry, the recent opinion polls shows that 77% of the population wants the phase-out from nuclear power in the country. So we can see a major shift and we just believe that decision makers will not fall into the trap of the industry and its lobby again. And that they will recall the interests of the public and future generations. In that sense, that there will be no new construction of reactors the current fleet will be gradually phased out. That by 2050 the world can actually achieve a fully renewable energy supply globally. Shifting to a more personal level, if you don’t mind, you have been to Fukushima and you have seen this evidence of radiation. What does it mean for you to be there and to witness this tragedy first-hand? For me it was a very strong personal experience. I have been to Chernobyl before and this was the second time I was really exposed to the true face of the disaster. When on one hand, you actually understand the numbers and you know what that means for the impacts on health and on the environment, and you also see the situations, for example, like when one mother was crying to us. She was desperate. She wanted to protect the children. But she didn’t know what to do. She had no information. And those things are really moving me very much. It actually motivates me to do the work that I am doing. I believe that we must make sure that things like this don’t happen anymore, anywhere again.

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 1,109
Posted by: fatfree1234 on Jul 8, 2011

Jan Benarek of Greenpeace Interviewed by Russia Today (uploaded 7/3/11)

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