Nuclear War and Nuclear Energy: Connecting Past and Present

By Lauren Arvidson
Hingham High School
3-23-2012

With the recent one year anniversary of the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis in Japan, I integrated discussion of these events with my World History and US History lessons on nuclear weapons and the end of World War II. My interest in these current events in Japan is partly due to my own wonderful experiences in the country; I taught English in Nagano, Japan with the JET Program from 2005 to 2007. Eager for more information to share with my current American students, I interviewed a colleague, Amy Cameron, who had taught in an area of Japan affected by the disaster and participated in a international program for former teachers to return to Japan after the earthquake. Please use the interview and these web resources for ideas to draw current events into your history lessons.

Possible discussion topics for students and resources:
Impact of the nuclear crisis in the 2011 earthquake in Japan:
http://www.jrc.or.jp/eq-japan2011/press-releases/l4/Vcms4_00002861.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/11/japan-nuclear-power-expansion-plans-abandoned

Use of social media in response to crises:
http://blog.safecast.org/ is a current blog on radiation in Japan with active maps and updates

Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
http://dannen.com/decision/index.html

This interview can serve as a source of information on the response of concerned foreigners, citizens and the Japanese government.

“Travel with a Purpose…”
Amy Cameron, lived in Nihonmatsu City, Fukushima, Japan from 1998-2000, where she taught English in three junior high schools as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). She now lives in Boston teaching English as a Second Language.

Arvidson: “You recently had an important trip to the areas struck by the 2011 earthquake
of northern Honshu in Japan. Please tell us about your reasons for the trip”.

Cameron: “I traveled back to my ‘Japanese hometown’ in Fukushima Prefecture as
part of a special invitational program by the Japanese government for former Tohoku JET Program participants. Tohoku, which includes Fukushima, is the region that was hit the hardest by the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The purpose of the program was to see recovery efforts in the region and share stories with others about my experiences after returning home. I will never forget that day in March when I heard the news of the triple disasters (earthquake, tsunami, and radiation). Although it had been more than nine years since my last visit to the region, it had remained very close to my heart. I was glued to media updates and rushed to contact my friends and former colleagues in the area. Luckily, everyone I knew was okay, but I could tell that life was very hard. I was thrilled when I heard that the Japanese government would sponsor 14 former JET Program participants to return to the towns where they used to live, and immediately applied.”

Arvidson: “Now, you are sharing stories about this event and the ways people
in Japan are recovering with students here in Massachusetts schools?”

Cameron: “I have mainly been showing slideshows about my trip and sharing stories of what I saw and did. First, I spend some time reviewing the disasters that struck the region in March – the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, one of the largest recorded tsunamis in history, and the nuclear disaster at the Daiichi power plant in Fukushima.Then, I share pictures and stories of what it was like to visit the city where I used to live, Nihonmatsu. In many ways, Nihonmatsu looked the same as I had remembered it, to the point where it sometimes felt as if I had taken a machine back in time! However, there were many signs of the March disasters that were impossible to ignore. For example, I saw many houses with blue tarps covering sections of roof that had been damaged in the earthquake, still awaiting repair. I also visited the coast one day and saw first-hand the devastation caused by the tsunami. The most disturbing part for me, however, was the impact of the radiation disaster. Nihonmatsu, which is about 35 miles from the Daiichi Plant, is not close enough to have been evacuated. However, it did receive fairly high levels of radiation due to the wind direction at the time of the radiation leakage. Now, people are very uncertain as to the long-term effects. Radiation levels are announced each day, and kids wear radiation meters to keep track of their exposure. School windows are kept shut to keep radiation out, and the top layer of dirt from playgrounds has been replaced with “clean” dirt. Some families have left the area. At the same time, the town population has changed dramatically because hundreds of evacuees from towns on the coast near the power plant have been relocated to temporary housing structures and hotels in and around Nihonmatsu.

Meanwhile, the whole region is suffering economically. People are afraid to visit the region because of radiation, even areas that have low levels, and no one wants to buy food or other products from the area. It was very sad and scary to see the uncertainty that people are living with, especially when the cause is impossible to see with the naked eye. However, life is going on. People in Nihonmatsu were moving forward, doing the best they could in the circumstances, and not giving up.”

Arvidson: “What are good sources of information that you can share with
students wanting to learn more about current news events in Japan?”

Cameron: I would love to visit schools and community groups who may be
interested. The best way to contact me is by email: amy@bendbalancebreathe.com.
I have a list of resources that I continue to update on my blog:
http://returntofukushima.tumblr.com/. The blog tells many more details about my trip, and the list of resources can be found on the last page.

Arvidson:
Thank you for sharing your story with us!

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