Dr. Bo Jacobs is an associate professor and historian of science and technology at the Hiroshima Peace Institute at Hiroshima City University in Japan who studies the cultural and social history of nuclear weapons and preparations for nuclear war – paying special attention to American perceptions about nuclear weapons, war, and radiation.
Jacobs says younger people in Japan have gotten most of their exposure to the nuclear issue through popular culture, and the stories told in Manga books or Anime comics. “Often there is a futuristic dystopia – a world that is destroyed by nuclear weapons of some sort, or also nuclear power that powers superheroes like Atom Boy,” he said.
The events at the Fukushima power plants have been a wake up call for the younger generation. “There’s been problems at the nuclear plants in the past in Japan, but I think that the young people haven’t paid the same kind of attention to it that the older people that have anxiety about radiation have,” he said.
Koshi Kataoka, 27, is from Fukushima, Japan, and just decided he was against nuclear power after the recent events. His father works in the nuclear plants and has always loved his job. Growing up, Kataoka only knew that the plants brought money and jobs to his community. His mother, on the other hand, always objected. “My mom is kind of pissed off. My mom has said ‘I hate nuclear power plants, I don’t want to live here.’ Then this happens and she said, ‘See! I told you guys!’” said Kataoka.
As the younger generation watches the first nuclear disaster of their lifetime unfold, Jacobs has noticed a change in the conversation around nuclear power starting in Japan. He said that while it’s not mainstream yet, there is a very vocal anti-nuclear movement, especially in Hiroshima. An organization called Green Action Japan was very active in protesting all of the Fukushima nuclear plants. “You do see a lot of rising discussion about the need to not start new nuclear power plants – there’s one scheduled to begin construction not far from here in a few years,” he said.
While many young people in Japan are only now getting exposed to the dangers of nuclear power, Jacob’s youngest son Levi, who lives in the Bay Area in California grew up hearing about all those dangers. “He was along with me when we would go and visit nuclear weapon production sites. He sat watching with me all the B-movies and sci-fi movies from the 50’s… He was very exposed – to use a bad word – from a young age to the issues of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs’ older kids were subject to a little paranoia. “My older kids remember when Chernobyl happened – I would not let them go play when it was raining a few days later because I didn’t know. In Chernobyl there was an explosion so a lot of material did go into the upper atmosphere so a lot of it did track downwind. They were raised with these fears, having a nuclear paranoid father,” he said.
Jacobs explained that the reason he worried about his kids being in the rain while radioactive plumes are blown across the ocean, is that radioactive particles are likely to fall out of the plumes during rain or snow. While these particles can be rinsed off without causing any danger, they can be very dangerous if they get inside one’s body. “If you ingest these particles, even though the level of radiation they’re emitting is very low, if it sits in your thyroid for twenty years just emitting that low level to the tissues right around it, there will be health consequences,” said Jacobs.
In Jacob’s eyes, there is a very real, very serious nuclear crisis in Japan – one that has not been accepted by the people or the government there. “There’s a danger remaining that the situation could spiral further out of control and that the cores of one or another reactor could go into full melt-down. If that happens there will be a much more significant release of radiation into the environment and the area around the plants will become too radioactive for the workers to continue to work in, which means they will not be able to do repairs on the other reactors so they may follow into full melt-down,” he said. The best possible scenario, in his eyes, is that the radiation continues to leak at its current levels over the next few weeks or months.