Fukushima: Opposition quashes hopes for tourist tours of the stricken nuclear plant

Fukushima: Opposition squashes hopes for future tours of nuclear plantIBTimes UK

Opposition surrounding Fukushima have put an end to plans by a group of individuals in Japan who were hoping to turn the Daiichi nuclear power plant into a tourist destination.

The plan had been for ordinary people to visit Daiichi nuclear site without wearing radioactive protective suits by 2036 and had been in an early stage of planning. Members of the group promoting what some have called "dark tourism" come from various backgrounds including business, journalism, architecture and sociology.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which experienced a triple meltdown triggered by a large tsunami following a magnitude nine-earthquake in March 2011, continues to be the site of a massive clean-up project involving thousands of workers protected by anti-radioactive suits. The group started the project in 2012 inspired by the Chernobyl plant tours, and had planned to show tourists Fukushima Daiichi's decommissioning process. The head of the group, Hiroki Azuma, says showing the process to the world is important.

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"I believe the Fukushima nuclear disaster is a problem not only for Japan but for all humanity. It is quite important for people all over the world to know how big the Fukushima nuclear disaster was and what kind of harm it has caused," he said.

But opposition to this project has shown him that many Japanese people are not yet ready for "dark tourism". "Most Japanese simply are not capable of supporting or even understanding that it is possible to turn a major disaster into something that will bring people over or that building a museum that would show facts of the disaster can provide a good lesson for future generations," he said.

Even talking about Fukushima can still be a sensitive topic. "It is quite difficult to speak about Fukushima. Even before we mention anything about a tourism project, I think Japanese people are even unable to speak out freely on the Fukushima nuclear accident," he said adding that the project has been shelved, though he continues to organize tours from Japan to Chernobyl, the site of another major nuclear disaster.

Dark tourism is nothing new. But the expression, coined by academics in 1996, generally refers to tourism activities visiting the disaster sites associated with war, genocide and other tragic events for educational purposes. Although Japan has some dark tourism sites such as Hiroshima's Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Museum, the term is yet to be widely accepted.

Though the Fukushima nuclear disaster has been rated as the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl at the maximum level seven by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), many experts agree that the radioactive fallout from Fukushima was minimal compared to Chernobyl. While too early to say, a Fukushima Medical University report says it is unlikely that radiation exposure caused by the 2011 disaster have caused any thyroid cancer and other adverse health on the immediate inhabitants.

Apart from the few weeks prior to the 11 March commemorations when media run features in newspapers and television, Fukushima remains largely forgotten in the minds of most Japanese outside the region. At a recent news conference, the Governor of Fukushima Masao Uchibori called on all to remember both the positive and negatives and not ignore the challenges.

"When it comes to preventing the memories from fading, it is our job, I believe, to continue to tell the story about the situation there and challenges that Fukushima has dealt with," he said.

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Some tours are in fact voluntarily organised by residents, who are willing to show the aftermath of the disaster and share their experiences with individual visitors in the former evacuation area around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant. But the Fukushima nuclear power plant has yet to be an official tour site, though media – both domestic and foreign – are regularly allowed to visit in press tours.

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