Living with Fukushima
Nuclear power is a highly disputed and powerful industry that continues to grow worldwide alongside safer renewable resources. No country seemed to have as much unwavering faith in the nuclear industry as Japan, until the catastrophic events of Fukushima in 2011. Although large-scale disasters caused by nuclear power facilities are few and far between, the devastation to the environment is, in most cases, irreparable. Fukushima remains to this day a painful reminder of this fact. In 2011 Japan suffered an unprecedented three-strike disaster. First a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the country. This was followed by a subsequent tsunami which tore apart Japan’s East Coast and resulted in the loss of more than 20,000 lives. However, it was the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that was the final devastating blow. 160,000 people were forced to evacuate. These nuclear refugees, as they have come to be known, have paid the ultimate price. Their home lands have been permanently scarred by the radiation, with only small sections able to be decontaminated. Even in these areas, land that has been cultivated for centuries will likely never again be able to produce safe crops in the traditional way. In a region highly valued for its agriculture and fishing industries, they have lost everything that they spent generations working and caring for. The Architecture and Dystopia Stream challenges architectural projects to call attention to the dystopian realities that our generation will face in the future. This is a project for a small broken town, Namie, and how we might propose a future where the people can live alongside the damage left by nuclear contamination. The project attempts to capture intimate day-to- day moments for the people within a much larger scheme that sheds light on the potentially damaging consequences of the nuclear industry. In this sense, the true challenge of the project is to simultaneously explore both the megascale and the human-scale. Earlier this year Namie was one of the first towns in the Fukushima exclusion zone to be partially reopened. Since then thousands of residents have made the tough decision between the familiarity of and love for their home town and the invisible threat of radiation. It is heard continually in surveys, interviews, and political rallies that these evacuees simply want their old lives back, and those who are returning to Namie have seized this chance. It is clear, however, that the ‘cleanup’ of these towns that are reopening cannot repair the lasting damage of the nuclear radiation on the natural environment. Fishing in the river, picking mushrooms in the foothills, these sorts of activities were part of daily life in this rural town that can no longer be enjoyed without great risk. Not only have they lost many of the joys that come with living so closely amongst the environment, they also can no longer make a living off their land. It is feared that their lives here will be a shadow of what they were before. Although the reality sounds bleak and dystopian, the architectural intervention designed for Namie will be Utopian, focussing on the future that these returning residents are daring to hope for. Lastly, it has been openly speculated that the heavy influence of the nuclear industry on Japanese government is responsible for Japan’s lack of exploration into safer, sustainable energy sources. Japan is usually on the forefront of new technologies. Following the Fukushima meltdown, for the first time since it was introduced to the country, Japanese are questioning and openly challenging the use of nuclear energy in their country. The uncertainty of the future has spurred opportunities for a change in direction, in what many consider is a pivotal moment in Japan’s history. This project aims to be bold and push past what might be an expected solution, capitalising on this rare openness towards new beginnings, to propose a highly unconventional project that optimistically envisions a better future for the people of Namie.