From the Ship
Sailing for a nuclear free world: The Pacific Peace Forum
Tahiti, the Marshall Islands and Japan are not just connected by the vast Pacific Ocean; they are also connected by devastating nuclear tragedies. Japan remains the only country whose cities have suffered nuclear bomb attacks, in 1945. Five years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster demonstrated the potential destructive power of even the "peaceful" use of nuclear energy. The pristine waters around Tahiti were used for over 30 years as the test area for hundreds of nuclear bombs during the heyday of France's nuclear programme. Similarly, the Marshall Islands suffered a barrage of nuclear tests by the United States of America, which resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people, the destruction of Marshallese lifestyles and the devastation of the environment.
From Papeete to Yokohama, the 90th Peace Boat Global Voyage hosted the first edition of the Pacific Peace Forum, in which guests from the French Polynesia, the Marshall Islands and Japan (Fukushima, Hiroshima and Nagasaki) came onboard. The goal of the forum was to think about the effects of nuclear weapons and energy on both people and the environment, as well as learn from the experiences of nuclear testing, accidents, and subsequent damage. A series of lectures, workshops and other activities for the 800 onboard participants were held, aimed at increasing awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war and catastrophes and building solidarity amongst communities affected by them. The guest educators also had several opportunities to share their experiences with each other in closed meetings onboard. The result was a Statement in Solidarity with the People of Fukushima as well as Five Recommendations for Civil Society Actions.
The forum started in Papeete, at the only memorial in Tahiti devoted to the victims of the nuclear tests. For 30 years, the waters of French Polynesia were the testing grounds for 193 nuclear weapons detonated by the French military. The people of Tahiti lived with the constant presence of radioactive mushroom clouds obscuring the sun in their atolls. This memorial, which was erected in 2006, is a humble but sacred place that includes symbolic stones from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and global nuclear test sites worldwide. In 2014, the French Polynesian government attempted to remove the monument and instead dedicate this site to former President Jacques Chirac, known for ordering a second series of nuclear tests in 1995 after a year long moratorium. Peace Boat partner NGO Moruroa e Tatou, which supports test-site workers exposed to radiation, led a campaign to assure the permanence of this sacred place.
A member of this NGO, Michel Arakino, came onboard as a guest educator. He used to be a deep-sea diver in the French military. For 24 years, he was devoted to defending France. He believed that the atomic bomb was the answer to Francefs security needs, and that nuclear testing was necessary and served the larger good. But he changed his mind and became an activist 15 years ago. "One day I understood I was contaminated. I found myself in a military hospital, undergoing treatment for 19 months. I lost a lot of weight. I entered weighing 86 kilograms and I left weighing 45. That period was pretty tough. And I realised that I will be passing a terrible heritage on to my children", he described.
On the ship, a series of events were held to raise awareness of the humanitarian and environmental impact of nuclear catastrophes. The first lecture was about our nuclear world, in which participants learnt about the basics of nuclear energy. In another event, they learnt about the Hibakusha, people who have been exposed to radiation. "When we think of nuclear victims, we think of the people who were exposed to the blast, heat and ionising radiation of the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, from the time that uranium ore is mined, throughout the nuclear fuel cycle, right until nuclear waste is permanently disposed of, there are people who are affected", explained Rachel Clark, a Peace Boat volunteer who organized this event.
In another activity, the Global Voyage for a Nuclear-Free World: Peace Boat Hibakusha Project was introduced. Since 2008, over 150 Hibakusha have travelled on Peace Boat and shared their testimonies throughout the world. Miyake Nobuo, an atomic bomb survivor from Hiroshima, presented the documentary that summarises this project, "I Was Her Age." The 87-year-old Hibakusha also gave his testimony. "I was 16 years old when the bomb exploded. I was approximately 1.8 kilometres from the hypocentre. At that moment, I saw a bright light and I jumped off the streetcar I was on. I found myself on the ground", he remembered.
Takase Tsuyoshi, a journalist and a second-generation Hibakusha from Nagasaki, also participated in the forum. According to him, bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki share the same issues as those who have been victimized by nuclear accidents in the last 70 years, such as loss of family members, physical injuries, radiation-related illnesses, social discrimination, lack of adequate public support, and the effects on the future generations. He also talked about the links between nuclear weapons and energy. "Nuclear weapons and the peaceful utilization of nuclear power are often discussed, but I believe they are closely connected. Plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants and this extracted plutonium then becomes the raw material used to fabricate nuclear weapons. This single example demonstrates that nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are definitely connected", he commented.
Another participant in the Pacific Peace Forum was Sato Kenta, a native of Iitate Village in Fukushima Prefecture, from where he was evacuated with the 6,200 other residents after the nuclear disaster in 2011. Since then, he has proactively worked to raise the profile and awareness of current conditions in his village and Fukushima in the media. On the ship, he shared his experiences as a person displaced due to a nuclear reactor disaster. He also guided the Forum participants on a visit to his home town upon return to Japan. "When the tragedy happened, due to an economy-first policy that ignores life and health, we were exposed to an unnecessary amount of radiation", he said. "It's been five years since the accident and the situation has changed compared to how it was back then. But in reality it is true that it'll be a long time before there is a complete resolution. Although clean-up of contaminated areas is being performed very quickly, there are still a lot of problems to be resolved", he explained to the audience. According to him, the government is busy overseeing clean-up operations in the affected towns. Workers remove contaminated soil from fields and use high-pressure hoses to wash down building walls. But Sato doesn't believe in the decontamination. "The sprayers are merely washing the cesium into the river", he added.
On March 22, Peace Boat visited the Marshall Islands for the first time in its history. From 1946 to 1958, a total of 67 nuclear bombs were detonated there for testing. The tests resulted in the total destruction of several islands and in the displacement of hundreds of Marshallese people. From this country, two more guest educators came onboard: Desmond Doulatram and Brooke Takala Abraham. Desmond is the co-founder of two NGOs: Jo-JiKuM, which deals with environmental issues, and REACH-MI (Radiation Exposure Awareness Crusaders for Humanity), which aims to provide information and explore ways to address unresolved issues to improve community conditions and peoplefs lives. Brooke is originally from the US and has lived in the Marshall Islands since 2006, where she has furthered her education, gotten married, and started a family. She and her husband Mores Abraham formed the NGO Elimoñdik as a platform for change to deal with suffering and fractures in the community of Enewetak. This large coral atoll of 40 islands where Takala Abraham lives with her family was used for nuclear testing. In 1980, a concrete dome was built on Runit Island to deposit radioactive soil and debris. "The US government said it was a temporary construction. But 36 years later, it is still there", she explained. According to her, the consequences of the nuclear testing in the area are many. "There is cancer, but there is also cultural loss and illnesses related to dependence on imported food, because we canft eat what grows in our poisoned islands", she added.
During the Pacific Peace Forum, several onboard closed sessions were held with all the invited participants. After hours of debate, they produced a Statement in Solidarity with the People of Fukushimaas well as Five Recommendations for Civil Society Action for a nuclear-free world. Included in these recommendations are points such as creating an international repository of knowledge on nuclear disasters and their impact that is accessible to all, as well as creating an international repository of first-hand memories related to nuclear disasters and the plight of nuclear affected communities. Other recommendations include developing a "Pacific Framework for Action on Nuclear Disaster Elimination, Risk Reduction, Response and Recovery," and an online anti-nuclear activism platform to facilitate information sharing, joint action, discussions and lobbying and campaigning. After three weeks of events and deliberations onboard and in Tahiti and the Marshall Islands, the members of the Pacific Peace Forum were satisfied with the result and surprised with all the commonalities found among them. To finish the forum, one final thought was shared: the importance of continuing to keep raising their voices to prevent any nuclear testing or accidents from happening again.