Commencing 5 August in the Prichard Jones Institute, Newborough – A stunning exhibition of photographs by Lis Fields showing devastation caused to the Fukushima community by the nuclear disaster six years ago. As a warning to Anglesey the photos are to be shown coincide with the National Eisteddfod.
The exhibition portrays the traumas that have faced the Fukushima area following the explosions at the Daiichi reactors six years ago. Much of the information has been hidden from the outside world but, with tens of thousands of people unable to return to their farms and their homes for decades, we need to cast a light on the implications of such an accident wherever nuclear power has a hold.
Following Fukushima, Hitachi is not allowed to develop new nuclear in Japan, yet Hitachi are proposing to build two nuclear reactors at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey.
FUKUSHIMA – CYMRU
A REVIEW OF THE PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION
HELD AT THE PRICHARD JONES INSTITUTE, YNYS MÔN
5 – 31 AUGUST 2017
This exhibition by the artist Lis Fields was first drawn to my attention by Shigeo Kobayashi when it was shown at the Conway Hall in London in April 2017. Following a visit to Fukushima by Lis under the auspices of Green Cross Switzerland in 2016, she has been able to portray, through a series of powerful images and text, the pain and suffering of many tens of thousands of residents in the prefecture following the explosions at three of the Daiichi nuclear reactors in 2011. My initial impression was that the exhibition conveyed an important message for those communities living with nuclear power and that it had a relevance for the people of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) where Horizon, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi, propose to develop two new reactors at Wylfa.
Lis agreed to a joint venture with PAWB, and to hold the exhibition in the Prichard Jones Institute at Niwbwrch/Newborough, an iconic building established in 1905 by Sir John Prichard Jones [Dickens & Jones]to help educate the local people of his home area, a rural and deprived corner of north-west Wales. The exhibition ran for the month of August, its onset coinciding with the National Eisteddfod of Wales, held this year at Bodedern to the north of the island. Here, the original exhibition was adapted with the addition of a video based on film footage from Lis. This involved input by Joel from the collective Ffloc, a `soundscape` from Cian of the Super Furry Animals and the help of a close colleague Meilyr Tomos.
The main thrust of the original exhibition was the threat posed by the Japanese Government in withdrawing support for the many tens of thousands of evacuees who had been forced to flee their homes because of the high radiation levels encountered in 2011. In 2017 the Japanese Government re-defined the level of radiation regarded as `safe`, thereby coercing the evacuees to move back to previously restricted areas – and all of this in the name of showing to the outside world that normality had returned to Fukushima with the pending Olympics in Japan in 2020. A promise had been made to this effect by Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister to the International Olympic Committee at the time their bid was considered in 2013.
Uncertain as to the likely outcome at the outset, the exhibition proved to be an interesting `experiment` in communication by PAWB attracting some 700 people during its duration. It was also, I believe, a great success challenging many pre-conceptions and advancing the debate around nuclear energy on Ynys Môn.
The nature of the audience was varied. A mix of the local population, visitors to the National Eisteddfod, tourists and casual callers stimulated by the AA signage, all showed a real interest in the work. Many described it as very professional, others that it was very educational and informative. A number of local children visited and became involved in discussion.
Most attendees expressed surprise at the lack of publicity for the situation in Fukushima today, the media having lost interest over time, over six years having passed since the original ordeal. Many visitors expressed shock at what they witnessed and some were clearly moved by the experience, even to the point of having to leave, finding it too traumatic.
No mention was made of Wylfa anywhere in the exhibition. Interestingly, however, a very high percentage of attendees raised the question, primarily seeking a response as to whether Wylfa B would be going ahead. Many asked was it a `done deal` believing, as they read and hear regularly in the press and media, that it was inevitable. In the same breath they invariably expressed concerns should that prove to be the case. The concerns related to radioactive waste on the site, the scale of the operation, in-migration of thousands of migrant workers, the impact on the language and culture of the area, social cohesion and the impact it would have on housing, tourism and the environment. Fears of terrorism, cyber attacks and the potential for disastrous human and mechanical error were also raised.
People also expressed strong views about the cost, and the related opportunity costs, of new nuclear with its inevitable impact on the capacity to develop alternative renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Many pointed to the natural resources inherent to the region and the wish to see those as being the main focus for employment in the future.
During the 21 days I spent in the exhibition I met just 3 people who were supporters of Horizon`s proposals for Wylfa Newydd. The first was a very elderly English lady whose attitude one could only describe as `colonial` – “these local people really don`t know what they`re doing” and “Wylfa is the only hope for the young people”. The second was a much more intimidating experience. A middle-aged man who described himself as “someone from the industry” and “I`ve published papers on this” was immediately dismissive of the exhibition without taking any time to view it or read the captions. “You don`t know what you`re talking about”……”things have moved on since Fukushima” and “our standards are better than theirs” before leaving with a torrent of abuse about the legitimacy of the photographic images.
The third `supporter` was the most revealing. Formerly a Development Manager at Magnox, John Idris Jones was seconded as Programme Director to Energy Island and is Chair of the Wales Steering Group of the National Skills Academy for Nuclear. He did full justice to the exhibition and the video, spending about 1.5 hours digesting the work. We had a lengthy discussion about the future of nuclear power. He had very few answers and showed inadequate understanding to what many of us would regard as legitimate questions and, when tackled about the question of waste, his response left us incredulous……”I`d be more than happy to have it buried under my home”! He repeated this more than once which I`m sure will be very welcome news to the people of Llansadwrn where he lives. Significantly,and not for the first time, he ignored one important feature of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor proposed for Wylfa. The toxic waste is extremely `hot` and will need to be stored on the site for up to 160 years before it`s even capable of being moved! I recall Mr Jones shaking his head when this was first mentioned on a TV programme some years ago. Has the message still not registered?
Repeatedly, and totally unsolicited, the gung-ho attitude towards new nuclear by local and national politicians of all parties, was raised. Several attendees raised concerns about the hypocrisy of Plaid Cymru, a party supporting nuclear power at a local level whilst national leadership was not supportive.
The Labour party in Wales also came in for criticism. Rhodri Morgan, when First Minister, had stated on more than one occasion that Wales did not need new nuclear power plants. Jane Davidson as Environment Minister under Rhodri Morgan was on record as saying that Wales electricity consumption was 24TWhr per year whereas “with sufficient innovation and investment, the right Government framework and public support, Wales could produce over 33 TWhr per year”. Carwyn Jones, however, the successor to Rhodri Morgan as First Minister, has trumpeted his support for new nuclear on many occasions and people expressed their puzzlement at this volte-face by Welsh Government.
In discussion in the Institute, these views were interpreted as politicians either “not listening” or having “been bought” by powerful lobbies in the nuclear industry or the Unions. At least two members of the Labour party and a prominent Union member expressed this view to me.
Concerns were voiced that the Secretary of State for Wales had recently visited Japan, courting support for Hitachi`s investment in Wylfa, without taking the time to travel an hour up the country to visit Fukushima. The obvious question followed. Having travelled halfway round the world, was this asking too much? The same experience had been seen two years earlier when both the MP and AM for Ynys Môn, the Council Leader and the county`s Economic Development Officer had visited Japan. One would expect a full appraisal by our politicians of both sides of the nuclear debate before making any decision. Whatever happened to objectivity? If they are so confident in their `product`, why the reluctance to see the other side of the nuclear story?
The fact that Hitachi are not allowed to build new reactors in Japan and yet look to invest here as part of their country`s economic development plan met with considerable disapproval and cynicism. People asked are we expected to face the risks whilst they coin the profit?
In conclusion, the exhibition was highly successful in terms of people`s awareness and its outreach. There was widespread publicity of the event at the National Eisteddfod and through social media, tempered somewhat by the poor coverage by the broadcast media and press – for reasons best known to themselves and despite the use of a professional PR agency issuing a press release at the outset. The exhibition stimulated debate and discussion at many levels and even the small cafe in the Institute became a lively focus at times to discuss the important issue of nuclear power on the island.
Neither the MP or AM visited the exhibition despite an invitation. Unfortunately, we witnessed the same lack of response from the Operational Manager at Wylfa who was also sent a personal invitation. I`m aware that two Ynys Môn councillors attended.
There was a widespread feeling that the exhibition should `travel` and expressions of interest were several – Caerdydd/Cardiff, Hinkley, Wrecsam, Caernarfon, Abertawe/Swansea and even Hartlepool. This is something that will be at Lis` discretion but clearly something we would encourage.
In addition to the many thanks to Lis for her initial inspiration and hard work, I`d like to thank Joel, Cian and Mei for their vision in pulling the video together. Its creativity too was a source of many favorable comments.
Further thanks go to the many supporters of PAWB who staffed the exhibition throughout its duration. With a minimum of two covering all day, every day, it involved a total of 20 volunteers, many cups of tea, cake and coffee!
Finally, our thanks to the trustees of the Institute who gave us their ready support to use the Institute and entrusted us for the month with this real treasure. We wish them well in their future endeavours to safeguard and promote the venue.
CIC 8 – ix – 17