In March 2011, a record 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan’s Tohoku region resulting in one of the largest disasters in modern times. Its immediate aftermath brought on a tsunami that hit the nation’s coastline about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo, tragically causing widespread loss of life, devastation and nuclear fallout following severe damage sustained by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
On Wednesday, March 11, exactly four years after the catastrophe hit Japan, a special retrospective on the 2011 disaster will be held at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. The event, “Fukushima: Four Years Later,” will include a reception, a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Nuclear Nation,” and an accompanying panel discussion. The program will begin at 5 p.m. with an opening reception outside the Geneva Room of the Warren Hunting Smith Library. The film will start at 5:15 p.m. in the Geneva Room with the discussion to follow.
Atsushi Funahashi, the award-winning filmmaker of “Nuclear Nation,” will join the event for an interview via Skype. The guest panel will also feature University of Hawaii-Hilo Assistant Professor of Geography and Environmental Science Sasha Davis and Colgate University Associate Professor of Geography and Asian Studies Dai Yamamoto, both experts on the Fukushima disaster. Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies Jessica Hayes-Conroy and Rebekah Skovron ’18 are facilitating the event.
“This retrospective screening and panel discussion will provide a rare chance to hear directly from the filmmaker, who will speak to us from Tokyo, as well as two other scholars who have done important research on the Fukushima disaster,” Hayes-Conroy says.
A cornerstone of the evening retrospective, “Nuclear Nation,” is a documentary that illuminates the story of a group of people who are displaced from their homes in the region where the Fukushima nuclear power plant is situated. In the wake of nuclear fallout, the film follows their time as refugees in both temporary housing and a high school, as well as the multiplicity of challenges that ensue. Since its release, the film has had a significant impact, Hayes-Conroy says, with screenings of “Nuclear Nation” taking place at international film festivals and universities across the globe, while generating dialogue and deeper reflection on the events that surrounded March 11, 2011.
The size and scope of the Fukushima nuclear disaster and its aftermath are of dramatic proportions. The earthquake was the fourth largest on record since 1900 and the largest ever in that time period to hit Japan, according to CNN reports. As of February 2015, the confirmed death toll is 15,890. The disaster also has been compared to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, as cited in Reuters.
Hayes-Conroy says the circumstances raise many important questions, including how people might learn from what’s transpired and apply that to their own communities, as well as what can be learned regarding best practices in disaster management. She says the disaster and its fallout make it worth evaluating the use of nuclear power – environmentally, economically and socially.
“There are six nuclear power reactors in New York State, four of which are less than 65 miles from Geneva, New York, and one of which is less than 40 miles,” Hayes-Conroy says. “By comparison, Fukushima City – a city that was significantly contaminated by radioactive fallout – is approximately 50 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.”
Hayes-Conroy says the upcoming event is an especially important opportunity for engagement among students who are preparing to lead the next generation in an era of increasing global environmental crisis.
“It is important to look back on a historically significant event like the 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster, not only in order to remember what happened – and to honor the lives lost – but also to review what could have been done better, in order to learn from any mistakes and prevent further tragedies in the future,” Hayes-Conroy says.
About the filmmaker: Atsushi Funahashi is an award-winning and critically acclaimed filmmaker. Funahashi’s work includes “Echoes” (2002), Big River (2006) and Deep in the Valley (2009), as well as “Nuclear Nation,” which screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. He is currently working on “Nuclear Nation 2.” He is a graduated of Tokyo University with a B.A. in cinema studies and studied film directing at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.