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Can we build a sustainable Japan?

Post-Fukushima, disaster capitalism is disrupting the region’s recovery. Eco-friendliness could offer the solution

Debris is seen scattered near the Unit 6 reactor building of stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, northeastern Japan Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012 (Credit: AP/Yoshikazu Tsuno, Pool)
This article originally appeared on Earth Island Journal.

Whatever happened to Japan’s sustainable reconstruction?

I asked myself that question as I stood on a beach in Sendai in northeastern Japan’s Miyagi Prefecture two weeks ago.

I had arrived in Miyagi via Fukushima, the prefecture just to the south. In Fukushima I talked to people living through the most intensely-scrutinized environmental disaster in Japan’s history: the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that followed the tsunami and earthquake of March 11, 2011. Over 150,000 people are still living as evacuees, often in tiny temporary houses and subsidized apartments, as efforts at decontamination moves slowly forward. Many told me they didn’t ever want to return home, no matter how safe the government promised they would be.

I was hoping to find a more positive story in Miyagi.

A year-and-a-half earlier, I had taken a similar trip up the northeastern coast of Japan. Afterwards, I wrote about how the tsunami that destroyed so many lives had also opened up an opportunity for new ways of making and living in cities. At the beginning of the article, I quoted a high-level bureaucrat as writing: “We will do everything we can to promote ‘smart cities’ and build a sustainable, low-carbon society in the region.”

The implication was that instead of the “disaster capitalism” that journalist Naomi Klein has documented in the aftermath of events like Hurricane Katrina, we might see its benevolent sister: “disaster environmentalism.”


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