Review | Monday 01 October 2012
I was part-way through reading Fallout from Fukushima when BHP Billiton announced it was going to scrap plans to expand uranium mining operations at Olympic Dam. CEO Marius Kloppers identified weak uranium prices due to the Fukushima disaster among the reasons for shelving the project. The March 2011 earthquake in Japan has undoubtedly had, and is still having, far-reaching consequences beyond the local devastation.
Richard Broinowski is a former Australian diplomat and the brother of Helen Caldicott, the well-known anti-nuclear advocate. Fallout from Fukushima is partly an account of the trip Broinowski took shortly after the earthquake to interview locals, expats, academics and officials in Japan about their experience of the meltdown and their views on the future of nuclear power.
The book also traces the history of Japanese attitudes towards nuclear weapons and nuclear energy from Hiroshima to the present. In the second half, Broinowski reflects more generally on nuclear power and examines the global outlook.
For the record, I’m not a supporter of nuclear energy but I still expect some acknowledgment of alternative viewpoints if only so that they can be refuted intelligently. I was hoping Broinowski would be able to provide a nuanced investigation into the social and political consequences of the accident. Unfortunately this book won’t do the anti-nuclear movement any favours. His analysis is very one-sided and he picks and chooses statistics to suit his argument, making his work an easy target for pro-nuclear campaigners.
At one point Broinowski interviews a professor in the Department of Radiology at Fukushima Medical University. When the professor dismisses claims about the high level of radiation in the area, it occurs to Broinowski that the university might be funded by Tokyo Electric Power Company. This might have been salient if he had actually found evidence of this instead of ‘wondering’.
The book is at its most interesting when Broinowski writes about the visit he and his wife took to the Fukushima prefecture. They meet and talk with locals and Australians living and working in the area, and these stories are fascinating, providing fresh insight into the prevailing mood of the people most affected by the disaster.
Kara Nicholson is currently completing a masters in environmental studies and spends her time reading novels to avoid doing any of the actual study part. Her favourite book of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch and she urges anyone who hasn't to read it to do so immediately.