Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Aileen Mioko Smith: Anti-Nuclear Feminist 

1111_Sit-In_In_TokyoThis March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.
My mother was part of Women Strike For Peace in the early 1960s and, along with thousands of other women across the U.S., she helped put an end to above-ground nuclear bomb testing. Women Strike For Peace organized in response to the St. Louis Baby Tooth Study, which revealed that Strontium-90 released from nuclear bomb tests in Nevada had contaminated cow and human breast milk and poisoned children’s bodies across the country. Horrified mothers rose up in protest and their efforts led, in large part, to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. In later years, my mother and father participated in the Nuclear Freeze movement to ban nuclear weapons and shut down nuclear power plants in the U.S.
So, when three Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdowns occurred after March 11, 2011, my eyes and ears were peeled to any and all news I could find about the accident.
Not surprisingly, I found that most activism post-Fukushima was led by women and mothers. One such activist is Aileen Mioko Smith—mother, grandmother and executive director of Green Actionwhom I have interviewed several times over the years. Smith is also co-author with her ex-husband, photojournalist Eugene Smith, of Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage, the book that exposed the damaging health effects of mercury pollution in Minamata Bay, Japan. In working to help the Minamata survivors with their 14-year lawsuit (which they eventually won) Smith learned that, “No matter how hard it is, and no matter how many times you lose, you will win. There will be some measure of justice.”
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On March 28, 1979, Unit 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, located near Middletown, Pennsylvania, had a partial meltdown. Mitsuru Katagiri, the translator of Smith’s Minamata book—a university professor and anti-nuclear activist—went to the site with a scientist and lawyer to investigate. When Mitsuru’s team returned to Japan, they reported that the situation on the ground was quite different than official statements which claimed no harm had been done. Mitsuru’s team, Smith says, heard and saw a different story: the locals near the nuclear plant noticed strange tastes and smells. Then, later on, their animals became sick and many people had strange ailments. Smith then traveled to Pennsylvania with Katagiri where she spent several months interviewing 250 citizens affected by the accident.
The interviewees in Pennsylvania repeatedly asked the research team about nuclear power in Japan: “Well, there must be no plants in Japan because you have earthquakes?” These inquiries stirred Smith, because Japan did, indeed, have nuclear power plants and the country is very earthquake-prone.
When Smith returned to Japan, she turned her full attention to the anti-nuclear cause. In 1988, Smith helped collect 4 million signatures calling for a ban on nuclear power. In 2004, she made the public aware of the government’s attempt to pass on the cost of reprocessing MOX fuel (plutonium-uranium mixed oxide) through citizen tax dollars at a cost of 8 trillion yen (about $66 billion). For years, Smith’s team worked diligently to achieve the now-de-facto moratorium on highly dangerous MOX fuel in commercial nuclear plants in Japan. In 2010, she helped lead a large movement warning of the dangers of nuclear power—especially in high-risk earthquake areas such as Fukushima. After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Smith protested the restart of nuclear plants in Japan and participated in countless anti-nuclear rallies, legal battles, and presentations before politicians and corporate boards. In one large anti-nuclear Occupy event in 2012 (pictured above), Smith’s team and many others camped out for over 10 months in front of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI). At the end of the Occupy period, the women danced in celebration. Smith is pictured with them in the center.
Is nuclear power in Japan a gender issue? “Absolutely,” Smith affirms. “[Japanese] leadership is [dominated] by men. The nuclear industry and … officials working on nuclear issues, including government officials, local government officials … and, of course, the utility people … are 100 percent men. Well, maybe now there are a couple of women, so 99 percent men.”
Most people in Japan do not question this gender inequity, as the dominance of men over women in Japanese culture is so embedded.
Smith believes that to avoid accidents, the gender inequality needs to change. Currently, anti-nuclear activists and those watching out for safety issues in Japan are mostly women and many mothers from Fukushima. Yet they have little political power. Women activists have to go up against male politicians and male members of the nuclear industry. Overwhelmingly, women’s arguments are silenced, Smith says. But they fight on.
Aileen Mioko Smith comes from a long line of anti-nuclear mothers and feminist activists. Women’s History Month falls in March, the month of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. We honor Smith’s and other women activists’ ongoing efforts to protect the lives of the people in Japan, especially the children, on whose behalf she works tirelessly to safeguard their health and future.
Photo courtesy of Aileen Mioko Smith
Posted originally at Ms.Magazine  http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/03/26/aileen-mioko-smith-anti-nuclear-feminist/

BY  ON JANUARY 21, 2015
Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine
Dr. Heidi Hutner and her daughter, Olivia Fine

This was written by Dr. Heidi Hutner, Director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University:
My seventeen-year old daughter, Olivia and I traveled to Northern California for winter holiday break. Olivia is in the throws of an intense “junior year” of high school, while I’m busy with my work as a professor. This vacation gave us a chance to catch up and reconnect – take stock and also have fun.
One Sunday morning, while enjoying an Asian Fusion brunch in foodie-land San Francisco, Olivia asked me:
“You work so hard on environmental issues, Mom. How do you know all those hours will pay off?”
When Olivia was three, she held up a sign that read: “Don’t Spray on Me.” This particular protest was about the spraying of Malathion (a powerful and carcinogenic pesticide) by New York State during a West Nile Virus outbreak. It was the late 1990s and she was barely out of diapers.
These days, she has become more considered. A teenager’s job is to question everything. To Olivia’s question about whether my hard work will pay off, I replied:
“When you have asked me that before — ‘Does activism work, Mom, aren’t you just spinning your wheels?’ — I’ll be honest: it made me a tad defensive. Yet, I pointed out to you that historically it has been activists who brought us so many successful and important freedoms that we take for granted today — the women’s right to vote and equal gender access to education and more, the end of slavery for African Americans, Civil Rights, many LGBT rights, the Clean Air and Water Acts, and so on. People acted and stood up for what they knew was right and, eventually, they won. Even as I said this to you, Olivia, part of me worried that we wouldn’t succeed. Today, however, I feel more hopeful! I say to you with confidence, ‘Yes, environmental advocacy works. Look at what a year we’ve had!’”
I then reminded my daughter of the wave of environmental successes of 2014 and early 2015: some big wins, some partial wins, some in-progress wins; many of which we were a part of.

I told Olivia,
“Of course, there is still much to be done. Climate Change threatens our civilization and we need the world governments to agree to radically reduce carbon emissions, stop producing and clean up nuclear radiation waste, and shift to renewable energy. We need an even more effective Safe Chemicals Act to stop the polluters from contaminating our water, soil, and air, and so much more. Yet the tide is changing. Look at the People’s Climate March. We couldn’t have imagined 400,000 showing up five years ago. Governor Cuomo just banned fracking. It’s just amazing.”

“Okay, mom. I see your point.”
We finished breakfast, rented two bikes, and rode through Golden Gate Park. It was a beautiful day.