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Second-generation A-bomb survivor fights prejudice against Fukushima

Yuji Morii watches over a construction site with the No. 1 reactor building visible behind him to the left, at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, on Feb. 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

Seeing parallels between radiation contamination bias toward Fukushima now and what he witnessed as a child toward Hiroshima, a second-generation A-bomb survivor requested he be transferred to join the nuclear plant decommissioning and support the restoration of the area.

    Yuji Morii, 48, works at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant as an employee of the Tokyo-based IHI Plant Construction Co. Specifically, he oversees the construction and management of the tanks where water that has been purified of radioactive substances is held at the scene. Putting his all into his work decommissioning the plant is his "raison d'etre," in order to erase the bias toward the region following the 2011 nuclear disaster.

    Morii's father Itsuji, 82, was exposed to radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima when he entered the city following the blast. Worrying about possible discrimination, he didn't share the story with anyone outside of the family. Morii himself also witnessed survivors, or "hibakusha," being showered with heartless comments time and time again, which led him to hide the fact that he was a second-generation hibakusha.

    After graduating from college, Morii joined IHI Plant Construction in 1994. He was involved in the construction of things like fuel storage facilities for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the undercarriage for launching rockets at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

    He made his first visit to the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in 2012, a year after the disaster when he was employed at his company's main office, to check the safety management at the construction site. Even in the middle of summer, workers toiled away in full-body protective suits and fogged up their full-face protective masks in the extreme heat, and the sight had a lasting effect on Morii.

    After witnessing and hearing the worries of Fukushima Prefecture residents about the damage to their reputation caused by radioactive contamination, he felt that he had to join them in working toward the restoration of the region. He requested to be transferred to work at the plant, and in April 2016, his wish was granted.

    Of the some 200 containment tanks manufactured so far, there has never once been an incidence of leakage or other issues.

    "If there is trouble, then it breeds unnecessary anxiety, and we can't let that strengthen biases (toward Fukushima)," Morii said with pride. "Working consistently will lead to rebuilding trust."

    When Morii began his work in the reactor complex, because of the high levels of radiation, workers could not remove their masks to drink water even if they were hot from their labor. Now, radiation levels are dropping and the working environment in the plant has also improved bit by bit.

    Still, there is much work to be done to decommission the plant and revive the region. The importance of someone like him who understands the problems faced by the people of Hiroshima being drawn to Fukushima is not lost on Morii, and continues to motivate him.

    "Fukushima has granted me an opportunity to come face-to-face with my own identity as a second-generation hibakusha," he said.


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