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New Fukushima museum changes 2011 nuclear disaster exhibition following criticism

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum, opened by the Fukushima Prefectural Government, is seen in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba on Feb. 17, 2021. (Mainichi/Yoshikazu Takeuchi)

FUKUSHIMA -- The Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum, which documents and passes down the lessons learned from the 2011 disasters, began altering its exhibition less than half a year after it opened, following criticism by visitors.

    The museum -- a brand new glass-walled building with three stories and a total area of around 5,200 square meters -- is located in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba along the Pacific coast 4 kilometers north of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

    The total project cost of 5.3 billion yen (about $48.9 million), including maintenance fees, was covered by national government spending, and the museum was opened by the Fukushima Prefectural Government in September 2020. However, items on display are already starting to be replaced in this unusual case.

    Harsh comments from visitors, including, "I couldn't understand what the message was," and "I don't understand what it wants to convey," were written in a notebook in the museum lobby. According to the museum, some 37,000 people had visited by the end of February. Although the exhibition received mostly favorable responses, such as, "I learned a lot about the accident," from students on school trips and other guests from outside Fukushima Prefecture, much criticism was raised by local visitors familiar with Fukushima's situation and victims of the 2011 disasters.

    The museum is administered by a public interest incorporated foundation established by the Fukushima Prefectural Government. The content on display was also decided by the prefecture. Dissatisfaction with the exhibition ensued as it mentioned almost nothing about the responsibility of the national government, TEPCO, or the Fukushima Prefectural Government, in spite of the Diet's independent investigation commission and other bodies concluding that the nuclear disaster was a "man-made calamity."

    For example, regarding the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI), which predicts the direction of radioactive substances' diffusion, the museum did not touch on the fact that while the Fukushima Prefectural Government received data from the Japanese government, the prefecture deleted it and did not relay it to municipalities, resulting in some local governments advising residents to evacuate toward places with higher doses of radiation. The exhibition merely explained that "there were no clear guidelines specifying the handling of SPEEDI, and the information could not be shared."

    In response to a deluge of endless criticism, the Fukushima Prefectural Government announced March 2 that it will add material and replace panels on display in around 30 locations at the museum by the end of this fiscal year. The prefecture began adding new content to the exhibition the following day, and elucidated on its poor execution of SPEEDI, based on a report by the national government's investigation committee on the Fukushima nuclear accident. As the permanent exhibitions of museums normally run for several years, the recent change is a rare measure.

    The Reconstruction Design Council in response to the 2011 disasters, an advisory panel to the prime minister, raised "passing down (lessons) to posterity" as the first out of seven principles for disaster recovery proposed to the government.

    Why did the museum get off on the wrong foot? Interviews with senior officials at the Fukushima Prefectural Government brought to the fore that the museum settled on an exhibition with noncommittal content while officials hastened to open it during 2020, when the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games -- billed as "the recovery Olympics" -- were originally scheduled to be held.

    (Japanese original by Yoshikazu Takeuchi, City News Department and Ryusuke Takahashi, Fukushima Bureau)

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