In August of this year, I was approached by Discovery Channel to feature in an upcoming documentary about the redevelopment and regrowth of Fukushima, Japan; following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. It was an opportunity that I immediately recognised, as something extremely unique and of ultimate excitement.
Discovery Channel has always been one of my favourite TV networks, ever since I was a young boy, making the most my grandparents Sky digital subscription! Whilst everyone else was watching Trouble, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, I was fixated on Discovery. I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to work with them on a documentary. But I am even more humbled to have been able to feature within the show itself!
FYI, Fukushima Diaries premieres on Discovery Channel in Asia on November 29, 2017 at the following times (with repeats a couple of days after):
Southeast Asia 8:05pm
Update [December, 2017]: there is now a globally viewable, public link, to watch the show via the Ministry of the Environment.
I vlogged my whole time throughout the project as an insight behind the scenes. It’s a lengthy vlog, but let me assure you it’s definitely worth watching the whole way through. There were SO many good times had on the trip, that I was desperate to share!
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami
The events of March 2011 are held very close to the hearts of Japan, as it proved to be one of the most difficult times for them in recent history. The magnitude 9.0 earthquake caused the loss of around 15,000 lives and unbelievable damage to huge areas across the East of Japan. Fukushima (the largest prefecture in Japan) was affected even more so, following the explosion at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, that lead to widespread evacuation of a large amount of the population — something which I later learnt to be far more damaging than helpful.
Before filming the documentary, I had close knowledge of the mass effects and huge loss of life from the earthquake. I also recognised that Japan, as a country extremely well equipped and prepared for large earthquakes, was caught in a terrible disaster. However, my knowledge and opinion on the nuclear side of things wasn’t so clear. Throughout the 9 days I spent with Discovery Channel, I learnt an awful lot about nuclear energy, radiation and the cleanup process the Japanese government had undertaken, following the explosion and spill of radiation across Fukushima.
One of the most heartbreaking aspects 6 years on from the destruction, is that of those who were displaced and relocated to the big cities; the ones desperate to return home are those who are too frail or too old to have an impact on the cleanup process.
The show is comprised of three main personalities; Michael Shellenberger, Angela (Internationally Me) and myself. The three of us had a great dynamic from the very start and became close friends literally overnight. Together with a nimble crew of 5, we were an extremely close-knit team and created heaps of awesome memories throughout the trip!
Michael is a pretty big deal within energy and environmental experts, as an active promoter of environmentalism through nuclear energy, via his position as President of Environmental Progress. He was kind of the main focus of the show, let’s be honest!
Angela is also a YouTuber with immense drive and passion to discover and showcase the hidden gems of Japan, via her channel Internationally Me. Her focus on the show was to shine light on Fukushima in an effort to rebuild the damaged tourism industry. My aspect of the show, was to share thoughts and interest from a photography and tech perspective, via my own professional experience and interest.
Coincidentally, both Angela and I had seen each others YouTube channels prior to being called up by Discovery. Angela had even commented on one of my videos about a year ago — how funny is that?!
Over the course of 9 days, we had an extremely busy shooting schedule and transport requirements throughout a large area of Fukushima. Our production van became very familiar and comfortable and *ahem* covered in packets of Cheezas…
I was taking a large amount of behind the scenes shots to try and showcase the process for making a documentary. Not only was it fascinating for me personally, but I thought there would be plenty of other people interested too! I’ve collected a few together below and I hope you enjoy seeing them!
Let's talk about nuclear energy
As I mentioned above and in the vlog (and throughout the documentary as well), I learnt heaps about nuclear energy and radiation. Absolutely heaps. I’m still not as well-versed in how to explain everything I’ve learnt as accurately as someone like Michael, so I have some resources that have really helped inform my thoughts and opinions on this controversial topic.
The long and short of it, is that I am now very much aware of my thoughts politically on nuclear power and fully support it as the largest and most efficient supply of clean energy available. Before visiting Fukushima, or properly researching into nuclear energy, I must admit that I would have never placed the word “clean” in the sentence above. I always had this impression of nuclear and radiation being utterly terrible things. Though I never actually had any facts why. It was completely irrational.
My understanding of radiation was that it was this incredibly scary thing that could eat through and destroy anything in its path. I had no real knowledge of how many areas in the world are just naturally radioactive, let alone even really knowing what radiation was. I had this vision that radiation was like microwaves. An energy force that could penetrate any object and cause great rot-like damage completely invisibly.
I’m still not sure if I personally have been ignorant to knowing more about this, or whether it stems systematically through my education.
Imagine my concern when thinking about how safe it would be to visit a radioactive site, wearing protective clothing, that is essentially a glorified plastic bag.
As I understand it now, the best way I can describe radiation via a metaphor is to think of it as dust. Little particles of “dust” flying around from radioactive materials. To protect yourself from it, you need a surface that this “dust” can’t penetrate.
So what happens if it does touch you? Not a lot actually. The problem is if you breathe it in and it reaches your lungs. But you need to breathe in a lot for it to be damaging. But even then, our immune systems can fight radiation remarkably well and do so on a daily basis, no matter where you are in the world. In fact it’s likely that I may have been exposed to more radiation on my flight to Japan than when I was actually there!
But what happens if you eat it? Well, your body digests it and it passes through naturally (unless you eat severely large quantities, as with anything in excess).
I’m not trying to downplay radiation as something that’s not harmful. I’m just trying to share perspective on what I’ve learnt it to actually be, rather than this irrational fear that so many people have. In many respects, there is an abundance of research about radiation and nuclear energy because it is so closely monitored, recorded and contained, to prove its safety. It’s something I am keen to learn more about, for sure!
Michael has given TED talks (among many other appearances) explaining and educating the benefits of nuclear energy, as a key factor for solving climate change. I would recommend watching them, as he can explain things far better than what my experience allows me.
So what happened in Japan?
The main crux of why we were in Japan, documenting the aftermath of the nuclear explosion, was to explain the clean-up process in Fukushima. Following the incident at Daiichi, there was mass-evacuation and an immense clean-up process to remove the radioactive items. In many respects, the clean-up process was extremely thorough and very elaborate. The dedication to clean and reduce the levels of radiation was mind-blowing.
Not only were the levels of radiation already particularly low (even after the explosion), but the government wanted them to be way below the standards of cleanliness already respected around the world.
They were literally cleaning and washing tress, plants and produce, to levels significantly lower than the rest of the world’s safe standards. For the record, there has not been a single case of cancer related death caused by the incident in Fukushima.
It’s an incredible testament to how much the government cares and appreciates the levels of cleanliness for its residents. However, the thing that is odd, is that whilst the rest of the world would just turn the topsoil and dilute the contaminated soil with uncontaminated soil, Fukushima has been lifting and physically moving the soil to storage facilities all over Japan.
The process of which must be having an insanely large environmental impact, through other carbon pollutions. It’s this grey area that I’m still collecting my thoughts and trying to digest, so I look forward to seeing the response from the documentary after it has aired.
This blog has always been a destination where I would write personally about my developments and thoughts both characteristically and creatively. Although this is a very controversial subject, I’m in no way directing this politically, but simply sharing my personal thoughts and learnings that have had an impression on me. I’m an openly analytical person and use reason and logic to evaluate my learnings. The views I’ve shared here are my own.
I’m super grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Discovery Channel on this project and am eager to work on future similar projects. I’ve always wanted to get into the process of creating documentaries, so having first hand experience on one from a giant company as prestigious as Discovery, is truly humbling.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my experience working on this and I encourage you to research and let your mind follow unknown paths, in an effort to improve knowledge and benefit the world!
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