High-school moviemaker shines light on nuclear industry

More than eight years on from the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, work to decommission the plant's damaged reactors is far from over.

Although thousands of people are still in temporary housing, Japan's government remains committed to nuclear power as a key source of energy and is pushing forward with efforts to restart plants elsewhere in the country.

Nuclear power remains a deeply divisive issue among the public, and was a key campaign topic in the run-up to July's Upper House election. Recently, a high-school student from Tokyo made a documentary that attempts to address this polarization.

"The Story of the Largest Kettle in Japan" features interviews with various people. Among them are Fukushima residents, officials from the nuclear power plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company and French Embassy officials in charge of nuclear power policy.

The interviews are aimed at shedding light on what caused the nuclear disaster, its impact and the pros and cons of nuclear power generation.

Source of debate

Takenoshin Yaza directed the 48-minute film on a shoestring budget with his classmates.

Yaza and his friends interviewed people involved in the Fukushima nuclear accident and nuclear power policy.

He says what inspired him to make the film was a class debate about nuclear power when he was in junior high school. He says the discussion made him feel a strong sense of unease.

Yaza says students usually rebutted opposing views after listening to them, but things were different when they discussed nuclear power. Those who support it tried to validate their argument using data such as figures on greenhouse gas emissions. Students against nuclear power mostly stressed the impact of the Fukushima disaster.

Yaza says both sides merely stated entrenched views, which made him uncomfortable. He says the debate reflected how people in Japan feel about nuclear power.

He says he decided to make his film in the hope of serving as a bridge between the two sides. To lay the groundwork for constructive discussions, he thought it was necessary to encourage more people to think about the issues.

Festival success

His documentary was shown in nine locations, including schools, to more than 1,000 people. It was also shown at the Fukushima Film and Media Festival in Tokyo in September, becoming the first work by a high-school student to feature in the event.

Visitors who saw Yaza's film were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Both supporters and opponents of nuclear power generation said they better understood each other's position. Yaza says he feels he was able to fulfill his role, to a certain extent, of serving as a bridge to pave the way toward constructive debate.

Yaza and the audience discuss the issues.

Yaza is now committed to making a new film. He says he wants more people to look at the issue from a wider perspective.

The main character in the new film Yaza envisions is a high-school student who decides to build a nuclear power plant to help resolve Japan's energy problem. The student learns about nuclear power generation from scratch. Through trial and error, he succeeds in building the plant. But just as he's about to push a button to start the reactor, he remembers the nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. Should he press the button or not? He begins a journey to find an answer.

Issue for everyone

"It's up to each and every citizen to decide whether Japan should use nuclear power," says Yaza. "Everyone virtually has a button to start the reactor. I want to tell people that the issue should not be left only to politicians and experts to discuss, but it's something that every citizen must consider."

Yaza plans to visit the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository in Finland to shoot his new film. It's the final disposal site for used fuel. He's currently financing the production through crowd funding.