Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has revealed at an ANU public lecture that he was left moved and shocked by words spoken to him by traditional Indigenous land owners.
Mr Kan was prime minister in 2011 when a tsunami caused the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
As part of his current Australian visit, Mr Kan travelled to the Ranger uranium mine 230km east of Darwin and met with Indigenous elders.
“Words that were expressed to me by the Aboriginal people both moved me and shocked me at the same time,” Mr Kan said through an interpreter.
“They expressed their sorrow, or apologies even, that uranium mined from their land was used in the Fukushima power plant and was related to the cause of the accident.
“Speaking to them and hearing about their beliefs made me realise that the land the uranium came from is not only land that they live on, but is very much part of them, it’s one and the same, so this is what led to their feelings of sorrow.”
Whilst touched by their words, Mr Kan said responsibility for the accident rested not with the indigenous people, but with the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).
“Of course it was the Japanese Government and Tepco who purchased this uranium and the responsibility for the disaster lies with the Japanese Government and with Tepco. It is not the responsibility of the indigenous people”.
Previously a supporter of nuclear power, following the Fukushima disaster Mr Kan became an avid opponent of the nuclear industry and an advocate for renewable energy.
Mr Kan says there is much that could be learned from Australia’s indigenous people about sustainable living.
“We often talk about creating a sustainable society, however when we look at the indigenous people who have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years and continue to maintain their traditional lifestyles, this can teach us what truly a sustainable society is,” he said.