Why one student wanted to hear the former Prime Minister of Japan at ANU

When former Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan came to Canberra to deliver a public lecture on nuclear energy, one student was more excited than most.

Len Morris is an ANU Asia-Pacific Studies honours student who comes from the Japanese city of Sendai, less than 100kms from the site of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Morris says the topic is personal for him. He still has friends and family living in Sendai and remembers being concerned for their welfare during the crisis. Even now, uncertainty surrounding radiation from the disaster remains.

“When I first went home after the crisis my parents were very worried about the radiation fallout,” Morris said. “We still don’t know where the radiation went.”

In 2012 Morris worked with an organisation involved in the recovery process and was shocked by the continuing issues resulting from the disaster.

“I saw people evacuating. This was almost a year later and they were still worried about contamination,” he said.

This experience prompted Morris to do his ANU thesis on Japan’s nuclear industry. He was keen to hear from the man who was Prime Minister at the time of the crisis.

“It was very exciting to hear him speak. There has been a lot of conflicting information about Fukushima in the media so this was a very rare opportunity to hear a first-hand account of the event,” he said.

Morris said he was impressed after hearing Mr Kan speak, and even took the opportunity to ask the former Prime Minister a question following the public lecture.

“I asked about Government subsidies given to local communities for hosting nuclear power plants. This was a great help for my thesis,” he said.

In addition to helping with his studies, Morris also said the speech helped change his opinion on Mr Kan’s leadership through the crisis.

“I was shocked in a sense because there was so much criticism of Mr Kan. But hearing what he said, I now feel that criticism was unfair,” Morris said.