A Maverick former Japanese prime minister goes antinuclear — The New York Times

” TOKYO — William Zeller, a petty officer second class in the United States Navy, was one of hundreds of sailors who rushed to provide assistance to Japan after a giant earthquake and tsunami set off a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Not long after returning home, he began to feel sick.

Today, he has nerve damage and abnormal bone growths, and blames exposure to radiation during the humanitarian operation conducted by crew members of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan. Neither his doctors nor the United States government has endorsed his claim or those of about 400 other sailors who attribute ailments including leukemia and thyroid disease to Fukushima and are suing Tokyo Electric, the operator of the plant.

But one prominent figure is supporting the American sailors: Junichiro Koizumi, the former prime minister of Japan.

Mr. Koizumi, 74, visited a group of the sailors, including Petty Officer Zeller, in San Diego in May, breaking down in tears at a news conference. Over the past several months, he has barnstormed Japan to raise money to help defray some of their medical costs.

The unusual campaign is just the latest example of Mr. Koizumi’s transformation in retirement into Japan’s most outspoken opponent of nuclear power. Though he supported nuclear power when he served as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he is now dead set against it and calling for the permanent shutdown of all 54 of Japan’s nuclear reactors, which were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster.

“I want to work hard toward my goal that there will be zero nuclear power generation,” Mr. Koizumi said in an interview in a Tokyo conference room.

The reversal means going up against his old colleagues in the governing Liberal Democratic Party as well as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who are pushing to get Japan, once dependent for about a third of its energy on nuclear plants, back into the nuclear power business.

That Mr. Koizumi would take a contrarian view is perhaps not surprising. He was once known as “the Destroyer” because he tangled with his own party to push through difficult policy proposals like privatization of the national postal service.

Mr. Koizumi first declared his about-face on nuclear power three years ago, calling for Japan to switch to renewable sources of energy like solar power and arguing that “there is nothing more costly than nuclear power.”

After spending the first few years of his retirement out of the public eye, in recent months Mr. Koizumi has become much more vocal about his shift, saying he was moved to do more by the emotional appeal of the sailors he met in San Diego.

Scientists are divided about whether radiation exposure contributed to the sailors’ illnesses. The Defense Department, in a report commissioned by Congress, concluded that it was “implausible” that the service members’ ailments were related to radiation exposure from Fukushima.

To many political observers, Mr. Koizumi’s cause in retirement is in keeping with his unorthodox approach in office, when he captivated Japanese and international audiences with his blunt talk, opposition to the entrenched bureaucracy and passion for Elvis Presley.

Some wonder how much traction he can get with his antinuclear campaign, given the Abe administration’s determination to restart the atomic plants and the Liberal Democratic Party’s commanding majority in Parliament.

Two reactors are already back online; to meet Mr. Abe’s goal of producing one-fifth of the country’s electricity from nuclear power within the next 15 years, about 30 of the existing 43 reactors would need to restart. (Eleven reactors have been permanently decommissioned.)

A year after the Fukushima disaster, antinuclear fervor led tens of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo near the prime minister’s residence to register their anger at the government’s decision to restart the Ohi power station in western Japan. Public activism has dissipated since then, though polls consistently show that about 60 percent of Japanese voters oppose restarting the plants.

“The average Japanese is not that interested in issues of energy,” said Daniel P. Aldrich, professor of political science at Northeastern University. “They are antinuclear, but they are not willing to vote the L.D.P. out of office because of its pronuclear stance.”

Sustained political protest is rare in Japan, but some analysts say that does not mean the antinuclear movement is doomed to wither.

“People have to carry on with their lives, so only so much direct action can take place,” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Antinuclear activism “may look dormant from appearances, but it’s there, like magma,” he said. “It’s still brewing, and the next trigger might be another big protest or political change.”

Some recent signs suggest the movement has gone local. In October, Ryuichi Yoneyama was elected governor in Niigata, the prefecture in central Japan that is home to the world’s largest nuclear plant, after campaigning on a promise to fight efforts by Tokyo Electric to restart reactors there.

Like Mr. Koizumi, he is an example of how the antinuclear movement has blurred political allegiances in Japan. Before running for governor, Mr. Yoneyama had run as a Liberal Democratic candidate for Parliament.

Mr. Koizumi, a conservative and former leader of the Liberal Democrats, may have led the way.

“Originally, the nuclear issue was a point of dispute between conservatives and liberals,” said Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer and leading antinuclear activist. “But after Mr. Koizumi showed up and said he opposed nuclear power, other conservatives realized they could be against nuclear power.”

Since he visited the sailors in San Diego, Mr. Koizumi has traveled around Japan in hopes of raising about $1 million for a foundation he established with another former prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, an independent who has previously been backed by the opposition Democratic Party, to help pay some of the sailors’ medical costs.

Mr. Koizumi is not involved in the sailors’ lawsuit, now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Tokyo Electric is working to have the case moved to Japan.

Aimee L. Tsujimoto, a Japanese-American freelance journalist, and her husband, Brian Victoria, an American Buddhist priest now living in Kyoto, introduced Mr. Koizumi to the plaintiffs. Petty Officer Zeller, who said he took painkillers and had tried acupuncture and lymph node massages to treat his conditions, said the meeting with Mr. Koizumi was the first time that someone in power had listened to him.

“This is a man where I saw emotion in his face that I have not seen from my own doctors or staff that I work with, or from my own personal government,” said Petty Officer Zeller, who works at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. “Nobody has put the amount of attention that I saw in his eyes listening to each word, not just from me, but from the other sailors who have gone through such severe things healthwise.”

Mr. Koizumi, whose signature leonine hairstyle has gone white since his retirement, said that after meeting the sailors in San Diego, he had become convinced of a connection between their health problems and the radiation exposure.

“These sailors are supposed to be very healthy,” he said. “It’s not a normal situation. It is unbelievable that just in four or five years that these healthy sailors would become so sick.”

“I think that both the U.S. and Japanese government have something to hide,” he added.

Many engineers, who argue that Japan needs to reboot its nuclear power network to lower carbon emissions and reduce the country’s dependence on foreign fossil fuels, say Mr. Koizumi’s position is not based on science.

“He is a very dramatic person,” said Takao Kashiwagi, a professor at the International Research Center for Advanced Energy Systems for Sustainability at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “He does not have so much basic knowledge about nuclear power, only feelings.”

That emotion is evident when Mr. Koizumi speaks about the sailors. Wearing a pale blue gabardine jacket despite Japan’s black-and-gray suit culture, he choked up as he recounted how they had told him that they loved Japan despite what they had gone through since leaving.

“They gave their utmost efforts to help the Japanese people,” he said, pausing to take a deep breath as tears filled his eyes. “I am no longer in government, but I couldn’t just let nothing be done.” “

by Motoko Rich

contributions from Makiko Inoue

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**Time has come for an ‘honorable retreat’ from Tokyo 2020 over Fukushima — Dr. Brian Victoria, The Japan Times

” Dear Olympics minister Toshiaki Endo,

Let me begin this message by offering you my sincerest condolences. Condolences for what? For the death of the belief that a trouble-free 2020 Tokyo Olympics would serve to showcase Japan’s economic revival.

Up to this point, the exact opposite has been the case, due to the scrapping of plans for a very expensive new National Stadium, the scuttling of the Olympic logo amid charges of plagiarism and newspaper headlines alleging, for example, that “Japan’s Olympics fiascoes point to outmoded, opaque decision-making.” Even more recently, Japan sports minister Hakubun Shimomura offered to resign over the Olympic stadium row.

Among these developments, the charge alleging “outmoded, opaque decision-making” is perhaps the most troubling of all, because it suggests that both of the major setbacks the 2020 Olympics has encountered are systemic in nature, not merely one-off phenomena. If correct, this indicates that similar setbacks are likely to occur in the future. But how many setbacks can the 2020 Olympics endure?

At this point it may be apt to recall the warning of 13th-century Zen master Dogen: “If there is the slightest difference in the beginning, the result will be a distance greater than heaven is from Earth.”

One lesson to be learned from Dogen’s words is that in order to understand the mess you are in now, you should reflect on how you got into it in the first place. When this is done, the “beginning” becomes clear, i.e., Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s 2013 statement to the International Olympic Committee that the situation at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was “under control.” The prime minister went on to tell the Diet, “The effect of radioactive substances in the nearby waters is blocked within 0.3 sq. km of the plant’s harbor.”

One needs only to look at recent stories describing the torrential downpours in the Fukushima area to know that this claim, if it were ever true, is clearly no longer valid. Even Tepco stated: “On Sept. 9 and 11, due to typhoon No. 18 (Etau), heavy rain caused Fukushima No. 1 drainage rainwater to overflow to the sea.” This is not to mention the high probability that relatively decontaminated areas have been contaminated once again by the heavy rains carrying radioactive particles lodged in the nearby mountains down onto the plains. Nor does it take into account that no one knows the location or condition of the melted fuel in reactors 1, 2 and 3.

Unfortunately, Zen master Dogen didn’t explain what to do when you find yourself in a spot where heaven is already far removed from Earth — or the truth, in this instance. Fortunately, the former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland, Mitsuhei Murata, recently proposed an eminently reasonable solution. It is time, he says, for Japan to stage an “honorable retreat” from hosting the 2020 Olympics while there is still time to select and prepare an alternative site.

In an article in the September issue of Gekkan Nippon, Murata buttressed his proposal by pointing out another misstatement in Abe’s IOC testimony, namely, “(Fukushima) has never done and will never do any damage to Tokyo.” In response, Murata pointed to a number of incidents showing that Tokyo was affected by Fukushima radioactive fallout, including the discovery on March 23, 2011, that water from the purification plant in the Kanemachi district of Tokyo contained more than 200 becquerels per liter of radioactive iodine, double the recommended limit for young infants stipulated in the Food Sanitation Act.

Murata’s major concern, however, was not about the past but the present and future. He noted the danger still posed by large numbers of spent fuel rods suspended in spent fuel pools in reactors 1, 2 and 3. Unlike the spent fuel rods in reactor building 4 successfully removed by the end of 2014, the remaining rods can’t be removed from the damaged reactor buildings due to the high levels of radioactivity surrounding these reactors, all three of which suffered meltdowns.

Murata’s gravest concern is a number of troubling indications of recurring criticality in one or more of the reactors at Fukushima No. 1. For example, he notes that in December 2014, both radioactive iodine-131 and tellurium-132 were reported as having been detected in Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture. Given the short half-lives of these radioactive particles, their presence could not be the result of the original meltdowns at Fukushima.

Murata is not opposed to the Tokyo Olympic Games per se, but finds them a major distraction to what needs to be done immediately — namely, gathering the best minds and expertise from around the world and, with the full support of the Japanese government, doing everything humanly possible to bring Fukushima No. 1 truly “under control.” This will help to ensure the Pacific Ocean is no longer used as an open sewer for Fukushima-produced radiation, and also address the ongoing pain and distress of the residents of Fukushima Prefecture and beyond.

As Murata noted in the conclusion of his article, “Heaven and Earth will not long countenance immoral conduct.” Recognizing this, Minister Endo, will you join the call for an “honorable retreat”?

BRIAN VICTORIA
Kyoto ”

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