Japan wants Fukushima evacuees to go home. They’re not so sure. — The Christian Science Monitor

” About 160,000 people left their homes in 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Today, the government says it’s safe for many to return. But regaining residents’ trust remains a challenge. “

” For Toru Takeda, the best and worst parts of life in Yonezawa are the same: snow. Located in the mountains 150 miles north of Tokyo, the city typically lies under a few feet every winter. It snows so much that many streets in Yonezawa are equipped with sprinklers that spray warm underground water to keep them clear.

Mr. Takeda is still getting used to the sheer amount of snow and the inconveniences that come with it. Train delays. Slow traffic. Shoveling. It doesn’t snow nearly as much in Fukushima City, his hometown, an hour-long drive away in good weather.

But snow has its benefits when it melts. “The soil here is rich because the snow melts slowly,” Takeda says one morning at a diner in downtown Yonezawa. He’s certain that the gradual thaw makes the fruits and vegetables grown in the region some of the best in Japan. Taking a sip of coffee, he adds solemnly, “The water and soil in Fukushima [Prefecture] is still contaminated.”

It’s been almost seven years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan and triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The cleanup is projected to cost $200 billion and take up to 40 years. Yet already many of the area’s 160,000 evacuees have started to return.

The Japanese government says it’s safe, but Takeda isn’t convinced. His faith in authority was shattered by the botched response to the meltdown. Today, he remains suspicious of everything from regulatory agencies to utility companies, to say nothing of food safety and, of course, nuclear power. Whether the government is able to regain Takeda’s trust – and the trust of thousands of others like him – is an important test of its ability to revive the cities and towns of Fukushima.

“We don’t believe the government anymore,” Takeda says, speaking for himself, his wife and daughter, and about 20 other evacuees he knows who have refused to leave Yonezawa. “I’ll do anything and everything I can to make sure we can stay,” he declares. That includes going to court.

Man on a Mission

It all started last March, when the Fukushima prefectural government ended unconditional housing subsidies to nearly 27,000 people who left areas not designated as mandatory evacuation zones – including Takeda and many others in Yonezawa. Faced with the choice of returning to areas they fear are still unsafe or paying rent many can’t afford, they’ve chosen neither. Instead, they’ve stayed in their apartments and refused to pay rent. The local public housing agency tolerated this for a while. Then, in September, it filed an eviction lawsuit against the so-called voluntary evacuees, who quickly hired a team of lawyers in response.

“The Japanese government and Tepco caused the disaster,” Takeda says, referring to Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. “They should have to pay.”

Since moving to Yonezawa in April 2011, Takeda, a 77-year-old retired high school English teacher, has emerged as the de facto leader of the city’s evacuee community. He organizes social gatherings and frequently meets with local government officials. He and his wife even set up a learning center in their small, three-room apartment for evacuee children. The center closed after two years, and now Takeda spends most of his time on the lawsuit. He does everything from fundraising to meeting with lawyers.

 “The government hates me,” he says. “If not for me then the evacuees would have already gone back.”

While the lawsuit in Yonezawa continues, some victims have already found redress. In October, a district court in Fukushima ruled that the Japanese government and Tepco must pay damages totaling $4.4 million to about 2,900 people. It was the third case in  which a court found the company negligent in not preventing the meltdown.

‘It breeds distrust’

Yonezawa, which lies 60 miles northwest of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, was once home to as many as 3,900 evacuees from Fukushima. There are fewer than 500 now left, according to government figures. Some have returned home, either out of financial necessity or because they believe it’s safe, but many have refused. In a survey conducted last April by the Fukushima government, 80 percent of voluntary evacuees living in other parts of Japan said they had no intention of going back.

 The government has worked hard to assuage any lingering fears. But Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace, says officials have played down the potential health risks because of the pressure they feel to put a positive spin on the situation. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics approaching, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to deliver on his promise that the Fukushima cleanup effort is “under control.”

“Having zones where people can’t live is politically unacceptable for the government,” Mr. Burnie says. “It creates the impression that a nuclear disaster can destroy whole communities for a long time.”

As the government rushes to revitalize Fukushima, it may run the risk of deepening public distrust, diminishing the respect for authority that is deeply rooted in Japanese society. A 2017 Pew survey found that 57 percent of Japanese have at least some trust in the national government to act in the country’s best interests, though just 6 percent have a lot of trust in national leaders.

Timothy Jorgenson, an associate professor of radiation medicine at Georgetown University, wrote in a 2016 online commentary that one of the government’s mistakes was its decision to increase the maximum limit of radiation exposure from 1 microsievert to 20 microsieverts per year. (Microsieverts measure the effects of low-level radiation.)

“To the Japanese people, this raising of the annual safety limit from one to 20 mSv appears like the government is backpedaling on its commitment to safety,” Dr. Jorgenson wrote. “This is the problem with moving regulatory dose limits after the fact to accommodate inconvenient circumstances; it breeds distrust.”

Jorgenson wrote that the government would be better off to just explain what the health risks are at various radiation doses and leave it at that. Armed with such information, evacuees could decide for themselves if they want to return home.

For now, the government appears poised to further cut housing subsidies to evacuees. Its current plan would remove 5,000 households from the roll by March 2019. Advocacy groups are pressuring it to reconsider. In a written statement submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Feb. 2, Greenpeace and Human Rights Now, a Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization, called on the government to “provide necessary housing support to all Fukushima evacuees, including those who evacuated from outside the government designated areas, as long as needed to ensure their ability to freely choose where they will live without pressure to return areas where their health or life would be at risk.”

If the Japanese government were to take such advice, the lawsuit in Yonezawa could end. Takeda says it’s a tempting thought, but rather than waiting for the government to change its plan, he’s busy preparing for his next court appearance on March 20.

“I don’t have much time left,” Takeda says. “I can’t go home.” ”

by Michael Holtz, The Christina Science Monitor; contributions from Takehiko Kambayashi

source with internal links

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Fukushima evacuee to tell UN that Japan violated human rights — The Guardian

” A nuclear evacuee from Fukushima will claim Japan’s government has violated the human rights of people who fled their homes after the 2011 nuclear disaster, in testimony before the UN in Geneva this week.

Mitsuko Sonoda, who voluntarily left her village with her husband and their 10-year-old son days after three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant went into meltdown, will tell the UN human rights council that evacuees face financial hardship and are being forced to return to neighbourhoods they believe are still unsafe almost seven years after the disaster.

“We feel abandoned by the Japanese government and society,” Sonoda, who will speak at the council’s pre-session review of Japan on Thursday, told the Guardian.

An estimated 27,000 evacuees who, like Sonoda, were living outside the mandatory evacuation zone when the meltdown occurred, had their housing assistance withdrawn this March, forcing some to consider returning to their former homes despite concerns over radiation levels.

In addition, as the government attempts to rebuild the Fukushima region by reopening decontaminated neighbourhoods that were once no-go areas, tens of thousands of evacuees who were ordered to leave will lose compensation payments and housing assistance in March next year.

The denial of financial aid has left many evacuees facing a near-impossible choice: move back to homes they fear are unsafe, or face more financial hardship as they struggle to build lives elsewhere without state help.

“People should be allowed to choose whether or not to go back to their old homes, and be given the financial means to make that choice,” said Kendra Ulrich, senior global energy campaigner for Greenpeace Japan.

“If they are being put under economic pressure to return, then they are not in a position to make an informed decision. This UN session is about pressuring the Japanese government to do the right thing.”

Evacuees are being encouraged to return to villages and towns near the Fukushima plant despite evidence that some still contain radiation “hot spots”.

In Iitate village, where the evacuation order was lifted this March, much of the surrounding forests remain highly radioactive, although homes, schools and other public buildings have been declared safe as part of an unprecedented decontamination effort.

“You could call places like Iitate an open-air prison,” said Ulrich. “The impact on people’s quality of life will be severe if they move back. Their lives are embedded in forests, yet the environment means they will not be allowed to enter them. Forests are impossible to decontaminate.”

After months of moving around, Sonoda and her family settled in Kyoto for two years, where local authorities provided them with a rent-free apartment. They have been living in her husband’s native England for the past four years.

“We’ve effectively had to evacuate twice,” said Sonoda, who works as a freelance translator and Japanese calligraphy tutor. “My son and I really struggled at first … we didn’t want to leave Japan.”

Concern over food safety and internal radiation exposure convinced her that she could never return to Fukushima, aside from making short visits to see relatives. “It’s really sad, because my village is such a beautiful place,” she said. “We had a house and had planned to retire there.”

The evacuations have forced families to live apart, while parents struggle to earn enough money to fund their new accommodation and keep up mortgage payments on their abandoned homes.

“Stopping housing support earlier this year was an act of cruelty,” Sonoda said. “Some of my friends had to go back to Fukushima even though they didn’t want to.”

Greenpeace Japan, which is assisting Sonoda, hopes her testimony will be the first step in building international pressure on Japan’s government to continue offering financial help to evacuees and to reconsider its resettlement plan.

It has called on the government to declare Fukushima neighbourhoods unsafe until atmospheric radiation is brought to below one millisievert (mSv) a year, the maximum public exposure limit recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

While 1 mSv a year remains the government’s long-term target, it is encouraging people to return to areas where radiation levels are below 20 mSv a year, an annual exposure limit that, internationally, applies to nuclear power plant workers.

“Why should people, especially women and children, have to live in places where the radiation level is 20 times the international limit?” Sonoda said. “The government hasn’t given us an answer.” ”

by The Guardian

source with internal links

Elimination of Fukushima evacuees from list slammed — The Asahi Shimbun

” The central government has made a large number of people who voluntarily fled the Fukushima area after the 2011 nuclear disaster disappear by cutting them from official lists of evacuees.

Critics are now condemning the move, which went into effect last April, saying it prevents government officials from fully grasping the picture of all who remain displaced to evaluate their future needs.

“Accurate data on Fukushima evacuees is essential in gaining a better understanding of their current circumstances and crafting measures to address their problems,” said Shun Harada, a sociology researcher at Rikkyo University in Tokyo, who contributes as an editor for an information publication for evacuees living in Saitama Prefecture.

“When only smaller than the real numbers are made available, difficulties facing evacuees could be underestimated and could result in terminating support programs for them,” he complained.

As of July, 89,751 evacuees were living across Japan after fleeing from the nuclear disaster, down by 29,412 from the March tally.

In April, the central government opted to cut “voluntary” evacuees who fled their homes due to fears of radiation despite being from outside the evacuation zone.

It came after the official program to provide free housing to the voluntary evacuees was stopped at the end of March, which was designed to facilitate a prompt return to their hometowns in Fukushima Prefecture. People from the evacuation zone are still eligible to the free housing program.

The central government’s Reconstruction Agency, set up to oversee rebuilding efforts in Japan’s northeastern region after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, releases the number of evacuees each month, based on figures compiled by local authorities.

The 29,412 drop in the number of official evacuees between March and July includes 15,709 in Fukushima Prefecture, 6,873 in Miyagi Prefecture, 2,798 in Iwate Prefecture, 780 in Tokyo, 772 in Kanagawa Prefecture and 577 in Saitama Prefecture.

Before the change in housing policy, agency statistics showed a monthly decrease in evacuee numbers of between 3,000 and 4,000 in the several months leading up to the end of March.

But the drop in numbers increased dramatically to 9,493 between March and April and 12,412 between April and May.

Kanagawa and Saitama prefectural officials say voluntary evacuees were responsible for most of the declines in their jurisdictions.

A large number of them are believed to be living in the same housing as before but are now paying their own rent.

A 43-year-old woman who has been evacuating in Saitama Prefecture since fleeing from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, with three other family members said she is angered by the central government’s treatment.

“We cannot return to Fukushima Prefecture due to fears of the effects of radiation,” she said. “I feel like I have been abandoned by the state by being denied evacuee status.”

An official with the Tokyo-based Japan Civil Network for Disaster Relief in East Japan, a private entity that functions as a liaison unit for a nationwide network of groups supporting victims of the disaster six years ago stressed the need for local authorities to have an accurate understanding of the circumstances surrounding evacuees.

“Of the evacuees, the elderly and single-parent households tend to be left in isolation and many of them are likely to become qualified to receive public assistance in the near future,” the official said. “Local officials need to know they are evacuees (from Fukushima).”

The official added that it will become difficult for support groups to extend their help if voluntary evacuees are taken out of the official tally.

But the Reconstruction Agency said it will not reconsider the definition of evacuees. ”

by Shigeo Hirai, The Asahi Shimbun

source

The comic strip journalist who reports on the fallout from Fukushima — The Spinoff

” On the eve of his appearance at a Victoria University event in Wellington, comic book author Fumio Obata talks to Guy Somerset about his ongoing project chronicling the aftermath of the Fukushima tsunami and nuclear disaster.

At art school, Fumio Obata was taught the importance of “the theme, having something of your own, something only you can do”. The theme that has preoccupied Obata for the past five years is one he has truly made his own. He has been chronicling, through striking comic book reportage, the devastating consequences of the magnitude 9.1 earthquake that struck off the northeast Pacific coast of Japan in March 2011, causing a tsunami and meltdowns and radioactive contamination at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Published in Italian magazine Internazionale and on his website, Obata’s comic strips capture the long-term effects of Fukushima and explore some of the knotty social, political and environmental issues raised by the disaster and its aftermath. The strips are destined to become his second book, his first being 2014’s internationally successful graphic novel Just So Happens, for which The Observer reviewer Rachel Cooke praised his “crazily accomplished” storytelling and described him as “a talent to watch”.

Reviews like that – and there were plenty more where it came from – can bring a writer a lot of opportunities and Obata was no exception, but he laughs: “I haven’t used them very well. Terrible, isn’t it? The good guys who had their debuts the same time as me, they are already on to their third or fourth book. Whereas me, I’m just caught up in this massive theme. Strategy-wise, I’m not very good!”

Obata is at Victoria University of Wellington this week as a visiting scholar in its School of Design. While he’s there, he’s taking part in a four-day international symposium on cultural sustainability, including a free public event with fellow writers Australian Ellen van Neerven and New Zealander Pip Adam.

His trip from the UK, where he has lived since 1991, when his Anglophile parents sent him to boarding school there from Japan, was broken with a stop-off in Tokyo and more reporting from the region around Fukushima, where 19,416 people died as a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. There are still 2553 people listed as missing and 123,000 evacuees scattered around the country.

A YouTube video on Obata’s website gives a sense of what such reporting can entail. In it, dressed in a white protective suit, he walks through an eerily desolate ghost town that is about two kilometres from Fukushima and part of the designated exclusion zone.

“If you become friends with a resident, they have a pass and you can go there with them,” he says. He and his friend wore protective suits, but clear-up and other workers don’t. “They don’t become ill. They say it is fine. Even in the exclusion zone, it’s not all equally radioactive. Because particles are not going to be evenly dispersed. When you walk around with the Geiger counter, you notice that sometimes the figure is very low, then you go several feet away from that spot and the figure jumps up. Even outside the exclusion zone, if you go to the bits closest to the zone you find the figures are very high.”

Obata’s reporting, which he describes as “a kind of journalism, but I’m more doing my philosophical take on it”, begins with him taking photographs and recording interviews.

“Because I’m trying to structure a narrative, usually it’s the words I start with. I listen to the interviews I did and write down as much as I can. Then I take out the key words, the phrases I think are important, simplifying it. It’s very important simplifying the information. Because what I’m making is a comic strip. It’s not an article, which allows you to have I don’t know how many words: 2000, 3000. I need the space for pictures so I can’t have 3000 words.

“After that, I look at the photographs. Again, I may have about 200 photographs. I have to go through them and use about 10 out of 200. Those photographs are going to be my visual sources. Then I start sketching. All those sketches and rough pictures, they are like pieces of the puzzle. I’ve got a dozen pieces of puzzle with words and phrases and I’ve got the other side of the puzzle with the photographs, and I basically put them together.”

One of the most affecting stories Obata tells is that of Norio Kimura, whose father, wife and seven-year-old youngest daughter Yūna were lost in the tsunami. While the bodies of his father and wife were found in April 2011, Yūna’s remained missing. After the official search for her ended, Kimura continued looking, taking 1000km round trips to do so. After five years and nine months, a piece of bone was discovered that DNA testing proved was one of Yūna’s.

“Yūna was torn apart into small pieces, taken away with contaminated debris, now stored around anonymously,” reads one of the story’s panels. “Had they done the search longer and more carefully from the start, she could have been found a lot earlier, with her body almost intact too.”

The story ends with a panel reading: “A child has been left out alone in the shadow of the reconstruction. And her presence now poses a lot of questions to us.”

This is emotionally momentous material, very different to some of Obata’s other work, be it his 2004 anime of Duran Duran’s song Careless Memories for their then stage show or the short comic about the art of pencil sharpening you’ll find on his website.

Getting it right must weigh upon him, one imagines: these are hugely significant events and he’s almost certainly the only person who’s going to approach them in this form.

“Yeah, big pressure,” he says. “It’s very difficult to do. I appreciate people allow me to talk to them. Some say no, of course. I’ve heard tragic stories but they’ve asked me not to write about it. It’s interesting because they wanted to share that with somebody, somebody who’s not shared the same experience they have.

“The father I met is very vocal because he’s angry. He’s just full of anger. He’s trying to change something about the law, for the love of his daughter. It’s very moving. That’s why he basically opened up to me. His story is still developing and he’s still searching for the remains of his daughter.”

Another panel in the same story is of a city skyline at night and reads: “The nuclear plant was built to provide electricity to the capital region. By knowing Fukushima today, Tokyo could look arrogant, with all the excess of lights and luxury.”

It’s a point elegantly distilled – even poetically so.

But Obata is not one to cast simplistic blame. “It is something I have to tell people, especially my students [at the University of Gloucester and other universities around the UK where he teaches as a guest lecturer] when they try to do something about the world. They are angry young men, angry young people, but there are layers to things. There’s no right or wrong; the people are goodies and the people are baddies as well.

“When a tragedy happens, we tend to think there’s a victim and there’s an offender. There’s going to be people who get accused and there are victims who get all the sympathy from the public. But sometimes it’s not like that. Sometimes you can’t make things black and white.

“What’s happening with nuclear is one of these things. If you start reading just a short history of the nuclear industry, or nuclear technology, you see a lot of people believe in the technology and I can’t blame them, because I can’t prove them wrong. They get accused and the people who accuse them have right things to say and I can’t blame them either.

“So basically there are no answers to it and it’s very uncomfortable for the human mind not to have answers. You need a bit of patience and courage to accept that. This is one of the things I am going to say at the end, I think: it’s difficult to accept an open ending but you’ve got to have the courage.”

As for Tokyo: “The consumption of energy really helped to establish today’s Japan’s reputation. And I’m part of it. I can’t really criticise it. I just have to take in the contradiction and try to respond.”

Responding to this and the other contradictions he’s encountered in the past five years still has a way to run for Obata. Asked if he’s going to make the 2018 publication date his website gives for his book, he laughs: “Nah, of course not. I just have to put a lot of energy into it and hope the pictures can deliver the intensity of what I’ve seen.” “

by Guy Somerset, The Spinoff

source with comic strip photos

Ex-bosses to go on trial over Fukushima disaster — The Star Online

” Tokyo (AFP) – Three former executives at Fukushima’s operator stand trial this week on the only criminal charges laid in the 2011 disaster, as thousands remain unable to return to homes near the shuttered nuclear plant.

The hearing on Friday comes more than a year after ex-Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 77, and former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 66, and Ichiro Takekuro, 71, were formally charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

The indictments are the first — and only — criminal charges stemming from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

“We hope the trial will shed light on where the responsibility for this accident…lies,” Ruiko Muto, who heads a group that pushed for the trial, told AFP.

“The accident hasn’t been resolved. There is nuclear waste from the cleanup efforts everywhere in Fukushima and there are still many unresolved problems,” she said.

The trial follows a battle over whether or not to indict the Tepco executives.

Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges against the men, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.

But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 — for the second time since the accident — that the trio should be put on trial.

That decision compelled prosecutors to press on with the criminal case under Japanese law.

“We want a verdict as soon as possible,” Muto said.

“Some victims of this tragedy have died without seeing the start of the trial.”

If convicted, the men face up to five years in prison or a penalty of up to one million yen ($9,000).

Internal report

Tepco declined to comment on the trial, saying the men “have already left the company”.

The three are reportedly expected to plead not guilty, and argue it was impossible to have predicted the size of the massive tsunami that slammed into Japan’s northeast coast following a huge undersea earthquake.

However, a 2011 government panel report said Tepco simulated the impact of a tsunami on the plant in 2008 and concluded that a wave of up to 15.7 metres (52 feet) could hit the plant if a magnitude-8.3 quake occurred off the coast of Fukushima.

Executives at the company — which is facing huge clean-up and liability costs — allegedly ignored the internal study.

Waves as high as 14 metres swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011.

Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.

The charges against the executives are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.

Around a dozen others — including Tepco employees and members of Japan’s Self Defense Forces — were injured during the accident.

The disaster forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes near the plant. Many are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home, as fears over radiation persist.

A 2015 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said a misguided faith in the complete safety of atomic power was a key factor in the Fukushima accident.

It pointed to weaknesses in disaster preparedness and in plant design, along with unclear responsibilities among regulators.

A parliamentary report compiled a year after the disaster also said Fukushima was a man-made disaster caused by Japan’s culture of “reflexive obedience”.

An angry public pointed to cosy ties among the government, regulators and nuclear operators for the lack of criminal charges.

Campaigners have called for about three dozen company officials to be held accountable for their failure properly to protect the site against a tsunami.

The accident forced the shutdown of dozens of reactors across Japan, with just a handful online more than six years later.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and utility companies are pushing to get reactors back in operation, but anti-nuclear sentiment remains high and there is widespread opposition to the idea. ”

by The Star Online

source

Reassessing the 3.11 disaster and the future of nuclear power in Japan: An Interview with former Prime Minister Kan Naoto — The Asia-Pacific Journal

” Introduction

For more than two decades, the global nuclear industry has attempted to frame the debate on nuclear power within the context of climate change: nuclear power is better than any of the alternatives. So the argument went. Ambitious nuclear expansion plans in the United States and Japan, two of the largest existing markets, and the growth of nuclear power in China appeared to show—superficially at least—that the technology had a future. At least in terms of political rhetoric and media perception, it appeared to be a winning argument. Then came March 11, 2011. Those most determined to promote nuclear power even cited the Fukushima Daiichi accident as a reason for expanding nuclear power: impacts were low, no one died, radiation levels are not a risk. So claimed a handful of commentators in the international (particularly English-language) media.

However, from the start of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11 2011, the harsh reality of nuclear power was exposed to billions of people across the planet, and in particular to the population of Japan, including the more than 160,000 people displaced by the disaster, many of whom are still unable to return to their homes, and scores of millions more threatened had worst case scenarios occurred. One authoritative voice that has been central to exposing the myth-making of the nuclear industry and its supporters has been that of Kan Naoto, Prime Minister in 2011. His conversion from promoter to stern critic may be simple to understand, but it is no less commendable for its bravery. When the survival of half the society you are elected to serve and protect is threatened by a technology that is essentially an expensive way to boil water, then something is clearly wrong. Japan avoided societal destruction thanks in large part to the dedication of workers at the crippled nuclear plant, but also to the intervention of Kan and his staff, and to luck. Had it not been for a leaking pipe into the cooling pool of Unit 4 that maintained sufficient water levels, the highly irradiated spent fuel in the pool, including the entire core only recently removed from the reactor core, would have been exposed, releasing an amount of radioactivity far in excess of that released from the other three reactors. The cascade of subsequent events would have meant total loss of control of the other reactors, including their spent fuel pools and requiring massive evacuation extending throughout metropolitan Tokyo, as Prime Minister Kan feared. That three former Prime Ministers of Japan are not just opposed to nuclear power but actively campaigning against it is unprecedented in global politics and is evidence of the scale of the threat that Fukushima posed to tens of millions of Japanese.

The reality is that in terms of electricity share and relative to renewable energy, nuclear power has been in decline globally for two decades. Since the Fukushima Daiichi accident, this decline has only increased in pace. The nuclear industry knew full well that nuclear power could not be scaled up to the level required to make a serious impact on global emissions. But that was never the point. The industry adopted the climate-change argument as a survival strategy: to ensure extending the life of existing aging reactors and make possible the addition of some new nuclear capacity in the coming decades—sufficient at least to allow a core nuclear industrial infrastructure to survive to mid-century. The dream was to survive to mid-century, when limitless energy would be realized by the deployment of commercial plutonium fast-breeder reactors and other generation IV designs. It was always a myth, but it had a commercial and strategic rationale for the power companies, nuclear suppliers and their political allies.

The basis for the Fukushima Daiichi accident began long before March 11th 2011, when decisions were made to build and operate reactors in a nation almost uniquely vulnerable to major seismic events. More than five years on, the accident continues with a legacy that will stretch over the decades. Preventing the next catastrophic accident in Japan is now a passion of the former Prime Minister, joining as he has the majority of the people of Japan determined to transition to a society based on renewable energy. He is surely correct that the end of nuclear power in Japan is possible. The utilities remain in crisis, with only three reactors operating, and legal challenges have been launched across the nation. No matter what policy the government chooses, the basis for Japan’s entire nuclear fuel cycle policy, which is based on plutonium separation at Rokkasho-mura and its use in the Monju reactor and its fantasy successor reactors, is in a worse state than ever before. But as Kan Naoto knows better than most, this is an industry entrenched within the establishment and still wields enormous influence. Its end is not guaranteed. Determination and dedication will be needed to defeat it. Fortunately, the Japanese people have these in abundance. SB

The Interview

Q: What is your central message?

Kan: Up until the accident at the Fukushima reactor, I too was confident that since Japanese technology is of high quality, no Chernobyl-like event was possible.

But in fact when I came face to face with Fukushima, I learned I was completely mistaken. I learned first and foremost that we stood on the brink of disaster: had the incident spread only slightly, half the territory of Japan, half the area of metropolitan Tokyo would have been irradiated and 50,000,000 people would have had to evacuate.

Half one’s country would be irradiated, nearly half of the population would have to flee: to the extent it’s conceivable, only defeat in major war is comparable.

That the risk was so enormous: that is what in the first place I want all of you, all the Japanese, all the world’s people to realize.

Q: You yourself are a physicist, yet you don’t believe in the first analysis that people can handle nuclear power? Don’t you believe that there are technical advances and that in the end it will be safe to use?

Kan: As a rule, all technologies involve risk. For example, automobiles have accidents; airplanes, too. But the scale of the risk if an accident happens affects the question whether or not to use that technology. You compare the plus of using it and on the other hand the minus of not using it. We learned that with nuclear reactors, the Fukushima nuclear reactors, the risk was such that 50,000,000 people nearly had to evacuate. Moreover, if we had not used nuclear reactors—in fact, after the incident, there was a period of about two years when we didn’t use nuclear power and there was no great impact on the public welfare, nor any economic impact either. So when you take these factors as a whole into account, in a broad sense there is no plus to using nuclear power. That is my judgment.

One more thing. In the matter of the difference between nuclear power and other technologies, controlling the radiation is in the final analysis extremely difficult.

For example, plutonium emits radiation for a long time. Its half-life is 24,000 years, so because nuclear waste contains plutonium—in its disposal, even if you let it sit and don’t use it—its half-life is 24,000 years, in effect forever. So it’s a very difficult technology to use—an additional point I want to make.

Q: It figured a bit ago in the lecture by Professor Prasser, that in third-generation reactors, risk can be avoided. What is your response?

Kan: It’s as Professor Khwostowa said: we’ve said that even with many nuclear reactors, an event inside a reactor like the Fukushima nuclear accident or a Chernobyl-sized event would occur only once in a million years; but in fact, in the past sixty years, we’ve had Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Professor Prasser says it’s getting gradually safer, but in fact accidents have happened with greater frequency and on a larger scale than was foreseen. So partial improvements are possible, as Professor Prasser says, but saying that doesn’t mean that accidents won’t happen. Equipment causes accidents, but so do humans.

Q: Today it’s five years after Fukushima. What is the situation in Japan today? We hear that there are plans beginning in 2018 to return the refugees to their homes. To what extent is the clean-up complete?

Kan: Let me describe conditions on site at Fukushima. Reactors #1, #2, #3 melted down, and the melted nuclear fuel still sits in the containment vessel; every day they introduce water to cool it. Radioactivity in the vessel of #2, they say, is 70 sieverts—not microsieverts or millisieverts, 70 sieverts. If humans approach a site that is radiating 70 sieverts, they die within five minutes. That situation has held ever since: that’s the current situation.

Moreover, the water they introduce leaves the containment vessel and is said to be recirculated, but in fact it mixes with groundwater, and some flows into the ocean. Prime Minister Abe used the words “under control,” but Japanese experts, including me, consider it not under control if part is flowing into the ocean. All the experts see it this way.

As for the area outside the site, more than 100,000 people have fled the Fukushima area.

So now the government is pushing residential decontamination and beyond that the decontamination of agricultural land.

Even if you decontaminate the soil, it’s only a temporary or partial reduction in radioactivity; in very many cases cesium comes down from the mountains, it returns.

The Fukushima prefectural government and the government say that certain of the areas where decontamination has been completed are habitable, so people have until 2018 to return; moreover, beyond that date, they won’t give aid to the people who have fled. But I and others think there’s still danger and that the support should be continued at the same level for people who conclude on their own that it’s still dangerous—that’s what we’re saying.

Given the conditions on site and the conditions of those who have fled, you simply can’t say that the clean-up is complete.

Q: Since the Fukushima accident, you have become a strong advocate of getting rid of nuclear reactors; yet in the end, the Abe regime came to power, and it is going in the opposite direction: three reactors are now in operation. As you see this happening, are you angry?

Kan: Clearly what Prime Minister Abe is trying to do—his nuclear reactor policy or energy policy—is mistaken. I am strongly opposed to current policy.

But are things moving steadily backward? Three reactors are indeed in operation. However, phrase it differently: only three are in operation. Why only three? Most—more than half the people—are still resisting strongly. From now on, if it should come to new nuclear plants, say, or to extending the licenses of existing nuclear plants, popular opposition is extremely strong, so that won’t be at all easy. In that sense, Japan’s situation today is a very harsh opposition—a tug of war—between the Abe government, intent on retrogression, and the people, who are heading toward abolishing nuclear reactors.

Two of Prime Minister Abe’s closest advisors are opposed to his policy on nuclear power.

One is his wife. The other is former Prime Minister Koizumi, who promoted him.

Q: Last question: please talk about the possibility that within ten years Japan will do away with nuclear power.

Kan: In the long run, it will disappear gradually. But if you ask whether it will disappear in the next ten years, I can’t say. For example, even in my own party opinion is divided; some hope to do away with it in the 2030s. So I can’t say whether it will disappear completely in the next ten years, but taking the long view, it will surely be gone, for example, by the year 2050 or 2070. The most important reason is economic. It has become clear that compared with other forms of energy, the cost of nuclear energy is high.

Q: Thank you. ”

Interview by Vincenzo Capodici

Introduction by Shaun Burnie

Translation by Richard Minear

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