Japan restarts nuclear reactor using plutonium-mixed fuel — Boston Herald via AP

” TOKYO — Japan on Friday restarted a nuclear reactor that uses riskier plutonium-based MOX fuel, the first of that type to resume operations under stricter safety rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium has raised international nuclear security concerns, and the government has come up with the idea of burning it in reactors to reduce the amount.

The No. 3 reactor at Takahama nuclear plant in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., went back online Friday. Dozens of people protested outside the plant in Fukui prefecture, where preparations for a restart of another reactor, No. 4, are also underway.

Fukui has more than a dozen reactors, the biggest concentration in one prefecture, causing safety concerns for neighbors including Kyoto and Shiga, whose Lake Biwa is a major source of drinking water for western Japan.

Two reactors that use conventional uranium fuel were restarted last year in southern Japan.

Japan started burning MOX, a plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel, in some of its conventional reactors in 2009. Experts say conventional reactors can safely burn MOX for up to one-third of their fuel, but it emits more radiation and could interfere with control rods when they are needed to suppress the nuclear chain reaction.

Japan has enough plutonium, mostly from reprocessed spent fuel, to make 6,000 bombs.

Nearly five years since a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, about 100,000 people still cannot return to nearby areas. Workers at the plant continue to struggle with its decommissioning, which will take decades.

Aiming to help business by generating energy, Japan’s government is pushing to restart as many reactors as possible after they are deemed safe. Forty remaining workable reactors are still offline for safety checks. ”

by Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

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Nearly 2,000 protest restart of 2nd nuclear reactor in Kyushu — The Asahi Shimbun

” KAGOSHIMA–About 1,800 people from around Kyushu converged here on Oct. 12 to protest the planned restart of another reactor at the Sendai nuclear plant, saying the operator has made a decision that is “suicidal.”

Waving placards stating, “Nuclear plant, no more,” and shouting slogans in unison, the protesters, who are members of anti-nuclear groups and other citizens in the Kyushu region, started the rally in front of JR Kagoshima-chuo Station.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. is pushing to bring online the No. 2 reactor at the plant in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, as early as Oct. 15. In August, the No. 1 reactor at the plant resumed operations, the first in Japan under stricter safety standards implemented after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The protesters were particularly critical of what they described as Kyushu Electric’s “suicidal” decision to restart the No. 2 reactor without replacing a steam generator in the reactor building with more durable one. The utility had planned to replace the generator in 2009.

The rally kicked off with a special concert by the Seifuku Kojo Iinkai (Uniform improvement committee) idol group, known for its original songs containing progressive political messages.

In her address at the rally, Ryoko Torihara, chairwoman of a local residents group in Satsuma-Sendai demanding the nuclear plant’s closure, criticized others in the city for depending economically and psychologically on nuclear power.

“Three decades have passed since the plant started operations, and residents no longer seem to have creative minds to come up with alternative methods to sustain the city’s economy,” Torihara said. “We are still dependent on the nuclear plant through and through, and it has deprived us of incentives to change the status quo.”

During his speech, Wataru Ogawa, a member of an anti-nuclear citizens group in neighboring Miyazaki Prefecture, called for residents in Kyushu to stop buying electricity from Kyushu Electric to press the regional utility to abandon nuclear energy.

“To change Kyushu Electric’s attitude toward nuclear energy, we must purposefully refuse to buy electricity from the company once the electricity distribution becomes deregulated,” Ogawa said.

After the rally, the protesters marched through the center of the city. ”

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Angry Miyagi residents block gov’t survey of candidate nuclear waste disposal site — The Mainichi

” KAMI, Miyagi — Local residents here blocked an attempt by Environment Ministry officials on Aug. 28 to inspect a candidate site for the disposal of waste contaminated with radioactive substances that have leaked from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The ministry was unable to begin surveys on three candidate sites in the Miyagi Prefecture municipalities of Kami, Kurihara and Taiwa as of 1 p.m. because the Kurihara and Taiwa municipal governments had agreed to accept surveys on condition that the ministry simultaneously launch them in all three municipalities.

The ministry aims to complete its drilling surveys on the three sites before winter snowfalls, and hopes to select a site from among the three candidates by the end of the current fiscal year.

The Environment Ministry had notified the three municipalities on Aug. 27 that it would launch surveys at the three candidate sites.

In Kami, Mayor Hirofumi Inomata, municipal government officials, as well as about 200 people including members of an association of 50 groups opposing the construction of the disposal facility, gathered on a road leading to the site in the Tashirodake district of Kami at around 6 a.m., and blocked the street with a banner expressing opposition to the project.

At around 8 a.m., 16 Environment Ministry officials arrived at the scene to conduct a survey — the first since October 2014 — only to be met by protesters.

The ministry officials confronted the mayor as protesters raised their voices expressing stiff opposition to the construction plan.

“We’d like to go ahead with the survey as planned,” a ministry official said.

“This area doesn’t meet the requirements for a candidate site,” the mayor responded.

About 20 minutes later, ministry officials withdrew from the scene, but one of them said the ministry was determined to go ahead with the survey.

“We must ensure that specified waste is disposed of in a stable manner as early as possible,” the official said.

Fukutsugu Takahashi, leader of the anti-disposal site association, which includes a local agricultural cooperative, criticized the construction plan.

“It’s wrong to bring materials contaminated by the nuclear power plant to a beautiful mountain like this,” he said.

As of the end of June, some 3,404 metric tons of rice straw, sludge and other waste containing cesium with a level of radioactivity topping 8,000 becquerels per kilogram — designated under a special measures law as specified waste — is being stored at 39 locations in nine municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture, according to the ministry. A disposal facility that the ministry is planning to build would store such waste. ”

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Japan’s Tepco shareholders demand shutdown — SBS

” Shareholders in the company that owns Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power station have protested at its annual meeting, demanding its permanent closure.

Furious shareholders of the company that runs Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power station have joined campaigners to demand the permanent closure of the utility’s atomic plants as it held its annual meeting.

Dozens of demonstrators with loud speakers and banners said on Thursday Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which wants to restart some of the reactors at the world’s largest nuclear plant, amongst others, must act to not repeat the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

There was pushing and shoving between security guards and demonstrators as they tried to approach shareholders going into the gathering.

Activists from conservation group Greenpeace wore full protective suits and industrial face masks to remind shareholders what families who lived near Fukushima – where three reactors went into meltdown after an earthquake-sparked tsunami – must wear to check on their homes.

Katsutaka Idogawa, former mayor of Futaba town, which hosts the plant, lashed out at supporters of nuclear power, including TEPCO’s management, urging them to put their own ancestral land at risk.

“Why don’t you get exposed to radiation yourself? Why don’t you lose your homeland?” he asked as shareholders filed into Tokyo International Forum for the company’s annual meeting.

His town remains evacuated because of elevated levels of radiation, amid expectations that it will be decades before it is safe to return, if ever.

Idogawa, who bought TEPCO shares last year, said the firm has been slow to offer compensation to those who lost homes, jobs, farms and their communities, and that which has been offered has been inadequate.

“You don’t pay enough compensation and don’t take responsibility (for the accident). I can’t forgive you!” he said.

The sentiment was echoed during the meeting by fellow shareholders whose communities host other nuclear plants.

A woman from Niigata prefecture, where TEPCO hopes to start a major power station, also expressed her desire for the utility to end nuclear energy.

“Are we going to make the same mistake that we had in Fukushima, also in Niigata?” she said.

“Fellow shareholders, please support this proposal of scrapping the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant… and revitalising the site with plans for renewable energy,” she said.

Japan’s entire stable of 48 working reactors is offline, shuttered for safety checks in the months after the 2011 disaster.

The government and electricity companies, like TEPCO, would like to fire them up again, but public unease has so far prevented that, as has a new, toothier watchdog.

TEPCO has argued that restarting selected reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power plant, is the key to ensuring the company’s survival as it battles huge costs.

The calls for an end to nuclear power were expected to be rejected by TEPCO, which is majority-owned by a government-backed fund designed to rescue it.

The government has poured billions of dollars into TEPCO to keep afloat a company that supplies electricity to Tokyo and its surrounding area, as it stumps up cash for decommissioning the reactors, cleaning up the mess they have made and paying compensation. “

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Thousands protest ahead of Fukushima anniversary — St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Fukushima Anniversary: Voices from Japan — Nuclear Hotseat

1)  ” TOKYO • Banging on drums and waving “Sayonara nukes” signs, thousands of people rallied in a Tokyo park and marched to Parliament on Sunday to demand an end to nuclear power ahead of the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

Participants at the demonstration, one of several planned across cities in Japan, said they would never forget the March 11, 2011, nuclear disaster, the worst since Chernobyl. The plant was damaged by a massive earthquake and then hit by a tsunami.

They also vowed to block a move by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to restart some of the 48 idled reactors and backpedal on the commitment by the previous government to aggressively reduce the nation’s reliance on nuclear power. Oil imports have soared since the disaster, hurting the economy. … ”

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2) Voices of Japan – Hear the stories of Fukushima residents and Japanese citizens who wish to share their experiences and opinions on the management of Fukushima Daiichi to the world. Access Japanese and English versions of the podcasts HERE

Interviewees:

  • Hiroaki Koide, Asst. Professor, Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute
  • Taro Yamamoto, actor and member of the Japanese Diet Upper House
  • Midori Kiuchi, popular television and movie actress
  • Kaori Suzuki, Director of the Tarachine Citizens Radiation Monitoring Center
  • Ruiko Muto, lead plaintiff of a large group of Fukushima residents who have filed a criminal complaint against Tepco and the Japanese government
  • Setsuko Kida, nuclear refugee from five miles from Fukushima Daiichi and 2013 Green Party candidate for the Japanese Diet Upper House on an antinuclear platform
  • Seiichi Mizuno is a businessman, former president of Seibu Department Stores, and former member of the Japanese Diet Upper House
  • Kosuke Ito is a former citizen of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, who helped to start Frontier Minamisoma NPO
  • Laura Inoue of Komoro Homestay Programme for Mothers and Children

Diet enacts state secrets law despite widespread protests — The Asahi Shimbun

” The Upper House passed the highly contentious state secrets protection bill into law on Dec. 6, despite the paucity of debate and lack of safeguards on the designation process.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, New Komeito, railroaded the legislation through the Upper House plenary meeting on Dec. 6 amid increasingly vehement protests from opposition parties and the public.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was conspicuously absent when the debate was heating up, an indication of his confidence that his party, together with New Komeito, has the requisite votes to clear it through the full Upper House.

During an Upper House special committee session on Dec. 5, Hiroo Ishii, an LDP lawmaker, submitted a motion after 4 p.m. to end discussion on the bill and call for a vote, over the shouts of opposition party members.

“It is typical of the ruling party’s arrogance,” yelled one opposition legislator. “It is tantamount to declaring that the opposition’s voice does not need to be heard,” said another.

Committee members from Your Party and the Japan Restoration Party left the meeting in protest before the vote, arguing the bill has yet to be debated fully.

Kazuo Shii, chief of the Japanese Communist Party, described the ruling coalition’s behavior as “tyrannical, arrogant and disorderly.”

The ruling coalition believed prolonging the Diet debate any longer could backfire, only fueling the mushrooming opposition to the bill, and lead to a further decline in approval ratings for Abe’s Cabinet and hold on power.

An Asahi Shimbun survey taken between Nov. 30-Dec. 1 showed the Cabinet’s approval rating at 49 percent, dipping below 50 percent for the first time since he took power in December 2012.

Officials in the Abe administration foresee the public eventually forgetting about the controversy, once the legislation is approved.

The bill, submitted to the Diet on Oct. 25, aims to tighten control of sensitive information in such areas as diplomacy, defense, anti-spying and antiterrorism as state secrets. Those found guilty of leaking the secrets could face up to 10 years in prison.

One of the most controversial points of the bill is that it allows bureaucrats and elected officials to arbitrarily widen their interpretations of what they deem to be state secrets.

And it has no definite mechanism for an independent panel to verify whether these designations are appropriate, although the government has announced plans to form a “third-party” body to oversee this process.

Critics say the bill seriously undermines the public’s right to know and freedom of information.

“The bill is of the bureaucrat, by the bureaucrat and for the bureaucrat to hide information,” said Banri Kaieda, president of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

The LDP’s dominance of the two chambers of the Diet, along with New Komeito, is driving the governing parties’ high-handed approach to getting the bill passed during the current Diet session.

The ruling coalition rammed the bill through the Lower House on Nov. 26, after about 45 hours of discussion, which critics say is too short for such a weighty issue.

It snubbed the DPJ’s proposals to clarify the definition of state secrets, lighten the penalty for those found guilty of leaking secrets and for those who tried to elicit sensitive information.

The discussion at the Upper House special committee was even shorter, lasting only about 22 hours.

Abe attended one special committee meeting over the bill in each chamber, adding up to about four hours altogether.

When Kaieda accused him of not explaining the bill fully during the debate of party leaders on Dec. 4, Abe said, “I attended the special committee meeting this morning and answered questions.”

On the night of Dec. 5, when the Diet was plunged in turmoil after the ruling coalition forced the vote on the bill in the special committee earlier that day, the prime minister showed up at a barbecue restaurant in Tokyo’s Yotsuya district to attend a welcoming party for a new aide.

Abe, buoyed by his high approval ratings for his economic policies, set out to enact legislation aimed to spur the nation’s economic growth during the current Diet session.

Opposition to the state secrets bill, however, turned out to be fiercer than he had anticipated, forcing him to take a hard-line approach.

The government also has other important issues such as negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and compile budget proposals during the remainder of the year.

The Abe administration has approached the legislation from the outset in a hurried and overbearing manner, as well as being heavy-handed.

The administration released the outline of the bill on Sept. 3 and solicited comments from that day through Sept. 17, a period half as long as usually conducted on important legislation.

Seventy-seven percent of about 90,000 public comments received were opposed to the bill. ”

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