Junichiro Koizumi-led group pitches bill calling for ‘immediate halt’ to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power — The Japan Times

” A group advised by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday unveiled details about a bill calling for an “immediate halt” to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to prevent a recurrence of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The group is seeking to submit the bill to an upcoming Diet session in cooperation with opposition parties.

Sporting his signature leonine hairdo, Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular prime ministers in recent memory, made a rare appearance before reporters with his unabated frankness, lashing out at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his persistent pro-nuclear stance.

“You may think the goal of zero nuclear power is hard to achieve, but it’s not,” Koizumi said, adding that he believes many lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party support nuclear power passively out of respect for Abe, but that they could be persuaded to embrace a zero-nuclear policy under a different leader.

“Judging from his past remarks, I don’t think we can realize zero nuclear power as long as Abe remains in power. But I do think we can make it happen if he is replaced by a prime minister willing to listen to the public,” Koizumi told a packed news conference organized by Genjiren, an anti-nuclear association for which he serves as an adviser along with Morihiro Hosokawa, another former prime minister.

Claiming that the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant exposed the “extremely dangerous” and “costly” nature of atomic power — with a means of disposing of spent fuel still not in sight — the bill drafted by Genjiren calls for Japan’s “complete switch” to renewable energy.

Specifically, it demands that all active nuclear reactors be switched offline immediately and that those currently idle never be reactivated. It also defines the government’s responsibility to initiate steps toward a mass decommissioning and to map out “foolproof and safe” plans to dispose of spent fuel rods.

The bill sets forth specific numerical targets, too, saying various sources of natural energy, including solar, wind, water and geothermal heat, should occupy more than 50 percent of the nation’s total power supply by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

That Japan has experienced no mass power shortage following the shutdown of all 48 reactors in the wake of the 2011 crisis, except for a handful since reactivated, is in itself a testament to the fact that “we can get by without nuclear power,” Koizumi said.

A 2017 white paper by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry shows Japan’s reliance on nuclear power has plunged to a mere 1 percent after the Fukushima meltdowns. The vast majority of Japan’s power is supplied by sources such as liquefied natural gas, coal and oil.

Although the controversy over nuclear power has rarely emerged as a priority in recent parliamentary debates, the creation of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan may herald a breakthrough.

Later Wednesday, Genjiren pitched the bill to the CDP in a meeting with some of its members, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who was in power when the Fukushima crisis erupted.

The CDP seeks to submit its own “zero nuclear power” bill to a regular Diet session slated to kick off later this month, positioning itself as a clearer anti-nuclear alternative to Abe’s ruling party than its predecessor, the Democratic Party.

The DP, which until recently held the most seats among opposition parties in both houses of the Diet, had failed to go all-out in crusading against nuclear power under the previous leadership of Renho, who goes by only one name.

At a party convention last March, Renho balked at adopting an ambitious target of slashing Japan’s reliance on nuclear power to zero by 2030 after reportedly facing resistance from party members beholden to the support of electricity industry unions.

In a preliminary draft unveiled Wednesday, the CDP’s bill-in-the-making called for ridding Japan of nuclear power “as soon as possible.” ”

by Tomohiro Osaki, The Japan Times


Four years after: 71% of residents dissatisfied with work at Fukushima nuclear plant — The Asahi Shimbun

” Around 71 percent of Fukushima Prefecture residents remain dissatisfied with the central government’s handling of the nuclear disaster four years after the triple meltdown forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, a survey showed.

Only 14 percent of respondents were satisfied with the central government’s efforts at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to the telephone survey conducted jointly by The Asahi Shimbun and Fukushima Broadcasting Co. on Feb. 28 and March 1.

In surveys conducted six months after the nuclear accident was triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and before the first, second and third anniversaries of the disasters, the dissatisfaction rates were between 70 and 80 percent.

Although the latest rate of dissatisfaction was down slightly from the previous survey, it was still high ahead of the fourth anniversary of the disasters.

The latest survey received valid responses from 1,028 eligible voters in Fukushima Prefecture, or 57 percent of those contacted.

Evacuation orders for certain areas around the nuclear plant have been lifted, but thousands of people still live away from their homes, including many who now reside outside the prefecture.

Radioactive water leaks, malfunctioning equipment, human errors and botched plans have persistently hampered work to decommission the reactors at the plant.

Shortly before the latest survey was taken, reports surfaced that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant, did not reveal for about 10 months that water contaminated with radioactive materials had been flowing from the plant into the ocean.

Asked about TEPCO’s stance, 80 percent of respondents said “it was a major problem,” while 16 percent said “it was somewhat of a problem.”

Only 2 percent said “there was not much of a problem,” while 1 percent said “there was no problem at all.”

However, the Fukushima residents were more evenly split on work by the central and local governments to decontaminate areas affected by radiation.

A combined 49 percent of respondents either “highly [approved]” or “somewhat [approved]” the decontamination efforts.

In comparison, a combined 48 percent either “did not appraise” or “somewhat did not appraise” the work.

Those figures marked an improvement in public opinion of the cleanup work.

In the two previous surveys, the combined percentages of respondents not appraising the decontamination work exceeded 60 percent, while only about 40 percent appraised the efforts. ”


Japan’s new METI minister says will restart reactors deemed safe — Reuters

” TOKYO, Oct 21 (Reuters) – Japan’s newly appointed trade minister, Yoichi Miyazawa, said on Tuesday that he would continue with the policy of seeking to restart nuclear reactors deemed safe by the atomic regulator.

Miyazawa, speaking to reporters, also said he would move towards restarting Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Sendai plant in southwestern Japan.

As head of Japan’s powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Miyazawa faces the tough task of selling the unpopular policy of restarting the country’s idled nuclear plants amid continued safety fears after the Fukushima disaster.

The new minister’s comments could help ease concerns of nuclear power supporters from the sudden departure of his predecessor, Yuko Obuchi, who was viewed as a favourable candidate to sell the government’s policy of restarting nuclear plants.

“There is no question that atomic power is an important baseload energy source for Japan’s future,” said Miyazawa, adding he planned to visit Kagoshima, home to Kyushu Electric Power Co’s Sendai plant, at the earliest opportunity to meet with local authorities.

Miyazawa, a former vice economics minister, replaces Obuchi, who resigned on Monday less than two months after her appointment after allegations that her support groups misused political funds.

Obuchi’s sudden departure from METI was seen as a disappointment for some, who hoped her role as a mother would soften public skepticism towards Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policy of restarting nuclear plants.

All 48 of Japan’s nuclear reactors were gradually taken offline after 2011 and opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Japanese are opposed to restarting reactors since the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi station after an earthquake and tsunami.

Kyushu Electric’s two-reactor Sendai plant passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) key safety check last month and is expected to be the first to be restarted under strict guidelines set by an independent regulatory agency.

The utility still needs to pass operational safety checks by the nuclear regulator, making it difficult to determine the timing of the restart even after local approval. ”


Japan pitches nuclear restart in tightly controlled town halls — Reuters

” (Reuters) – As part of a plan to restart its nuclear industry, Japan on Thursday began a controversial consultation process with local residents near idled reactors that was criticized for failing to give everyone in the region a say.

More than a year after Japan’s last reactor was shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, officials began a series of townhall meetings to explain the approval process that cleared the Sendai plant in the southwest of the country for restart.

But local authorities set strict ground rules for the first meeting in Satsumasendai, the coastal city of 98,000 people 1,000 km (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo that hosts the two-reactor Kyushu Electric Power Co facility.

“As we saw in Fukushima, once there’s an accident, the impact is felt across a large region,” said Makoto Matsuzaki, an anti-nuclear legislator for Kagoshima prefecture, where Satsumasendai is located.

“They face that risk but have no rights and no say,” said the Japanese Communist Party assemblywoman. “It’s like going to get a risky surgery at a hospital without giving your consent.”

More than 160,000 people were forced to flee their homes after the triple meltdowns at Fukushima, the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and towns closest to the Tokyo Electric Power Co plant remain off limits.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government wants to bring reactors back online once they pass tougher security checks imposed after the Fukushima disaster. Japan must import expensive fossil fuels to replace the power from the nation’s 48 nuclear power stations, which previously supplied around 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved Sendai’s safety features in September. The plant still needs to pass operational safety checks.

The government says it will defer to local authorities before proceeding, but there are no legally binding rules governing the consultation process.

Kagoshima Governor Yuichiro Ito says the final decision will rest with the governments of the prefecture and Satsumasendai. Ito and the city’s mayor, Hideo Iwakiri, both favor restarting the plant.

In Ichikikushikino, a town less than 5 km from the plant, more than half the 30,000 residents signed a petition opposing the restart. That town and nearby Hioki city, with 50,000 people, have both formally asked to be part of the approval process, but Governor Ito has refused.

Nuclear power is unpopular nationwide after the Fukushima disaster. Cities and towns that host nuclear plants often support them as they depend on the facilities for jobs and government subsidies, while nearby towns are often less supportive.

City and prefectural officials hosting Thursday’s townhall barred the 1,000 residents who packed a concert hall from recording the briefing and ruled out questions on such areas of concern as evacuation plans or the broad issue of restarts.

Activists and residents say evacuation plans drafted by local authorities are unrealistic and should be vetted by the NRA.

Instead, dark-suited NRA officials fielded specific, technical questions about the vetting process that the agency followed in clearing Sendai for restart.

“What is the point of this meeting then?” asked one woman, who said she ought to be allowed to record the proceedings.

Organizers were forced to introduce a lottery system due to the high interest in attending the meeting. An official said residents were assigned seats to ensure that everyone was able to sit.

In a statement emailed to Reuters, Greenpeace called the meetings a “farce”. The group said it was clear officials considered the event a one-way conversation without truly addressing residents’ concerns. ”


Updated 9/22/14: Japan preparing to reopen nuclear power plants — CBS News; Japan nears a nuclear reboot — The New York Times

Updated Sept. 22, 2014, CBS News: watch 2:11 news spot

* * *

Posted Sept. 17, 2014, The New York Times: ” All of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear reactors — the source of about one-third of the country’s electricity — were shut down after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Three years later, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has certified two reactors at the Sendai power plant on the southern island of Kyushu meet the safety standards imposed after the accident.

It could be months before either reactor is turned on. The company that owns the reactors will make that decision after getting local consent. Even so, the authority’s certification is a major step in the government’s effort to restart the nuclear industry. The authority was created two years ago to restore public confidence in nuclear oversight. The government gave it responsibility to set stricter safety standards and to determine whether reactors met them.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to restore nuclear power as part of his plan to revive the country’s sputtering economy. The public is divided. There is enthusiasm among some locals who see the plants as a source of jobs, but skepticism, according to polls, in the population as a whole. Fukushima showed that absolute safety of nuclear power is a dangerous myth, especially in earthquake-prone Japan. The Sendai plant might have cleared stricter earthquake and tsunami standards, but it is also located in an active volcanic area, about which the new safety standards say little.

In addition, the authority’s assessment did not address the issue of evacuation in case of an accident, which is the responsibility of local governments.

A simulation conducted found that it could take as long as 28 hours to evacuate 90 percent of the residents from within a 30 kilometer radius of the Sendai power plant. Local governments lack the capacity and expertise to conduct a major evacuation, and local leaders have asked the national government to take a more active role in forging evacuation plans. The chaos that ensued from the Fukushima accident should be an obvious reminder of the need for such plans in the event of a major accident. ”


Japan to restart nuclear reactors — The Guardian

” Japan’s nuclear watchdog has given the green light for two reactors to restart but the operator still has to persuade local communities they are safe.

Widespread anti-nuclear sentiment has simmered in Japan ever since an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 caused meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, sparking the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

The country’s nuclear reactors were switched off after the catastrophe. Two reactors were briefly restarted last year but all of Japan’s nuclear plants are currently offline.

The go-ahead from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) for two reactors at the Sendai plant in southern Japan comes after it issued a more than 400-page safety report in July and follows a month-long public consultation period.

But any restart is unlikely before the year end as the operator, Kyushu Electric Power, is also required to get two more NRA approvals for other facilities at the site.

More challenging, perhaps, is gaining the consent of communities living near the plant in south-western Kagoshima prefecture, who must sign off on the restarts before they can happen.

Much of the job of convincing a sceptical public will fall on the shoulders of new industry minister Yuko Obuchi.

“If people say they are worried, I think it is only natural. If you are a mother, I think it is a kind of feeling that everyone has,” Obuchi said soon after being appointed as Japan’s first female industry minister. “The central government must offer a full explanation to these sentiments.”

Obuchi has highlighted the importance of earning the “understanding of hosting communities” who may be hostile to the prospect of firing up nearby reactors, despite beefed up safety rules.

The minister has reportedly dispatched five central government officials to help local bodies in Kagoshima draw up evacuation plans in case of an accident.

Communities living right next door to nuclear plants, who often enjoy grants from utility companies and depend on the power stations for employment, are frequently sympathetic to restarts.

However, there is often hostility from those living further afield who enjoy no direct benefits but see themselves as in the firing line in the event of another accident like Fukushima.

Greenpeace Japan, which is campaigning for Tokyo to abandon nuclear power completely, said the government of the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, appeared to be glossing over the last year, in which Japan has survived without nuclear power.

“The government … is ignoring the lessons of Fukushima and attempting to prevent the renewable energy revolution, trying to take the nation back to its dependence on dangerous and unreliable nuclear power,” said Kazue Suzuki for the organisation.

Abe has been trying to persuade a wary public that the world’s third largest economy must return to an energy source that once supplied more than a quarter of its power.

Obuchi visited Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Sunday, wearing a protective jacket and face mask to observe work at the crippled facility. ”