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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Japan business lobby says Abe govt can’t rely on nuclear energy — Reuters

” TOKYO, July 22 (Reuters) – Japan’s use of nuclear power is unlikely to meet a government target of returning to near pre-Fukushima levels and the world’s No.3 economy needs to get serious about boosting renewables, a senior executive at a top business lobby said.

Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s energy policies, nuclear is supposed to supply a fifth of energy generation by 2030, but Teruo Asada, vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said Japan was unlikely to get anywhere near this.

The influential business lobby has issued a proposal urging Tokyo to remove hurdles for renewable power amid the shaky outlook for nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The move shows how business attitudes are now shifting as reactor restarts get held up by legal challenges, safety issues and public scepticism.

“We have a sense of crisis that Japan will become a laughing stock if we do not encourage renewable power,” said Asada, who is also chairman of trading house Marubeni Corp.

Long dependent on imported fossil fuels, Japan’s government and big business actively promoted nuclear energy despite widespread public opposition.

The government wants nuclear to make up 20-22 percent of electricity supply by 2030, down from 30 percent before Fukushima. So far, however, only two out of 42 operable reactors have started and the newly elected governor of the prefecture where they are located has pledged to shut them.

Renewables supplied 14.3 percent of power in the year to March 2016 and the government’s 2030 target is 22-24 pct.

“In the very long term, we have to lower our dependence on nuclear. Based on current progress, nuclear power reliance may not reach even 10 percent,” said Asada, adding the association wanted measures to encourage private investment in renewables and for public funding of infrastructure such as transmission lines.

The influential business lobby has a membership of about 1,400 executives from around 950 companies.

Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University in Tokyo focusing on energy issues, said the push signaled “a profound change in thinking among blue-chip business executives.”

“Many business leaders have clearly thrown in the towel on nuclear and are instead openly lobbying for Japan to vault to global leadership in renewables, efficiency and smart infrastructure.”

When asked about the association’s proposals, an industry ministry official said the government was maintaining its nuclear target.

“The Japanese government will aim for the maximum introduction of renewable energy but renewable energy has a cost issue,” said Yohei Ogino, a deputy director for energy policy.

But three sources familiar with official thinking told Reuters in May that Japan will cut reliance on nuclear power when it releases an updated energy plan as early as next year.

Following the nuclear reactor meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011, Japan has had some success in overcoming one of the world’s worst peacetime energy crises, partly due to lower oil prices and liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices.

Japan has also promoted renewables but most investment has been in solar and in recent years it has cut incentives.

“There are too many hurdles for other sources of renewable power,” Asada said. ”

by Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick; edited by Ed Davies

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Japan’s worst quake since 2011 seen delaying nuclear starts — Bloomberg

” Japan’s biggest earthquake in five years may slow a government plan to restart the country’s atomic fleet that was shuttered amid safety concerns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the triple meltdown at Fukushima.

A series of earthquakes, including a magnitude-7.3 tremor that struck about 119 kilometers (74 miles) from the Sendai nuclear facility on the southern island of Kyushu this month, destroyed hundreds of homes, snapped bridges and left at least 49 people dead. It has also revived an effort to halt the plants’ operations.

The events may delay Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of returning the country’s nuclear power plants to operation. About 60 percent of Japanese citizens oppose restarting reactors, according to a Nikkei newspaper poll from February, and the earthquake is intensifying pressure on the country’s nuclear regulator to vet safety rules.

“Nuclear is under a magnifying glass now, so even the smallest problem can create big delays,” Michael Jones, a Singapore-based gas and power analyst at Wood Mackenzie Ltd. said in an e-mail. “Fukushima has changed everything, and earthquakes and volcanoes are only making things worse.”

Transport Disruptions

Trains and highways were damaged in the Kyushu earthquake and if there is a nuclear accident from another earthquake or volcanic eruption, evacuations may be difficult, Datsugenpatsu Bengodan, a group of lawyers working to wean Japan off nuclear power said in an April 19 statement. The group said Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai No. 1 and 2 reactors, which were the first to restart under post-Fukushima safety rules last year, should be shut.

An e-mail to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority outside of normal business hours wasn’t immediately answered.

Evacuation Procedures

“Given this is the largest earthquake in over a century in Kyushu that has caused significant damage to infrastructure, it could slow down the pace of restarts,” said Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Mathyos, a Tokyo-based energy consultant. “It may now be even more imperative that emergency evacuation procedures are thoroughly tested.”

A nuclear accident at Sendai would require the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the surrounding 5 kilometers and more than 200,000 would need to seek immediate shelter within a 5- to 30-kilometer radius, according to a local government simulation from 2014.

The NRA, Japan’s nuclear regulator, said on April 18 that it sees no need to shut the two Sendai reactors. A high court on April 6 upheld a ruling that the Sendai reactors can withstand seismic damage and don’t pose a risk to the surrounding area.

A local court issued an injunction in March preventing the operation of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 3 and 4 reactors, questioning whether evacuation plans and tsunami prevention measures — which had been endorsed by the government — were robust enough.

The earthquake near Japan’s only operating reactors “may boost the nation’s anti-nuclear sentiment,” Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an April 22 note. “Technical and political obstacles mean even those units approved for restart are returning at a snail’s pace.” ”

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*Editorial: 40-year rule for nuclear reactors on verge of being a dead letter — The Asahi Shimbun

” The 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors, established after the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, is now in danger of being watered down to irrelevance.

The rule requires the decommissioning of aging reactors, starting with the oldest, for a gradual, carefully controlled process of phasing out nuclear power generation in this country.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on April 20 formally decided that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which have been in service for over 40 years, meet new nuclear safety standards introduced after the devastating 2011 accident.

This is the first license renewal for a reactor that has been in operation for more than four decades under the new standards.

If they pass the remaining regulatory inspections concerning technical details by the July deadline, the reactors will likely continue to generate electricity for two more decades.

The 40-year lifespan provision was introduced through a revision to the law after the Fukushima disaster.

Just one service life extension of up to 20 years is allowed, but only as an “extremely exceptional” measure.

This exception was made to avoid a shortage of electricity. But concerns about any serious power crunch have virtually dissipated thanks to a marked rise in levels of power and energy conservation in society.

The NRA’s formal decision to extend the life of the two aging reactors came amid a series of earthquakes rocking central Kyushu around Kumamoto Prefecture which have been described by the Japan Meteorological Agency as “a deviation from the rules extracted from past experiences.”

Many Japanese are concerned that the quakes could affect Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear plant in neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture. The NRA’s decision to grant an exception to the rule so quickly could have the effect of relaxing the safety standards and deepening public distrust of the government’s nuclear regulation.

The Abe administration is leaving all licensing decisions on individual reactors entirely to the NRA. But it has mapped out a long-term energy supply plan based on the assumption that the service life of reactors will be extended.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who repeatedly pledged to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible, has been changing his stance little by little without announcing any clear policy shift.

The NRA’s mission is to enhance the safety of nuclear plants from a scientific viewpoint.

But the way the nuclear watchdog assessed the safety of the reactors at the Takahama plant has raised questions about its appropriateness. The NRA has, for instance, allowed Kansai Electric Power to delay required quake resistance tests.

If it has scheduled its assessment work in a way to ensure that the July deadline will be met, the agency has got its priorities completely wrong.

A troubling situation is now emerging where decisions on whether to decommission specific reactors are effectively left to the utilities that operate them. As a result, these decisions are being based primarily on whether extending the life of the reactors will pay.

Operating many nuclear reactors in Japan, a small country with a large population that is highly prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, inevitably entails a large risk.

This grim reality was the starting point for the reform of the nuclear power policy prompted by the Fukushima accident.

If the government sticks to the policy of maintaining nuclear power generation, the burden on society, including the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, could increase over the long term.

There is a clear global trend toward raising energy self-sufficiency through efforts to develop renewable energy sources.

A transition period may be necessary. But the only policy that makes sense is to shut down reactors steadily over a period of years.

The 40-year rule is one of the key principles of this policy. The government should remember this fact.

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 21 ”

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Book review: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Protest music after Fukushima — The National

” In July 2012, famed Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto spoke at a rally in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park organised by the anti-nuclear organisation Sayonara Genpatsu. When the Academy Award-winning composer expressed his sorrow at the re-opening of Oi Nuclear Power Plant, which had taken place two weeks earlier, his words caught the imagination of his fellow campaigners: “Why is it necessary to expose life to danger, just for the sake of electricity?” he wondered to loud applause.

As Noriko Manabe underlines, Sakamoto obviously wasn’t demonising electricity; rather he was flagging up the dangers of using nuclear fission to produce it in the light of the specific nature of Japan’s infrastructure as exposed at Fukushima. Nonetheless, Japan’s pro-nuclear Twitter users erupted, wondering how Sakamoto’s techno-pop group The Yellow Magic Orchestra would have faired unplugged, and circulating photos of him mid-speech, his microphone and iPhone circled in red.

Soon, national newspaper the Sankei Shimbun, daily circulation 1.6 million, had a pop at Sakamoto, too: “Having become popular by using lots of electricity, you live in a high-end condominium in New York”, it foamed. As with Sakamoto’s Twitter-based critics, the inference was that to use electricity and be anti nuclear-power was inherently hypocritical, inconsistent.

In The Revolution Will Not be Televised, Manabe explores how musicians post-Fukushima have protested against nuclear power despite censorship of their work and against powerful social mores. These include koe o dasanai, which translates as the built-in Japanese reluctance to speak up, and kuki, the prevailing atmosphere of compliance that tends to characterise wider Japanese society.

If the book’s title name-checks the 1970 poem and song by Gil Scott-Heron, it’s also appropriate shorthand for the Japanese media’s general reluctance to report on the activities of the anti-nuclear movement. But as Manabe explains, “the government doesn’t explicitly censor the media. The industry imposes it upon itself in deference to its advertisers, and the nuclear industry is among the biggest.”

Manabe is a professor of music at Princeton University with a doctorate in ethnomusicology and music theory, so naturally this is an academic book. Its musicology-imbued chapter on Japanese protest music at demonstrations won’t be for everyone, but for all its recherché infographics and specialisms, The Revolution Will Not be Televised is clearly and engagingly written.

It’s somewhat strange, the author argues, that the country that suffered the horrific atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remained so accepting of nuclear power. It was only after March 11, 2011 – when the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant – that public sentiment began to turn and many of the country’s 48 reactors were shut down.

Public opinion polls had reflected a clear surge in anti-nuclear feeling, with about 70 per cent of the population favoring a phase-out of nuclear power. But in August, Japan restarted its reactor at the Sendai Plant in Kyushu, and operators of some 25 other reactors have reportedly applied for restart permits.

Japan is the world’s second-largest market for pop music, and given the genre’s traditional alliance with protest of all kinds, one might expect the country’s anti-nuclear musicians to be highly visible and transparently vocal. But Manabe’s book shows that things aren’t that simple – and for many reasons. For one, the lyrics of all commercial recordings have to be cleared by the Recording Industry Ethics Regulatory Commission, aka Recorin. Established in 1952, Manabe calls it a group mindful of music’s “powerful influence on the psychological state, spirit and behaviour of the nation’s people”.

An even more taxing hurdle, Manabe explains, is the National Association of Commercial Broadcasters, a body that prohibits attempts – or perceived attempts – “to disgrace the authority of the government or its agencies”.

Unsurprisingly, any commercial recordings with an anti-nuclear sentiment have had to be codified to slip through the censor’s net. The concept album 2012, by Osaka’s Acid Black Cherry, for example, is an original fairy tale about the Fukushima accident. Even beyond “official” censorship, artists have sometimes been rapped on the knuckles by their record companies. Manabe records how, back in 1988, Kiyoshiro Imawano, leader of rock band RC Succession, wove some blatantly anti-nuclear lyrics into his versions of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender and Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues.

When the then-director of Japanese music at Toshiba EMI demanded the Imawano drop the songs from his forthcoming album Covers, Imawano refused. Toshiba EMI pulled the album, and later placed a notice in Japan’s three biggest newspapers stating that the record had been “too wonderful” to release.

Manabe’s book also has a fascinating chapter on how Japanese anti-nuclear music/protest functions in cyberspace. For campaigning musicians both professional and amateur, the internet’s attractions are manifold. The lack of censorship and the anonymity offered are key, but as the author explains, cyberspace also allows protesting musicians to collaborate freely, and to mobilise and sometimes even educate like-minded followers. She also notes that the Web has become “a repository of [protest] music that the recording industry would not normally release”.

It was via YouTube, in April 2011, for example, that pop star Kazuyoshi Saito chose to launch It Was Always A Lie, one of the Japanese anti-nuclear movements key anthems. The song panned the Japanese media’s claims that nuclear power was safe, and when Kazuyoshi sang it online, his face obscured by a cowboy hat and dark glasses, it went viral.

Kazuyoshi’s representatives eventually conceded that he was behind the song, but his record company declined to release the track commercially, arguing that “considerations for related companies”, and “the existence of many different opinions on nuclear power” had to be taken into account.

The Revolution Will Not be Televised also explores anti-nuclear demonstrations at music festivals, and via music-fueled street protests, and one of the key points Manabe makes is that brushes with the law can be far more damaging and stigmatizing for the individual than in the West. Protesters arrested in Japan can be held for up to 23 days while the police decide whether to indict them, and there is no bail. “If you’re held for several days, you’ll lose your job,” notes Hajime Matsumoto, leader of the band Shiroto no Ran. ”

by James McNair

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