Radioactive Fukushima wood becomes power in German machine — Bloomberg

” Japan is turning to a small German company to generate power from timber irradiated by the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear meltdowns.

Closely held Entrade Energiesysteme AG will sell electricity from 400 of its container-sized biomass-to-power machines set up in Fukushima Prefecture, said the Dusseldorf-based company’s Chief Executive Officer Julien Uhlig. The devices will generate 20 megawatts of power by next year and function like a “biological battery” that kicks in when the sun descends on the the region’s solar panels, he said.

Selling green power with Entrade’s mobile units could support Japanese attempts to repopulate a region that’s struggled to restore normality after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed 18,000 people while also triggering the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that dislocated 160,000 others. The prefecture aims to generate 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2040.

Entrade’s so-called E4 plants, four of which fit inside a 40-foot (12-meter) container, can reduce the mass of lightly irradiated wood waste by 99.5 percent, according to Uhlig. Shrinking the volume of waste could help Japanese authorities who need to reduce the volume of contaminated materials. Workers around Fukushima have been cleaning by scraping up soil, moss and leaves from contaminated surfaces and sealing them in containers.

“Burning won’t destroy radiation but we can shrink detritus to ash and create a lot of clean power at the same time,” said Uhlig, a former German government employee, in a phone call from Tokyo on Oct. 21. “There’s a lot of excitement about this project but I also detected a high degree of reluctance in Fukushima to talk about radiation.”

Ballooning Costs

The decommissioning of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.’s stricken plant is set to take as long as four decades and the government estimates environmental clean-up costs may balloon to $3.3 trillion yen ($31.5 billion) through March 2018.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in March that Japan cannot forgo nuclear power. His government wants about a fifth of Japan’s power generated by nuclear by 2030, compared with almost 30 percent before three reactors melted down at the Fukushima plant.

Currently, just two of the nation’s 42 operable nuclear reactors are running, which has translated into higher costs for imported fossil fuels as well as more greenhouse gas emissions.

Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection declined to comment on the process of burning radioactive waste in Fukushima. Entrade’s biomass units will be located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the Tepco reactors, said Uhlig.

Like Muesli

Entrade’s biomass plants, which rely partly on technology developed by Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute, are “compactors” of lightly irradiated waste, said Uhlig. The “all in the box” technology is attractive to environmentally-conscious clients who have a steady stream of bio waste but don’t want to invest in a plant, he said.

Uhlig’s company is cooperating with London’s Gatwick Airport to turn food waste from airlines into power. Royal Bank of Scotland financed another project supplying power from 200 units to an industrial estate near Liverpool, U.K.

Entrade has experimented with 130 types of biofuel since beginning operation in 2009. The company claims its plants convert biomass to power with 85 percent efficiency.

“It’s a bit like mixing muesli, taking what’s available from clients or the locality and blending it,” said Uhlig.

Entrade is moving its headquarters to Los Angeles to generate investment capital and help meet demand in the U.S. and Caribbean, he said. The company has 250 units in California and can hardly keep up with demand, Uhlig said. ”

by Brian Parkin

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

source

Monju fiasco, Fukushima plans point to a better energy source — The Asahi Shimbun

” We are perhaps witnessing a turning point in history regarding humankind and energy.

The total capacity of facilities in Japan that sell electricity generated from solar power under the feed-in tariff system exceeded 30 gigawatts by the end of last year, according to figures of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

Most of those facilities began generating power after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. Their total capacity is worth 30 nuclear reactors, although actual output depends on the time of day and the weather.

Frankly, I was surprised to learn that solar power has grown so big despite the many barriers, such as regional utilities essentially setting upper limits on the amount of electricity generated with renewable energy sources that they purchase.

And solar power is turning out to be useful.

Through inquiries with nine regional utilities, The Asahi Shimbun learned that electricity generated with solar power accounted for about 10 percent of power supply at peak demand last summer.

In the service area of Kyushu Electric Power Co., the ratio was close to 25 percent.

The shift to renewable energies is more pronounced on the global scale.

For example, global wind power capacity topped 430 gigawatts in 2015, according to the Global Status Report released on June 1 by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), an international body.

Global nuclear power capacity is now 386 gigawatts, according to figures of the International Atomic Energy Agency, so wind turbines have outstripped nuclear reactors in terms of output capacity.

Solar power has a total capacity of 227 gigawatts, nearly 60 percent of that of nuclear power.

SOLAR FARM IN EMPTY TOWN

A symposium was held June 4 in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, to commemorate the start of a large-scale solar farm project in the town of Tomioka, also in the prefecture. Tomioka remains entirely evacuated because of the nuclear disaster.

Under their own initiative, residents of the town plan to build a giant solar farm with an output capacity of 30 megawatts. Proceeds from the project will be used to help rebuild communities.

The plan is being led by Yoko Endo, a 66-year-old former music teacher, and her husband, Michihito, a 60-year-old former art teacher. The couple now live in evacuation in the city of Iwaki, also in Fukushima Prefecture.

The couple’s former home is in a government-designated “no-residence” zone, whereas Yoko’s family home nearby stands in a “difficult-to-return” zone.

Michihito’s 2 hectares of rice paddies have also been rendered unusable.

The couple said they thought they would still be able to produce something that would be good for Japan from their terrain, even if they could not return to Tomioka and no longer grow crops there.

They solicited cooperation from their “neighbors” in diaspora across the country for the solar farm project, and they obtained agreements from more than 30 landowners for the use of about 35 hectares of rice paddies.

The total cost of the project is 9.5 billion yen ($91 million), an exceptionally large figure for a project initiated by residents. Citizens’ investments will cover 1.3 billion yen of the expenses.

Proceeds from the project will be used to help elderly residents get to and from medical institutions and stores when they return to Tomioka. The money will also fund projects to help pass on farming technologies to younger generations when farming can resume in the town.

The couple plan to start building the solar farm this autumn and have it operational in March 2018.

“We hope to nurture the project so that people will look back and say that this solar farm project, led by the initiative of residents, was more bright and brilliant than any other project of the kind,” Yoko Endo said.

Other large-scale renewable energy projects are springing up in Fukushima Prefecture.

MONJU REACTOR IN DEADLOCK

“An energy source that relies on nuclear power is not suited to human needs,” Tetsuya Takahashi, a professor of philosophy with the University of Tokyo, said in his keynote lecture during the Koriyama symposium. “Once it runs amok, it hurts human livelihoods to an unrecoverable extent.”

Takahashi was born in Iwaki and spent his childhood in Tomioka. People from that area are now aspiring to create an energy source that is better suited to their needs.

As I listened to the professor talk, my thoughts went to Monju, the prototype fast-breeder reactor.

In 1956, shortly after Japan set out on its nuclear development program, the government said in its initial long-term plan that a fast-breeder reactor “best fits the circumstances of Japan.” At the time, the reactor appeared to represent the best solution.

In the following years, the fast-breeder reactor became the symbol of Japan’s nuclear development.

The government has spent 1 trillion yen on the construction of Monju, which began in earnest in 1985. But its development program was suspended after sodium leaked from the reactor in 1995.

Things got so bad that the Nuclear Regulation Authority recommended to science minister Hiroshi Hase last November that Monju should be brought under a different operating body.

“The first thing to do is to implement reliable maintenance in a state of suspended operation,” a study group set up by the science ministry said May 27 in a report about Monju’s operating body.

Something as basic as that is not being done properly.

A project once thought to symbolize national policy was, after all, not best suited to the people’s needs. ”

by Toshihide Ueda

source

*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 ”

source

Adorable Japanese couple devastated by Fukushima turn lives around with solar — Greenpeace International

” For the past 30 years, Shin and Tatsuko Okawara spent their lives working as organic farmers. With their own organic farm, rural work was in their blood – tilling, planting and harvesting crops from the same soil their family worked on for six generations. They sold organic vegetables direct to customers and their service was cherished by the community.

Mr and Mrs Okawara lived about 45km west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and loved their place but at the same time were also cautious. They had a radiation detector alarm that they bought after feeling worried by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Then on 15 March 2011, four days after the earthquake and tsunami that caused the tragic Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, their detector alarm went off and radiation levels rose. They had no choice but to leave.

Eventually though, they decided to return.

“We have cattle and chickens and we had to come back to feed them. We couldn’t leave them and go elsewhere,” they told us in 2012.

But apart from dealing with the aftermath of such a tragic accident they also had to deal with the future of their farming business  – their customer base fell due to fears of contaminated produce, and they even thought about giving up on farming.

But instead of letting the nuclear accident shape them, they knew they had to move forward – for themselves, for their community and for their children’s future.

In 2013 they opened up an organic shop, “Esperi” in the agricultural town of Miharu, Fukushima Prefecture. Their intention was to help revitalise the area and create a community space where people could gather and help each other in 2013. After all, the name “Esperi” means “hope” in Esperanto.

But this wasn’t enough. So in October 2015, the couple launched the Solarise Fukushima crowdfunding project to install solar panels on the rooftop of their shop. Their aim? “Hope to spread life with solar energy from Miharu town, Fukushima”.

Before they knew it people around Japan and the rest of the world began contributing to their crowd funding project, and about a month later they achieved their target of around 1.5 mil JPY (about 13,500 US). Messages from crowd funding supporters gave them the encouragement they needed, especially as they felt “forgotten.”

Greenpeace Japan helped launch the project, and in January 2016 solar panels were installed on the Esperi rooftop.

When the Greenpeace International radiation investigation team first met the couple in April 2011, Mrs Okawara said:

“Fukushima people are a bit naive. For a long time, we did not have money, and just accepted the plan of nuclear power plants. But for the future of our children it would be a shame if we didn’t continue organic farming and take drastic action.”

In 2012 Fukushima Prefecture pledged to switch to 100% renewable energy by 2040. But the policies that the Japanese government are currently promoting is heading in the opposite direction.

In order to achieve a sustainable, reliable and affordable electricity system, the Japanese government urgently needs to change course and streamline its actions. It needs to put the interests of people before those of the utilities and stop wasting efforts on restarting nuclear plants, stop investments in coal power plants that lock in climate destruction, and an set ambitious renewable energy target.

For many people in Fukushima, their biggest wish is for a life without nuclear energy and a future powered by clean, safe renewable energy. Esperi is a tangible testament to the community’s future – it’s our hope. “

by Ai Kashiwagi

source with some great photos

*No bliss in this ignorance: The Great Fukushima nuclear coverup — The Ecologist

” The Japanese were kept in the dark from the start of the Fukushima disaster about high radiation levels and their dangers to health, writes Linda Pentz Gunter. In order to proclaim the Fukushima area ‘safe’, the Government increased exposure limits to twenty times the international norm. Soon, many Fukushima refugees will be forced to return home to endure damaging levels of radiation. “

” Dr. Tetsunari Iida is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) in Japan.

As such, one might have expected a recent presentation he gave in the UK within the hallowed halls of the House of Commons, to have focused on Japan’s capacity to replace the electricity once generated by its now mainly shuttered nuclear power plants, with renewable energy.

But Dr lida’s passionate polemic was not about the power of the sun, but the power of propaganda. March 11, 2011 might have been the day the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. But it was also the beginning of the Great Japan Cover-Up.

On the ISEP website, Iida extols the coming of the Fourth Revolution, following on from those in agriculture, industry and IT. “This fourth revolution will be an energy revolution, a green industrial revolution, and a decentralized network revolution”, he writes.

But in person, Iida was most interested in conveying the extent to which the Japanese people were lied to before, during and after the devastating nuclear disaster at Fukushima-Daiichi, precipitated on that same fateful day and by the deadly duo of earthquake and tsunami.

“Shinzo Abe says ‘everything is under control'”, said Iida, speaking at an event hosted by Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Green Cross, and Nuclear Consulting Group in late January. It was headlined by the former Japan Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, who was at the helm when the triple disasters struck.“Yes – under the control of the media!”

A trial for Tepco like post-war Tokyo Trials

The media may have played the willing government handmaiden in reassuring the public with falsehoods, but in July 2012, the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission concluded that the disaster was really no accident but “man-made”. It came about, the researchers said, as a result of “collusion” between the government, regulators and the nuclear industry, in this case, Tepco.

“There should be a Tepco trial like the post-war Tokyo Trials”, Iida said, referring to the post World War II war crimes trial in which 28 Japanese were tried, seven of whom were subsequently executed by hanging.

Hope for such accountability – without advocating hanging – is fleeting at best. In 2011, while addressing a conference in Berlin hosted by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, I suggested the Tepco officials should be sent to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, (a body the US still conveniently refuses to recognize) to answer for what clearly amounts to crimes against humanity.

The remark caused a bit of a stir and earnest questions about the mechanism by which Tepco could be brought there. Needless to say, nothing of the kind ever happened, or is likely to.

Instead, the Abe’s government’s preferred tactic is to go full out to restart reactors and move everybody back home as soon as possible, as if nothing serious had happened. Just scoop off a little topsoil, cart it away somewhere else and, Abracadabra! Everything is clean and safe again!

Normalizing radiation, a policy and now a practice

Of course radiological decontamination is not that easy. Nor is it reliable. It is more likepushing contamination from one spot to the next”, as independent nuclear expert, Mycle Schneider describes it. And radiation does not remain obediently in one place, either.

“The mountains and forests that cannot even be vaguely decontaminated, will serve as a permanent source of new contamination, each rainfall washing out radiation and bringing it down from the mountains to the flat lands”, Schneider explained. Birds move around. Animals eat and excrete radioactive plant life. Radiation gets swept out to sea. It is a cycle with no end.

Nevertheless, efforts are underway to repopulate stricken areas, particularly in Fukushima Prefecture. It’s a policy, and now a practice, of ‘normalizing’ radiation standards, to tell people that everything is alright, when clearly, there is no medical or scientific evidence to support this. And it was an approach already firmly and institutionally in place, even on March 11, 2011 as the Fukushima disaster first struck and much of the decision-making was left to individual judgement.

“We were told that evacuating poses a greater risk than radiation,” recalls Hasegawa Kenji, a farmer from Iitate, a village situated 45 kilometers from the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Featured in the Vice documentary ‘Alone In The Zone’, Hasegawa criticized Iitate’s mayor for making what he called a terrible mistake.

“Even when the scientists told the mayor that Iitate was dangerous, he ignored them all. He brought in experts from around the country who preached about how safe it was here. They said we had nothing to worry about. They kept telling us that. Eventually the villagers fell for it and began to relax. And the mayor rejected the idea of evacuating even more. That’s why nobody left, even though the radiation levels were so high.”

The nuclear industry did not tell the public the truth

The confusion surrounding evacuation was so profound that, as Zhang. noted in a September 11, 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Unclear evacuation instructions caused numerous residents to flee to the northwestern zone where radiation levels were even higher.”

All par for the course, said Iida. “I must emphasize, the people in the nuclear industry did not tell the public the truth and keep us informed.”

Next in the ‘normalization’ process came the decision to raise allowable radiation exposure standards to 20 millisieverts of radiation a year, up from the prior level of 2 mSv a year. The globally-accepted limit for radiation absorption is 1 mSv a year.

This meant that children were potentially being exposed to the same levels of radiation that are permitted for adult nuclear power plant workers in Europe. Some officials even argued that zones where rates were as high as 100 mSv a year should be considered ‘safe’. Writing on his blog, anti-pollution New Orleans-based attorney, Stuart Smith, observed wryly:

“Instead of taking corrective measures to protect its people, Japan has simply increased internationally recognized exposure limits. It seems that the priority – as we’ve seen in so many other industrial disasters in so many other countries – is to protect industry and limit its liability rather than to ensure the long-term health and well being of the masses. Go figure.”

The great repatriation lie

All of this set the perfect stage for the Great Repatriation Lie. “It’s the big cover-up,” Iida told his Westminster audience. “People are being told it’s quite safe to have a little [radiation] exposure.”

Indeed, at a recent conferences of prefectural governors, young people in particular were urged to return to Fukushima. “If you come to live with us in Fukushima and work there, that will facilitate its post-disaster reconstruction and help you lead a meaningful life”, said Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori.

Young people in Japan, however, appear not to be cooperating. Where evacuees are returning, the majority are senior citizens, who have less to lose from a health perspective and are more traditionally tied to the land and their ancestral burial grounds.

“They want to die where they were born and not in an unfamiliar place”, said Yoshiko Aoki, an evacuee herself who now works with others, and who also spoke at the London conference.

All of this impacts revenue from the inhabitants’ tax which constitutes 24.3% of all local tax sources and is collected by both prefectures and municipalities. It is levied on both individuals and corporations but with the bulk of revenue coming from individuals.

Senior citizens who have retired do not contribute to income tax, so the onus is on governors and mayors to lure as many working people as possible back to their towns and regions in order to effectively finance local public services.

Radioactive areas are hardest hit economically

Late last year, the Asahi Shimbun looked at tax revenues in the 42 municipalities affected by the triple 2011 disasters of earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima meltdowns.

Unsurprisingly, the areas hardest hit by radiological contamination had suffered the biggest economic blows. Those areas free from radioactive fallout could simply rebuild after the tsunami and earthquake, and had consequently recovered economically, some even to better than pre-3/11 levels.

On the other end of the scale, Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, marked the biggest decreasing rate – 72.9 percent – in tax revenues for fiscal 2014″, the Asahi Shimbun reported. “All residents of the town near the crippled nuclear plant remain in evacuation. Although tax payments from companies increased from decontamination work and other public works projects, income taxes paid by residents and fixed asset taxes have declined.”

To return or not to return is the question of the hour – or it will be come March 2017, when the Abe government has announced it will revoke many evacuation orders. At that point, government compensation to evacuees would be lifted, putting them under financial pressure to return. Cue more confusion.

People are confronted, said Iida, with “two extreme views, either that it’s very dangerous or quite safe. So it’s very difficult to decide which is the truth and it has been left up to individuals.”

One of those towns that could be declared ‘safe’ is Tomioka, Japan’s Pripyat, formerly home to close to 16,000 people but now uninhabited.

“It’s like a human experiment, that’s how we feel,” said Aoki in London, herself a former Tomioka resident. “The Governor of Fukushima spoke about a safe Fukushima. We want it to become safe, but our thoughts and reality are not one and the same.”

Observes Kyoto University professor of nuclear physics, Koide Hiroaki, in the Vice film, who has been outspoken for decades against the continued use of nuclear energy:

“Once you enter a radiation controlled area, you aren’t supposed to drink water, let alone eat anything. The idea that somebody”, he pauses, ” … is living in a place like that is unimaginable.”

by Linda Pentz Gunter

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