Local Fury and Health Concerns as Japan plans to dump a million tons of radioactive Fukushima water into ocean — Common Dreams

” In a move that has sparked outrage from local residents and dire health warnings from environmentalists, the Japanese government is reportedly planning to release 1.09 million tons of water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean despite evidence that it contains “radioactive material well above legally permitted levels.”

While both the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco)—the company that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant—have claimed that radioactive material in the water has been reduced to undetectable amounts and that only “safe levels of tritium” remain, documents obtained by the London-based Telegraph suggest that the cleaning system being used to decontaminate the water “has consistently failed to eliminate a cocktail of other radioactive elements, including iodine, ruthenium, rhodium, antimony, tellurium, cobalt, and strontium.”

“The government is running out of space to store contaminated water that has come into contact with fuel that escaped from three nuclear reactors after the plant was destroyed in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeast Japan,” the Telegraph reported. “Its plan to release the approximately 1.09 million tons of water currently stored in 900 tanks into the Pacific has triggered a fierce backlash from local residents and environmental organizations, as well as groups in South Korea and Taiwan fearful that radioactivity from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history might wash up on their shores.”

One document the Telegraph obtained from the government body charged with responding to the 2011 Fukushima disaster reportedly indicates that the Japanese government is perfectly aware that the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) is failing to eliminate radioactive materials from the water stored at the Fukushima site, despite its claims to the contrary.

Last September, the Telegraph notes, “Tepco was forced to admit that around 80 percent of the water stored at the Fukushima site still contains radioactive substances above legal levels after the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry held public hearings in Tokyo and Fukushima at which local residents and fishermen protested against the plans.”

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist with Greenpeace, argued that even so-called “safe” levels of tritium are harmful to humans and marine life.

“Its beta particles inside the human body are more harmful than most X-rays and gamma rays,” Burnie told the Telegraph, adding that there “are major uncertainties over the long-term effects posed by radioactive tritium that is absorbed by marine life and, through the food chain, humans.”

The Japanese government’s reported plans to release the water into the Pacific despite these warnings “cannot be considered an action without risk to the marine environment and human health,” Burnie concluded. ”

by Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

source

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man on a Mission

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

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

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

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

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

‘It breeds distrust’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

source with internal links

The future of nuclear energy in Japan, nearly six years after the 2011 Fukushima disaster — ABC News

” Japan has been pursuing a dream of nuclear energy since the 1960s.

The country’s first nuclear reactor was completed in 1965 and between then and 2011, Japan invested hundreds of billions of dollars into the industry.

Money is still being funnelled into the industry, but these days it is mostly just for upkeep of idle reactors.

When disaster struck the Fukushima nuclear plantin Japan in March 2011, there were 54 nuclear reactors operating in the country and generating about one third of Japan’s power.

But with the triple, reactor-core meltdown at Fukushima came concerns about nuclear power in other areas of Japan. The government of the day ordered an immediate review of the safety aspects of the remaining reactors.

Today, there are just four reactors in operation across Japan (although one is “paused” while a legal challenge is heard).

Eleven are in the process of being decommissioned — six of these are at Fukushima — and decisions are yet to be made about 42 other reactors.

Tom O’Sullivan, an energy sector analyst in Japan, said five or six other reactors should come back online in 2017, but there were localised protests to some of those planned restarts.

“Some of the polling that has been done indicates that 60-70 per cent of the Japanese people actually oppose the restarting of the reactors,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

In April 2016, a major earthquake struck Japan’s southern-most island of Kyushu.

An operating nuclear reactor was just 120 kilometres from the epicentre of the quake. Roads and bridges were damaged and landslides cut off access to some areas — aggravating the fears of local people about how they would evacuate if another nuclear disaster was to occur.

Future energy needs quesitioned

In the years to come, the Japanese Government has major decisions to make about the future of the nuclear industry. Nuclear reactors have a natural operating life of 40 years.

“The average age of the Japanese reactors is now close to 30 years, so most of them have only a remaining operating life of 10 years,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“Once they start hitting the 40-year time limit, they’re going to have to write off some of the residual costs associated with them. Then of course you have the additional, significant issue of having to decommission them and the costs in that regard are very, very significant.”

The Government has had very little to say in recent months about its energy policy.

The most recent utterings of Prime Minister Abe were back in March — when Japan was marking the five-year anniversary of the nuclear disaster. He said his Government was aiming to achieve 20-22 per cent of energy needs met by nuclear by 2030.

Environmental group Greenpeace said that aim would be close to impossible to achieve.

“The reality is, they will never get to that 20 or 22 per cent. I think inside Government, there are factions that basically believe that maybe we can reach that target, but a more realistic assessment says maybe it will be a lot less,” Greenpeace nuclear spokesman Shaun Burnie said.

“I think the Japanese Government will be forced to change its energy policy. This cannot go on indefinitely. Nuclear utilities are unable to operate their reactors.” ”

by Rachel Mealey

source

Five years on, Greenpeace assessing marine contamination off Fukushima — The Japan Times

” Fish market vendor Satoshi Nakano thinks he knows which fish caught in the radiation-tainted sea off the Fukushima coast should be kept away from dinner tables.

Yet five years after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl there is still no consensus on the true extent of the damage — exacerbating consumer fears about what is safe to eat.

Environmentalists are at odds with authorities, warning that the huge amounts of radiation that seeped into coastal waters after the disaster in 2011 could cause problems for decades.

The government is confident it has stemmed the flow of radioactive water, but campaigners insist contaminated ground water has continued to seep into the Pacific Ocean, and the situation needs further investigation.

“It was the single largest release of radioactivity to the marine environment in history,” Greenpeace nuclear expert Shaun Burnie said, speaking aboard the campaign group’s Rainbow Warrior ship, which has sailed in to support a three-week marine survey of the area the environmental watchdog is conducting.

Fukushima is facing an “enormous nuclear water crisis,” Burnie said.

“The whole idea that this accident happened five years ago and that Fukushima and Japan have moved on is completely wrong.”

Fishermen are banned from operating only within 20 kilometers of the plant.

Although there are no figures for attitudes on seafood alone, the latest official survey by the government’s Consumer Affairs Agency showed in September that more than 17 percent of Japanese are reluctant to eat food from Fukushima.

Nakano knows it is best for business to consider carefully the type of seafood he sells, in the hope it will quell consumer fears.

“High levels of radioactivity are usually detected in fish that move little and stick to the seabed. I am not an expert, but I think those kinds of fish suck up the dirt of the ocean floor,” he said in his coastal hometown of Onahama.

Greenpeace is surveying waters near the Fukushima plant, dredging up sediment from the ocean floor to check both for radiation hot spots as well as places that are not contaminated.

On Monday, the Rainbow Warrior sailed within 1.6 kilometers of the Fukushima coast as part of the project — the third such test it has conducted, but the closest to the plant since the nuclear accident.

Researchers Tuesday sent down a remote-controlled vehicle attached with a camera and scoop in order to take samples from the seabed, which will then be analyzed in independent laboratories in Japan and France.

“It’s very important (to see) where is more contaminated and where is less or even almost not contaminated,” Greenpeace’s Jan Vande Putte said, stressing the importance of such findings for the fishing industry.

Local fishermen have put coastal catches on the market after thorough testing, which includes placing certain specimens seen as high risk through radiation screening — a program Greenpeace lauds as one of the most advanced in the world.

The tests make sure no fish containing more than half of the government safety standard for radiation goes onto the market.

The 2011 disaster was caused by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast, which sparked a massive tsunami that swamped cooling systems and triggered reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, run by operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Today, about 1,000 huge tanks for storing contaminated water occupy large parts of the site, but as 400 tons of groundwater a day flows into the damaged reactor buildings, many more will be needed.

Tepco’s measures to reduce the water influx include building an underground wall, freezing the land itself and siphoning underground water.

The government, too, insists the situation is under control.

“The impact of the contaminated water is completely contained inside the port of the Fukushima plant,” Tsuyoshi Takagi, the Cabinet minister in charge of disaster reconstruction, told reporters on Tuesday.

But Greenpeace’s Burnie says stopping the groundwater flow is crucial to protecting the region.

“What impact is this having on the local ecology and the marine life, which is going on over years, decades?” Burnie asked.

“We can come back in 50 years and still be talking about radiological problems” at the nuclear plant as well as along the coast, he said. ”

by Harumi Ozawa and Quentin Tyberghien

source

Japan’s dangerous nuclear waste on the cutting board? Towards a renewables future — Andrew DeWit, The Asia-Pacific Journal

” Japan’s Abe Shinzo government is commonly held to be in thrall to nuclear power, not least because it came into office in December 2012 committed to nuclear restarts and other policies promoted by the nuclear village. Yet clearly much has changed over the past three years. The Abe government’s repositioning on energy is evident in an accelerating shift away from support for the nuclear village, in spite of a few restarts, and towards an increasingly impressive commitment to energy efficiency and renewable energy. The evidence is striking: On top of proposing massive increases in its fiscal 2016 expenditures on energy efficiency and renewables, which we reviewed in October,1 the cabinet is about to undertake an administrative review targeting billions of yen in controversial nuclear-related expenditures.

Specifically, from November 11 to 13, 2015 Japan will undergo an administrative review of YEN 13.6 trillion worth of expenditure requests in the over YEN 102 trillion proposed budget for fiscal 2016. This “Fall Review” (Aki no rebyuu) will be open to the public and broadcast online, as was the case with previous administrative review processes.2 But among the many unusual aspects of this year’s initiative is that the review will be overseen by the resolutely antinuclear Liberal Democratic Party cabinet minister (since October 7, 2015) Kono Taro. Kono’s team of outside advisors will also include such explicitly antinuclear experts as the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation’s (JREF) Director Ohbayashi Mika3 and JREF Senior Research Fellow, Fujitsu Research Institute Research Fellow and Tsuru University Professor Takahashi Hiroshi.4 Kono and his colleagues in the LDP have been working hard in advance of the review to draw attention to its focus on nuclear-related expenditures, resulting in significant and steadily increasing press coverage. In addition, Kono has taken the apparently unprecedented step of producing a 1-hour video, released on November 9, to explain the process and its focus on nuclear-related expenditures. He prefaces his detailed arguments about the content of the review with (at the 5:50 mark) an unambiguous declaration that he not only cleared the substance of the review with Prime Minister Abe, but also received the latter’s encouragement.5

The Administrative Review

These “Fall Review” procedures were initiated by the Democratic Party of Japan Government, in 2010. They also matter, as is evident from the fact that the Fall Review of 2014 (for the FY 2015 budget) resulted in over YEN 360 billion in cuts and repayments to public funds.6 The previous year had seen even deeper cuts, amounting to roughly YEN 500 billion in expenditure reductions.7

Of the Japanese central government’s over 5000 spending programs, 55 have been chosen for this year’s review. While that number may seem small, as noted earlier these programs total over YEN 13.6 trillion and thus represent over 10% of the proposed YEN 102 trillion fiscal appropriations for the 2016 budget. Given that Japan’s public debt load of 226% of GDP is unprecedented in the history of the OECD,8 the pressure for cuts is likely to be stronger than in previous years. Particularly significant is the fact that the items slated for review are heavily oriented towards energy. Indeed, fully 24 of the 55 items are energy- and environment-related, and the vast majority of those are devoted to nuclear facilities as well as to measures related to achieving the recycling of nuclear waste in breeder reactors.9

One target that is ripe for scrutiny is the Kaieimaru, a nuclear fuel ship built in 2006 and used four times to transport a total of 16 tonnes of spent fuel to the Tokai Mura facility10 in Ibaragi Prefecture. Since the vessel has not been used to transport fuel since its most recent trip in 2009, Kono has included it in the review. Between 2010 and 2014, the cost of its upkeep totalled just under YEN 5.8 billion, and its projected costs to 2031 would see an additional YEN 18.1 billion spent on it. The ship has been featured in recent television broadcasts, including a TBS broadcast on November 9, and has featured in the Japanese Wall Street Journal,11 the Tokyo Shimbun,12 and other national and local press. Kono has skillfully chosen a striking symbol of extravagance for review.

An additional nuclear-related facility targeted by Kono’s review is the “Recycle Equipment Test Facility (RETF).” This is yet another costly and risky element of Japan’s very controversial accumulation of infrastructures and programs to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The RETF’s construction began in January 1995, and has received tens of billions of yen worth of investment even though it has not been used. Precisely 20 years ago, Shaun Burnie, Senior nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace Germany, warned that the true importance of the RETF, and the great risk that it poses: “is that it and the facilities that will follow will give Japan access to plutonium that is even purer than weapons-grade. The reason for this is that the plutonium produced in the uranium blanket of FBRs (ed. “fast breeder reactors”) and reprocessed by the operators is what is called supergrade. With a large-scale deployment of FBRs in Japan, and the reprocessing facilities to support the reactors, large quantities of weapons grade material will be available for non-peaceful use.”13

In their 2010 book In Defence of Japan: From the Market to the Military and Space Policy, Saadia M. Pekkanen (Professor, University of Washington) and Paul Kallender-Umezu (PhD Candidate, Keio University) cite Burnie, showing that his concern remains quite relevant. Indeed, they add to the warning by emphasizing that “the point about supergrade plutonium is that very little is required to produce nuclear warheads (possibly 800 to 900 grams); it is thus especially suitable for miniaturized nuclear warheads like MRIV-type ICBMs.14

The above examples are especially noteworthy, but are only two of the nuclear–related items up for consideration in this administrative review. Others include subsidies for securing uranium from overseas projects, storing the uranium, locating and constructing nuclear facilities, as well as funds for PR supporting nuclear power in the Japanese public debate.15

What is almost as impressive as the focus on nuclear is the complete absence of any targeting of expenditure programs for efficiency and renewables. Japan’s FY 2016 budget allocations for these items show dramatic increases over the current fiscal year. So one would hardly be surprised to see at least a couple of renewable-related programs put on the table, if only to placate the presumably outraged nuclear interests. But the only clearly non-nuclear energy programs included in the review relate to carbon-capture and storage (CCS). And if putting CCS on the block indicates that Japan is backing away from coal, that is another reason for applause.

Let us conclude with a note on Kono Tarohimself. He is a major figure in the Liberal Democratic Party, first elected in 1996. Like many LDP members, he comes from a family of politicians. But unlike most LDP politicians, he is resolutely antinuclear and is a strong internationalist. His website comes with Korean and Chinese versions as well as an English version.

In the wake of March 11, 2011 (3-11) natural and nuclear disasters, centered on the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Kono became well-known among international observers as a strong opponent of the domestic nuclear village and its plans to increase Japan’s dependence on nuclear to over 50% of power by 2030 as well as recycle waste in breeder reactors.

In addition to numerous public appearances, books, and interviews in which he was critical of the nuclear village and its dominance of the Japanese power industry, he maintained a blog with regular contributions critical of the Fukushima incident and its aftermath. He also criticized the Abe government’s efforts to restart nuclear reactors.

But when Abe undertook his October 7, 2015 cabinet revision, Kono surprised many by entering the cabinet as Minister in charge of Administrative Reform as well as Civil Service Reform, Consumer Affairs and Food Safety, Regulatory Reform and Disaster Management (the latter three portfolios being Minister of State positions).16

Upon entering the cabinet, Kono’s blog posts became inaccessible. Not a few observers interpreted Kono’s simultaneous entry into the cabinet and suspension of his heavily antinuclear blog as an indication that he had been effectively silenced as an exponent of abandoning nuclear and ending Japan’s dangerous and expensive effort to create a plutonium-based nuclear economy.

However, this interpretation ignored Kono’s argument that he could be more effective in achieving his objectives from within the cabinet than from without.

The proof of the pudding is, as they say, in the eating. It would appear that Kono is setting up a feast this week. And it certainly merits attention from those interested in Japan’s fiscal sustainability, its energy policy on the eve of climate talks in Paris, its plutonium problem, and the ongoing transformation of the LDP.

Andrew DeWit is Professor in Rikkyo University’s School of Policy Studies and an editor of The Asia-Pacific Journal. His recent publications include “Climate Change and the Military Role in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response,” in Paul Bacon and Christopher Hobson (eds) Human Security and Japan’s Triple Disaster (Routledge, 2014), “Japan’s renewable power prospects,” in Jeff Kingston (ed) Critical Issues in Contemporary Japan (Routledge 2013), and (with Kaneko Masaru and Iida Tetsunari) “Fukushima and the Political Economy of Power Policy in Japan” in Jeff Kingston (ed) Natural Disaster and Nuclear Crisis in Japan: Response and Recovery after Japan’s 3/11 (Routledge, 2012). He is lead researcher for a five-year (2010-2015) Japanese-Government funded project on the political economy of the Feed-in Tariff. ”

source with photos, internal citations and related articles

Japan split over restart of first nuclear reactor since Fukushima disaster — The Guardian

” An otherwise unremarkable town in south-west Japan will be propelled this week to the forefront of the country’s biggest experiment with nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

After months of debate about safety, Japan will begin producing nuclear energy for the first time in almost two years close to the town of Satsumasendai as early as Tuesday.

Restarting one of the Sendai nuclear plant’s two 30-year-old reactors represents a victory for the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who insists that without nuclear energy the Japanese economy will buckle beneath the weight of expensive oil and gas imports.

But his call for Japan to confront its Fukushima demons has been greeted with scepticism by most voters, whose opposition to nuclear restarts remains firm, even in the face of rising electricity bills.

Just over four years since Fukushima Daiichi had a triple meltdown, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis for 25 years, Japan remains deeply divided over its future energy mix.

The 2011 disaster forced the evacuation of 160,000 people and the closure of all the country’s 48 working reactors for safety checks.

Opinions among the 100,000 residents of Satsumasendai range from anxiety to relief.

Local campaigners say the plant operators – Kyushu Electric – and local authorities have yet to explain how they would quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” said Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart.

“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”

A survey by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that only two of 85 medical institutes and 15 of 159 nursing and other care facilities within a 30 km radius of the Sendai plant had proper evacuation plans.

About 220,000 people live within a 30km radius – the size of the Fukushima no-go zone – of the Sendai plant; a 50km radius would draw in Kagoshima city and raise the number of affected people to 900,000. “I can’t begin to imagine how chaotic that would be,” Mukohara said.

Massive earthquakes of the kind that sparked the Fukushima meltdown are not the only potential hazard. The Sendai facility is surrounded by a group of five calderas, and Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes, is just 50km away, leaving the plant exposed to volcanic ash fallout, and, in the most extreme scenario, lava flows.

There are doubts, too, about the reliability of an ageing reactor that has not been used since it was shut down for safety checks in 2011. “You wouldn’t have much faith in a car that’s been on the road for more than 30 years,” said Mukohara. “So why are we so willing to trust a nuclear reactor?”

Shaun Burnie, a nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, accused Japan’s government and nuclear industry of cutting corners in its desperation to put reactors back online.

“They are disregarding fundamental principles of nuclear safety and public health protection,” Burnie said. “The same players in the ‘nuclear village’ that delivered Japan the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy in 2011 are attempting to kick-start nuclear power again.”

Sendai reactor No 1 is one of 25 reactors being targeted for possible restarts. “We’ve finally come this far to restart the first reactor,” the trade and industry minister, Yoichi Miyazawa, told reporters recently. The plant’s second reactor is expected to go back into operation in October.

Last autumn, the Sendai reactors became the first to clear safety hurdles imposed by a revamped nuclear regulation authority. The restart was approved by 19 of the 26 assembly members in Satsumasendai, located 1,000km south-west of Tokyo, and by the pro-nuclear governor of Kagoshima prefecture, Yuichiro Ito.

With national polls showing that most Japanese oppose nuclear restarts, the town’s council is reluctant to gauge local opinion, said Ryoko Torihara, a Satsumasendai resident who is campaigning to the keep the reactors idle.

“They won’t conduct a poll of local people because they’re scared of the result,” she said. “They’re aware that Japan has fared perfectly well without nuclear power for almost two years.”

A nationwide Kyodo News poll last October found that 60% of respondents opposed an immediate return to nuclear energy, while 31% were in favour. But supporters of the restarts say the long hiatus in nuclear energy production has taken its toll on Satsumasendai’s population.

When in operation, the plant contributes up to 3bn yen (£16m) a year to the local economy, according to the local chamber of industry and commerce, much of it via 3,000 workers who descend on the town twice a year to conduct lengthy safety checks.

Satsumasendai continues to receive more than 1bn yen in annual government subsidies for hosting the reactors, but some residents complain keeping the plant shuttered for so long has sucked the life out of local commerce, with hotels, restaurants and other service industries reporting a dramatic drop in trade.

“This is my hometown and I don’t like to see its economy in trouble,” said Tetsuro Setoguchi, a 27-year-old builder. “We receive lots of subsidies for hosting the nuclear plant, and if they dry up it will be difficult for the town to function.

“Lots of jobs depend on the plant, especially in the construction industry. I’m sure that every single builder here wants the reactors to be restarted.”

Kyushu Electric, which last August received a 100bn yen bailout from a state-owned bank to survive, estimates that putting one reactor back online would help it reduce costs from burning fossil fuels by about 7.4bn yen a month. The utility is reeling from four straight years of losses, and nuclear operators across Japan say they have incurred tens of billions of dollars in losses as a result of Fukushima-enforced plant closures.

Before Fukushima, nuclear provided 30% of Japan’s energy needs, and there were plans to increase its share to around 50%. Post-Fukushima, the Abe administration has set nuclear an ambitious target of a 20-22% share of the total energy mix by 2030.

As it prepares to lead Japan into a new, uncertain age of nuclear power generation, the Sendai plant is a fortress protected by high perimeter fences and patrolled by security guards.

At a tent village set up on a windswept beach just along the coast, anti-nuclear activists refuse to accept that Japan’s imminent nuclear reboot is inevitable.

“We will do all we can to stop it,” said Yoshiharu Ogawa, who has travelled from his home near Tokyo. “The local authorities may have approved the restart, but they are completely out of touch with public opinion.” ”

source