Lingering effects of 2011 disaster take toll in fallout-hit Fukushima, experts warn — The Japan Times

” There are fewer and fewer headlines these days about the catastrophe resulting from the triple core meltdown in March 2011 at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. But participants at a recent symposium stressed that the disaster’s lingering effects continue to weigh heavily on people and municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.

“In the post-disaster reconstruction, Miyagi Prefecture had to start from zero,” said former Fukushima University President Toshio Konno, who is from Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, and lost five relatives in the town when it was hit by tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake. “But Fukushima Prefecture had to start from a negative point because of the additional impact of the nuclear calamity. It is really hard for Fukushima to reach the zero point.”

During the symposium at Tokyo’s Waseda University on Saturday, Konno — who served on a Fukushima Prefectural Government committee tasked with judging whether deaths in the years following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami were disaster-related — said that as of Sept. 30 last year, there were 3,647 such cases in Japan, of which Fukushima Prefecture accounted for 60 percent.

What’s more, Fukushima is the only prefecture among the three disaster-hit Tohoku prefectures that still sees people die from related causes. Since March 2016, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, which were also hit by the quake and tsunami, have suffered no disaster-related deaths, while Fukushima has seen 50, Konno said.

He also said that the number of disaster-related suicides in Fukushima has grown over time compared with Iwate and Miyagi. Fukushima saw 10 such suicides in 2011, 13 in 2012, 23 in 2013, 15 in 2014 and 19 in 2015. Corresponding figures in Iwate and Miyagi, respectively, are 17 and 22 in 2011, eight and three in 2012, four and 10 in 2013, three and four in 2014 and three and one in 2015.

Takao Suami, a Waseda professor heading the university’s efforts to provide legal support for the reconstruction, said the government’s Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center was fairly helpful in addressing compensation issues until around the spring of 2014. But Suami said cases have emerged recently in which the utility, now known as Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., refuses to accept reconciliation proposals put forward by the center.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer working with some 3,000 residents of the village of Iitate on the compensation dispute resolution process, said that even though residents suffered exceedingly high levels of external radiation exposure immediately after the meltdowns — measuring 7 millisieverts on average — due to a delayed evacuation order, the center proposed in December that only people whose exposure was 9 millisieverts or higher should be entitled to compensation, a threshold which covers just 200 people. (Nuclear power stations are legally required to limit the yearly radiation exposure for residents living nearby to 1 millisievert or less.)

Michitaro Urakawa, a professor emeritus of law at Waseda who says he supports the restart of nuclear plants, said the compensation system for victims of the nuclear disaster has a fundamental flaw. Tepco, he said, is benefitting from the injection of funds for compensation from the central government, while consumers — including low-income people in Fukushima Prefecture who did not have assets worth compensation — are helping the utility return the injected money to the government in the form of increased electricity bills.

Kaido and other lawyers called for reconstruction policies that truly meet the needs of Fukushima people, because compensation cannot cover damage that does not have a monetary value, such as the loss of communities, friendship, business ties and fears about the future, including the threat of health problems due to radiation exposure.

Another problem highlighted at the symposium was the unhealthy financial state of disaster-hit municipalities in Fukushima. Waseda professor Yoshihiro Katayama, a former Tottori governor who was internal affairs minister for the Democratic Party of Japan administration at the time of the meltdowns, said the municipalities will end up with excess personnel, creating a financial burden over the long term.

Disaster-hit municipalities in the prefecture are already facing financial strain. The town of Namie — roughly half of whose area lies within 20 km of the nuclear plant — saw its revenue grow from ¥9.48 billion in 2010 to ¥20 billion in 2016. But the portion of the funds from the central and prefectural governments increased to 87.2 percent from 68.6 percent, reducing the percentage of internal revenue to 12.8 percent from 31.4 percent.

Further, if the municipalities decide to end contracts commissioning administrative services to private firms, the local economy will suffer, Katayama said. He also expressed fear that the municipalities may have lost the know-how to assess the value of real estate, the basis of real estate taxes, an important revenue source.

Katayama also said the aging population will lead to a deep and serious problem in disaster-hit areas because many young people who evacuated will not return, causing such problems as difficulty maintaining the public health insurance system as well as city water and sewage systems. There will also be a shortage of nursing care workers and schools will be forced to close, he warned.

“Although the revenue of disaster-hit municipalities enormously expanded, the time will come when their administrative services have to shrink,” Katayama said. “Currently, the central government is taking special measures. But both the central government and the municipalities concerned must think about how to achieve a soft landing.” ”

by Tai Kawabata, The Japan Times

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Government and utilities shaken by high court challenge to public trust in Japan’s nuclear authority — The Japan Times

” Wednesday’s ruling by the Hiroshima High Court halting the planned restart of a nuclear reactor in Ehime Prefecture has cast doubt on the judgment of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority — which had approved the restart under stricter post-Fukushima guidelines — shocking the government and utilities across the nation.

The ruling deals a heavy blow to a plan by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to bring more reactors back online, and is sure to prompt the government and utilities to keep a closer eye on similar cases continuing across the country.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer representing local residents, called the ruling the “most important” since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, spurred by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

About 40 court cases — including those seeking injunctions — were filed in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown disaster. But while district courts have ordered some reactors stopped, each shutdown decision has been overturned by a high court.

“This is the first time (plaintiffs) have won at the high court level,” Kaido said at a news conference in Tokyo. He said the ruling may signal a turn of the tide.

Wednesday’s ruling was also noteworthy for touching on the risk of volcanic eruption.

“The possibility of heated rock and volcanic ash reaching the reactor cannot be evaluated as small. The location is not suitable” for a nuclear reactor, said presiding Judge Tomoyuki Nonoue in handing down the ruling. The reactor affected is the No. 3 unit at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant, which is located about 130 kilometers from the caldera of the volcanically active Mount Aso in Kumamoto Prefecture.

“The effect that volcanic ash may have on reactors nationwide is underrated,” Kaido said.

Government officials were quick to attempt to play down the risk. “It’s just a court ruling. The government’s position to seek the restart for reactors approved by the (Nuclear Regulation Authority) remains unchanged,” said a senior trade ministry official.

The central government’s target for power generations calls for 20 percent to 22 percent of the nation’s supply to be contributed by nuclear reactors by 2030.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa told a news conference that the high court decision would not influence its ongoing and future safety screenings of other reactors.

“We will just fulfill the role of a regulator,” Fuketa said.

But the reality is that utilities have been seeking to convince municipalities that reactors cleared by the watchdog under the tougher guidelines are safe.

“I’m worried that it could create negative momentum,” said an industry official.

For Shikoku Electric, the blocked restart will mean a spike in fuel costs as it will be forced to rely mainly on non-nuclear power generation.

“While the nuclear reactors are suspended, we will need to rely on thermal power, which means we will need to shoulder a ¥3.5 billion loss per month for fuel,” an executive of the utility said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Other utilities are facing similar constraints. Kyushu Electric Power Co. aims to restart two reactors at its Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture, but local residents have filed an injunction seeking to halt the move. A Kyushu Electric executive said he was “surprised at the unexpected ruling” on the Ikata plant.

Meanwhile, the response of residents in Ehime Prefecture was mixed.

One man voiced concern over the ruling’s potential to damage the local economy. The man, who runs a lodging business, said the town accommodated several hundred nuclear power plant workers a year before the Fukushima disaster.

“Ikata is a town of nuclear power,” he said. “I feel that (the ruling) has left locals behind.”

Another resident, however, welcomed the move as a judicial “breakthrough.” ”

by Kyodo, The Japan Times

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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 court gives go-ahead for restart of 2 nuke reactors — The Associated Press

This Associated Press article by Mari Yamaguchi talks about the Fukui District Court’s injunction lift in order to restart Kansai Electric’s Takahama Nos. 3 and 4 reactors despite heavy local opposition.

Court rules against starting 2 Ohi reactors — ABC News, NHK World

ABC News:

” A court Wednesday refused to let two nuclear reactors restart operations in western Japan, saying their risk assessment is too optimistic and safety measures insufficient despite lessons from the Fukushima disaster.

The denial by the district court in Japan’s nuclear hub of Fukui is the first since the crisis and comes as some Japanese reactors are in the final stages of safety screening before a restart, and plaintiffs and their anti-nuclear supporters say the court ruling could sway local acceptance.

Anti-nuclear sentiment and the public’s distrust to utility operators and authorities have persisted since the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which caused more than 100,000 people to leave homes nearby due to radiation.

All 50 workable reactors have been idle for repairs or safety checks since then, except for the two Ohi reactors, No. 3 and No. 4, which temporarily resumed operation in 2012-2013 as an exception decided by the government to curb a summertime power crunch. Eighteen of the 50 reactors have applied for safety checks to qualify for a restart.

Nearly 200 people who live near the Ohi plant sued its operator in November 2012, and the court ordered it not to restart the two reactors. Kansai Electric Power Co. said it will appeal Wednesday’s ruling. Technically, it can operate the reactors if they pass the safety standard while the case is pending.

Judge Hideaki Higuchi said the quake estimates for the reactors are too optimistic and the emergency safety measures and backups to secure the key cooling systems remain insufficient. The triple meltdowns at Fukushima were caused by the failures of the reactors’ cooling systems after external power and backup generators were destroyed by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

Yuichi Kaido, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told a news conference he hoped the “sensible” court ruling would boost a phase-out of nuclear power in Japan. About 30 lawsuits against nuclear plants and utilities are pending nationwide, NHK public television reported.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the ruling doesn’t affect ongoing safety checks.

“We make a decision whether a reactor meets the current standard solely based on science and technology. After that, a decision is not ours,” Tanaka said, meaning the startup is a government decision.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government stands by its policy to start up all reactors that cleared the regulatory standards: “I believe it is appropriate to restart reactors after objective safety judgment under the safety standard that we believe is the world’s toughest.”

At Fukushima Dai-ichi, its operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. began releasing groundwater pumped from the plant’s least contaminated areas into the ocean, keeping the water separate from more-toxic water that the operator is struggling to store.

The 560 tons of groundwater had been deemed clean enough to release to the ocean without treatment. The bypass system is key to how water is managed at the plant as the volume of contaminated water continues to grow. … ”

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Read a similar article from NHK World.