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Reactor ruling ignores lessons, anxiety from Fukushima crisis

A court ruling concerning nuclear reactor operations raises serious doubts about whether the court rightly recognized the gravity of the damage and the harsh realities caused by the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court on April 6 rejected an appeal by Kyushu residents seeking an injunction to shut down the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Sendai nuclear plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture. They are the only two reactors currently operating in Japan.

The ruling in essence said the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s (NRA) new safety standards, established after the disaster at the Fukushima plant, reflect the lessons learned from the triple meltdown and cannot be described as unreasonable. It also dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that the design of the Sendai plant underestimates the safety risks posed by possible major earthquakes.

This ruling stands in sharp contrast with the Otsu District Court’s decision in March that raised doubts about the NRA’s safety standards and ordered the suspension of operations of two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

What happened in Fukushima has created strong anxiety among Japanese about the safety of nuclear power generation. From this point of view, it is obvious which of the two rulings really echoed the public sentiment about nuclear safety.

Symptomatic of the two courts’ different stances toward public concerns are their views about evacuation plans.

The new nuclear safety standards do not address issues related to evacuation plans.

The Otsu District Court raised questions about this fact and contended that the government is obliged to develop new regulatory standards based on a broader perspective that also address evacuation plans.

The Miyazaki branch acknowledged there are legitimate concerns about the existing plan for emergency evacuations.

The plaintiffs argued that the plan would be unable to deal with a situation that requires an immediate and massive evacuation. They also said the number of buses available to transport local residents during nuclear crises would be insufficient.

But the court nevertheless dismissed the plaintiffs’claim that operating the Sendai reactors violates their personal rights. The court pointed out that at least an emergency evacuation plan was in place.

Following the accident in Fukushima, many residents could not smoothly flee for their safety, leading to serious confusion.

The high court’s decision did not give due consideration to this fact.

Volcanoes, including the highly active Sakurajima, are located around the Sendai nuclear plant.

The NRA has established guidelines concerning the risks to nuclear plants posed by volcanic eruptions.

The high court judged the guidelines, based on the assumption that the timing and scale of eruptions can be accurately predicted, to be “irrational.”

Yet the court said the probability of an eruption triggering a catastrophic nuclear accident was so low that the risk can be ignored unless solid grounds for thinking otherwise are shown.

The court acknowledged the NRA’s flawed approach to dealing with the safety risk posed by volcanic eruptions. But it said the widely accepted view in society is that the risk can be ignored because of the low probability of such eruptions actually occurring.

Can this be described as an opinion based on serious reflection on the fact that unforeseen circumstances occurred at the Fukushima plant?

The exact causes of the nuclear disaster are not yet clear, and around 100,000 people are still living as evacuees.

That explains why various opinion polls show a majority of respondents expressing negative views about plans to restart reactors.

The court ruling that endorses the NRA’s new safety standards does not translate into public support of the government’s policy to bring idled reactors back on stream.

The sharply different court rulings on reactor operations should be regarded as a sign that the knotty question of how to secure safety at nuclear plants remains unsolved.

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Japan lawyer wants no-nukes after Fukushima



Lawyer Hiroyuki Kawai stands out in Japan, a nation dominated by somber dark suits: When not in a courtroom, he often wears colorful shirts and crystal-covered animal pins. He is a Noh dancer, a tenor and, of late, a filmmaker. His ride is a Harley.

Some of it is just for fun, but much of the flamboyance is meant to draw attention to his cause: shutting down all nuclear plants in Japan. His more than two-decade-long legal battle is gaining momentum after the multiple meltdowns in Fukushima five years ago led to all plants being idled for safety checks.

In March, Kawai helped set up an organization to support Fukushima residents whose children have developed thyroid cancer since the 2011 disaster — 166 among 380,000 people 18 years and under who were tested, including suspected cases. That’s up to 50 times higher than on average, according to Toshihide Tsuda, a professor at Okayama University.

The Japanese government denies any link, saying the increase reflects more rigorous screening. Thyroid cancer, rare among children at two or three in a million, soared after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Also last month, Kawai’s won a court injunction to stop two nuclear reactors in western Japan that had recently restarted. The district court cited concerns about safety, emergency planning and environmental contamination. One of the reactors was shut down shortly after its restart because of glitches. Both had met stricter standards upgraded after the 2011 disaster.

Kawai’s team is pursuing damage compensation for those evacuated from Fukushima, and criminal charges against former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the Fukushima plant. His ultimate goal is to banish nuclear power.

“If another nuclear accident ever happens in Japan, everything will be destroyed — turning upside down our politics, our economy, our education, our culture, our love, our law,” Kawai told The Associated Press, sitting at a desk overflowing with files and papers in his Tokyo office.

Born in 1944 in Manchuria, northeastern China, Kawaii has built a reputation as a champion of humanitarian causes, helping out Japanese abandoned as children in China after World War II, and Filipinos of Japanese descent in the Philippines. His compassion is driven partly by his own experience: A baby brother died of starvation during his family’s perilous journey back to Japan.

After graduating from prestigious Tokyo University, Kawai represented major corporations as a lawyer during the “bubble era” of the 1980s. In the mid-1990s he began taking on lawsuits against nuclear power.

Until 2011, he was fighting a losing battle.

To win over regular people after the Fukushima accident Kawai started making movies, which are sometimes entered as evidence for his court cases. In “Nuclear Japan,” he points out how precariously quake- and tsunami-prone Japan is, and how densely populated. He interviews scientists, former Fukushima residents, a fire fighter who could not go back to save lives because of radiation.

“Imagine remembering this film in an evacuation center after the next nuclear disaster,” Kawai narrates in the movie.

Since Japan imports almost all its energy, many in government and business view nuclear power as the cheapest option, and the best way to curb pollution and counter global warming.

Kawai’s stance angers many in the powerful business community. Hiroshi Sato, a senior adviser at Kobe Steel, lambasted Kawai’s position as “emotional” and “unscientific.”

“What I’m really worried about is the idea of similar lawsuits being filed one after another. That would lead to uncertainty about a stable electricity supply,” he told reporters recently.

Even those who insist nuclear power is safe — including top government regulator Shunichi Tanaka and Gerry Thomas, a professor at the Imperial College of London who advises Japan — say the choice of whether to keep or abandon nuclear energy should be left to the Japanese people.

Kawai believes policy shifts, like the turn against nuclear in Germany, begin in the courtroom.

“For 50 years, Japan had a campaign that we need nuclear power, and how it is reliable and safe, and 99 percent of Japanese believed this,” he said.

“But we thought we could finally win, and about 300 lawyers came together to start a new fight against nuclear power,” he said with a zeal making him appear younger than his 71 years.

Financially independent thanks to his corporate law days, Kawai invested 35 million yen ($350,000) in his first movie, which turned a profit from screenings and DVD sales. He is now working on his third film.

“I think he is fantastic,” said Yurika Ayukawa, a professor of policy at Chiba University of Commerce. She attended at a recent screening where Kawai spoke and surprised the crowd by breaking into a song on Iitate, one of rural Fukushima’s most radiated areas.

Radiation is a sensitive issue in Japan, the only country to suffer atomic bomb attacks, and the Fukushima thyroid cancer patients and their families mostly have kept silent, fearing a social backlash. They face pressure from the hospital treating their children not to speak to media or to question the official view that the illnesses are unrelated to radiation.

Two of the patients’ families appeared recently with Kawai before reporters, although in a video-call with their faces not shown. They said they felt doubtful, afraid and isolated. Kawai believes they are entitled to compensation, though they have not yet filed a lawsuit.

George Fujita, an attorney who specializes in environmental issues, says Kawai is Japan’s top lawyer on nuclear lawsuits.

“It’s unusual for judges to watch a whole movie entered as evidence. It’s because the people are putting pressure on the courts,” he said.

Kawai admits that at times he been tempted to give up.

“I should never walk away. I must fight it out,” he said.

His business card is three times the usual size to include his artistic activities and his motto: “If you really mean it, you get most anything done. If you really mean it, everything becomes fun. If you really mean it, someone will come and help.”

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment

Who Decides Level of Risk?

Nuclear power’s popularity has waned significantly in post-Fukushima Japan. Japanese citizens near nuclear power plants have used the court system to challenge efforts by the national government and nuclear industry to resume nuclear power plant operations.

Recently a judge ruled that nuclear power constituted an acceptable level of risk:
Court rejects appeal to halt operations of Sendai reactors April 6, 2016 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

MIYAZAKI–A high court here rejected an appeal by Kyushu residents seeking to shut down the only two nuclear reactors operating in Japan, ruling that it is impossible to secure absolute safety with nuclear energy.  Presiding Judge Tomoichiro Nishikawa of the Miyazaki branch of the Fukuoka High Court said April 6 that current science and technology standards cannot reach a level of safety in which no radioactive materials are emitted regardless of the severity of the accident at a nuclear plant.

“A judgment has to be made based on the standard of what level of danger a society would be willing to live with,” Nishikawa said.

The judge’s decision is not necessarily representative of majority public opinion in Japan given polling results conducted by Japan’s mainstream news media.

Japan’s political and legal bureaucracies may give judges the authority to make this type of decision, counter to public will.

This may be legally sound, but still morally inconsistent with democratic ideals, including human rights.

Who decides when the potential consequences of a decision are catastrophic?

This question about who decides is illustrated in another recent news story, wherein we were causally informed that workers at the Daiichi plant’s new exposure level is 1,000 millisieverts, or a full sievert:
Fukushima No. 1 workers who got maximum radiation dose at start of crisis can now return to plant Kyodo Apr 1, 2016

But Tepco said it will not push them to return and said those who wish to go back will be managed under a new exposure regime designed to limit a worker’s lifetime radiation dosage to 1,000 millisieverts in line with recommendations made by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. In 2015, the exposure level had been raised to 250 millisieverts a year. Now its 1000? Who made that decision?
Hiromi Kumia, “Nuclear Watchdog Proposes Raising Maximum Radiation Dose to 250 Millisieverts,” The Asahi Shimbun, July 31, 2015, accessed August 1, 2015,

“Gov’t to Raise Maximum Annual Radiation Exposure Ahead of Restart of Nuclear Reactors,” The Mainichi, June 30, 2015, accessed July1, 2015,

Source! Majia’s Blog




April 7, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

South Korean Gov’t opts not to disclose radiation test result of Japanese fishery goods


Japanese eel

Gov’t opts not to disclose radiation test result of Japanese fishery goods

The government has rejected calls to disclose the results of radiation level checks conducted on fishery goods caught near Japan, a civic group said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Tuesday dismissed the information disclosure request filed by the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, the group said.

“As the information is related to a case pending at the World Trade Organization, (the disclosure) could lead to a leakage of our strategy to Japan,” the ministry was quoted by the group as saying.

The lawyers association, however, countered that the reason provided by the authorities was groundless since the government has to submit its findings to the WTO and Japan anyways.

Tokyo filed a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization against Seoul’s import ban of its fishery goods.

South Korea has banned imports of all fishery products from eight Japanese prefectures, including Fukushima, where the 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of a nuclear reactor, marking the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster.

The import ban was imposed in September 2013 after reports that massive amounts of radioactive materials and contaminated water from the Fukushima reactor were being dumped in waters surrounding Japan. This caused serious safety concerns here, that not only affected Japanese imports but the local fishery sector as a whole. (Yonhap)

S. Korea Will Not Share Fukushima Fish Tests

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has rejected a petition from a civil society group to release the results of radiation testing on fish caught near Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown.

In 2013, South Korea imposed a ban on the importation of fisheries products from eight Japanese prefectures near Fukushima. Tokyo objected, and petitioned the World Trade Organization for relief, claiming that the ban was unfair to Japanese exporters. The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has already submitted the results of its testing to the WTO and to Japan as part of the dispute, and advocates claimed that it should be made public as well.

The ministry disagreed. “As the information is related to a case pending at the World Trade Organization (WTO), [it] could lead to a leakage of our strategy to Japan,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.

A study of radioactive cesium levels in fish off of Fukushima in 2011 by Pavel Povinec and Katsumi Hirose found that consuming 100 kg of the affected seafood per year (four times the Japanese annual average) would result in approximately the same radiation dose as the world average for background exposure – and roughly the same as the level of exposure from consuming the naturally occuring radioactive polonium in 100 kg of any other seafood.

“Radiation doses from ingestion of marine food are under control, and they will be negligible,” the authors concluded.

However, a study published in February by Hiroshi Okamuraa and Shiro Ikedab found that while radioactive cesium levels were overall quite low among most species in Japan, they were unequally distrubuted, with some much more likely to be contaminated than others, especially larger predators towards the top of the food chain. Additionally, effects are regional and vary between freshwater and marine species, the authors said: areas nearer and to the south of the reactor are more affected, and freshwater fish – notably whitespotted char and Japanese eel – are more likely to show higher levels of contamination.

April 7, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | Leave a comment