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Former Japanese Leader Starts Fund for US Vets Who Helped Fukushima


Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has started a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A former Japanese prime minister is calling on his countrymen to donate to a fund for U.S. veterans who say they were sickened by radioactive fallout from the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

“They went so far to do their utmost to help Japan,” Junichiro Koizumi told a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo alongside fellow former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, according to Asahi Shimbun. “It is not the kind of issue we can dismiss with just sympathy.”

Hundreds of veterans, claiming a host of medical conditions they say are related to radiation exposure after participating in Operation Tomodachi relief efforts, have filed suit against the nuclear plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. A massive earthquake caused a tsunami that swamped a large stretch of northeastern Japan and inundated the power plant. Experts are still dealing with continuing leaks from the reactors.

The suit asserts that TEPCO lied, coaxing the Navy closer to the plant even though it knew the situation was dire. General Electric, EBASCO, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi were later added as defendants for allegations of faulty parts for the reactors.

Illnesses listed in the lawsuit, which is making its way through the courts, include genetic immune system diseases, headaches, difficulty concentrating, thyroid problems, bloody noses, rectal and gynecological bleeding, weakness in sides of the body accompanied by the shrinking of muscle mass, memory loss, leukemia, testicular cancer, problems with vision, high-pitch ringing in the ears and anxiety.

People can donate to the fund, called the Operation Tomodachi Victims Foundation, at Japanese credit union Jonan Shinyo Kinko, Eigyobu honten branch, account No. 844688.

Donations, accepted through March 31, 2017, will be transferred to a U.S. bank and used, under the management of a judge, to support the veterans, according to a news release from the credit union.


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

The power of a vote can affect Japan’s nuclear energy policy

With brutal heat forecast for this summer, the government is not calling for power-saving efforts this year. This is a break from tradition that started in summer 2011 after the disastrous accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., in March that year.

Only two nuclear reactors are currently running in Japan, both at the Sendai nuclear plant operated by Kyushu Electric Co. But the government determined that the nation’s power supply will not fall short this summer, largely because energy-saving practices have become well-established in private homes and businesses over the last five years, including the widespread use of energy-efficient LED lighting.

Japan appears to have become less dependent on nuclear power generation since the Fukushima disaster. Nowadays, the subject is debated less frequently, and anti-nuclear demonstrators have shrunk in number.

In the campaign for the July 10 Upper House election, too, the nation’s nuclear policy is hardly a hot topic of debate for the ruling and opposition parties.

But we need to re-examine whether the government is moving toward maintaining or abolishing its current nuclear policy.

Looking 20 to 30 years ahead, The Asahi Shimbun has consistently advocated a “zero nuclear power generation society” in its editorials. Our basic thinking is to approve the restart of offline reactors for the time being when urgent power needs exist. But at the same time, high-risk and antiquated reactors should be decommissioned, starting with the oldest and the most dangerous.

Abe administration’s piecemeal restart of reactors

Since the current Abe administration was inaugurated in December 2012, its track record has made the direction of its nuclear policy quite clear.

The administration initially stressed a “decrease in reliance on nuclear power generation.” But within less than six months, it put the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) in the forefront to justify a switch to the policy of “restarting nuclear reactors once their safety has been confirmed.”

In the Basic Energy Plan of 2014, nuclear power is positioned as “an important base load power source.” One year later, the administration announced its decision to formulate a policy that would make nuclear energy account for 20 to 22 percent of the nation’s power supply in fiscal 2030. This target cannot be attained unless more than 30 nuclear reactors, out of the 54 that existed before the Fukushima disaster, are brought into operation.

In fact, starting with the Sendai reactors last summer, the government has been proceeding, bit by bit, with the restart of idle reactors. So far, four units have gone back on line. This month, the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata nuclear plant operated by Shikoku Electric Power Co. is scheduled to resume operations. Twenty reactors are currently under inspection.

Furthermore, the NRA has approved the extension of operations of the 40-plus-year-old No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. Put plainly, even the “40-year rule,” set for averting disasters by decommissioning old reactors, is about to lose teeth.

Abe stresses nuclear power as “a low-cost and stable energy source.” But as deregulation in the power industry eliminates regional monopolies while electricity charges become less subject to rigid rate structures, nuclear power generation could actually become a burden to operators for the huge costs needed to maintain safety and dismantle old reactors.

For this reason, the government is coming up with what may be called new initiatives to protect the nuclear power industry.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is working on a policy under which the government will buy electricity generated at nuclear power stations at a set price to encourage sustained investment in nuclear power generation.

Another plan under consideration is to decrease the financial responsibility of nuclear power plant operators for accident compensation and increase the government’s responsibility instead. This goes in the opposite direction from industry deregulation.

Parties need to clarify positions on nuclear power

Many Upper House election candidates running on the ruling coalition ticket are keeping their opinions on nuclear power generation to themselves, leaving all policy decisions to the government. But some of the same candidates are also starting to call for the construction of new, safer reactors to counter the argument of people opposed to extended operations of old reactors.

Should the ruling coalition win the Upper House election, there is no doubt that it will add momentum to the Abe administration’s move to return to nuclear power generation.

The opposition camp, with some minor exceptions, is united in opposing nuclear power generation. The Democratic Party and three other parties share the policy of “realizing a society that does not depend on nuclear power generation.”

However, the parties differ in the method and speed with which they propose to reduce the nation’s dependence on nuclear energy. While the parties are sharply focused on issues related to Abenomics, the national security legislation and constitutional revision, nuclear power generation tends to remain less discussed.

Will Japan keep relying on nuclear power? Or does it aim to eventually end this reliance by switching aggressively to sustainable energy development?

Because the answer spells a fundamental difference in the future of the nation’s energy policy, every party owes it to the voting public to explain its position clearly and engage in serious debate.

In disaster-affected areas of Fukushima Prefecture, the government’s evacuation orders are being lifted one by one, but there is a long way to go before the affected citizens can rebuild their lives. For them, the March 2011 disaster is still a dire reality they must face very day.

Looking at the future

For voters not directly affected by the nuclear disaster, five years may be enough time for their interest to wane.

But electricity is indispensable to everyone’s daily life and work. An immediate and crucial political issue is how to secure the necessary infrastructure, and at what cost.

Since April, it has become possible for private households to choose their electricity supplier, giving people a greater chance to exercise their free will. Still, every ballot cast carries weight. The outcome of the Upper House election can either accelerate or put the brakes on the Abe administration’s nuclear energy policy.

We need to look at 10 years and 20 years down the road, not just today and tomorrow, when we think about the nation’s energy policy, especially regarding nuclear power.

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

TEPCO to reuse tanks holding radioactively contaminated water at Fukushima plant




Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) will reuse highly contaminated tanks at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to store radioactively contaminated water after treatment, company sources said.

The company will return contaminated water to flange-type tanks that had held such water after removing radioactive materials from the water using the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS). This is because TEPCO has failed to prevent contaminated water from being generated on the premises of the plant or to secure enough storage tanks to hold treated water.

TEPCO had submitted the reuse plan to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which approved it on July 6 or earlier. TEPCO is set to begin reusing contaminated tanks as early as this month.

Flange-type tanks are assembled by tightening multiple steel plates with bolts. Since such tanks have higher risks of leaking contaminated water, TEPCO is gradually replacing them with tanks assembled by welding steel plates together.

TEPCO is trying to freeze underground soil to surround reactor buildings at the Fukushima power plant to prevent underground water from flowing beneath them and becoming contaminated with radioactive materials.

However, as the efforts have proven ineffective, the utility has decided to reuse flange-type tanks, which it had initially planned to dismantle.

Massive amounts of water are flowing onto the premises of reactor buildings at the atomic power station, generating some 400 tons of radioactively contaminated water a day. TEPCO uses ALPS to purify contaminated water, but the system cannot remove radioactive tritium.

The power company has stored the treated water mainly in welded-type tanks. There are already 1,000 water tanks on the premises of the power station.

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , , | 1 Comment

Showdown in apathetic Fukushima finds justice minister scrambling for survival



Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki of the Liberal Democratic Party (left) campaigns in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on June 3. Right: Democratic Party candidate Teruhiko Mashiko speaks in Fukushima on June 6.

FUKUSHIMA – Justice Minister Mitsuhide Iwaki is feeling threatened.

With his electoral district in Fukushima Prefecture reduced to one seat from two for Sunday’s Upper House election, he needs to beat Democratic Party rival Teruhiko Mashiko, something he failed to pull off the last time around.

If the Cabinet minister loses, it will end his career and deal a humiliating blow to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. And with Mashiko enjoying joint backing from opposition parties including the DP, the Fukushima race represents a showdown between the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling bloc and the opposition.

Addressing supporters last Sunday, Mashiko couldn’t have described the dynamics more succinctly.

“My opponent is no longer the justice minister. It’s Prime Minister Abe,” he said. “He’s really desperate. He’s been doing everything he can to unseat me. What an honor.”

Abe, for his part, has bent over backward to help Iwaki, joining him on the campaign trail right after the Diet closed for the summer on June 1 and sending a string of big-name politicians to Fukushima to campaign for him.

Failed strategy

Abe is said to have appointed the third-term Upper House lawmaker as justice minister in October to ensure re-election. He apparently felt he couldn’t afford to lose LDP influence in the sensitive constituency that was heavily damaged by three reactor meltdowns in March 2011.

But past election results show that Iwaki is facing an uphill battle on Sunday — the first since Fukushima became a single-seat constituency in 2013.

Not once in the past three Upper House elections has Iwaki defeated his main challenger, always finishing second. The last time he and Mashiko competed was in 2010, when Fukushima was a two-seat constituency. Mashiko won by 3,000 votes.

To make things worse, Iwaki’s appointment as justice minister appears to have backfired.

Earlier this year in the Diet, he was repeatedly driven into a corner as opposition lawmakers blitzed him with highly technical legal questions. His struggle to respond was televised nationwide. He majored in law at Sophia University.

“We all share the understanding that Iwaki, as a member of the current administration, cannot lose. If he does, the damage to the Abe administration will be immense,” his secretary, Izuru Onodera, said.

Lingering nuclear woes

While the election is being played as a vote on Abenomics, the two candidates in Fukushima are localizing the agenda.

In recent campaign trips in the prefecture, most of their speeches have focused on how they would steer Fukushima’s recovery. Five years into the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, about 100,000 residents still remain displaced within and outside the prefecture.

While Iwaki trumpets the LDP’s decisiveness and legislative advantage, Mashiko is vowing to decommission all 10 reactors in the prefecture.

Standing before a crowd of supporters in Koriyama on Monday, Iwaki stressed that the LDP is the party that can steer Fukushima toward recovery and accused the DP of engaging in an “irresponsible tie-up” with the radical Japanese Communist Party.

“We cannot entrust the future of Fukushima to a mishmash opposition coalition fraught with ideological differences,” Iwaki said. “As a Cabinet member, I have the responsibility to facilitate government efforts to reconstruct Fukushima.”

Mashiko, meanwhile, reaffirmed his pledge to decommission the 10 reactors and denounced Iwaki’s ambiguous stance on the matter. Although the LDP’s Fukushima chapter has vowed to dismantle the reactors, Iwaki is apparently refusing to back that pledge publicly to avoid contradicting Abe’s pro-nuclear central government.

During campaigning activities Monday, Iwaki told The Japan Times that he will “respect” the Fukushima chapter’s stance on the reactors, before speeding off in a van.

Voter apathy

Neither candidate appears to have made much of an impression with voters.

Fukushima resident Yuriko, 54, who only wished to be identified by her first name, said she will vote but might cast a blank ballot in protest.

“I feel it will make no difference no matter who wins,” the company employee said when approached on a street in Koriyama. She said she doesn’t even know who is running.

A 25-year-old man who also requested anonymity said he only cares about one topic — employment. Even the issue of Fukushima’s recovery hardly struck a nerve.

“Everyone was affected by the disaster to a different degree and I wasn’t much of a victim. As a Fukushima resident, I’m mildly curious about how the reconstruction effort proceeds, but that topic doesn’t motivate me into any sort of action,” he said.

Expectations are even dimmer among those whose lives were upended by the calamity.

On a recent visit to a remote temporary housing unit in Nihonmatsu, evacuees from the town of Namie near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant were downright apathetic about the election.

They are too preoccupied with their uncertain future, not to mention the daily inconveniences of the evacuation, to even think about the poll, they said. Not a single supermarket or hospital exists near the housing unit, forcing them to drive long distances to complete even the smallest part of their daily routine.

Nobuhiro Fujita, 68, a former farmer and carpenter, said he wasn’t interested in Sunday’s election.

“All I can think about is my own life. I don’t know what is going to happen to my house in Namie. I don’t have time to wonder about the election,” he said.

Although he wants to go home, Fujita, who suffers from numbness in his leg, said he is stuck in limbo.

“I do want to return to Namie, but even if I do, my rice field has been left unattended for too long and is now ruined. With my bad leg, I can’t do any carpentry work, either.”

A 48-year-old company employee and father who asked to be identified only by his surname of Yoshida, also took a dim view of the historic race.

“After being left like this for five years and counting, I can’t really trust the candidates to put their words into action, no matter what they say they will do for us,” he said.

“I’m resigned.”

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