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Nuclear scandals exposed by Julian Assange and Wikileaks

What we know about nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry thanks to WikiLeaks

“The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on 11 October. Why I support the nomination of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.” Open Democracy, Felicity Ruby, 7 October 2019  The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on 11 October. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have been nominated for the prize again this year, as they have since 2010. As the first staffer of the campaign that won the Peace Prize in 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), I support this nomination for a number of reasons.

The vast majority of governments on this planet want nuclear disarmament negotiations to occur and produce results. ICAN has been mobilising this willingness to push for a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons. From the outset, the campaign deployed accurate information to mobilise public opinion and reeducate a new generation. In facing the truth about nuclear dangers, answers became available and courageous action was taken. Facing the truth about climate change similarly involves the public having accurate information and courageously acting on it.
WikiLeaks and Assange have made a great deal of information available about nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry. A search on the WikiLeaks site for the word ‘nuclear’ brings up 284, 493 results. These documents traverse the nuclear fuel cycle – from uranium mining to nuclear waste – with many thousands exposing nuclear energy industry giants, and nuclear weapon threat assessments, numbers, doctrines and negotiations.
Ten examples

Below are just ten examples of where WikiLeaks exposed wrongdoing on the part of governments and corporations that meant citizens could take action to protect themselves from harm, or governments were held to account:

– Chalk River nuclear reactor shut down – released 11 January 2008 – Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Chalk River reactor

After the Chalk River nuclear reactor was shut down for routine maintenance on 18 November 2007, inspectors verified the reactor’s cooling systems had not been modified as required by an August 2006 licensing review. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) did not start the reactor but said upgrades could be done as part of maintenance while still operating safely. This impasse lasted a month, with the government intervening to grant an exemption to the reactor to allow its restart. The responsible Minister for Natural Resources, Gary Lunn MP, fired Linda Keen, the President of the Nuclear Safety Commission. Their exchange of letters revealed much about the safety standards and routine practices of the Canadian nuclear regulatory system, and particular problems with the ageing Chalk River reactor previously unknown to the public.

– Footage of the 1995 disaster at the Japanese Monju nuclear reactor – released 25 January 2008
Following the 2008 announcement that the Japanese Monju fast breeder nuclear reactor would be reopened, activists leaked the suppressed video footage of the sodium spill disaster that led to its closure in 1995. Named after the Buddhist divinity of wisdom, Monju, located in Japan’s Fukui prefecture, is Japan’s only fast-breeder reactor. Unlike conventional reactors, fast-breeder reactors, which “breed” plutonium, use sodium rather than water as a coolant. This type of coolant creates a potentially hazardous situation as sodium is highly corrosive and reacts violently with both water and air. On December 8, 1995, 700 kg of molten sodium leaked from the secondary cooling circuit of the Monju reactor, resulting in a fire that did not result in a radiation leak, but the potential for catastrophe was played down the extent of damage at the reactor and denied the existence of a videotape showing the sodium spill. Further complicating the story, the deputy general manager of the general affairs department at the PNC, Shigeo Nishimura, 49, jumped to his death the day after a news conference where he and other officials revealed the extent of the cover-up.

– Serious nuclear accident lay behind Iranian nuke chief’s mystery resignation – released 16 July 2009 WikiLeaks revealed that a source associated with Iran’s nuclear program confidentially told the organisation of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz. Natanz is the primary location of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and the site targeted with the Stuxnet worm that contained 4 zero days and was designed to slow down and speed up centrifuges enriching uranium. WikiLeaks had reason to believe the source was credible, however contact with this source was lost. …………..

WikiLeaks and Assange have brought forward many truths that are hard to face, publishing well over 10 million documents since 2006. Often forgotten is that each one was provided by a whistleblower who trusted this platform to publish, and who sought reform of how political, corporate and media power elites operate. Each release has shared genuine official information about how governments, companies, banks, the UN, political parties, jailers, cults, private security firms, war planners and the media actually operate when they think no one is looking.

Assange is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of these many releases of information, used as evidence in court cases, freeing prisoners and exposing scandals, torture, murder and surveillance for which redress is only possible when the wrongdoing is dragged into the light. For publishing this true information, Assange, an Australian based in the UK at the time of publication, is on the health ward of Belmarsh Prison, facing extradition and charges attracting 175 years in a US jail, an effective death sentence….. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/what-we-know-about-nuclear-weapons-and-nuclear-industry-thanks-wikileaks/

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October 8, 2019 Posted by | investigative journalism, Wikileaks | 1 Comment

U.N. officials on how Nuclear Power is irrelevant to climate action

October 8, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Flawed acquittal of TEPCO execs demands high court review

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Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19.
October 7, 2019
Lawyers appealed a court ruling that acquitted three former top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) of criminal responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The lawyers were appointed to serve as prosecutors in the case after the Tokyo prosecutors’ decision against indicting the former executives was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that they must stand trial.
There has been criticism about appealing court rulings that have found the defendants not guilty, which forces people acquitted of criminal charges to stand trial again.
But many flaws in the Tokyo District Court’s ruling justifies the move made by the lawyers to seek a high court judgment.
For example, the district court asserted that the only way the nuclear accident that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011 could have been prevented was if plant operations had been halted before the quake.
But the lawyers referred to measures that could have prevented the disaster if they had been taken, including the construction of a seawall, work to protect key structures from flooding and relocating the plant’s emergency power source to high ground.
Witnesses were questioned to determine the feasibility of these measures.
But the ruling dismissed the argument that these measures, if they had been taken, could have prevented the disaster without examining them meticulously.
As a result, the focus of the ruling on the case against the three former TEPCO executives was on whether they had the obligation to take the drastic step of shutting down the reactors before the Great East Japan Earthquake.
It is obviously an extremely tough decision to make given that such a step will inevitably seriously affect people’s lives.
It is no wonder that many victims of the Fukushima meltdowns and multiple academic experts have raised doubts about the district court decision. Critics say the court changed the focus of the case without good reason.
The court’s judgment on some core nuclear safety issues is also questionable.
The court rejected the credibility of the central government’s long-term earthquake forecast published in 2002.
The forecast said a gigantic earthquake could occur anywhere in wide sea areas stretching from off the Sanriku part of the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the 2011 earthquake, to off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture within 30 years at a probability of around 20 percent.
In dismissing the importance of this prognostication, the ruling pointed to dissenting opinions as well as the fact that neither electric utilities nor the nuclear safety regulators used this projection in assessing nuclear safety measures.
By doing so, the ruling effectively defended the government and the electric power industry against the accusations of omission and negligence, and on those grounds rejected the quake projection made by experts through discussions.
The government and the industry have been accused of failing to make sufficient efforts to secure the safety of nuclear power plants as they have worked in close cooperation to promote atomic energy.
Moreover, the ruling said the law at the time of the accident did not require utilities to “ensure absolute safety” of nuclear plants.
But it was widely assumed that all possible measures were taken to ensure that no severe nuclear accident would take place.
This is not about dealing with such farfetched risks as a huge asteroid hitting the Earth.
In fact, the long-term earthquake projection prompted TEPCO employees in charge of nuclear plant operations to consider possible measures to protect facilities against large tsunami and report them to the company’s management team.
It also led Japan Atomic Power Co., which, like TEPCO, operates a nuclear plant on the Pacific coast, to improve facilities at the plant.
It is highly doubtful whether the district court properly assessed the implications of these facts.
To be fair, it is by no means easy to hold individuals criminally liable for an accident caused by a complicated web of factors related to both organizations and people.
Few doubted the difficulty of proving the guilt of the accused. But the problem is the deeply flawed process and argument leading to the court’s ruling.
Still, the trial has offered valuable insights into the accident as many important facts that were not mentioned in the probes by the government or the Diet have come to light.
The district court was expected to assess the implications of all these facts carefully and explain how they were relevant to the accident and to what extent in language ordinary citizens can clearly understand. But the ruling failed to meet this expectation.
This is why the ruling needs to be reviewed by the high court.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Japan heavily lobbying for its contamined food exports

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This photo taken on April 17, 2015, shows a retail store in Taipei selling Japanese food and pharmaceutical products.
Taiwan’s lifting food import ban key to economic deals: Japan group
October 5, 2019
TAIPEI (Kyodo) — Lifting the ban on food imports from five Japanese prefectures imposed in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster is key for Taiwan to join any economic deals with Japan or other countries in the region, the Japanese business community in Taipei said on Friday.
In its annual white paper, the Taipei branch of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the Japanese business community in Taipei urged the Taiwan government to relax or lift restrictions on the food ban imposed over eight years ago.
“We hope the Taiwan government will change all practices and rules that run counter to international practices and are unique only in Taiwan, so it can ink any economic partnership agreement of its wish,” it said, adding that the ban on the food exports of five Japanese prefectures is a particular case.
The local Japanese chamber with 480 member companies called on the government to base its decisions on scientific evidence and international standards.
It pointed out that as of Aug. 1, all food products imported from Japan have passed inspections since March 15, 2011, while the Japanese government conducts strict inspections on all food products and only those that are safe can be sold at markets or exported.
It also emphasized that of the 54 countries or regions that imposed restrictions on Japanese food products since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, 32 of them have completely lifted their bans as of July.
The European Union and the United States have also lifted or eased Fukushima-related restrictions, though six countries or regions — including South Korea, China and Taiwan — continue a blanket ban on food products from Fukushima and certain adjacent prefectures.
National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling, who accepted the white paper on the government’s behalf, told chamber members that more persuasion of the Taiwanese public is needed.
A public referendum on maintaining the ban, initiated by the main opposition Nationalist Party, successfully passed in November 2018.
Chen dismissed speculation that Japan will not begin talks with Taiwan on joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership until the food ban issue is addressed, saying they are two different matters.
Go Ishikawa, chairman of the Japanese chamber, said all suggestions the chamber made in the white paper are purely business without taking into any consideration of Taiwan’s January elections.
No matter who will win the polls, Ishikawa said, the chamber will continue to urge the new Taiwan government to ease or lift the ban.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

EU to ease post-Fukushima restrictions on Japanese food imports

According to Japanese officials….How true it is, time will tell. But let’s not forget that Jean-Claude Juncker is a high profile crook….

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October 5, 2019

The European Union will ease its restrictions on Japanese food imports imposed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, possibly by the end of this year, government officials said Saturday.

Specifically, the European Union is planning to remove its import restrictions on fishery products from Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, no longer requiring radiation inspection certificates for them, the officials said.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker informed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the plan when they held talks in Brussels on Sept. 27, according to the Japanese officials.

Japan has been trying to persuade the 28-member bloc and countries including China, South Korea and the United States that have continued to restrict imports of food products from Fukushima and adjacent prefectures that they have been scientifically proven to be safe.

The European Union already lifted a ban on rice produced in Fukushima Prefecture in 2017.

As of September, 22 countries and regions had not removed import restrictions on some Japanese agricultural and fishery products imposed in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, according to Japan’s farm ministry.

But the number was down from 54 countries and regions after the disaster.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/10/aebde307b01b-breaking-news-eu-to-ease-post-fukushima-restrictions-on-japanese-food-imports.html

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

At Fukushima plant, a million-tonne headache: Radioactive water

nz_daiichi_051055.jpgA Tokyo Electric Power Company researcher shows processed water where tritium remains, at a lab in Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on Oct 2, 2019.

Oct 5, 2019,

FUKUSHIMA (AFP) – In the grounds of the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant sits a million-tonne headache for the plant’s operators and Japan’s government: tank after tank of water contaminated with radioactive elements.

What to do with the enormous amount of water, which grows by around 150 tonnes a day, is a thorny question, with controversy surrounding a longstanding proposal to discharge it into the sea, after extensive decontamination.

The water comes from several different sources: some is used for cooling at the plant, which suffered a meltdown after it was hit by a tsunami triggered by a massive earthquake in March 2011.

Groundwater that seeps into the plant daily, along with rainwater, add to the problem.

A thousand, towering tanks have now replaced many of the cherry trees that once dotted the plant’s ground.

Each can hold 1,200 tonnes, and most of them are already full.

“We will build more on the site until the end of 2020, and we think all the tanks will be full by around the summer of 2022,” said Mr Junichi Matsumoto, an official with the unit of plant operator Tepco in charge of dismantling the site.

Tepco has been struggling with the problem for years, taking various measures to limit the amount of groundwater entering the site.

There is also an extensive pumping and filtration system, that each day brings up tonnes of newly contaminated water and filters out as many of the radioactive elements as possib

HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE

The hangar where the decontamination system runs is designated “Zone Y” – a danger zone requiring special protections.

All those entering must wear elaborate protection: a full body suit, three layers of socks, three layers of gloves, a double cap topped by a helmet, a vest with a pocket carrying a dosimeter, a full-face respirator mask and special shoes.

Most of the outfit has to be burnt after use.

“The machinery filters contain radionuclides, so you have to be very protected here, just like with the buildings where the reactors are,” explained Tepco risk communicator Katsutoshi Oyama.

Tepco has been filtering newly contaminated water for years, but much of it needs to go through the process again because early versions of the filtration process did not fully remove some dangerous radioactive elements, including strontium 90.

The current process is more effective, removing or reducing around 60 radionuclides to levels accepted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for water being discharged.

But there is one that remains, which cannot be removed with the current technology: tritium.

Tritium is naturally present in the environment, and has also been discharged in its artificial form into the environment by the nuclear industry around the world.

There is little evidence that it causes harm to humans except in very high concentrations and the IAEA argues that properly filtered Fukushima water could be diluted with seawater and then safely released into the ocean without causing environmental problems.

‘ABSOLUTELY AGAINST IT’

But those assurances are of little comfort to many in the region, particularly Fukushima’s fishing industry which, like local farmers, has suffered from the outside perception that food from the region is unsafe.

Mr Kyoichi Kamiyama, director of the radioactivity research department at the regional government’s Fisheries and Marine Science Research Centre, points out that local fishermen are still struggling eight years after the disaster.

“Discharging into the ocean? I’m absolutely against it,” he told AFP.

At the national government level, the view is more sanguine.

“We want to study how to minimise the damage (from a potential discharge) to the region’s reputation and Fukushima products,” an Industry Ministry official said.

The government is sensitive to fears that people inside Japan and farther afield will view any discharge as sending radioactive waste into the sea.

No decisions are likely in the near term, with the country sensitive to the international spotlight that will fall on Japan as it hosts the Olympic Games next year.

Environmentalists are also resolutely opposed to any discharge into the sea, and Greenpeace argues that Tepco cannot trusted to properly decontaminate the water.

The solution, said Greenpeace senior nuclear specialist Shaun Burnie, “ultimately can only be long-term storage and processing”.

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/at-fukushima-plant-a-million-tonne-headache-radioactive-water

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima to sue non-rent-paying evacuees from nuclear disaster

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Lawyer Kiyoshi Morikawa, center, who represents evacuees in Tokyo from Fukushima Prefecture, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 3.
October 4, 2019
Fukushima Prefecture will take legal action to evict five households living in public housing in Tokyo who voluntarily evacuated from the prefecture following the 2011 nuclear accident.
The prefectural assembly on Oct. 3 approved in a majority vote plans to file a lawsuit against the evacuees, who are residing in the housing for government employees without signing a contract or paying rent.
The suit will also demand that the households pay a total of about 6 million yen ($56,190), which is between 500,000 yen and 2 million yen per household, equivalent to two years of rent.
All factions except for the Japanese Communist Party voted in favor, while an assembly member belonging to the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan left before the vote. The prefecture plans to file the lawsuit within this year.
Rent-free housing for evacuees who left their homes located outside the government-designated evacuation zones ended at the end of March 2017. The prefecture allowed them to continue living in the accommodations through the end of March 2019 if they paid rent.
However, the five households have not signed contracts to remain in the housing and have not paid rent or parking fees.
Lawyer Kiyoshi Morikawa, who represents three of the five households and is a co-representative of a lawyers group for the Fukushima nuclear disaster victims in areas around Tokyo, and other members held a news conference in Tokyo on Oct. 3.
Morikawa read out a statement from a female evacuee in her 30s who said, “I have spent every day living in fear. Although being evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture, I am scared as I feel like the prefecture is going to take everything from me.”
Morikawa also read out a complaint made by a group of plaintiffs in a Fukushima nuclear disaster lawsuit in Tokyo and its lawyers group that said, “What the prefecture is going to do is to take housing by force at the evacuation sites. It is extremely unacceptable.”
According to Morikawa, the three households are unable to pay the rents as their incomes dropped due to being forced to evacuate from the prefecture following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , | Leave a comment

Japanese Report Confirms Hazardous Radioactive Materials Contained in Contaminated Fukushima Water

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South Korean environmental activists hold a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul on Oct. 8, 2018, to protest against Japan’s decision to release the Fukushima nuclear plant’s radioactive, contaminated water into the sea.
October 4, 2019
SEOUL, Oct. 4 (Korea Bizwire) — As Japan seeks to release contaminated water from its disabled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant into the Pacific Ocean, South Korean media revealed that the tainted water contains hazardous radioactive materials.
KBS News reported on Thursday that a report submitted by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry early this week confirmed the presence of the hazardous radioactive materials, such as cesium and strontium, in the contaminated water.
The report said that cesium, strontium, and iodine 129 exceeded standard levels in 82 percent of all contaminated water kept in Fukushima as of October of last year.
It was also revealed that 17 percent of the tainted water emitted radiation that was ten times stronger than the annual limit on radiation exposure (1 mSv/Y), while 7 percent of the water contained radioactive materials that were 100 times stronger.
In an interview with KBS News, a TEPCO official said that “problems with the filters and several systems in the water treatment facility prevented it from being run at full capacity for a certain period.”
TEPCO said it can no longer accommodate the contaminated water that is being produced every day since the East Japan Earthquake in 2011 and has proposed a plan to release it to the atmosphere or the sea.
Roughly 170 tons of contaminated water is being produced at the Fukushima Power Plant every day. As of last July, the total amount of tainted water had reached 1.15 million tons.
The Japanese government, in contrast, has been claiming that the water now only contains tritium, a radioactive hydrogen isotope known to exist in the natural environment.
Neighboring states, including South Korea, are strongly opposing the idea of releasing the water, since it may cause secondary damage.
“The International Atomic Energy Agency understands the issues and concerns that we face. They are also keeping a close watch on the matter,” said Uhm Jae-sik, head of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

KEPCO execs’ acceptance of huge gifts angers local consumers, Fukushima evacuees

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Kansai Electric Power Co. Chairman Makoto Yagi, left, and President Shigeki Iwane, center, head to a news conference in Osaka’s Fukushima Ward on Oct. 2, 2019.
 
October 3, 2019
OSAKA — The finding that Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) executives accepted a huge amount of gifts from a former senior official of a town hosting one of its nuclear plants has sparked anger among local consumers and people who evacuated to the Kansai region in western Japan in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
It has also come to light that the late senior official, Eiji Moriyama, former deputy mayor of the Fukui Prefecture town of Takahama, himself received 300 million yen in commission from a local construction company that was hired for projects at a nuclear complex. This has raised suspicions that money paid by KEPCO to the construction company was returned to the utility in the form of gifts from the top local government official, who had influence on nuclear power projects.
“The electricity bills we paid ended up being pocketed by executives of KEPCO,” lamented a 78-year-old man from Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, west of Osaka. He also criticized the company’s in-house punishments — including two-month pay cuts and severe reprimands — as being “too lenient.” “They should gracefully step down,” he said.
Hideo Iida, secretary-general of the liaison council of Osaka consumers affairs organizations, described the executives’ acceptance of the huge gifts as “outrageous.” He said the money and gifts that KEPCO executives accepted from Moriyama “can obviously be traced to money collected from consumers as electricity bills.”
“Specific reasons why KEPCO, which is a major company in the Kansai region and a contractee, were so afraid of Moriyama (that they say they couldn’t return the money and gifts to him) remain unclear. Further information disclosure is necessary,” he said.
A 44-year-old woman who voluntarily fled from the city of Fukushima to Osaka Prefecture with her three children following the outbreak of the nuclear crisis in March 2011, said the scandal has deepened her distrust in electric power companies.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, not again,'” she said. “While there are no prospects for restoration of the (nuclear) disaster-hit areas, a massive amount of money is being moved behind the scenes to restart idled nuclear plants. It’s so insincere,” she lamented.
At the latest news conference, KEPCO President Shigeki Iwane, who also heads the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, expressed enthusiasm about promoting the use of atomic power.
“KEPCO executives accepted cash and gifts from Moriyama apparently because the utility felt that it couldn’t win local residents’ understanding of restarting nuclear power plants if it went by an orthodox method. They should keep in mind that the nuclear disaster threatened people’s livelihoods,” said the woman.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Seoul-Tokyo feud deepens over radioactive water

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Rep. Choi Jae-sung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), third from left, speaks during a meeting for the party’s special committee to counter Japan’s “retaliatory” trade restrictions on South Korea in this July 11 file photo, at the party’s meeting room at the National Assembly in Seoul.
October 3, 2019
The Japanese government’s continued reluctance to openly support dumping radioactive wastewater for fear of creating a fresh controversy over the destroyed Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima is adding concern to the already deteriorated Seoul-Tokyo relations.
 
Currently, more than 1 million tons of contaminated water is held in almost 1,000 tanks at the plant, according to government data. However, the site administrators have warned that they will run out of space by the summer of 2022.
 
A proposed plan to release the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean is angering South Korea. The government, which has yet to officially lift an import ban on fishery and agricultural products from Fukushima introduced in 2013, has recently claimed that discharging the water will pose a “grave threat” to the marine environment. But Japan has rejected this charge.
 
The Japanese Embassy in Seoul has been posting atmospheric radiation levels monitored in Seoul and Fukushima Prefecture since Sept. 24, updating them on a daily basis. The embassy said the levels in Fukushima were similar to other major cities worldwide including Seoul.
 
In response, a committee launched by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) published a map centered on the devastated nuclear plant that shows radiation-contaminated areas. The map marks stadiums for the 2020 Olympics ― including Miyagi, Fukushima Azuma, Ibaraki Kashima, Tokyo, and the Saitama Super Arena ― as contaminated by radiation from the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
 
The DPK said the map was based on public data released by the Minnano Data Site, a Japanese civic organization, that lists radioactive measurements of food and soil.
 
“We made the map to show measures we can take to protect our people’s lives and safety,” said Rep. Choi Jae-sung, chairman of the committee. “Japan’s plan to release contaminated water is controversial, as marine products from many regions in Japan could be contaminated, and this could influence decisions by visitors for the Tokyo Olympics as well as participating athletes.”
 
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono tweeted that he ordered the posting of radiation levels on the website of the embassy in Seoul in response to growing concerns over the issue here.
 
But critics are urging Japan to “do something more” as they say releasing the contaminated water will further raise concerns among South Korean and Japanese people.
 
They say Tokyo’s plan to use an advanced liquid-processing system to remove highly radioactive substances such as cesium from the water doesn’t completely filter out tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen commonly found in cooling water released into the ocean by coastal nuclear power plants.
Nuclear specialists said tritium has the potential to in concentrated doses to damage cell structures in plants, animals and people, claiming “dilution” wasn’t the best option to avoid this. They said Tokyo should continue to store the water in areas outside the plant site despite opposition from local residents who were evacuated.
 
Meanwhile, the foreign ministry summoned Tomofumi Nishinaga, a minister for economic affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to complain about the plan to release the contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
 

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Scandal-hit head of Japan’s Kansai Electric has no plans to resign

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October 2, 2019
Scandal highlights corporate governance challenges
* Executives admitted taking $3 million in cash and gifts
* Official had sought support for local economy -report
By Junko Fujita
TOKYO, Oct 2 (Reuters) – The president of Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Co has no intention of resigning, he said on Wednesday, after admitting that he and 19 company employees had received payments and gifts worth 320 million yen ($3 million).
The scandal, at a time when the Japanese public’s trust in nuclear power companies is already at rock-bottom, suggests that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for better corporate governance still has a long way to go in the world’s third-largest economy.
Shigeki Iwane, who admitted last week to receiving payments, told a news conference he wanted to stay in his position and regain the public’s confidence.
“I want to fulfil my responsibilities by taking leadership in finding the cause of what happened and taking preventive measures,” Iwane told a news conference broadcast live on NHK.
Kansai Electric earlier announced that its internal investigation found that 20 executives, including Iwane, had received cash, gift certificates and business suits from Eiji Moriyama, the now deceased deputy mayor of Takahama, where the company has a nuclear power station.
The report did not give an overall total of how much had been paid, but Iwane has previously said he and the others received 320 million yen in cash and gifts over a seven-year period.
Moriyama exerted influence over local government officials, the internal report said, and sought to influence them to support the local economy and use local businesses as suppliers.
The payments raise governance concerns because they were disclosed only after the matter was raised by the local tax bureau, said Moody’s analyst Yukiko Asanuma.
“The cash payments … add to existing negative public sentiment around nuclear power generation,” Asanuma said.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

South Korea inspects ships traveling from Fukushima for radiation

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A South Korean politician said Wednesday seawater near Fukushima Prefecture (pictured) was being brought in and being discharged into Korean waters.
Oct. 2 (UPI) — South Korea is stepping up surveys of ships originating from areas near Fukushima, Japan.
Seoul’s ministry of maritime affairs and fisheries said Wednesday it will work with South Korea’s nuclear safety committee to assess radiation levels in ballast water originating from ships traveling from Fukushima, Yonhap reported.
Japan said in September the country has “no choice” but to discharge radioactive water into the ocean, a statement that drew concern from neighbors like South Korea.
South Korea is surveying 32 coastal areas and another 32 offshore zones near the peninsula on a quarterly basis to assess radiation, according to the report.
The South Korean decision comes after local lawmaker Kim Jong-hoe, a member of the National Assembly’s Agriculture, Forestry, Livestock and Fisheries Committee, said that it was “confirmed” seawater near Fukushima Prefecture was being brought in and being discharged into Korean waters.
South Korea upholds a ban on Japanese seafood originating from the Fukushima nuclear disaster zone.
According to Kim on Wednesday, ships originating from areas near Fukushima, including Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures discharged about 128 million tons of ballast water from September 2017 to July of this year. The water was discharged at South Korean ports, Kim said.
The 2011 nuclear crisis that occurred following the Tohoku earthquake was a tragedy that forced farmers in the area to leave behind livestock.
The Asahi Shimbun reported this week the area is also home to feral ostriches following the quake.
The ostriches are descendants of birds kept at a ostrich park that opened in the area in 2001, according to the report.
Fukushima remains off-limits to people due to high radiation.
 

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese citizens nationwide opposed to Pacific Ocean discharge of Fukushima radioactive water support storage and processing – new opinion poll

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October 1, 2019, Tokyo… Nearly four times as many Japanese citizens oppose the discharge of highly contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean than support it, according to a Greenpeace commissioned poll

.(1) The polling of 3000 citizens in Fukushima and Niigata prefecture, as well as wider Japan, showed most expressed their support for storage of over 1 million tons of water rather than release to the Pacific Ocean. Only a small percentage approve of Government plans for discharge. Greenpeace commissioned Rakuten Insight, a pioneer in Japanese online market research to conduct the poll which was conducted between 19-24 September 2019.

 

The results show some slight variation in opinion between those in Fukushima and those in Niigata and wider Japan. Averaging of the poll revealed that 48.6% oppose marine discharge and 12.9% approve. In Fukushima, 15.9% approve of discharge, while 43.3% oppose. Of those who oppose discharge, nationwide 51% stated that their principal concerns were that discharging will have a negative impact, not just in Fukushima and wider Japan, but also internationally. In Fukushima, 52.9% think it will have a negative effect on Fukushima fisheries.

 

We deliberately set out to try and understand the level of understanding Japanese citizens have, what they were thinking and why. They show only a small percentage approve of discharging to the Pacific ocean, and by a wider margin, most oppose. The strongest opposition comes from Niigata citizens and wider Japan. One clear message they send to the Abe government is that the opposition to discharge is not limited to Fukushima fisheries (2) and Fukushima prefecture but is nationwide. Most of those polled who are opposed to discharge show both a concern for the international impacts in the Asia/Pacific region any discharge would have and also the impact it would have on Fukushima fisheries,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany (Tokyo).

 

A Greenpeace report (3) in January 2019 showed that METI in 2016 deliberately excluded the option to store and process the contaminated water to remove radioactive tritium, despite receiving technical submissions from U.S. nuclear companies, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The myth promoted by the Government and TEPCO ever since is that tritium removal is not possible. The Greenpeace report also provided analysis on the failure of the ALPS processing systems, which means that over 800,000 tons of contaminated water contains dangerous radionuclides such as Strontium-90, tens to thousands of times above regulatory limits. TEPCO has committed to processing this water – but doubts remain as to how effective this will be.

 

As the Fukushima nuclear disaster has shown, ocean currents will disperse any future radioactive materials released not only into the Pacific,  but also the East China Sea, Sea of Japan/East Sea.(4) In recent weeks, the Japanese government plans for discharge have been challenged by the South Korean government at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while Greenpeace addressed the issue to diplomats attending the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva given Japan’s obligation to prevent citizens from exposure to harmful radioactivity. The issue will also be debated at the International Maritime Organization meeting of parties to the London Convention and London Protocol which opens on 7th October in London.

 

The people of Japan are sending a message to the government that they will not accept deliberate radioactive pollution of the marine environment. As the polling shows, the Japanese people are concerned about the international impact of any discharge. This was never just a domestic issue. The international focus on TEPCO’s water crisis is only going to escalate in the coming months – and the Abe government has the means to end this by making the only justifiable decision – commit to no discharge and instead decide on long term storage and processing,” said Burnie.

 

Greenpeace commissioned the poll to include the views of 1000 Niigata citizens as they are under direct threat, including from marine contamination, from any restart of TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant. TEPCO is seeking the restart of reactors 6&7, despite the existence of major seismic fault lines both adjacent and through the site. The nuclear plant is TEPCO’s last hope of remaining a nuclear plant operator.

 

Notes:

1 – Greenpeace commissioned Rakuten Insight is a member of the JMRA (Japan Marketing Research AssociationJapan Marketing Research Association) and the ESOMAR (Europe Society Opinion and Market Research Association); poll results (in Japanese) – https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-japan-stateless/2019/09/b3d20ee4-%E6%B1%9A%E6%9F%93%E6%B0%B4%E6%84%8F%E8%AD%98%E8%AA%BF%E6%9F%BB%E7%B5%90%E6%9E%9C.pdf

2 – Fukushima fishermen concerned for future over release of radioactive water, Justin McCurry  The Guardian, 16 September 2019, see https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/sep/16/fukushima-fisherman-fear-for-future-over-release-of-radioactive-water

3 – Greenpeace Germany, “TEPCO Water Crisis”, 22 January 2019, Shaun Burnie, see https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-japan-stateless/2019/06/eef0f147-tepco_water_crisis.pdf

4 – Transport of FNPP1-derived radiocaesium from subtropical mode water in the western North Pacific Ocean to the Sea of Japan https://www.ocean-sci.net/14/813/2018/

https://www.greenpeace.org/japan/nature/press-release/2019/10/01/10504/?fbclid=IwAR0mMtlCoCjD7tLB_hy1vy8utwxJw3lWW6xj7_HJLu_uas9RCFCY_c8I848

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Slow burn: Dirt, Radiation, and Power in Fukushima

Peter Wynn Kirby

October 1, 2019

Abstract

Amid the radioactive fallout of the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and across what would come to be known as the Exclusion Zone, Japanese members of the nuclear lobby laboured to contain the political fallout of the Fukushima disaster. This article scrutinizes the profuse rhetoric over recycling as mobilized by nuclear boosters and the wider operations of circularity in waste management in Japan. Japanese leant heavily on the notion of recycling to attempt to frame the clean-up in Fukushima in more ideologically convenient terms. This led, for example, to officials trumpeting plans to ‘recycle’ over 16 million cubic metres of radioactive topsoil scraped from hundreds of square kilometres of Fukushima Prefecture, as well as efforts to achieve ‘thermal recycling’ by generating electricity from the incineration of collected irradiated vegetal matter and the large amounts of protective clothing and other material used in the ‘decontamination’ campaign. By scrutinizing this appropriation of recycling rhetoric and its leveraging across Japan’s nuclear waste management apparatus, the article exposes contradictions and distortions in contemporary Japanese policy that have considerable socio-political ramifications. 

Keywords: Nuclear waste, radiation, decontamination, ethnography, Fukushima

1Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

2Radioactive soil depot, Iitate, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

Introduction

The record earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on 11 March 2011 ushered in a highly mediated disaster as Japanese grappled with the triple-meltdowns and radiation crisis at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Largely out of sight of international camera crews and probing journalists, the Japanese state and multiple municipalities embarked on the largest radiation response effort in history in an effort to restore hundreds of square kilometres1 covered in radioactive debris. This campaign saw about 70,000 Japanese workers remove over 16 million cubic metres of irradiated dirt2—scraping topsoil off roadsides, meadows, wooded areas, agricultural fields, school grounds, residential zones, shrine compounds, and parklands. Crews swept up radioactive twigs and pine cones, whittled exterior bark from tree stumps, and clipped low-lying branches in an attempt to bring radiation levels down to allow resettlement of tens of thousands of evacuees. Workers garbed in protective gear, joined by volunteers, scrubbed and hosed down streets, pavements, stairways, kerb stones, and storm drains in urban and suburban areas. They also wiped down the exterior of houses, apartments buildings, shops, schools, and other public facilities, using specially treated wipes to clean roof tiles, gutters, window sills, panes, mullions, wall cladding, and doorsteps. Wipes and protective clothing were collected for separate incineration. This campaign allowed state, prefectural, and municipal representatives to record ‘safe’ radiation measurements in areas of Fukushima’s disaster zone—a major Japanese policy priority, particularly with the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games on the horizon.

 

3Source: Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan; (accessed September 2019).

 

In parallel with these massive efforts to collect, or disperse, the radioactive fallout of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the pro-nuclear Japanese state engaged in aggressive PR-management to contain Fukushima’s political fallout, working with the nuclear lobby to frame the Fukushima campaign in favourable ideological terms. The scrubbing and scraping of a huge portion of Fukushima’s land area became branded as ‘decontamination’ (josen), despite clear contradictions described below. More telling still was the appropriation of the conceit of recycling to imbue the effort to remove radioactive dirt and other abominated debris with flattering hues of eco-responsibility and resource efficiency. This article3 scrutinizes the decontamination campaign in order to highlight the numerous ways in which the nuclear lobby has leveraged recycling in Fukushima to sanitize and promote nuclear energy throughout its mobilization on the archipelago, with implications for other nuclear purlieux.

 

Chimerical recycling

After spending decades as a perennial environmental villain through the turn of the millennium,4 Japan has transformed into a country where waste issues and recycling are taken very seriously. Japanese municipalities and industries recycle the usual stacks of paper and bins of plastic bottles and glass as well as breaking down and converting about a million tonnes of large consumer appliances (e.g., refrigerators, washers, air-conditioners) a year in highly automated facilities,5 part of what has been called ‘the shredder economy’.6 Every industrial sector complies with Japan’s strict recycling regulations, meaning that all manner of e-waste, from vending machines to pachinko machines, is dismantled, crushed, shredded, and separated to extract precious metals and other materials. These and other projects contribute toward environmental objectives, but Japan’s resource-consciousness derives as much from a fixation on rationalization and efficiency, communicated via catchphrases like ‘industrial ecology’ and ‘zero-emissions’ production. Ironically, there is not much concrete, demonstrable circularity in Japanese recycling.7 Yet circular-economy rhetoric pervades Japanese officialdom. It seems that virtually every ministry white paper, urban development project and metropolitan government report trumpets its concern with sustainability.8 Due to the political ends to which recycling is mobilized in Japan, most egregiously in the radioactive spill of the Fukushima disaster zone, this circularist rhetoric merits rigorous scrutiny.

While examples of discursive overreach vis-à-vis recycling abound in contemporary Japan, the yawning gaps and slippages in Japanese circularity are most evident and striking in the official response to the Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis, whose determined work crews and complex logistics drive an effort that has been every bit as much of a disaster, in the end, as the earthquake and tsunami that struck Tōhoku in 2011. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment and its partners have branded the Fukushima effort as ‘decontamination’; but as demonstrated below, their use of this term is highly misleading. Instead, I refer to the campaign as The Clear for two reasons. First, ‘clear’ (kuriā) is a term used by Japanese officials and others to declare completion of a project or attainment of a goal, even though its invocation is frequently based on arbitrary bureaucratic targets and massaging of data belied by conditions on the ground (literally, in this case). Next, those involved in the campaign were physically attempting to clear away the radioactive debris that had settled on a huge amount of territory; this was uneven terrain, including steep hillsides, forestland, and residential areas, that would make such a task exceedingly complex and difficult, if not impossible. By declaring ‘clear’ on 31 March 2017, Japanese officials were strongly suggesting that radiation had been cleared away, as it had been ‘on paper’ in ministry documents. Yet as demonstrated in the next section, irradiation of dirt, trees, streams, sandy littoral, and meadowlands is a maddeningly tenacious condition to attempt to reverse, and the rush to clear away Fukushima’s radiation (and burnish its sullied reputation) within a tight, arbitrary timeframe made this Herculean task even more difficult to achieve. By appropriating the terms of exalted recycling to transform these millions of tonnes of radioactive dirt into ‘resources’, the nuclear lobby arguably made promoting this task much easier and more palatable to Japanese communities.

It may be difficult to recall with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi leaking tonnes of radioactive water daily into erstwhile prime fishing grounds in the Pacific, but the conceit of recycling has long bolstered the nuclear sector. Ever since the vaunted promise of limitless energy via fission became destabilized by accumulations of radioactive waste from the 1970s, nuclear elites sought to marshal those parlous residues in a drive toward greater efficiency, as well as discursive control. High-level nuclear waste—usually spent fuel rods from reactors—entered elaborate conversion infrastructures, rationalized as ‘reprocessing’, to transform hazardous, depleted residues into puissant resources. Perhaps the most audacious of these initiatives involved Japanese plans hatched in the 1980s to transform plutonium—arguably the world’s most toxic and dangerous substance, with a half-life of 24,100 years—into the pole star of Japan’s nuclear energy production apparatus. Such a plutonium economy would use fast-breeder reactors to generate energy from the most hazardous nuclear wastes at a time when most nuclear nations were abandoning the technology as unpromising and/or too dangerous. Significantly, this fixation on plutonium developed out of Japan’s long self-perception as a resource-poor nation, a key driver of imperial Japan’s colonialist ambitions through World War II.

Japan’s idée fixe over a perceived scarcity of natural resources has had a profound influence on the nation’s development. The idea of Japan as a ‘small island nation, poor in resources’, or shigen shōkoku nippon, emerged as a powerful discourse from the early twentieth century through the Second World War.9 Japan’s 1960s nuclear policy developed directly out of muscular hydropower initiatives that spanned the trans-war period, where abundant energy resources were seen as critical to ensuring Japan would secure membership in the top rank of great nations.10 Japanese elites seized on nuclear energy as a strategic means to achieve energy independence—paradoxically, of course, while being the only nation to have suffered wartime fallout from nuclear weapons after the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As Japan developed through the 1980s into one of the world’s most pro-nuclear states,11 a powerful domestic nuclear lobby began to promote plutonium as a kind of thermodynamic elixir capable of bestowing the archipelago’s energy needs almost indefinitely. Lest this seem like casual hyperbole, consider an exhibit at the Aquatom museum complex, located near Japan’s showcase fast-breeder reactor, called Monju: ‘Japan is a poor country in natural resources … therefore Monju, a plutonium burning reactor, is necessary because plutonium can be used for thousands of years’.12

Central to this campaign was the concept of circularity. Take the logistics that underpin nuclear fuel reprocessing, which involves both elements that typify ‘recycling’ as well as hazardous externalities which belie its exalted, circularist trappings. Only by ‘closing’ the fuel cycle13 could Japan’s spent fuel residues be transformed into (and re-consecrated as) new nuclear fuel stocks. In this heady policy climate before the radiation crisis of 2011, recycling came to take on a peculiarly talismanic quality when intoned by elite institutions invested with authority and lavish funding, such as the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE). Even the mere invocation of a closed fuel cycle could conveniently rebrand spent fuel rods and other parlous nuclear residues as ‘resources’. Since these radioactive materials were therefore to be reused, and were represented by nuclear boosters as a dizzying thermodynamic bounty, the nuclear industry has largely been able to sidestep the thorny question of, for example, containing such nuclear waste in secure underground repositories—generally considered best practice, if expensive and difficult, by most major nations, with only Finland and the US testing appropriate facilities thus far.14 These so-called ‘final repositories’ for nuclear waste were, at any rate, deemed virtually impossible to establish on the archipelago. Since the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no Japanese prefecture has wanted to host such a permanent nuclear waste repository,15 partly due to the enduring, though largely dormant, stigma of radiation among Japanese after 1945. Moreover, Japan is so seismic that it would be impossible to find a subterranean location capable of remaining stable for up to 100,000 years (a verdict confirmed by an expert panel of the Science Council of Japan, convened after the Fukushima Daiichi crisis unfolded, in 2012)—and therefore the task of convincing a potential host community to accept a final repository was deemed unworkable.16

For nuclear proponents, by contrast, there is practically no such thing as ‘nuclear waste’ due to the pivotal significance of circularity to the whole rationale of nuclear energy in Japan. Radioactive material is instead viewed as resources—valuable ascribed commodities in a sprawling reprocessing apparatus. This strategic posture has furnished Japan’s nuclear sector with considerable latitude to sidestep the very notion of perilous nuclear residues, long one of the costliest and most unpopular facets of nuclear energy globally. Meanwhile, Japan possesses about 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel rods, most of which are stored on site at nuclear power stations in jam-packed pools, above ground, in a highly earthquake-prone nation.17 These pools resemble drab onsen, radioactive versions of the idyllic hot springs for which Japan is famous, though these pools are heated up not by salutary geothermal currents redolent of therapeutic minerals but by the acute radioactivity of the spent fuel rods themselves, recalling the steaming, overheated wreckage of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 meltdowns.

The term ‘recycling’ imparts a sense of effortless, perhaps even endless, movement, dynamism, and highly rationalized process, particularly in the context of bold circularist discourse. But the overwhelming reality of Japan’s nuclear regime is that of relative stasis. These pools regularly hold several times as many fuel rods as any reactor, leaving them exposed, beyond standard containment, and therefore vulnerable. Once deposited, they generally lie for years, steeping in makeshift wet storage in the absence of a repository or a properly functioning fuel cycle. (And, after all, only nine of Japan’s commercial reactors are currently in operation anyway, and only a fraction are capable of burning the reprocessed fuel described above.)18 These components of chimerical recycling are sustained by a well-funded and integrated programme of spin—an ironic but appropriate circular metaphor here—along with a multitude of political capital wielded by well-placed institutional powerbrokers. Yet it remains striking how, in a nation celebrated for high-tech innovation and exacting quality control, this recycling apparatus has fallen far short of the circularist grandiloquence propagated by the sector. Most major nuclear nations have faced problems in trying to recycle, or ‘reprocess’, nuclear material—an inherently dangerous and messy set of procedures that in the process creates about 12 times more low-level and medium-level nuclear waste, by volume, than the original volume of nuclear waste that was sent for reprocessing—but Japan’s chequered history with managing nuclear externalities is notable, as explained in these pages, particularly when contrasted with Japan’s longstanding reputation for meticulous quality control and technological excellence.

Japan’s decades-long quest for a closed fuel cycle has not only been exorbitant but plagued by grave safety lapses and technical failures. Here, a few evocative examples of nuclear mismanagement suffice to convey the circularist disarray in Japan’s ‘nuclear village’. The centrepiece of the nation’s audacious plans for energy independence was the aforementioned fast-breeder reactor called Monju, located in Tsuruga on the Japan Sea. Named after the bodhisattva representing transcendent wisdom, the facility operated in a rather more mundane fashion. Completed in 1994, the plant fell offline in 1995 after a serious leak of sodium coolant ignited a major fire, causing extensive damage. A semi-governmental agency’s subsequent bungled coverup brought infamy upon the plant, its operators and regulators, and the nuclear industry generally. Monju was intended to burn, and in turn ‘breed’, plutonium from the spent fuel produced by Japan’s nuclear power stations, but repeated attempts to bring Monju back online within Japan’s aspirational nuclear fuel cycle failed. Having cost about $12.5 billion, the facility was finally slated for decommissioning in 2017 after having produced only a tiny amount of energy. Its decommissioning and dismantling are estimated to cost approximately $3.3 billion more and take until the year 2047.19

Another key component of the nuclear fuel cycle was to be Rokkasho, a sprawling reprocessing facility on a remote peninsula of Aomori Prefecture—the northernmost extremity of Japan’s main island. The Rokkasho plant, embarked upon in 1993, has never been fully operational. Nevertheless, after over $12 billion invested and a quarter century in limbo, Rokkasho has repeatedly been depicted as on the verge of activity. The plant therefore appears to serve as an expensive and unacknowledged semantic deposit on the nation’s whole programme of nuclear fuel recycling. Particularly with Monju slated for decommissioning, over the strident objections of Japan’s nuclear boosters, Rokkasho remains the most compelling symbol of Japan’s aspirations for a closed nuclear fuel cycle. Or in other words, without Rokkasho forever on the reprocessing horizon, the 17,000 tonnes of spent fuel rods languishing in cooling ponds next to Japan’s dozens of mostly idled nuclear reactors would be in danger of unfavourable re-interpretation: not as ‘resources’ to power the nation but as highly toxic and radioactive nuclear waste, a ponderous burden on the nation’s balance sheet and a damper on its circularist aspirations. Significantly, the central government’s agreement with Aomori Prefecture stipulates that no nuclear residues will continue to be stored at the facility if the nation’s reprocessing effort falters.20 This provides additional incentive to keep up appearances, even as Japan’s fuel recycling effort lies in ruins—both figuratively and in some cases literally. (For example, the decades that Rokkasho’s facilities have lain idle have taken their toll, with the vast conversion infrastructure corroding and deteriorating in numerous places due to poor maintenance inspections and general disuse.)21

Copious recycling rhetoric notwithstanding, then, a great deal of nuclear waste in Japan has simply been converted into other forms of waste. Much is left to languish at different material stages due to what might be called insufficient circularity. Without the domestic capacity to achieve its objectives, the nuclear sector has been forced to scrounge elements of this cyclical potential with the help of European allies—a makeshift, stopgap measure that will no longer be workable in any long-term sense.22 For example, of Japan’s stockpile of more than 47 tonnes of weapons-usable plutonium (enough for more than 6,000 warheads), all but 10.5 tonnes are located at reprocessing sites in the UK and France (with about 21.2 tonnes at Sellafield and about 15.5 tonnes at La Hague, respectively).23 Some of the MOX fuel rods, comprised of mixed-oxide uranium and plutonium reprocessed overseas from Japan’s spent fuel, have been burned in a handful of specially calibrated reactors in Japan, but for the most part, the overwhelming bulk of Japan’s nuclear residues remains curiously unproductive—particularly so now that most of Japan’s reactors remain offline in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns. Only through the peculiar rhetorical alchemy of recycling explained above do the piles of spent fuel rods soaking for years in pools within nuclear power station compounds take on the guise of ‘resources’. With the Rokkasho reprocessing facility forever on the verge of becoming operational, Japan’s many tonnes of spent nuclear material are thereby spared the designation of nuclear waste, a classification which would usher in a host of thorny consequences. For instance, Japan possesses far more weapons-usable plutonium than any self-respecting pacifist, no-nukes nation would normally ever dream of having.24 Imperious postwar security guarantor the United States has already signalled its displeasure with Japan’s wildly disproportionate plutonium stocks, manifest most recently via a six-month termination clause in a key bilateral civil nuclear treaty governing Japanese plutonium.25 If the nuclear lobby fails to demonstrate a more plausible justification for this vast stockpile of plutonium, Japan may encounter diplomatic and geopolitical obstacles down the road. This is particularly challenging because Japan has benefitted from a certain strategic ambiguity with regard to nuclear weapons over the years. While remaining officially pacifist and anti-nukes post-1945, Japan has nevertheless for several decades possessed more than enough technological and engineering know-how to produce nuclear weapons. It boasts a well-regarded space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), that launches missile-like rockets into space. The military and geopolitical ramifications of Japan’s enormous plutonium stockpile have therefore certainly not been lost on prickly East Asian rivals like China and North Korea, who have long been sceptical of Japan’s reprocessing rationale, particularly with regard to plutonium.26

Chimerical recycling has bolstered Japan’s nuclear fuel-cycle strategy for a number of years, but it was only with the advent of the Fukushima Daiichi radiation crisis that more novel forms of nuclear waste materialized on the archipelago, exposing serious inadequacies in the nuclear apparatus and necessitating official response. These include the estimated 100 tonnes of radioactive water that leak into the Pacific Ocean every day from the bowels of the ruined nuclear power station, as well as the nearly 1000 giant, serried tanks of Tritium-laced water slowly filling the 350-hectare Fukushima Daiichi compound as effluent from the facility’s own filtration system—now exceeding a million tonnes in total. (Referring to the highly toxic liquid residues these tanks hold, even the environment minister himself recently stated that ‘The only option will be to drain it into the sea to dilute it’ to alleviate the ever-increasing burden of radioactive water storage there.)27 Leaving aside the wreckage of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station—itself a twisted and heterogeneous mass of nuclear waste requiring at least several more decades of highly specialised work to dismantle and segregate—the trope of recycling has been invoked to mobilize, and justify, the colossal effort to sequester and make efficient many millions of cubic metres of radioactive dirt and other debris brought on by the 3.11 disaster. Ambivalent Fukushima Prefecture has, thus, become a pivotal testing ground for the principles of circularity that have guided Japan’s nuclear sector for decades, offering a useful opportunity to interrogate the core precepts of nuclear recycling in evidence there.

 

4Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

5Decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

6Clean’ dirt ready to spread on agricultural field cleared of radioactive soil, Tomioka, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

7Woman with dosimeter taking a break from decontamination work, Nihonmatsu, Fukushima. Image credit: Peter Wynn Kirby.

 

 

Shifting geographies of transcontamination

A crew of seven men and one woman, clad head-to-toe in helmets, face masks, protective clothing, gloves, and rubber boots wielded rakes and shovels to scrape radioactive dirt and vegetal matter from a wooded area around a local shrine in Nihonmatsu, not far from the Exclusion Zone, in autumn 2015. The crew laboured to remove enough radioactive debris to bring radiation levels back down toward levels deemed safe by the Japanese government. This involved clipping off low-lying tree branches and clearing away small bushes and undergrowth. (Elsewhere, in Iitate village, I have witnessed bark removed so aggressively from tree stumps that they had been whittled down to resemble pencil-stubs gnawed by schoolchildren.) Yet in spite of the serious nature of the job and the tragic backdrop of contaminated Fukushima against which they worked, the crew were rather grumpy. Their foreman, Nakayama-san, complained about how low their pay rate was, a paltry 720 yen per square metre compared to more desirable work around residential areas, called jutaku josen, which paid better mostly because it was calculated by weight rather than by area. Having previously worked as an insurance agent, the stalwart, outspoken Tohoku native railed against the government’s standards for calculating radiation safety, which he called too lax. ‘We’re mormotto (guinea pigs)!’, he declared, or test subjects who could be studied for decades. He and his crew worked long and hard to collect huge black bags of radioactive waste for collection as part of a campaign that was called ‘decontamination’ (josen), but they were under no illusions that the area would be free of radiation in the years to come. (Below, I describe how such workers see the decontamination effort as extremely patchy or non-existent in places, belying the campaign’s very moniker.) It also remained far from clear how the problem of radiation stored in these large black bags would ever be adequately resolved.

Japan’s Ministry of Environment announced vague plans for an Interim Storage Facility (ISF) for radioactive material in 2014, to be located in Fukushima Prefecture, with more concrete plans by 2016. The proposed site would occupy already highly radioactive terrain. Encompassing 1,600 hectares in a half-doughnut shape, the facility would literally nestle around the compound of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, perched on Fukushima’s Pacific coast at the heart of the Exclusion Zone. Though proximity to Fukushima Daiichi suggests to a reasonable layperson that the facility would hold high-level nuclear waste such as the slumped uranium fuel located below the power station’s wrecked reactors, in fact the ISF planned to store, for a time, the millions of cubic metres of radioactive soil and other biomass collected from the irradiated territory of Fukushima Prefecture since 2011.

It is central to the political culture of the reconstruction effort that Fukushima’s various storage sites for radioactive material clearly advertise their transitory nature. For seven years, about 16 million huge black bags (furekon), each about the size of a hot tub and weighing approximately a tonne when filled,28 have sat in piles scattered around the Exclusion Zone. These furekon bags are filled with radioactive topsoil scraped from the surface of most of the prefecture’s hardest-hit areas, by crews like that of Nakayama-san, and at first lie in odd, desultory heaps of perhaps two to six bags before being transported by truck to what are known as kari-kari-okiba (third-tier storage, literally ‘provisional-provisional’ depots). After a time, sometimes a year or more, workers will move these bags to further, though still provisional, second-tier storage depots (kari-okiba) located throughout the region. All these sites, clearly blazoned as temporary, keep the bags in motion just enough to sell a rationalized system, but in fact the bags still have nowhere to go. An elaborately designed Interim Storage Facility, its name similarly advertising its impermanence, exists mostly on paper in the form of a series of diagrams and renderings, as Ministry of Environment officials await cooperation of the aforementioned, tetchy absentee landowners who, since 2011, find themselves holding title to parcels of some of the most abominated land on the planet. Significantly, the ISF plan was only signed off on by the prefectural governor on the proviso that all radioactive material stored there must leave Fukushima after 30 years, at which time prefectural and central government authorities hope eventually to begin converting the land to a park. However, such a restored future green space remains far from guaranteed, as does much of the facility itself. By the end of winter 2018, only 52.8 percent of the private landowners had agreed to lease their land to the government,29 meaning that implementation of the plan is largely beyond the power of the state to guarantee. In the meantime, the overwhelming quantity of bags of irradiated material mostly move around the chimerical circle of provisional destinations, somewhat like an intermittent game of pass the parcel. While, for a time, the state could put bags of radioactive dirt almost anywhere during the decontamination process, these bags slowly aggregate in successive particular sites. These sites are generally leased from landowners and therefore generate revenue. 

All this material flux involves long concatenations of logistical steps. Moving millions of furekon bags requires trucks, and the standard Japanese truck can only hold a maximum of six of these bags. Therefore, to transport all the bags from the scattered sites where they were initially collected (gemba hokan) to the subsequent sites of formal storage—and eventually to the ISF—involves over two million truck journeys, a staggering figure.30 Moreover, according to the manufacturer, the bags are meant to last just three years and some bags must also be decanted regularly due to further routine damage, bringing even more stuttering progress. The scale and logistical complexity of The Clear has provided piecemeal work for members of local communities as well as for transplants, with some local companies subcontracted to do scraping, collection, transport, and so on. This is, however, small comfort after the radioactive defilement of hundreds of square kilometres of their home region, the decimation of Fukushima’s agricultural sector (even in relatively unaffected areas distant from the meltdowns), the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents, nearly 8 years of upheaval, and a highly uncertain future.

Improbably, authorities speak of ‘recycling’ all these millions of tonnes of dirt. The most likely scenario I have heard bruited by nuclear clear-up officials involves creating massive anti-tsunami berms along the coastline, with ‘recycled’ radioactive dirt comprising the core of these structures for many miles. Based on my decades of research on this topic in Japan,31 such a strategy is a long way away from what most Japanese associate with the term ‘recycling’. Under rosy scenarios of public use, such radioactive dirt would be sequestered safely within berms, but such strategies incur potential risks of contamination of surrounding land and coastal seas, particularly worrisome given the periodic seismic events that jolt contemporary Japan.

Yet sustainability discourse in Fukushima goes further. Ministry officials are executing their plan to incinerate all the vegetal matter collected across and around the Exclusion Zone, along with all the protective clothing (gloves, coveralls, masks, and so on) used in decontamination operations. Because Japanese incinerators generate electricity from their operations, environmental officials and partners dub this process ‘thermal recycling’. For deeply sceptical informants based in communities around the Exclusion Zone, such rhetoric often falls on deaf ears. Some Fukushima residents feel it is their duty to agitate against the environmental health excesses of this campaign, and I have witnessed the gamut of such protests, from activists banging drums on a street corner in Fukushima City to having a quiet word over tea with a local politician. For many others whose lives were turned upside down by the nuclear plant meltdowns and radiation crisis and subsequent evacuation, the emotional toll has been devastating. As one middle-aged woman put it, referring to the large black bags used for bulk transport in Fukushima, ‘The furekon are filled with our tears’.

Problematically for nuclear stakeholders, the lofty goals of the decontamination programme are undermined by the inconvenient properties of radionuclides, as well as by the uneven terrain of Fukushima itself. For there is no such thing as decontamination when dealing with radiation—there is only transcontamination. As Associate Professor Shinzō Kimura, a Dokkyō Medical University radiation health researcher working since 2011 in Fukushima, explained, ‘Radiation cannot be eliminated. It can only be transported from one place to another…. This is clearly transcontamination, with no easy solutions…. Fukushima’s “decontamination” is a complete misnomer—it’s a con perpetrated against the Japanese people’.

Fukushima’s elaborate decontamination programme is therefore, in essence, a matter of taking radioactive debris from one part of Fukushima and moving it to another part of Fukushima. More precisely, the radioactive material enters stuttered slow motion, moving periodically from one place to another, with no certain final destination. By 11 March 2019, the eighth anniversary of the radiation disaster, only about 15% of the total volume of radioactive soil (2.3 million cubic metres) had been transported to the as-yet only partially realized Interim Storage Facility, with a flotilla of trucks making about 1600 roundtrip journeys each day.32 According to the ISF plan itself, much of the nuclear waste would be on the move again in a few decades. Meanwhile, the supposed clean-up in Fukushima falls short, with too much radiation lingering in ‘decontaminated’ sites in question. Of course, true to form, Fukushima’s custodians like the Ministry of Environment have rationalized and transported a sizable amount of Fukushima’s radiation—but by no means all. After scraping up dirt and other matter, after cutting weeds and clipping low branches, workers spread a layer of ‘clean’ soil from elsewhere in order to be able to take out a Geiger counter and produce a ‘safe’ reading. In Fukushima, safety was a labile concept, with sizeable constituencies ambivalent about the aftermath of the 2011 radiation crisis. A number of the decontamination workers I interviewed and witnessed in action were sceptical that The Clear, across vast expanses of Fukushima, had been wholly successful. They had seen first hand the occasional patchiness of the work, the places where they or others had had to cut corners due to the vagaries of rigid schedules, weather, diktats from up the food-chain, and so on.33 The Japanese government claims that areas are now ‘safe’ due to Geiger counter readings, but activists and others accuse the government of putting their thumb on the scale, so to speak—taking many readings over time and throwing out the undesirable high radiation measures as “failed” tests, thereby keeping only the lower radiation readings. As dodgy as this may sound, I came across a similar tactic used by the Tokyo Waste Bureau during a successful community challenge against the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in a 1999 toxic pollution dispute. The independent scientist who had carried out the atmospheric measurements testified that government officials had warped the data he had carefully compiled, in similar fashion.34 While controversy smoulders over the decontamination effort, weary communities attempt to return to normalcy, unconvinced that the situation on the ground will get much better.

Kimura-sensei demonstrated the absurdity of The Clear, energetically sketching out a rudimentary farm on a white board in his Nihonmatsu laboratory. ‘The decontamination activities are a joke…. [They] scrape the dirt from the agricultural fields, but leave the fringes untouched. Cows then eat irradiated grass, becoming irradiated themselves, and shit radiation onto the “decontaminated” soil. This can then contaminate crops over time…. Both the plan and the implementation are a complete farce’. Radiation remains most acute in the margins, in the neglected areas between sites that have been deemed suitable for decontamination. For instance, in communities like Naraha where only about 15% of the pre-disaster population has returned and resettled in the past couple of years,35 putatively sanitized areas resemble islands and peninsulas surrounded by eddies of higher radiation, particularly in wooded and/or overgrown areas, which the ministry has relinquished to so-called ‘natural decay’. Natural decay entails simply waiting for the radiation to go down by itself, without intervention. Caesium-137, for example, has a half-life of over 30 years, which means that when the proposed ISF is to be shut down in the late 2040s, the Cs-137 in Fukushima’s soil will still be perhaps half as radioactive as when it first hit the ground—still exceeding international standards, as shown below.

Take the northern area of Tomioka Township, which is still designated a ‘difficult-to-return zone’—meaning that, on average, the area continues to emit more than 20 milliSieverts per year of radiation. (For reference, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission mandates a maximum exposure for American communities of 1 milliSievert per year over background radiation.)36 I and collaborator Toshihiro Higuchi conducted ethnographic fieldwork on The Clear, in Tomioka, before the evacuation order was lifted there on 1 April 2017. We explored derelict neighbourhoods and the desolation of its evacuated, overrun, intermittently bag-scattered terrain. We also witnessed the MOE’s clear-up of farms in the region, where they endeavoured to spread ‘clean’ dirt over fields and property to bring down radiation levels. Northern Tomioka is a patchwork of some areas that test relatively low on a Geiger counter and other zones that have radiation many times higher, like thickly wooded areas, hilly precincts, even just the overgrown areas near roadways. This reflects the maddening variation throughout the rest of Tomioka and the entire area around the Exclusion Zone. Forbidding teenagers to wander in the woods or scolding children for digging in the ground, and scraping away surface soil is far from decontamination—this is, instead, decontamination for show, decontamination that is literally superficial. Furthermore, Fukushima remains teeming with irradiated boar and deer who are heedless of the boundaries imposed by human nuclear functionaries, not to mention the multitudes of birds and other creatures who roam the area. Wild boar is a delicacy in Japan, but since Fukushima boar have been found with levels of Caesium-137 over 300 times Japan’s radiation limit for human consumption, boar have morphed from culinary treat into toxic vermin. Tomioka Town has killed many hundreds of boar in recent years, but overwhelmingly as a preventative measure, not for their meat. While Fukushima municipalities attempt to enlist greater numbers of hunters licensed to shoot boar to help control the infestation of these determined radioactive interlopers,37 for example, it is clear that this is selective decontamination by state fiat, finding little purchase on the disaster zone’s intricate non-human ecology.

Granted, one wouldn’t expect Fukushima Prefecture to advertise its radiation travails to tourist visitors and prospective investors. Nevertheless, it is ominous that government proclamations regarding revitalization of the area in and around the Exclusion Zone intone about jobs but seem geared toward a future with relatively few humans. The Fukushima Prefectural Government now promotes a plan, dubbed The Innovation Coast, that would transform the unwelcoming region into a thriving zone of high-tech innovation. Much of the development along the purportedly revitalized Innovation Coast would be directed towards a ‘robot-related industrial cluster’ and experimental zones like the Fukushima Robot Test Field.38 Both in the Robot Test Field and in other planned facilities, engineered runways and surrounding radiation-hit areas would serve as prime territory for testing aerial drones for a range of purposes in various weather conditions—which would be difficult or impossible to achieve elsewhere in relatively densely populated Japan. The planned site for the test field would link with a secluded test area about 13 kilometres due south along the coastline, located closer to Fukushima Daiichi, to coordinate test flights over the unremediated Exclusion Zone’s more or less posthuman terrain.39 Naturally, unlike Fukushima’s human residents, robots and the sometimes highly automated facilities that produce their components would be oblivious to the elevated—but to robots not debilitating—radiation levels found outside the Fukushima Daiichi facility itself. In addition, prefectural officials have suggested that the Exclusion Zone environs could play host to a range of other services that don’t require much human intervention, such as long-term archive facilities.40 

Proud long-time residents of Fukushima, for their part, see all this proposed development as a continued ‘colonization’ of their home prefecture by Tokyo41—namely, a well-worn pattern of outsiders using the zone for their own purposes, as were the original nuclear proponents who built the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi plant in the first place. Moto, a man born and raised in Fukushima City and educated in an elite Ivy-League graduate programme, lambasted the process. ‘This has been going on for many decades. Again, we have outsiders coming into Fukushima, dictating how to use our land, how to exploit our resources. They need to take account of the wishes of the people of Fukushima, how we want Fukushima to be’.42 Moto and his family, along with neighbours, discovered in 2017 that the Fukushima City Council—facing massive radioactive waste volumes—had arbitrarily decided to use an open green area in the middle of their community as a temporary storage facility for radioactive dirt, without undergoing the usual elaborate consultation process.43 A university history professor commuting to Sendai, Moto humbly proclaims himself an ‘academic from the sticks’ (inaka) with no activist experience. Nevertheless, he proved himself an unusually capable political infighter. He quickly mobilized his extensive local contacts in Fukushima politics to shoot the proposal down within a handful of days, ensuring that the city would think twice before attempting to exploit the site again. Yet the project was subsequently moved not far away to another, less well-off neighbourhood, prompting his wife to say, ‘Yes, we are glad that the project will no longer go forward less than a hundred metres from our home, but the people who live [in the other community] are less enfranchised, less able to protest. I feel terrible…. This shouldn’t be happening. They shouldn’t be doing this to local communities in this way’. Many locals—even those who have benefited from the upsurge in clear-up work after 2011—have grown to criticize the whole project of decontamination. One notable turn of phrase, josen yori osen (‘[it’s] more pollution than decontamination’), caustically juxtaposes ‘decontamination’ (josen) with its near homophone ‘pollution’ (osen), engaging in a form of wordplay common in Japanese.

Naturally, sustainability and recycling figure in the prefecture’s Innovation Coast plan. Promotional materials invoke the circular economy of recycling Lithium-ion batteries from electrical vehicles into other energy-storage products at a newly completed facility in Fukushima; another Fukushima plant promises to produce all the hydrogen needed for fuel cells with renewable energy, and Fukushima Prefecture itself aims to derive 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2040.44 Fukushima stakeholders trumpet the putative synergies created by concentrating these industries in the region; furthermore, all design studios, factories, and staging grounds would be governed by the same strict laws on processing and converting electronic and other wastes as the rest of Japan. But despite the evocations of circularity along the planned Innovation Coast, the scheme flirts with unreality as it brushes aside radioactive threats in Fukushima. The recovering, tsunami-hit region remains at risk. The millions of tonnes of radioactive soil, the large expanses of defiled territory relegated to ‘natural decay’—these, understandably perhaps, remain downplayed in favour of the opportunities presented by a sprawling, relatively depopulated area of Japan available for experimentation with perilous drone technologies and automated systems, as well as abundant cheap land and tax incentives for newly built manufacturing sites. Zooming out from such glossy public-relations portrayals—made with an eye toward the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games—demonstrates the limits of the government’s attempts at rationalization. Where nuclear waste languishes in various stages of inertia/abandonment, the circularist nuclear establishment projects a utopian system, with materials forever floating along tight, efficient loops of eco-conversion to feed a self-correcting market. All the while, the very radiation that necessitates the clear-up helps pull off the PR campaign; due to elevated radiation, the most dangerous areas outside Fukushima Daiichi remain depopulated and therefore little scrutinized. Even the radiation in marginal areas that are legally accessible tends to discourage interlopers.

To be sure, all the dreadful externalities of the triple-meltdowns in Fukushima presented here notwithstanding, there are pollutant drawbacks to other forms of energy production. Toxic air pollution and hazardous tailings associated with exploiting coal energy cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world annually45 and depredate landscapes. The same goes for other fossil fuel exploitation, such as oil and natural gas/fracking, which due to their vast scale and favourable margin have the potential to warp entire planetary regions.46 ‘Clean energy’ doesn’t get a pass, either. Production of solar panels and wind farms requires energy and material resources. Eventually, this eco-infrastructure will result in e-waste that will need to be handled responsibly. Ditto for electric cars, which, to a degree, will only be as eco as the forms of energy that charge their batteries. Yet the economies of scale triggered by nuclear calamity reach a different order of magnitude, as Fukushima demonstrates. Communities in and around the Exclusion Zone will struggle with radiation for generations, particularly near acutely irradiated areas left to ‘natural decay’. Many of the evacuated communities in Fukushima have been unsuccessful in attracting more than a small fraction of their former populations back for resettlement—usually about 15%—and the whole prefecture must grapple with the stigma of radiation that affects who buys Fukushima produce, who comes as a tourist, who decides to move to the area, and who marries their offspring. Not to mention that Japan has failed to convince its citizenry that obdurate Nuclear, Inc., has truly learned from the triple-disasters about the swift, durable ruin of large-scale radiation events from crippled nuclear facilities and the cost of shoddy management and careless quality control. Though the nuclear lobby seems largely unfazed in its push for return to the status quo ante energy strategy, the Fukushima Daiichi debacle has done rough violence to the illusion of circularity and control that the nuclear industry has propagated over decades.

Given the broad significance of circularity to Japan’s nuclear sector, it is even more striking how recent efforts to ‘recycle’ nuclear waste in public works projects and in agriculture give the lie to the eight-year circularist campaign in Fukushima. In June 2018, the MOE diverged sharply from long-articulated plans to recycle radioactive soil collected in Fukushima. In a recently published outline,47 the ministry instead set out to offload radioactive dirt in road-building and agriculture in various sites throughout Fukushima—prompting vociferous protests from community groups. For instance, along a 200-metre stretch of road in the town of Nihonmatsu, the ministry proposed to place 500 cubic metres of radioactive dirt underneath the roadway. The ministry explains that the dirt, having levels of approximately 1000 becquerels per kilogram, would be covered with ‘clean’ dirt to block the radiation—small comfort to local farmers keen to advertise their produce as free of radiation, not to mention concerned homeowners and casual passersby. (For comparison, the Japanese government maintains a radioactivity safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram for foodstuffs for human consumption—though no one intends to directly eat the dirt, the disparity between the levels is resonant in an agricultural area that longs to become a major food producer again.)48 Furthermore, officials intend to use radioactive dirt to grow crops within Fukushima Prefecture. According to the MOE, this ‘recycled’ soil would not, however, yield produce intended for human consumption, representing an (unsuccessful) attempt to alleviate the sharp concerns of yet more local farmers and residents.49 Under Japanese law, soil of up to 8000 becquerels per kilogram can be used for a variety of purposes, a regulatory flexibility that government stakeholders are attempting to turn, gradually, to their advantage. By contrast, the International Atomic Energy Agency maintains a standard of 100 becquerels per kilogram for material containing Caesium-137.50 Opposition to the plan from communities in Fukushima demonstrates the chasm between rosy projections generated by officialdom and what exasperated residents will tolerate. In a society broadly shaped by recycling regimes, it seems that, after 3.11, there are limits to what forms of circularity residents are willing to accept—particularly when the ‘circularity’ of Fukushima’s nuclear waste dead-ends in one’s residential neighbourhood.

 

Conclusions

The colossal scale of the clear-up in Fukushima bears perhaps inevitable comparison with other monumental human endeavours, epitomized by the much-bandied construction of the Egyptian pyramids. The mastaba-shaped waste mesas of Fukushima, comprised of serried stacks of hundreds of thousands of black furekon bags that loom over desolate areas in and around the Exclusion Zone, may not seem as visually impressive as, say, the Great Pyramid of Giza (weighing about 6 million tonnes and having a volume of approximately 2.5 million cubic metres). Yet the eight-year project of gathering up more than 16 million cubic metres of radioactive dirt, transporting it over considerable distances, and eventually constructing enormous ziggurats of furekon bags swaddled with enough tarpaulin to cover all the football pitches in the Premier League many times over does exude a somewhat Pharaonic character. Nevertheless, what is striking about The Clear in Fukushima is that this whole campaign is designed to achieve precisely the opposite result. Instead of constructing a series of monuments out of the most durable materials available, such as granite, to create a lasting memorial—as did the pharaohs—Japanese government authorities instead composed a succession of gigantic (but slowly shifting) depositories that advertise their transitory nature. The vicissitudes of weather and circumstance continue to take their toll, but the most committed destructive force that these structures will face is their very builders. Officials have guaranteed that these radioactive plateaux will be removed from Fukushima Prefecture in less than three decades. As regards the radiation therein, the government has gone to great lengths to disguise, play down, or otherwise diminish the quantity contained in these piles. Whether to line the undersides of roadways, fill mammoth berms along Fukushima’s coastline, or use in reclaimed land or other construction, nuclear officials are determined to find ways to reduce the gargantuan scale of this volume of radioactive dirt until there is virtually no remaining trace—contradicting the profuse recycling rhetoric generated in Fukushima since March 2011. What this decontamination campaign does comprise, however, is a monumental glorification of Japanese models of circularity.

Circularist discourse on recycling tends to express the conversion of residues—either explicitly or implicitly—as a seamless process, free of emissions or other externalities. Moreover, diagrams and other renderings make recycling appear not only effortless but as forever ongoing. Such exhortations of circularity become, therefore, less descriptions of a process than expressions of a worldview, one that through its banality subtly creeps into general consciousness. With both a powerful pro-nuclear lobby and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games looming on the horizon, Japanese authorities will have every incentive to make this radioactive dirt disappear in a range of inventive ways that have nothing to do with recycling. Nevertheless, a veil of circularity will help colour, and obscure, the familiar process of converting nuclear wastes into yet other forms of nuclear waste. This time-honoured exercise in nuclear PR will likely perdure alongside the current revolution in solar power, offshore windfarms, and other sustainable energy sources, many of whose rates already undercut new-build nuclear. The well-funded nuclear campaign to promote circularity in Japan will then increasingly seem like another problematic residue of the Nuclear Age, one that will endure far longer than it really should.

As demonstrated in these pages, the clear-up of the Fukushima disaster zone has itself been a disaster, partly facilitated by distorted circularist propaganda. Yet recycling rhetoric pervades the nuclear industry internationally. We live in what could be described as ‘the environmental century’, with sharp concern over climate change, planetary depredation, profligate lifestyles, and access to resources. Around the world, governments, corporations, academics, activists, and concerned citizens are attempting to decide which forms of energy show the most promise in turning our situation around. By lifting the tarpaulin on Japan’s handling of nuclear residues in Fukushima, we can begin to uncover the manifold ways in which recycling discourse is used to warp the case for nuclear in a range of nations.

 

Notes

1

T. Christoudias et al., ‘Modelling the Global Atmospheric Transport and Deposition of Radionuclides from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Accident’, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 13, 2013, pp. 1425-1438; Majia Nadesan et al, eds., Fukushima : Dispossession or Denuclearization?, [no publication city], 2014, p.103.

2

Environmental Remediation in Affected Areas’. Tokyo: Ministry of the Environment, 2019, p. 7.

3

This article received generous support via a Leverhulme Trust Project Grant (RPG-2014-224). I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the kind help and sharp insight of Dr. Toshihiro Higuchi of Georgetown University, who collaborated on some ethnographic fieldwork on which this article draws.

4

McKean, Margaret, Environmental protest and citizen politics in Japan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981; Huddle, N., and M. Reich, Island of dreams: Environmental crisis in Japan, Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Books, 1987; Dauvergne, Peter, Shadows in the forest: Japan and the politics of timber in Southeast Asia, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997; Broadbent, Jeffrey, Environmental politics in Japan: Networks of power and protest, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998; Kerr, Alex, Dogs and demons: Tales from the dark side of Japan, New York: Hill & Wang, 2001; Avenell, Simon, Transnational Japan in the global environmental movement, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2017.

5

Shunichi Honda et al, Regional E-Waste Monitor: East and Southeast Asia, Tokyo 2016, pp. 84-89.

6

H. Kalimo et al, ‘Greening the Economy through Design Incentives’, European Energy and Environmental Law Review 21/6, 2012, p. 296.

7

For example, many Japanese manufacturers eschew recycled metal or plastic as substandard; instead, much recycled material tends to be sold overseas. See Kirby, P. W., A. Lora-Wainwright, and Y. Schulz, Leftover Lucre [manuscript in preparation].

8

A comparison of Tokyo, Japan’s largest city, with that of much-smaller Kitakyushu shows a consistent attention to recycling and sustainability in both locations (and in many other Japanese communities). Creating a Sustainable City: Tokyo’s Environmental Policy. Tokyo, 2018 See here (accessed September 2019); here (accessed September 2019); and here (accessed September 2019).

9

Eric Dinmore, ‘A Small Island Nation Poor in Resources: Natural and Human Resource Anxieties in Trans-World War II Japan’. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 2006.

10

Amano Reiko (2001). Damu to Nihon [Dams and Japan. Published in Japanese.] Tokyo: Iwanami Shinsho.; Dinmore, 2006, op. cit.

11

Martin Dusinberre, Hard Times in the Hometown, Honolulu 2012.

12

Gavan McCormack, ‘Japan as a Plutonium Superpower’, Japan Focus 5/12, 2007.

13

A nuclear fuel cycle describes a process whereby nuclear fuel rods are fabricated and then, after use, reprocessed so that some nuclear material that might otherwise have become high-level nuclear waste could instead be reused in reactors.

14

The Finnish final repository, dubbed Onkalo or ‘hiding place’ (still under construction until 2023), will be able to hold all of Finland’s high-level nuclear waste in a network of granite cavities 520 metres underground. By contrast, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad, New Mexico, holds only a portion of the USA’s transuranic waste from its weapons programs. These pilot repositories, 660 metres underground, are carved out of a gigantic subterranean salt bed and could be expanded relatively quickly—as salt-rock is far more easily excavated than granite (see here).

15

Japan’s Nuclear Waste Problem’, Japan Times, 21 January 2014; also confirmed by several Japanese environmental officials in interview between 2017-18.

16

Kō-reberu hōshasei-haikibutsu no shobun ni tsuite. [Regarding disposal of high-level radioactive waste.] Science Council of Japan, September 2012; Japan’s nuclear waste problem (Editorial). Japan Times 21 January 2014.

17

Yukari Sekiguchi, ‘Mitigating the Risks of Spent Nuclear Fuel in Japan’, CSIS Policy Perspectives, Washington, D.C. 30 March 2017, pp. 1-2, 4; ‘Japan’s 17,000 Tons of Nuclear Waste in Search of a Home’, Bloomberg 10 July 2015.

18

Nuclear Power in Japan’. World Nuclear Association. (accessed September 2019).

19

Fuel removal work starts at Japan’s Monju reactor. World Nuclear News, 2018, August 30. (accessed September 2019)

20

Confirmed in interviews with MOE officials in 2017-18.

21

Japanese nuclear fuel reprocessing plant delayed yet again: Age-related decay plagues Rokkasho project, stalled for 20 years’, Nikkei Asian Review, 23 December 2017.

22

The UK is no longer an option for reprocessing. The conversion operation at Sellafield, which grapples with dire cost overruns and its own very serious nuclear waste cleanup, has been closing out its contracts and slowly shipping reprocessed waste back to Japan. Areva, which does reprocessing in France at La Hague, has been in severe financial straits and is not nearly reliable enough a partner on which to base Japan’s future nuclear waste policy.

23

Status Report of Plutonium Management in Japan – 2017, Japan Atomic Energy Commission, Tokyo 2018.

24

Gavan McCormack, ‘Hubris Punished: Japan as a Nuclear State’, Synthesis/Regeneration 56, 2011.

25

Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy’ [civil nuclear treaty which came into force in 1988]; ‘Japan Plutonium Stockpile Fuels US Unease’, Financial Times, 25 June 2018.

26

Gavan McCormack, ‘Japan as a Plutonium Superpower’, Japan Focus 5/12, 2007.

27

Fukushima: Japan will have to dump radioactive water into Pacific, minister says’, The Guardian, 10 September 2019.

28

Each bag is designed to hold a volume of one cubic metre.

29

Environmental Remediation in Japan’, Japanese Ministry of the Environment, Tokyo 2018, p. 22.

30

Calculated and confirmed in interview (May 2018) with a Ministry of Environment official in charge of the Fukushima decontamination programme.

31

Kirby, Peter Wynn. Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

32

Fukushima grapples with toxic soil that no one wants’, The Guardian, 11 March 2019.

33

This is corroborated, for example, by Justin McCurry, who quotes a clear-up worker describing places where his crew was told just to sweep up the leaves on the ground to make a deadline, leaving contaminated soil behind.

34

See Peter Wynn Kirby, Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2011.

35

Learning from the Lessons of 3/11, Seven Years On’, Japan Times, 9 March 2018.

36

Backgrounder on Biological Effects of Radiation’, US Nuclear Regulatory Commission factsheet, 2017. (accessed September 2019)

37

Wild boars offer challenge for homecomers in radiation-hit Fukushima’. Reuters, 9 March 2017.

38

METI and the Fukushima Prefectural Government Conclude an Agreement on the Development and Operation of Robot Testing Fields and the International Industry-Academia-Government Collaboration Facilities for Robots under the Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework’ news release, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, 26 January 2016.

39

See here, page 7 image.

40

This was aired last year in interview with officials from the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

41

Norio Akasaka, Tōhokugaku: Wasurerareta Tōhoku [Tōhoku Studies: Forgotten Tōhoku], Tokyo, 2009.

42

See also Kainuma, Hiroshi, Fukushima-ron: Genshiryoku mura wa naze umareta no ka [Debates over Fukushima: How and Why was “The Nuclear Village” Spawned in Japan?], Tokyo: Seidosha, 2011.

43

Disposal of contaminated soil – is this only Fukushima’s problem?’ [Osendo no shobun, Fukushima dake no mondai ka?] Asahi Shimbun, 7 June 2017, p. 14.

44

Fukushima Innovation Coast Framework’, Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry PR materials, Tokyo 2018.

45

Air pollution, climate and health: the calculation is simple. World Health Organization (accessed September 2019)

46

E.g., Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

47

Basic thinking on the safe use of dirt reclaimed [from Fukushima]’, Japanese Ministry of the Environment, Tokyo 2018.

48

Nokuaki Kunii et al., ‘The Knowledge and Awareness for Radiocesium Food Monitoring after the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Accident in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(10):2289, 2018.

49

A pilot project in Iitate would plant flowers and energy crops in fields with a radioactive soil substrate. ‘Environmental Remediation in Affected Areas’. Tokyo: Ministry of the Environment, 2019, p. 22.

50

IAEA Safety Standards for Protecting People and the Environment: Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards. Geneva: IAEA, 2014, p. 126.

Source:

https://apjjf.org/2019/19/Kirby.html

 

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment

Appeal filed against acquittal of former TEPCO execs

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People demanding a guilty verdict for former top executives of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident rally outside the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 19.
Prosecutors appeal acquittal of former Tepco execs over Fukushima nuclear disaster
Oct 1, 2019
An appeal has been filed with the Tokyo High Court challenging the acquittal of three former Tepco executives over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.
“Letting this decision stand is clearly against justice. Taking into consideration the burden of the victims, it is incumbent on us to demand a judgment by a higher court,” one of the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors said when the appeal was filed Monday.
They had sought five-year prison sentences for the former executives of what is now called Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
Former Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and former Vice Presidents Ichiro Takekuro, 73, and Sakae Muto, 69, were acquitted Sept. 19 by the Tokyo District Court on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
They were indicted in 2016 for failing to implement tsunami countermeasures, leading to the deaths of 44 people, including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital, as well as for injuries sustained by 13 people in hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.
Prosecutors claimed the three would have prevented the disaster if they had fulfilled their responsibility to collect information and implement safety measures. Tepco was informed in 2008 that tsunami of up to 15.7 meters could strike the plant based on a 2002 government long-term evaluation of quake risks.
At the district court, presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said in handing down the ruling, “It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators were obliged to predict every possibility related to tsunami and take necessary measures.”
The six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded on March 11, 2011, by tsunami exceeding 10 meters triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.
Reactor units 1, 2 and 3 suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing reactors 1, 3 and 4. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point.
Tepco and the attorneys representing the three former executives declined to comment on the appeal.
 
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In this combined photo, from right, former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, and former TEPCO vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto enter into the Tokyo District Court before a verdict in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, on Sept. 19, 2019.
Appeal filed against acquittal of ex-TEPCO execs over Fukushima crisis
October 1, 2019
TOKYO (Kyodo) — An appeal was filed with the Tokyo High Court on Monday challenging the acquittal of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the Fukushima nuclear disaster, triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.
“Letting this decision stand is clearly against justice. Taking into consideration the burden of the victims, it is incumbent to demand a judgement by a higher court,” said one of the court-appointed lawyers acting as prosecutors, who had sought five-year prison terms.
Former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, and former vice presidents Ichiro Takekuro, 73, and Sakae Muto, 69, were acquitted Sept. 19 by the Tokyo District Court on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.
The three were indicted in 2016 for failing to implement tsunami countermeasures leading to the deaths of 44 people — including patients forced to evacuate from a hospital — as well as for injuries sustained by 13 people in hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Prosecutors claimed the three would have prevented the nuclear disaster if they had fulfilled their responsibility to collect information and implement safety measures. TEPCO was informed in 2008 that tsunami waves of up to 15.7 meters could strike the Fukushima plant based on the government’s long-term evaluation in 2002 of quake risks.
At the district court, Presiding Judge Kenichi Nagafuchi said in handing down the ruling, “It would be impossible to operate a nuclear plant if operators were obliged to predict every possibility related to tsunami and take necessary measures.”
On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves exceeding 10 meters triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.
The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point.
TEPCO and the defense team of the three former executives both declined to comment on the appeal.
TEPCO was reorganized under Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. in 2016.
 
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Lawyer Shozaburo Ishida, right, who served as a prosecutor in the TEPCO trial, expresses outrage over the not-guilty verdicts at a news conference in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on Sept. 19.
Lawyers appeal TEPCO acquittals over Fukushima nuclear disaster
October 1, 2019
Lawyers appealed a court ruling that absolved three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. of criminal responsibility for the 2011 nuclear disaster, saying the acquittals deny justice for the victims.
The appeal of the Tokyo District Court’s ruling was submitted to the Tokyo High Court on Sept. 30.
The lawyers, who are serving as prosecutors in the case, said in the appeal, “The ruling not only evaded judgment on the defendants’ important duties and responsibilities to prevent foreseeable damage (to the nuclear plant), but it even denied the possibility that they could foresee the disaster.
“To allow the ruling to be finalized at this stage would significantly go against justice,” their statement said.
Tsunehisa Katsumata, 79, a former TEPCO chairman, Ichiro Takekuro, 73, a former vice president, and Sakae Muto, 69, also a former vice president, received mandatory indictments on charges of criminal negligence resulting in deaths and injuries related to the disaster at the utility’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The prosecution side had sought five-year prison sentences for the three, arguing that they failed to take action to prevent the accident despite government forecasts that a tsunami exceeding the roughly 10-meter height of the main plant facilities could overwhelm the site.
However, the Tokyo District Court ruled on Sept 19 that the forecasts were unreliable and that the three defendants could not have foreseen a tsunami of that size hitting the nuclear plant.
The ruling said the only way to prevent the accident would have been to shut down the plant well before the disaster struck. The court said it would be difficult to rule that the defendants had a legal responsibility to take such a measure, given the usefulness of nuclear plants in supporting the economy and people’s lives.
The deaths and injuries cited in the indictments occurred during the evacuation of areas near the crippled plant. Forty-four patients who were at Futaba Hospital about 4.5 kilometers from the plant died of malnutrition and dehydration during the evacuation process or later at emergency shelters.
Representatives of nuclear accident victims said they gathered about 14,300 signatures through the Internet and other means for a petition in support of the appeal.
“We want to support the lawyers (who serve as prosecutors) with our full effort and fight for the appeal process,” a representative said Sept. 30.
TEPCO has declined to comment on the appeal.
Tokyo prosecutors had decided not to indict the former executives, citing a lack of evidence. Their decision was reviewed by a prosecution inquest panel, which concluded that the three former TEPCO executives must stand trial.

October 8, 2019 Posted by | fukushima 2019 | , , | Leave a comment