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Regulator confirms safety of Japanese reprocessing plant



13 May 2020

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) today approved a draft report concluding Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited’s (JNFL’s) reprocessing plant at Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture meets new safety standards. The approval brings the plant, construction of which began in 1993, closer to starting up.

Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, new safety standards for nuclear fuel cycle facilities came into force in December 2013. The requirements vary from facility to facility, but generally include reinforcement measures against natural threats such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and in some cases tornadoes, volcanoes and forest fires. Reprocessing plants need to demonstrate these as well as countermeasures specifically for terrorist attacks, hydrogen explosions, fires resulting from solvent leaks and vaporisation of liquid waste.

The NRA today approved a draft report saying that the Rokkasho reprocessing plant meets these new safety standards. It set a one-month period to solicit feedback from industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama and other parties concerned.

“We believe the facility’s design ensures high safety margins against possible accidents,” NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa was quoted as saying by Jiji Press. “The [seismic] faults near the facility were sufficiently examined and the screening was conducted adequately.”

At the Rokkasho plant, additional equipment and systems are being installed for the recovery of radioactivity in the event of a severe accident. An evaluation is also being carried out of the impact on control devices and equipment in the event of a leak of high-pressure and high-temperature steam, and the development and installation of relevant countermeasures, if deemed necessary. A new emergency control room is also being constructed at the plant. Additional safety-related countermeasures are also being put in place, such as internal flood protection, strengthening of the seismic resistance of pipework, improving cooling water tower resistance against tornadoes and improving measures against internal fires.

In a statement, JNFL said: “The acceptance of the draft examination is a big step forward for us today, and we will continue to make every effort to pass the examination.”

Construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays. Problems in the locally-designed vitrification plant – where dried out and powdered high-level radioactive waste is mixed with molten glass for permanent storage – have contributed to these delays. JNFL designed the vitrification unit to go with the reprocessing section supplied by Areva. The Rokkasho reprocessing facility is based on the same technology as Orano’s La Hague plant in France. Once operational, the maximum reprocessing capacity of the Rokkasho plant should be 800 tonnes per year, according to JNFL.

JNFL aims to complete the necessary safety countermeasures in the first half of fiscal 2021 (ending March 2022).



May 14, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Taiwan groups reject Japan plan to dump radioactive wastewater



May 13, 2020

Taipei, May 13 (CNA) About 20 environmental protection groups on Wednesday delivered a petition to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, expressing opposition to the discharge of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

Roughly 1.2 million metric tons of contaminated water remains from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit the plant on March 11, 2011, destroying key cooling functions and causing a huge leakage of radiation.

The wastewater contains approximately 880 trillion becquerels of tritium, a hydrogen isotope that experts say poses a relatively low risk to human health.

The Japanese government is currently soliciting public opinion on wastewater treatment until June 15, after which it will decide what to do with the contaminated water. One of the options is dumping it into the ocean.

“We learned Japan is considering discharging wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi plant into the ocean. The plan will cause radioactive contamination to marine ecology. We were astonished to learn this and resolutely oppose it,” the Taiwanese groups said in their petition.

The groups said they were not there to protest but to appeal to the Japanese government to listen to neighboring countries and not to make the wrong decision.

Currently, 2,000 groups and individuals around the world have signed a petition opposing discharging the wastewater into the sea, while about 20 groups in Taiwan submitted a petition to the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association, said Tsui Shu-hsin (崔愫欣), General Secretary of anti-nuclear organization Green Citizens’ Action Alliance.

If Japan goes ahead with such a plan, the Taiwanese groups do not rule out holding protests, Tsui said.

Releasing the wastewater into the sea is not the only option, Tsui said, adding that it could also be put into larger storage tanks by consolidating the sludge or soil particles, though that would be more expensive.

Although discharging the wastewater into the ocean is the cheapest approach, “We resolutely oppose using this treatment method,” Tsui said.

Despite the fact that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., (TEPCO) has installed filtration systems to remove radioactive isotopes strontium-90 and caesium-137, it cannot remove tritium residue in the wastewater, while 70 percent of the water still contains the radioactive elements strontium-90 and caesium-137.

As such, dumping the wastewater into the ocean, could cause enormous damage to the marine environment, said Tsai Ya-ying (蔡雅瀅), a lawyer affiliated with the Wild at Heart Legal Defense Association.

Japan, a signatory country of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, should adopt all necessary measures to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment in accordance with Article 194 of the convention. It also needs to ensure other countries do not suffer from the effects of environmental damage caused by contamination, Tsai noted.

She called on Japan to reject the possibility of dumping radioactive wastewater into the sea to avoid adversely impacting neighboring countries and hurting good relations between Taiwan and Japan.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Korean navy to study impact of Fukushima Daiichi’s radioactive water leak

optimizeA Tokyo Electric Power official wearing protective gear stands in front of Advanced Liquid Processing Systems during a press tour at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in this Nov. 12, 2014, photo.


Navy to study impact on radioactive water leak by Japan

May 12, 2020

By Kang Seung-woo

The Navy announced, Tuesday, plans to study the effects of radioactive water on its operations in an apparent countermeasure against Japan’s alleged plan to dump the contaminated water from its Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.

While many domestic and international environment groups have studied the possible water release by Japan, this is the first time that the Korean military has decided to investigate the issue, although it remains cautious about specifying Japan is the target country for the study.

According to a notice posted on the government’s procurement system site, the Navy plans to commission research into the potential impact of radioactive water within its operational areas on its maritime operations and ways to stably carry out missions.

The Navy said the 30 million-won ($24,000) research project is scheduled to run until Nov. 30.

“We recognize the growing possibility of radiation-contaminated water being released into our operational areas, and international environmental organizations have warned that if a neighboring country dumps radioactive water into the ocean, it would reach the East Sea within a year,” a Navy officer said.

The officer added that there have been no studies on how radioactive water would affect the environment where naval operations are carried out, and so an advanced investigation is required in order for the Navy to conduct practical and realistic operations.

“Given that seawater is used for living purposes and cooling for equipment, we need to research the impact of radioactive water,” the officer said.

The envisaged research comes as Japan has reportedly been preparing to discharge contaminated water from the power plant, devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, into the ocean. More than 1.1 million tons of radioactive water are reportedly being stored in 977 temporary holding 977 tanks at the power plant in Fukushima.

In February, Greenpeace said a group of experts in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry had recommended discharging the contaminated water into the ocean as a final means to get rid of it.

In relation to the plan, the Japanese government has held events to gather opinions from local residents and experts on dumping radioactive water into the Pacific, which were seen as procedural ahead of releasing the contaminated water.

However, the Navy said its study was not targeting Japan, adding that it was meant to devise detailed guidelines and a response manual to radioactive-contaminated water in general.

The possibility of Tokyo discharging the water into the sea was raised last year after Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at the German branch of Greenpeace, warned in August that Japan could dump over 1 million tons of radioactive waste into the Pacific.

Since then, Japanese government officials have begun to openly discuss the issue. They say almost all the radioactivity has been removed from the water except for tritium, claiming this metal was relatively nonhazardous ― something experts disagree with, noting it can cause cancer and fetal deformities.

Yoshiaki Harada, a former Japanese environment minister, said last year that there was no other option but to dilute the contaminated water by pumping it into the ocean in order to dispose of it.

In response, the Korean foreign ministry summoned Tomofumi Nishinaga, a minister for economic affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, to convey the government’s concern on the possible disposal of contaminated water. It also sent letters to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to express concern over the environmental impact of the possible water release and call for joint countermeasures from the international community.

hjlkmThe Navy plans to look into possible impact of radioactive contaminated water on its operations, officials said Tuesday, amid concerns over Japan’s planned release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.


Navy to assess impact of radioactive water on its operations amid Fukushima concerns

May 12, 2020

The Navy plans to look into possible impact of radioactive contaminated water on its operations, officials said Tuesday, amid concerns over Japan’s planned release of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Japan has been preparing to release contaminated water from the power plant devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 into the ocean. More than 1.1 million tons of tainted water is reportedly in temporary storage at the Fukushima plant.

According to the notice of a bid posted on the government’s procurement system site, the Navy plans to commission research into potential impacts of radioactive water within operational areas on its maritime operations and ways to stably carry out missions.

“We’ve seen a growing possibility of contaminated water being released into our operational areas and we need to assess its impact on the health of our sailors and military hardware, among others,” a Navy official said.

It is the first time that the Navy has taken steps to look into the Fukushima case, though it did not specifically mention the Japan case in its plan to commission the research.

“The planned study is meant to devise detailed guidelines and response manuals in general terms,” the officer said. (Yonhap)

Japan has been preparing to release contaminated water from the power plant devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 into the ocean. More than 1.1 million tons of tainted water is reportedly in temporary storage at the Fukushima plant.

According to the notice of a bid posted on the government’s procurement system site, the Navy plans to commission research into potential impacts of radioactive water within operational areas on its maritime operations and ways to stably carry out missions.

“We’ve seen a growing possibility of contaminated water being released into our operational areas and we need to assess its impact on the health of our sailors and military hardware, among others,” a Navy official said.

It is the first time that the Navy has taken steps to look into the Fukushima case, though it did not specifically mention the Japan case in its plan to commission the research.

“The planned study is meant to devise detailed guidelines and response manuals in general terms,” the officer said. (Yonhap)

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Ministry to test growing veggies on cleansed soil in Fukushima

ll^^mEnvironment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi, center, inspects a test project on reusing soil decontaminated following the 2011 nuclear accident on farmland in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, in February.


May 7, 2020

Despite strong public opposition to the proposal, the Environment Ministry will soon start a trial demonstration to confirm the safety of growing food crops in soil decontaminated following the 2011 nuclear accident.

The ministry received nearly 3,000 public comments about its proposal to revise an ordinance to enable the soil to be reused across Japan, most of which opposed the proposal.

Many people are opposed to reusing the soil, saying, “It will spread contamination.”

At a news conference on May 1, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi acknowledged, “I strongly recognize the fact that there are people who are opposing (the reuse of decontaminated soil). We will provide detailed explanations to seek understanding for our willingness to take a step forward even if it’s just a small one.”

The project, to start by the end of May at the earliest, will be conducted in the Nagadoro district in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture. The district is designated as a “difficult-to-return” zone, where radiation levels remain high since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The ministry is seeking to reuse decontaminated soil for public construction work and farmland development if the radiation level of the soil is below certain standards. In the last fiscal year, which ended in March, flowers and crops used to make solid fuel for biomass power generation were grown on land using the decontaminated soil.

The ministry initially planned to revise a related ordinance in April to enable the soil to be reused, saying it obtained “results that showed the soil was safe enough (to be used for growing crops).”

However, the ministry decided to postpone the revision after hearing requests from local residents who want to grow food crops as well. The ministry must check the safety of the soil once again since such crops will be intended for human consumption. The ministry will grow vegetables including tomatoes and cucumbers during the test project.

In the Nagadoro district, there is a demonstration plot of farmland that spans about 600 square meters in total. The land comprises an 800-cubic-meter embankment of soil whose radiation level is 5,000 becquerels or lower per kilogram, and the embankment is covered with uncontaminated soil that is 50 centimeters thick.

Decontaminated soil is currently stored at interim storage facilities in Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture. The law stipulates that the final disposal of the soil should be conducted outside the prefecture within 30 years from 2015, when the facilities began storing the soil.

The total amount of soil stored at such facilities is expected to reach about 14 million cubic meters, equivalent to 11 Tokyo Domes, located in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward. The ministry is considering reusing the soil to reduce the amount of soil that needs to be disposed of.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , | Leave a comment

Onagawa 2 upgrade faces further delay



04 May 2020

The completion of safety countermeasures at unit 2 of the Onagawa nuclear power plant in Miyagi Prefecture, in Japan, will not be completed until March 2023, two years later than previously scheduled, Tohoku Electric Power Company announced on 30 April. Japan’s nuclear regulator concluded in February the unit meets revised safety standards, clearing the way for it to resume operation.

Tohoku expects to spend about JPY340 billion (USD3.2 billion) on the countermeasures, which include seismic reinforcement of Onagawa 2 and construction of a 29-metre high and 800m long sea wall to protect the plant from tsunamis. The company had originally planned to complete this construction work by April 2017, but the schedule has been pushed back a number of times. The latest plan had been for the countermeasures to be in place by the end of financial year 2020 (ending March 2021).

However, Tokohu has now announced it has reviewed its upgrade works plan for Onagawa 2’s operation. Based on discussions it has had with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Tohoku has decided to expand or revise its construction works for improving the facilities at the plant. As a result, the entire plan of construction work has been delayed and is now expected to be completed in FY2022 (ending March 2023).

Tohoku applied to the NRA in December 2013 for a safety assessment of Onagawa 2 – a 796 MWe boiling water reactor (BWR) – to verify countermeasures applied at the plant meet new safety standards. In late November 2019, the NRA approved a draft screening document that concluded the upgraded plant will meet revised safety standards, introduced in January 2013. On 26 February this year, the NRA approved the final screening report, clearing the way for the unit to resume operation. The utility is still required to complete the countermeasure upgrades and obtain the approval of local authorities before it will be able to restart Onagawa 2.

The Onagawa plant was the closest nuclear power plant to the epicentre of the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011, but sustained far less damage than expected. The earthquake knocked out four of the plant’s five external power lines, but the remaining line provided sufficient power for its three BWRs to be brought to cold shutdown. Onagawa 1 briefly suffered a fire in the non-nuclear turbine building. The plant was largely unaffected by the tsunami as it sits on an elevated embankment more than 14m above sea level, but the basement floors of unit 2 were flooded. A mission from the International Atomic Energy Agency in August 2012 concluded that the structural elements of the nuclear power station were “remarkably undamaged, given the magnitude of ground motion experienced and the duration and size of this great earthquake”.

Tohoku has already decided to decommission unit 1 of the plant and is considering applying to restart unit 3.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Civil Actions as a Social Movement

By Paul Jobin1

Abstract: In addition to a citizen initiative to launch a criminal lawsuit against Tepco and Japanese state executives over their responsibility for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more than thirty collective civil actions have been launched across the country. Thus far, thirteen verdicts have been handed down, with a large majority of courts ruling against Tepco and the state. Despite disappointingly small amounts of compensation, these verdicts carry important sociological significance as they challenge the government’s efforts to restart nuclear power plants. This article provides an overview and typology of the lawsuits, showing that these civil actions build on a legacy of social movements organized by networks of lawyers and activists.

Keywords: Fukushima, Collective Lawsuits, Nuclear Disaster, Social Movements, Compensation


Like the many industrial disasters that have marked the history of modern and contemporary Japan, the nuclear disaster of March 2011 resulted in much litigation. By the ninth anniversary of the catastrophe in 2020, nearly four hundred individual civil actions, and at least thirty known cases of collective civil actions, along with two collective administrative lawsuits, have been launched across the country. The total number of plaintiffs exceeds twelve thousand. Thirteen district courts have already handed down judgments, a large majority of them in favor of the plaintiffs against the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese state. The cases are now pending in appeal.

There has been no shortage of literature devoted to the politics of disaster redress since Fukushima, from such perspectives as political science, sociology, and scientific studies (e.g. Hasegawa 2011, Fujigaki et al 2015, Kimura 2016, Mullins, Nakano et al 2016, and Aldrich 2019, Polleri 2019). But despite interest in the various social mobilizations that arose in the aftermath of the disaster, thus far, with the exception of newspaper articles, there has been very little analysis of the collective civil actions seeking compensation or of related fundamental issues.

In addition to these civil actions (minji soshō), a group of 15,000 Fukushima citizens sought criminal prosecution of the state and Tepco for the nuclear disaster as early as 2012. The prosecutors reduced the number of defendants from twenty to three, all top Tepco executives. In its September 2019 verdict, the Tokyo District Court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to convict them. The case is now pending on appeal with little chance of a reversed verdict. In a recent Asia-Pacific Journal article on the case and one of the rare in-depth analyses of such lawsuits, Johnson, Fukurai and Hirayama (2020) concluded: “The trial and the criminal processes that preceded it revealed many facts that are proving useful to plaintiffs in their ongoing civil lawsuits with Tepco and the Japanese government.”

This essay endorses this conclusion and provides an overview of the civil action lawsuits. The civil cases have made it possible to mobilize Fukushima victims to pose critical questions about the role of the state in the decisions that provoked the nuclear disaster as well as to challenge subsequent state policies. Following existing scholarship on the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the literature on Japanese law and society, I draw on interviews with representatives of plaintiffs’ groups and first-hand documents they provided. I highlight the difficulties in the process of litigation, and emphasize that despite the low amounts of compensation, the Fukushima lawsuits are significant for contemporary Japan, as well as for other lawsuits over industrial and techno-scientific damage elsewhere. I show that these legal initiatives build on a legacy of collective lawsuits that have developed in Japan over the last 50 years. The next two sections introduce important points about the legal and political contexts.

01Plaintiffs meeting after a court meeting (at Osaka City Central Public Hall), 23 May 2019. Courtesy of Akiko Morimatsu


1. The Legal Context

For a long time, discussion in the English-language literature on litigations in Japan has focused on the relatively low rate of legal battles (in particular compared to the U.S.), and cultural or institutional barriers as the main possible causes for this. In a seminal essay, Japanese legal sociologist Kawashima Takeyoshi (1963) posited that rather than judicial decisions based on universal standards, Japanese people had a cultural preference for informal mechanisms of dispute resolution. Kawashima nevertheless expected that Japanese society would become more litigious as modernization progressed. The question of modernity aside, this prophecy proved true as the rate of litigation significantly increased, especially in the 1990s.

Previously, many Japanese academics had drawn on Kawashima’s culturalist argument, without attending to his view that litigation was likely to increase with modernization. The result was a legal version of the Nihonjinron thesis on the Japanese, i.e., an emphasis on culturally homogenous Japanese valuing consensus and harmony, hence a propensity to eschew litigation. This fantasy was broken by Frank Upham’s groundbreaking article on the four big pollution lawsuits (1976; see also Upham 1987, 2005), and John Haley’s essay, “The myth of the reluctant litigant” (1978), which analyzed statistics that included the evolution from late Meiji to the mid-1970s shifts in the number of judges, public procurators and private attorneys, as well as the percentage of successful applicants to the national law examination. Haley’s article has often been taken to show that access to Japanese courts was consciously restricted in a variety of ways, such as keeping the number of legal professionals low (see also Haley 1982, 1991).

However, this claim of low access to the judiciary is no longer relevant. Ginsburg and Hoetker (2006) have shown that, thanks to an expansion in the Japanese bar and more streamlined procedures for accessing the judiciary and launching a suit, from 1986 to 2001 civil litigation increased by approximately one third, although most of that increase was concentrated in urban prefectures, particularly Tokyo. Foote (2014: 174-180) further shows that several important reforms have improved the legal environment for those seeking redress. First, the amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure in 1996 and the Information Disclosure Act (enacted in 1999) have expanded civil access to government information, which is crucial for social movements. Second, the Justice System Reform Council, which was launched in 1999, initiated a reshuffle of the entire judiciary. The changes included greater flexibility and quicker procedures for cases involving many victims, as well as new provisions of legal assistance, and various efforts to increase both the size and quality of the legal profession.

As a result of these reforms, the number of judges and prosecutors increased from, respectively, 2,143 and 1,363 in 1999, to 2,774 and 1,976 in 2019, while the number of lawyers jumped from 16,731 to 41,118 (Nichibenren 2019). The number of lawyers did not reach the target of 50,000 by 2018, as announced in the final report that the Justice System Reform Council released in 2001 (Ginsburg and Hoetker: 38). But it is worth noting that in the meantime, the female to male ratio has more than doubled for lawyers (from 8.4 to 18.8%) and prosecutors (from 8.4 to 25%), with women making up 26.7% of all judges (ratio not given for 1999). These changes contrast sharply with the persistent glass ceilings that women continue to face in other professions.2

Consequently, if we follow Foote (2014: 180), we can assume that although the reforms remain incomplete, and they do not guarantee success in litigation, they have facilitated access to the judiciary and the work of Japanese “cause lawyers.”3 The following sections will explore the relevance of these developments to the civil actions launched by the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


2. The Political Context of Lawsuits

The independence of the Japanese judiciary has been the subject of a long and heated debate, especially when compared to its American counterpart (Haley 1998, Johnson 2002, Johnson 2002, Upham 2005, Ramseyer and Rasmusen 2003). A discussion of the topic goes beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, for the problem at issue here, the Fukushima litigations necessarily have political implications, even though they may not be explicitly stated in the lawsuits’ objectives. Unlike former Prime Ministers Kan Naoto and Koizumi Jun’ichirō, who have become staunch opponents of nuclear energy, Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has expressed a desire to restart as many nuclear power plants as possible. Regardless of what electricity generation will look like in the future, Japan will have to deal with the legacy of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. According to the government, it will take at least another thirty or forty years to repair the entire site (Keizai sangyōshō 2019), or up to 200 years according to other estimates (Perry 2015). Robots have been used to inspect the damaged reactors, but the extremely high radiation levels have rendered them useless for cleanup operations (McCurry 2017).

The 2020 Olympic Games—now postponed due to COVID-19—have been presented to the Fukushima region as an opportunity to restore national confidence and revive economic growth. The aura of positivism associated with the Olympic Games casts a modest veil over the tremendous tasks to be accomplished at Fukushima Daiichi for the next 40 years at the very least (Jobin 2019). Meanwhile, Fukushima Daiichi and its surroundings have become a huge storage area for radioactive waste. National government spokespersons understate the risk of irradiation in the Fukushima region and subsequent impacts on Japan’s food supply (Kimura 2016). A basic problem is that under the neoliberal premise of self-responsibility (jiko sekinin), the burden of recovery tends to be placed on the victims themselves or on the most vulnerable, who are forced to show their “resilience” (Scoccimaro 2016, Ribault 2019, Asanuma-Brice 2020, Polleri 2019, Topçu 2019, Kojima forthcoming).

A central issue in Fukushima civil actions is the displacement caused by the nuclear disaster and the persistent radiation background. According to state data, such as those published by the Japan Reconstruction Agency, the nuclear disaster itself caused the evacuation of about 164,000 people from the evacuation zones and adjacent areas, including mandatory and voluntary evacuation, before gradually decreasing to about 79,000 people (Xuan Bien Do 2019). At the end of March 2017, the government cut public aid to 27,000 people displaced by the disaster; although the government would like to pretend that everything is back to normal, only ten per cent of evacuees have returned to their abandoned homes, the majority of them being over 60 years old (Pataud-Célerier 2019).

On 11 March 2020, nine years after the nuclear disaster, the front page of the Asahi Shimbun deplored the lack of interest in the issue, even among the inhabitants of Fukushima themselves (Kikuchi 2020). In one photo showing rescue workers paying tribute to their colleagues who died in the 2011 earthquake, they are wearing masks, not to prevent radiation, but COVID-19.

Through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) launched by the state, victims can seek compensation for damages that Tepco does not recognize (Kojima 2017). The goal for Tepco and the state is to reduce the number of legal battles. But this system has not eliminated frustration. While the total number of plaintiffs is a tiny fraction of all whose lives have been disrupted by the disaster, their action is nevertheless a thorn in Abe’s side. The head of another plaintiffs’ group explains that the fear of being relegated to the ranks of “abandoned people” (kimin) has served as motivation to sue the state and Tepco (Maeda Akira, in Maeda et al. 2019: 63). One of our interviewees adds:

Prime Minister Abe and his government have sent many signals that his ultimate goal is to eliminate the number of official victims of the nuclear disaster before 2020. We are a burden and a stain on the landscape of the Olympics.”4

In the eyes of leaders of the citizen that initiated the criminal lawsuit, as well as for all of the plaintiffs involved in the collective civil actions, the September 2019 verdict was enormously unjust and influenced by the political context (Johnson et al. 2020). Many had hoped that punishment would send a strong signal to Abe’s pro-nuclear government. Accordingly, although there will likely be a protracted multi-year battle to the Supreme Court, the nationwide collective civil lawsuits can be understood as a means to secure redress and to halt the pace of nuclear restarts.


3. Plaintiffs’ Mobiles and Court Decisions

All of the plaintiffs for the collective civil actions seek compensation either from Tepco (4 cases), or from both Tepco and the state (27 cases), specifically for material damages, such as the loss of a home or business, and related consequences, such as psychological distress. Table 1 in Notes presents an overview of the cases.

As of 30 March 2020, thirteen judgments had been handed down. The judges found Tepco liable in twelve cases, while in eight cases, both Tepco and the state were found liable and ordered to pay compensation to the plaintiffs. There was only one case (Yamagata, 17 December 2019) in which the judges dismissed the claims against Tepco and the state. This was a blow to the nationwide movement. Yet, the battle goes on in appeal.

The time between filing complaints and reaching judgments is four to six years. Although this may seem long, it is approximately the national average for this kind of case. However, eighteen other cases are still pending at the district level. Despite the precarious condition of the people displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the courts do not accelerate the process. Furthermore, Tepco and the state have appealed all of the judgments against them. In light of precedent cases, such as the collective lawsuits for victims of the atomic bomb, the Minamata disease or asbestos, the Fukushima-related lawsuits will probably continue over several years, if not one or more decades.

There are two main categories of lawsuits: one focuses on the restoration of a safe—radiation-free—living environment in Fukushima; the other stresses the right to start a new life elsewhere, assuming that it will probably be decades until the danger of radiation is eliminated. In the first type of lawsuit, the plaintiffs have declared the goal of safe return to their lost land, as summed up in slogans such as “Give our previous lives back!” (moto no seikatsu o kaese; Table 1.3), “Give our source of work back, give our region back” (nariwai o kaese, chiiki o kaese, alternatively, “Back to normal!” genjō kaifuku, Table 1.4 and 1.9), “Living in Odaka!” (1.26) and “Give our hometown Tsushima back” (1.28). These cases have 6,489 plaintiffs, over half the total number of plaintiffs in the nationwide coalition. The remaining 5,920 plaintiffs in 26 cases launched by displaced people all over the country, from Hokkaidō to Kyūshū, claim financial support to seek refuge away from radiation (hinan no kenri), regardless of the government’s claims of safety.5

Despite these different perspectives—eliminating radiation in Fukushima or pursuing the right to live elsewhere—the collective civil actions share common goals. Attorney Kurozawa Tomohiro, head of the plaintiffs’ group in the Kanagawa lawsuit (Table 1.16 and Table 2.8), emphasizes three main motivations (Maeda et al. 2019: 7-24). The first is to prove Tepco and the state’s responsibility given the appalling lack of preventive measures against earthquake and tsunami, which were the causes of the nuclear disaster. Evidence for this argument, which was presented in the criminal lawsuit, has been central to several civil actions. The second goal is to challenge the compensation criteria set by the state and Tepco for the people displaced by the disaster. The third goal is to challenge the standards of radiation protection that the state has used thus far to define territories at risk. The last two goals are specific to the civil actions.

Relevant to compensation standards is the fact that all of the plaintiffs were driven from their homes by the disaster, a situation that identifies them as refugees (hinansha) under international standards. Although the plaintiffs include forced evacuees (kyōsei hinansha), the state has classified the majority as “voluntary evacuees” (jishu hinansha). The Japanese government distinguishes between those who lived in the evacuation zones, and those who lived outside the zones. The government classifies departures of house outside the evacuation zones as “voluntary,” as if their departures were a matter of personal convenience, regardless of the increased risk of radioactive exposure (Kojima 2017). Consequently, many people have been excluded from the compensation plan launched by Tepco and the state; only children, pregnant women and a few other exceptions have been eligible to apply for small amounts of compensation in the case of those who lived outside the evacuation zones. Furthermore, this compensation plan ended in March 2017, leaving many people in difficult economic straits. Judges continue to use the compensation plan’s standards as their point of reference (Table 2 in Notes).

Crucial in the debates are assessments of the consequences of “low doses” of radiation exposure. The Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model posits the lack of a safety threshold below 100 millisieverts (mSv) or even below 20 mSv; this model is now backed by a strong consensus in the international scientific community, as well as among experts in Japan. But turning these assessments into legal standards for public health is another story. Japanese official judgment remains that the policy target for the annual maximum exposure is 1 mSv. In practice, the post-311 Japanese state has used 20 mSv as the safety threshold for radiation exposure and disregarded evidence of the consequences of the higher threshold (Jobin 2013b, Shirai 2015, Hirakawa 2015, Kimura 2016, Ribault 2019). According to physician Sakiyama Hisako, who has testified in three lawsuits at the plaintiffs’ request (Chiba, Kyoto, Tokyo), the experts backing Tepco and the state cannot argue against the LNT’s conclusions, but they have nevertheless tried to mitigate the consequences of those conclusions, as if the risks between 1 and 20 mSv were negligible, effectively ignoring a large body of recent epidemiological surveys showing evidence to the contrary: that exposure to dosages between 1 and 20 mSv led to increased risk of cancer and DNA damage (Sakiyama in Maeda et al 2019: 41-56, see also Leuraut et al. 2015, Richardson et al. 2015). In addition to the civil actions, two collective administrative lawsuits have also been launched against the state, focusing on the problem of radiation standards (in Table 1, cases 31 and 32). By contesting the safety threshold of 20 mSv, these lawsuits all call into question the territorial zoning set in the wake of the disaster and thereafter gradually reduced, making fewer people eligible for compensation.


4. Small Compensation

Thus far, with the exception of a recent verdict in Yamagata (December 2019), the courts have ruled against Tepco in twelve cases, with the state being found liable in eight cases. For a social movement, this is an impressive result. However, when it comes to compensation, the disappointment runs deep. Let us look at some examples.

One of the first court decisions was handed down in February 2016, and it was not for a collective case, but involved a family that had left Koriyama City (Fukushima Prefecture). Although Koriyama is located outside the official evacuation zone, the court took into account the fact that its inhabitants were exposed to a level of background radiation exceeding official safety standards. Since the mother had been pregnant and the family already had a young child, they decided to move to Kyoto. The father, who was in his forties, had been running a restaurant in Koriyama, and tried to start a new business in Kyoto, but faced with difficulties, he fell into depression. He then sued Tepco for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the Kyoto District Court ordered the company to pay him 30 million yen (about US$269,000) in compensation.6 Although this amount is probably far from sufficient to compensate his loss, it was a relatively large settlement compared to the amounts granted in the collective cases (see Table 2). For instance, two years later, when the same Kyoto court ruled that Tepco and the state owed compensation to a group of 110 plaintiffs or 58 households, including 2 households of forced evacuees and 49 households of voluntary evacuees (Table 1.17, and Table 2.6), the amounts were considerably lower: 600,000 yen for children of voluntary evacuees, and 300,000 yen for the adults (respectively US$5,400 and US$2,690).

The first decision in a collective suit came in March 2017 from the Maebashi District Court (Kikuchi 2017; see Tables 1.12, 2.1). The plaintiffs included both forced and voluntary refugees, most of whom had left homes located less than 30 kilometers from Fukushima Daiichi (Soeda 2017: 101; and documents provided by Gensoren). This court was the first to recognize the responsibility of both the company and the state. After reviewing expert testimony and conducting on-site inspections, the judges ruled that Tepco and the state authorities had, as far back as 2002, been clearly aware of the risk that the nuclear reactors’ cooling system could be destroyed by a large tsunami. This was an important decision that has since set a crucial precedent (Soeda 2017: 110-118). Even so, the plaintiffs were dismayed by the low amounts of compensation set by the judges. The families who had fled from official evacuation zones were to receive up to a maximum of 5 million yen, about US$45,000, unless they had already received the baseline payment of 1.8 million yen from the state and Tepco’s compensation plan, in which case they would receive a premium of less than 3.2 million yen (about US$34,000). Obviously, these amounts were a small fraction of the damages people had suffered as a result of the loss of their home and livelihood.

A few months later, in September 2017, the Chiba District Court ordered Tepco to pay compensation in a similar range (Tables 1.7, 2.2). Moreover, the judges did not deem the state responsible. The third decision, in October 2017, was for the largest group of plaintiffs (nariwai o kaese, Tables 1.4, 2.3), and reaffirmed both Tepco and the state’s responsibility, but rejected the claims of one fourth of the plaintiffs and delivered insultingly low compensation premiums to the rest (between US$270 and 1,800). In March 2018, a Tokyo court delivered a relatively higher level of compensation for voluntary evacuees (Tables 1.5, 2.5), and this verdict was the only one to explicitly endorse the LNT model of radiation risk.

Even more than a strictly economic measure of the damage, the plaintiffs oppose a strictly economic measure of the value of their homeland. This is especially explicit in the testimonies of those involved in lawsuits with slogans such as “Give us back our hometown” (Nariwai o kaese… bengodan 2014). As Laura Centemeri (2015) explains, in many issues of environmental justice around the world, the environment is often perceived as such a constitutive part of a person and his/her community, that if it is affected by massive industrial pollution, compensation for “a loss of enjoyment” of the area does not mean much for the victim and his/her affected community. The loss resists general valuation because “things and persons are constituted as unique spatio-temporal particulars” (Centemeri 2015: 314).

In the Fukushima lawsuits, the plaintiffs express this sentiment as the “loss of homeland” (furusato no sōshitsu), i.e. the disappearance of one’s place in life, its common history and specific culture. As Yokemoto Masafumi, an expert summoned to the Iwaki branch of the Fukushima court, has pointed out, the “loss of homeland” is something unprecedented in the history of Japan (Soeda 2017: 119-122, see also Yokemoto 2016). The plaintiffs’ lawyers therefore advanced a broader understanding of the nuclear disaster’s consequences, which are difficult to convert into money. However, the amounts eventually set by the judges are so small, especially for those who lived outside the official high-risk zones, that they cannot provide any moral comfort (Maeda et al 2019: 13-19, 67-69). Moreover, Fassert and Hasegawa (2019: 115) observed: “gap in compensation payment, which is in reality the financial assistance for evacuation, has triggered jealousy, tension and division among the affected residents, leaving profound scars in the communities.”

In the large majority of these collective actions plaintiffs have sued both Tepco and the state. The latter carries special meaning. Research on the Japanese judiciary shows that judges constitute a portion of a state bureaucracy with strong discipline and esprit de corps, which enables them to maintain some distance from the government and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). They are nevertheless deeply influenced by the dominant political culture (Upham 2005: 454, cf. Haley 1998, Johnson 2002, Ramseyer and Rasmusen 2003). Based on these findings, we can posit that the decision to sue both Tepco and the state might have prevented the judges from setting higher levels of compensation. But as the lawyers have argued, the state had a fundamental responsibility in developing a nuclear program in a highly seismic country, so there was no question of not suing the state (Kawai 2012, and Att. Nakano Tomoki in Nariwai o kaese… bengodan 2014: 50-64).


5. The Criminal Suit: A Driving Force?

The collective lawsuits’ stance on this issue shares similarities with that of the criminal lawsuit. As Frank Upham has pointed out (1976), in collective lawsuits, such as industrial pollution litigation, plaintiffs and their lawyers cannot restrict themselves to a strict calculation of the value of material or human damage; they aspire to an ethical judgment that has political consequences, if only to prevent similar tragedies. In civil actions, the defendant’s fault must nevertheless be converted into money, which in some cases, have a tendency to attenuate the ethical dimensions of the charge (Jobin 2013a). Criminal lawsuits offer a means of counterbalancing such outcomes.

However, criminal lawsuits against those responsible for industrial disasters are extremely rare, not only in Japan, but worldwide. The most spectacular case was in Italy, with a lawsuit involving more than six thousand plaintiffs against the two presidents of the asbestos company Eternit; after convictions from the district and appeal courts of Turin, the case was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome (Marichalar 2019). In France, similar proceedings initiated by asbestos victims have been dragging on for years. In Japan, the 1988 conviction of two Chisso company executives for their responsibility in the 1960s Minamata disease epidemic was, for the victims, too little, too late (Togashi 1995, Jobin 2014).

In this national and global context, the criminal lawsuit backed by over a group of 15,000 Fukushima residents, usually known as Gensodan,7 is exceptional. The core members behind the lawsuit’s early momentum are a team of fifty citizens who, since the mid-1980s, have been fighting against the conspicuous presence of nuclear power plants in Fukushima. When the nuclear disaster occurred in March 2011, they were planning a protest against the ten-year extension of Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear reactor.8

The criminal lawsuit has been, legally speaking, far more demanding than a civil action, so it is not surprising that it took more than five years before the first hearing was set in July 2017 (Johnson et al 2020). However, for the Gensodan, the slowness of the criminal proceedings and the many obstacles throughout the entire process are the product of obvious political influence. Not only was the case abruptly transferred from the jurisdiction of Fukushima to Tokyo, but also, once the hearings began, the judges exhibited a hostile attitude toward the plaintiffs who attended the hearings:

The controls were stricter than those for the trial of Aum Shinrikyo, as if we were potential terrorists! Inside the court, although there were 90 seats, only twenty of us could enter the court, by drawing lots. The other seats were supposed to serve for the defendants and the media, but most of them were left empty. […] You know, during court hearings, it’s sometimes natural to react, isn’t it? For example, when we heard the shocking revelations of earthquake expert Shimazaki Kunihiko, some of us couldn’t help but murmur in surprise.9 Yet it was almost like a whisper, it was not loud at all. But the judge overreacted, threatening to clear the room!”10

Japan’s prosecution rate is relatively low. On the other hand, according to Johnson (2002: 216-218), when it comes to verdicts, the conviction rate is so high that the average Japanese prosecutor sees an acquittal only once every 13 years. The acquittal in September 2019 was therefore extremely unusual. Moreover, the judges’ convictions closely resembled those of the ruling LDP and Abe cabinet.

For the Gensodan, another development that signaled the judges’ probable bias was the case of former Tepco employee Yamashita Kazuhiko, who was responsible for taking measures to prevent extensive damages from a tsunami. In a statement read during a court hearing, Yamashita said that in 2008, the three Tepco executives had been informed of the risk of a wave up to 15.7 meters, slightly above the 15.5-meter wave that hit the reactors in March 2011 (Osumi 2019). But in July 2008, although they had initially approved safety measures to handle the risk, the executives put the blueprint aside out of fear that it would provoke local antinuclear protest.

This was such decisive testimony that the Gensodan had expected Yamashita to be at the top of the list of 21 potential subpoena witnesses. But Yamashita was never called to testify. According to the Gensodan, the judges had probably ruled out his participation for fear that he would reiterate his criticisms against the government in the case against Tepco’s top executives. Yamashita had, after all, publicly challenged Prime Minister Abe’s declaration in September 2013, when the latter had sought to reassure the Olympic Committee that the situation at Fukushima Daiichi was “under control.”11

Johnson et al. (2020) posit that, given the recent history of criminal proceedings in Japan, it is highly unlikely that this judgment will be overturned by appeal. However, as the authors also point out, and as the lawyers’ testimonies in the civil actions tend to show (e.g. Maeda et al. 2019), the hearings conducted at the criminal court of Tokyo have brought important evidence to light, which have proved useful in the collective civil lawsuits. The criminal lawsuit can thus be understood as a driving force behind the collective civil actions. However, the collective lawsuits should not be misunderstood as simply relying on the criminal lawsuit; on the contrary, these suits advance one of the key initial goals: suing the state.12

Although targeting the state entails many difficulties, the plaintiffs and lawyers in most of the collective civil actions clearly thought it worth the effort.13 In the criminal case, the initial goal was to prosecute twenty state and Tepco executives, but the prosecutors eventually reduced the number of defendants to three top executives from Tepco. Gensodan members were frustrated by this development. They nevertheless proceeded because the three executives were not subordinate scapegoats, but key actors, such as former chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa, familiarly nicknamed “the emperor” (“Katsumata Ten’nō”) among his staff.14 At the same time, the fundamental question of the state’s responsibility for the nuclear disaster was excluded from the court proceedings. With the absence of state defendants in the criminal court, the collective civil lawsuits have therefore brought critical questions about the role of the state before and after the nuclear disaster back into focus.

02Plaintiffs on the way to Osaka Court, 30 July 2015. Courtesy of Akiko Morimatsu


6. Collective Lawsuits: A Legacy of Movements

It has often been pointed out that, compared to the United States, legal recourse is not widely pursued in Japan. There is, however, much evidence to the contrary. Before the Fukushima lawsuits, a large number of collective lawsuits was launched by victims of industrial pollution (kōgai soshō).

To name just a few, social movements against industrial pollution date back to the Meiji period, with the most famous case being the Ashio copper mine (Walker 2010, Stolz 2014, Pitteloud 2019). But it was only after World War II that anti-pollution movements really began to take a more systematic judicial approach, most famously in the seminal “big four” trials (yondai kōgaibyō saiban) for the Minamata disease in Kyushu and Niigata, the itai itai cadmium poisoning in Toyama, and the Yokkaichi asthma. These lawsuits ran from 1967 to 1973 (e.g. Upham 1987, Togashi 1995, George 2001, Jobin 2006, Shimabayashi 2010, Nichibenren 2010).

Thereafter, from the mid-1970s through the 1990s, the Japanese Communist Party launched several lawsuits for victims of air pollution near industrial zones such as Kawasaki or Kitakyushu; these suits involved large groups of plaintiffs, up to seven hundred (e.g. Nichibenren 2010, Jobin 2006). Furthermore, since the mid-2000s, numerous environmental and occupational lawsuits have been launched by victims of asbestos use (Nichibenren 2010, Awaji et al 2012, Mori et al 2012, Jobin 2013a), victims of karōshi or death by overwork (North 2014), and patients of Hansen’s disease and hepatitis C (Arrington 2016). Around the same time, atomic bomb survivors also launched lawsuits against the state (Hasegawa 2010, Genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2011, Tōkyō genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2012).

These cases form an extensive repertoire of collective action (Tilly 2006), which is unfortunately, almost unknown in the mainstream literature in English on social movements.15 While books written by lawyers tend to emphasize the positive results achieved through these struggles (e.g. Nichibenren 2010, Shimabayashi 2010), other works have highlighted the tensions that occasionally arose between lawyers and activists, unions and environmental groups, etc. (Upham 1987, George 2001, Jobin 2006). As a whole, the literature on this history provides a rich catalog of legal and organizational tactics, which can be mobilized in all sorts of collective lawsuits (for a manual, e.g. Koga 2009).

Japan’s collective civil actions (dantai soshō) fill the same basic function as American class actions in mass tort cases: to provide redress for victims of harm. However, the motivations of lawyers who bring these suits often differ. American lawyers who represent plaintiffs in mass tort cases can be rewarded with huge attorneys’ fees when they are successful. In the U.S., financial incentives for lawyers explain, for instance, the hundreds of thousands of asbestos litigations; as highlighted by Jasanoff and Perese (2003), this business-oriented use of law and the judiciary blocks or delays legislation change and public policy reform. The upside of such legal culture, however, is that it can generally deliver much higher compensation to the victims.

In contrast, as indicated in the Fukushima civil actions, compensation awards granted by Japanese courts tend to be small; accordingly, fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys are also small. As noted by Steinhoff (2014: 4), “the Japanese Civil Code does not allow for punitive damages, and there are no juries to make unpredictable awards, so lawyers do not undertake civil lawsuits on a contingency fee basis in hopes of winning big settlements.” Foote (2014: 173) further argues that in Japan, despite pro bono “cause lawyers” and a large network of supporters to help defray the costs of legal battles, these costs, together with the lack of a class action mechanism, constitute a significant barrier to accessing the court. The advantage of this situation is that such hurdles compel social movements to seek changes through legislation and public policy even more vigorously.

Since compensation in Japan is generally low, lawyers are often motivated by more political factors from the outset, particularly by their links with the political left (Upham 1987, George 2001, Jobin 2006, Steinhoff et al. 2014). Many lawyers are members (or closely associated with) the Japanese Communist Party (Nihon kyōsantō) or of the legacies of the Socialist Party, such as the Social Democratic Party and the former left wing of the Democratic Party (Minshutō), later renamed the Constitutional Democratic Party (Rikken minshutō). Currently, in the Diet, these are all minority parties facing the impregnable fortress of the Liberal Democratic Party, but socially and in the media landscape, they are active and influential.

An important factor to take into account is the lengthy wait time for rulings to be handed down. The larger the number of lawsuits, the longer the wait period, which seems to grow longer with each litigation, as well as effects of the movement overall: when a battle ends, another one starts. The case of the Minamata disease lawsuits is particularly striking. Including the first cases filed in the 1960s, there have been some thirty collective action suits, not only against the polluting companies Chisso (in Kyushu) and Showa Denko (in Niigata), but also against the state; these cases were mainly initiated by the tens of thousands of people left out of the compensation system (Togashi 1995, Jobin 2014). In March 2011, shortly after the disaster in Fukushima, several courts were still issuing decisions on collective cases about Minamata disease. As a whole, these thirty or so Minamata lawsuits have been in the courts for over fifty years.

There was an equivalent number of lawsuits within ten years of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. We might therefore wonder if, compared to cases in previous decades, Fukushima reflects a more frequent and systematic recourse to the judiciary, as well as what contributed to this change. Does it mean a ‘legal turn’ generated by the antinuclear movement? I posit that the faster launch of Fukushima lawsuits builds on a legacy of lawsuits conceived as social movements, driven by a nationwide network of activists and lawyers. Furthermore, although antinuclear sentiment is an important component, this movement cannot be attributed to that alone, as its ideological scope is much larger.

In Fukushima, despite the increase of thyroid diseases, lawsuits seeking medical compensation have yet to appear. Even so, the ongoing civil actions exhibit similarities with the collective actions that developed around, among others, the legal battles fought by atomic bomb victims. Beginning in Nagoya in March 2003, and taking cues from numerous individual suits, a total of twenty-two collective lawsuits were filed against the government, contesting its narrow certification criteria for symptoms of atomic illness. Most courts ruled in favor of the victims, and the supporting evidence was published after March 2011, anticipating the legal needs of victims from Fukushima (Hasegawa 2010, Genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2011, Tōkyō genbaku-shō nintei shūdan 2012).

Furthermore, since the late 1970s, small unions, labor activists and nuclear watchdog groups (such as the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center) have launched two dozen lawsuits and engaged in administrative battles over leukemia and other serious illnesses contracted by nuclear plant workers (Jobin 2011, 2013bc, Iida 2016). Shortly after 11 March 2011, these groups urged Tepco and the government to provide proper protection equipment for cleanup workers at Fukushima Daiichi and across the region. Since 2016, they have supported a former cleanup worker who sued Tepco after working at Fukushima Daiichi and being diagnosed with leukemia. The worker’s accumulated radiation exposure was 19.78 mSv, slightly below the maximum annual legal amount of 20 mSv, but high enough to apply for compensation for occupational cancer (Jobin 2019). His lawsuit has gone through 15 hearings thus far; given the controversy over the risks of exposure to radiation doses below 20 msv, the outcome has important significance for the collective lawsuits launched by Fukushima evacuees.16

Another resource for the Fukushima lawsuits is the numerous litigations that antinuclear activists have launched in a bid to prevent or shut down nuclear power plants. These battles also began in the late 1970s. Since then, attorney Yuichi Kaido (2011), a leader of that movement, has counted a total of sixteen administrative and civil actions across the country as among the most important in furthering the movement’s goals. Unfortunately, before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the plaintiffs lost all of their cases in the district courts, and the ten cases that had reached the Supreme Court were also all dismissed. There were only two temporary victories in the high court: one over reactor number 2 at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant in Ishikawa Prefecture, and the other over the sodium-cooled fast reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture, which resulted in a technical failure at a total cost of one trillion yen. Given that the risk of earthquakes and tsunami had been central issues in these lawsuits, Kaido (2011) argues that the Japanese judiciary, and the Supreme Court in particular, holds an important share of responsibility in not preventing the Fukushima nuclear disaster (see also Isomura and Yamaguchi 2016).

In comparison, the lawsuits that were launched after March 2011 opposing the government’s plans to re-start the nuclear plants have met with greater success. As early as July 2011, a group of 170 lawyers, under the leadership of veteran lawyers such as Kaido and Hiroyuki Kawai, gathered together to prepare legal requests for “provisional measures to suspend operation” (unten sashitome karishobun). With the exception of four nuclear power plants (Higashidōri, Onagawa, Fukushima Daiichi and Daini, this ambitious initiative accounted for nuclear reactors all over the country. Although a court ruling to suspend operation has no coercive power on the electricity companies operating the plants, it nevertheless sends them a warning that is amplified in the media. A good example was the decision, in April 2015, of the Fukui District Court against the re-start of the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant’s number three and four reactors. (Kawai 2015)

Last but not least, lawyers, activists and victim groups invested in the legacy of industrial pollution lawsuits have, since the Minamata disease cases, sent messages of solidarity to the victims of Fukushima, as well as a willingness to share their decades of experience struggling against the state and polluting industries (Genbaku-shō nintei soshō Kumamoto bengodan 2011, 2012).

All of these legal battles have developed a culture that legitimizes the lawsuit as a social movement (soshō undō). Such movements usually begin with local initiatives, before eventually converging into one or two nationwide alliances. This social movement of Fukushima lawsuits clearly involves a political dimension, but it does not necessarily mean a partisan fight. In the past, these alliances frequently divided between the socialists and communists (such as the Gensuikin and Gensuikyō in the case of the anti-nuclear movements and the hibakusha). Although tensions remain between the remaining networks and their associates in the Diet, the disappearance of the Japan Socialist Party in the mid-1990s gradually overcame this divide. Accordingly, the thirty ongoing collective civil actions have launched a national coalition, Gensoren,17 which links to the JCP, as well as the Reiwa Shinsengumi, founded by former councilor Yamamoto Tarō. Gensoren also maintains regular contact with Gensodan, the group that initiated the criminal lawsuit, and which has greater political affinity with the successors of the former socialist party.18


7. Conclusion

The civil actions launched by the victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster draw on a long and varied line of collective actions. First among these are the lawsuits opposing the extension or re-activation of nuclear reactors after 2011. In addition to expected antinuclear lawsuits, Japan has also benefitted from a movement to recognize the health hazards suffered by nuclear plant workers across the country. Likewise, the collective lawsuits to challenge the state’s narrow criteria for atomic bomb symptoms have served as another source of mobilization. To this catalogue of lawsuits over nuclear energy and the effects of radiation, the movements were fueled by a long list of collective lawsuits launched by victims of industrial pollution, particularly those of the Minamata disease.

Moreover, the civil actions launched after March 2011 developed a network of solidarity with citizen initiatives for a criminal lawsuit against the state and Tepco executives. Although there was similar prosecution of the individuals responsible for Minamata disease in the 1980s, and although the verdict did condemn two Chisso executives, for the victims it was too little, too late. But in the case of the Fukushima lawsuits, despite the acquittal, the criminal lawsuit initiated a dynamic that continues to fuel the nationwide movement of collective civil actions. In turn, the citizens’ group behind the criminal lawsuit reinforces the civil actions. This is because, beyond the issue of compensation inherent in civil actions, the majority of these lawsuits have chosen to sue not only Tepco, but also the state.

The low amounts of compensation set by the judges thus far constitute a major obstacle to recognition of the state’s responsibility for the Fukushima disaster. In particular, it is puzzling that an individual family can receive an amount of compensation much higher than that for collective lawsuits. Further research is needed to compare the levels of compensation set for the collective suits and the individual cases.

This essay has offered an evaluation of the significance of collective lawsuits in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with a focus on civil actions. The plaintiffs’ claims could be further evaluated in light of more detailed analyses of the networks of lawyers, activists, political parties, unions, and citizen groups in other lawsuits. To better assess the evolution of this lawsuit-driven movement, it would be helpful to have a close analysis of the motivations at work among the plaintiffs; for example, to what extent do the low levels of compensation affect the plaintiffs’ assessment of the suits and their movement?

Another important issue for further research deals with the socio-political impact of these lawsuits. In Law and Social Change in Postwar Japan (1987), Frank Upham described the Japanese model of law and litigation as judge-centered and governed by what he called “bureaucratic informalism,” i.e., a coalition involving the bureaucracy, the Liberal Democratic Party, and big business.19 As Upham argued, in spite of that stable coalition of conservative elites, grassroots collective litigations like the 1970s “Big Four” anti-pollution lawsuits, have been important factors behind social change in Japan. Three decades after Upham’s assessment, a long economic recession and a nuclear disaster have not destroyed the coalition between the LDP and the bureaucracy. It remains to be seen whether the cataclysmic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economy and society will shake that coalition, or will stimulate social movements in new ways.

As Cleveland (2014: 516 et seq.) noted, in the aftermath of 3.11, “for a moment, it seemed that Japanese politics was in the midst of fundamental social change, with a flowering of activism and civil society engagement.” On 15 March 2011, through their courageous decision to stand against top Tepco executives, the nuclear bureaucracy, and LDP politicians, Prime Minister Kan Naoto and Fukushima Daiichi plant manager Yoshida Masao saved Japan from a complete loss of control that might have otherwise led to a nationwide disaster. With thousands of workers on the front, they saved Japan from a Godzilla-like scenario. Soon after however, voters rejected Kan and the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to reinstall the LDP. Ironically, it was the LDP that had promoted Japan’s nuclear power program since the 1960s, but it was the DPJ that paid for their mistakes. Since its creation in 1955, the LDP has always ruled the Diet and the government, except for very brief periods such as the socialist coalition of 1994-1996 and the DPJ cabinets of 2010-2012. In that same timeframe, the LDP’s main opponent, the Japan Socialist Party, and thereafter the Democratic Party of Japan, have disappeared, while their legacy, the Constitutional Democratic Party, is a mere shadow of the past opposition party. In other words, the LDP is one of the most stable government parties in postwar liberal democracies, and it owes much of that stability to its alliance with the bureaucracy and big business.

The flip side of that political stability has been stagnation for several legal issues such as the persistence of the death penalty and the “substitute prison” system (daiyō kangoku).20 Moreover, over the last thirty years, the political hegemony of the LDP has been conducive to a right-wing turn on several social issues, such as amnesia over wartime crimes and the increasing virulence of xenophobic groups (Kingston 2016, Nakano 2016, Postel-Vinay 2017, Gaku et al 2017). Besides, despite superficial political slogans, gender equity has made little progress, with the remarkable exception of legal professions. This aspect would be worth further attention in future research on Fukushima lawsuits and other social movements engaged in legal battles.

Although the Fukushima lawsuits have not fundamentally challenged the LDP’s thus far unchallengeable position, the nation-wide movement of legal battles launched by the victims of the Fukushima disaster has blocked the government’s ability to re-start its nuclear reactors. As emphasized by Steinhoff et al (2014), and as can be observed in the Fukushima criminal case, a defeat in the courts does not necessarily mean a defeat for the social movement as a whole. At the very least, a collective lawsuit may contribute to publicizing the cause, and it often energizes supporters. The contrary may also be true: a victory in court is no guarantee that the movement will achieve its goals or that it will contribute to policy reform and social change. Further research on the civil actions should pay careful attention to both aspects, and more generally speaking, to the diversity of scenarios and paths.

Moreover, the ninth anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has been marked by another emergency: the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of which will impinge heavily on all the issues discussed here. The beginnings of criticism that have already arisen from civil society against Abe’s government for its lack of appropriate response invites comparison with the opposition stirred by the movement growing out of Fukushima (Asanuma-Brice 2020).21 As the virus spreads throughout Japan, its social and political impact may impinge directly on all the movements and forces discussed here, in ways that we cannot yet gauge.



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This article benefitted from an invitation and a research grant from the French Research Institute on Japan at Maison Franco-Japonaise, Tokyo. Acknowledgments are due to Rémi Scoccimarro and Anne Gonon, Kojima Rina, the plaintiffs and other informants who agreed to be interviewed, and the participants in the seminar held at Maison Franco-Japonaise, Tokyo, 16 November 2019, for stimulating remarks on an early draft. Thanks are due to the two reviewers for their precious input, and to Joelle Tapas and Mark Selden who kindly edited this article.


Despite very high scores for health and education, the numbers of Japanese women in politics and among executive managers in business remain very low. When the World Economic Forum published its first Global Gender Gap Report in 2006, Japan ranked 79th out of 115 countries, a rather disappointing performance for the world’s second largest economy at the time. In the latest report in 2020, not only has Japan not improved, but it also remains in the bottom forty at 121st out of 153 countries (in the meantime, South Korea has bypassed Japan).


The notion of “cause lawyer” refers to the work of Austin Sarat and Stuart Scheingold (e.g. Sarat and Scheinghold 2006).


Interview with Morimatsu Akiko, head of the plaintiffs’ group for the lawsuit launched in Osaka (Table 1.16), 14 November 2019, Osaka.




Jishu hinan: Tōden ni hajimete no baishō meirei” (Voluntary evacuees: First ruling orders compensation from Tepco), Mainichi Shimbun, 18 February 2016.


Gensodan 原訴団 stands for Fukushima genpatsu kokuso dan 福島原発告訴団.


Yamaguchi and Muto 2012, and my interview with Muto Ruiko, head of Gensodan, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


A professor at Tokyo University, who has served as the president of the Seismological Society of Japan, Shimahashi explained to the judges that there had been a complete lack of response from Tepco and the government when in 2002, the highest committee of earthquake experts sent a clear warning about the high risk of seismic and tsunami activity at Fukushima Daiichi. During the court hearings, Shimahashi expressed remorse for not having pursued the issue. These hearings were conducted on 9 and 25 May 2018. Recording was not allowed, but for a transcription of hand-written notes, see Gensodan’s website here.


Interview with Muto Ruiko, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.




Separate interviews with representatives of Gensoren and Gensodan, Tokyo, November 2019.


Interview with Kamoshita Yuya, head of the plaintiffs’ group of the Tokyo lawsuit (Table 1.5), Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


Interview with Muto Ruiko, Tokyo, 12 November 2019.


Japan is rarely discussed in the mainstream, English-language literature on social movements such as the Political Opportunity Structure and Resource Mobilization theories by leading authors such as Charles Tilly, Sidney Tarrow and Doug McAdam. For an application of these theories to the Japanese context, see Arrington 2016.


Interview with Iida Katsuyasu, Tokyo, 13 November 2019.


Nuclear Plant Victims Litigation Plaintiffs National Liaison Committee (also known as Gensoren, from the abbreviation of its Japanese name: Genpatsu higaisha soshō genkokudan zenkoku renrakukai原発被害者訴訟原告団全国連絡会). The liaison office is based in Tokyo. The current president is Kamoshita Yuya, who is also the head of the plaintiffs’ group for the main Tokyo lawsuit (Table 1.5). Source here.


Separate interviews with representatives of Gensoren and Gensodan, Tokyo, November 2019.


As Upham (1987: 17) described it: “Central to that model is the elite attempt to retain some measure of control over the processes of social conflict and change. The vehicle for that control is a skilled bureaucracy, itself one branch of Japan’s tripartite elite coalition, which has a long history of active intervention in Japanese society. But social control, even the indirect control favored by the Japanese government since the Tokugawa Period, is extremely difficult in democratic societies. Japan enjoys not only representative government but also a high degree of social and economic mobility, a vigorous and irreverent press, and an independent and respected judiciary and private bar.”


Prior to indictment, Japanese police routinely ask criminal judges to keep suspects in substitute detention (daiyo kangoku), and judges rarely refuse. This practice allows Japanese police to detain suspects in police cells for up to 23 days (sometimes over months). It is supposed to facilitate investigations. But the frequent result is a forced signed confession, which the judges use to accelerate indictment. The United Nations Human Rights Committee and the UN’s Committee on Torture have argued that extended detention enables abusive interrogation methods. Critics denounced the practice as pre-trial punishment that partly explains why the indictment rate is so high in Japan. (Croydon 2016, see also Johnson 2002, Neil 2008, Repeta 2009)


On April 12, young workers protested in Tokyo against the lack of appropriate labor measures from the government. 要請するなら補償しろ!デモ in 渋谷 – 2020.4.12.







Sources: Unless otherwise mentioned, this synthesis is mainly based on printed documents provided by Gensoren (Tokyo, 12 November 2019). Additional information was collected from several news sites, and Gensoren; The Japan Bar Association (日本弁護士連合会), Lawyers’ White Book (弁護士白書) 2019, p.141; The Kyoto Lawsuit Plaintiffs Group, Overview of the Nationwide Lawsuits [Seeking] Compensation for the Nuclear Power Plant [Disaster] (全国原発賠償訴訟一覧), 2018; Niigata Lawyers’ Group 新潟県弁護団, 2013; Friends Of the Earth, Japan, Minamisoma 20 mSv, November 2019; Children Away from Radiation Exposure 子ども脱被ばく裁判のブログ.




Source: Printed documents provided by Gensōren, Tokyo, 12 November 2019; Maeda et al 2019: 8-10, 69.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Daiichi contaminated exhaust stack disassembled


Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Contaminated Exhaust Chimney Disassembled

April 30, 2020

The disassembly work on the radioactively contaminated exhaust chimney of the Fukushima nuclear power plant is finally complete after 9 months of work. But the complete decontamination of the plant is expected to take decades.


Contaminated exhaust stack at Fukushima plant finally cut in half

jlkklmùmA contaminated exhaust stack at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, is dismantled on April 29.


April 30, 2020

OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–Work to dismantle the upper half of an exhaust stack at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant finished on April 29, the first time a structure highly contaminated by radiation was dismantled at the plant.

The chimney, which is 120 meters tall and about 3 meters in diameter, was used for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

On the morning of April 29, workers spent an hour to lower sliced parts of the stack to the ground from a height of about 60 meters. With its upper half removed, the chimney now stands 59 meters high.

I think there are still many things left that local companies can do,” said Isamu Okai, 52, a board member of local construction company Able Co., which carried out the work. “We want to continue our involvement in the decommissioning of the plant by making use of the expertise we gained from the dismantling work.”

When the nuclear disaster occurred at the plant in March 2011, vapor containing highly radioactive substances was released through the stack. But it raised concerns that the unstable chimney could collapse.

During the dismantling project, which started in August, workers remotely operated cutting equipment hoisted by a huge crane to reduce their exposure to radiation. They carried out the operation at a remote control room set up in a large remodeled bus on a hill about 200 meters from the site.

They faced many problems during the project. Rotary blades attached to the equipment wore out faster than expected, and telecommunications between the equipment and the control room frequently disconnected. The work had to be suspended every time a problem occurred.

As a result, it took a month to slice the uppermost part of the stack, which is about 2 meters high and weighs around 4 tons. That work was initially planned to be completed in a day.

In December, the rotary blades stopped working, forcing workers to be lifted on a gondola to slice the stack with an electric power tool at about 110 meters above the ground.

The work, however, went smoothly from the middle stage of the project. Workers replaced the blades with more durable ones and improved the way they sliced the stack as well as the stability of telecommunications.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Chairman of Tepco, owner of Fukushima nuclear plant, to resign

gglkklmlFuture of utility uncertain as Takashi Kawamura, 80, steps aside

Takashi Kawamura, the chairman of Tepco has held the post since 2017. However, he has expressed his intention to step down, partly due to age.


April 28, 2020

TOKYO — The chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings will resign, Nikkei learned on Tuesday.

Takashi Kawamura, 80, has held the post since 2017. However, he has expressed his intention to step down partly due to age. Indications at this point are that a successor will not immediately be named.

The Japanese government has asked a number of industry leaders to assume the post, but no one has so far accepted. Without a chairman, the outlook for the company in the continuing aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident appears challenging.

Tepco will soon hold a board of directors’ meeting and officially approve Kawamura’s resignation. A new management arrangement will start in June.

Kawamura also held the position of chairman of the board. Shoei Utsuda, ex-chairman of Mitsui & Co., and unaffiliated director at Tepco, will take over that post.

Kawamura succeeded Fumio Sudo, former president of JFE Holdings. Before assuming Tepco’s chairmanship, Kawamura worked for Hitachi for most of his career, contributing to the industrial conglomerate’s recovery as president following the 2008 financial crisis. At Tepco, Kawamura worked to raise employees’ awareness of the company’s difficulties in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown.

The chairman plays an important role in overseeing Tepco, especially because the power company has effectively been under government supervision since the nuclear disaster. With the chairmanship vacant, it is uncertain how much control the company will be able to exercise over its own governance.


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Fukushima Daiichi buildings pose safety risks



April 27, 2020

Tokyo Electric Power Company plans to draw up safety measures for workers after finding that some of the buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are in bad condition due to the 2011 accident.

TEPCO on Monday reported to the Nuclear Regulation Authority the results of its survey of about 580 buildings in the compound.

The company says the condition of around 10 buildings, including the one that houses the No.4 reactor, have deteriorated due to the tsunami that triggered the accident and subsequent hydrogen explosions.

The NRA argues that the walls or other structures of these buildings could collapse in the event of an earthquake and injure people engaged in decommissioning work.

TEPCO says it will announce by the end of May how and when it will address the problem.

The utility also says it has inspected 340,000 pieces of equipment at the plant, and found that 36,000 of them lack devices that prevent leaks of radioactive materials as well as leak detectors.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

GE Avoids Japanese Plaintiffs’ Suit Over Fukushima Damages

db0ip7zd23b50.cloudfront.netGeneral Electric Co. logos are displayed on the outside of enclosed jet engine test tunnels at the GE Aviation Test Operations facility in Peebles, Ohio, on April 14, 2015.


April 24, 2020

General Electric Co. won’t have to face Japanese plaintiffs’ suit stemming from the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the First Circuit said in affirming dismissal Friday.

A district court in Massachusetts properly found the plaintiffs have an adequate alternative forum in Japan, even though GE can’t be sued there because of a Japanese law that makes plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. solely liable, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit said.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , | Leave a comment

Torture would await Assange in the US prison system

From the frying pan into the fire. The torture that awaits Julian Assange in the US.   
Tom Coburg
 10th May 2020    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is currently held in Belmarsh prison awaiting hearings that could see him extradited to the US to face prosecution for alleged espionage-related offences.

Award-winning US journalist Chris Hedges described the torture that would await Assange in the US prison system, adding “they will attempt to psychologically destroy him”. If extradited, Assange would likely be detained in accordance with ‘Special Administrative Measures’ (SAMs). One report equates this to a regime of sensory deprivation and social isolation that may amount to torture.

Journalists speak out

US journalist Chris Hedges spoke about the treatment Assange is likely to receive in the US. He argues that the US authorities will “psychologically destroy him” and that conditions imposed could see him turned into a ‘zombie’ to face life without parole:

Australian journalist John Pilger agrees:

If Julian is extradited to the US, a darkness awaits him. He’ll be subjected to a prison regime called special administrative measures… He will be placed in a cage in the bowels of a supermax prison, a hellhole. He will be cut off from all contact with the rest of humanity.

From the frying pan…

Assange is already in a precarious position, alongside all other UK prisoners. Belmarsh is a high-security Category A facility and, as with all other prisons in the UK, inmates there are at risk to infection from coronavirus (Covid-19).

On 28 April, the BBC reported that there were “1,783 “possible/probable” cases of coronavirus – on top of 304 confirmed infections across jails in England and Wales”. Also that there were “75 different “custodial institutions”, with 35 inmates treated in hospital and 15 deaths”.

Vaughan Smith, who stood bail for Assange, reported that the virus was “ripping through” Belmarsh:

We know of two Covid-19 deaths in Belmarsh so far, though the Department of Justice have admitted to only one death. Julian told me that there have been more and that the virus is ripping through the prison.

Assange has a known chronic lung condition, which could lead to death should he become infected with coronavirus. Assange’s lawyers requested he is released on bail to avoid succumbing to the virus, but that request was rejected.

As for the psychological effects of segregation, a European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment report argued that it can “can have an extremely damaging effect on the mental, somatic and social health of those concerned”.

…and into the fire

It’s likely that Assange will be placed under SAMs if he is extradited to the US. The Darkest Corner, a report authored by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic and The Center for Constitutional Rights, describes how SAMs work.

In its summary, the report explains that:

SAMs are the darkest corner of the U.S. federal prison system, combining the brutality and isolation of maximum security units with additional restrictions that deny individuals almost any connection to the human world. Those restrictions include gag orders on prisoners, their family members, and their attorneys, effectively shielding this extreme use of government power from public view.

It continues:

SAMs deny prisoners the narrow avenues of indirect communication – through sink drains or air vents – available to prisoners in solitary confinement. They prohibit social contact with anyone except for a few immediate family members, and heavily regulate even those contacts. And they further prohibit prisoners from connecting to the social world via current media and news, limiting prisoners’ access to information to outdated, government-approved materials. Even a prisoner’s communications with his lawyer – which are supposed to be protected by attorney-client privilege – can be subject to monitoring by the FBI.

It ominously adds that: “Many prisoners remain under these conditions indefinitely, for years or in some cases even decades”. Moreover, these conditions can be used as a weapon to force a prisoner to plead guilty:

In numerous cases, the Attorney General recommends lifting SAMs after the defendant pleads guilty. This practice erodes defendants’ presumption of innocence and serves as a tool to coerce them into cooperating with the government and pleading guilty.

The report provides further details on how SAMs incorporate sensory deprivation and social isolation measures that “may amount to torture”. Also, it argues that the SAMs regime contravenes both US and international laws.

ECHR article 3

Should the UK courts agree to extradite Assange, he could face months, if not decades, of psychological torture. However, Article 3 of the European Court of Human Rights states clearly: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Under that article, the US extradition request should be rejected by the UK courts.

For a publisher to be subjected to such a nightmare scenario would be intolerable.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | civil liberties, Legal, politics international, UK, USA | Leave a comment

How much radioactive waste is stored on our planet?

The black boxes of nuclear waste strategy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: #882  19/12/2019 Christiana Mauro

How much radioactive waste is stored on our planet? According to the world’s first nuclear waste report, we don’t really know. We do know that nearly seven decades of civil and military reactor programmes have led to large stockpiles of waste, and that its volume is growing; we also know that our ignorance is vast, and there appears to be no responsible solution to the problem.

The systems delivering management strategies vary tremendously from one country to another, as do the range of authorities responsible for their management; so establishing volumes, risks and costs is no small task. When we add to this complexity national variations in both terminology and conceptual frameworks, a cross-country comparison becomes a Gordian knot. States don’t just differ in their classification systems ‒ they also follow different regulatory and safety procedures; the same applies to funding schemes, accounting measures, inventory reports and liability strategies. The European Commission is reportedly not able to make sense of the member state reports it receives, due to the extent of the anomalies. The commission has stated that it would consider taking measures to harmonize inventory reporting; it also expressed interest in finding ways to encourage states to secure appropriate financing options to pay for waste management.1 Nuclear Waste Directive implementation failures have led to the launch of infringement procedures against 25 out of 28 member states.2

While Russia offers practially no useful information about its nuclear waste inventory, the data from Belgium and the Netherlands are out of date, and the quality of Slovakia’s reports are so bad that they couldn’t be used for the WNWR report. Together with Euratom and national supervisory bodies, the Commission may wish to look into the codification of reporting methodologies in order to loosen the Gordian knot somewhat. The question of safety is ultimately a matter of implementation, and one of the functions of EU bodies is to indicate where implementation problems lie.

Criteria: the basis for informed decision-making

The World Nuclear Waste Report 2019 – Focus Europe (WNWR) offers criteria by which some of the evident lapses in reporting and departures from minimum obligations can be identified and remedied.3    Continue reading

May 14, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, wastes | 1 Comment

‘Small Modular Nuclear Reactor’ entrepreneurs trying to revive dangerous ‘plutonium economy’ dream.

Proposed nuclear projects in New Brunswick would revive dangerous “plutonium economy”    by Gordon Edwards  The Government of New Brunswick is supporting proposals by two start-up multi-national companies with offices in Saint John to build a type of nuclear reactor judged to be dangerous by experts worldwide.Last year, the government handed $5 million each to ARC Nuclear, based in the US, and Moltex Energy, based in the UK, to develop proposals to build prototypes of so-called Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs) in the province. The government is also supporting both companies in their proposal for millions more taxpayer dollars from the federal Strategic Innovation Fund.

It seems that these two SMNR entrepreneurs in New Brunswick, along with other nuclear “players” worldwide, are trying to revitalize the “plutonium economy” — a nuclear industry dream from the distant past that many believed had been laid to rest because of the failure of plutonium-fuelled breeder reactors almost everywhere, including the US, France, Britain and Japan.

The phrase “plutonium economy” refers to a world in which plutonium is the primary nuclear fuel in the future rather than natural or slightly enriched uranium. Plutonium, a derivative of uranium that does not exist in nature but is created inside every nuclear reactor fuelled with uranium, would thereby become an article of commerce.

The proposed SMNR prototype from ARC Nuclear in Saint John is the ARC-100 reactor (100 megawatts of electricity). It is a liquid sodium-cooled SMNR, based on the 1964 EBR-2 reactor – the Experimental Breeder Reactor #2 in Idaho. Its predecessor, the EBR-1 breeder reactor, had a partial meltdown in 1955, and the Fermi-1 breeder reactor near Detroit, also modelled on the EBR-2, had a partial meltdown in 1966.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, who created the US fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, tried a liquid-sodium-cooled reactor only once, in a submarine called the Sea Wolf. He vowed that he would never do it again. In 1956 he told the US Atomic Energy Commission that liquid sodium-cooled reactors are “expensive to build, complex to operate, susceptible to prolonged shutdown as a result of even minor malfunctions, and difficult and time-consuming to repair.”

The ARC-100 is designed with the capability and explicit intention of reusing or recycling irradiated CANDU fuel. In the prototype phase, the proposal is to use irradiated fuel from NB Power’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. Lepreau is a CANDU-6 nuclear reactor.

The other newly proposed NB SMNR prototype is the Moltex “Stable Salt Reactor” (SSR) — also a “fast reactor”, cooled by molten salt, that is likewise intended to re-use or recycle irradiated CANDU fuel, again from the Lepreau reactor in the prototype phase.

The “re-use” (or “recycling”) of “spent nuclear fuel”, also called “used nuclear fuel” or “irradiated nuclear fuel,” is industry code for plutonium extraction. The idea is to transition from uranium to plutonium as a nuclear fuel, because uranium supplies will not outlast dwindling oil supplies. Breeder reactors are designed to use plutonium as a fuel and create (“breed”) even more plutonium while doing so.

It is only possible to re-use or recycle existing used nuclear fuel by somehow accessing the unused “fissile material” in the used fuel. This material is mainly plutonium. Accessing this material involves a chemical procedure called “reprocessing” which was banned in the late 1970s by the Carter administration in the US and the first Pierre Elliot Trudeau administration in Canada. South Korea and Taiwan were likewise forbidden (with pressure from the US) to use this chemical extraction process.

Why did both the US and Canada ban this recycling scheme? Two reasons: 1) it is highly dangerous and polluting to “open up” the used nuclear fuel in order to extract the desired plutonium or U-233; and 2) extracting plutonium creates a civilian traffic in highly dangerous materials (plutonium and U-233) that can be used by governments or criminals or terrorists to make powerful nuclear weapons without the need for terribly sophisticated or readily detectable infrastructure.

Argonne Laboratories in the US, and the South Korean government, have been developing (for more than 10 years now) a new wrinkle on the reprocessing operation which they call “pyroprocessing.” This effort is an attempt to overcome the existing prohibitions on reprocessing and to restart the “plutonium economy.”

Both New Brunswick projects are claiming that their proposed nuclear reactor prototypes would be successful economically. To succeed, they must build and export the reactors by the hundreds in future.

On the contrary, however, the use of plutonium fuel is, and always has been, much more expensive than the use of uranium fuel. This is especially true now, when the price of uranium is exceedingly low and showing very little sign of recovering. In Saskatchewan, Cameco has shut down some of its richest uranium mines and has laid off more than a thousand workers, while reducing the pay of those still working by 25 percent. Under these conditions, it is impossible for plutonium-fuelled reactors to compete with uranium-fuelled reactors.

And to make matters worse for the industry, it is well known that even uranium-fuelled reactors cannot compete with the alternatives such as wind and solar or even natural-gas-fired generators. It is an open question why governments are using public funds to subsidize such uneconomical, dangerous and unsustainable nuclear technologies. It’s not their money after all – it’s ours!

Dr. Gordon Edwards, a scientist and nuclear consultant, is the President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. He can be reached at:    Note from the NB Media Co-op editors: Dr. Edwards visited New Brunswick in March for a series of public talks on the development of so-called Small Modular Nuclear Reactors. The story of his talk in Saint John can be accessed here. The video of the webinar presentation scheduled for Fredericton can be accessed here.

May 14, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference, spinbuster, technology | Leave a comment

Killer heat and humidity already with us

Map: Killer heat and humidity is spiking decades sooner than we feared  

At a ‘wet bulb’ temperature of 35 degrees Celsius, a human can’t survive for more than six hours, even in shade and with water. We’re starting to see those conditions more and more frequently. BY ADELE PETERS 13  May 20

If heat and humidity cross a certain extreme threshold—a “wet bulb” temperature of 35 degrees Celsius—the human body can’t survive long outside. It’s a scenario that some researchers had predicted becoming common later in the century, when climate change may make some regions essentially unlivable. But a new study suggests that dangerous, previously unprecedented levels of heat and humidity are already beginning to occur. Continue reading

May 14, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, climate change | Leave a comment

World’s Sixth Largest Economy, Going Nuclear-Free

Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to be shut down, power replaced by renewables, efficiency, storage  California, World’s Sixth Largest Economy, Going Nuclear-Free, BERKELEY, CALIF. – An historic agreement has been reached between Pacific Gas and Electric, Friends of the Earth, and other environmental and labor organizations to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse-gas-free renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Friends of the Earth says the agreement provides a clear blueprint for fighting climate change by replacing nuclear and fossil fuel energy with safe, clean, cost-competitive renewable energy. Continue reading

May 14, 2020 Posted by | renewable, USA | Leave a comment