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Remembering Hitoshi Yoshioka, who fought gov’t nuclear policy from inside

March 12, 2018
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“I feel sorry for the next generation that they must take on the burden of Fukushima. What we have been doing is something we must feel embarrassed about,” said Hitoshi Yoshioka at a symposium following the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Those words still linger in me.
 
Yoshioka was a strong opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. At 43 years old he took a spot on the committee that decided the government’s nuclear policy. He was a unique presence in that he continued to criticize the government from the inside, raising questions over Japan’s policy of forging ahead with nuclear power. Perhaps his regret that he was unable to prevent the Fukushima disaster before it unfolded was behind his statement above.
 
Yoshioka passed away on Jan. 14, 2018, of a hepatic neuroendocrine tumor. He was 64. He studied physics at the University of Tokyo, but upon meeting Tetsu Hiroshige, a history of science expert known for his criticism of the sciences, Yoshioka shifted his focus to the history of science as well.
 
From the late 1980s, Yoshioka devoted himself to research on nuclear energy. He continued raining down scalding criticism of the civilian use of nuclear energy as a power source, saying that Japan’s system was “second-class at best and undeveloped” and that “what the government really wants (with nuclear power) is to maintain the structure of vested interests and the potential capabilities for nuclear weapons.” Yoshioka’s book “Genshiryoku no Shakaishi” (The social history of nuclear energy) remains as a sort of bible to those related to the industry.
 
“Public policies (like nuclear power) do not belong solely to politicians and bureaucrats,” Yoshioka would expound. “I would like everyone to do their own investigative research and participate in policy formation.” He hoped for the effort of every single citizen to reform government policies. Even when I, someone he barely knew, came to him asking for advice about wanting to summarize my experiences covering the Fukushima nuclear disaster into a dissertation three years ago, he readily provided me with guidance.
 
As the chairman of the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy, Yoshioka fought for the reconstruction of the lives of those in Fukushima affected by the disaster as the nation’s top priority. Also concerned about the global unrest surrounding nuclear weapons, Yoshioka said that nuclear power was just the outer moat, and the total elimination of nuclear arms was the castle keep.
 
Aiming for a future coexisting with science that could create a “fair society,” Yoshioka fought to the very end as an opponent of Japan’s nuclear energy policies.
(By Shinji Kanto, Saga Bureau)
 
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March 15, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , | Leave a comment

Will People Power End Japan’s Nuclear Plans? The Niigata Effect

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In Japan, energy policies may not go the way the government and the nuclear industry want, Pablo Figueroa writes.

There was a common concern in the mind of voters during the recent poll to elect a new governor in Japan’s Niigata prefecture: to be in favour of or against restarting nuclear reactors. The triumph of nuclear-cautious Ryuichi Yoneyama shows that people in that area of the country are distrustful of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the infamous electric utility that owns the Kashiwasaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant.

Currently shut down for inspections, Kashiwasaki-Kariwa is a massive seven-reactor power station and the largest nuclear complex in the world. Across Niigata prefecture, local residents are worried about the safety of the reactors looming in their backyard. And they should be. TEPCO is one of the main parties responsible for the 2011 nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima Daiichi. The company’s systemic falsifying of safety checks, concealment of the true extent of earthquake damages and multiple nuclear incidents at their plants, as well as their proven ineptitude in dealing with the Fukushima crisis (which resulted in the worsening of the nuclear disaster) has been thoroughly documented. TEPCO recklessly put financial profit ahead of public safety, and people know it.

Yoneyama, endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, defeated Tamio Mori, a construction bureaucrat backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP’s pro-nuclear stance has been maintained with an almost blind stubbornness and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has done his utmost to restart the reactors that went offline for safety checks following the Fukushima debacle.

What shaped the Niigata election was the candidates’ attitudes toward Kashiwasaki-Kariwa: Mori remained ambiguous while Yoneyama pledged not to support restarts without a deeper investigation of the Fukushima disaster and the ability to protect prefectural residents. Most media in Japan portrayed Yoneyama as antinuclear but his stance would be better described as nuclear-cautious. His intention is to build dialogue with the nuclear industry and the central government, rather than spark a confrontation.

Losing the Niigata election is a blow for the LDP since not being able to secure control over the restarting of Kashiwasaki-Kariwa will have implications for the government’s energy policy. At the moment, only two of Japan’s forty-eight operational reactors are connected to the grid, one at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture and one at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture. Previously, two more reactors had been restarted at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Oi Prefecture but were later shut down when a district court issued an injunction ordering Kansai Electric Power Company to halt them. This outcome was perceived as a major victory against the nuclear industry’s unethical policies that dismiss people’s logical fears as unfounded.

Despite claims of improved safety standards, the reactors that are currently functioning still remain a huge public threat. When Unit 3 at the Ikata plant was restarted, the governor of Ehime stated that an accident similar to that in Fukushima will never happen. This claim is based on a safety myth and unnecessarily puts prefectural residents at risk. First, the plant sits just five kilometres off the Median Tectonic Line Fault Zone. This fault line, Japan’s longest, is active and projections estimate that a major quake will strike the island of Shikoku where the plant is located. Furthermore, the so-called emergency evacuation plans are largely smoke and mirrors. Nuclear energy operators make the common mistake – or adopt the typical strategy – of relying on best-case rather than worst-case scenarios. For instance, if a nuclear accident were to occur at Ikata, it is expected that people will flee by boat or car but this does not take into consideration potential bottlenecks, damage to roads, etc. A look at the access routes suggests that almost 5,000 people living on the peninsula west of the plant might become trapped. If that happens, they will be required to stay indoors where they would have no effective means of avoiding exposure to radioactive contamination. In addition, radiation-proof facilities in Ikata town are located underneath landslide-prone areas.

The situation of the Sendai Plant in Kagoshima is comparable. A major earthquake recently hit Kumamoto, an adjacent prefecture, and this was yet another red flag forcing many residents to consider how and where they would escape to should a major nuclear accident take place. The electric utility does not have a proper contingency plan. This severe flaw is a common pattern among nuclear companies and has been repeatedly denounced by groups opposing nuclear restarts.

Where is Japan going in terms of nuclear politics? The country’s leadership is in denial over the ongoing Fukushima catastrophe and the tragic situation of nuclear evacuees, the multiple issues surrounding radioactive contamination of vast expanses of land and the potential spikes in the incidence of thyroid cancer among children in Fukushima. Abe’s claims that Fukushima is ‘under control’ were met with public criticism and widespread scepticism: polls showed that practically nobody believed him. This attitude goes in lockstep with the electric utilities’ assertions that, under more stringent safety regulations, it is ‘safe’ to restart some reactors. None of the arguments employed to convince people of the need for nuclear power hold true: as it is, nuclear power is neither a safe nor a cheap option.

However, the government keeps pushing for a nuclear renaissance, completely disregarding the important lessons that could have been learned from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.  But there might be a snag in the government’s plans. The ‘Niigata Effect’ may be repeated during prefectural elections next year in Onagawa, Tokai and Hamaoka, where utilities are trying to get reactors back online. The outcome of these elections might delay or impede such processes; municipalities’ might not grant the consent needed for restarts.

Without a proper consideration of the risks involved, transparency, citizen participation, and multiple stakeholder involvement, there is the danger of reproducing the institutional mindset that incubated the Fukushima catastrophe. Japan’s leadership would benefit greatly from addressing these issues rather than trying to sweep them under the rug. What is at stake goes beyond economic profit and political muscle. Irresponsible nuclear policies endanger the wellbeing of present and future generations in Japan and the wider world.

http://www.policyforum.net/will-people-power-put-end-japans-nuclear-plans/

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Could nuclear advocacy be Abe’s undoing?

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Nuclear foe: Ryuichi Yoneyama (center), a medical doctor who advocates anti-nuclear policies, raises his hands after he was assured of winning the gubernatorial election in Niigata Prefecture on Oct. 16.

Voters have elected anti-nuclear governors in Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures in recent months. These elections can be considered referenda on nuclear power because that issue was the main focus of debate in both campaigns. The results have put Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — and his plans to rev up the country’s fleet of nuclear reactors — behind the eight ball of public opinion and prefectural politics.

There will be a slew of gubernatorial elections in 2017 that will focus on nuclear energy, an issue where the Liberal Democratic Party is vulnerable because it was in charge when all of Japan’s reactors were built and was arguably complicit in the culture of complacency and regulatory capture that compromised public safety. The LDP owns the Fukushima disaster and thus the shambolic cleanup further discredits Abe’s party.

The media portrayed the victory of Ryuichi Yoneyama in Niigata over the “nuclear village” candidate, former construction ministry bureaucrat Tamio Mori as a major upset. Abe endorsed Mori, but his pro-nuclear advocacy proved his undoing. Mori toned down that message toward the end of his campaign but it was too late to fend off Yoneyama, who rode the wave of nuclear anxieties into office. He replaces another anti-nuclear governor who stymied Tepco’s plans to restart reactors in the prefecture in the aftermath of the Fukushima debacle and revelations of slack safety practices.

In 2007, the massive 8-gigawatt Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, which consists of seven reactors, shut down after a strong earthquake struck Niigata. Local scientists had sued Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government for selecting a dangerous site for the world’s largest atomic power plant, arguing that it is built on an active fault line, but a judge dismissed their claims as baseless in 2005.

Mother Nature ruled otherwise. The reactors all shut down, but the land subsided, breaking water pipes so that fire-fighting was delayed. More importantly, the manager of the plant said during a subsequent NHK interview that first responders had been very lucky, explaining that he and his staff would have been helpless if anything had gone wrong, as they were all locked out of the command center where the reactor controls are located because the door to the room had jammed shut due to land subsidence. Improvising, they set up whiteboards in the parking lot and relied on their mobile phones, but they had absolutely no means to manage any reactor emergency if there had been one. This story is not forgotten in Niigata.

There is heightened concern among most Japanese about nuclear safety following the three meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011. Three major investigations into the nuclear disaster have pinpointed human error as the main cause of the meltdowns, highlighting cozy and collusive relations between Tepco and nuclear watchdogs that compromised safety because regulations were not strictly enforced and regulators averted their eyes from serious breaches. They are also mindful that back in 2002 a whistleblower alerted authorities to Tepco’s systematic falsification of repair and maintenance records for all 17 of its reactors. A coverup failed and the media subsequently revealed that all of the utilities operating nuclear reactors had engaged in similarly shoddy practices, cutting corners to save money.

Have the lessons of Fukushima been learned and led to appropriate countermeasures to upgrade safety? Apparently voters are not convinced by the PR machine that touts stricter safety regulations and hardware upgrades, and they have been finding support among judges who have issued injunctions blocking reactor restarts that have been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. The NRA is the reincarnation of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which lost all credibility following post-Fukushima meltdown revelations of slipshod oversight. Alas, the Homer Simpsons of NISA now constitute the majority of NRA employees, undermining the credibility of the new nuclear watchdog agency.

The government and utilities are supposed to consult local opinion, but in practice they limit this to communities hosting reactors because these people have a vested interest in rebooting nuclear plants. Nuclear power plants don’t generate revenue and subsidies if idle, while restarting a reactor opens the spigots of cash that these remote communities are dependent on. Now that the evacuation zones have been expanded to 30 kilometers, extending into adjoining towns that shoulder the same risks without the benefits, it would make sense to give these communities a say in restarts. However, the central government opposes that because it fears that locals who have not been co-opted wouldn’t be in favor of restarts, especially since evacuation drills have been chaotic, revealing that the government is advocating restarts before it is properly prepared to deal with a crisis.

Only two of Japan’s 42 reactors are operating and one of them is in Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, where another anti-nuclear governor won election. This reactor is not far from where the devastating Kumamoto earthquake struck in April, in a region that also features a number of active volcanoes spewing ash that could block roads and impede an emergency evacuation.

What are the chances of a simultaneous earthquake, typhoon, tsunami and volcanic eruption affecting a nuclear reactor? Probably not that high, but there was such a deadly combination of earthquakes, eruptions, landslide and tsunami with a 100-meter wave recorded in Kyushu in 1791 that killed 15,000 people. But no worries — that was on a different part of the island.

Exit polls from Niigata’s gubernatorial elections found that 73 percent of voters oppose restarting the Niigata plant and only 27 percent are in favor. A mid-October Asahi poll found that 57 percent of Japanese nationwide were opposed to nuclear restarts and only 29 percent were in favor. More importantly, the same poll found that 73 percent of Japanese favor a zero nuclear energy policy in the near future and just 22 percent are opposed to the idea.

What must worry Abe even more is that within the LDP, 45 percent of members oppose nuclear energy while just 42 percent support his nuclear advocacy. Thus former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may be right with his recent assertion that Abe has a nuclear Achilles’ heel that may lead to his downfall.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/10/29/commentary/nuclear-advocacy-abes-undoing/#.WBYLfiTia-d

October 30, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abe administration’s piecemeal restart of reactors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parties need to clarify positions on nuclear power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at the future

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

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

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

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

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201607060033.html

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