Taiwan: COA, KMT official present opposing views of Japanese food ban

It is odd that only mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea are maintaining the Japanese food ban to protect their population from radiation contaminated food, while ours pass deals with the Japanese gouvernment and even letting them to promote it in special trade shows sponsored by the japanese embassies….
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Taipei, Nov. 3 (CNA) A Council of Agriculture (COA) official and a former Taipei mayor argued the merits Saturday of lifting a ban on imports of food from parts of Japan affected by a nuclear plant disaster in March 2011 ahead of a referendum on the issue later this month.
The two separately argued their positions on the issue in prepared presentations, with COA deputy chief Chen Chi-chung (陳吉仲) saying Taiwan’s inspection rules for food imports would keep the public safe if the ban were lifted.
But former Taipei mayor and opposition Kuomintang (KMT) Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), who proposed the referendum, said the radioactive substances that still exist in the affected areas in Japan pose a potential threat to consumers and Taiwan’s food safety.
The referendum question, one of 10 up for a vote on Nov. 24, will ask voters: “Do you agree the government should maintain the ban on imports of agricultural products and food from areas in Japan affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster on March 11, 2011, including Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures?”
In arguing the government’s position that the ban should be lifted, Chen said Taiwan has embraced stricter standards than other countries for inspecting food items that could be contaminated by radioactive substances.
The inspection process in Taiwan is transparent, meaning that the government can assure the public that Japanese food allowed to be put on store shelves is 100 percent safe, he said.
Hau argued that the radiation leaks from the Fukushima power plant has damaged the soil, water and the general environment in the area, and if radionuclides such as cesium and strontium affect fish or other agricultural items in Japan, the impact will be felt for a long time.
Once people in Taiwan consume these tainted food items, Hau said, it will be like ingesting poison, in effect posing a risk to food safety in Taiwan.
In particular, Hau said, Taiwan is geographically close to Japan and Taiwanese like to eat Japanese food, meaning the government should have a zero tolerance policy for food safety and continue to ban food and agricultural product imports from the radiation-affected areas.
Taiwan imposed the ban on food imports from Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures on March 25, 2011, two weeks after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was battered by a major earthquake and tsunami.
It soon suffered a nuclear meltdown that led to large amounts of radioactive substances being spewed into the environment.
Hau said the public has the right to be free of potential scares from eating contaminated Japanese food resulting from the nuclear disaster.
Chen argued, however, that many countries such as the United States, Singapore and South Korea and countries in Europe have opted to closely monitor high contamination risks related to food imports from Japan rather than continuing to impose a complete ban.
In other words, those countries allow the sale of foods from the radiation-affected areas in Japan if they are determined to be safe through inspections, the official said.
According to Chen, Taiwan and China are the only countries in the world to maintain a complete ban on foods from these parts of Japan, and he said Taiwan should adopt pragmatic measures on the issue.
The Democratic Progressive Party government, which has traditionally had close ties with Japan, has tried to lift the ban since taking power in May 2016 but has yet to succeed because of popular resistance.
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So who will foot the bill if another nuclear disaster strikes Japan?

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From left: The No. 1 to No. 4 reactors of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in May 2012
November 1, 2018
The government is trying to wriggle out of overhauling the way compensation should be paid out for damages caused by a nuclear accident.
A working group of the government’s Atomic Energy Commission had been considering ways to bolster the system, including raising the amount of losses covered by insurance, but failed to produce a formal proposal. The commission apparently failed to obtain support for these ideas from the electric power and insurance industries.
The panel started reviewing the system in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Nearly eight years have passed since the catastrophic triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, yet serious problems and flaws remain unaddressed with the current system. The government clearly has no intention of tackling them anytime soon.
The Abe administration and the power industry are pushing to restart offline reactors, which is a very irresponsible move.
The current system for compensation requires operators of nuclear plants to sign contracts with both private-sector insurers and the government to finance payouts related to nuclear accidents.
But these contracts are good for only up to 120 billion yen ($1.06 billion) per nuclear plant. This is way too small, given that compensation payments related to the Fukushima disaster have already surpassed 8 trillion yen.
In the case of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima facility, it quickly became clear that the company could not raise the necessary funds on its own. This prospect prompted the government to create a makeshift program to support such payouts.
Under this system, the government first pays compensation and then recovers the money over a period of decades from TEPCO and other major electric utilities.
The government’s rationale is that utilities must work together to fork up funding for the system in light of the massive sums required. This system is supposed to swing into action if another major nuclear accident occurs.
But it is hard to claim that a system based on mutual aid among competitors is sustainable, given the growing competition due to the liberalization of the power retail market.
It is time to find an answer to the weighty, complicated question of how the financial burden of preparing for nuclear accidents and paying compensation for losses should be shared among electric power companies, their stakeholders and the government.
Operators of nuclear power plants have an obligation to provide against nuclear emergencies.
As a first step, insurance coverage for accident-caused losses should be sharply raised.
The government needs to continue working with related industries to work out a specific plan.
It should also consider how to deal with the prospect of a power company going under in the event of a serious accident. If such a thing were to happen, the government would probably have to play the leading role in paying compensation. But it would still need to get the shareholders and financial institutions involved to cough up their fair share of the burden.
Increased insurance premiums paid by major electric utilities could cause electricity bills to rise. But it would help make more accurate assessments of the real costs of nuclear power generation, which both the government and the power industry have claimed to be lower than those of alternative energy sources.
At the root of the troubled history of policy efforts to address the issue of compensation is the ambiguous nature of the government’s nuclear power policy. This is borne out by the way it took the initiative in promoting nuclear power plants operated by private-sector companies.
Should nuclear power generation continue despite the potential risks and social costs? If another severe nuclear accident occurs, who should take the responsibility for dealing with the aftermath and in what ways?
These are just some of the fundamental questions about nuclear power policy raised by the need to revamp the compensation system.

Ex-TEPCO Executive Downplays Role in Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown

Three TEPCO leaders are on trial for allegedly delaying tsunami preparation measures.
 
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TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, center, Vice President Takashi Fujimoto, second from left, Sakae Muto, second from right, and others bow before a news conference at the company’s head office in Tokyo, Japan (March 30, 2011).
October 31, 2018
Prosecutors at Tokyo Metropolitan District Court continue to piece together the timeline that led Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to hold off on securing the plant against its worst-case tsunami scenario.
Despite TEPCO staff being assigned to calculate the extent of the tsunami threat, their findings were ignored. Top TEPCO officials are now fighting criminal negligence charges for allegedly neglecting tsunami prevention initiatives.
Experts say the impact of the devastating tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, triggering the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, could have been prevented if sufficient countermeasures were taken. The lengthy criminal trial finished its 32nd session in late October, revealing contradictions in the managerial awareness of the long-term tsunami risks and a controversial shift in the company attitude toward installing appropriate measures.
Former CEO Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, and former Executive Vice Presidents Sakae Muto, 68, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72, were indicted two years ago on charges of professional negligence resulting in death. All three have pleaded not guilty based on the uncertainty of predicting an “unthinkable” earthquake, which could occur once every thousand years.
Muto bowed his head in front of the judge and offered an apology to those who lost their lives, their families, and those forced to evacuate. From the outset, his initial apology seemed like an admission of responsibility. But it didn’t take long for Muto to maintain his innocence, saying he didn’t recall being briefed on a destructive earthquake or the need for new safety steps.
However, the cross-examination of witnesses at previous court sessions exposed holes in Muta’s pre-hearing affidavit and his statements made in court. TEPCO official Kazuhiko Yamashita, in charge of anti-earthquake measures at the time, gave evidence saying all three officials joined an imperial court meeting in February 2008, where they acknowledged the prediction of a 7.7-meter high tsunami and instructed the building of a 10-meter seawall. The meeting is said to have stressed that new tsunami measures were needed at Fukushima Nuclear Plant based on the long-term evaluation of the country and a hard copy of the report was also distributed to officials. However, in Muto’s affidavit, he originally claimed there was “absolutely no report” and vehemently denied tsunami countermeasures for Fukushima Nuclear Plant were a topic of discussion in the meeting,
An unexpected policy shift away from tsunami preparedness materialized when the TEPCO civil engineering team recalculated the tsunami height risk to 15.7 meters. The team reported the findings to Muto in June the same year. Rather than accelerating earthquake resistance plans, however, as construction proposals ballooned from original estimates and with the risk of unwanted attention on the nuclear power plant’s safety prospects, Yamashita says he was given orders by Muto to scrap the plans. Muto then consulted the Japan Society of Civil Engineers to reassess the findings for a second opinion.
Muto explained in court that he was uncertain of the report’s credibility and that it was natural to gather information on the many aspects he couldn’t make sense of. He repeatedly denied that the move indicated a desire to postpone new safety measures but said it stemmed from lack of alternatives. According to Muto, he didn’t have authority to make decisions over the company in that way.
The Great Eastern Earthquake of March 2011 knocked out power supplies and damaged back up generators, causing vital cooling systems at the nuclear plan to fail. Three reactor cores overheated and began to leak radiation. Seven years on, some 40,000 residents who were forced to flee their homes in Fukushima prefecture are still unable to return to their houses, which have fallen to ruin in the no-go zone. The ongoing trial, propelled largely by a group of Fukushima plaintiffs, offers a small chance at gaining closure and much needed background into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Eastern Japan cities sign nuclear accident evacuation accord

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This July 17, 2018 file photo shows the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant, front, in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture.
 
October 31, 2018
CHIBA, Japan (Kyodo) — A local government near a nuclear power plant in eastern Japan signed an accord Wednesday that will allow its residents to take shelter in six municipalities further away from the complex in the case of an accident at the plant.
The arrangement aims to enable the evacuation of about 43,000 of around 270,000 residents from Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, which is located within 30 kilometers from the Tokai No. 2 plant, to Kashiwa and five other cities in Chiba Prefecture.
Under the accord, the six cities in Chiba are to set up shelters to be managed by the Mito municipal government. The maximum evacuation period will be one month in principle and Ibaraki Prefecture and Mito will be in charge of securing necessary supplies.
Screenings for radioactive materials and decontamination work will be carried out by the Ibaraki prefectural government.
The nuclear plant located northeast of Tokyo is operated by Japan Atomic Power Co. In September, it cleared a safety screening to resume operations under stricter rules introduced after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The conclusion of the evacuation accord met with opposition from civic groups in the six cities which claimed the cooperative partnership could be viewed as a step toward the aging plant’s resumption.
The city of Mito has concluded similar accords with municipalities in Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures to evacuate around 180,000 people. It is arranging an agreement to flee the remaining 40,000 residents to Saitama Prefecture.
Eight other municipalities within a 30-km radius of the Tokai No. 2 plant in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, have also signed evacuation accords with local authorities in nearby prefectures.

Tsunami Couldn’t Have Been Foreseen, Says Fukushima Plant Operator’s Ex-Chairman

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30.10.2018
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Tsunehisa Katsumata said in court on Tuesday that a devastating tsunami that led to the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant could not have been predicted, NHK reported.
During the hearing, the former TEPCO chairman said that he was briefed in 2009 on the possibility of a tsunami by a TEPCO official who sounded very skeptical, adding that he believed in the quality of work of the Nuclear Power and Plant Siting Division and did not doubt existing safety measures, the NHK broadcaster reported.
Katsumata and ex-vice presidents of TEPCO Ichiro Takekuro and Sakae Muto were accused of professional negligence resulting in death and injury, but all of them denied the charges.
The prosecutors argued that the top management was fully responsible for ensuring security at the nuclear plant, the broadcaster added.
The court hearings will proceed with statements by the families of those whose deaths are linked to the nuclear accident.
In March 2011, a 9.0-magnitude offshore earthquake triggered a 46-foot tsunami that led to the accident and shutdown of the plant. The accident is considered to be the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tepco apologizes over inappropriate hashtag for image of crippled Fukushima plant

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A post from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s official Twitter account, seen here, attracted criticism for insensitivity over the Fukushima nuclear disaster
 
Oct 30, 2018
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has apologized after sharing on social media an image from inside its crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant together with a hashtag that means “fascination with factories.”
After the post attracted a lot of negative attention on the power company’s official Twitter and Instagram accounts, a Tepco official said Monday it had been intended to “give a better understanding to the younger generation” of its operations.
But the firm admitted that its social media post had “lacked consideration.”
The term employed in the hashtag, kōjōmoe, has come into use in recent years with a rise in the number of people enjoying views of factories and plants.
However, the utility’s post, which said “Unit4 Spent Fuel Pool at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station” along with the hashtag, drew a rush of comments such as “Don’t you feel sorry for the nuclear accident?” and “Don’t make a fool of victims” affected by the reactor core meltdowns at the power station following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
It is not the first time that the major power company has been rebuked for being insensitive to public feelings toward the Fukushima crisis, which was the most severe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Earlier this year, Tepco halted its sale of file folders with photos showing the current conditions of the Fukushima No. 1 complex, following public criticism.
The folders, offered in a set of three for ¥300, had pictures of the nuclear complex’s No. 1 to No. 4 reactors.
The utility had sold them at two convenience stores on the premises of the complex after people involved in work to scrap the plant asked the utility to sell souvenirs.

At first beneficiaries, then victims?

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Noriyuki Kowata is seen on a temporary visit to his home in the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, one of two towns that the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant straddles, on Sept, 25, 2018. His yard and vegetable garden were covered in overgrown grass and other vegetation.
 
October 29, 2018
FUTABA, Fukushima — It was late September, and the heat of summer had finally begun to ease. Norikiyo Kowata, 77, was on a temporary visit to his home here, whose screen doors were tattered, having been exposed to the elements for over seven years. His garden, where he used to grow vegetables like butterbur sprouts and myoga ginger, showed signs of having been trampled on by wild hogs.
Ninety-six percent of Futaba — one of two towns straddled by the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station — is designated by the central government as “areas to which return will be difficult.” Even though Kowata prepares himself mentally, seeing his house in an increasingly dilapidated state every time he visits is hard: “It’s disheartening.”
After the March 2011 disaster broke out at the nearby nuclear station, the entire town was forced to evacuate. Kowata moved from one place to another, including Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, where the Futaba Municipal Government set up shop temporarily, and where a branch of the municipal government still exists. In the summer of 2012, Kowata bought a used single-family home in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki, where he has since been living with his 70-year-old wife, Mineko. Prior to the nuclear crisis, the couple enjoyed walking in the mountains close to their home in Futaba to forage for mushrooms and wild vegetables. Now that they can no longer do that, their only emotional crutch is their pet dog.
Kowata’s hope to someday return to his hometown faded as he accrued more and more years as an evacuee. Now, a strong sense of resignation has taken over. There are plans to demolish his home in Futaba soon. “I’m old now. It’s sad, of course, since it’s where I lived for 70 years.”
After the onset of the nuclear disaster, along with the growing momentum of the anti-nuclear movement, was criticism for the national government and power companies that had long been building nuclear power plants in regional areas. The common trope was that people living in regional areas who had complied with national policy were now being forced from their homes. Kowata, too, wanted the people of Tokyo — for whom the Fukushima plant was primarily generating electricity — to look that fact straight in the eye. But when he thought about the benefits that he reaped from the nuclear power station, being told he was “sacrificed” for the sake of the big city and the central government didn’t feel quite true.
The Fukushima prefectural towns of Futaba and Okuma decided to host the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in 1961, in the midst of Japan’s rapid economic growth. The central government’s desire to meet the increasing electricity demands of the Tokyo metropolitan area came together with the desire of a regional area that did not want to be left behind in the high-speed economic growth that the country was undergoing. As a result, six massive structures spanning the two towns were built.
The region’s industrial framework, in which residents farmed in the warmer months and became migrant workers elsewhere in the winters, underwent a radical transformation. Following graduation from high school, Kowata had been working in Tokyo as a conductor in the subway system. But he returned to his hometown once the nuclear plant was built, and became a regular employee at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in 1971, when the nuclear plant began its operations.
“The pay was good, as were the benefits,” Kowata recalled. “It felt like a big company.” He worked for TEPCO and its affiliates until the age of 65.
Municipal governments that host nuclear power plants are given large amounts of money in subsidies based on the Three Power Source Development Laws. At its peak, the Futaba Municipal Government received over 1 billion yen per year, and nuclear plant-related income, including fixed property tax, enriched town coffers. This allowed for the construction of public facilities and other infrastructure.
“Nuclear power plants are monsters,” Kowata said. “I bet there’s no other mechanism out there that brings that much money and employment to a depopulated area.”
There were some people who warned of the risks of nuclear power. In 1972, some residents launched a Futaba region anti-nuke alliance. However, confronted by the very palpable benefits of the nuclear plant, the movement faded.
In 1991, the Futaba Town Assembly unanimously voted for the additional construction of the No. 7 and No. 8 reactors at the plant. The town’s expenditures were ballooning, due to the cost of maintaining and managing public facilities it had built with subsidies it received from the central government for hosting the nuclear power plant. So in seeking even more of that “nuclear power plant money,” Futaba became more proactive in promoting the national government’s nuclear policy.
Futaba’s mayor at the time was the late Tadao Iwamoto, who served for five terms, four years each, starting in 1985. He was a former prefectural assembly member from the Socialist Party who at one time served as the head of an anti-nuke alliance. But after he became the mayor of Futaba, he promoted community building that assumed coexistence with nuclear power plants.
To his former comrades, this seemed like a sellout, but his son, Hisato Iwamoto, 61, who is the vice-speaker of the Futaba town assembly, argues that nothing had changed, in that his father continued efforts to work for the happiness of the townspeople and for the Futaba region. Hisato said he remembers his father yelling at news reports on the nuclear disaster that were being aired on television in the gymnasium that the family had evacuated to in the Fukushima prefectural city of Minamisoma in March 2011: “What are they doing!” His father subsequently said not a word about the nuclear plant, and died just four months later due to illness at the age of 82.
Akira Kawate, who was formerly a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Home Affairs, the predecessor to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, and subsequently served as Fukushima Prefecture’s deputy governor from 1999 to 2006, looked back on the proposed construction of the No. 7 and No. 8 reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. “The prefectural government’s view was that we shouldn’t keep relying on nuclear reactors,” he said. The prefecture, however, was unable to come up with any specific economic revitalization measures to replace nuclear power plants. The additional reactors were never built. Then, in 2011, disaster struck.
Kawate, who now serves as an executive director of a nationwide federation promoting the independence of depopulated regions, understands the obstacles of implementing depopulation countermeasures. “It’s very difficult for municipal governments that have neither the money nor the manpower to be independent. With the exception of Tokyo, all communities must be dependent on the central government, though the extent to which they are may vary,” he said. But, he continued, “There are various ways to think about the relationship between regional areas and the central government, whether it’s the regional areas that are being sacrificed, or they’re the ones shrewdly taking advantage of the central government. It’s OK to have a shrewd outlook on life. It liberates you from emotional subordination.”
Aside from the noise of heavy machinery, the town of Futaba is quiet. Little by little, homes are being torn down and new infrastructure is being built. The plan is to make about 55 hectares of land surrounding JR Futaba Station livable again as a specially designated reconstruction and revitalization zone. If all goes well, evacuation orders for the area will be lifted around the spring of 2022.
If people do not return to the town, however, there will be no town revival. The 7,140 people who lived here at the time the nuclear disaster began are now scattered everywhere, and as of late August this year, 4,074 lived within Fukushima Prefecture, and 2,818 lived outside the prefecture as evacuees. According to a survey of Futaba residents and others conducted in fall of last year, 60 percent of the 1,564 households that responded said that they had “decided not to return.”
Ever since the onset of the nuclear crisis, former TEPCO employee Kowata has been questioning himself over and over again. The nuclear power plant had allowed him to work in his hometown and provide for his family. But if it hadn’t been for the nuclear power plant, the disaster would not have occurred. “I carry a weight on my shoulders.”
Kowata has given up hope on returning to his home in Futaba, but he wants to remain involved in his hometown. His residence registry is still there. “I want to live a long life, and watch what happens to this town,” he says, hopefully.
(Japanese original by Yukinao Kin, Osaka Cultural News Department)