Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan speaking at his lecture “The Truth about the Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima and the Future of Renewable Energy” on Tuesday at Statler Auditorium.
About a year after taking office in 2010, Naoto Kan, the prime minister of Japan at the time, had his worst nuclear nightmare.
Once the Great East Japan Earthquake hit, a tsunami followed and led to the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Kan detailed his reaction to the meltdown and the reasons behind his drastic change in position — from strong support of nuclear power to opposing its use — at a packed Statler Auditorium on Tuesday.
While Japanese politicians have extensive experience responding to earthquakes and tsunamis, no one knew how to respond to an accident of this scale and the response mechanism was underprepared, Kan said.
“Not a single person could shed light on what its consequences might be,” he said in Japanese at Tuesday’s lecture, a transcript of which was provided to The Sun.
While the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was built to equip the prime minister with specialized knowledge of nuclear disasters, Kan was surprised to learn that the director-general of NISA was a Tokyo University graduate with a degree in economics.
“How can we fathom the appointment of an economist to be director-general of an agency charged with responding to nuclear accidents?” Kan asked.
What was clear to Kan, however, having majored in applied physics at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, was that it would quickly become an unprecedented disaster.
“I knew that if the cooling systems were disabled, a meltdown would occur,” he said.
Realizing that even the electricity company known as Tokyo Electric Power Company that was responsible for the power plant did not have a grasp on the exact situation, Kan braced the dangers and made a personal visit to the disaster site himself on the morning after the incident.
“I went to Fukushima because I felt that I would need to have an accurate knowledge of the situation at the power plant to determine the radius of evacuation,” he said.
The week following the disaster, a series of accidents occurred: Three reactors had experienced hydrogen explosions.
Goshi Hosono, his special advisor, informed Kan about multiple “worst-case scenarios” — including the need for a forced evacuation within a 170-kilometer radius of the site and a voluntary evacuation within 250 kilometers.
Tokyo was within that range.
That plan involved the evacuation of an unprecedented 50 million people.
“Unimaginable hardship and confusion would ensue,” he said. “Yet there was nothing imaginary about this forecast. We were a hair’s breadth away from this actuality.”
While Japan had lost about 30 of its firefighters at the site during the week, Kan was shocked by TEPCO’s simultaneous request to let its employees leave the Fukushima site.
“Abandoning the reactors would mean that the situation would worsen in a matter of hours,” he said. “If the 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools were abandoned, Japan itself would be decimated. My own view was that to abandon the site was unthinkable.”
Kan saw TEPCO as responsible for the accident and, without TEPCO’s technicians, the situation was impossible to keep in control. He demanded that TEPCO remain on site, even if that meant putting lives at risk.
To hold TEPCO accountable, Kan established the Integrated Response Center, which facilitated communication between TEPCO and the Japanese government. This coordination allowed helicopters to pump water into the Unit 2 reactor as a measure against spreading radioactivity.
“Had venting of the Unit 2 reactor been delayed and pressure risen within its containment vessel, explosions would have erupted that shattered the entire reactor like a rubber balloon and we would have confronted my worst-case scenario,” Kan said.
Kan credited the success of avoiding the “worst case scenario” to TEPCO, Self-Defense Force members, firefighters, the police and some luck.
But, reflecting on the root cause of the accident, Kan placed part of the blame on TEPCO, claiming “TEPCO courted disaster by never formulating a contingency plan.”
Evaluating Japan’s current nuclear energy use plan, Kan was critical of the Liberal Democratic Party’s continued support for restoring nuclear power plants.
While Kan, before his resignation, had proposed reaching zero dependence on nuclear energy by 2030, the LDP chose to restore 44 reactors to operation, he said.
“However, the Japanese population at large is against this policy,” Kan said.
Under Kan’s leadership, Japan was able to deflect the worst-case scenario, but the former prime minister was quick to admit that the water contaminated by radiation from the vessels has been leaking.
Kan maintained doubt of TEPCO’s ability to complete incineration of the radioactive debris in 40 years.
“My guess is that at Fukushima the process will take more than 100 years,” he said.
Kan’s personal experience in Fukushima led him to advocate for using renewable sources — solar power, wind power and biomass — instead of relying on nuclear power and fossil fuels.
“I took my last months as Prime Minister proposing to the Diet [the Japanese parliament] a bill for the establishment of the FIT system,” he said. “Since the introduction of the FIT system, the use of renewable energy and especially solar power has grown in Japan.”
More specifically, Kan promoted combining agriculture with supplying renewable energy.
“Sunlight can be shared between crops and solar panels,” he said. “If this practice spreads, Japan could supply over half its energy supply from farmlands.”
Kan called on nations to reduce use of nuclear energy and invest in renewable energy.
“The use of renewable, natural energy and the end of reliance on nuclear energy and fossil fuels, can open a path to a peaceful world,” Kan said. “It is my intention to continue to commit myself without respite toward the achievement of this goal.”
Interview by Vincenzo Capodici, Introduction by Shaun Burnie, Translation by Richard Minear
For more than two decades, the global nuclear industry has attempted to frame the debate on nuclear power within the context of climate change: nuclear power is better than any of the alternatives. So the argument went. Ambitious nuclear expansion plans inthe United States and Japan, two of the largest existing markets, and the growth of nuclear power in China appeared to show—superficially at least—that the technology had a future. At least in terms of political rhetoric and media perception, it appeared to be a winning argument. Then came March 11, 2011. Those most determined to promote nuclear power even cited the Fukushima Daiichi accident as a reason for expanding nuclear power: impacts were low, no one died, radiation levels are not a risk. So claimeda handful of commentators in the international (particularly English-language) media.
However,from the start of the accident at Fukushima Daiichi on March 11 2011,the harsh reality of nuclear power was exposed to billions of people across the planet, and in particular to the population of Japan, including the more than 160,000 people displaced by the disaster, many of whom are still unable to return to their homes, and scores of millions more threatened had worst case scenarios occurred. One authoritative voice that has been central to exposing the myth-making of the nuclear industry and its supporters has been that of KanNaoto, Prime Minister in 2011. His conversion from promoter to stern critic may be simple to understand, but it is no less commendable for its bravery. When the survival of half the society you are elected to serve and protect is threatened by a technology that is essentially an expensive way to boil water, then something is clearly wrong. Japan avoided societal destruction thanks in large part to the dedication of workers at the crippled nuclear plant, but also to the intervention of Kan and his staff, and to luck. Had it not been for a leaking pipe into the cooling pool of Unit 4 that maintained sufficient water levels, the highly irradiated spent fuel in the pool, including the entire core only recently removed from the reactor core, would have been exposed, releasing an amount of radioactivity far in excess of that released from the other three reactors. The cascade of subsequent events would have meant total loss of control of the other reactors, including their spent fuel pools and requiring massive evacuation extending throughout metropolitan Tokyo, as Prime Minister Kan feared. That three former Prime Ministers of Japan are not just opposed to nuclear power but actively campaigning against it is unprecedented in global politics and is evidence of the scale of the threat that Fukushima posed to tens of millions ofJapanese.
The reality is thatin terms of electricity share and relative to renewable energy,nuclear power has been in decline globally for two decades.Since the FukushimaDaiichiaccident, this decline has only increased in pace. The nuclear industry knew full well that nuclear power could not be scaled up to the level required to make a serious impact on global emissions. But that was never the point. The industry adopted the climate-change argument as a survival strategy: to ensure extending the life of existing aging reactors and make possible the addition of some new nuclear capacity in the coming decades—sufficient at least to allow a core nuclear industrial infrastructure to survive to mid-century.The dream was to survive to mid-century, when limitless energy would be realized by the deployment of commercial plutonium fast-breeder reactors and other generation IV designs. It was always a myth, but it had a commercial and strategic rationale for the power companies, nuclear suppliers and their political allies.
The basis for the Fukushima Daiichi accident began long before March 11th 2011, when decisions were made to build and operate reactors in a nation almost uniquely vulnerable to major seismic events. More than five years on, the accident continues with a legacy that will stretch over the decades. Preventing the next catastrophic accident in Japan is now a passion of the former Prime Minister, joining as he has the majority of the people of Japan determined to transition to a society based on renewable energy. He is surely correct that the end of nuclear power in Japan is possible. The utilities remain in crisis, with only three reactors operating, and legal challenges have been launched across the nation. No matter what policy the government chooses, the basis for Japan’s entire nuclear fuel cycle policy, which is based on plutonium separation at Rokkasho-mura and its use in the Monju reactor and its fantasy successor reactors, is in a worse state than ever before. But as KanNaotoknows better than most, this is an industry entrenched within the establishment and still wields enormous influence. Its end is not guaranteed. Determination and dedication will be needed to defeat it. Fortunately, the Japanese people have these in abundance. SB
Q: What is your central message?
Kan: Up until the accident at the Fukushima reactor, I too was confident that since Japanese technology is of high quality, no Chernobyl-like event was possible.
But in fact when I came face to face with Fukushima, I learned I was completely mistaken. I learned first and foremost that we stood on the brink of disaster: had the incident spread only slightly, half the territory of Japan, half the area of metropolitan Tokyo would have been irradiated and 50,000,000 people would have had to evacuate.
Half one’s country would be irradiated, nearly half of the population would have to flee: to the extent it’s conceivable, only defeat in major war is comparable.
That the risk was so enormous: that is what in the first place I want all of you, all the Japanese, all the world’s people to realize.
Q: You yourself are a physicist, yet you don’t believe in the first analysis that people can handle nuclear power? Don’t you believe that there are technical advances and that in the end it will be safe to use?
Kan: As a rule, all technologies involve risk. For example, automobiles have accidents; airplanes, too. But the scale of the risk if an accident happens affects the question whether or not to use that technology. You compare the plus of using it and on the other hand the minus of not using it. We learned that with nuclear reactors, the Fukushima nuclear reactors, the risk was such that 50,000,000 people nearly had to evacuate. Moreover, if we had not used nuclear reactors—in fact, after the incident, there was a period of about two years when we didn’t use nuclear power and there was no great impact on the public welfare, nor any economic impact either. So when you take these factors as a whole into account, in a broad sense there is no plus to using nuclear power. That is my judgment.
One more thing. In the matter of the difference between nuclear power and other technologies, controlling the radiation is in the final analysis extremely difficult.
For example, plutonium emits radiation for a long time. Its half-life is 24,000 years, so because nuclear waste contains plutonium—in its disposal, even if you let it sit and don’t use it—its half-life is 24,000 years, in effect forever. So it’s a very difficult technology to use—an additional point I want to make.
Q: It figured a bit ago in the lecture by Professor Prasser, that in third-generation reactors, risk can be avoided. What is your response?
Kan: It’s as Professor Khwostowa said: we’ve said that even with many nuclear reactors, an event inside a reactor like the Fukushima nuclear accident or a Chernobyl-sized event would occur only once in a million years; but in fact, in the past sixty years, we’ve had Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. Professor Prasser says it’s getting gradually safer, but in fact accidents have happened with greater frequency and on a larger scale than was foreseen. So partial improvements are possible, as Professor Prasser says, but saying that doesn’t mean that accidents won’t happen. Equipment causes accidents, but so do humans.
Q: Today it’s five years after Fukushima. What is the situation in Japan today? We hear that there are plans beginning in 2018 to return the refugees to their homes. To what extent is the clean-up complete?
Kan: Let me describe conditions on site at Fukushima. Reactors #1, #2, #3 melted down, and the melted nuclear fuel still sits in the containment vessel; every day they introduce water to cool it. Radioactivity in the vessel of #2, they say, is 70 sieverts—not microsieverts or millisieverts, 70 sieverts. If humans approach a site that is radiating 70 sieverts, they die within five minutes. That situation has held ever since: that’s the current situation.
Moreover, the water they introduce leaves the containment vessel and is said to be recirculated, but in fact it mixes with groundwater, and some flows into the ocean. Prime Minister Abe used the words “under control,” but Japanese experts, including me, consider it not under control if part is flowing into the ocean. All the experts see it this way.
As for the area outside the site, more than 100,000 people have fled the Fukushima area.
So now the government is pushing residential decontamination and beyond that the decontamination of agricultural land.
Even if you decontaminate the soil, it’s only a temporary or partial reduction in radioactivity; in very many cases cesium comes down from the mountains, it returns.
The Fukushima prefectural government and the government say that certain of the areas where decontamination has been completed are habitable, so people have until 2018 to return; moreover, beyond that date, they won’t give aid to the people who have fled. But I and others think there’s still danger and that the support should be continued at the same level for people who conclude on their own that it’s still dangerous—that’s what we’re saying.
Given the conditions on site and the conditions of those who have fled, you simply can’t say that the clean-up is complete.
Q: Since the Fukushima accident, you have become a strong advocate of getting rid of nuclear reactors; yet in the end, the Abe regime came to power, and it is going in the opposite direction: three reactors are now in operation. As you see this happening, are you angry?
Kan: Clearly what Prime Minister Abe is trying to do—his nuclear reactor policy or energy policy—is mistaken. I am strongly opposed to current policy.
But are things moving steadily backward? Three reactors are indeed in operation. However, phrase it differently: only three are in operation. Why only three? Most—more than half the people—are still resisting strongly. From now on, if it should come to new nuclear plants, say, or to extending the licenses of existing nuclear plants, popular opposition is extremely strong, so that won’t be at all easy. In that sense, Japan’s situation today is a very harsh opposition—a tug of war—between the Abe government, intent on retrogression, and the people, who are heading toward abolishing nuclear reactors.
Two of Prime Minister Abe’s closest advisors are opposed to his policy on nuclear power.
One is his wife. The other is former Prime Minister Koizumi, who promoted him.
Q: Last question: please talk about the possibility that within ten years Japan will do away with nuclear power.
Kan: In the long run, it will disappear gradually. But if you ask whether it will disappear in the next ten years, I can’t say. For example, even in my own party opinion is divided; some hope to do away with it in the 2030s. So I can’t say whether it will disappear completely in the next ten years, but taking the long view, it will surely be gone, for example, by the year 2050 or 2070. The most important reason is economic. It has become clear that compared with other forms of energy, the cost of nuclear energy is high.
Q: Thank you.
September 12, 2014
Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan forced a visit to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant amid the nuclear crisis in March 2011 despite the cautious attitudes of his aides, according to records of interviews with persons involved in the crisis at the plant, highlighting the turmoil within the administration of the Democratic Party of Japan at the time.
In an interview with the government’s investigation committee, records of which were disclosed Thursday, Kan suggested that he had prevented a full retreat from the plant by going to TEPCO’s head office on his own, while the late Masao Yoshida, former manager of the Fukushima No. 1 plant, denied Kan’s claims saying, “We never said everyone should retreat.”
Yoshida died in July last year.
According to the interview records, Kan, after hearing from his aides that TEPCO was planning to have everyone retreat from the crippled No. 1 plant, went to TEPCO’s head office and made a speech saying, “If TEPCO withdraws all its workers from the plant, TEPCO will certainly collapse.”
Kan also stated, “After that, I never heard of a debate on a retreat.”
Yoshida expressed uncomfortable feelings concerning that, saying: “I never used a word like ‘retreat.’ I don’t know who said it, but I never would have used that word.”
Irritated about communication difficulties with TEPCO, Kan judged that “I’d better meet and talk with an official in charge of the site,” so he visited the plant on March 12, 2011, just one day after the nuclear crisis began. While his visit was expected to cause confusion at the scene, Kan, who majored in math and science at university, emphasized the significance of the visit, saying: “I was familiar with the area to some extent. I thought I would be a more suitable person to visit there than other politicians with a humanities background.”
Regarding this, Goshi Hosono, then a special adviser to the prime minister, testified in an interview with the committee, “I was opposed to the commander leaving the Prime Minister’s Office, but on the other hand, I was sure that he would definitely go to the plant considering his character. His personality is very volcanic.”
In the wake of the nuclear crisis, the government first instructed evacuation from a three-kilometer radius around the plant, and later expanded the range to 10 kilometers and 20 kilometers. Concerning the instructions, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano admitted to the investigation committee that the government faced a shortage of information.
“No one clearly told us whether it was really enough to issue the evacuation instruction for residents in a radius of 20 kilometers, or whether we should evacuate residents in a radius of up to 30 kilometers.”
Meanwhile, Edano stated, “I regret that I was not aware that, under the relevant legal system, once the government issued an instruction to stay indoors, it was quite difficult to lift the instruction.”
The records of interviews disclosed Thursday include those of 19 people, including 11 politicians at that time. In the records of interviews with Yoshida, some parts were not disclosed, such as names of TEPCO officials.
The records of interviews with officials related to TEPCO or Haruki Madarame, then chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, were not disclosed.
The government’s investigation committee interviewed 772 people on the nuclear accident. The government plans to disclose the records of interviews if relevant interviewees give their approval.
Source: Yomiuri Shimbun
September 11, 2014
The late chief of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant criticized politicians in his testimony, saying they completely failed to grasp the dire situation that workers faced at the height of the crisis, and that they only brought about further confusion, according to documents disclosed by the government Thursday.
In his testimony, Masao Yoshida, who led efforts to stabilize the Fukushima plant after it was struck by a huge earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, recalled when workers tried to carry out an emergency release of radioactive steam from the No. 1 reactor to avoid a rupture of its containers caused by rising pressure — an operation called venting.
In the early hours of March 12, 2011, Yoshida and his workers, despite being hampered by high levels of radiation at the complex, were already trying to implement the operation manually after the plant suffered a blackout, when then industry minister Banri Kaieda — unaware of what was going on — issued an order at 6:50 a.m. to carry out the venting.
Yoshida said he felt like the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan was “the farthest away” from where he was. “Basically, they thought the vents (from where radioactive steam is released) would open as soon as the minister ordered. It doesn’t work like that,” he said.
He also recalled that senior government officials, and Kan himself, called him directly numerous times to ask “pretty entry-level questions” when he was “very busy” in dealing with the catastrophic situation at the plant.
The former plant chief’s 400-page testimony also highlighted the poor corporate governance of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled plant, which brought about further mess.
The documents showed senior officials at TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo put more priority on the opinion of the prime minister’s office, rather than trying to understand the difficult situation at the plant and support Yoshida.
“At that point, they were like, ‘do it (venting) now, do it now’…there was a clear gap” over the perception of how serious the situation was between his team and the TEPCO headquarters, he told a government panel that was examining the Fukushima meltdowns.
The testimony was reflected in the panel’s final report compiled in July 2012 along with testimonies from more than 770 others. Yoshida died of esophageal cancer the following July at age 58.
When Japanese major daily Asahi Shimbun first reported the contents of the testimony in May, the government refused to make it public, saying that Yoshida did not want it to be disclosed out of fear that all he had said would be taken as fact.
But the government changed its policy and disclosed it for the first time, out of concern that some of the contents reported by Asahi and several other media may have been wrong.
The government also released on the website of the Cabinet Secretariat testimonies of a total of 18 other politicians, government officials and researchers, including Kan, Kaieda, and Yukio Edano, then chief Cabinet secretary, after obtaining their consent.
In the testimony, Yoshida also firmly denied the possibility he deliberately delayed the implementation of the venting to allow Kan to fly to the Fukushima plant by helicopter.
Delaying the venting to prevent Kan from being affected by the venting was “absolutely nowhere” in his mind, Yoshida testified. “I thought we could even souse (radioactive steam over the prime minister’s helicopter) to carry out the operation as soon as possible, because I was desperate to lower pressure within the reactor containment vessel.”
“I was telling workers to somehow carry it out, but they couldn’t (due to the extremely difficult situation). No matter whether the prime minister was flying, or whatever he was doing, people at the site wished to do it quickly, considering the safety of the reactor,” Yoshida said.
On the government’s interpretation that TEPCO was seeking to completely withdraw from the plant on March 15, when the No. 2 reactor was in a perilous situation due to a continued failure to cool down fuels, Yoshida strongly denied such a notion.
He explained that he had told the government that he might let some people evacuate from the plant, but he had been determined to keep a sufficient number of plant workers, including himself.
“Did we escape? No we didn’t. I’d like to say it clearly.”
The Asahi newspaper reported May 20 that some 650 plant workers, or 90 percent of the total, had left the complex despite Yoshida’s order to stay put, citing his testimony to the government panel. The daily, however, retracted the report Thursday night after the documents were disclosed.
Asahi’s report was cited by a number of overseas media and it has been one of the most controversial points in the process of examining the crisis.
Kan, who is now an antinuclear advocate, claimed in his testimony that he went to TEPCO headquarters to tell senior officials that plant workers could not leave the plant, contradicting Yoshida’s testimony.
Edano — who was the government’s top spokesman at the time — also told the panel that then TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu called him and mentioned a possible withdrawal from the Fukushima plant, according to the documents.
“I don’t clearly remember (the) exact words…but I’m sure it was about a complete withdrawal,” Edano said.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference Thursday the government decided to disclose the documents as “only a fragment” of the record of Yoshida’s hearing have been reported by several newspapers, and continuing to keep it from the public would serve nobody’s interest.
Suga added the government’s stance to promote the resumption of nuclear reactors deemed safe by the Nuclear Regulation Authority screening remains unchanged.
Source: Kyodo News International