Spring: The Season of Nuclear Disaster – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi was the title of the April 4, 2017 tele-briefing hosted by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and guest speaker Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen. Hosted by Tim Judson, NIRS executive director, Arnie discusses the myths of atomic energy, the ins and outs of each disaster, and his own personal experiences with assessing the industry failures and magnitude of each disaster. At the end of his presentation, Arnie and Tim also answered questions from listeners in this enlightening segment.
PARIS (Kyodo) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande on Monday confirmed bilateral cooperation in the research of the commercial use of nuclear power as well as in security.
The two countries agreed on joint research on a French-led fast reactor development project called ASTRID, an acronym for Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration.
As the leaders met, Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who is accompanying Abe, and French environment minister Segolene Royal signed a nuclear power cooperation agreement, stating that they will work together on nuclear fuel cycle and fast reactor development.
France aims to start the operation of ASTRID in the 2030s.
Abe and Hollande also attended a signing ceremony on a deal in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. will each acquire a 5 percent stake in a nuclear fuel reprocessing joint venture to be established by French atomic energy company Areva.
In the sphere of security, Abe revealed to reporters after the talks with Hollande that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces will jointly conduct naval exercises with France, the United States and Britain.
The Japanese premier welcomed the “significant” agreement on the exercises to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, including off Guam in the Western Pacific, apparently in view of China’s expansionary maritime activities.
The Japanese leader said he and Hollande shared a view that the Indian and Pacific oceans are international public goods and need to be maintained as free and open areas.
Abe said a French training squadron, including a helicopter carrier, will visit Japan in late April.
On regional issues, Abe strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, while Hollande expressed Paris’ support for Tokyo on the matter.
It was the 10th and final meeting between Abe and Hollande as the latter is not running in France’s upcoming presidential election. The first round of the election is in April followed by a potential runoff vote in May.
As for economic issues, Abe and Hollande agreed on the importance of promoting free trade amid the threat of rising protectionism across the world following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
They affirmed cooperation for the early signing of the free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union.
Abe expressed Japan’s support for “a strong Europe” to be maintained even after Britain’s forthcoming exit from the bloc.
“Japan and Europe must fly the flag of free trade high, together with the United States,” Abe said.
Hollande said the Japan-France relationship can be further strengthened.
France’s election is one of a series in Europe this year in which public unease about immigration and the functions of the European Union have fuelled speculation voters could pick populist candidates over the current political establishment.
Abe arrived in Paris on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover. He is scheduled to meet European Council President Donald Tusk and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni before returning to Japan on Wednesday.
The logo of Toshiba Corp. is seen at the company’s facility in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Monday
Toshiba’s woes weigh heavily on government’s ambition to sell Japan’s nuclear technology
OSAKA – Toshiba’s announcement that it will write down nearly ¥712.5 billion in losses involving its U.S. nuclear unit, Westinghouse, is seen as a major setback for the government’s strategy of selling Japanese nuclear power technology abroad.
Over the past four years, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and nuclear power players, such as Toshiba/Westinghouse, General Electric-Hitachi and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, have promoted Japanese nuclear reactor technology worldwide.
Attempts to increase exports came even as concern within Japan grew over nuclear safety following a triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The efforts also came as questions were being raised about the total cost of nuclear power compared with other energy sources.
Japanese firms have attempted, with little success, to sell their technologies in countries as diverse as France, Vietnam, India, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates. In June 2016, Toshiba said its goal was to win orders for 45 or more nuclear reactors overseas by 2030.
But Tuesday’s announcement by Toshiba came a few weeks after the company announced it would not take any new construction orders for nuclear reactors, and that it would focus instead on maintenance and decommissioning operations.
That decision effectively ended a decade-long effort by Toshiba, which began when it acquired a majority stake in Westinghouse in 2006, to make nuclear reactors a viable export business.
It follows greater than projected construction costs for four Westinghouse AP1000 next-generation nuclear reactors in the U.S. that have run billions of dollars over budget and are three years behind schedule. Original plans called for their startup around 2019 but that could be delayed.
Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, told reporters at a regular news conference on Tuesday that promoting nuclear reactor exports was a necessary strategy, but one that needed to be reviewed.
“The nuclear power industry requires huge amounts of money for safety,” Kobayashi said.
“Given such high costs, we have to think about whether just one company can succeed. We have to keep strong technology in Japan, but we need to rethink how to create a union of private firms” in the nuclear business, he said.
But with Toshiba’s problems and the growing use worldwide of other, cheaper energy sources, including some renewables, anti-nuclear groups see an opportunity for Japan to change its basic policy.
“The Japanese government’s nuclear export policy was built on a combination of a poor understanding of the global energy market and self-delusion, said Shaun Burnie, a senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany who is currently based in Japan.
“The sooner the government and industry realize there is no future for nuclear power either domestically or in exports, the sooner they can concentrate on the energy technology of the future — renewables.”
The logo of Toshiba Corp. is seen at the company’s facility in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Monday
VOX POPULI: Toshiba’s plight shows nuclear business is now a treacherous bet
What appears to be a lump of melted nuclear fuel is discernible in a photo, released late last month, of the interior of the crippled No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The high radiation level inside the reactor would be lethal to humans so a small robot was expected to start inspecting the interior on Feb. 16. (The robot started inspection around 7:50 a.m.)
The robot is marked with the name TOSHIBA.
While leading the nation in the dismantling of nuclear reactors, Toshiba Corp. has aggressively pursued nuclear power plant construction overseas through its U.S. affiliate.
But on Feb. 14, the company announced a projected loss of 712.5 billion yen ($6.3 billion) in its nuclear business. To survive, Toshiba will have to sell off its profitable businesses piecemeal. To be sure, the company is in for massive restructuring.
The 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant was one of the indirect causes of Toshiba’s losses. Around the world, tighter regulations have been applied to nuclear power plants because of safety concerns, and Toshiba’s four nuclear plant construction projects in the United States became far more costly than anticipated.
The company has only itself to blame for underestimating the consequences of the Fukushima disaster.
I dropped in at the Toshiba Science Museum in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, the other day. Its impressive array of exhibits included Japan’s first electric refrigerator, washing machine and vacuum cleaner. There was even a portable personal computer, said to be the first of its kind in the world.
Once a prestigious corporation that boasted cutting-edge technology, I wonder how long Toshiba’s decline will continue.
Overseas, Siemens AG of Germany withdrew from the nuclear business after the Fukushima accident, and France’s Areva SA is said to be struggling.
Toshiba’s massive losses remind us anew that the end is drawing near on the era of lucrative nuclear businesses.
A long, tough road lies ahead for the decommissioning of Fukushima’s nuclear reactors. I feel for Toshiba workers who are engaged in this task while their company languishes.
It will soon be six years since the Fukushima disaster. The days of having to confront the gravity of that accident are far from over.
Chris Busby and also I are from Europe, both looking from afar at what is happening presently in the US, free from the US partisan dramatics and mainstream media spin.
That does not mean that we like Trump and who he is, it just means that we refuse the US mainstream media manipulations.
On Tuesday, the Doomsday Clock was moved 30 seconds closer to midnight by “Scientists” says the web Telegraph, with video and scary musical accompaniment.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock first appeared in 1947. Everyone was reeling from the photographs of the vaporization of Hiroshima. It was thought that atomic war would wipe out everyone on earth. This almost happened in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which the top page of Google informs us was a “direct and dangerous confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.”
I didn’t need to go to Google to find this out. It was a defining moment in my life. Women were refusing to have children because they didn’t want them to live in a world of fear and probable atomization. We moved to the Welsh mountains in a pathetic attempt to do something, anything, and stocked up on food. In America, there was a brisk trade in fallout shelters. It was my friend, the late Ernest Sternglass, who stopped the atmospheric testing by getting to President Kennedy with the calculation that several million children had died from exposure to fallout Strontium-90 building up in the milk and their bones – seeds planted for the global cancer epidemic that began 20 years later.
The Doomsday clock signaling nuclear annihilation at midnight is a simple illustration of the fact that, although life on Earth has been around for billions of years, Clever Old Man has developed a system that could switch it off with an hour-long fireworks extravaganza. Now it has been extended to global warming, virus pandemics, and more or less anything that the media has decided makes a good scare story. The clock has now been advanced to two and a half minutes to midnight. By Scientists.
This is the way the World ends—not with a bang, but a whimper. – T.S. Eliot; The Hollow Men, 1925
Let’s think about this a bit. What scientists? The clock is not a scientific concept. It is an emotional cry for help. What are these scientists using as data for their decision? In the last ten years, for all sorts of reasons relating to the destabilization of the world through various obviously organized operations (Twin Towers, Al-Qaeda, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt, Syria etc.), a kind of continuous bombing operation on poor countries has contributed to the profits of arms manufacturers. Added to all this is the US abandonment of the arms limitation agreements and the re-investment in missile development. We see NATO creeping closer to Russia, and the absurd attempts by the US to bring Ukraine into the operation. Is this why the clock has been moved?
No. It is apparently Donald Trump.
In the post-truth era, belief is created by the media: Google (again) reports that the Guardian, Telegraph, and “Science” blame the movement of the clock’s hands on the election of Mr. Trump. ABC10 seems to think it is global warming. But global warming, even in worst case scenarios, won’t wipe out life on Earth. And a virus pandemic would always have some survivors. A total nuclear exchange would not: so that is what we are dealing with. It is still a real possibility. But not because of Donald Trump. The election of Trump, and Brexit also, is a spontaneous creation of civil society in countries that have seen their lives ruined by globalization and what has been called “the New World Order.”
What I see in Mr. Trump is an independent flamboyant showman along the lines of an earlier US President, Andrew Jackson – a man who also tried to destroy the US establishment. Trump clearly thinks outside the system of smoke and mirrors that passes for Western media news, the constructions on the web and TV and newspapers that are increasingly spun and slanted with nonsense and demonstrable lies about the state of the world. Like the Doomsday clock story.
If I were running the Doomsday clock, the election of Trump would make me put the clock back rather than forward. He doesn’t trust the US security services. He disassociates his Presidency from the collection of dodgy characters previously running the show. This was a revolution against the fat-cat control of America and its continuous war against the people on the planet, fought as if the world was a battleground. This machine that emerged in the post-war period is well known to readers of spy novels. It was fueled by paranoia about Communism and the immense amounts of power and wealth associated with developing and manufacturing weapons. When the Soviet Union broke up and the US could no longer justify the huge military budget (presently about 600 billion dollars), other enemies had to be found. Bombs had to be dropped on someone, in order to order new ones. Hence the continuous and endless wars about “democracy” and “freedom.”
Let’s look at some scenarios. How big an exchange would represent apocalypse? A baseline is the atmospheric testing that peaked in megaton yield and radioactive fallout in 1959-63. This did not wipe out humanity, although there was a mini nuclear winter in the 60s. The European Committee on Radiation Risk estimated some 60 million extra cancers together with a few million dead babies (about 0.2% of births) as the consequence.
Nuclear exchanges between India and Pakistan, or Israel and Iran, would not do the trick. The number of warheads involved would result in some mega-Hiroshimas and global fallout contamination would jump, but there would be no end of the world. The combined yield of the approximately 100+100 warheads (say 200 kilotons each) would be just about equal the yield of the 1962 Tsar Bomba 50-megaton test on its own. And Iran has no nuclear weapons, but even if it had, an Israel-Iran exchange would be even feebler than India-Pakistan. North Korea? The same. As for China, it has no real enemies, and the Chinese have always been traders rather than invaders. China is doing alright and doesn’t need to attack anyone.
So, what is the real Doomsday threat? It is the US government’s obsession with Russia, the tail of the Cold War guard dog of the spy novels. It is the encroachment of NATO (let’s be clear, of the US war machine) on the borders of Russia. It is the deployment of sophisticated (and enormously expensive) antimissile systems in countries like Rumania and Poland. It is the crazy world view of NATO and US generals who want to (and have) put troops and materiel into the Baltic States (where I live), on the basis that the “expansionist Russians” are intent on marching over the borders of Latvia and taking back their lost empire.
Since I moved to Riga in 2010, I have seen the NATO infestation of the country. New (US) tanks with the Latvian Flag rumble though the villages, and helicopters thud overhead disturbing the badgers and deer in the forest. Russia has no need to invade Latvia; it can get what it wants or needs. But the media whip up a frenzy of fear that there will be a Russian invasion. There is even a book about this insanity written by a general, retired Deputy NATO commander Sir Richard Shirreff.
Like most things in politics, this is about money. The Media demonizes Trump because he won’t follow the master plan to globalize the planet, driving down unit costs by moving manufacturing around to the lowest wage countries. And the plan to control access through fake democracy wars to diminishing resources (oil) whilst making huge amounts of money for the arms manufacturers that are supplying the global battlefield – Raytheon, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas et al. Trump has said he will increase military spending in the USA, but stop importing weapons, a kind of Keynesian approach to “Making America Great Again,” but as I see it this will not necessarily affect the NATO/ Russia tinderbox. It may rather cause European countries to require NATO to buy weapons in Europe, or even to abandon NATO and set up a European version.
I myself still have an iron in this fire. Inspired by the Perdana Peace Foundation’s campaign to criminalize war, Ditta Rietuma, general secretary of NationalState.INFO, and I have addressed these issues and their solution for some years in conferences in three languages from Latvia and Sweden, for example, recently at the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga.
The real Doomsday clock passed midnight long ago. The mad race to extinction fueled by the market-forces laissez faire Western system has created a monster: a system that is not really controlled by anyone, but drives itself with only one imperative – to become richer and more powerful, so as to become richer and more powerful.
This monster has no soul; it was not constructed to look after life on the planet. Following the nuclear fallout, and nuclear energy accidents, the depleted Uranium, and now the fracking, background radioactivity is continuously increasing. The fertility rate is falling. IVF is advancing. Cancer is an epidemic in real terms. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Christopher Busby is an expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation. He qualified in Chemical Physics at the Universities of London and Kent, and worked on the molecular physical chemistry of living cells for the Wellcome Foundation. Professor Busby is the Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk based in Brussels and has edited many of its publications since its founding in 1998. He has held a number of honorary University positions, including Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Health of the University of Ulster. Busby currently lives in Riga, Latvia. See also: http://www.chrisbusbyexposed.org, http://www.greenaudit.org and http://www.llrc.org.
No one is fit for nuclear.
Not those who believed that they were nor those who still believe that they are.
Let’s all ban this deadly industry from our planet earth!
According to a well-known joke about the national traits of Europeans, it is heaven if the chefs are French, the engineers are German and the bankers are Swiss and it is hell if the chefs are British, the engineers are French and the bankers are Italian.”
As for the Japanese? They appear not suited to a particular field — nuclear energy. And that is no joke. The development of nuclear technology as part of national policy and by private nuclear businesses has repeatedly experienced failure, causing problems to numerous people and wasting a massive amount of money.
Mutsu, Japan’s first and only nuclear-powered ship which was launched in the early 1970s, suffered a radiation leakage and was decommissioned in 1992 after having only four experimental runs.
The government decided late last year to decommission the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju in Fukui Prefecture, which has hardly been in operation for more than 20 years following a fire triggered by a sodium leak broke out at the facility in 1995.
Construction work on a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, got underway in 1993, but its completion was postponed 23 times and there are no prospects that it will be put in operation in the foreseeable future.
Roughly 5 trillion yen has so far been spent on nuclear projects in Japan.
In March 2011, a serious accident occurred at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant after the complex was hit by a massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Over 80,000 residents from areas near the atomic power station are still living outside the affected areas as evacuees. The costs of dealing with the nuclear crisis have already surpassed 20 trillion yen.
Meanwhile, Toshiba Corp. has added a new page to the negative history of Japan’s nuclear development.
In 2006, Toshiba acquired Westinghouse Electric Co., a U.S. nuclear plant company, for over 600 billion yen. The deal was criticized as too costly, but Toshiba wanted to control the world nuclear power market. Toshiba’s president at the time was upbeat about the takeover saying, “We’ll conduct business aggressively.”
Nevertheless, Toshiba will likely suffer nearly 1 trillion yen in losses from the deal because the electronics giant failed to find hidden problems involving its U.S. nuclear power unit. The world nuclear power market has shrunk since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Following revelations that it had padded its profits through accounting irregularities, Toshiba downsized its workforce by more than 10,000 people, but its rehabilitation efforts are still insufficient. Its financial difficulties have even put the company’s survival in jeopardy.
Physicist and technology commentator Kiyoshi Sakurai, who is well versed in technical problems and accidents involving nuclear plants, warned in a past Mainichi Shimbun interview, “Only a handful of those concerned with a certain project loudly underscore the significance of the project. These people could self-righteously go too far without understanding the project’s objectivity or necessity.”
His remarks remind the public of a past silly war (World War II).
More sadly, it is feared that Japanese people traumatized by the atomic bombing tend to stick to the peaceful use of atomic energy and have lost the capacity for calm and rational judgment.
After reviewing the above, one can see that Japanese people are unfit for nuclear energy development projects. (By Hideaki Nakamura, Editorial Writer)
Recently former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 74, was seen talking to 62-year-old Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Their encounter was recorded on a photo page of the Sept. 29 issue of the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun.
The scene was Aoyama Funeral Hall in Tokyo, where they had attended the Sept. 15 funeral of former Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary-General Koichi Kato and were waiting for their cars to arrive. For about 90 seconds the “master and disciple” stood side by side. Below are the details of Koizimi’s comments and the prime minister’s reaction, which didn’t appear in Shukan Bunshun.
Koizumi: “Why don’t you totally eliminate nuclear power plants?”
Abe: (Faint smile, bow)
Koizumi: “Having zero nuclear power plants is cheaper. Why don’t you understand such a simple thing? It’s all lies, what the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is saying. The things advocates of nuclear power plants are saying — they’re all lies. Don’t be fooled.”
Abe: (Wry smile, bows again, and with head kept low heads to official vehicle)
Koizumi is currently pouring his efforts into a fund to support those who say they were affected by radiation during “Operation Tomodachi,” a U.S. Armed Forces operation to support Japan in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Over 400 soldiers from the USS Ronald Regan aircraft carrier and accompanying ships complained of ill-health after helping in rescue efforts following their urgent dispatch to the seas off Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Some of them are said to have died from causes including leukemia.
The aircraft carrier fleet worked intermittently in a radiation plume from the stricken power plant between March 13 and 17, 2011. After returning home from Japan, a stream of soldiers developed ailments including brain tumors and thyroid cancer. The nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), and the Japanese and U.S. governments acknowledged that they had been exposed to low-level radiation, but do not accept a causal relationship between exposure and their illnesses.
Koizumi learned that some soldiers had left the military at a young age, had no insurance and couldn’t pay their medical fees. It was in May this year that the former prime minister traveled to the United States and directly inquired about their circumstances.
Former soldiers earlier filed a lawsuit against parties including TEPCO, and oral arguments over whether jurisdiction of the case should lie in Japan or the United States were heard in an appeals court in California on Sept. 1. At the time, a Japanese government adviser is said to have supported an agent for TEPCO, stating that radiation exposure is the responsibility of the U.S. military.
Koizumi, who read a note on the hearing (carried in the Sept. 9 issue of the magazine Shukan Kinyobi), responded immediately.
“This is embarrassing. They were relief efforts for Japan, right? The American judge is said to have been appalled,” he was quoted as saying.
On July 5, Koizumi appeared in a news conference with figures including former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, 78, and Tsuyoshi Yoshiwara, 61, an adviser at The Johnan Shinkin Bank, to announce the start of fundraising activities to help the U.S. soldiers. Koizumi himself approached the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) but was turned away on the grounds that TEPCO is a member of the federation.
Reinforcements have nevertheless appeared on the funding front. Japanese architect Tadao Ando, 75, posed the following question: “Mr. Koizumi, will you come to Osaka and give a lecture? I’ll assemble 1,000 people. With a fee of 10,000 yen per person, that’ll bring in 10 million yen.”
When Koizumi appeared at the lecture in August, 1,300 people turned up. The same style of lecture is due to be held in Tokyo on Nov. 16, organized by the head of a group of managers of small- and medium-sized enterprises. Additionally, the president of a solar power generation company provided 10 million yen.
Through these efforts, the total has climbed to 50 million yen. Koizumi apparently hopes to amass 100 million yen by next spring.
The connection between radiation exposure and the development of illness is delicate. There’s a possibility of developing cancer, but there are doubts about whether a person would suddenly die, experts say.
On Sept. 7, Koizumi spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district. He was asked if it was responsible to talk about damage from radiation exposure without presenting scientific evidence.
Below is the gist of his reply:
“I’m no longer a member of the government. I’m a civilian. There are people who are actually suffering. It’s common sense for me to support them.”
Fundraising and service instead of criticism; denial of the perception of saying, “Radiation exposure is the responsibility of the U.S. military” to protect nuclear power policies … I support this form of common sense from our former prime minister. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)
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.