Japan’s nuclear revamp met with fierce public opposition


July 3, 2012 by SCNCC

Reactor No 3 at Japan’s Ohi nuclear plant went back online Sunday amid widespread protest. The reactor, located in the Western Fukui Prefecture, is the first of Japan’s 50 to kick back into gear since a devastating earthquake and tsunami sparked triple meltdowns at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant in the country’s Northeast last year. Another reactor at Ohi is also scheduled to be brought back online this month.

The nuclear revamp comes amid warnings from seismologists that the Ohi nuclear plant, like Fukushima before it, is susceptible to an earthquake. At a news conference last week they warned that seismic models used by regulators to determine the plant is safe to restart failed to fully take into account nearby fault-lines. They also accused scientists advising the agency of being shills for Japan’s nuclear industry.

“The expertise and neutrality of experts advising Japan’s Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency are highly questionable,” said Mitsuhisa Watanabe, who teaches tectonic geomorphology at Toyo University.

Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, said that in his estimation the agency’s new safety standards were actually lower than before Fukushima. “The stress tests and new safety guidelines for restarting nuclear power plants allow for accidents at plants to occur. Instead of making standards more strict, they represent a severe setback in safety standards.”

There were warnings before the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns as well. An internal investigation conducted by Fukushima’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) found the plant would not even survive a quake-triggered tsunami with waves 5.7 meters high, a height which it was supposedly built to withstand forty years ago. A tsunami bringing waves three times that size rose from the ocean on March 11. A month before the disaster regulators extended TEPCO’s license at Fukushima for another eight years even as they acknowledged that there were stress cracks in the backup diesel generators at Reactor No 1. When the tsunami hit those generators failed, shutting down the reactor’s cooling system and triggering a meltdown.

Japan continues to grapple with the fallout from Fukushima. The proliferation of radioactive materials has decimated the region’s agriculture and fishing industries. Those who once made their living from the ocean now find themselves working for the government, clearing radioactive debris from the waters surrounding the plant. Irradiated fruits and vegetables rot across the region. On supermarket shelves, produce from areas of Fukushima that escaped radiation continues go untouched over the fear a tag bearing the prefecture’s name induces.

With the spread of radiation came the flight of tens of thousands. The government evacuated 90,000 people immediately, followed by an additional 70,000 one month later. The World Health Organization found that residents of towns where evacuations were delayed received up to 50 millisieverts worth of radiation exposure each in the year following the meltdowns. That’s fifty times beyond the original safe dosage limit according to the government prior to Fukushima, and more than double the dosage limit of 20 millisieverts set by the government after Fukushima. Data collected by the US Energy Agency and privately revealed to Japanese officials in the days directly following the disaster showed high levels of radiation in areas not yet cleared, but Japan’s government waited four weeks until it conducted its own testing and informed citizens that they must flee.

An estimated 1.5 million people who lived outside the official evacuation areas also fled, what the government describes as a voluntary evacuation. A large portion of those who left their homes have chosen not to return. They still consider doses of radiation beyond the original safety limit dangerous. Those who refused to atomically gamble with their lives or the lives of their children–whose growing bodies are more susceptible to radiation–have found themselves atomized from society. After fleeing without government assistance they have been ostracized as paranoid or even unpatriotic by those who are eager for life to return to normal. Many are without a job or a home. TEPCO has been propped up by the government to the tune of $135 billion, the highest sum officials have doled out since the country’s banking sector melted down in the nineties. Meanwhile, even many evacuees who lived within the mandatory evacuation zones have not received compensation.

As of a year after the meltdowns, fewer than half of Fukushima’s mandatory evacuees had filed for funds. Some have complained that the 56-page claim form, accompanied by a 156-page manual on how to fill it out, is too complicated. Others accuse TEPCO of low balling them. Government help centers have been set up to explain to people the legalese from the company that the government bailed out so that it would have funds to compensate victims of the nuclear meltdowns caused by the company’s own malfeasance. In a January report, one help center noted, “There is a growing trend that TEPCO refuses compensation for damages that aren’t specified in the government’s interim guidelines, without considering individual situations.”*

It is expected to take at least 40 years to contain the radiation at Fukushima, prompting many to begin referring to themselves not as Fukushima refugees but as Fukushima diaspora.

Those who have stayed put live in a kind of hell. On June 7th ten women from Fukushima met with members of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet. One mother’s story outlines the fear, anger, and confusion that has transformed the daily lives of those in Fukushima:

I wanted to raise my children with the safest possible meals, so I started organic farming. But all my paddies and fields have been contaminated. Every day, every time I prepare a meal, I wonder if it’s OK to feed my children with vegetables at a certain becquerel level. I’m worried if they might affect my children in the future.

Can you understand this feeling? How many times have you come to Fukushima? How much of that contaminated air have you breathed in? How many times has Mr. Noda come? How many hours has he spent there? We are there every day, and every time we see helicopters flying over us, we really fear that something might be wrong with the nuclear plant again. That’s how it is in Fukushima.

Following their exchange with the cabinet officials the women, together with sixty of their supporters, staged a die-in in front of Noda’s official residence urging the Prime Minister not to restart Ohi’s reactors. Despite their lamentations, the next day Noda announced the reactors would reboot, asserting that nuclear power is necessary to preserve Japan’s “quality of life.”

Noda’s announcement brought 45,000 people to his home two weeks later. Then, on Friday, 200,000 people turned up. It was one of the largest demonstrations Japan has witnessed in decades. The numbers in the streets were reinforced by a petition that garnered 3 million signatures calling on the Prime Minister to learn from Fukushima, abandon nuclear, and move the country onto renewable sources of energy.

Friday’s rally was followed up on Sunday by a blockade of the Ohi plant involving thousands. Blockaders squared off with riot police and held their ground. Ohi’s operator, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), was forced to transport staff onto the plant’s grounds via boat, only then was Reactor NO 3 brought back online . The demonstrators have pledged to indefinitely occupy the precipice of the plant in order to make its continued operation as unfeasible for Kansai Electric and politically volatile for Prime Minister Noda as it is untenable for them.#



*TEPCO is not above more informal methods of business mind you. Following the disaster, the firm didn’t have much of a labor pool at its disposal. One TEPCO executive reportedly told local businesses, “Bring us the living dead. People no one will miss.” Since then the corporation has outsourced the clean up effort to subcontractors who rely on the Japanese mafia, or yakuza, to round up recruits. Workers at Fukushima are often people deep in debt to the yakuza, unemployed, homeless, and/or mentally handicapped. Some are simply bullshitted into signing on to the job. The yakuza buses them to remote worker barracks and from there they are driven daily to toil in hazmat suits in a nuclear waste zone for minimum wage.

One thought on “Japan’s nuclear revamp met with fierce public opposition

  1. […] Ohi nuclear plant in Japan’s Western Fukui Prefecture last weekend, in an attempt to prevent Japan from restarting its first reactor since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima-Daiichi on March 11t…. Protesters set up camp on the remote road leading to the plant’s entrance. For two days, […]

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