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Japanese prime minister: "nuclear free future"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

“We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power,” Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a television address to the country July 13. The statement was Kan’s clearest yet about the appropriate long-term energy goals for a country dealing with the consequences of the worst nuclear crisis in a quarter-century. More than two-thirds (70.3 %) of Japanese support Prime Minister Naoto Kan's call to do away with nuclear power, a media poll showed on July 24, underscoring growing opposition to atomic energy in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

It has now been more than four months since the accident began at Fukushima Daiichi and unfortunately no end is yet in sight although much of the major media moved on from Fukushima. But the accident continues, radiation continues to be released (though much lower amounts, of course, than initially), and the risk of new problems remains.

"Japan without nuclear power"
Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's July 13, statement was his clearest yet about the appropriate long-term energy goals for a country dealing with the consequences of the worst nuclear crisis in a quarter-century: “We will aim to bring about a society that can exist without nuclear power.” One day before that statement, Kan told lawmakers that Japan must scrap a plan that calls for the country to increase its use of nuclear power to 53 percent by 2030, up from the pre-quake level of roughly 30 percent. And he took a stand against the government’s long-peddled slogan about the safety of nuclear power ­ the “safety myth” that allowed for the construction of 54 reactors over four decades. “Through my experience of the March 11 accident, I came to realize the risk of nuclear energy is too high,” Kan said. “It involves technology that cannot be controlled according to our conventional concept of safety.”

But Kan’s energy plan faces numerous obstacles, from within his own government and from the utility companies that act as regional monopolies. There is also the matter of Kan’s own domestic unpopularity and his waning authority to guide the country.

But the fact that public opinion is changing, was also highlightened  by the fact that, also on July 13, the Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second-largest paper, ran a front-page editorial calling for the phase-out of nuclear energy. But the piece also warned against immediate abandonment. “If we go to zero suddenly, we will encounter power shortages, and our lives and economic activities will be hugely affected,” the editorial said. “It is more realistic to not try too hard but to steadily decrease the dependency.”

Nuclear establishment
But Naoto Kan's dream of creating a society free of nuclear power appears destined to die when his reign as prime minister expires. No politician considered a possible successor is taking up Kan's call to decommission all of Japan's nuclear reactors. In fact, almost all prominent Cabinet ministers and executives of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan who have supported Kan appear reluctant to go along with his nuclear-free idea.

Japan suspend nuclear talks
In what could be an important move, the Japanese government has decided to suspend negotiations with India and four other countries on civil nuclear cooperation following Prime Minister Mr Naoto Kan's call for Japan's eventual exit from atomic power, according to a media report. Any move to proceed with the talks now “could risk contradicting the Prime Minister's policy,” an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by 'Kyodo' news agency.

The report said the government will suspend talks with India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates on the sale of Japanese-made nuclear power equipment and technology. The decision concerns negotiations over completing separate nuclear power cooperation agreements with these countries.

The source also indicated the government will not schedule any high-level talks with the five prospective nations on completing nuclear cooperation accords without getting Mr Kan's nod, the report said.

Turkey to cancel talks with Japan?
The Turkish government informed the Japanese government that it will cancel the preferential negotiations with Japan and start talks with other candidate countries on the project to build a nuclear power plant, if Japan does not make clear its intention to continue the negotiations by the end of July, (Japanese) government sources said.

Turkey plans to construct a power plant with four 1.4 million kilowatt-class nuclear reactors in the Black Sea coastal city of Sinop. It aims to start operating the plant around 2020. Toshiba Corp. hopes to win an order to construct the plant with the cooperation of Tokyo Electric Power Co.

The negotiations between Turkey and Japan have been suspended since the nuclear crisis began at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Turkey ended negotiations with South Korea last December and gave the Japanese government the preferential negotiation rights. Turkey, which is also an earthquake-prone country, highly valued Japan's quake-resistance technology in awarding the priority rights, according to the sources.

After Kan's "denuclearization declaration" on July 13, it has been increasingly unclear whether Japan will be able to extend government-level support to Turkey, even if Toshiba won the order. Meanwhile, Japan's rivals, especially South Korea, are eager to extend such support.

"Stable cooling"
Tepco says it has achieved “stable cooling” of all of the reactors at the site. This might sound like good news until it is realized that Tepco does not mean the reactors are at cold shutdown. In fact, all 3 reactors with fuel in them remain above the boiling point of 100 degrees Centigrade, meaning that water continues to boil off and radiation continues to be released. Cold shutdown—bringing the temperatures below 100 degrees—is still not expected before January 2012. What Tepco really means is that it has more or less successfully set up a system for water to be recirculated through the reactors, so that constant water from outside is no longer needed. However, the recirculation system has been plagued with problems from the beginning and continues to not work at desired capacity. That is not the case for the Unit 4 fuel pool, which continues to receive water from outside. Temperature in the pool is said to be below boiling, at 80 degrees Centigrade.

Radioactive beef
The central government is considering buying all beef with levels of radioactive cesium exceeding government standards in an effort to try to address rising consumer concern and falling prices for Japanese beef. It would be the first time the central government has provided direct compensation for food products contaminated by the accident at Fukushima.

However, the current draft plan only envisages paying for beef that has been confirmed as contaminated in random tests. Meat from cows that have not been tested will not be bought. Farmers are demanding that all cows affected by shipment restrictions be bought up by the government to cover large losses from tumbling beef prices due to the radiation scare. The payment of compensation to beef farmers could lead to complaints from other farmers and fishermen of preferential treatment.

The issue of contaminated beef surfaced July 8, when meat from cattle shipped from a farm in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, was found to have levels of cesium exceeding government standards. The contamination was caused by feeding the cattle contaminated straw. Investigators are looking into whether cattle in other areas have been similarly affected.

Industry minister Banri Kaieda said that Tepco should shoulder part of the costs of the government's planned purchase.

But it’s not just beef and straw. Very high levels of Cesium-137 and other radioactive elements have been detected in all manners of agricultural products and soils across the region. Of particular note are both the Cesium-137 levels far higher that allowable limits, but also the continued presence of high levels of Iodine-131. Because of its 8-day half-life, Iodine-131 released during the initial week of the accident, when extremely large amounts of radioactive materials were ejected from all the Fukushima reactors, already has decayed to background. The continued presence of high levels of Iodine-131 is a certain indicator of the radiation releases that continue at Fukushima and will continue for months to come.

State support Tepco
A bill aimed at keeping troubled utility Tepco solvent gained approval from a Japanese parliamentary committee on July 26, with both ruling and opposition party support, paving the way for its passage through both houses of Japan's parliament. The bill would create a state-backed entity to financially support Tepco, which is in desperate need of assistance to cope with the potentially staggering costs of compensating those affected by the nuclear accident at its Fukushima Daiichi plant.

But while approval of the bill may reassure financial markets concerned about Tepco's survival, revisions to the bill to secure its likely passage mean the key issue of who pays what to fund the compensation will be decided later. Japan's two leading domestic rating agencies have already warned that parliament needs to move quickly to avert a Tepco bond rating downgrade that could trigger a major selloff in the utility's bonds, hitting the broader market.

Tepco shares have lost 76% since the accident while the yield on the utility's bonds has risen sharply, as has the cost of debt protection.

Nuclear plant workers developed cancer despite lower radiation exposure than legal limit. Of 10 nuclear power plant workers who have developed cancer and received workers’ compensation in the past, nine had been exposed to less than 100 millisieverts of radiation, according to a Mainichi Daily News report. The revelation comes amid reports that a number of workers battling the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant were found to have been exposed to more than the emergency limit of 250 millisieverts, which was raised from the previous limit of 100 millisieverts in March. The current guidelines for workers’ compensation due to radiation exposure only certify leukemia among various types of cancer. In these cases compensation is granted only when an applicant is exposed to more than 5 millisieverts of radiation a year.

According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry (of Japan) statistics, of the 10 nuclear power plant workers, six had leukemia, two multiple myeloma and another two lymphatic malignancy. Only one had been exposed to 129.8 millisieverts but the remaining nine were less than 100 millisieverts, including one who had been exposed to about 5 millisieverts.

Mainichi Daily News, Japan, July 27, 2011 

Sources: Washington Post, 13 July 2011 / The Statesman, 17 July 2011 / Asahi, 19 July 2011 / NIRS update, 19 July 2011 / Asahi, 23 July 2011 / Japan Times, 24 July 2011 / Reuters, 24 July 2011 /, 26 july / The Yomiuri Shimbun, 27 July 2011
Contact: Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B, 8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0065, Japan.
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