Opinions on nuclear power dominate Japan and spill over international boundaries

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Discussions related to nuclear power have been on the lips of nearly every attendee of Japanese utilities’ shareholders meetings this week.  At every meeting, the utilities faced numerous questions from their shareholders about their stance on withdrawing from nuclear power entirely, concerns over the resumption of nuclear plants were coupled with opinions urging them to call off new nuclear plant construction, and subsequently, protests have proliferated internationally to the doorsteps of various Japanese Consulates around the world.

Protestors gathered outside the TEPCO annual shareholder’s meeting calling for shareholders and investors to vote for a shift away from nuclear energy.  Many of the complaints were directed at a perceived attempt by the utility to evade its responsibility for the catastrophe and to minimize legal risks in compensating nuclear crisis victims and in dealing with lawsuits over the disaster.

Compensation for those affected is still a hotly contested issue. Many have raised concerns that by taking on so much financial responsibility for the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the central government may find itself in situations where it is in the federal interest to limit the amount of compensation or acknowledgement of wrong-doing as their interests are now tied up in the utility, disaster-recovery, and trying to encourage foreign tourists to return to disaster-hit areas.

Despite the lack of public confidence in the safety of nuclear power generation, Japan’s central government has pushed to bring some reactors online, one of KEPCO’s units at its Ohi nuclear power plant will be switched on Sunday, but the public is starting to push back.

In Osaka, where Kansai Electric Power Company’s (KEPCO) board was meeting, protesters gathered outside the venue calling for the closure of all of the utility’s nuclear power plants.

As key shareholders in nuclear power plants, local municipalities felt the pressure from the public to move away from nuclear power.   KEPCO’s largest shareholder, Osaka City, proposed closing the utility’s nuclear power plants in the future, but the motion was emphatically denied, according to KEPCO’s public relations office.

Officials from KEPCO and the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency are literally ignoring alarms which are audibly ringing at the Ohi nuclear power plant, and maintain their stance that no safety problem has been found at the two reactors.   Even though more than 25 individual alarms have sounded at the plants since announcing plans to restart the idled reactors, adding that there is no change in the current plan to reactivate the No. 3 reactor on Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors seeking acknowledgement

A protest outside the prime minister’s office has become a weekly event in the past few months, with the number of participants increasing each time, with a dramatic increase after Japanese Prime Minister Noda formally announced June 8 the government would allow the restart of two reactors at the Oi plant.

Over 200,000 protesters filled the street outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office this week, blocking traffic and chanting “No to restart!” as they held up banners with anti-nuclear slogans.

“I think it’s outrageous to restart (the Oi reactors) when the Fukushima No. 1 plant accident has not even been contained,” said protester Kazumi Honda, a housewife in her 40s from Minami Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture.

Thoughts from an outside observer

On the outside, the situation is a little bizarre, it would seem impossible to convince local residents of the safety of nuclear energy, if they aren’t able to complete investigations into the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

South Korea still recommends its people refrain from visiting Fukushima prefecture entirely, China also recommends its citizens stay away from the prefecture and other areas “hit hard by the disaster.”

This may be prudent according to an announcement Wednesday from TEPCO, which revealed that radiation levels in the basement of the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daiichi are so dangerously elevated, it would take a mere 20 seconds for a worker exposed to reach annual cumulative dose limit of 50 millisieverts.   Acute symptoms of radiation exposure such as vomiting would develop in about six minutes.

The central government wants to restart even more reactors, though they can’t keep pouring enough money into newly-nationalized TEPCO to help respond to the crisis, and there doesn’t seem to be much meaningful progress being made in exchange.

More than 150,000 people remain evacuees after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, many of them will not be able to return to their homes for at least 10 years, others are still trying to come to grips with the realization that they will never return home.

One can’t help but contemplate whether any federal or industrial study takes these types of ‘odius facts’ into account when conducting risk assessments, and if not are they really aware of their responsibility for such consequences?

Are we incompetent to solve the times?

I’m reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson,

“The way of Providence is a little rude…The planet is liable to shocks from comets, perturbations from planets, rendings from earthquake and volcano, alterations of climate, precessions of equinoxes…[There] are hints of ferocity in the interiors of nature.  Let us not deny it up and down…

…Will you say, the disasters which threaten mankind are exceptional, and one need not lay his account for cataclysms every day?  Aye, but what happens once, may happen again, and so long as these strokes are not to be parried by us, they must be feared.  But these shocks and ruins are less destructive to us, than the stealthy power of other laws which act on us daily.  An expense of ends to means is fate, organization tyrannizing over character

…Every spirit makes its house, but afterwards the house confines the spirit.”

Source: The Japan Times

Source: The Denki Shimbun

Source: CNN

Source: Yomiuri

Source: Ji Ji Press

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