Twilight of Nukes in the Land of the Rising Sun

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Twilight of Nukes in the Land of the Rising Sun

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 10, No. 5, September/October 1978, p. 19

The number of conventional nuclear power plants in Japan reached 14 in 1977. An experimental fast breeder reactor also started test operation and a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant was put into operation in the same year. At the same time nearly half of the conventional light water reactors were out of operation because of accidents and mechanical troubles, so that only 30-40% of the total atomic generation capacity was used during the year. 

The goal for Japan’s long-range nuclear power development has been reduced several times. Tripling atomic power generation capacity by 1985 is considered realistic today, but there is no guarantee that this can be achieved. When the Fukuda cabinet formed in 1976, it emphasized as main points of its policy the opening of the Narita airport (see story elsewhere in this issue), the construction of the fuel reprocessing plant, and the development of other major power resources. 

The Japanese were victimized by the atomic bomb and have suffered serious air and water pollution because of their country’s rapid economic growth since World War II. These facts have added convincing power to the statements of the Japanese anti-nuclear movement. Japan relies heavily on foreign oil and coal, however, and faces strong pressure to develop a nuclear economy. The Japanese anti-nuclear movement shows a widespread desire “to re-examine the structure of the energy-consuming civilization and to seek to find a way of life worthy of human beings, a way of life that does not depend on atomic power” (from the appeal of the Working Committee for “Anti-Nuclear Power Week 77”). 

There have been many protests. Japan’s first nuclear ship, the Mutsu, developed a radiation leak in 1974, and the offer of one port to undertake repairs has provoked continuous and widely-publicized protests on the part of shipyard workers and fisheries’ groups. 

The new nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is the subject of a lawsuit which charges that local inhabitants are exposed to radioactive discharges from the plant in one day equal to that released from a conventional nuclear power plant in one year. The result of the suit against the plant, built with United States technology, has not been decided. 

In the community of Tanashio, where a power plant is planned, members of an association formed to oppose it pledge not to sell land to the company or any developer, or to take part in talks with any government group. Construction has been held up for almost ten years. Strong resistance on the part of local fishermen and residents of Onagawa has blocked the construction of a nuclear plant even though it was approved in 1970 by the government. The fishermen fear that their livelihood will be taken away by construction of the plant and have resisted the offer of large sums of money by the power company to buy their fishing rights. 

Moves disguised as impartial “academic studies”, promoting the construction of power plants, have also been opposed. One such symposium was moved from Kashiwazaki, to Tokyo, and finally dropped, due to public pressure. The Government is accused of concealing the truth about worker exposure to radioactivity, and the matter has been debated by legislators in the Japanese Diet. There are frequent reports in the press of worker exposure to unsafe levels of radioactivity at atomic power plants. This struggle for safety continues despite the favorable attitude of the Electric Power Industry Workers Union toward atomic power. The goal of a non-nuclear Japan is far from being achieved. 

—Editorial Committee

Sources: A report by Nobuo Matsuoka, of Jishu Koza, a Japanese anti-nuke group; also Nuclear Power: The Fifth Horseman, by Denis Hayes, Worldwatch Institute.

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