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<nettime> Background on nuclear industry in Japan
Krystian Woznicki on Tue, 22 Mar 2011 18:11:40 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Background on nuclear industry in Japan

Dear nettimers,

today the Berliner Gazette (berlinergazette.de) published a text by 
historian Yuki Tanaka on the nuclear industry in Japan, embedding the 
Fukushima in a historical context as well as in the context of world 
economy. Here the link:

Since this text is an original contribution to the Berliner Gazette the 
English version (see below) has not been published yet. Therefore I 
would like to share it with you. If you have any ideas, where it might 
get published, please get in touch with the author 

Best wishes,


- berlinergazette.de

The Atomic Bomb and "Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy"

Yuki Tanaka
Research Professor
Hiroshima Peace Institute, Hiroshima City University

The devastating earthquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale that hit 
Japan on March 11, together with the following massive tsunami, 
completely destroyed the picturesque northeast coast of Japan's main 
island, taking tens of thousands of lives and creating hundreds of 
thousands of refugees.

Along this stretch of utter destruction, four nuclear power stations 
comprising a total of 15 reactors are placed within a distance of about 
200km. Of these, the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power station, operated by 
the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), is the largest, comprising six 
nuclear reactors. Until now, TEPCO has been proud of the robustness of 
the containment vessels of these reactors. It has claimed that they were 
made utilizing the brilliant technology originally developed to produce 
the main battery of the world-largest naval artillery ever produced, 
mounted on the gigantic battleship, Yamato, of the Japanese Imperial 
Navy, which U.S. forces destroyed towards the end of the Asia-Pacific 
War. TEPCO claimed that the nuclear reactors would safely stop, then 
automatically cool down and tightly contain the radiation in the event 
of an earthquake, and that there would therefore be no danger that 
earthquakes would cause any serious nuclear accident. The vulnerability 
of nuclear reactors to earthquakes was already evident, however, when 
TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant on Japan's northwest coast caused 
several malfunctions, including a fire in a transformer, and a small 
quantity of radiation leaked into the ocean and the atmosphere following 
a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that hit this region in July 2007. In spite 
of this serious accident, TEPCO still arrogantly overrated their "world 
best nuclear power technology."

Yet, immediately after the March 11 earthquake violently shook these 
reactors and the towering waves of a tsunami surged and damaged many 
buildings of the power station, the myth of the "safe and durable 
reactor," a myth promulgated by TEPCO, was immediately shattered. At 
this writing, half of the six reactors seem to be on the verge of 
melting down, and one of the containment buildings has caught fire due 
to spent fuel rods combusting. The radiation level in the vicinity of 
the power station is extremely high, and it is spreading as far as Tokyo 
and Yokohama. Thus, as every day passes, an unprecedented scale of 
nuclear disaster is unfolding, making it more and more difficult to 
arrest the multiple problems of radioactivity.

What went wrong with Japan's nuclear industry? It is often said that the 
Japanese are hyper-sensitive about nuclear issues because of the 
experience of nuclear holocaust in August 1945. On the morning of August 
6, an atomic bomb instantly killed 70,000 to 80,000 civilian residents 
of Hiroshima city and by the end of 1945, 140,000 residents of that city 
had died as a result of the bombing. Three days later, another atomic 
bomb killed about 40,000 civilians in Nagasaki and 70,000 had died by 
the end of that year. Many others have subsequently died, often after 
experiencing a lifetime of suffering, or are still suffering from 
various diseases caused by the blast, fire and radiation.

It is true that the Japanese, in particular the citizens of Hiroshima 
and Nagasaki, are highly conscious of the danger of nuclear weapons, the 
most lethal weapons of mass destruction. A-bomb survivors, who know well 
the terror of the bomb and who are fearful of the long-lasting effects 
of radiation, have therefore been the vanguard of the anti-nuclear 
weapon campaign. Despite this, however, many A-bomb survivors and 
anti-nuclear weapon activists have so far been indifferent to the 
nuclear energy issue. Anti-nuclear energy campaigners have long been 
marginalized in Japan.

For example, a small group of anti-nuclear energy activists in Hiroshima 
have been actively involved in the movement against the Chugoku Electric 
Power Company's (CEPCO) plan to build a nuclear power station near 
Kaminoseki, a beautiful fishing village on Japan's Inland Sea, about 
80km away from Hiroshima City. However they have had virtually no 
support from any A-bomb survivors' organizations. Nor have either the 
former or current mayors of Hiroshima, who are widely known as strong 
advocates for the abolishment of nuclear weapons, ever supported this 
local anti-nuclear power movement. Indeed they never expressed concern 
about the danger of nuclear power accidents. Despite strong opposition 
by this group of anti-nuclear energy activists in solidarity with 
fishermen of Kaminoseki, CEPCO started construction work early this 
year. (However, CEPCO temporarily stopped construction work on this site 
on the day of the earthquake, perhaps indicative of the very great 
difficulty the nuclear power industry and the government will have in 
resuming work on nuclear plants following the disasters.)

There are many reasons for this peculiar dichotomy in the anti-nuclear 
movement in Japan. One reason is that nuclear science was strongly 
promoted in post-war Japan, in particular after the new American policy 
of "peaceful use of nuclear energy" was initiated under President 
Eisenhower in 1953. This was mainly due to Japanese self-reflection 
about having neglected scientific research during the war. In 
particular, contemporary Japanese politicians and scientists strongly 
believed that their nation was defeated in WW2 by American technological 
science, exemplified by nuclear physics.

This attitude, together with a deep anxiety about the lack of natural 
energy resources in a nation that relies on imports for 100% of its oil 
and is the world's largest importer of coal, overtly encouraged Japanese 
adoption of nuclear energy. Particularly from the late 1960s the 
Japanese government engaged in pork barrel policies to secure approval 
of local communities in remote areas for the construction of nuclear 
power plants in their regions. The government allocated huge sums to 
build public facilities such as libraries, hospitals, recreation 
centers, gymnasiums and swimming pools in areas where local councils 
accepted a nuclear power station. Power companies paid large sums of 
money to landowners and fishermen to force them to give up their 
properties and fishing rights. Political corruption soon became part and 
parcel of the development of this industry. At the same time, the 
government and power companies promoted the myth that nuclear power is 
clean and safe, thereby marginalizing the anti-nuclear energy movement.

Although for a short period following the Chernobyl accident in 1986, 
the anti-nuclear power movement in Japan gained nation-wide support, 
this quickly subsided following campaigns by the government and the 
power companies. Despite many accidents since, the seriousness of these 
incidents was effectively covered up. Consequently there are now 17 
nuclear power stations around the earthquake prone Japanese Archipelago, 
comprising 54 nuclear reactors which provide thirty percent of Japan's 
electricity is generated.

The anti-nuclear movement has been warning of the dangers of a 
devastating nuclear accident for years, but this has always been met 
with dismissive assurances of the safety of the reactors. The Fukushima 
accident has brought to fruition all the fears and predictions 
previously expressed. In the same way that the atomic bomb 
indiscriminately killed tens of thousands of civilians, this nuclear 
reactor accident is likely to be responsible for indiscriminate 
suffering and death of numbers which cannot at this time be foreseen but 
are likely to play out over the next several decades as a consequence of 
radiation pollution. For this reason, a nuclear power accident can be 
called an "act of indiscriminate mass destruction," and in this sense, 
it appears that Japan and Japanese people twice in 65 years will become 
the victims of "nuclear mass destruction."

Australia and Canada are the two largest uranium suppliers for Japan. 
Thirty three percent of Japan's uranium import comes from Australia and 
twenty seven percent from Canada. Australia is faced with the decision 
of whether to continue exporting uranium even as certain politicians 
insist that we cannot afford to risk introduction of nuclear power. 
Surely it is hypocritical to avoid the dangers at home, while 
benefitting from the export of the cause of this disaster. In the same 
vein, these politicians advocate the need to abolish nuclear weapons, 
but refuse to ban the mining of uranium.

Japan is not the sole nation responsible for the current nuclear 
disaster. From the manufacture of the reactors by GE to provision of 
uranium by Canada, Australia and others, many nations are implicated. We 
all should learn from this tragic accident that human beings cannot 
co-exist with nuclear power, whether it in the form of weapons or 
electricity.  The risks and the costs, in dollar terms and above in 
terms of the destruction of human beings and the environment are excessive.

This catastrophic event could potentially be the catalyst needed to 
drastically reform Japan's existing socio-economic structure and way of 
living. As a positive outcome, it could provide the wake-up call and 
opportunity to redirect the nation on a new course that emphasizes green 
energy development. In the same way that Japan's unique Peace 
Constitution evolved from the ruins of World War II, this calamity could 
be used to initiate a hitherto impossible, totally new, peaceful and 
environmentally harmonious society. Such an optimistic outcome is 
dependent on the determination and actions of the Japanese people, 
supported by the whole-hearted assistance of those outside Japan.

End --
(March 19, 2011)

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