News Watch

Five Former Prime Ministers Appeal for No Nukes

On March 11, ten years to the day after the Fukushima nuclear accident, five former prime ministers of Japan appealed for abandonment of nuclear power. In the order of their prime ministership, the five were Hosokawa Morihiro, Murayama Tomiichi, Koizumi Jun’ichiro, Hatoyama Yukio and Kan Naoto. Former Prime Minister Koizumi spoke at the “Zero Nuclear Power Plant 100 Renewable Energy World Conference,” an event held in Tokyo by the Zero Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy Promotion Federation. Saying, “When I was prime minister, I took the word of those promoting nuclear energy, but I was mistaken,” he called once more for zero nukes. After he spoke, former prime ministers Hatoyama and Kan took the stage and appealed for abandonment of nuclear power. Former prime ministers Hosokawa and Murayama have also issued statements calling for “a nuclear phaseout” and “zero nuclear power,” respectively.

Suttsu Town Council Passes Public Referendum Ordinance for Choosing Nuclear Waste Disposal Sites

An ordinance was approved at a plenary session of the regular town council on March 8 by a majority of council members of Suttsu Town, Hokkaido, for public referenda to consider the propriety of a preliminary geological investigation for selection of a disposal site for high-level nuclear waste and the subsequent step of a detailed investigation. These would be the second and third steps, respectively, following the literature search, which had previously been approved as the initial step toward selection of a site. Initially, Mayor Kataoka Haruo had submitted a bill to the council for an ordinance to hold a vote prior to the detailed investigation, with the assumption of the process proceeding to the preliminary investigation. However, Council Chair Konishi Masanao submitted a revised bill on March 3 to hold a public referendum prior to the preliminary investigation as well, and this bill was approved by an ad hoc committee and later by the town council at a plenary session.

In the midst of a deepening split among the townspeople between those in favor and those opposed to the plan, it is deemed necessary to find an opportunity as soon as possible to determine what the townspeople want. However, an editorial in the March 5 edition of Hokkaido Shimbun said, “The rift in the town is deepening because the mayor made a unilateral decision to apply for the literature search. The turmoil must be mitigated early on. The rational thing to do would be to hold a public referendum promptly regarding the literature search and get a grasp of the people’s will, based on reality.” The editorial asserted that the pros and cons of accepting the literature search should have been considered to start with and also made the following points: “Last year, the council chair vetoed two bills, one for a public referendum on the literature search, and the other to prohibit the transporting in of nuclear waste. He could be called lackadaisical about confirming what the citizens want. A resident’s organization opposed to the plan was considering a recall of five council members, including the chair for approving the literature search. What caused the chair to change his attitude appears to have been the desire to avoid a recall by pacifying the opposition among the townspeople. If this is perceived as a cheap trick, won’t it just exacerbate the uproar in the town?”

Councils of Municipalities Adjacent to Suttsu and Kamoenai Pass Ordinances Refusing Nuclear Waste

The town council of Kuromatsunai Town, Hokkaido, located next to Suttsu Town, passed a bill on March 16 prohibiting radioactive materials being brought into the town. The village council of Shimamaki Village, also adjacent to Suttsu Town, had passed a similar bill on December 15, 2020.

Additionally, the village council of Shakotan Village, located next to Kamoenai Village, which like Suttsu Town had also applied for a literature search, passed a similar bill on March 12.

Fukui Prefecture Postpones Decision on Restarting Nukes in Operation for Over 40 Years

Takahama Town and Mihama Town, Fukui Prefecture, have agreed to the restarting of the three Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) reactors that have been approved for 60 years of operation, i.e., Takahama Units 1 and 2 and Mihama Unit 3 (all PWR and each 826 MW), but have not gained agreement at the prefectural level. Governor Sugimoto Tatsuji accepted the agreement of Mihama’s mayor on March 15 and requested the prefectural assembly to discuss it, but the session was closed before any conclusion could be reached on March 17. The political background to this is a request for compensation from the national government for agreeing to the restarts amid a lack of clarity regarding long-term regional development policies.

Note that regarding clarification of destinations outside of the prefecture for spent fuel (one of the prefecture’s conditions for the restarts), about a month before, on February 12, President Morimoto Takashi of KEPCO reported to Governor Sugimoto on a proposal for common use of interim storage facilities for spent fuel being constructed by Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company, in which Mutsu City of Aomori Prefecture, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Japan Atomic Power Co. have jointly invested, as a candidate for storage outside of the prefecture. Clarification of destinations outside the prefecture for the spent fuel was originally a promise extracted on November 23, 2017 by then Governor Nishikawa Issei from then KEPCO President Iwane Shigeki to “indicate locations outside the prefecture in 2018” for interim storage facilities for spent fuel. However, by the end of 2018, the promise had retrogressed to “indicate candidate sites by the end of 2020,” which was not fulfilled. It appeared as if the promise might be fulfilled, but both Aomori Prefecture and Mutsu City have reacted very angrily to the proposed joint use. Mayor Miyashita Soichiro of Mutsu City, in particular, has issued mayoral statements repeatedly in opposition. It would be stretching it to say the desired condition has been fulfilled.

Major Earthquake Hits Fukushima for First Time in 10 Years

An earthquake with a maximum magnitude of over 6+ on the seven-point Japanese scale occurred at 11:07 p.m. on February 13. It is said to have been an aftershock of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011 that resulted in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster.

The aftershock caused a variety of issues at TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ni and Onagawa nuclear power plants (NPP), but at the Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP it toppled a container in a debris storage area, displaced 53 tanks a maximum of 19 centimeters, lowered the water levels and pressure in the containment vessels of Units 1 and 3 and caused many other issues. The most serious among them was the lowered pressure and water levels, because the drop in water levels resulted from leakage of water to the outside of the buildings and the drop in pressure, from leakage of gas from the vicinity of exposed parts. This extended the damage caused ten years ago.

What’s worse is that even on February 22, more than a week after the temblor, two seismographs that had been installed last March on the 1st and 5th floors of the Unit 3 building and had been out of order since July and October, respectively, had yet to be addressed, and it was discovered that they had been unable to record data on the earthquake. It was at a meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s study group on specific nuclear facility monitoring and evaluation that day where light was first thrown on the issue by a query from the NRA. The seismographs at Unit 3 had been “installed experimentally” (according to TEPCO) to study the quake resistance of the building, where a hydrogen explosion had occurred at the time of the accident. They were so-called “voluntarily supplied equipment” in two places. At a press conference on the 24th, Chairman Fuketa Toyoshi stated that whether this was okay, including responsibility by the NRA itself, would be examined, but at the same time he also expressed dissatisfaction with TEPCO’s irresponsible attitude, saying, “However you consider it, the lack of seismography in this building is unnatural,” “What does it say when the equipment they supply on their own doesn’t even function?” and “Occurrences like this will lead to arguments for the need for stronger regulatory intervention.”

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