All Japan Civil Society Rally on Nuclear Waste ~ Part 1: Keynote Address and Section Meetings

By Takano Satoshi (CNIC)

While pressure for municipalities to accept the literature survey (the first step in hosting a nuclear waste dump) is growing after the government’s revision of the Basic Policy on the Final Disposal of Nuclear Waste, strengthening the civil movement against nuclear waste is urgently needed. CNIC, the Japan Congress against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin) and Hokkaido Peace Forum therefore held a national rally on nuclear waste in Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture, on May 27 to 28. Here, I would like to report on the rally, for which a total of 600 participants gathered, in two parts. This first part introduces the keynote address and section meetings.

Keynote address

The keynote address was delivered by Sueda Kazuhide, editor-in-chief of the Hangenpatsu Shimbun (“No Nukes Newspaper”). Mr. Sueda pointed out three areas to which the civil movement should be committed. The first concerns the literature survey that is underway in Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village, Hokkaido. The Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), a body under the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI), was established based on the Designated Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Law and the implementer of the survey, is expected to apply to the national authorities for a shift in the work plan to proceed to the subsequent “preliminary investigation stage.” Mr. Sueda explained that it is important to exert pressure on the governor of Hokkaido and the two municipalities to submit opinions against the shift to the next stage and to keep an eye on the authorities to ensure that they will turn down NUMO’s application in consideration of these negative opinions.

The second was to prevent the spread of the literature survey. Following the revision of the Basic Policy, a move to invite the survey has been seen in Tsushima City, Nagasaki Prefecture. Such a move may spread out extensively across the nation. Mr. Sueda explained that, to be prepared against the spread, it is critical to monitor the administration of the individual municipalities and to ensure that they exercise appropriate information disclosure.

The third was a change in government policy. The current Final Disposal Law is premised on the construction of an underground waste repository. Mr. Sueda mentioned that it is necessary to discuss and present alternative disposal methods, with an aim to repeal the law. Three section meetings were then held based on these three issues. (There was also a meeting for those new to the nuclear waste issue, but I would like to omit that from this report).

Section meeting 1: Cooperation with people in Suttsu and Kamoenai

Prof. Fujiwara Haruka speaks at Section Meeting 1

The author presided over Section Meeting 1, which discussed how citizens can cooperate with people in Suttsu Town and Kamoenai Village, the problems of the “Communication Gathering,” and how to power up municipalities without governmental subsidies to candidate repository hosts. The first speaker was Domon Masayuki, the only Kamoenai assembly member opposed to the literature survey. Mr. Domon said that he had proposed that the assembly independently invite an expert at the time when the assembly was discussing whether or not to apply for the survey, but the opportunity to hear the views of such an expert was replaced by a presentation by the national government and NUMO. “It was as if the application for the survey was predetermined,” said Mr. Domon. Communication Gatherings were organized after the submission, but according to him, no in-depth pro and con discussion has been held.

From Suttsu Town, Ohgushi Shingo, a member of the Town Association for A Nuclear-waste-free Suttsu for Our Children! reported on the current situation in the town. He said that divisions in the community are appearing; people avoid talking about nuclear waste and tend not to engage in conversations. Those in favor of the application avoid visiting the stores run by those against, and vice versa. The Communication Gatherings are run by NUMO in cooperation with the town office, and so the majority of participants are in favor of the application. Accordingly, the Gatherings are used as opportunistic events to discuss how to develop the town using the subsidies. Mr. Ohgushi said that the Gatherings are enlarging the divisions, instead of repairing them. “I have a gut feeling that more than half of the population is in favor of the application,” said Town Mayor Kataoka Haruo when announcing his intention of submitting the application. However, at the town mayor election of November 2021, a voting station exit poll indicated that only 33% was in favor of the survey. Mr. Ohgushi commented that if a municipal referendum had been conducted before the application, it might have prevented the mayor from submitting it.

Mr. Ohgushi was followed by Asuka Jusen, a professor at Tohoku University, who introduced the “Well-being of Future Generations Act.” This is a system in which administrative policies are planned in consideration of the impacts on future generations. Leading the world, Wales, U.K. enacted this act in 2015. According to the act, the impacts of policies on well-being (affluence and happiness) are examined in terms of four aspects, economy, society, environment, and culture. He mentioned the possibility of using this act as a way of building a town independent from governmental subsidies.

Fujiwara Haruka, an associate professor at Fukushima University, explained the financial conditions of the municipalities hosting nuclear plants and the economic effect of hosting a nuclear power station. As for the economic effect, Professor Fujiwara explained that while hosting a nuclear plant works favorably for one section of local industries, such as those involved in reactor maintenance, inspection and construction, there are many companies that have no connections with nuclear plants and are therefore not favorably influenced. She also indicated a negative impact: Nuclear subsidies may make the financial scale of a local municipality far bigger than is commensurate with the community, and a development-centered administration, along with intervention from the national government, may work negatively for the town.

Section meeting 2: Prevention of new literature survey applications

Section meeting 2 was chaired by Nishio Baku, a co-director of CNIC. People from around Japan reported on the situation in their own areas in this meeting, and a discussion was held on strengthening the civil movement to ensure that no more municipalities will apply for the literature survey. The first speaker was Nagata Kohei from the Tsushima Peace and Labor Center, Nagasaki Prefecture, who presented the latest news of Tsushima City, which is reported to be interested in applying for the literature survey. On May 12, 2023, two organizations of the local construction industry decided to submit a petition to the city assembly to apply for the literature survey, and this move was followed by the chamber of commerce and industry on May 19. In response, citizens against the application are organizing a signature drive. Also five local organizations decided to organize a rally which took place on June 10 with 530 people participating.

Two reports from Hokkaido were delivered next. Azuma Osamu, who has long been committed to the movement against the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s research center on geological disposal in Horonobe Town, indicated two breaches of promise by the research center. One of them is that the center has been extending the research period without limit, and the second is that NUMO is participating in the research. Mr. Azuma called for cooperation to put an end to the research center. Inoue Atsuko, who has long been involved in the anti-nuke movement in Sapporo City, outlined the history of the Hokkaido Ordinance Rejecting Nuclear Waste.

The next speakers were from Iwate and Aomori Prefectures. Iwama Shigeru, Association to Protect the Rich Sanriku Coast Sea, introduced the civil movement that started in 2019 in Iwate Prefecture to establish an ordinance rejecting nuclear waste in Iwate. Ito Kazuko, who has been committed to the movement against the nuclear fuel cycle, introduced the movement for the establishment of an ordinance rejecting nuclear waste in Aomori Prefecture that started in 2020, and whose aim it is to legislate the oral agreement between the prefecture and national government that no final disposal site for nuclear waste should be built in the prefecture. She reported, however, that the prefectural government has been rejecting the legislation.

The final speaker in meeting 2 was Akai Fujiko from Okayama, where the movement against nuclear waste has been active for many years. Okayama Prefecture has no ordinance to reject nuclear waste, but all 27 municipalities gave a negative reply to a question from citizens about hosting a final disposal site. This tenacious movement for monitoring and making demands by a citizens’ network will serve as a good model to citizens in other prefectures.

Section meeting 3: Aiming at a drastic amendment to the Final Disposal Law

Mr. Sueda, who delivered the keynote address, presided over Section meeting 3. The first speaker at this session was Juraku Kota, a professor at Tokyo Denki University. He pointed out that the Japanese Final Disposal Law is problematic in that the law aims to proceed with the use of nuclear power and contribute to national economy and public welfare; in other words, the law serves as an organizer of an environment where nuclear reactors are used and does not explicitly state the importance of maintaining life and health. He also mentioned that civil participation in disposal policy making is limited to the host site selection process.

The next speaker was Yamamoto Yukio, a lawyer who introduced Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992). The principle recommends securing three civil rights: first, access to information concerning the environment; second, the right to participate in decision making; and third, access to the judicial system for citizens in environmental policy making. In Europe, these civil rights are specifically stated in the international Aarhus Convention. Mr. Yamamoto indicated that if Japan signs on to the convention, the final disposal policy making process will be improved; namely, sufficient information would be provided to citizens before the literature survey, and any secretly determined application would be withdrawn in court. He added that such an undemocratically and opaquely determined application as can be seen today would become impossible.

The final speaker was Okamura Lila, a professor at Senshu University, who explained the implications of the German government’s policy on final disposal sites. The German government learned its lesson from the fierce civil movement against the planned Gorleben nuclear disposal facility in the latter half of the 1970s. The current German policy is that, when a political determination is made behind closed doors while safety standards are not established, the determination would fail. There should, therefore, be a broad consensus formed concerning safety standards, and the process of comparing candidate sites and civil participation should be realized from an early stage. To realize civil participation, Germany secures specific measures at three levels: federal, interregional, and local. The most eye-catching policy is a local commission, which is to be established in the region where a ground survey is to be held. Civil participation is provided with the right to hire experts, and citizens can also prepare their own research reports.

I believe Japan can learn a great many things from this German approach.

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