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Japan Political Pulse: What will become of the nuclear burden?

Japan's only option is to get away from nuclear power. The spent nuclear fuel that comes from nuclear plants is nothing but a burden, and the same is true of the plutonium at research facilities. This burden grows and grows, and so not even a final place to store high-level radioactive waste can be decided upon. I would like those pretending that such a place is going to be decided on soon to end such thinking, and those talking as if the nuclear fuel cycle will be completely established soon to stop their lies.

    On March 9, the Otsu District Court issued a provisional injunction to halt the Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture. As always, the various newspapers were divided in their take on this. Even if in the end it is simply considered to be a difference of opinions, I cannot ignore the arguments of the pro-nuclear energy group -- that the injunction is "an outrageous demand for a no-risk solution," or that it is "out of step with the precedent set by the Supreme Court" -- and I wish to respond.

    When a severe nuclear disaster happens even once, an area some dozens to hundreds of kilometers from the plant becomes contaminated with radiation. More than 100,000 people have their livelihoods destroyed -- many more if the disaster affects an urban area -- and lose the land that is their home. Because of the effects of radiation on genes, future generations are threatened as well. In terms of both its scale and nature, it is a whole different level of disaster compared to others. To even be discussing it in the same terms as something like an airplane crash is a mistake.

    Even if the likelihood of such a disaster is said to be "once in a million years per reactor," that doesn't mean we can accept that and agree to reactivate them.

    One other thing I wish to say -- to those who criticize the district court's injunction as out of line with the Supreme Court ruling -- is that we must ask, what is wrong with being out of step? The only Supreme Court ruling in a case on nuclear power was in 1992, well before the Fukushima nuclear disaster, for a case involving the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant. The essence of that ruling was that "Whether or not a nuclear plant is safe will be left to the decision of the prime minister after hearing the opinions of experts."

    There is no reason that we must humbly abide by that ruling, made based on a policy of green-lighting administrative actions after the fact, a policy that formed out of Japan's economic growth years

    There have been court rulings allowing for the reactivation of nuclear plants, so it may be too early to say that the tide has turned in the court battles over plant reactivation, but the judges are also citizens of this country, and it is the original, proper function of the judiciary to hold basic doubts, to think freely and unfettered and speak out against the administration.

    There is also another burden, in the form of excess plutonium. According to a special report on March 5, coming out of Washington D.C. through Kyodo News, in the middle of this month a British-registered nuclear fuel transport ship will load up 331 kilograms of research-use plutonium at Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, and head to the U.S.

    Japan holds 37 metric tons of plutonium in Great Britain and France, where it was sent for reprocessing, and 10.8 metric tons within its own borders. This is by far the greatest amount for a country not armed with nuclear weapons. The plutonium used at research facilities is of high purity and easily converted to military use, and this is why the United States, the standard bearer for the reduction of nuclear material, moved to retrieve it under a publically-released agreement between Japan and the United States. However, China, seeing no progress on this front, had its ambassador to the United Nations level criticism last fall that Japan had enough plutonium to load in 1,350 nuclear warheads.

    While China -- lacking results of its own in reducing its nuclear arsenal -- is not in a position to criticize Japan, Japan and the U.S. are moving forward with the transport of the plutonium so that they will be backed by their actions when they speak at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. at the end of this month, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will attend.

    Even if Japan sets out now on a path away from nuclear energy, it will have to move forward while shouldering the burden of a massive amount of nuclear waste. We have a moral responsibility to not create any more nuclear pollution than we have already, and to not place additional burdens on our future generations. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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