Fukushima Fallout

Weekly updates by
Keito Hirabayashi

Good news that seems hard to believe and bad news that seems only too true this week as the Prime Minister announces that the Ohi nuclear reactors will be re-started, “in order to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people,” ending Japan’s nuclear-free power supply after just over a month. But first the good news… in a regular meeting of the Nuclear Energy Committee, regarding the nuclear fuel cycle, the Deputy President of the committee, Mr. Suzuki, made the surprise announcement that he thought the government should abandon its policy of reprocessing all nuclear waste into new fuel and ‘closing the fuel cycle,’ as it is inefficient and it is unclear whether the fast breeder program (of which Monju is the centerpiece) will actually be viable. He even went as far as to say that whether or not the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture should be continued should also be verified. This would appear to be an official blow to the planned restart of Monju, but with all the policy toing and froing on this issue and the secret meetings of the nuclear village, it’s very hard to say what is bluff or who is winning.

 4000 people gathered outside the PM’s residence in Tokyo to protest the restarting of the Ohi nuclear reactors

Despite PM Noda’s announcement that Ohi will be restarted, there appears to be quite strong opposition within his own party. 117 Democratic Party MPs, including previous leaders such as Ozawa Ichiro and Hatoyama Yukio have signed a request that the government seriously consider the issue of restarting Ohi. Previous Prime Minister Kan Naotoalso said, during a speech he made in Shikuoka Prefecture, that it was possible for Japan to get through the summer without nuclear power from Ohi if electricity saving measures were put in place.

Last summer in Tokyo, we were able to survive the summer with a little effort and not much discomfit by cutting power consumption by 15%. Screens appeared in train stations and other public places showing how much electricity was available and how much was presently being used, and, especially in the aftermath of 3.11, everyone, from small companies to large corporations, as well as the general public, pulled together and managed. This year, in Tokyo the 節電 (saving electricity) signs have largely disappeared but, is it my imagination? or is there a subtleness in the lighting? more shadows, somehow giving faces a depth of expression that wasn’t there in the pre 3.11 days and nights? Of course the successful drive to cut power consumption is an electricity company’s worst nightmare. How are they supposed to rake in those profits if people stop using their product? Even if Kansai Electric (KEPCO) has learnt nothing else from Tokyo Electric (TEPCO), they have learnt that this electricity saving thing is very bad for business, and if Ohi is not put back online, so that customers can keep using electricity instead of implementing power saving measures, well, how is an electric power company to survive?

The Mayor of Osaka, Mr. Hashimoto, criticizing the PM, commented that it would be sufficient in order to protect the people of western Japan to run the nuclear reactors just for the summer period, but it would not be sufficient to protect the electricity companies. He is simply stating what everyone knows—that the survival of the corporations is the first choice for government, not the survival of its people. Whether or not he, and other neighboring governors, seriously believed that the central government would make the electricity corporations turn off the Ohi nuclear reactors after only a few months, this has been a good tactic for them to try and appear to voters as the good guys.

The bickering and bluff, the contradictions and cave-ins that we see in the political classes at present reflect a growing realization that public sentiment is absolutely against nuclear energy and, even though most of the politicians don’t have the guts or imagination to stand up to the corporations, they are also worried about loosing their seats in the next election if they appear to be pro-nuclear. While opposition to the Ohi restart amongst politicians could easily be seen as grandstanding, the rhetoric and the tactics show at least that the power of the people can no longer be completely ignored. The question is, with such limited choices in terms of policies and parties, what creative ways the people can find to use this power.