It took an accident for people to listen to what we have been saying: Hideyuki Ban on 7 years of Fukushima and CNIC

Hideyuki Ban

Hideyuki Ban is a renowned Japanese nuclear expert. He joined the Tokyo-based Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) in 1990 and has been one of the three Co-Directors of CNIC since 1998. He became interested in nuclear power issues after the Three Mile Island Accident in 1979 when he was working in a Cooperative. He has studied many different issues related to nuclear power and, since 2013, is a member of the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee, under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI).

This interview is part of the 7 interviews conducted by on 7 years of the accident.

Translated from Japanese by Caitlin Stronnel, CNIC Tokyo. Before Fukushima, what were the challenges that CNIC and you faced in public interventions on nuclear safety issues?

Hideyuki Ban: CNIC and I were focusing on new safety checks related to seismic issues reregulated in 2006 by Nuclear Safety Commission in Japan. Each power plant was doing an evaluation but we had criticised these evaluation results as underestimations.

Another issue we were in charge of was the Rokkasho Reprocessing plant especially Japan’s Plutonium usage policy. As a member of the Subcommittee of Atomic Energy Commission 2004-2005, we insisted that this policy must be reversed. After the subcommittee was closed and the Framework of Japan’s nuclear policy was released, we had emphasized the result that reprocessing was much more expensive system and that Japan should reverse the policy by abandoning the reprocessing plant. What did Fukushima mean to you personally and to the CNIC?

Hideyuki Ban: I personally deeply despaired of the disaster and regretted to be unable to convince people and officers to phase-out nuclear power.

CNIC’s role that provides accurate information and convinces people that nuclear
power is dangerous and should be abandoned is more important after the Fukushima disaster and we are devoting our energy to fulfilling this role. After the accident, CNIC has continued to provide information about Fukushima, the current situation, health effects and the other things related to the accident. What have been the major challenges in the public discourse after Fukushima in Japan?

Hideyuki Ban: Opinion polls say that around 70% are supporting nuclear phase-out, however some support immediately shut down and some phase out over 20 years, it doesn’t come to one voice yet. So we can’t put it in the government’s nuclear policy. On the other hand, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan will submit a Bill to the Diet called the Nuclear Phase-out Basic Law in this coming March. Public discourse will activate more and more.

Another challenge is against restart of nuclear power plants at each location.
These activities are decisions in local assemblies against nuclear restart, filing it in court and so on. In the latest case, the Hiroshima High court ruled Ikata NPP should stop its operation because of the possibility of catastrophic volcanic eruption of Aso. In what forms does the denial about Fukushima continue in Japan, especially from the Government and TEPCo?

Hideyuki Ban: They are very keen to ignore health effect by exposure to radiation. They insist there is no evidence that shows detrimental effects on health if exposure is under 20mSv/y, even though there has been more than 194 thyroid cancer cases detected in around 360,000 tested who were under age of 18 when the accident occurred. What do you think are the strengths and challenges of the post-Fukushima citizens’ anti-nuclear movements in Japan?

Hideyuki Ban: In addition to second paragraph of my answer of question 3, the public tend to switch
their contract to renewable electricity companies from current general electric companies. TEPCO has lost one million contractors so far. What do you think are the key lessons of Fukushima for nuclear regulation and transparency, particularly in countries such as India, where governments are pushing for rapid nuclear expansion?

Hideyuki Ban: The most important thing learned from Fukushima disaster is independence of regulatory body against so-called Regulatory Capture. This term was pointed out in the Research Report on the Fukushima-daiichi nuclear accident by the Japanese Government. And transparency of system and also disclosure of information can keep independence of the body. In addition, high moral among officers and experts in charge of safety issues of nuclear power is needed, I think. NRA was established as an independent body from nuclear promoting section such as METI and it works more severely based on new strengthening regulation, however officers of NRA seem to compromise with nuclear power companies when forced. That’s why the moral issue is important. Even after the Fukushima accident, the Japanese government has been promoting nuclear exports and it did not press for more stringent norms when it signed the Convention on Supplementary Compensation(CSC) in 2015. What is the citizens’ perspective in Japan about this continued nuclear obsession?

Hideyuki Ban: There are two reasons for their obsession; one is to maintain the nuclear industry to avoid detrimental impact on the Japanese economy by reversing the current nuclear policy. Once METI announces nuclear phase-out as Japan’s policy, Toshiba, for example, will inevitably go into bankruptcy.

Another reason is that the government believes that Japan should keep nuclear power for national security because it works as nuclear deterrence. Their logic is that even if Japan does not actually obtain atomic bombs, having nuclear technology readily available allows Japan to develop nuclear weapons if it is deemed necessary.

These reasons seem not locked together. The former is METI’s position and the latter is supported by some right-wing Diet members, some officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and some in the Ministry of Defense.




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