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2016年3月11日 (金)

原発事故から5年 許されぬ安全神話の復活

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 10
EDITORIAL: Despite utilities’ attempts, nuclear safety myth can never be revived
(社説)原発事故から5年 許されぬ安全神話の復活

Japan should become a society that is not dependent on nuclear power generation as quickly as possible.

Five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated wide areas in the northeastern Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, triggering the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Our editorials will continue arguing for a nuclear-free future for Japanese society.

The Otsu District Court in Shiga Prefecture on March 9 issued an injunction against the operation of two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. The court told the utility to immediately shut down the No. 3 reactor at the plant and keep the No. 4 unit off-line. Both reactors were restarted earlier this year, but a malfunction automatically shut down the No. 4 unit on Feb. 29.

It was the first time for a Japanese court to order a halt to an online nuclear reactor.

The Abe administration can hardly claim that its policy decisions concerning nuclear power generation have been solidly based on lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Rather, the administration has been trying to revive the nuclear power policy that was in place before the disaster and restart as many reactors as possible.

The court decision echoes public anxiety about the government’s move to gradually regain Japan’s nuclear capacity without serious public debate on the issue.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government should sincerely respond to the important social changes caused by the triple meltdown and take steps toward a major shift in energy policy.


As for the Takahama plant, the Fukui District Court issued an injunction against plans to restart the two reactors in April last year.

Although another judge at the district court repealed the injunction eight months later, the fact remains that the judiciary has twice denied the safety of reactors that passed the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster.

When the Fukui District Court in April rejected the restarts of the reactors, proponents of nuclear power generation played down the importance of the order, saying it was “an exceptional decision by an exceptional judge.”
After the Otsu District Court’s injunction, however, this argument no longer holds water.

Looking back on the harrowing accident in Fukushima Prefecture, the district court pointed out that a severe nuclear accident could cause environmental destruction beyond national borders. It is hard to assert that efficiency in power generation should be pursued even at the risk of devastating disasters, the court maintained.

The court also contended that the NRA and Kansai Electric have made insufficient efforts to pinpoint the causes of the Fukushima accident.

The NRA’s endorsement of the safety of a reactor cannot be seen as a base for a sense of security within society, the court said.

The court’s decision that meeting the new regulatory standards alone does not necessarily ensure the safety of a reactor has huge implications.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said the Abe administration remains committed to promoting reactor restarts in line with the NRA’s judgments.

But the administration should carefully consider the significance of the fact that the judiciary has raised fundamental questions about the entire system of post-Fukushima nuclear safety regulation.


An Asahi Shimbun editorial published in July 2011 called for the creation of a society without nuclear power.

While supporting the temporary operation of the minimum number of reactors that are absolutely needed to meet electricity demand, the editorial proposed that nuclear power generation should be phased out in two to three decades by decommissioning dangerous and aging reactors.

In fact, all nuclear reactors in Japan were off-line for about two years and one month over the past five years. No serious power crunches or economic upheavals took place during the period, disproving initial warnings about such possibilities.
The experiences during the period have shown that the number of “absolutely necessary nuclear reactors” is not that many. This lends weight to the argument that strict conditions must be met for restarting a reactor.

A growing number of Japanese are calling for the immediate shutdown of all reactors or a steady reduction in Japan’s dependence on nuclear energy. An Asahi Shimbun public opinion poll in February confirmed this trend; a majority of respondents voiced opposition to reactor restarts.

The Abe administration initially pledged to lower the nation’s dependence on nuclear power over time. But it has gradually ratcheted up its rhetoric in promoting nuclear power generation through remarks that appear designed to create a new “nuclear safety myth.”

In his 2013 speech supporting Tokyo’s bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, Abe told the world that the situation concerning radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima plant was “under control.”

He has also contended in the Diet that the NRA’s new safety standards were “the strictest in the world.”

But the Otsu District Court’s decision adjudged the standards as insufficient for giving the green light to a reactor restart.

In addition, there have been serious concerns about the lack of effective and reliable plans for emergency evacuations during severe nuclear accidents.

The new safety standards do not cover evacuation plans, and the NRA does not examine such plans when it evaluates the safety of a reactor.

In the case of the Takahama plant, a severe nuclear accident would force about 180,000 residents in Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga prefectures to evacuate. But no drill to ascertain the viability of evacuation plans was conducted before the two reactors resumed operations.

The court referred to the government’s “obligation to develop regulatory standards from a broad perspective that also covers the need of evacuation plans.” The government should immediately respond to this proposition.


Despite the enormous scale of damage caused by the Fukushima accident, the responsibility of those who had championed nuclear power generation has yet to be clarified.

As the Otsu District Court pointed out, the Japanese public who watched the disaster unfold at the Fukushima No. 1 plant understand the “overwhelming scope” of the damages caused by the accident as well as the “great confusion” that arose during the evacuation process.

Yet both the government and electric utilities are working in tandem to restart reactors as if they have forgotten what happened five years ago.

Some revelations have cast serious doubt about utilities’ commitment to learning lessons from the accident and putting the top priority on safety.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima plant, recently “discovered” a guideline in its operational manual that would have allowed it to announce core meltdowns much earlier than it did.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. has asked for the NRA’s permission to withdraw a plan to build a quake-proof building that can serve as an on-site response center during a severe nuclear accident. The company promised to build the emergency facility at its Sendai nuclear power plant before it restarted two reactors at the plant last year.

These episodes raise suspicions that the utilities are returning to their pre-disaster practice of cunningly using experts to make key decisions about their nuclear power operations within the close-knit pro-nuclear community.

Many issues concerning nuclear power policy are too complicated and arcane for ordinary citizens to easily understand. But the Fukushima nuclear crisis has reminded Japanese that nuclear power generation is an issue that is directly linked to their livelihoods and lifestyle choices.

No matter how hard they try to revive the safety myth about nuclear power, government policymakers and members of the “nuclear village,” the closed and small community of people and organizations with vested interests in promoting nuclear power, will never be able to bring the nation back to the days before the Fukushima disaster.

Nuclear power generation has already become a familiar issue and a matter of serious concern to the great majority of Japanese.


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