Closing the Stable Door?

Features - June 20th, 2011

My first few years in Japan were spent making radio and television programs on various aspects of life in this country. I’d arrived not long after the so-called oil shocks of the early 1970s and Japan had made it a national strategic policy to focus on nuclear power as a means of reducing the nation’s dependency on imported fuel (at the time accounting for over 60% of energy needs). So it was a reasonable thing to make a radio feature that focused on this. I was taken as part of my research to a nuclear center in Ibaraki Prefecture; a small coastal village called Tokai. It was an impressive facility and the statistics rolled out in support of its existence no less so. Twenty or so years later, the name Tokai Mura would take on a more sinister complexion as a result of a criticality accident there that claimed two lives.

At the time of making the feature—and for the sake of balance—we spoke to people who were entirely opposed to  the facility and others like it that had been built or were planned in coastal locations around the country. Time and again the point was made that Japan above all nations knew the tremendous devastation that nuclear power could result in if it were to be unleashed. Time and again the point was made that Japan was a country more susceptible than many to the unpredictable wrath of seismic activity.

The Japanese government continued to give assurances that plants would not be built on active fault lines and successfully fought off lawsuits from those opposed to the building of nuclear reactors. Only twice have the courts found in favor of the plaintiffs but even those decisions were overturned. Meanwhile, advances in the study of seismology revealed that there were indeed fault lines disturbingly close to existing reactors. Operators have responded by claiming that the significance of such discoveries was negligible and many suggest that the truth about this, as well as various accidents since Tokai Mura, has been too often simply not disclosed or, worse, deliberately withheld.

It should therefore come as no surprise that there is now much speculation over just how much the government and TEPCO are telling us about what they know about the circumstances at Fukushima following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami. The fact that Prime Minister Kan has requested the temporary closure of the Hamaoka Plant in Shizuoka—where scientists believe there is a substantial risk of a magnitude Richter 8 ‘quake within the next 30 years—simply adds to the sense of insecurity and begs the question: are there other facilities at similar risk, where sea walls are simply not high enough to protect against devastating tsunami?

Recent indications that Toshiba might decide to focus on renewable energy as opposed to nuclear send even more mixed messages and as the nation faces a summer of probable power shortages the question must be: where do we go from here?

Ian de Stains OBE, is a writer and life strategies coach. His “Business Traveller’s Handbook to Japan” is published by Stacey International in the UK and is also available at Amazon.

External Link:
Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant