Discuss Japan > Back Number > No.8 > HOW HAS JAPAN TREATED NUCLEAR POWER?
Politics, No.8  Oct. 4, 2011


NAKAMURA Kiichiro (Moderator, Editor-in-Chief Diplomacy [Gaiko]): The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on March 11 has greatly impacted Japanese society. No one ever thought this sort of accident would take place. But if we carefully observe it and its consequences, it is clearly insufficient to blame it on shirking or neglect by certain concerned parties. Instead, the manner in which we have dealt with the issues of nuclear power and energy and the lifestyles Japanese society has pursued since World War II are being questioned.

Nuclear power shed light on a bright future

TAKEDA Toru: In the years not so long after the war, there was a naive optimism that nuclear power, or science and technology in general, would open up a bright future for Japan. I too was strongly affected by Tezuka Osamu’s cartoon Astro Boy.

Needless to say, Japan after the war began with its experiences of nuclear bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The anti-nuclear movement surged after the Daigo Fukuryu-maru vessel incident in 1954, and this led to the creation of the first Godzilla movie. On the other hand, expectations were high that if nuclear power was skillfully utilized as energy it could trigger growth for resource-poor Japan. It was also in 1954 that budgets for nuclear energy were first appropriated under the leadership of Nakasone Yasuhiro, in response to the speech by US President Eisenhower titled “Atoms for Peace.” After the war, Japan basically had a positive view of nuclear energy. This positive outlook, however, was veiled in ambiguity, accompanied by the negative aspects of nuclear energy as weaponry.

MIZUNO Noriyuki: I have researched the years when development work for domestic nuclear reactor began. Comments by concerned people at that time, newspaper articles and relevant books all were positive. The mass media excitedly conveyed the news on the criticality of Japan Research Reactor No. 1 (JRR-1), even though they later began to criticize nuclear issues. This was not what I had expected. At the root is, as has been mentioned, the resources issue. In the early years, there were daring declarations that Japan was targeting realization of a nuclear fuel cycle, plutonium usage and fast breeding reactors.

SUZUKI Tatsujiro: Industries evidently felt a sense of danger that if they did not start pursuing nuclear energy, Japan would fall behind other countries. Yet nuclear technologies were not developed in Japan, so designs and regulations were naturally borrowed. The priority, however, was on catching up with advanced countries, so it is likely that people did not have time to reflect on why things were the way they were. For instance, they accommodated component dimensions if they were shown as 2.5 inches on design drawings from the United States. No one must have considered why the emergency power source was located near the ocean. Considering the situations when the technologies were introduced, no one was there to calmly consider the risks.

After that, there must have been numerous opportunities to stop and hold nationwide debate on the safety issue of nuclear power plants and the nuclear fuel cycle, but that did not happen. To provide a bit of personal background, I was an engineering student in the early 1970s. I read a paper by Hattori Manabu titled “Nuclear Power Generation and Nuclear Weapons,” that he wrote for Sekai magazine, and was shocked to find that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are linked, as I had thought. At the time, graduate schools of nuclear science did not offer opportunities to study nuclear safety or issues related to plutonium and non-proliferation. With a technological background I therefore sought an opportunity to study nuclear energy policy measures at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. I studied overseas, though I didn’t think Japanese society demanded such studies.

Takeda: A major change that took place thereafter was the Chernobyl accident in 1986. This triggered a new trend in the anti-nuclear movement–an urban-type anti-nuclear movement. This involved people who politically were floating voters. Yet their assertions did not necessarily reach the local people who had accepted (or were about to accept) nuclear power plants. On the other hand, the three laws related to power sources were enacted in the 1970s, to boost support to communities that had accommodated construction of nuclear power plants. Since then, nuclear power has been promoted, without finding opportunities to raise issues or hold discussions.

Mizuno: A number of nuclear energy-related accidents that took place in Japan turned into public issues. These include radiation leakage from the Mutsu nuclear-powered vessel (1974), fractures of small pipes at the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant (1991), sodium leakage accident from the Monju reactor (1995), the criticality accident at the JCO nuclear fuel processing facility (1999) and hiding of crucial information by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (2000).

A society where discussion of risks is not possible
Why hasn’t there been sufficient discussion on nuclear safety in Japan so far?

Takeda: No one raised the idea of risk management. For example, the guidelines for establishment of nuclear power plants issued by the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan state that plants should be constructed at locations remote from densely populated areas, so as to suppress the number of people exposed to radiation at or above a certain level should a serious accident take place. Guidelines naturally stipulate as such, because nuclear power plants by nature pose risks. However, some nuclear power plants were built in places that initially were scarcely populated areas, but population increased significantly thereafter. I don’t know how this should be explained.

Compensation is the same. In line with the Act on Contract for Indemnification of Nuclear Damage Compensation, the amount of compensation to those affected by an accident would be quite significant. For this reason, economic demand arises for maintaining balance by minimizing the probability of accidents. The recognition is that accidents should not take place, which is the exact opposite of risk management. Under these circumstances, nuclear power stops being science and is sublimated to a myth. Nuclear energy has been operated in Japan with this attitude.

Mizuno: To add to what Takeda-san said, when discussing risks it is not sufficient to address only risks associated with nuclear energy. Issues of risk and cost are also involved with thermal, hydraulic and renewable energy power generation. The risks (or costs) and advantages should be compared and examined for attaining overall balance when judging whether to promote them or withdraw from them. However, an attitude of preventing such logical thinking was particularly found with the group promoting nuclear energy.

Could you give a specific explanation?

Mizuno: The issue relates to information disclosure. When I began full-scale reporting on nuclear issues in the 1990s, I tried to confirm the values shown on graphs attached to an application for a permit to establish a nuclear power plant. But the plant personnel said the graph values could not be publicized, and I should read them from the graphs myself. Their level of caution about sharing information with the public seemed unnatural. Things seem to have started changing at the time of the criticality accident at Tokai-mura, but we are still a long way from open discussion of risks. The premise is that nuclear power is safe and nothing that contradicts that premise should happen. Even if trouble occurs, it is explained as falling within the range of allowable error.

Suzuki: I spoke with the people working with nuclear energy facilities, and they are certainly taking efforts to ensure safety. Many improvements have been made in nuclear plant operation, but they are not able to say it is safer than before, because if they did then people would ask what the situation was before. It was difficult to give explanations to local communities or the media on improvements in work processes and installation of new facilities, all based on new findings. This being the situation, everything had to be done secretly, without explanation, or kept as is without change. It’s a vicious cycle.

Takeda: The nature of the Nuclear Power Village also seems to have added to the situation. This is a community formed by the human resources cycle among businesses including electric power companies and plant manufacturers, the competent authorities that support them via political measures and universities that supply human resources, including engineers. As Yoshioka Hitoshi criticized, the structure of the community is such that all the players want to step on the gas pedal and no one is functioning as the brake.

Suzuki-san, you have assumed central roles in the village…

Suzuki: I’m like an officer of the village government. I think similar village-like communities are found everywhere in Japan. The peculiarity with nuclear power is not unrelated to the fact that nuclear technologies began with nuclear weapons. There are intrinsically secret elements that cannot be made open, and only the top-level scientists and politicians were involved at that time. I believe that, at the outset, this was a very tense environment. But after several decades, certain vested rights came into being, and this aspect is now being questioned. I think the significance of our existence should be broadly and publicly discussed because questioning among ourselves would not be sufficient.

Were you consulted with beforehand about being appointed to the office of Deputy Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission?

Suzuki: I don’t have a great deal of details, but I was not consulted with beforehand.

Mizuno: I was a bit surprised about the appointment. For one, it’s been customary to appoint a scientist cooperative with promoting nuclear energy. Suzuki-san, on the other hand, is a professional of non-proliferation and plutonium, and has at times commented candidly on political measures. Perhaps you are expected to perform like a brake.

Takeda: This has nothing to do with Suzuki-san as a person, but looking at the issue of the Nuclear Power Village in a historical background, the people seem similar to leaders who built Manchukuo. They were also elites in the controlled economy before and during World War II. They designed Manchukuo freely from scratch, with a sense of purpose. But gradually, they lost control over discrepancies between ideals and actual circumstances that became apparent. The same applies to the issue of spent nuclear fuel, for example. The accident took place in a shaky situation. I am extremely interested in what becomes of the peculiar, imperialistic community.

Devising a mechanism to generate dialog

It seems that the safety of nuclear energy and its roles in energy policy measures will be keenly discussed from here forward.

Photo : Takeda Toru
“It is meaningless if the
collapse of the nuclear power
plant safety myth becomes the
renewable energy safety myth.”

–Takeda Toru

Takeda: The safety myth that those promoting nuclear energy has talked about collapsed after the accident. What we need to watch out for is that the myth could easily turn into a nuclear danger myth and renewable energy safety myth. The assertion that nuclear energy experts are all members of the Nuclear Energy Village and they have deceived the Japanese people by hiding information could also easily turn into a theory that greater society never makes mistakes. This would only mean the protagonist and antagonist switched places, and debate continues to be unproductive. Experts make mistakes, and so does greater society. They should be allowed to make mistakes, and continue to hold conversations for making things better. Here, the mass media plays an extremely important role. Frankly speaking, so far they seem more inclined to the side that supports the nuclear energy safety myth.

Mizuno: I personally have never intended to report in a way that tries to lead toward a certain conclusion. I must go along with the nature of NHK, and I stand to lose trust-based relations with the subject being reported on if I make my position too clear. I am sometimes criticized as being evasive, but I have always listened carefully to the people on both sides, reported on them accurately and pointed out issues with both. Discussion by all of society is needed concerning what to do with nuclear energy, instead of letting certain people who know things well decide everything; be it politicians, industry people, activists or mass media. The mission of mass media for this purpose is to pick up on various types of information and offer information that helps people make judgments.

Dialog does not seem easy beyond pros and cons.

Photo : Suzuki Tatsujiro
“Demand is present for debate
that links those for and against
–Suzuki Tatsujiro

Suzuki: Conflicts between extreme proponents and opponents unwilling to open their mind to different views are found everywhere, not only in Japan. What we don’t find in Japan are occasions for people without fixed views to discuss risks by citing specific data. I don’t think Japan lacks people with good sense who are capable of such debate, but people are usually labeled in accordance with the organization to which they belong. It is quite a stuffy situation. Without such occasions for debate, people merely end up labeling each other. I have read your book, Takeda-san, and I’m sure it was criticized by both the people who are for and against nuclear energy. Am I wrong? [Laughter]

Takeda: You are exactly right. [Wry laughter]

Suzuki: If debate accumulates at such occasions, a fairly acceptable consensus might be reached for society. In this regard, I look forward to actions by the Investigation Committee on the Accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Chaired by Hatamura Yotaro, the Committee is established as part of the Cabinet Secretariat, unlike conventional ones organized by regulating authorities. The national government is also an object of investigation. No nuclear energy expert is a member of this Committee, and some people like it while others don’t. In any case, I hope debate held here will trigger other actions.

Mizuno: Before the accident, debate on nuclear energy only took place between those for and against. From here forward, debate should involve all of society, including the general public, and a greater number of people have already taken action from this viewpoint. Materials to assist their judgments, however, are still insufficient. To start, I hope Hatamura’s Committee will report not only the causes of accidents but how the current safety standards were established, which should serve as a source of debate.

Takeda: Speaking of occasions for debate, universities will also be an important arena if viewed from a long-term perspective. I previously set up an opportunity for my university students to hear opinions from both those who are for and against nuclear energy. It would have been best if discussions were held at the same table, but this couldn’t be realized because one of the participants said he did not want to sit down with those who had opposite views. [Wry laughter] At any rate, more attempts like these could be made in university education.

Suzuki: More debate like that should be held. Too many are better than none at all. Academic meetings and even National Diet meetings could serve that purpose. At the Special Committee for Science and Technology Innovation Promotion, all members of the Atomic Energy Commission were requested to attend to answer numerous questions over three hours. The Diet members were highly aware of the issue and they asked many advanced-level questions. A Technology Assessment organization could be established there.

The industries have established the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute (JANTI) modeled on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), a voluntary regulation organization formed in the US after the Three Mile Island accident. Regretfully, unlike INPO, JANTI lacks stringent auditing functions over businesses. Without that function, the credibility of peer reviews will be undermined, and this is a point that needs reconsideration. Needless to say, a third-party investigation organization at the government level is obviously important.

Prerequisites for nationwide debate

Photo : Mizuno Noriyuki
“It is hurried and sloppy to
demand that society make a
decision without sharing
objective information on the risks.”

–Mizuno Noriyuki

Mizuno: Major policies may be established only after sharing information and accumulating debate. For example, the national government terminated operation of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant in May. But there is no scientific base for halting only Hamaoka. Are other nuclear power plants safe? Everyone knows full-scale efforts need to be taken for promoting renewable energy. These efforts are definitely needed and the demand is for a roadmap that shows to what level we need to rely on nuclear power generation in the transitional phase. Nothing has been mentioned in this regard. Repeating slogans with no consideration of the process only causes bias to be formed among the general public.

Suzuki: A short-term issue is to promptly establish judgment criteria on the safety of nuclear power plants. The Japan Atomic Energy Commission published a statement on May 10 that the regulating authorities should establish new risk management targets and take decisive steps with nuclear power plants that do not meet the criteria, even though the safety of nuclear power plants is outside of its jurisdiction. Local communities will not consent to decisions unless they are shown the bases for judgment. I believe that the stress test results will come to be used as part of the standards.

As a long-term issue, the pros and cons of nuclear energy need to be closely reexamined. Repeated trial calculation on power generation costs and risks cannot be avoided. The costs necessary when terminating nuclear power generation should also be considered. How should negative aspects be addressed, including reactor decommissioning, damage compensation and depletion of human resources, in how long a period and using what sort of technologies and schemes? The path is far away, beyond the imagination, but we will never be able to speak of Japan’s future energy policies unless we consider these issues.

Mizuno: The trial calculation results may be used as material for further national debate. Ample time should be spent where required. This is an issue that relates to lifestyles in the future Japan. A social consensus will be essential, rather than deciding by the voices of authority.

Takeda: Sufficient debate is also needed on the risks of renewable energy.

Mizuno: Wind power generation is increasingly utilized in China, the US and other countries, but not in Japan. Maybe the regulations are too tight, but this is a new issue. Wind power generation requires large-scale facilities, and legal actions have been filed to suspend construction because of noise, low-frequency vibration, landscape and other reasons. In addition to these social costs, facility maintenance costs are also necessary. Open debate is promptly needed on the negative aspects as well. Without this, there can be no energy to dream.

Embracing nuclear power plants

Takeda: Mizuno-san mentioned the halting of the Hamaoka plant. Even though I am not fully persuaded by Prime Minister Kan’s explanations, I thought the situation was interesting from a totally different perspective. Hamaoka is the only nuclear power plant located along Tokaido, the eastern coast of Honshu to the south of Tokyo, and is exceptional among the regions with nuclear power plants, many of which have faced issues of sparse population. With Hamaoka, scenarios for deviating from nuclear power plants can be formulated from viewpoints other than safety, or from economic viewpoints. We can address the issue this way as well.

Suzuki: Hamaoka is located in the bountiful land of Omaezaki. The electricity from the Hamaoka plant is also not sent to Tokyo, unlike Fukushima and Kashiwazaki. It is consumed in the Chubu region. In this regard, decisions could be made by the local communities for this plant.

In contrast, the electricity generated at Fukushima is consumed in Tokyo. The people living in Tokyo need to consider this point. The area affected by the accident is also far greater than the localities that receive subsidies from the national government. There are regions that only suffered damage, with no benefit. This might be a good time to consider the schemes of the three laws concerning power sources.

Mizuno: Subsidies from the national government are not always benefits; the story is not so simple. I was assigned to Aomori first after joining NHK, and that’s when I became immersed in nuclear energy. What I felt in Aomori is that the local communities are not enjoying benefits at all, and instead they suffer far greater disadvantages. Topics related to nuclear energy are frequently featured in local news, maybe for half the year. Assemblies of local governments are also concerned about nuclear energy, and spend a significant amount of time and energy on the matter.

Concerning the current system that virtually disables restarting of the operation of nuclear power plants without the consent of the local communities, some argue that a locality should not be granted such authority. I apologize for not expressing this logically, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to say so. The people of other communities also feel Fukushima could happen to them any time. But a great deal of time is needed to fundamentally revise the safety standards. As such, an orthodox approach is needed where the risks of nuclear power plants and socioeconomic risks brought about when their operation is halted are indicated as promptly and objectively as possible, and society shares the decision no matter how severe the situation may be. Avoiding this and taking haphazard approaches would defeat any lessons learned from the tragic accident.

Takeda: It was mentioned earlier in today’s talk that the local communities did not understand the urban-type anti-nuclear movement after the Chernobyl accident. The greatest factor behind this is that the local economy has been built on nuclear energy. Unlike Hamaoka, or unlike the town of Maki in Niigata Prefecture, the decision to deviate from nuclear energy directly brings about economic, political and cultural risks in many localities. According to the words of a book by Kainuma Hiroshi titled Fukushima Ron- naze genshiryoku-mura wa umaretanoka (Discussion on Fukushima- why the village of nuclear plants appeared?), the localities are “embracing” nuclear power plants in order to maintain their communities. It is a way of showing their love of their hometown. It is nearly pointless to debate moving away from nuclear energy without understanding the realities.

As Mizuno-san pointed out, the process for our society to decide based on proper materials for judgment is important. I would also like to address a somewhat larger system. Will our society continue distributing benefits to sparsely populated areas while accommodating the economic growth that allows the social divide to enlarge, which Tanaka Kakuei advocated, or are we going to fundamentally think over the growth and affluence we have pursued in the modern era? This is an issue to be addressed as a matter of our way of living.

Translated from the Special feature: “Teidan: Nihon-jin ha donoyouni kaku wo ronjitekitanoka (Three-way conversation: How has Japan treated nuclear power?),” Diplomacy (Gaiko), Vol.8 (July 2011), pp. 22-31. (Courtesy of Toshishuppan, Publishers)