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[cdn-nucl-l] Nuclear reactor breeds distrust in Japanese city
Posted in the Taipei Times on June 9, 2003 and at:
The 'world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl' kills 2 people and
people get scared and demand the entire industry be shut down. No mention
of the thousands that die from coal mining, natural gas explosions,
respiratory disease from breathing pollutants from burning fossil fuels - no
comparison of risk at all.
Nuclear reactor breeds distrust in Japanese city
Monday, Jun 09, 2003,Page 5
The crisis of confidence in Japan's nuclear power industry is nowhere felt
more keenly than in the town of Tokaimura, scene of the world's worst
nuclear accident since the Chernobyl reactor explosion in 1986.
No matter how much Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the world's largest
private utility company, brandishes the threat of summer power cuts because
of the forced shutdown of its nuclear reactors over a scandal involving the
cover-up of faults, the claimed necessity seems unable to dispel that
It was in this town of 35,000 people 130km northeast of Tokyo that three
workers at the town's JCO Co Ltd uranium processing plant set off a critical
reaction killing two of them and exposing some 663 people to radiation in
"Before [Tokaimura], I thought nuclear power was really very safe, that an
accident would never happen. ... Now I'm scared, I want to eliminate the use
of nuclear power," said Shoichi Oizumi, 75, who heads an association of
Tokaimura radiation victims.
His fears are shared by most Japanese -- 87 percent fear another accident
according to a poll last October by the Asahi Shimbun.
They have been exacerbated by the TEPCO scandal which broke last summer,
resulting in the forced closure of all 17 of its reactors for checks, only
one of which has so far restarted.
These days Oizumi, the head of an automotive parts company, rarely goes to
his office in Tokaimura, opposite the JCO uranium processing plant where the
Both he and his wife Keiko, 64, complain of poor health -- his skin is dry
and reddened by large burn marks, she is suffering from psychological
problems, and they have filed suits seeking compensation.
But both JCO and the government insist the radiation they were exposed to
was insufficient to cause such symptoms.
"Nobody takes responsibility for me being hurt. The government is also
responsible for the accident because it had authorized JCO to process
[highly] enriched uranium," Oizumi said.
He is also critical of the government's role in pushing its nuclear policy.
"If [the nuclear industry] wants a plant, they will pay for new roads, new
stations, new [local] government offices."
In Tokaimura almost 40 percent of residents depend on the area's cluster of
nuclear facilities for their livelihood but, shocked by the accident, Mayor
Tatsuya Murakami is gradually changing this.
In November 2000 he approved the restart of reprocessing spent fuel by the
state-owned Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC), which was
halted after an accident in 1997, on the condition that it is converted into
a research-only facility by 2005.
"At the moment, Tokaimura cannot live without nuclear activities. For the
past 47 years, the village has co-habited with nuclear activity," Murakami
said, pointing out the village derived half of its budget from tax revenues
from the nuclear facilities.
Yet even though nuclear power provides one third of the country's
electricity needs, Murakami does not see a future for it, and believes
Tokaimura should instead become a science park, building on the scheduled
opening of a "cyclotron" or particle accelerator.
The engineers at JNC's Joyo experimental fast-breeder reactor at nearby
Oarai disagree, demonstrating that a critical reaction in Joyo can be
stopped in one second.
"We are aware some people think fast-breeder reactors are very dangerous,
[but] fast-breeder reactor technology is very safe and necessary for the
future," since it will permit the recycling of plutonium from conventional
reactors, said Hiroshi Hara, deputy director of JNC's Oarai engineering
Since the Tokaimura accident and TEPCO scandal, several advocates of nuclear
power have acknowledged the need for a strong safety culture, but Kazuo
Sato, president of the Nuclear Safety Research Association and former head
of the Nuclear Safety Commission, admitted "the thinking is not prevalent in
all organizations or individuals."
Sato asserts the Japanese nuclear plants "are not less safe than in the US
or France," but "no technology can work if you don't have the trust of the
He noted that trust could be lost in "seconds" but was extremely hard to
regain. "Before, Tokaimura's inhabitants were proud of saying that this
village was where the Japanese nuclear industry started," Sato said.
Sato insisted Japan had to end its dependence on imported energy sources.
"We need more nuclear plants to reduce greenhouse gases. Japan must reduce
its fossil fuel consumption," he said.
In 2000, a year after Tokaimura, the government was still officially
planning to build about 20 more nuclear reactors by 2020, in addition to the
51 existing reactors, but Tokyo needs residents' and local government
approval to go ahead in each case.
Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizen's Nuclear Information Center, which
tries to assess the need and effects of nuclear power for Japan, doubts the
government will achieve its targets.
"Japan is building four nuclear power reactors at this moment, but in my
opinion after their completion Japan will probably stop constructing any
more nuclear facilities because of the strong opposition of local people,"
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