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Abe’s nuclear renaissance ignores stiff opposition via The Japan Times

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The NRA is reviewing applications to restart 19 nuclear reactors.

The safety screenings involve confirming that they meet new stricter safety standards, but Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida warns that this doesn’t mean they are safe to operate. He points out that local authorities are not able to cope with cascading simultaneous disasters as occurred in 2011, a risk the new guidelines do not address.

Perhaps this explains why a recent Asahi poll finds continued high public opposition to nuclear energy: 77 percent of respondents favor phasing out nuclear energy, while only 14 percent oppose such a policy.

Are the potential dangers of hosting a reactor an acceptable risk given the alternative of economic decline and depopulation? Many communities in remote coastal areas where Japan’s fleet of reactors are sited are grappling with this calculus. Until now the Aomori Prefecture fishing port of Oma has been famous for its bluefin tuna catches, but that is changing due to the town’s decision to host a nuclear power plant. Just across the Tsugaru Strait from Oma, the city of Hakodate, Hokkaido, filed a lawsuit earlier this year against the central government and the utility to block construction of the Oma mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) reactor. This is the first lawsuit in Japan of its kind in which a local government is the plaintiff seeking an injunction against building a nuclear plant. The two towns are separated by about 23 km of water, meaning that part of Hakodate, which has a population of 275,000, falls within the newly extended 30-km evacuation zone. The mayor of Hakodate complains that he is being asked to prepare an evacuation plan without adequate information and asserts that the lessons of Fukushima are being ignored as government support for nuclear energy does not include adequate assistance for disaster management, outsourcing it to local communities that lack sufficient capacity.

The possibility of legal entanglements casts a shadow over Abe’s nuclear renaissance as local governments and citizens groups mount challenges that could delay restarts and new plant construction. Indeed, in May 2014, the Fukui district court ruled against Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco) in a lawsuit filed by citizens who oppose the restart of the utility’s Oi reactors. The judge rejected Kepco’s claims that the reactors could be operated safely and asserted that the intrinsic dangers of nuclear reactors combined with the unpredictability of earthquakes endanger the fundamental constitutional rights of citizens.

This establishes a precedent that could influence 16 similar cases in the judicial pipeline, but Kepco is appealing the ruling and Abe’s spokesperson shrugged it off, insisting that it would have no influence on safety evaluations. His aplomb is understandable as Japan’s higher courts are reliably submissive in nuclear energy lawsuits.

Maybe this is why the government rules out a national referendum on nuclear energy because citizens are not so predictably compliant and oppose the vested interests Abe represents.

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