EDITORIAL: Is nuclear power compatible with human rights in Constitution? via The Asahi Shimbun

One year has passed since an evacuation order was lifted on July 12, 2016, for most parts of the Odaka district of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, which lies within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Stores and schools in the district are gradually being reopened. Voices of high school students are heard echoing through the streets at times of the day when they go to school and return home. At the same time, though, many stores remain shuttered and grass is running wild in the yards of many houses.

City government figures show that Odaka was home to only 2,046 residents as of July 12, less than one-sixth of the corresponding figure at the time of the 2011 disaster at the nuclear plant, which is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

The nuclear disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, deprived many people of their “lives as usual,” which should have been guaranteed under the Constitution of Japan.


The government of Minami-Soma in May last year distributed a brochure containing the entire text of the Constitution to all households in the city.

Yasuzo Suzuki (1904-1983), a scholar of constitutional law who hailed from Odaka, included an explicit mention of the right to life in a draft outline of Japan’s Constitution, which he worked out immediately after World War II ended in 1945.

“The people shall have the right to maintain wholesome and cultured living standards,” the draft said, in a prelude to Article 25 of the current Constitution.

Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami-Soma, wanted the city’s residents to cast their minds back to a starting point at a time when life had taken a sudden turn for the worse for many of them.

Several tens of thousands of inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture remain evacuated either within or outside the prefecture’s borders. Countless people have lost their longtime livelihoods or dwellings, which means their freedom to choose and change their residences and to choose their occupations (Article 22), along with their right to own or hold property (Article 29), were severely violated.

Many children were no longer able to attend schools in their hometowns, which means their right to an education (Article 26) was also compromised.

And most importantly, the tragedy drove many people into “disaster-related deaths.”

“The nuclear disaster has made it impossible to maintain the sort of life that is described in the Constitution,” Sakurai said emphatically. “That is unconstitutional, isn’t it?”


The Fukui District Court in May 2014 issued an injunction against the planned restart of reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in a lawsuit filed by residents living near the power-generating facility in Fukui Prefecture.

“The use of nuclear energy is meant to fulfill the socially important functions of generating electric power, but that is inferior in standing to the core part of personal rights in light of the Constitution,” the court said in its decision.


More than 4 million people are living within a 30-km radius of nuclear power plants across Japan where residents may face evacuation orders in the event of an accident.

The future path of Japan should be reviewed from the perspective of whether the continued use of nuclear power would allow the country to maintain society in a state envisaged by the Constitution.

A national referendum in Austria voted against activating a nuclear power plant, which led the Central European nation to pass a law against building nuclear plants in 1978. Public calls for a phase-out of nuclear power intensified following the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union, and a ban on the use of atomic power was included explicitly in Austria’s Constitution in 1999.

The right to choose the future path of Japan lies with every single member of the country’s public, with whom sovereign power resides. There should be broader discussions that take into account of what has taken place during the latest period of a little more than six years.

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