Japan's Response to Fukushima Should Worry Us All
By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
American nuclear officials are wary of Japan's new nuclear push
Official Japanese policy on nuclear power has swung full circle since the Fukushima disaster of 2011 -- from avidly pro-nuclear power then, to rejecting nuclear power as too dangerous, and now back to avidly pushing on to re-start old reactors and build new ones. Adding the chronic secrecy and denial of the nuclear industry to such politically-driven indecision making, Japan has created a funhouse of distorting mirrors from which emerging information about the on-going Fukushima disaster cannot be considered credible without reliable, independent verification. Reliable and credible information about Fukushima is just what authorities in Japan and around the world apparently do not want.
Before March 11, 2011, the Japanese prime minister was outspokenly in favor of Japan's pro-nuclear power policy. Then the earthquake and tsunami combined with nuclear design flaws to destroy four of the six nuclear reactors at Fukushima, causing the accident that has continued ever since. And Prime Minister Naoto Kan , immersed in responding to the crisis, shifted his view. He ordered another aging plant closed and announced a freeze on plans for any future nuclear plants in Japan. In July 2011, with his popularity at its lowest point, the prime minister called for Japan to reverse policy and end its dependence on nuclear power. With the passage of a renewable energy bill that he supported, Kan, 64, resigned at the end of August, although still the first prime minister since 2006 to serve more than one year (451 days; his successor served 481).
The present prime minister, Shinzo Abe, completed his first year in office on December 26, 2013 (he previously served for less than a year in 2006-07, when he was the youngest Japanese prime minister since World War II). Prime Minister Abe has moved aggressively to expand Japan's reliance on nuclear power, even though the country has no nuclear waste repository and already has more than 14,000 tons of spent fuel in cooling pools at 50 nuclear plants around the country. During a visit to Japan in early December 2013, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Allison Macfarlane , cautioned Japan about nuclear expansion as long as there's no place in the world to store nuclear waste safely.
Setting the stage for nuclear expansion, the prime minister in March 2013 had purged the membership of Japan's nuclear advisory panel of all but two of its anti-nuclear members who had supported Japan's non-nuclear energy policies. He reduced the 25 member panel to 15, of whom 13 are avidly pro-nuclear (some with bald conflicts of interest). The man chosen to head the panel, Akio Mimura , is an advisor to a company involved in nuclear construction, and he is the same man who headed a similar panel that shaped the policies that preceded the Fukushima meltdowns. Since then, all of Japan's nuclear reactors have been shut down. The prime minister is pushing to re-start them as soon as possible despite polling last fall showing 60% of the population in favor of a zero-nuclear proposal .
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