Anti-nuclear sentiment rises in Japan

A rising tide of protest against nuclear power in Japan brought large demonstrations to the capital last week and stimulated the birth of a new, anti-nuclear political party. Anxious Japanese citizens are demanding that their government abandon nuclear power following last year’s disaster at Fukushima. Their indignation was further fuelled by a government-appointed inquiry that blasted the country’s nuclear regulators and the plant’s operators for the failures that led to the accident. It also raised doubts about whether the steps the government and regulators have taken to ensure that other atomic plants are prepared for similar disasters have been effective.

The Japanese government shut down all fifty of Japan’s nuclear reactors following the accident and is still working on a new energy policy. But last month the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, decided to permit two reactors in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Company, to restart. The decision provoked a series of demonstrations, that organisers claim brought 100,000 people onto the streets of Tokyo a week ago and inspired protestors to found the new Green Party.  Its organisers hope to register the party in time to fight the next elections, offering voters an anti-nuclear alternative to the two main, nuclear supporting parties.

The effects of last year’s disaster at Fukushima are not over yet: the damaged number 4 reactor and the pool of used nuclear fuel have yet to be dealt with and remain dangerous: it is unclear, for instance, what the impact of another earthquake would be.  

The report blamed Japan’s nuclear regulators for not paying sufficient attention to the recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency on improvements in nuclear safety standards. It fails to identify the exact cause of the leaks of radioactive material or the explosions that destroyed three reactor buildings.

Meanwhile, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, which was slammed in the report for failing to plan for disaster because the management “believed in the myth” of nuclear safety announced a first quarter loss of $3.69 billion (2.35 billion pounds.)   Tepco and other utilities are bearing the extra costs of the fossil fuels they have had to buy to compensate for the absence of nuclear power after all 50 of Japan’s nuclear power plants closed following last year’s disaster. Although the government has stepped into support the company, its senior management face potential prosecution and the company is still facing a potential $100 billion bill for the costs of clean-up, decommissioning and compensation for the victims of the disaster.