Japan's Communists repeatedly warned of nuclear power risks

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The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant has sharply raised concerns regarding the Japanese nuclear power policy that promoted the construction of nuclear power plants with a fundamental lack of concern for safety measures. Since the beginning of the massive development of nuclear power plants, the Japanese Communist Party has called on all successive governments to make a drastic change in the atomic energy administration and has opposed additional construction plans together with concerned citizens. The JCP's consistent stance is crucial for Japan to take appropriate measures following the latest nuclear accident as well as to prevent future accidents at nuclear power plants.

Expose "safety myth"

The biggest issue of Japan's nuclear power administration is that it is based on the "safety myth," a lie that instills the belief that serious accidents emitting a vast amount of radiation are unlikely to occur. No other country in the world has clung to this myth so blindly and built so many nuclear power plants in earthquake zones.

In January 1976, then JCP Secretariat Head Fuwa Tetsuzo pointed out in the Diet [Japan's parliament], "Nuclear power is a dangerous and unproven technology with great potential risks. Development of nuclear power generation must provide safety arrangements as strong as technology can offer. Otherwise, it can bring about a very dangerous outcome," he stressed.

At that time, the government launched a project to build 50 nuclear power reactors capable of generating 49 million kilowatts of electricity. The JCP opposed the reckless plan on the grounds that safety must be given the highest priority.

In 1979, a partial meltdown of the reactor core occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the U.S. Fuwa, at the 1980 Diet discussion, cited a report compiled by the U.S. President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island (Kemeny Commission), which stated, "[T]he belief that nuclear power plants are sufficiently safe grew into a conviction."

Introducing the report, which stresses that "this attitude must be changed to one that says nuclear power is by its very nature potentially dangerous," Fuwa revealed the dangerous nature of the "safety myth" which Japan's nuclear power policy continues to promote.

Nuclear power advocates repeatedly made statements asserting that nuclear power is safe. Suita Tokuo, head of the Cabinet Office Nuclear Safety Commission, stated that an accident as serious as the one at Three Mile Island "would be highly unlikely to occur in Japan." Arisawa Hiromi, who led the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum Inc. at that time, said that the emergency core cooling system for nuclear reactors is actually "overdesigned".

JCP Chair Shii Kazuo, at the party's meeting on March 23, stated, "Now is the time for the Japanese government to stop promoting the 'safety myth,' sincerely reveal the dangers of atomic energy before the public, and create an honest and scientific nuclear energy administration that takes thoroughgoing measures to secure citizens' safety."

Oppose nuclear plant construction on earthquake susceptible areas

In 1976, Fuwa warned in the Diet, "Japan's national safety will face a crisis" with the construction of the many proposed additional nuclear power plants.

At a Diet deliberation in February 1981, Fuwa showed that nuclear power plants in Fukushima, Miyagi, Niigata, Shizuoka, Ehime, Fukui and Shimane prefectures are all located in areas susceptible to massive earthquakes on active faults. "No other country in the world is building nuclear power stations on such dangerous active earthquake faults," said Fuwa, calling for the construction plan to be retracted and all existing plants to be thoroughly inspected.

In response to the JCP representative's Diet deliberation, the government and electric companies made some improvements in the safety features of nuclear power plants, including increasing quake-resistant capabilities, but refused to cancel the massive development plan.

Since the 2007 earthquake that hit Niigata Prefecture caused serious damage to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant there, three reactors there are still shut down. The latest earthquake triggered a major crisis at the Fukushima No.1 plant and also caused the suspension of the operation of the Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture.

Warn of loss of electricity by JCP

The present crisis at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant was caused by the destruction of its cooling system and the loss of electricity supply due to the massive earthquake and tsunami. Japanese Communist Party Lower House member Yoshii Hidekatsu warned of these risks years ago.

On March 1, 2006 at a House of Representatives Budget Committee workshop, Yoshii cited the examples of the massive tsunami that followed major earthquakes in Chile (May 1960), Sumatra (December 2004), and the Sanriku Coast of Japan (June 1896). Pointing out that the Sanriku tsunami reached a recorded height of 38 meters, he proposed that the government seriously consider the risks associated with a major tsunami and take appropriate measures.

In addition to the disabling of nuclear power plant functions by a huge tsunami, Yoshii stressed the influence of undertows and introduced the worst-case scenario following a tsunami with a major undertow: nuclear reactors will not be able to utilize seawater for cooling due to the fall of sea level for a long time, leading to a core meltdown. "A case similar to the Chernobyl disaster must be always kept in mind when designing countermeasures," he said.

In response to Yoshii, Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency Director General Hirose Kenkichi stated that nuclear power plants are already designed to secure the necessary seawater and to cool their reactors, and denied the need to take further measures.

A possible loss of electricity was pointed out by Yoshii at a Lower House Economy and Industry Committee meeting on May 26, 2010. He stated that a massive earthquake could destroy both the external electric supply and the in-house power generation (internal electric supply) of a nuclear power plant at the same time. "What would happen when the backup cooling system fails due to the loss of both external supply and in-house power generation must be examined," stressed Yoshii, calling on the government to urgently plan for such worse case scenarios.

After the latest disaster, Prime Minister Kan Naoto stated in response to JCP Upper House member Daimon Mikishi, "It is undeniable that we had a weak understanding [of the effects of tsunamis]. It will be a problem if the present standards for tsunami preparedness continue to be set in accordance with a low tsunami height," admitting that the ongoing nuclear crisis was caused by the government and electric companies which promoted and continued to adhere to the "safety myth" of nuclear energy.

Call for independent regulatory body to secure nuclear safety

Japan's safety measures in regard to nuclear energy plants falls far behind the rest of the world. The fundamental cause of this problem is the lack of an independent regulatory body for ensuring nuclear safety. Although the Nuclear Safety Commission is an independent body, its role is limited due to insufficient number of staff and inadequate authority. Presenting the JCP proposal regarding safety control measures on nuclear energy, Fuwa Tetsuzo in 1976, in the Diet, said as follows:

The government should drastically change its nuclear power administration. To this end, it is necessary for the government to urgently create an independent safety control organization separated from the promoter of nuclear power generation. Like in other countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, this independent body should take responsibility for the entire process of nuclear power generation from building a nuclear power plant to disposing used fuels. [Lower House Budget Committee meeting]

One reason why successive Japanese governments avoided establishing an independent regulatory authority to secure the safety of nuclear power is that they wanted to promote the construction of more nuclear power plants as demanded by Japanese electric power companies and the U.S. nuclear power industries. The other reason is that if a regulatory body launches its activity to control nuclear safety, it will impose tighter regulations on U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines visiting Japanese ports and will place priority on Japanese people's safety.

In January 1974, in the Diet, Fuwa revealed the fact that a private institution for chemical analysis submitted to the government fabricated data on radiation leaked from U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. After that, U.S nuclear-powered ships stopped entering Japanese ports for 183 days. Following this event, the government partially improved the system monitoring radiation near nuclear power plants and seaports in which the U.S. nuclear-powered vessels enter.

In response to requests made by residents and researchers and to the JCP's continuous demands, the government in 1978 established the Nuclear Safety Commission, whose actual working-level section was placed in the former Science and Technology Agency. However, it had no permanent member in its special committees, in contrast to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission consisting of about 1,900 experts and full-time staff.

In his one-on-one debate with the Prime Minister in November 1999, Fuwa asked, "The Convention on Nuclear Safety stipulates that a regulatory body should be separated from those concerned with the promotion of nuclear energy. In Japan, which organization is a regulatory body and which is a promoter?" In his response, Prime Minister at that time Obuchi Keizo said that "the Science and Technology Agency [the current Ministry of Science and Technology] and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry [the current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry]" have authority over both regulation and promotion. This clearly revealed that Japan was in violation of the international convention on nuclear safety.

Following Fuwa's questioning, the government in 2001 decided to shift the Nuclear Safety Commission, a safety control organ, to the Cabinet Office. However, all members of its special committees, except five nuclear safety commissioners, are temporary members. In addition, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) is placed under the nuclear-promoting Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, although NISA should play a part in controlling nuclear safety.

In the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant, NISA is only releasing reports by Tokyo Electric Power Co., failing to play the role required by the international convention on nuclear safety.

Kan: Considering cancelling plan to construct more nuclear reactors

Since the Great East Japan Disaster occurred, JCP Chair Shii Kazuo has visited the disaster-hit areas and victims and made representations to the government three times. Regarding the nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Shii urged the government to respond to urgent demands of nuclear-accident-affected municipalities and their residents and to change its nuclear power administration drastically.

On March 31, Shii met with Prime Minister Kan Naoto to hand over the "JCP proposal in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Disaster" and said, "The government should drastically review its nuclear power administration and energy policy." When Shii said that the government "must stop" the construction of more than 14 nuclear reactors under its "basic national energy development plan", Kan replied, "I will reconsider the plan to build 14 more nuclear reactors. When doing so, going back to the beginning is one option." He also expressed his intention to revise the government energy policy fundamentally.

The JCP proposal states that the ongoing nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant is "a human-generated disaster caused by the irresponsible attitude of the atomic energy administration, which has promoted the 'safety myth' of nuclear energy and blindly pushed for more nuclear power generation without implementing necessary measures to ensure a modicum of safety."

In the proposal, the JCP calls for: an implementation of a nuclear power administration which breaks away from the "safety myth" and is fully aware of the danger of nuclear energy; a thorough inspection of all nuclear reactors and a cancellation of the planned construction of more nuclear reactors and the nuclear-fuel recycling program that uses plutonium; and a separation between regulation and promotion of nuclear power generation and an establishment of an independent regulatory organ with strong authority.

Prime Minister Kan Naoto said that "it is necessary to seriously reflect" on the current situation, in which a promoter of nuclear energy doubles as a regulatory organ and indicated the need to change the structure as proposed by Shii.

This article was originally published in Akahata, newspaper of the Japanese Communist Party. It was translated into English by the Japan Press Service. Photo by leposs // CC BY-ND 2.0

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