(EnergyAsia, March 12 2013, Tuesday) — Two years after the earthquake-tsunami disaster that shut down its vital nuclear energy sector, Japan is forced into a worsening dilemma over whether to revive its dormant reactors for the sake of the energy-hobbled economy or bow to widespread public fears that the country cannot risk another meltdown as the government has conceded it is unable to effectively shut down radiation from the stricken Fukushima plant.
On March 11 2011, a 9-richter quake struck off the coast of northeastern Japan, sending a tsunami deep into low-lying parts of the country destroying much of everything in its path including the Fukushima nuclear plant, one of the world’s largest.
Two years on, the normally docile Japanese public has shown unwavering opposition to nuclear energy, angered by persistent reports of cover-ups of the plant’s poor safety record and failure to deal with the disaster clean up by government officials and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) that owns the Fukushima complex.
Until the disaster that officially killed 15,881 people with another 2,668 missing, nuclear energy supplied 29% of Japan’s electricity. With the shutdown of almost all its installed nuclear capacity of 48.96 gigawatts, Japan has had to enforce energy austerity as well as pay persistently high prices for extra imports of oil, liquefied natural gas and coal. These measures have further weakened the once mighty Japanese economy.
On the second anniversary of the disaster, protesters across the country demanded the pro-business Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was elected to office late December partly on the platform to revive the economy and gradually re-introduce nuclear energy, to dismantle all of Japan’s 54 reactor complexes including the two that are currently operating to overcome peak power shortages.
A recent survey found that 70% of Japanese want to phase out nuclear energy amid growing evidence that the Fukushima disaster has permanently destroyed farmland and caused widespread radiation in Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
Environmental groups have stepped up their campaign to shut down nuclear energy.
Green Cross International (GCI) has issued a call for countries to phase out of the use of nuclear energy and move towards producing and using more environmentally-friendly, sustainable power solutions, which in turn can also enhance prospects for nuclear weapons free world.
Describing Fukushima as equal having the impact of 168 Hiroshima atom bombs, GCI criticised TEPCO for ignoring well-documented warnings by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization of the threats of tsunami-inflicted meltdowns.
Since its founding in 1993, GCI has been campaigning to end nuclear-powered energy, citing its enormous investment costs and risks.
“The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine was a catalyst for GCI’s actions, and today, Green Cross supports communities in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus who are still feeling the impacts of that nuclear mishap,” it said.
Despite being hailed as a source of cheap clean energy, it is instead “exorbitantly expensive” during the construction, maintenance and decommissioning phases.
“Despite claims by nuclear energy advocates that just two major accidents have occurred, at least 100 nuclear accidents involving loss of life or significant property damage were recorded between 1952 and 2009, totaling over US$20.5 billion in damages: or more than one incident and US$330 million in damage per year,” said GCI.
In protest rallies in Asia, Europe, the US and the Middle East last week, Greenpeace activists demanded that reactor operators and their suppliers including GE, Hitachi and Toshiba be held fully responsible for the Fukushima disaster as well as potential nuclear accidents.
In criticising what it calls the industry’s lack of accountability, Greenpeace International said:
“It is shocking that big companies like GE, Hitachi and Toshiba, don’t feel they have a moral responsibility to help people who have suffered from the radioactive contamination caused by their products. They should be made accountable for the risks they create.”
Greenpeace said plant operator TEPCO is only required to pay a fraction of the estimated US$250-billion Fukushima disaster costs while supplier companies are not required to pay anything, effectively putting the burden on the tax payer.
“The unfair system means hundreds of thousands of victims are still waiting for reasonable compensation for their pain, suffering and losses. They aren’t getting the help they need to rebuild their lives,” it said.