Rally against nuclear power

Thousands of protesters took to the streets last Sunday, rallying in Tokyo’s Shiba and Meiji parks and marching to the Diet area to protest against nuclear power. The organizers of the rally claimed that 60,000 people ringed the Diet Building, though the Metropolitan Police Department put the number at 20,000 to 30,000.

Whatever the exact number, the rally was another expression of deep-seated opposition to nuclear power in Japan. The central government should recognize rallies like this as an important expression of political opinion.

Unfortunately the government appears not to be listening. Neither are they paying attention to the countless problems with the cleanup of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, whose meltdown is Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.

The disaster has displaced some 150,000 people and left others living in fear of exposure to radiation. Every day, a new problem is announced by Tokyo Electric Power Co., whether it’s rats eating electric lines or another tank leaking radioactive water. The proposed solutions, whether to expand the number of storage tanks or to make frozen walls in the soil to lessen leakage, show little progress and much desperation.

Power companies and the central government do not seem to be listening to scientists, either.

To take one example, the Nuclear Regulation Authority judged the fault running under reactor 2 at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga nuclear plant to be active and therefore extremely dangerous.

Objective data and scientific facts from geologists and specialists outside the nuclear power industry clearly point out the danger of operating nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone areas, which pretty much make up all of Japan.

Even former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, giving his first speech abroad since the 3/11 disasters, stated in California last week that the only way to contain the risk of nuclear accidents is to create a nuclear-free society.

After handling, or mishandling, the crisis in 2011 as prime minister, it is a healthy change for Mr. Kan to admit being ashamed of his previous role as an apologist for exporting Japanese nuclear technology to developing nations and to offer a reasonable evaluation of the issue. If only other former and current leaders would do the same, the issue might change for the better.

Instead, despite the clear public and scientific opinion against nuclear power, power companies and the central government continue to push for restarting the nuclear reactors whose operations were suspended after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

In the short run, safety procedures at power plants must be made more stringent and followed scrupulously. Energy-saving policies for individuals and businesses need to be developed and enforced. Alternatives to nuclear power plants that will not cause long-term environmental damage must be developed with sufficient funding from public and private sources.

Meanwhile, the cleanup at Fukushima No. 1 will continue for at least a lifetime, perhaps two.

Nuclear power plants cannot be sufficiently prepared to avoid all major disasters and the problems when disasters do strike have no good solution.

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