• Tokyo


Regarding the July 25 Kyodo article “70% back Kan’s nuclear tack, ditto seek his exit“: At a time when pragmatic statesmanship and hard-nosed realism are needed, it is extremely disappointing to read that Prime Minister Naoto Kan has decided to promote the unattainable ideal — at least in the foreseeable future — of a Japan without nuclear power. The fact that 70 percent of the population supports an eventual nuclear-free Japan does not make it any more attainable, or even attractive.

Right now, there are three practical means of producing large-scale, affordable, reliable electric energy: fossil fuel, hydroelectric and nuclear. Renewable sources may some day offer practical alternatives, but not in our lifetimes, barring major breakthroughs. Wishing otherwise is not going to change things.

Kan resorted to demagogue tactics and lashed out against nuclear power as if it was some sort of malign demon, barely under control, ready to explode catastrophically at the slightest provocation. Hogwash! It needs to be said and re-said that, despite the damage from the earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 11, the systems and safety measures in place performed magnificently. Yes, there was escaped radiation, on-site injuries and even deaths related to the disaster, but by and large the worst was avoided.

It is important to note that the plant designers never contemplated a magnitude-9.0 quake and a 14-meter-high tsunami. Such was considered a “once in 10,000 years” event. Had the March 11 event registered 8.0 or even 8.5, it’s unlikely that there would have been any radiation leakage at all, because the subsequent tsunami would have been safely stopped by the 6-meter-high protective wall. And the loss of auxiliary electrical power for cooling the reactor cores would not have occurred.

None of this excuses Tokyo Electric Power Co. or the government agencies from their somewhat fumble-fingered handling of the crisis. There were numerous mistakes made in the years before the event, and these mistakes were compounded after the event. Still, the system worked.

The age of the plants must also be considered. The four Fukushima reactors entered service in 1971, but the plant designs date back to the mid-1960s. Think about that: The reactors had already passed their contemplated 40-year service life and had just been granted a 10-year extension. For all that time, they generated up to 4.7 gigawatts daily — electricity that Japan absolutely needed to reach its current state of prosperity.

It’s even more important to realize that nuclear power plants under construction now incorporate much of the scientific progress that has been achieved in the past 40 to 50 years, including advances in electronics, metals, plastics and fabrication techniques. Modern nuclear power plants are smaller, more powerful in terms of relative size, yet immensely safer.

Kan’s statement on nuclear power is even more inexcusable when considered against his remarks in Hanoi last Oct. 31, lauding the contracts that Japanese companies had won to build two state-of-the-art nuclear power plants in central Vietnam. This was a major foreign policy victory for Japan, which was competing against bids from China, Russia and South Korea.

One has to wonder what is going through the minds of Vietnam’s leaders now. I would be leery of buying a product from a country that had decided it is too dangerous for domestic use.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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