(Mainichi Japan) April 9, 2011
A society that depends on nuclear energy is just like a house of cards
A tsunami triggered by the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake not only destroyed towns and ports in northeastern Honshu, but also demonstrated various problems involving Japan's post-war energy policy.
The nuclear power policy that the government had disguised as rock-solid has actually proved so vulnerable. Prosperity built around such a policy is fragile. This has illustrated a wide perception gap between people on the seriousness of the crisis.
Even though people are calling for solidarity and collective efforts to overcome the disaster, nobody apparently has the impression that the groundwork has been laid for the restoration of Japan.
Late last week, I visited quake- and tsunami-ravaged areas in the Sanriku district along the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region -- Rikuzen-Takata in Iwate Prefecture, Kesennuma, Minami-Sanriku and Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, as well as the Fukushima Prefecture city of Soma. Many of these areas have been left in ruins. A large part of Kesennuma has been reduced to ashes by quake-triggered fires.
In sharp contrast, inland areas of quake-hit cities and towns remain intact. Residents of the Tokyo metropolitan area are losing their sense of crisis. No wonder that there is a wide perception gap on the seriousness of the disaster.
In an interview, former Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato emphasized that the nuclear accident is a man-made disaster. Sato, 71, is known as a staunch opponent of nuclear power generation.
The former governor pointed out that the biggest problem involving the national government's nuclear power policy is that bureaucrats and power suppliers are under the wrong impression that nuclear power generation is absolutely safe and should be promoted by all means and that they keep problems involving such plants a secret. He thus asserted that efforts to invite electric power companies to build nuclear power plants in sparsely populated areas in a bid to create jobs for local residents are nothing but addictive drugs for regional communities.
Sato served five terms as governor from 1988. Initially, he promoted the introduction of nuclear power plants, but a wide gap emerged between him and the national government as well as Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. After he resigned during his fifth tenure, he was arrested for accepting bribes and later indicted. He was convicted by the district and high courts, and has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.
It is inappropriate to jump to the conclusion that he was arrested as a result of a politically motivated investigation aimed at suppressing anti-nuclear power movements, but what he pointed out has been proven by various news reports.
The government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) learned that a U.S. research institute had pointed to the possibility that the loss of an electric power source could lead to a reactor core meltdown, but disregarded it. The Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba, which hosts the plant's No. 5 and 6 reactors, still suffers from huge budget deficits even though 30 years have passed since the power station was built.
A historian who heard inconsistent announcements that the government and TEPCO made in their separate news conferences said the crisis is just like the "Nomonhan Incident," an armed conflict that broke out between Japanese and Soviet forces along the border between Mongolia and Manchuria, currently part of northeastern China, in 1939.
Japan, which was overconfident of its military might after its victory in the Japanese-Russo War, underestimated Russia and went into another armed conflict with it. Even though Japanese soldiers on the battlefront were outstanding, Japan suffered a humiliating defeat because of inadequate instructions given by elite officers who did not know actual warfare.
The Japanese military covered up their defeat in the battle, and fought in the Pacific War without analyzing the cause of its failure in the incident, leading to its catastrophic defeat in World War II.
The Nomonhan incident raised questions as to whether Japan should seek to restore disaster-ravaged areas under the leadership of elite bureaucrats -- who were overly proud of Japan's prosperity as an economic and technological superpower -- without clarifying the cause of their mistake that led to the crisis.
At the time of the Nomonhan Incident, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kiichiro Hiranuma was unable to control the Imperial Japanese Army and he was forced to step down after being tossed about in a complex international situation.
There are now calls urging the two major political parties -- the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party -- to form a grand coalition in order to facilitate their cooperation in overcoming the disaster. However, there is no point in forming a large ruling bloc that cannot control bureaucrats.
At Rikuzen-Takata, which has been left in ruin, work is under way to install new utility polls along National Route 45. The public has agreed that it is an urgent task to quickly restore utilities, but there is no consensus about a vision on what kind of society should be created after rebuilding destroyed infrastructure.
The crisis has clarified that a society that depends heavily on electricity generated largely by nuclear power plants -- which Japan as a post-war economic and technological superpower has achieved -- is just like a house of cards. Japanese leaders as well as members of the general public should be aware of this. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2011年4月7日 東京朝刊