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Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Truth About Nuclear Power: Japanese Nuclear Engineer Calls for Abolition

Koide Hiroaki
Introduction and translation by Sakai Yasuyuki and Norimatsu Satoko
Koide Hiroaki began his career as a nuclear engineer forty years ago drawn to the promise of nuclear power. Quickly, however, he recognized the flaws in Japan’s nuclear power program and emerged as among the best informed of Japan’s nuclear power critic. His cogent public critique of the nuclear village earned him an honourable form of purgatory as a permanent assistant professor at Kyoto University. Koide would pay a price in career terms, continuing his painstaking research on radio nuclide measurement at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute (KURRI) in the shadows. Until 3.11.
Since the earthquake tsunami and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, he has emerged as a powerful voice and a central figure in charting Japan’s future energy course in the wake of disaster: in scores of well attended public lectures, in daily media consultations and interviews, in his widely read posts and in three books that have helped to redefine public consciousness and official debate.

Koide Hiroaki. Photo from Ohmagrock blog.

In 1968, as a freshman in the department of nuclear engineering at Tohoku University in Sendai, he believed in the potential of what he had been taught to be an inexhaustible source of energy that could solve the energy dilemmas of a resource-poor nation. But learning that a new nuclear power plant was to be built in sparsely populated Onagawa, some 50 km from the city centre where the electricity would be consumed, he reflected on the imposition of risk burden on vulnerable communities. Indeed, his Kyoto University nuclear research facility is not in the city, but on the southern edge of Osaka Prefecture, near rural Wakayama Prefecture, because of the potential danger. This socio-geographical recognition of the dangers of nuclear power and the price that would be paid by marginal communities as a result of decisions imposed by the Japanese government and the power monopolies is at the heart of his abiding critique of nuclear power.
Before March 11, Koide’s was a voice in the wilderness in a nation committed to nuclear power. Subsequently, the thousands who appear at his public appearances would convey a sense of a new pop star.

Koide comes out to greet the hundreds who overflowed the Meiji University lecture hall in Tokyo for the April 29 event “The End of the Nuclear Power Age.” Photo by Marumori Aya.

For the first time, Koide has become a fixture in the mainstream media, including newspapers and major TV stations. His new book, “Genpatsu no uso (The Lie of Nuclear Power),” is a bestseller.1 The “Unofficial Koide Hiroaki Matome,” a blog that collects daily links and video footage of Koide’s talks and appearances, is one of the most important—and popular— Fukushima-related websites.
On May 23, 2011, the Government Oversight Committee of the House of Councillors (the Upper House) invited four guests to address members of the Diet – Koide, Ishibashi Katsuhiko, a seismologist who has long warned of the reactors’ vulnerability to quakes, Goto Masashi, a former Toshiba nuclear engineer who now defies the industry, and Son Masayoshi, President of telecommunication giant Softbank and, since 3.11, an outspoken proponent of renewable energy. The unprecedented government effort to seek advice from staunch critics of nuclear power policy is indicative of fresh winds blowing at a time when the government is calling for a sharp increase in renewable energy and curbing of nuclear power and the nuclear power giants and their supporters in the bureaucracy are fighting back.

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