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Sunday, 12 October 2014

COMMENTARY: Now is the time to listen to nuclear pessimists

Protesters to the planned restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant march 
through Kagoshima on Sept. 28. 

October 12, 2014
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his one-time mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, are both pitching the phrase "You can do it if you try," but they are heading in opposite directions.
On the night of Sept. 29, hours after Abe recited these words at the start of the current extraordinary Diet session, Koizumi openly challenged the prime minister after appearing at an event in Tokyo that called for phasing out nuclear power.
“I am telling the prime minister every so often: Why don’t you go ahead with pulling the plug on nuclear power? There is no better time than now. You are such a fortunate prime minister. Why don’t you try when you can?”
Koizumi’s message to Abe that “you can do it if you try” refers to ending the use of atomic energy by deciding against restarting nuclear reactors in Japan, all of which remain idled. But the Abe administration appears set to pave the way in silence for a restart of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture.
In a policy speech at the Diet on Sept. 29, Abe said, "You can do it if you try," in calling for a revitalization of regional economies.
“The future of Japan depends on what we do now,” he said. “Let us not pessimistically come to a halt, but rather move forward, believing in our potential.”
Abe's speech transported me back to another extraordinary Diet session 10 autumns ago.
“ ‘You can do it if you try’ is a magical watchword,” Koizumi, prime minister at the time, quoted during his policy speech from the school song of Saibi Senior High School in Ehime Prefecture, which had finished second in the National High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium that summer. “You can do it if you try. Let us take our courage and pride to build a bright future for Japan.”
On Sept. 23, I attended a major rally against the restart of the Sendai nuclear plant that was held in Tokyo. Kenzaburo Oe, one of the organizers and a Nobel Prize-winning author, presented a "pessimistic" view.
“The intense and unambiguous national sentiment and calls for resistance against the use of nuclear power, which immediately followed the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, may be losing steam,” Oe said, and he quoted a postwar remark by Shigeharu Nakano (1902-1979), another author.
“As long as the most shallow-minded sort of optimists are trying to set the stage for war, I believe that we pessimists have to stand firm in moving forward,” the quotation said.
Oe said the Abe administration’s recent decision to lift Japan’s self-imposed ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense lies “in a straight line” with its plan to have nuclear reactors restarted in the sense that both actions are “high-handed.”
“We pessimists have to stand firm in moving forward,” Oe repeated the quotation to conclude his speech.
Another rally against a restart took place Sept. 28 in Kagoshima, the capital of Kagoshima Prefecture. The unpredicted volcanic eruption on the previous day at Mount Ontakesan, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures, was raising concern because the Sendai nuclear plant is located near active volcanoes.
“Our lives are at stake in this fight,” Yoshitaka Mukohara, the 57-year-old leader of a citizens' group opposing the use of nuclear power, told the audience. “We will stop the nuclear restart and open up a future for the next generation.”
Opponents of a nuclear restart are a minority in the Diet but outnumber proponents in public opinion polls. Mukohara, who also presides over a local publishing house, said he was pinning hopes for blocking the planned nuclear restart on local municipalities.
Two days later, the city assemblies of Ichiki-Kushikino and Hioki, both in Kagoshima Prefecture and lying within 30 kilometers of the Sendai nuclear plant, adopted written opinions that called for adding their cities to the roster of local governments whose approvals are required before nuclear reactors are restarted.
The administration should give consideration to all sorts of worst-case scenarios and consider the option of “pessimistically coming to a halt.”
Now is the time to listen to pessimists because that is a lesson, I believe, that we learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Source: Asahi Shimbun
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