Mr. Macron, French president, recently announced that his country would build up to 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050 (Report by Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, Feb. 10, 2022). His decision must have been considered timely by supporters of nuclear energy as the whole Europe is now under intense pressure of possible energy shortage in the midst of the military crisis between NATO and Russia over Ukraine. The decision must have been welcomed as well by his supporters since he is expected to declare his candidacy soon for another presidential race. His plan on new nuclear reactors must have also been favorably received by French center-right conservatives and those who are connected to the nuclear industry one way or another, who wish to maintain France’s independence in energy.
Macron’s decision is also in line with the EU Taxonomy for sustainable activities (EU Taxonomy), the draft of which was adopted on Dec. 31, 2021, and is yet to be debated and finalized soon. It recognizes nuclear energy as “sustainable and green” investment to make a significant contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions (Rod Adams, Atomic Insights, Jan. 14, 2022). Being a major nuclear power, France is reported to have successfully lobbied to get the EU Commission to include nuclear power as “renewable and green” in the EU Taxonomy (The Guardian, op. cit.).
Obviously, some French people are opposed to maintaining their heavy dependence on nuclear energy as EDF, the state-run power company, faces cost increase in building new nuclear plants and maintaining old reactors safe. Besides, the environmentalists are concerned of the safety of nuclear waste which remains to be highly toxic for tens of thousands of years (ibid.), the worry I share wholeheartedly. In addition, in case of a disaster in any of the reactors in Europe, as experienced in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, then what? Such a possibility has to be seriously considered before the final EU Taxonomy is adopted as no one can be 100% for sure that no such accident would ever occur in Europe.
Reacting to the EU Taxonomy as at Dec. 31, 2021, five former prime ministers of Japan (Messrs. Koizumi, Hosokawa, Kan, Hatoyama and Murayama) issued a joint open letter dated Jan. 27, 2022, addressed to Ms. von der Leyen, EC president. On the same day, Messrs. Kan and Koizumi held a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) to draw attention to their open letter on this controversial subject.
In the letter, the former PMs expressed their dismay at the EU Taxonomy in including nuclear power for facilitating investment for sustainability and in tackling climate change. Citing the severe accidents that had occurred in the world in the past, they asserted that nuclear energy could not be considered safe, and stressed the “indescribable tragedy and contamination on an unprecedented scale” in Fukushima, where “hundreds of thousands of people had been “forced to flee their homes, vast areas of agricultural land had been contaminated, and radioactive water still continued to be generated beyond the storage capacity level.” They also underlined that “many children were suffering from thyroid cancer, and massive amounts of the country’s resources and wealth had been lost.” They emphasized that nuclear energy “can ruin a country and threaten the survival and existence of future generations.”
They warned that the inclusion of nuclear energy in the EU Taxonomy would, in reality, contribute to the accumulation of “indisposable radioactive waste”, which would lead to “inevitable risks of major accidents threatening the survival of the global environment and human species all together.” They lauded Ms. Angela Merkel’s decision for Germany to phase out nuclear power after the disaster at Fukushima and stressed that a “nuclear-free and decarbonized world” was possible.
I have no idea if the EC president has responded to them. So far, no mention of her reply in the Japanese media.
However, the letter generated heated reactions from the Japanese government side and the counter-reactions from the ex-PMs and their supporters. Mr. Yamaguchi, the environmental minister, and Mr. Uchibori, the governor of Fukushima prefecture, reacted to the letter as early as on Feb. 01 and 02 respectively. They refuted the former PMs’ claim that many children were suffering from thyroid cancer due to the nuclear accident. Both asserted that based on the rounds of health examinations on children conducted by the Fukushima prefecture, the “experts” there as well as from UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) had concluded that there was no correlation between the cases of thyroid cancer discovered and the accident of 2011. They considered the letter inappropriate and inaccurate and that it could even prolong the suffering of the children as they might face further discrimination and mistreatment as a result of the misunderstanding generated by the open letter (Our Planet-TV, 2022/02/03).
When Mr. Kishida, current PM, was asked about the open letter in a parliamentary session on Feb. 02, he also objected to the content of the letter claiming that many children in Fukushima were suffering health-wise. He said that the statement that the children there were falling sick due to radiation would amount to disseminating false information. He was concerned that such misinformation would further prolong the discrimination and prejudice that the children were subjected to. He thus found the letter inappropriate (ibid.).
The ex-PMs and their allies, particularly some plaintiffs and the lawyers representing the victims of the nuclear accident in litigation against the government and TEPCO (the Tokyo Power Company), were quick to respond to the comments made by the government side. They were particularly critical of the denial by the other side of the cause of the thyroid cancer among the children examined. They insisted that epidemiologically speaking, there were usually only one or two cases of such cancer discovered per 1 million children before the nuclear accident. The reality, however, was that at least 222 children in Fukushima had already undergone surgeries to have a partial or total thyroid gland removed, out of about 380,000 children examined. They claimed that this was an undeniable fact that “many children were suffering” indeed and that the correlation between the nuclear meltdown and the sickness of the children should be recognized (The statement released by Mr. Ido et al, the lawyers representing the children with thyroid cancer in a litigation, Feb. 04, 2022).
The government still insists that the reason for so many children having been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fukushima is due to screening effects. It claims that the use of highly sophisticated medical tools is responsible for finding even cancer of very early stage which normally required no treatment at all or for a long time. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the surgeon at the Fukushima University Medical School who has performed most of the thyroid cancer operations on children there, goes along, more or less, with the government’s denial that the cancer was caused by the nuclear accident. On the other hand, as early as in 2014, he rejected the accusation that too many children had been operated unnecessarily. He confirmed that 80% of those operated by him had a tumor larger than 10mm and had metastasized to other organs, including two cases in which lungs had already been affected. He therefore justified the treatment he provided to those children (Nihon Keizai Shinbun, 08/28/2014)
These exchanges of views do not help to mitigate either psychological or physical sufferings of the affected children and their worries for the future. If the government insists that the cases of thyroid cancer in Fukushima is due to screening effects, it should conduct similar examination with similar methods in a few other prefectures away from Fukushima. The results should convince everyone concerned if as many children elsewhere as in Fukushima were found with thyroid cancer, statistically speaking. In that case, however, the government and all residents in this country would be responsible in finding out why so many children here are suffering from thyroid cancer.