Essay: A big “No” to the re-start of nuclear reactors

Before the meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant following the powerful earthquake and the tsunami of March 11, 2011, there were 54 nuclear reactors operating throughout Japan. They used to supply about 30% of the energy in the country. After the disaster, the reactors went offline one by one for maintenance and safety checks, and since September 2013, all reactors have been idle. Japan is now managing without nuclear power, though the cost of oil and gas imported to offset the energy shortage has gone up considerably. But no black outs, due to all nuclear reactors being idle, have been reported so far.

Despite the continued suffering of the victims of the disaster in Fukushima, and despite its not yet being contained, the Japanese government still wants to rely on nuclear energy as an important energy source. That’s why Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, plans to have reactors back in operation as soon as they pass the new safety stress tests being conducted by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). Whenever questioned on this issue in parliamentary sessions, Abe emphasizes the NRA’s bench marks as being “the most stringent standards in the world.” He believes the reactors that meet such tests will be perfectly safe. But what does he mean by the “most stringent nuclear safety standards in the world”?

Until 2011, many Japanese had been made to believe that our nuclear technology was at the highest class in the world and that our nuclear reactors were able to withstand any natural disasters common to Japan. This turned out to be a myth, which easily crumbled and dissipated after a tsunami the kind of which we had never experienced before.

Last September, Abe proudly declared in Buenos Aires, where the IOC awarded the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics games to Tokyo, that the problem of radiation-contaminated water leakage from the Fukushima plant was “under control.” However, not only does that particular leak still torment the workers on the plant as well as the residents in nearby communities, but also leaks in other spots have been detected and reported since then. The reality is that no one knows for sure when and how the problem will really be resolved. Under such circumstances, how trustworthy are the “most stringent nuclear safety health standards in the world” that Abe refers to?

Japan is a small, densely-populated, earthquake-prone island country where active faults run everywhere. So, it is not an exaggeration to say that it is the most risky country in the world to operate nuclear reactors. When Abe stresses our new standards being world’s most stringent, I wonder which countries he is comparing ours to. If our risk is much more serious than that of the second most risky country in the world, whichever that may be, even the “most stringent safety standards” in the world will not give us any assurance of safety.

People around the world are now experiencing the kinds of natural disaster they have never experienced before. Nature’s destructive force is beyond our imagination. Our political and economic leaders still think it’s cheaper to rely on nuclear energy than imported oil and gas when we don’t know yet what the total and eventual cost of the disaster in Fukushima will be. Besides, we still don’t know how and where to dispose of the dangerous nuclear waste materials that we have already accumulated from the 54 reactors. Today, investment in renewable energy is increasing rapidly, too. Considering all these factors, do we still wish to see our nuclear reactors re-starting? I say “NO” clearly and loudly.

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