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Kaoru Takamura on restarts

December 5, 2015


INTERVIEW/ Kaoru Takamura: No one willing to take responsibility for restarting nuclear reactors




OSAKA--An author who wrote a novel themed on a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant 20 years before the Fukushima disaster unfolded criticized the government for seeking to restart idled reactors as if on cruise control.

“In Japan, there is no stopping something once it has been set in motion,” Kaoru Takamura, the 62-year-old author of “Kami no Hi” (Divine fire), told The Asahi Shimbun in a recent interview. “They just go on for no particular reason (continuing policies of the past). This is true not just of nuclear power policy, but of everything.

The Naoki Prize-winning author said only a minimal number of reactors should be allowed to be brought back online to maintain the necessary nuclear technology for decommissioning others and that all other reactors should be scrapped.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. restarted the No. 1 reactor of the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture in August, the first among the nation's 43 reactors to be brought back online under new safety regulations introduced after the Fukushima disaster.

The reactivation put an end to a period without nuclear power, which lasted for a year and 11 months. The utility restarted the No. 2 reactor of the Sendai plant in October.

The Abe administration has said the government will seek to restart nuclear reactors once they meet the new safety standards.

Excerpts from the interview follow:

* * *

Question: The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., are being prepared for restarts, whereas the governor of Ehime Prefecture has given his approval to restarting the No. 3 reactor of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant. How do you assess the situation?

Takamura: I don’t see why the utilities are moving to reactivate their nuclear reactors. Oil prices have fallen, and I don’t think thermal power generation is as expensive as it once was. I would say there is no rational reason for rushing to restart reactors, much less at the cost of drawing public criticism.

Q: Kansai Electric and all other regional utilities have returned to the black by the April-September 2015 fiscal period. What is your response to that?

A: That is another reason I don’t understand why they are moving to reactivate their reactors. It will be impossible, at any rate, to construct new reactors, and you will have to decide to significantly cut the number of nuclear reactors somewhere along the way at a time when more and more reactors reach a 40-year statutory limit of operations.

After all, nobody in the central government probably wants its pro-nuclear policy to be modified. Japan has relied on the peaceful use of nuclear power as a pillar of its economic policy, and nobody wants to have that course changed.

Q: Japan’s nuclear power policy could have been altered, given the 2011 triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. What do you think?

A: In Japan, there is no stopping something once it has been set in motion. I think everything boils down to that. They just go on for no particular reason. This is true not just of nuclear power policy, but of everything. Nobody takes responsibility. Nobody makes a decision. Nobody thinks about the future.

The way the Fukushima nuclear disaster was dealt with has left an enormous problem. I think TEPCO should have been made to take the responsibility through and through.

Q: Do you think Japanese society is not able to clearly assign responsibility to a party accountable before going on to the next step?

A: No, it isn’t. And that was also the case with the war (World War II). Now, the Fukushima nuclear disaster is being left to fade into oblivion without anyone taking responsibility for the catastrophe. But nothing has ever been settled--such as the issue of radioactive water and the ways to remove debris (melted nuclear fuel).

I visited areas seriously affected by the nuclear disaster on March 11 last year (the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the nuclear accident). I wonder if politicians are seeing what things are like on the ground there. Once you have seen that, I don’t believe you will ever want to bring nuclear reactors back online. The areas were deserted and dosimeters kept beeping.

Q: What motivated you to write “Kami no Hi,” a work of fiction, in 1991?

A: It’s very simple. The Persian Gulf War was going on at the time, and a bunker-busting bomb of the United States was destroying an underground facility built beneath the desert. And the facility had a concrete barrier that was 5 meters thick. I saw that on the news, and I said to myself, “Oh, my God.”

The concrete barrier that shields a nuclear reactor containment vessel is only about 1 meter thick at its thinnest. That could be penetrated by a single bomb. I thought something terrible could happen if a contingency were to take place on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, no proper security was in place at nuclear power plants in Japan, so terrorists could easily infiltrate them and blow up a control room. That’s so scary, I said to myself, though the possibility of an earthquake like the one in 2011 hitting a nuclear plant never crossed my mind at the time.

Q: Do you feel nuclear plants also pose a risk in the Kansai region?

A: All of western Japan would be destroyed if a major disaster were to hit the Ikata nuclear plant. The same can be said of the Takahama nuclear plant. The Kansai region would become uninhabitable if the waters of Lake Biwako were to be contaminated. I suppose management people in Kansai Electric and Shikoku Electric are probably thinking hopefully that no disaster will occur in their own lifetime, or something like that.

The Kansai region has long had nuclear reactors sited nearby, beginning with the Mihama plant’s No. 1 reactor (which began operations in 1970). They were already there when you realized it. Like many in the region, I would go, in my childhood, to Fukui Prefecture to swim in the sea, while sighting nuclear reactors. Kansai residents are half-resigned to the prospect that everything would be finished if a nuclear disaster were to hit.

Q: There is a deep-rooted view that Japan, with its scarce natural resources, has to rely on nuclear power. What do you say to that?

A: I am of the generation of people who believed, around the time nuclear fuel was “lit” for the first time in Japan (in 1957) in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, that science and technology will open up the future. So we don’t feel put off by the use of nuclear power as one of the leading-edge technologies. But there are other factors--wars, earthquakes and humans. Humans always commit errors. I have concluded that, because of various circumstances outside the scope of science and technology, we should not be using nuclear power in the world today.

Q: So do you believe that no nuclear reactor should be restarted?

A: Well, I wouldn’t say we should go nuclear-free no matter what because you cannot just let nuclear technology die out at a time when the decommissioning of reactors will absolutely be unavoidable in the years to come. We need to define a clear-cut policy, whereby we pick out a clutch of nuclear reactors and bring them back online for the specific purpose of decommissioning others, and scrap all the other reactors.

If utilities are to incur any major losses by writing off impairment from the formal decommissioning of their nuclear reactors, we should help redress their account books somehow, such as by ensuring the central government will temporarily cover those losses. I suppose such a measure would prompt utilities to take steps toward scrapping their reactors.

I think the costs for decommissioning the reactors will be much cheaper than the expenses for dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I would say that’s what rationality is all about. If we were to proceed pointlessly with restarting reactors and if another disaster were to occur elsewhere, we could no longer afford to spend as much money as we did for the Fukushima accident.

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Born in Osaka, Kaoru Takamura, who debuted as a writer with her novel “Ogon wo Daite Tobe” (Fly with the gold) in 1990, won the Naoki Prize, a prestigious literary award, for “Makusu no Yama” (MARKS) in 1993. Her latest work is “Kukai,” which partly touches on areas of Fukushima Prefecture that were affected by the nuclear disaster.


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