29 Avril 2014
April 29, 2014
Ahead of secrets law, information concealed on nuclear facilities
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
Kiyohiko Yamada has studied the situation surrounding the problem-plagued nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture for a quarter-century, but the information he recently saw was perhaps the most startling.
“Why are there so many blacked-out parts?” Yamada, 57, who lives in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, said he thought when he viewed the website of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).
The page was an application form for construction work submitted to the government in January by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the operator of the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, next to Misawa.
The JNFL had censored the names of all the buildings described in the form, months before the state secrets protection law was enacted in December last year in the name of protecting national security.
The law, which covers nuclear facilities, has been criticized as vaguely worded and a potential tool to conceal embarrassing information among those in power. Violators of the law could face prison terms.
Anti-nuclear activists fear current actions, including the concealment of information and harassment, could portend things to come when the secrets law actually does take effect by December this year.
A sense of secrecy even surrounds certain pro-nuclear movements.
“Going ahead of the law, the government started concealing information in an arbitrary manner,” said Yamada, who started monitoring the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which will extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, 25 years ago using disclosed information. “I wonder whether the information I have collected is regarded as state secrets subject to the law and I will be punished.”
In mid-March, Asahi Shimbun reporters visited a reading room of the NRA in Tokyo’s Roppongi district and checked six installments of JNFL’s applications. The names of the buildings were redacted in all of the forms.
Each application consisted of many detailed documents. The pages with the concealed portions were new and had apparently replaced older versions.
According to NRA officials, the old pages were replaced around summer 2013, when discussions on the state secrets protection bill had already started.
Government officials in charge of the issue explained in the Diet that blueprints of nuclear power-related facilities were not subject to protection under the secrets law, but information related to security of those facilities was covered.
The NRA and the JNFL stopped concealing the names of the buildings in the application forms this month after being asked by the reporters why such information had been redacted.
‘I JUST WANTED TO ASK A QUESTION’
In Fukushima Prefecture, home of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, emotions still run high over the issue of nuclear energy.
In July 2013, Ruri Sasaki was waiting in front of JR Fukushima Station in the prefectural capital, where pro-nuclear Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was scheduled to give a speech for a candidate in the Upper House election.
The 41-year-old homemaker from Nihonmatsu, also in Fukushima Prefecture, carried a board that read: “I have a question for the prime minister. Are you for or against the decommissioning of nuclear power plants?”
Sasaki hoped Abe would make his stance clear if he noticed the board. But several men surrounded her, and one of them told her, “This is not a place to ask questions.”
They confiscated her board and repeatedly demanded her name and address.
Fearing for her safety, she fled to her car. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she was unable to drive for a while.
One of the men was a secretary to a Lower House member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
“We wanted to avoid confusion in a place where the prime minister came,” he later said.
When Sasaki was talking with the men, she took a video of the quarrel with her mobile phone. She later posted it on the YouTube video-sharing site.
Comments came in from people throughout the country. One of them read, “It is an oppression of freedom of expression.”
However, unfounded rumors about Sasaki began to spread in her hometown.
Neighbors whispered that she went to Fukushima city to complain to the prime minister. Others said she had joined a political activist organization.
Despite those experiences, Sasaki said she believes she will try to raise a board again if the opportunity arises.
“I just wanted to ask a question. Unless I express my opinions with courage, I will become a sheep to those in power,” she said.
WORKSHOP ON RADIATION EDUCATION
In March, when Asahi Shimbun reporters were viewing the censored NRA documents in Tokyo, a letter arrived at a junior high school in Osaka about a workshop for teachers on radiation education.
The summer program was scheduled to be held at a private university in Osaka Prefecture.
Two names in the letter were listed as the workshop organizers: the university and Kansai Genshiryoku Kondankai (Council on nuclear power in the Kansai region).
According to participants of last year’s workshop, about 20 people took part in the two-day, one-night program. They observed nuclear reactors, learned about radiation and then discussed how to teach classes about the information.
The participants were given transportation allowances, and their accommodation and food expenses were covered.
“Kansai Genshiryoku Kondankai is shouldering all of those costs,” said a professor of the private university.
The workshop started for junior high school teachers in summer 2012, a year and a few months after the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The secretariat of Kansai Genshiryoku Kondankai, located in a building in Osaka, sent letters to junior high schools in the Kinki region, which centers on Osaka Prefecture, and Fukui Prefecture to gather participants.
“The workshop is held so that teachers have an accurate knowledge on the risks and fears of radiation,” said a staff member of the secretariat.
According to the website of the organization, its chairman is a professor emeritus at Kyoto University.
Asahi Shimbun reporters asked the secretariat staff member about the organization’s member companies, program expenses, policies and relations with electric power companies.
“We cannot reveal them because our organization is a voluntary group,” she said.
However, Asahi Shimbun reporters later learned that a vice president of Kansai Electric Power Co. had been the organization’s chairman until January 2012, and that some staff members of the secretariat were employees of Kansai Electric.
The woman at the secretariat, who is also employed by the utility, said she did not know if the organization followed certain policies.
But a citizens’ group found the policies through an information disclosure request to the government.
The policies read, “The organization aims to contribute to the promotion of the development and utilization of nuclear power.”
Kansai Electric is currently trying to restart reactors at its Oi nuclear power plant and the Takahama nuclear power plant, both located in Fukui Prefecture.