JCP opposed unsafe nuclear power generation from the beginning

May 14, 2011

Fuwa Tetsuzo, director of the Social Sciences Institute of the Japanese Communist Party, in his lecture on classical Marx theory given at the JCP head office on May 10 stated that the JCP has always been opposed to nuclear power generation with no concrete evidence of safety. His speech is as follows:

Pre-mature technologies

It was the mid-1950s when the question of nuclear power generation arose in Japan. In 1957, a research reactor in Tokai Village started its operation for the first time in Japan, and the commercial use of nuclear power generation began in the 1960s. From the beginning, the JCP has opposed the use of nuclear energy because it is still a “pre-mature technology” with no guarantee of safety.

The JCP in its 8th Congress in July 1961 adopted the Party Program. At the party’s Central Committee Plenum held just before this congress, CC members at that time endorsed a special resolution concerning the issue of nuclear power.

It states, “Judging from the present achievement in energy science and technological development in Japan, the condition to install perilous nuclear power stations right now does not exist.”

It also states that the construction of nuclear power stations “should be considered only after atomic energy related basic research, further development of overall applications, and democratic, legal, technological measures in regard to safety and risk compensation are completed.”

From this viewpoint, the JCP demanded the cancellation of the planned construction of Japan’s first commercial nuclear power plant in Tokai Village.

Since then, the party has been consistent in maintaining this stance. Not only promoting our “opposition” but also we have taken every opportunity to point out the risks behind nuclear power and to condemn successive governments for their irresponsibility toward laxity in regulating and supervising the operations of nuclear reactors.

Danger of spent fuel (1976)

In January 1976, when I first brought up the issue of nuclear power, the prime minister was Miki Takeo. Back in those years, Japan had nine reactors at six locations with a power output of 4,000,000kW in total. The Miki Cabinet put into motion a plan to increase the output to 49, 000,000kW in nine years.

I asked if they are thoroughly examining the safety of nuclear power plants before embarking on such a “high-speed growth” plan. The government answer was, “Yes, we are doing so.”

Then I compared examination processes in Japan to that in the United States. The U.S. administration had an organ consisting of 1,900 technical staff and engineers screen and manage nuclear power plants. They were technical experts being independent from the power industry. They inspect everything on the spot from plant design and site selection to plant operations. How about in Japan? I asked the government if Japan has special examiners. The answer was, “Yes.” However, the Japanese specialists were not regular staff. They normally lectured at universities. Only when the government needed them, they were asked to examine nuclear power plants. In other words, they were on-demand part-timers. What they were actually doing was just a design check. I asked, “Do you think this is sufficient?” The government’s reply was, “We will enhance their capacity.”

I also took up the issue of nuclear spent fuel. Just at that time, Japan set out to construct a nuclear reprocessing plant using French techniques. My Diet questioning began with pointing out the lack of awareness that the plant they are building is potentially dangerous. A nuclear power reactor is designed to keep fuel inside, never let it out. However, when it comes to the reprocessing of spent fuel, the fuel comes outside releasing heat.

So, when transporting spent fuel from nuclear power stations to reprocessing plants by truck, it must be stored in fuel shipping casks with cold air circulating. What’s more, when France reprocesses Japan’s spent fuel, it must be carried by ship. I asked up to how many meters a cask can be resistant under water. None of the government officials could answer this question. I was later told that after my questioning, ministry officials in charge of spent fuel transport immediately bought large scale laboratory equipment to assess the strength of casks.

Anyway, they did not seriously consider the possibility of accidents. They started the project of spent fuel reprocessing without an assessment of safety concerns.

The Fukushima accident has clearly exposed the problem with spent fuel storage. Unprotected storage pools for spent fuel at the four units pose a serious danger.

When I first took up the issue of spent fuel, the government hardly knew what should be done with spent fuel. Thirty-five years have passed since then. The government still dose not handle the used fuel in a proper manner. This is why nuclear power plants in Japan are called “condos with no toilets”.

Failure to learn lessons from Three Mile Island (1980)

When the late Ohira Masayoshi was prime minister in February 1980, I took up the government’s nuclear energy policy in the Diet for the second time.

In March in the previous year, the Three Mile Island accident occurred. The level of the accident under the guidelines of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event was lower than the ongoing Fukushima crisis. However, the accident became a significant issue worldwide at that time.

The biggest lesson that the U.S. government, led by then President Jimmy Carter, learned from the accident was to overcome “the belief that nuclear power plants are sufficiently safe.”

President Carter put 3,000 engineers on staff to regulate nuclear power plants, strengthening safety standards that were already far higher than in Japan.

In contrast, in Japan, four years after my first Diet questioning, the government’s expert committee on nuclear safety still had no full-time member.

After the Three Mile Island accident, the U.S. government developed more specific steps to protect local people in case of nuclear power plant accidents: if such an accident occurs, areas within 16km from the relevant plant will be designated as the first line danger zone; in areas within 80km, necessary measures will also be taken.

I visited Fukui Prefecture, where most nuclear power plants in Japan were concentrated at that time, to ask about the prefectural government’s countermeasures against nuclear power plants accidents.

To my surprise, neither the prefectural government nor the city government had implemented any countermeasure. When I asked government officials why they have no countermeasures, they said that was because not only the national government but also Kansai Electric Power Co. gave no information regarding nuclear disasters, what kinds of things might happen, and what kinds of measures will be necessary.

They also said that the government established the Emergency Technical Advisory Body which deals with nuclear disasters and that they rely on this organization to instruct them in case of nuclear disasters.

After my visit to Fukui, I contacted one of the members of the body. The person told me that he did not hear from the government since it called a meeting one time. This indicated that this body had no functional ability. However, in response to my question about the organization in the Diet, the government said that the body can send its members to the site of a nuclear disaster.

In order to build more nuclear power plants, electric power companies propagate the “safety myth” of nuclear power plants. They never provide explanation about a possibility of nuclear plant accidents in order to not weaken the “safety myth”. If they mention that possibility, no municipality would accept a nuclear power plant in their locality. That’s why local governments hosting nuclear power plants are unable to prepare for a possible nuclear disaster in a sufficient manner.

Residents near the Fukushima nuclear power plant are experiencing severe hardships. They were ordered to evacuate with only the barest necessities no matter if it was in the middle of the night. Electric power companies have ignored the need for preparing for a nuclear disaster at their nuclear power plants while sticking to the “safety myth”, and have neglected to implementing measures against disasters by propagating the “safety myth” on nearby residents.

Approval of more nuclear reactors in possible Tokai quake area (1981)

The third question I made in the Diet was in February 1981, when Prime Minister Suzuki Zenko took office after his predecessor Ohira Masayoshi died. I took up earthquakes as a subject for discussion. Three years before this questioning session, the government enacted a law on special measures to prepare for a massive earthquake, stipulating that a system of earthquake prediction be set up to prepare for the danger of a possible large scale earthquake in the Tokai region. After the legislation was passed, an observation system for earthquake prediction has been established to prepare for a possible Tokai quake.

The problem is, however, little can be done to respond to an earthquake even if it is predicted. The key is to build a city that can withstand an earthquake, and not to have anything dangerous located in the area.

Chubu Electirc Power Co. went ahead and constructed the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant at Cape Omaezaki in Shizuoka Prefecture. Though the area had been identified as having a high probability of earthquakes, the electric power company started operations at the plant’s Unit 1 and Unit 2 nuclear reactors. A Tokai earthquake is regarded as inevitable. If you look at the focal area on the map, you realize that the site where the Hamaoka power plant was built is at the center of the most dangerous quake zone where a big seismic fault underneath will most likely be the epicenter. The government had a special law enacted to protect against an earthquake with the assumption that this area has the greatest potential of a major earthquake. It would be reasonable for the government to order any nuclear power plant construction to be restricted from the area. The fact is that the company went ahead with the plan to build the third reactor, and the then Trade and Industry Ministry showed no hesitation in approving the plan. At the time of my Diet questioning, the plan was waiting for the approval of the Science and Technology Agency.

I said at the Diet that it is unacceptable for the government to allow more nuclear reactors to be built at the most dangerous quake zone. The then trade and industry minister answered, “Responses to an earthquake are fully considered from all possible angles.”

However, the documents on a safety review of reactors which I had requested showed that anti-quake measures can be approved as long as reactors can withstand an earthquake of an intensity of up to five. Earthquakes of an intensity of five as the maximum are just at the level of aftershocks that we have experienced in the latest Tohoku quake. An earthquake of an intensity of seven should be the minimum standard to prepare for a possible Tokai quake, along with the necessity to respond to the possible danger of widespread soil liquefaction.

When I referred to the possible dangers, the trade and industry ministry came up with some flimsy excuses claiming that the conclusion was made on research about maximum possible seismic movement beyond the intensity of five, although the text limits the maximum intensity to five.

I concluded my question session by requesting that the Science and Technology Agency play its part as the last hurdle in the authorization process. It turned out that soon after my Diet questioning, the agency permitted the construction, with the result that Nos. 3, 4, and 5 reactors were hastily built one after the other.

The Hamaoka plant is not the only plant at issue in this respect. As Japan is one of the most quake-prone countries in the world, Japan’s seismic academic circles designated areas which have high risks for major earthquakes, not only a Tokai quake, to be covered by a special monitoring system. The system consists of “designated observation areas” and of “strengthened observation areas”. Many nuclear power plants in Japan are located in either of these two high-risk areas.

The situation in regard to nuclear plant construction at the time was as follows: the No. 1 reactor was under construction at Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, two reactors out of six were under construction in Fukushima, two reactors at Hamaoka and the No. 1 reactor at Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture were under construction. Shimane had one reactor, and one of two reactors at Ikata Plant in Ehime Prefecture was under construction. Twenty-one reactors in all were in operation at that time, which meant that half of them were located in places specifically identified as high seismic risk zones. It seems that electric power companies in Japan are attracted to quake-prone areas and the government has shown no scruples about authorizing their construction. This is indicative of how deeply the electric power companies and the nuclear energy administration of Japan are reliant on the “safety myths” of nuclear power generation.

With research on active earthquake faults progressing at present, quake danger zones are more clearly identifiable than at that time.

No separation between promoters and regulators (1999)

Then in 1999 under the Obuchi Cabinet, I pointed out that Japan’s system of screening nuclear power plants is in violation of international treaties.

Following the 1979 nuclear accident at Three-Mile Island, the world experienced the more serious accident at the Chernobyl plant in 1986 which generated major discussions in the international political arena in regard to inspections and regulations of nuclear power plants. In 1988, the Basic Safety Principles for Nuclear Power Plants was published. Then in 1994, the Convention on Nuclear Safety was concluded. Japan signed the treaty in September 1994 and approved it in the Diet in April 1995. That was when Japan finally accepted the responsibility to drastically change its atomic energy administration as we had been repeatedly demanding it do. However, Japan has never carried out this international responsibility.

I brought up this issue in Diet discussions in November 1999. My question focused on the most important part of the convention which strictly requires member states to separate organs regulating nuclear power generation from its promoters. The organ in charge of safety regulations must be independent, apart from the administrative body promoting nuclear energy. This is clearly stipulated in the treaty.

However, as we can see right now, the government’s information regarding the Fukushima nuclear accident is always released by officials of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). They represent the regulatory body, which is part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). This is a clear violation of the international convention since the METI is a promoter of nuclear power generation.

The government may insist that a regulating role is played by the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) which is outside the METI. Yes, this organization is not part of the government ministry. It, however, does not have any authority. The treaty designates “regulatory body” as “any body or bodies given the legal authority by that Contracting Party to grant licences and to regulate the siting, design, construction, commissioning, operation or decommissioning of nuclear installations.” No such authority is given to the NSC. It only has a supplementary role.

In fact, what the NSC is doing right now is very minor work, like releasing some related data every once a while.

The NSC is not independent at all. Before NSC Chair Madarame Haruki took up his current position, he appeared in court as a witness for a utility company in a lawsuit over the safety of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant. In court, he insisted that the Hamaoka plant is safe and that no nuclear reactors can be built if the government listens to what the plaintiff side claims. Right now the NCS is headed by Madarame.

This is the reality behind the Japanese administration of atomic energy. It completely ignores international regulations and treaty stipulations. I believe no other country promotes nuclear power generation under such a conflicted administrative system.

So, when I raised this question to Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo, he got stuck, though he was reading from a statement written by bureaucrats, since he could not recognize the difference between “promoting” and “regulatory body.” At the time, I was surprised and disappointed by how little the prime minister was aware of nuclear energy issues.

The Central Committee of the Japanese Communist Party
4-26-7 Sendagaya,Shibuya-ku,Tokyo 151-8586