JAPAN | Sacrifices forced on rural sites of nuclear power plants do not bring true wealth

Posted on June 24, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 24 June 2011

Kazumi Hama looks back on the protests against the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant on the cape in the background, in Hidaka, Wakayama Prefecture, on May 23. (Mainichi)

Kazumi Hama looks back on the protests against the proposed construction of a nuclear power plant on the cape in the background, in Hidaka, Wakayama Prefecture, on May 23. (Mainichi)

How does the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant appear to those who were once embroiled in disputes over the possible construction of a nuclear power plant in their backyard?

It is predicted that a major earthquake will hit Wakayama Prefecture, where I work, in the near future. Talk of constructing nuclear power plants within the prefecture has emerged numerous times in the past, but thanks to the help of researchers from Kyoto University, such facilities do not exist. The reason for that is simple: we have no need for dangerous nuclear power plants.

Most noteworthy of the cases in Wakayama were the protests against plant construction in the town of Hidaka and of Hikigawa, which has since been merged with Shirahama. In Hidaka, the issue had been festering since 1967 when the then mayor revealed his vision for the construction of a nuclear power plant. In 1988, the Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) offered the local fisheries cooperative some 700 million yen in compensation for surveys to be conducted in preparation for plant construction.

Family members and relatives belonging to the cooperative were divided on the appropriate response, leading to opposing sides refusing to attend weddings, funerals, and boat-launching ceremonies. Kazumi Hama, 61, a fisherman who led anti-nuclear plant efforts said that family relationships suffered because of talk of a possible plant.

“If nuclear power plants were safe, we wouldn’t have had any infighting. KEPCO weighed the lives of city dwellers against ours,” he said.

A photograph shows the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.(Mainichi)

A photograph shows the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.(Mainichi)

In Hikigawa, meanwhile, even students on school buses were split into pro-plant and anti-plant sections. According to Tomoaki Nishio, 59, the current head of the town council who was then against the construction of the power plants, the proposed site for the nuclear power plant had been privately-owned. In 1973, however, the town’s land development bureau bought the land, with the promise that it would “make the land into a quasi-national park and protect it from reckless development,” and resold it to the municipal government. When town government officials signed a sales contract with KEPCO, a man who had sold his land to the development bureau committed suicide.

“My father was ashamed that he had been conned by the town government,” a 78-year-old bereaved family member said.

The question on the minds of all anti-nuclear plant residents was: “Why aren’t nuclear power plants built in urban areas, where a massive amount of electricity is consumed every day?” Sharing this same line of thinking, assistant professors Hiroaki Koide, 61, and Tetsuji Imanaka, 60, of Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute supported anti-plant protests.

Koide had gone to study at Tohoku University with the belief that nuclear power was going to be the world’s future power source. However, he encountered the protests against the construction of Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant in Miyagi Prefecture, and switched over to an anti-nuclear power stand himself.

“Nuclear power plants are dangerous facilities that cities refuse to build within their own borders, which is why they are built in sparsely-populated areas despite the cost of laying down power lines,” Koide said. “Once you realize that, there’s only one choice. There’s no way we can allow such a thing.”

Imanaka, too, went to graduate school at Tokyo Institute of Technology with faith in the future of nuclear power, but ended up participating in protests against the construction of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture. He found the power company’s claim that nuclear power plants were safe and that they helped local economies dubious. After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, Imanaka’s doubts about nuclear safety turned into conviction about its dangers.

Reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant are pictured in this photograph taken from a Mainichi helicopter in February 2011. (Mainichi)

Reactors at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant are pictured in this photograph taken from a Mainichi helicopter in February 2011. (Mainichi)

In a lawsuit seeking the reversal of permission given for the construction of Ikata Nuclear Power Plant in Ehime Prefecture, the two researchers served as expert witnesses for the plaintiffs’ legal team. They also visited Wakayama on numerous occasions to distribute anti-plant fliers.

Koide’s argument is clear-cut: machines sometimes break, and people sometimes make mistakes. It is only natural for nuclear power plants operated by people to break down. When nuclear power plants break down, they cause catastrophes.

As such, the accident in Fukushima was well within the scope of Koide’s expectations. And yet, the general public remained under the spell of the “safety myth,” and arguments like his went ignored. Koide now blames himself for not having stopped the construction of nuclear power plants, but he also says that the public is “responsible for being duped.”

The phrase brings to mind the 1946 essay “Senso sekininsha no mondai” (The problem of who is responsible for the war), in which film director Mansaku Itami argued that the general public were partially responsible for the war, for having been “fooled.” In the essay, the same man who had penned an extremely compassionate screenplay for the film “Muhomatsu no issho” (Rickshaw man), launched a social critique that cut at the very nature of mankind: “Those who are okay with themselves saying they were ‘deceived’ will probably be deceived again and again. No, they are surely in the process of being taken in by new lies already.”

It is a matter of course that the national government and power companies that went around touting the “safety myth” are criticized. However, we must also hold the public accountable for its part in the disaster by falling for the myth. The public, through the work of politicians, has distributed millions of yen to rural areas as compensation for the use of their land — and it is that very distribution system and the safety myth that have forced people to live in danger, alongside nuclear power plants.

Hama said that there was a time, during the infighting at the fisheries cooperative, that the opposing blocs cooperated to search for a colleague who had gone missing at sea. The body was found a week later.

In this undated file photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactors stand in line intact in Okuma town in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

In this undated file photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant reactors stand in line intact in Okuma town in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. (AP Photo/Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

It was these words from Hama that changed the mind of the Hidaka town mayor, who had been pushing for the construction of the nuclear power plant in their town: “There’s a saying that ‘for fishermen, hell is one plank away.’ Those of us who work under such dangerous conditions have to get along. Hey mayor, do you understand that?”

Does forcing sacrifices upon rural residents and being dependent on nuclear power plants signify true wealth? What we should be aspiring to as a society seems clear enough. (By Takashi Yamashita, Wakayama Bureau)

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