JAPAN | Saga residents vent anger at nuclear officials

Posted on July 9, 2011


JAPAN | ASAHI SHIMBUN | July 09, 2011

A public meeting in Taku, Saga Prefecture (Soichiro Yamamoto)

Local residents attending a public meeting about the restart of reactors at the Genkai nuclear power plant in Saga Prefecture grilled officials about alleged collusion between Japan’s nuclear industry and regulators and the adequacy of nuclear safety measures.

Following revelations that Kyushu Electric Power Co. had tried to manipulate a previous meeting June 26 by asking employees to send pro-nuclear e-mail messages from their private accounts, the mood among the public at the meeting in Taku, Saga Prefecture, on July 8 was volatile.

Hostile questions to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) officials attending were repeatedly loudly applauded by the audience of about 400 people.

Makiko Hasegawa, who moved from Kamisu, Ibaraki Prefecture with her five children to be near her parents’ home in Taku after the March earthquake and nuclear disaster, asked: “If an accident should occur, do you have measures to stop it?”

A METI official said: “We are proceeding with plans by compiling a road map.”

Hasegawa, 36, who is currently working as a temporary employee with the Taku city government, appeared unconvinced. “Even after four months, radioactive materials are continuing to spew out in Fukushima,” she said.

Genkai resident Yoshinobu Hirata, who was included as a local representative on the panel at the meeting, was greeted with loud applause when he said: “The sections to oversee and promote nuclear power plants are in the same ministry. I feel there is some form of collusion. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency should be a completely independent presence.”

Another panelist, a homemaker from Karatsu, who had also taken part in the June 26 meeting, commented on the central government’s decision to conduct stress tests on all nuclear power plants in Japan.

“They should have done those tests from the very beginning. I have lost trust in the central government,” she said.

Applause also greeted the comment: “I cannot understand why there is such a rush to resume operations at Genkai when the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is still unresolved.”

A METI official responded: “If the nuclear plants do not operate, electricity supply may not meet demand. We want to operate those plants that have no safety problems.”

Of the nine people asking questions from the audience, six were highly critical of the central government’s response to the nuclear crisis.

The meeting in Taku was in a much less tightly controlled format than the controversial meeting June 26. That hearing had been hosted by METI and was limited to seven pre-selected individuals chosen as “representatives” of Saga residents. Saga residents could only view the proceedings on cable television or over the Internet.

The e-mail messages sent to the June meeting were generally in favor of nuclear energy and urged a quick resumption of operations at the Genkai plant. It was later revealed that Kyushu Electric tried to rig this part of the process. Four of the seven participants at the June 26 meeting appeared at the July 8 meeting as panelists.

The second meeting, in which questions were invited from the floor after initial questions from panelists, lasted for two-and-a-half hours, about 30 minutes longer than planned.

A METI official said: “It doesn’t appear that they totally bought our argument. We would like to think about the issue from the standpoint of the residents after reviewing the various opinions and issues raised.”

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