AUS | Japan PM to reveal nuclear phase-out

Posted on July 13, 2011

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AUSTRALASIA | THE AUSTRALIAN | 13 July 2011

Naoto Kan

JAPAN’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan was poised last night to announce a major shift away from atomic energy as another nuclear crisis erupted — this time over the revelation that radiation-contaminated beef from the Fukushima area had been sold and eaten in Japan.

It followed last week’s revelations that a Japanese power company had sent 50 employees to pose as citizens and write emails supporting the resumption of operations at one of its plants during a public meeting.

As more light is shed on the Japanese nuclear industry and its false promises of infallibility, support for it is waning, with 74 per cent of people in a recent Asahi Shimbun poll supporting a gradual phase-out of atomic energy.

The embattled Mr Kan, who wants to tap rising anti-nuclear sentiment to remain in his job, was set to announce a range of measures to wean Japan off its dependence on nuclear energy.

He has previously threatened to make moves to nationalise the nuclear industry and is believed to be furious that plant operators and regulators are not taking safety reforms seriously enough.

Nuclear power accounts for about 30 per cent of energy production in Japan, which lacks reserves of LNG, coal or oil and has failed to embrace renewables on a significant scale.

The damage from the Fukushima disaster remains at the forefront of news in Japan with reports this week focused on a scandal over tainted beef.

Regional governments have confirmed that the meat of several cows tainted with radioactive cesium has been sold in 11 prefectures in Japan, including Tokyo, and some has been eaten.

The Tokyo Metropolitan government said last night it appeared that about 373kg of the 1438kg of tainted beef may have been already sold and eaten.

The meat from the Fukushima prefecture cattle involved is believed to have become contaminated when they ate radiation-tainted straw that had been stored outside since the plant overheated and began spewing radiation into the atmosphere, soon after it was struck by the March 11 tsunami.

The cows passed external radiation checks and were slaughtered, but more detailed tests on meat from the same herd found cesium levels of more than six times the allowable limit of 500 bequerels per kilogram.

The contaminated meat is thought to be confined to six carcasses.

Authorities announced they had traced 28kg of beef that had been bought by a Shizuoka meat-packing company, and about 15kg had already been consumed.

At least 190kg of beef shipped from the Minami-Soma farm in question was sold to retailers and restaurants in Kanagawa Prefecture, including Yokohama, according to the Tokyo government and other organisations.

Osaka City University professor Ginji Endo, who studies the impact of radioactive material in food, told the Yomiuri Shimbun that the limit for food was based on long-term consumption and eating small amounts of this beef posed no danger to human health.

The tainted beef comes on top of previous food radioactivity scares surrounding vegetables, milk and green tea.

Despite the negligible health impacts, such revelations have worried consumers in Japan, where food safety is taken very seriously.

On Monday afternoon, the Fukushima prefectural government started questioning 130 farmers in the area over how they stored feed and what kind of fodder they were using, according to the Yomiuri Shinbun.

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