Japanese Governor Ito ignores lessons of Fukushima to approve the Sendai reactor restarts

Bags of Contaminated Soil in FukushimaPiles of bags containing soil, mud and grass at a site in Iitate village. Members of the Greenpeace radiation monitoring team check contamination levels in Watari and in Central Fukushima City, three and a half years after the nuclear accident.10/27/2014 © Noriko Hayashi / Greenpeace

Governor Ito of Kagoshima, today bent to the will of the nuclear industry in granting approval for the highly contentious restart of the two Sendai nuclear reactors. In an effort to avoid full responsibility for the decision he was making, he announced that restart was “unavoidable,” rather than explicitly consent. In large part, this is due to the fact that this decision will be hugely unpopular in his prefecture, as the large majority of residents are opposed to the restart of the nuclear reactors.

In granting approval of the Sendai reactors, Governor Ito and the Kagoshima prefectural Assembly – which voted earlier to approve restart – have utterly failed to understand the tragic lessons of the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear catastrophe. And in this failure, they are shouldering the responsibility for the lives and livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of residents throughout the prefecture who are under direct threat in the event of a major nuclear disaster at Sendai.

In the last week evidence has been made public that the reactor operator and the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) are ignoring volcano risks to Sendai.

In addition, Governor Ito today made the weak argument that in the event of a nuclear disaster, residents could simply stay in their homes – and therefore, the evacuation plans are sufficient. Such a statement amounts to a slap in the face of Fuksuhima victims, like those from Iitate, 40 km for the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant. The government failed to evacuate Iitate residents for over a month after the nuclear disaster – and as a result citizens were unnecessarily exposed to very high levels of radiation as a result. Greenpeace recently completed a radiation survey in Fukushima, including in the village of Iitate. In spite of massive decontamination efforts in Iitate, radiation levels remain above government targets, and it is unlikely that community members will ever be able to safely return. 

Like the village of Iitate, Kagoshima city, sits 40km from the Sendai reactors. Iitate had a population of around 6000 at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Kagoshima has a population of over 600,000.

The Governors position also carelessly dismisses the fact that city officials in Satsumasendai and Izumi City (30km from the Sendai reactors), and officials of Minamata city in Kumamoto Prefecture, have confirmed to citizens groups that many of their nuclear emergency shelters are vulnerable to the impacts of tsunamis, storm surges, and landslides. As a result, they are required under the law to find safe alternatives. They have so far failed to do so. The emergency plans for these communities and hundreds of thousands of inhabitants are currently in violation of the Disaster Countermeasures Basic Law.

Reassurances of safety from the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) are increasingly exposed as nothing more than the empty words of the same complacent and discredited approach to nuclear power regulation that led to the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear catastrophe.

For example, the Sendai reactors – located in a coastal seismic zone – are also surrounded by volcanoes. This includes the active Mount Sakurajima, 40km from the reactors, and the large Aira caldera or “super volcano”.  On 2nd November, scientists from the Volcanological Society of Japan called for the nuclear regulator to review its volcano guidelines. The Society stated that the NRA’s approval for nuclear plant restart is based on the ‘questionable’ belief that it will be possible to predict a major eruption of volcanoes near nuclear reactors.

The chair of the Society committee, an emeritus professor from the University of Tokyo, described the NRA’s position as “scary”. Based upon a site-specific study of an ancient volcano in Greece, reactor owner Kyushu Electric has claimed that they can rely on early prediction of an eruption, and would have sufficient time to shutdown the reactors, remove the nuclear spent fuel from the reactors, cool it for up to five years, and then put it in casks and transport it away from the region under threat from a volcanic eruption.

These mounting issues have added to the significant safety concerns and growing demands for inclusive consultation by communities that lie within potential nuclear emergency evacuation zones, but have thus far been excluded from having a formal role in the reactor restart approval process. The Governor has now completely ignored these demands from citizens and city governments within his prefecture.  Recent polling have shown increasing demands for wider consultation on nuclear reactor restarts beyond communities that directly benefit financially from hosting power plants.

Even with approval from the full Kagoshima Assembly and the Governor, restart of the two reactors at Sendai will not take place before 2015. The NRA has yet to complete its review of the Sendai reactor post Fukushima retrofitting plan, safety management rules, and onsite inspections of the plant.

Shaun Burnie is a nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace Germany.

[Image: Bags of Contaminated Soil in Fukushima. Piles of bags containing soil, mud and grass at a site in Iitate village. Members of the Greenpeace radiation monitoring team check contamination levels in Watari and in Central Fukushima City, three and a half years after the nuclear accident. 10/27/2014 © Noriko Hayashi / Greenpeace]

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