After being nuclear free for two years, Japan is restarting its reactors. But there’s a problem – they’re old, unsafe, and oh, did we tell you there’s an active volcano nearby?
At the southwestern tip of Japan in Kagoshima Prefecture, sea turtles swim to shore between May and August each year, and dig into the sandy beach to spawn their eggs. Out of hundreds, only a few will hatch, and the newly born turtles will climb onto the sand and swim into the ocean to begin their new life cycle.
Among the deep blue sea, rolling green hills and beautiful big sky, it’s one of nature’s most precious attractions. But there’s one unnatural, glaring sight placed on the shoreline – a giant nuclear power plant.
The Sendai Nuclear Power Plant is the first reactor to reopen since the devastating Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March 2011. Sitting on the southern coast with an “ocean view” its two massive cylindrical structures are painted with a blue and green wave – presumably to “match” the surrounding environment. But the locals are not impressed. After Fukushima, tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate, emptying entire villages. As a result, Japan closed all of its reactors and re-evaluated safety standards and procedures. Locals know the danger of having a nuclear facility right at their doorstep, and they want it shut down.
Having only been reopened on August 11 this year, the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant already poses a threat. Mount Sakurajima, one of Japan’s most active volcanoes situated 50 km near the Plant, is showing signs of an imminent large eruption. Residents have been warned to evacuate and the Meteorological Agency has raised the warning level from level 3 to 4. The highest is 5, which means necessary evacuation.
Sakurajima Volcano is 50km away from the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (Photo: Masaya Noda)
Despite this, the government, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and Kyushu Electric Power Co., which runs the Sendai nuclear facility have all ignored warnings and have said operations will be as normal. But with the majority of people in Japan being opposed to nuclear, the stories from those who have experienced a nuclear disaster exposes the truth.
At demonstrations opposing the opening of the Sendai Plant at the beginning of the month, I met Ms Masumi Kowata, a teacher from Okuma town in Fukushima. When the Great Tohoku Earthquake happened, the event that triggered the Fukushima disaster, she told me about how a large number of people died because of lung cancer, illness and even suicide.
Ms Masumi Kowata speaking at the Sendai nuclear plant protests
An ex-student of hers, who was working at the Fukushima nuclear plant when the earthquake hit, said to Ms Kowata, “The pipes of the nuclear plant are becoming a mess. A friend got trapped and died. I couldn’t help.”
The former student was forced to leave behind his friend. Ms Kowata grappled with the student’s pain. How many people were living in the pain that the Fukushima disaster had caused? How many have lost their lives because of the Fukushima disaster? How many more lives will be lost because of nuclear disasters?
Standing with the 2000 or so protesters I join their calls; and from my work at Greenpeace I know the cold, hard truth: our analysis has shown that even without lava reaching the plant, volcanic ash from a large eruption could cause a major nuclear disaster at the site. What is very clear is that this risk is totally unnecessary, and completely unacceptable.
Greenpeace Japan campaigner, Mamoru Sekiguchi, protests with local people in front of the Sendai nuclear plant on 11 August, 2015
We have operated without a single reactor online for almost two years. Sendai should be shut down immediately in light of the increased volcanic activity. Rather than putting citizens at risk of yet another nuclear disaster, Japan’s Abe government should be leading the way to a safe, clean, renewable energy future.
By Mamoru Sekiguchi, Greenpeace Japan Energy Campaigner in Tokyo
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