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Kan: I couldn't let TEPCO withdraw from Fukushima disaster

2011/09/07 Print Share Article Naoto Kan (Photo by Satoru Iizuka) Naoto Kan was told by his industry minister at 3 a.m., four days after the start of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, that the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., was proposing to withdraw from the stricken facility. In his first interview since leaving office, the former prime minister told The Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 5 that he had briefly stared into an abyss in which the plant's damaged nuclear reactors might have been abandoned. "I thought, 'What would happen if (TEPCO) withdrew?' If we left the plant unattended, everything might have melted down and things might have gone far beyond Chernobyl," Kan said. "The word 'withdrawal' was not in my mind. The important thing was how we could, at all costs, bring the situation under control," Kan said. The telephone call from industry minister Banri Kaieda provided the impetus for the establishment of an integrated response office, under which TEPCO stayed at the plant and worked with government agencies to regain control of its reactors. In the wide-ranging interview, Kan offered new insights into the stresses at the top of government as it struggled to cope with the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear disaster. He revealed that he still did not know why some of his instructions in the first days of the nuclear crisis were ignored, that TEPCO had failed to provide vital information as the crisis developed, and that he believed the pro-nuclear Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry (METI) had itself proposed the suspension of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka as a way to allow other suspended nuclear plants to reopen. Excerpts from the interview follow: *** Question: Can you explain what was behind the decision to vent the No. 1 reactor, which was the focus of the initial response to the accident? Kan: Everyone involved, including officials of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) and TEPCO, all agreed that venting should be conducted since pressure in the core was increasing. I gave instructions to TEPCO officials to conduct the venting. When I subsequently asked TEPCO officials, "How did it turn out?" I was told, "It has not yet been conducted." There was no explanation for why they did not carry out my instructions. I still do not know the reason. Because communications were inadequate over the venting, I felt the need for direct communication with those at the Fukushima plant. Q: You flew by helicopter to inspect the Fukushima plant on March 12, but were you ever warned that it might be dangerous?

A: Not really. The reason I went to the plant was because we were not receiving accurate information from the plant. That being the case, I felt I had to go there and speak with those in charge or I would never know what was going on. When I told Masao Yoshida, the head of the Fukushima plant, to conduct venting, he said: "I understand. We will do it." Q: How did you decide which areas should be evacuated? How do you respond to criticism of the gradual expansion of the evacuation zone? A: We had to think about the state of the reactor cores and how we would pass on information to residents. (If it was at night,) we would have to knock on the doors of every home. But where would we find the people to do the knocking? We had to make a comprehensive decision in that practical context. Q: Do you believe the decisions about the area of evacuation were correct? A: We gradually expanded the range after taking into consideration the direct dangers from a core explosion as well as the risks involved in actually evacuating. I do not believe that the manner in which we made the decision was mistaken. Q: Did you receive an immediate report about the hydrogen explosion that occurred on March 12? A: The report from TEPCO did not come immediately. The report that came after about 50 minutes did not touch upon the hydrogen explosion. Although TV reports showed the explosion, no report came to us. It was never expected that all power sources would be lost, so the situation was not developing according to the possible scenarios that had been assumed. --Establishing a unified command-Q: Is it true that TEPCO said it wanted to withdraw from the Fukushima No. 1 plant on March 15? A: At around 3 a.m., METI minister Banri Kaieda told me that TEPCO said it wished to withdraw. I thought: "What would happen if it withdrew?" If we left the plant unattended, everything might have melted down and things might have gone far beyond Chernobyl. The word "withdrawal" was not in my mind. The important thing was how we could, at all costs, bring the situation under control. Subsequently, I summoned Masataka Shimizu, then TEPCO president. It was not clear if TEPCO was going to stay on or wanted to withdraw. I thought: "This is tricky. I have to gain a grip on the situation." I proposed to Shimizu that the government and TEPCO set up an integrated response office. He agreed. Q: What changed after establishing the integrated response office? A: I was the head. Kaieda was the deputy head. Goshi Hosono, then special adviser to the prime minister, was the secretary-general. I had full-time staff members assigned. This made the flow of information smoother and we came to share a large amount of information. Q: Some say that the Japanese government declined the United States' offer to assist in the response to the accident. A: I never declined an offer. From the beginning, I consistently took the stance that I would be very pleased to receive assistance. However, you cannot ask someone else to help only with the most dangerous part (of the response). Q: There were reports back then that you told an aide, "All of eastern Japan may be destroyed." A: I did not make such a remark, but I did have all of the possibilities modeled. If the evacuation zone had expanded to 100, 200 or 300 kilometers, it would have included the whole Kanto region. That would have forced 30 million people to evacuate, compromising the very existence of the Japanese nation. That's the biggest reason why I changed my views on nuclear power. If there are risks of accidents

that could make half the land mass of our country uninhabitable, we cannot afford to take such risks, even if we are only going to be playing with those risks once a century. Q: Who were you able to talk to among the TEPCO people? A: I talked to Tsunehisa Katsumata, TEPCO chairman, on several occasions on the phone. Once, I said: "The pumping of seawater (into the reactor) should be changed to fresh water as soon as possible." --Bureaucratic wrangling-Q: Did NISA provide you with correct information on the situation? A: NISA failed to function properly. Neither the underlying laws nor simulations had envisaged a critical accident such as a total power failure. Nobody had taken into consideration the scenario of a major earthquake and tsunami taking place simultaneously. Therefore, most of the information released by NISA shortly after the March 11 disaster was not consistent with statements made later by the agency in most cases. Q: METI came out against your policies at times. What do you think about it? A: METI is on the side of nuclear power. That is why I made a Cabinet resolution to establish a new nuclear safety agency under the Environment Ministry. I do not think the momentum from that move will be redirected easily. I did all I could do while I was in office to move away from nuclear energy, but the final decision on the issue will be left to the voters. Q: Did you make any suggestions to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda about personnel appointments with a view to ensuring the continuance of your nuclear policy? A: I did not make any specific suggestions to him on personnel matters. Q: Why do you think you had a confrontational relationship at one point with Kaieda on the issue of resuming operations at the Genkai nuclear power plant (operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.)? A: METI tried to set a precedent for resuming nuclear plant operations. NISA attempted to draw the whole picture for resumption and tried to give the green light by itself. METI (which oversees the agency) tried to restart the plant so that all other nuclear power plants that had suspended operations could follow suit. However, I did not think a decision by NISA alone would produce a public consensus (on this issue). I ordered the relevant ministers to establish rules that would involve the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan (under the Cabinet Office). Q: Do you think these aggressive moves by METI were triggered by the suspension of operations at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant (operated by Chubu Electric Power Co.)? A: The idea of the suspension was initially suggested by Kaieda. I did not order a plan to be prepared on that issue. I suspect the ministry originally intended to keep all other nuclear plants in operation by sacrificing operations at the Hamaoka plant. Q: When issuing the request for a suspension of the Hamaoka plant, were you acutely aware of the possibility of a major earthquake? A: Yes, I was. Analyses by an expert government agency contributed to the decision. If an accident were to occur there, the transportation arteries between Tokyo and Osaka would be cut off. The Shinkansen train lines would be halted and the Tomei Expressway would be cut off. Q: Why do you think Japanese society believed in nuclear safety so blindly? Why were we unable to prevent the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant accident? A: I would say the main culprit was social pressure to conform to majority views. Before the accident, it had become increasingly difficult to voice concern about the danger of an accident. For instance, if someone made remarks about the danger within the community of nuclear experts, that person was ostracized. The same held true of the central and local governments. Everyone followed

the herd because of the fear of becoming an outcast. Q: Some say Japan needs nuclear power plants to maintain its capability to create nuclear weapons. What do you think about that? A: I have never discussed that issue in official meetings. There are many ways of looking at the issue.

Nobel winner urges Japan to abandon nuclear power
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 2011/09/07 Print Share Article Kenzaburo Oe (Asahi Shimbun file photo) Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe urged Japan's new prime minister on Sept. 6 to halt plans to restart nuclear power plants and instead abandon nuclear energy. Oe cautioned Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda against prioritizing the economy over safety. Noda has said he will allow idled nuclear plants to resume operation when their safety is confirmed. "The new prime minister seems to think that nuclear power plants are necessary for Japan's economy, and how to resume their operation is one of his key political agendas," Oe said. "We must make a big decision to abolish all nuclear plants." Oe, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1994, said the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant six months ago caused the Japanese public to want to reduce their dependence on nuclear power, but that feeling seems to be fading. He spoke at news conference Tuesday about an anti-nuclear petition drive, accompanied by other members of the campaign. The group, which is demanding that the government decommission aging reactors and promote renewable energy, aims to collect 10 million signatures and submit them to the government next March. Oe has actively supported pacifist and anti-nuclear campaigns and written books about the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Noda, who took office last Friday, becoming Japan's six prime minister in five years, has said he does not plan to build new nuclear plants and will decommission those that are aged. But he said he plans to restart plants whose safety is confirmed to relieve power shortages and help Japan's economic recovery. More than 30 of the country's 54 reactors are idled, forcing a nationwide conservation effort this summer. The nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant was like "a third atomic bombing" that Japan inflicted on itself, Oe said. "We already faced the major threat of radiation from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, many children will have to live with radiation threats for 10, 20 or 30 years from now."

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Nuclear crisis left a green ghost town
BY YOICHIRO KODERA STAFF WRITER 2011/09/06 Print Share Article Cattle dashing through the yard of Kiyohashi Elementary School in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture (Hiroshi Kawai) NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture -- A hand-written notice on the first floor of the abandoned town hall said, "Aid Station." There was a kerosene stove with five chairs gathered around it. A bundle of disposable chopsticks and a cup with three cigarette butts had been left on a long table. They have been there since March 12, the day after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami devastated Namie and triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, only nine kilometers down the coastline, that forced the evacuation of many in the town. Everywhere you looked there were remnants of an abandoned normality, side-by-side with distressing evidence of the horrific destruction wreaked on the town. An empty bottle of energy drink stood on the desk of a town hall employee. A crumpled fragment of a map of the town, on which red markings had been made, was left on a stack of documents. Near the entrance to the aid station memos dating from March 12 had been posted. One said: "1,039 missing." Few people have been allowed to travel to Namie since a 20-km zone around the Fukushima plant was declared a no-entry area under the disaster countermeasures basic law. With the permission of Namie's mayor, the Asahi Shimbun was allowed to send a reporter on Sept. 2 to accompany town officials monitoring radiation levels in the town under the special law governing nuclear disaster. The once-thriving community of 21,000 people has been turned into a green ghost town. The yard of Kiyohashi Elementary school, about 1.5 km to the east of the town hall, was like a pasture, with lush grass growing taller than knee height. Seven cattle, with their ears tagged, hid and then thundered through the yard and disappeared into a wood when disturbed. Across the several kilometers between the school and the coastline, high grass, between 1 and 2 meters tall, swayed. At first, it looked like it must have once been open ground used for rice or vegetable fields, but the white foundations of a home, glimpsed through the thick grass, betrayed

the reality--the whole area was once filled with homes. What looked like a hill was actually a mountain of debris. At least 10 fishing boats were still stranded far inland. Ukedo district, home to most of the town's 184 casualties, was left liver-colored after the disaster struck. It is now a green pasture.

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Evacuated town's officials call for early start to decontamination
BY YOICHIRO KODERA STAFF WRITER 2011/09/06 Print Share Article NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture--The radiation reading on a gravel path near a prefectural highway about 10 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was 76.0 microsieverts per hour. At the nearby Omaru meeting complex, set among riverside rice paddies surrounded by mountains, the dosimeter recorded 52.0 microsieverts, more than 13 times the government yardstick of 3.8 microsieverts per hour used to assess whether an evacuation is necessary. Shigeyuki Ito, 59, a Namie town official sent to measure radiation in the abandoned municipality, looked downcast. Officials had hoped to measure a marked reduction in radiation in the area when I accompanied them on a radiation survey on Sept. 2. Instead, I was advised, for my own safety, to return to the light van which had brought us there. At other spots in the mountains in western Namie, radiation remains high. The levels in other areas are unknown because landslides prevent the town officials reaching them. However, the picture across Namie, much of which was evacuated on March 12 after the Fukushima nuclear crisis started, is not unrelieved doom and gloom. We spent the whole day visiting 38 sites in the town. Three town officials equipped with dosimeters drove from Nihonmatsu city, where the town's office has been relocated, as they do every Friday. They have regularly checked radiation at 17 locations since June 17, and measured at a further 21 locations on the Sept. 2 trip. They say their weekly visits have shown a slight decrease in contamination and also wide variations

in the levels of radiation in different areas. While radiation levels remain high in some parts of the hills, those on the coast and in urban areas in the east of the municipality are relatively low. At the Tsushima Junior High School, about 29 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the officials measured 11.0 microsieverts per hour. Shigeo Yanaka, 58, section chief of the general affairs section of Namie's board of education, placed a dosimeter on a meter long bamboo pole held by his colleague Yukio Matsumoto, 40. As the meter was dangled above a school yard muddy from the previous night's rain, Ito scribbled down the reading and the time of recording. "The figure was down slightly, but was broadly the same as last time," Ito, also a board of education employee, said. In a corner of the yard, three two-meter-square blue plastic sheets covered the ground, part of experimental decontamination work begun on Aug. 26 by a company from Shizuoka Prefecture. Workers from the company sprayed chemicals in varying concentrations around the yard. The officials checked the radiation levels under each sheet. The lowest reading was 8.6 microsieverts per hour, less than half of the level of the surrounding ground. "That is significantly down,"Yanaka said. "It is meaningless unless we get zero readings at a school," Ito replied. The next location was outside the government-imposed 20-km exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant, but residents have been advised to leave because of concerns for their safety. The officials' dosimeters showed steadily rising radioactivity on the way there, rising from 15.8 microsieverts to 29.0 microsieverts and, finally, 31.0 microsieverts. At the Karino Elementary School, about 12 km from the Fukushima plant, they measured 8.29 microsieverts per hour. It was used as an evacuation center in the immediate aftermath of the quake. "About 1,500 people took refuge until the night of March 12," Matsumoto said. "We've got no clue as to the radiation level that night." But at Namie Elementary School, about 9 km from the plant, the reading was much lower: 1.15 microsieverts per hour. Once we crossed the JR Joban line, operated by the East Japan Railway Co., radiation levels were down markedly. The three officials, still clad in protective clothes, grabbed a 15-minute lunch inside their van. All of their homes are in the no-entry zone, but they are not allowed to visit them during the surveys. At a building owned by the Namie Japan Brake Co., about 11 km from the plant, the officials recorded 1.32 microsieverts of radiation per hour. The plant employed more than 200 people before the quake, but its machinery has since been moved out. "We come here because we want the company to stay somehow," Ito said. At Ukedo Elementary School, you can, on a fine day, see part of the Fukushima plant, which is only 6 km away. But there the officials measured only 0.29 microsieverts per hour of radiation. It was the lowest reading of any of the locations checked. Although the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has released figures for radioactivity in the no-entry zone almost weekly since April, those checks only cover 50 sites across the whole of the zone, including 10 in Namie. Of the nine municipalities covered by the government's no-entry zone, Namie is the only one to have periodically monitored radiations levels in its locality, and its surveys show in unrivaled detail

the complexity of the situation in the area, with some spots close to the plant showing much less radioactivity than relatively distant areas. Shinpei Ueno, deputy mayor of Namie, said it was vital to monitor more locations as part of the process of getting people back to their homes. But he also insisted that the government's approach could not be piecemeal. "Unless half of the town's population can go back to the town, we will not be able to restore its functions," he said. "It is crucial that government-led decontamination work should be conducted to put us in a position to allow the return of townspeople." That decontamination has hardly started. "For the past three months, we have observed only a tiny drop in radiation levels in our weekly checks," Ito said. "What is most needed is decontamination. We sometimes feel frustrated by the government's response."

Namie town officials measure radiation levels in the yard of Namie-Higashi Junior High School in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture. The yard is now covered with grass. (Hiroshi Kawai) The floor of Ukedo Elementary School's gym sagged after the March 11 quake and tsunami. The school, about 6 km from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, had a banner for a commencement ceremony scheduled for March 26 still hanging in its gym. (Hiroshi Kawai) Fureai Center Namie, a facility for old people about 9 km from the nuclear plant, was littered with cattle dung. (Hiroshi Kawai)

Hosono says Fukushima plant cannot cope with all radioactive debris
2011/09/06 Print Share Article Goshi Hosono, state minister in charge of handling the Fukushima nuclear accident, answers questions from reporters on Sept. 4. (Shinichi Sekine) The state minister in charge of handling the Fukushima nuclear accident said the government was considering temporarily storing radioactive debris on the premises of the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, but that localities affected by the disaster will have to store their own radioactive debris while authorities search for longer-term solutions. Goshi Hosono told reporters on Sept. 4: "There is a considerable amount of highly radioactive debris at the nuclear power plant, which is hard to move off the site. We should think about storing it on the plant's premises."

It was the first official statement from a member of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's new Cabinet indicating that the stricken plant is a possible location for storing radioactive rubble. But Hosono said the nuclear complex would not be capable of containing all of the contaminated material in Fukushima prefecture, or even all of the nuclear waste generated by decontamination operations. "Storing all of the rubble in the plant would not be realistic," he said. On Aug. 27, Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Noda's predecessor, indicated that the government may ask Fukushiam Prefecture to host an interim storage facility to cope with the debris until a permanent disposal site is found outside of the prefecture. Hosono, who retained his post as a state minister to deal with the nuclear crisis under the current administration, reiterated Kan's promise not to make the prefecture the final disposal site. Hosono, who doubles as environment minister, also said Japan should try to fulfill its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels.

Noda must deal with unresolved policy issues of predecessor
2011/09/04 Print Share Article An electronic message board at Sendai Station carries a flash report about the formation Sept. 2 of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. (Masaru Komiyaji) Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda faces a number of difficult issues left over from his predecessor, Naoto Kan, that could not be resolved due to resistance from not only the opposition parties, but also some elements within the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. Included in the issues that require quick resolution is a tax hike to pay for the rebuilding process after the Great East Japan Earthquake as well as a decision on whether to resume operations at nuclear power plants that have undergone periodic inspections. With little hope of moving forward on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, the Noda administration will also be pressed into solidifying relations with the United States by going along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade arrangement that has been strongly pushed by Washington. Noda has been a strong proponent for tax hikes from his time serving as finance minister under Kan. At a Sept. 2 news conference, Noda said, "My fundamental stance will be no policy without a revenue source to pay for it." The specific measures that will have to be addressed are a tax hike to pay for rebuilding as well as an increase in the consumption tax rate. The main aim of the first tax hike will be to secure the revenues to repay about 10 trillion yen ($128

billion) in government bonds expected to be issued to pay for rebuilding measures. The increase in the consumption tax rate would go to provide a stable revenue source for the social security system. Noda picked Jun Azumi as his finance minister. Azumi represents a Lower House district in Miyagi Prefecture that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. He has also expressed understanding for the need for tax hikes to pay for the rebuilding measures as well as a higher consumption tax rate. Having served as chairman of the Diet Affairs Committee of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, Azumi is also well-versed in various policy issues. At a Sept. 2 news conference, Azumi said, "It will be important to move quickly on a third supplementary budget." While that budget will contain measures for full-fledged rebuilding measures, it will also include a provision for the issuance of government bonds to pay for those measures. Related legislation will have to be passed to allow for temporary increases in individual and corporate income taxes to repay those bonds. Although passage of the third supplementary budget and related legislation will require the cooperation of the opposition parties, there are no assurances that discussions will begin anytime soon. The government's Tax Commission is scheduled to resume discussions next week and will present by mid-September a number of policy alternatives to choose from, including when to increase which tax rates as well as an increase in personal income tax rates. After a decision is made by the end of September on the scale of the tax hike, discussions will begin between the ruling and opposition parties. Government officials want to submit a third supplementary budget as well as legislation for a tax hike to the Diet in October. Finance Ministry officials are eager to begin implementing the tax hike from the next fiscal year. In terms of the proposed consumption tax rate hike, Noda has said he intends to abide by the policy of the Kan administration to submit legislation by next March. However, there are many uncertainties surrounding such legislation. One is the strong opposition to such a tax rate hike from within the DPJ. The government was forced to use vague wording when deciding on a proposal for the simultaneous reform of the social security and taxation systems in late June. While government officials initially wanted to set a deadline of fiscal 2015, DPJ resistance led to a goal of sometime in the mid-2010s. The Kan administration also wanted to state that a tax hike for the rebuilding process would require 10 trillion yen, but no specific figure was included due to DPJ opposition. Even if Noda was somehow able to achieve agreement within the DPJ, he would then have to work to try to convince the opposition parties to go along. In terms of Kan's appeal to move Japan away from a dependence on nuclear energy in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Noda has indicated he would go along with that basic stance. At the same time, he made clear that he would allow the resumption of operations at nuclear reactors that have undergone periodic inspections once safety has been confirmed. At the Sept. 2 news conference, Noda indicated that it would not be realistic to think about constructing new nuclear reactors and that outdated reactors would have to be decommissioned. At the same time, Noda said "electricity was the blood needed by the economy" and indicated he would make every effort for the stable supply of electricity. "For those reactors which we think can have operations resumed, we will do so after making the

necessary explanations to the local communities," Noda said. Noda picked Yoshio Hachiro as the new economy, trade and industry minister. The Tomari nuclear power plant operated by Hokkaido Electric Power Co. is located in Hachiro's Lower House district. Ever since winning his first term as a member of the Social Democratic Party, Hachiro has referred to nuclear energy as a "transitional energy source" and has called for the spread of natural energy sources. The local DPJ chapter in May put together a proposal calling for a policy conversion away from dependence on nuclear energy. Officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry feel Hachiro is someone who is cautious about promoting nuclear energy. However, Hachiro does not appear to have a knee-jerk reaction to the resumption of operations at nuclear power plants. At a Sept. 2 news conference, he said, "We will establish stricter standards in order to gain the understanding of local communities." He indicated he would hold discussions with Noda and other Cabinet ministers with an interest in such matters before making a final decision on whether operations should be resumed. In the longer term, it is unclear how strongly the Noda administration will move on a comprehensive reform of the electric power supply system, including a review of the regional monopoly enjoyed by electric power companies and a separation of electric power generation functions from transmission functions. On the diplomatic front, Noda appears ready to make a decision on whether Japan should participate in the TPP as a means of strengthening relations with the United States amid the stalled discussions on relocating Futenma. Before the DPJ presidential election, Noda said about the TPP, "Japan is one lap behind China and South Korea in terms of a high level of economic partnerships." At the Sept. 2 news conference, Noda said, "I want to make a comprehensive judgment after gathering the relevant information. I want to reach a conclusion (on whether or not to join the TPP) as soon as possible." The United States has indicated that it wants to reach agreement on a framework for the TPP by the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit meeting to be held in Honolulu. However, some of the ministers picked by Noda cannot be considered strong proponents of the TPP. At the Sept. 2 news conference, Hachiro, the trade minister, said, "Trying to achieve both zero tariffs and a revitalization of the agricultural sector at the same time will be very difficult. We will conduct further discussions to determine how we can arrive at a coherent policy." Having once worked at an agricultural cooperative, Hachiro has taken a cautious stance toward the TPP until now, partly as a way of protecting farm interests in his local constituency in Hokkaido. Michihiko Kano, who was kept on as farm minister, has also been negative about the TPP. During the DPJ presidential election, Kano said now was not the time to be discussing whether or not to join the TPP. However, Noda appears to hold the feeling that his Cabinet ministers can be convinced to change their minds. At the Sept. 2 news conference, Noda said, "I believe they are individuals who, while holding various views, will in the end respond in a realistic manner." Seiji Maehara, who was named policy chief for the DPJ, is a strong proponent of joining the TPP.

Noda probably feels that by working together with Maehara they can suppress the resistance to joining the TPP that remains in the Cabinet and DPJ. The first test for Noda will be whether he can send a positive message on joining the TPP when he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in late September when Noda is scheduled to attend a United Nations General Assembly meeting.

French offered to take Fukushima fuel, Kan says
2011/09/07

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, left, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon at the OECD 50th Anniversary Forum at the OECD headquarters, in Paris, France, 25 May. (AP file photo) France offered to dispose of spent fuel from the stricken Fukushima No. 1 power plant following the nuclear disaster, but Japan has yet to reply to the proposal, Naoto Kan told The Asahi Shimbun on Sept. 5 in his first interview since stepping down as prime minister. Kan said French Prime Minister Francois Fillon made the offer when they met at the Group of Eight summit in Deauville, France, in late May. "France said it would be willing to carry back the spent nuclear fuel," Kan said. "While it may have been a sort of business opportunity, I naturally passed on the suggestion to bureaucrats at the Ministry of Trade, Economy and Industry (METI)," Kan said. He said the Japanese government is still discussing the French proposal. There is strong opposition from within METI because of a feeling among officials that allowing France to dispose of the spent nuclear fuel would upset the Japanese government's established policy of recycling its own nuclear fuel domestically. According to initial investigations by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima plant, the spent nuclear fuel in the storage pools of the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors was not as badly damaged as fuel within the reactor cores. There were 3,108 nuclear fuel rods in the pools, of which 2,724 were spent. France has some of the world's most advanced fuel reprocessing technology, and disposing of the spent Fukushima rods would provide an opportunity to publicize those capabilities. Japan no longer uses French facilities to reprocess spent fuel and has its own reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, that is scheduled for completion in 2012. The Rokkasho facility would extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. METI officials fear that giving France the Fukushima work could be taken as a sign that it has given up on its own recycling plan. No response was given to Paris about Fillon's proposal, and the matter is still being considered by a government panel on energy and the environment.

Evacuated town's officials call for early start to decontamination NAMIE, Fukushima Prefecture--The radiation reading on a gravel path near a prefectural highway about 10 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was 76.0 microsieverts per hour. At the nearby Omaru meeting complex, set among riverside rice paddies surrounded by mountains, the dosimeter recorded 52.0 microsieverts, more than 13 times the government yardstick of 3.8 microsieverts per hour used to assess whether an evacuation is necessary. Shigeyuki Ito, 59, a Namie town official sent to measure radiation in the abandoned municipality, looked downcast. Officials had hoped to measure a marked reduction in radiation in the area when I accompanied them on a radiation survey on Sept. 2. Instead, I was advised, for my own safety, to return to the light van which had brought us there. At other spots in the mountains in western Namie, radiation remains high. The levels in other areas are unknown because landslides prevent the town officials reaching them. However, the picture across Namie, much of which was evacuated on March 12 after the Fukushima nuclear crisis started, is not unrelieved doom and gloom. We spent the whole day visiting 38 sites in the town. Three town officials equipped with dosimeters drove from Nihonmatsu city, where the town's office has been relocated, as they do every Friday. They have regularly checked radiation at 17 locations since June 17, and measured at a further 21 locations on the Sept. 2 trip. They say their weekly visits have shown a slight decrease in contamination and also wide variations in the levels of radiation in different areas. While radiation levels remain high in some parts of the hills, those on the coast and in urban areas in the east of the municipality are relatively low. At the Tsushima Junior High School, about 29 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the officials measured 11.0 microsieverts per hour. Shigeo Yanaka, 58, section chief of the general affairs section of Namie's board of education, placed a dosimeter on a meter long bamboo pole held by his colleague Yukio Matsumoto, 40. As the meter was dangled above a school yard muddy from the previous night's rain, Ito scribbled down the reading and the time of recording. "The figure was down slightly, but was broadly the same as last time," Ito, also a board of education employee, said. In a corner of the yard, three two-meter-square blue plastic sheets covered the ground, part of experimental decontamination work begun on Aug. 26 by a company from Shizuoka Prefecture. Workers from the company sprayed chemicals in varying concentrations around the yard. The officials checked the radiation levels under each sheet. The lowest reading was 8.6 microsieverts per hour, less than half of the level of the surrounding ground. "That is significantly down,"Yanaka said. "It is meaningless unless we get zero readings at a school," Ito replied. The next location was outside the government-imposed 20-km exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant, but residents have been advised to leave because of concerns for their safety. The officials' dosimeters showed steadily rising radioactivity on the way there, rising from 15.8 microsieverts to 29.0 microsieverts and, finally, 31.0 microsieverts. At the Karino Elementary School, about 12 km from the Fukushima plant, they measured 8.29 microsieverts per hour. It was used as an evacuation center in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

"About 1,500 people took refuge until the night of March 12," Matsumoto said. "We've got no clue as to the radiation level that night." But at Namie Elementary School, about 9 km from the plant, the reading was much lower: 1.15 microsieverts per hour. Once we crossed the JR Joban line, operated by the East Japan Railway Co., radiation levels were down markedly. The three officials, still clad in protective clothes, grabbed a 15-minute lunch inside their van. All of their homes are in the no-entry zone, but they are not allowed to visit them during the surveys. At a building owned by the Namie Japan Brake Co., about 11 km from the plant, the officials recorded 1.32 microsieverts of radiation per hour. The plant employed more than 200 people before the quake, but its machinery has since been moved out. "We come here because we want the company to stay somehow," Ito said. At Ukedo Elementary School, you can, on a fine day, see part of the Fukushima plant, which is only 6 km away. But there the officials measured only 0.29 microsieverts per hour of radiation. It was the lowest reading of any of the locations checked. Although the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has released figures for radioactivity in the no-entry zone almost weekly since April, those checks only cover 50 sites across the whole of the zone, including 10 in Namie. Of the nine municipalities covered by the government's no-entry zone, Namie is the only one to have periodically monitored radiations levels in its locality, and its surveys show in unrivaled detail the complexity of the situation in the area, with some spots close to the plant showing much less radioactivity than relatively distant areas. Shinpei Ueno, deputy mayor of Namie, said it was vital to monitor more locations as part of the process of getting people back to their homes. But he also insisted that the government's approach could not be piecemeal. "Unless half of the town's population can go back to the town, we will not be able to restore its functions," he said. "It is crucial that government-led decontamination work should be conducted to put us in a position to allow the return of townspeople." That decontamination has hardly started. "For the past three months, we have observed only a tiny drop in radiation levels in our weekly checks," Ito said. "What is most needed is decontamination. We sometimes feel frustrated by the government's response."