Fukushima Year 2; Part 2 Politics & Protest

This is part two of our three part series on the second year of the 3-11 disaster. In part two we look at the political, regulatory and social changes the disaster has caused in Japan.

Political Shuffle

800_ejhtlpk7w9jwuogqyzjyue4hnkyqtteoThe Japanese Diet investigation of the Fukushima disaster issued their final report in July. They concluded that the disaster was man made due to collusion between industry, regulators and the business culture that prevented people from speaking out when they saw problems. The investigation avoided blaming the earthquake for the disaster, some speculate this was to avoid raising more questions about country wide reactor safety. The investigation did admit they were unable to confirm if unit 1 was damaged by the earthquake or not due to not being able to investigate the building. Months later a journalist pointed out that TEPCO had lied to the investigation committee when they told the committee that it would be too dark and that radiation levels in the building were too high. The TEPCO representative claimed the new tent cover on unit 1 blocked out the previously available sunlight. This was found to be not true, the tent did allow light in, has its own lighting and TEPCO workers had been in the building since the tent went up. The new nuclear regulator in Japan is considering doing their own inspection inside unit 1 to gather evidence. (4)(5)

There was also an independent investigation by a group under the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation. They have yet to release their report in English but the media accounts distill it down to blaming lax safety and a culture in Japan that systematically tolerated this. (6)

Prosecutors have asked TEPCO for all of their teleconference videos from the early days of the disaster. They have been released on a limited basis to the media and will be released to the public in March 2013. (20)(21)

Yet another scandal came out this year when it was found that the Fukushima prefecture government had been given SPEEDI radiation data that predicted the radioactive plume during the early days of the disaster. Prefecture officials did not pass on this critical information to the local governments or the public. The prefecture offices claimed they deleted all of the data files because they were out of hard drive space during the disaster. Officials then gave a conflicting series of excuses for why they did not use or share the data during the disaster. (18)

In May 2012 Japan was briefly without any operating reactors. Tomari unit 3 went into maintenance shutdown and remains there today. This left Japan with no nuclear power, the lights stayed on. Before the last reactor shut down, regional power company KEPCO began insisting there would be widespread blackouts in their region unless they were allowed to restart some of their nuclear plants. The utility covers the Kyoto and Osaka areas. Many experts and media outlets ran their own numbers and proved KEPCO was likely overstating the situation. A leaked Japanese power industry letter admitted that Japan has the generating capacity to not need their nuclear plants to meet demand. The letter goes on to admit that renewables are the desirable option and that efforts to decontaminate or rehabilitate the image of Fukushima would be key to being able to restart nuclear plants. (9)(10)(11)

japan-nuclear-oi-nuclear-power-station-aerial-view-lgIn June PM Noda gave KEPCO permission to restart two units at the Oi nuclear plant, with the restart quietly slated for July 1st. This move created widespread outrage and protest. As KEPCO restarted the units at Oi, they shut down nine fossil generation units.

KEPCO’s sole reason for restarting the Oi units was lack of capacity, not the use of their fossil burning units. The political push to restart Japan’s reactors has been a  a profits issue for the energy sector rather than a public need. The Oi reactors will go into a refueling outage in September 2013, they will need to meet new NRA standards before being allowed to restart. (11)(12)(13)

During the election the DPJ briefly announced they would end nuclear power in Japan, only to have them cut it from their official campaign platform a week later. This announcement drew the immediate ire of the worldwide nuclear power industry and the US government. The US continued to release a massive political and media campaign to pressure Japan into keeping their nuclear power program and the failed fast breeder program. The US’s up front claim was if Japan ended the use of nuclear power, it would create a proliferation risk. Currently Japan’s reprocessing plant at Rokkasho does not work and the Monju fast breeder reactor has burned more money than plutonium. Below the sudden US concern about proliferation lies a larger worry for the nuclear power industry. The US currently has no capability of their own to implement a new reactor design into a construction project. Only Toshiba/Westinghouse currently has approval in the US. The US is also heavily dependent on Japan’s nuclear industry for reactor parts. They also do not possess any sort of fast breeder or reprocessing program of their own, instead sharing experience with Japan. This deal allows the US to benefit from such technologies without having to gain the funding and approval from their citizens for such a complex program.   (1)(2)

JAPAN-VOTEThe LDP was put back in power during the last election in Japan. Some called it a repudiation of the DPJ failures during the worst of the Fukushima disaster, others a hope the LDP could fix the economy. Many voters complained of having two undesirable choices and neither party seemed willing to make nuclear power phase outs a campaign promise. Soon after taking office, PM Abe reconfirmed his desire to restart nuclear plants even though the idea is very unpopular with the public. Within hours of the LDP winning the election Japan’s power companies urged Abe to restart nuclear reactors. (7)(8)

Japan’s power companies recently admitted the financial imbalance of their nuclear power sector. It has been proposed to separate power transmission from power generation by the Japanese government. The power companies responded by admitting they need the profits from transmission to cover the excessive cost of operating their nuclear power generation facilities. In short, the power facilities are not profitable on their own. (3)

TEPCO has asked for additional government funding multiple times in the last year. One being $125 billion USD that TEPCO hopes will last them two years. The company was formally nationalized though this has changed little in the operation and direction the company is taking. The government rehabilitation plan for TEPCO has put all hopes on restarting the reactors at Kashiwazaki Kariwa with the intent that the profits from those units would help fund the decommissioning of the Fukushima reactors along with the massive compensation and clean up costs. Many have doubts that TEPCO should ever be allowed to operate another nuclear plant after the disaster. There are also concerns that the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant may sit on an active fault line. In the end, the growing costs are being put on the taxpayers. 14)(15)(19)(16)



The new nuclear regulator took over in September 2012. The NRA was put in place to try to solve the industry collusion problems that plagued the predecessor agency NISA. NISA had been part of the industry ministry that also promoted nuclear power. The NRA operates under the environment ministry.  The NRA employs a more diverse panel of experts though there were still concerns of potential bias by environmental groups. One of the first actions taken by the NRA was to dump the stress tests being used by NISA. These tests were highly political in nature and generally unpopular. The regualtor is in the process of writing their own safety standards with the hope of having them ready by July 2013.  (38)(39)

2012061501_04_1Some of the safety changes to be put in place include expanding evacuation zones to 30km, distributing protective iodine to anyone within 50km and moving emergency response centers outside the 30km zone. The NRA also raised concerns about these centers being in disaster prone areas. A number of them were wiped out in the 2011 tsunami. As part of this closer look, Oi’s response center was found sitting at sea level on a beach. (40)(41)

Other new requirements include the installation of filtered containment vents. The NRA also announced the need for 50 cold war style fallout shelters for local populations that would be unable to flee if there was trouble at a nearby nuclear plant. Most are on peninsulas or in other areas where people would have to actually drive next to the nuclear plant to flee the area. (42)(43)

Probably the largest undertaking by the NRA is to look for active faults under the existing fleet of nuclear plants in Japan. Any reactor found to be sited directly over an active fault is in violation of the current laws making it illegal to operate. Plants found with active faults within the plant grounds would be required to considerably improve earthquake resistance measures. The definition of an active fault has been hotly debated among the expert panel. (44)

The following reactors are currently on NRA’s inspection list:

  • Oi nuclear plant units 1-4
  • Tsuruga nuclear plant
  • Monju fast breeder reactor
  • Shiga nuclear plant
  • Higishidori nuclear plant
  • Mihama nuclear plant
  • Hamaoka nuclear plant
  • Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant


The fault under the Tsuruga plant was found to be active and will force at least one of the older units there to shut down. The faults under the Oi nuclear plant are still being debated to determine if they are active. Faults under the Higishidori nuclear plant are determined to be “likely active” but the NRA did not make it clear if this would force the plant to shut or just need safety upgrades. The same fault runs under the massive Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing and waste facility nearby. The NRA has not issued a formal statement about Rokkasho’s safety yet. The remaining plants are awaiting fault inspections. (45)

The decision on the fault under the currently operating Oi units 3 and 4 has hit a stalemate at NRA. This is not the only risk at Oi. Our research found a considerable number of dangerous problems with the construction of the Oi nuclear plant. The location could intensify a tsunami wave due to the long, narrow, and low plant site that opens to the sea. The plant itself sits at a low elevation and there are limited routes to access the plant. Oi also lacks enough nearby usable land to stage the type of equipment needed to deal with a nuclear disaster. The limited route in is riddled with road bottlenecks, tunnels and landslide prone areas, one portion at the sea front would be destroyed in a tsunami. It was also found that the region near Oi would be impossible to evacuate in an expedient manner. (46)(47)(48)

Despite their rigorous approach, NRA has not been without controversy in their short tenure. It was found that an official had been holding secret off record meetings with power plant companies in violation of new policies. Then four NRA members were found to have taken considerable amounts of nuclear industry money for their academic research. (49)(50)

A recent Asahi Shimbun survey found that none of the current nuclear plants in Japan meet the new safety standards. All will require extensive work to qualify for a possible restart. The costs could be anywhere from $11 billion USD up into the hundreds of billions of dollars if some of the more complicated reactor sites are considered. (51) (52)

The NRA has one more big project on their list, they will digitize and post online over 900,000 government documents from the early days of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. They hope to create better openness on the disaster and enable research into the events. The documents will be in Japanese and may not be machine translatable. NRA plans to have this completed in two years. (53)

Prolific Protests

Protests have been going on since 2011 but the potential for reactor restarts in the summer of 2012 caused protests to grow. 40,000 showed up on a June Friday night in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Tokyo. The protests were cleverly scheduled for a time when people were just getting off work at the end of the work week. The next Friday night 100,000 showed up. The police tried to disperse the crowds but eventually gave up. The total in attendance was increased to an estimated 200,000 after IWJ used a helicopter to count the crowd  The growing movement was dubbed the Hydrangea Revolution. (22)(23)(24)(31)

On the same weekend at the end of June the Oi nuclear plant was to restart the first nuclear reactor in Japan after all had eventually been shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Late Friday night a few mentions came out on Twitter with video of people dancing in the dark on a street while an impromptu band played. A few people live streamed the late night party online. At some point Friday protesters chained a line of vehicles across the road, chained the road gate closed and protesters chained themselves to the gate. By morning parents with kids began to show up, then a bus of retirees from Tokyo. The lone road in and out of the Oi nuclear plant had been blockaded. (26)

All Saturday and into the night people chanted, danced and played drums in the rain. The police wearily stood a line preventing entry into the immediate plant grounds.
Oiprotest_megumi-ikeda KEPCO brought needed workers and government officials in to the plant by boat since all roads in were blocked by the protesters. Late in the day as word came out that the plant had been restarted, the protesters together picked up and left.

These were not the only form of protest in Japan. A week later Jellyfish attacked the Oi nuclear plant forcing it to decrease power while workers tried to clear the swarm from the cooling water intakes. (25)

Artist collective Chimpom, thought to be behind the 2011 on camera stunt at Fukushima Daiichi, Pointing Man added their on bit to a famous painting.

The painting “Myth of Tomorrow” at Shibuya station in Tokyo received this Fukushima update.

There are still ongoing attempts to burn disaster debris that may be contaminated, in other areas around Japan. People in Kitakyushu blocked trucks from delivering debris for incineration in their town. This scene was repeated many places around Japan as locals butted heads with government officials.

In late August Friday night protest coordinators agreed to meet with Prime Minister Noda. The meeting at the height of the protests ended as an anticlimactic effort that gained nothing. The media and many protesters assumed this was the end, coverage and numbers waned. By November Friday night protests regained momentum with 100,000 showing up in the winter rain.  (29)(30)

Public Opinion
While the government has been intent on restarting reactors, public opinion has shown a desire for just the opposite.

  • 70% want an end to nuclear power in Japan as recently as of February 2013 (33)
  • 80% do not trust the government on nuclear safety (32)
  • 84% of businesses do not want reactors restarted (34)
  • Twitter scored considerably higher than NISA or TEPCO as a reliable source for information on the Fukushima disaster in an Asahi Shimbun poll (35)
  • 90% want no nuclear power in Japan according to responses to a government public survey (36)
  • Only 9.6% wanted a continuation of nuclear power in Japan according to a December 2012 poll (37)


1. Japan’s Government Already Backs Off No Nuclear Pledge September 18, 2012

2. The Real US Motivation For Japan To Keep Nuclear Power October 4th, 2012

3. Power industry boss: Proposed reform threatens nuclear power generation
Asahi Shimbun – February 13, 2013

4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Diet_of_Japan_Fukushima_Nuclear_Accident_Independent_Investigation_Commission

5. Asahi Shimbun Calls For New TEPCO Investigation February 8, 2013

6. Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident

7. Japan; New Government, What Happens To Nuclear Policy? December 29, 2012

8. Faster Than Unit 1 Melted Down December 18th

9. ZERO May 5, 2012

10. Leaked Japan Nuclear Industry Document Admits There Is No Power Shortage In Japan, Predicts Industry Demise July 9, 2012

11. Edano; End Nuclear Power. KEPCO Overstating Power Shortage Risk April 7, 2012

12. Oi Given Restart By Noda, Large Protests Mostly Ignored June 16, 2012

13. Japan Reactor Restarts = Power Company “Corporate Welfare” June 2, 2012

14. TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Plant May Be Over Active Faults January 24, 2013

15. TEPCO Asks LDP For More Cash & Reactor Restarts, NRA Says Not So Fast December 21, 2012

16.  Fukushima Decontamination May Be Paid For By People Of Japan May 14, 2012

17. Oi Reactors Will Have To Shut Down Sept 2013, Restart In Question January 24, 2012

18. Fukushima Government Deleted SPEEDI Reports During Disaster March 22, 2012

19. The Staggering Cost Of The Fukushima Daiichi Disaster nOVEMBER 8, 2012

20. Prosecutors Compel TEPCO To Hand Over Videos October 5th, 2012

21. Fukushima Watch: Highlights of Video From Inside Tepco’s Nuclear Crisis Center
WSJ – August 6, 2012

22.40,000 Protest In Front Of Prime Minister’s Residence To End Nuclear Power Junw 22, 2012

23. No Nukes Protest In Tokyo Exceeds 100,000 – Still Going On June 29, 2012

24. 200,000 Protest Nuclear Power In Tokyo June 30, 2012

25. Angry Atomic Activist Anti-Nuclear Jellyfish Strike Oi! & News Roundup July 8, 2012

26. Oi Nuclear Plant Occupied By Protesters June 30, 2012

27. Japan Nuclear Disaster Inspires ChimPom May 13, 2012

28. Disaster Debris Standoff In Kitakyushu, 2 Arrested May 22, 2012

29. Nuclear Protests In Tokyo Swell Back Up To 100,000 November 12, 2012

30. Nuclear Protest Coordinators Tactical Failure, National Resistance Continues August 22, 2012

31. Hydrangea Revolution Blooms, Will It Change Japan? July 17, 2012

32. 80% Of Japan Does Not Trust Govt. On Nuclear Safety March 13, 2012

33. New Poll: 70% Want An End To Nuclear Power In Japan February 19,2013

34. 84% Of Japan Businesses Do Not Support Reactor Restarts April 23, 2012

35. Twitter More Reliable Than NISA or TEPCO; Asahi Poll April 26, 2012

36. 90% In Japan Want Zero Nuclear Power August 23, 2012

37. Only 9.6% In Japan Want Continuation Of Nuclear Power December 11, 2012

38. New Japanese regulator takes over September 19, 2012

39. New Nuclear Agency To Dump “Stress Tests” September, 25, 2012

40. Change And Stagnation Over Nuclear Issues In Japan. October 3, 2012

41. Japan Nuclear Offsite Centers In Disaster Prone Locations November 2, 2012

42. Japan Requires Filtered Reactor Vents, US Still Refusing To January 13, 2013

43. Japan To Set Up Fallout Shelters For Residents Living Near Nuclear Power Plants January 14, 2013

44. NRA Expands Active Fault Definition, Orders More Reactors Examined November 4, 2012

45. Spreadsheet documenting NRA activities and news articles

46. Japan Delays Decision On Oi Until Wednesday  November 5, 2013

47. The Real Risks At Oi June 19, 2012

48. No Way To Evacuate Near Oi Nuclear Plant! Tsunami Risks Higher Than Told. July 1, 2012

49. NRA secretariat must halt collusion
Japan Times – February 19, 2013

50. Oi Fault Line Inspected, Decision Delayed. 4 NRA Members Found To Have Taken Industry Money November 3, 2012

51. Survey: No nuclear plants meet new safety standards
Asahi Shimbun – February 24, 2013

52. Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) draft rules make restarts look very expensive February 2, 2012

53.Japan’s NRA To Digitize & Release 900,000 Pages Of Fukushima Disaster Documents February 11, 2013

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