Fukushima Team Under Constant Pressure to Protect Interests of Nuclear Power

Japanese Parliamentarian Kuniko Tanioka.

Japanese Parliamentarian Kuniko Tanioka.

Japanese Parliamentarian Kuniko Tanioka is not a rebel. Her assessment of Japanese policy after the Fukushima nuclear accident may not be popular with the Japanese government or nuclear industry, but she is a representative of a team formed within the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) to deal with the countless issues that have arisen since 3/11. The DPJ, the current ruling party, and the only party other than the Liberal Democratic Party to hold the Diet in more than 50 years, is part of a coalition government. It is subject to great pressure from the United States, Tanioka explained in a recent presentation at Institute for Policy Studies, and in charge of a system woefully unprepared to handle crises like the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

According to Tanioka, there is no legislative structure in place to deal with the long-term effects of a nuclear disaster of this scale, and Tanioka’s team works to provide reports and information, and draft bills into the Diet in order to cope with all of the lingering problems and human security issues stemming from last March. This is the first time the Diet has had a probing commission for this type of disaster, and the DPJ team is under constant internal and external pressure to downplay the situation and protect the interests of nuclear power.

The last of the operational reactors in Japan closed earlier this month, but some government officials are already pushing to restart several reactors in northern Japan, claiming that without them there will be electricity shortages. Of course, asserts Tanioka, the industry is pressuring the government because it doesn’t want Japan to prove that it can make it without reactors. This is not the main consideration, however, says Tanioka. The safety of the people and the environment should be first, and the conditions to restart must be stringent, including new standards that go beyond the engineering of the reactors, that include filtered vents, safe buildings for plant workers in case of accidents, and detailed evacuation plans for surrounding areas.

Tanioka’s talk comes on the heels of a Japanese delegation to the UN asking for international assistance with the radiation that continues to emanate from Fukushima. In reactors 1 through 3, the radiation is still too high for anyone to enter, and if there were further malfunctions, there is little hope for stabilization. She cited the need for more U.S. support, and noted that the only voices speaking to the Obama administration are industry representatives.

The U.S. and Japanese nuclear industries are inseparable, as many U.S. providers are owned by Japanese firms. Until the shutdown of Tomari on May 5, Japan was one of the largest consumers of nuclear energy in the world. If Japan were to become totally nuclear-free, this would be a massive hit to the global nuclear industry.

Tanioka wants Americans to understand several issues. First, there is a need for greater transparency and a wider scope for medical research into the effects of radiation. Even with all of the time since Chernobyl, this data is not forthcoming – blocked by a handful of experts who hold all the cards. A wider exchange of data within the academic world would support the expansion of preventative treatments for radiation exposure, and more effective supplements and procedures for those who have already been exposed.

More importantly, both the Japanese national government in Tokyo and the Fukushima prefectural government, along with TEPCO and a host of industry scientists, insist that radiation levels near the Fukushima Daiichi plant are safe for humans. Tanioka disagrees, and spoke of the devastating effects of nuclear accidents on citizens. Life in the affected areas has entirely lost any sense of normalcy. There have been more than 200,000 evacuees, and for them, and for those who have stayed, their lives are disrupted on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. Even simple joys, such as gardening in their now radioactive soil, are gone – the result of shoddy regulation in an industry focused only on profits, and an unhealthy dependence on this dangerous energy source.

Erin Chandler is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.