On Saturday May 5, Tomari unit #3 will be shuttered for routine maintenance and inspection. When it is disconnected from the nation’s electric transmission system, there will no longer be any operating nukes in Japan. It will mark the first time in 42 years that fission power will not be contributing to Japan’s energy infrastructure. (News on Japan) It will also mark the low-point of former Prime Minister Kan’s de-facto moratorium on nuclear energy which began soon after the tsunami/quake catastrophe of March 11, 2012. The complete cessation of nuclear-based electric generation has received mixed reactions from all over the country. Slightly more than half the people polled by two of Japan’s largest newspapers, the Mainichi and Asahi Shimbuns, do not want nuclear plants restarted until the new nuclear safety commission is in place and stronger regulations are enforced. The majority also wants to make Japan “nuclear free” as soon as possible. On the other hand, residents of the communities hosting the nukes want the currently-ready nukes restarted to avoid an energy short-fall this coming summer, as well as re-establish the local economic benefits of nuclear operation. The divergent debate is amplifying as time passes. With all nukes shuttered and the restart of perfectly safe, completely functional nukes like Oi units #3 & 4 hanging on a political trend that Tokyo seems too timid to quash, the angst-ridden majority will breathe a collective sigh of relief. Because clean, non-polluting nukes have been replaced by old, unreliable and pollution-spewing fossil fueled plants, they will also be breathing particulates and gasses that have been confirmed to shorten lives, induce cancer, and choke the systems of the most sensitive of the population. The proven, un-questioned negative health effects of burning fossil fuels should be seriously juxtaposed by the essentially assumed health effects of nuclear plants, including Fukushima Daiichi’s three meltdowns.
But, such rational understanding is uncommon in Japan, at this point in time. Misconceptions about nuclear energy and radiation exposure are considered reality by most Japanese due to more than a 30-year dearth of public information and a complete lack of both subjects in the nation’s education system. Radiophobia has gripped the nation to such a degree that recovery from last year’s real disaster, the tsunami of March 11, has been moving at a virtual snail’s pace out of fear that the moldering debris might be radioactive. To make matters worse, the government has been more concerned about soothing fears than doing the right thing and restarting the nukes so badly needed. In fact, the situation may well become the world’s most significant example of political fear pacification resulting in national economic and energy collapse.
Undaunted, several aggressive governmental opportunists like Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and Osaka governor Ichiro Matsui have exploited the national restart debate to the maximum to bolster their higher political ambitions. Both also want the emergency planning zones around nukes expanded more than 300% in order to include their fiefdoms, as well as bring extra money into their governments. Their arguments are predicated on the exploitation of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). They understand that national ignorance of nuclear power plants and the biological effects of extremely low level radiation exposure have generated fear that infects the core of Japan’s population. They understand that it is very, very rare for nuclear experts and academics to say anything is impossible (even if it is), which allows them to evoke uncertainty sufficient to keep Japan’s nuclear-paranoic majority in a constant state of anxiety. They understand that the government’s arbitrary behaviors and less-than-transparent information sharing in March, 2011, have placed a severe state of doubt in the minds of more than 75% of the voting public. Exploitation of nuclear FUD is being tested by these opportunists, and if they are successful we might see a tsunamic wave of similar political actions sweep the island nation.
As long as the exploitation of FUD supersedes doing what is rational and realistic, Japan’s economy and energy infrastructure will continue to circle the drain.