(Commentary – Suggested Japanese Nuclear New Year’s Resolutions, click here)

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ready to review his predecessor’s plans to end nuclear power in Japan by 2040. Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said at a press conference, “We need to reconsider the previous administration’s policy that aimed to make zero nuclear power operation possible during the 2030s. The government will decide to reactivate nuclear plants under its own responsibility if they are confirmed safe.” Motegi also indicated the new administration will scrap the DPJ government’s decision to abolish construction of any new nuclear reactors, stating, “We’d like to make a political decision after we accumulate sufficient specialized expertise.” In addition, the minister ruled out the possibility of abandoning nuclear fuel recycling, in which spent nuclear fuel is to be reprocessed and reused for nuclear reactors. Motegi said abandoning Japan’s only reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel at Rokkasho in the far north “is not an option.”(Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Today; Yomiuri Shimbun)
  • Reactor restart issues have impacted PM Abe’s new cabinet in Tokyo. It seems that two key appointments, Minister of Economic Policy Akira Amari and Industry Minister Motegi, have been selected because they are supportive in getting Japan’s nukes back on the grid. However, actual restarts will be delayed until the Nuclear Regulatory Authority has new, more stringent safety regulations in place and the utilities have met them. This is beyond the stiffer earthquake and tsunami standards now being utilized with three nuclear stations at Tsuruga, Higashidorii, and Oi. One senior government official says the restarts are essential to “providing a stable supply of electricity that is indispensable.” Meanwhile, the NRA is doing and saying all it can to establish confidence in its goal of full independence. “The basis of our judgment is scientific,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told a Dec. 26 news conference. “Whatever politicians have to say on the issue, it matters to us not at all.” (Mainichi Shimbun)
  • The NRA has postponed the decision on making Japan’s standards for evacuations from nuclear plant releases the most restrictive in the world. The nuke watchdog commissioned a panel of experts to debate the efficacy of new evacuation standard reductions, but the group suspects the proposed limits are not based on scientific evidence. Many panel experts feel the NRA selected the proposed exposure levels by simply cutting the international standards without any scientific support. The proposed regulations call for immediate evacuation out to 30 kilometers if radiation levels exceed 500 microsieverts per hour, which is one-half of the limits recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It also calls for “temporary evacuations” at 100 mSv/hr, which is one-fifth of the IAEA standard. The panel agreed to keep the current international standards in place, but start “fresh” discussions on the issue at a later date. (NHK World; Kyodo News Service)
  • Eight United States sailors have filed a $210 million lawsuit against Tepco for withholding radiation information during the weeks following 3/11/11. In a San Diego court, the plaintiffs claim they were exposed to more radiation than Tepco or the Tokyo government reported. The sailors were among the 5,500 person crew of the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier positioned about 100 miles off the Tohoku coast to provide whatever assistance the Japanese government would allow. Six plaintiffs worked in the deck crew and two were part of the “air ventilation” group. Media reports in March, 2011, said the crew was exposed to less radiation than they were receiving from natural background. However, the internet has been flooded by unfounded speculations that the radioactive releases were many times worse than officials in Japan said, and were actually greater than what had occurred with the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Based largely on the internet-based evidence, the claimants say, “According to then-existing data uniquely known to the defendant at the time, the plaintiffs’ consequent exposure to radiation within their zone of operation, then indicated that radiation levels had already reached levels exceeding the levels of exposure to which those living the same distance from Chernobyl experienced who subsequently developed cancer.Consequently, the potential for the development of cancer in the plaintiffs has also been enhanced due to the levels of exposure experienced by them during ‘Operation Tomadachi.’” The suit adds that the plaintiffs “face additional and irreparable harm to their life expectancy, which has been shortened and cannot be restored to its prior condition.” Further, the plaintiffs claim that, “Solely a result of the defendant’s negligence, carelessness and recklessness, the plaintiffs were caused to suffer severe and serious personal injuries to mind and body.” The filing does not specify what doses the crew may have received or the added risks due to the alleged additional exposure. The plaintiffs, headed by Boatswain’s Mate Lindsay R. Cooper, are demanding $10 million each, plus $30 million punitive, and a $100 million fund to pay for the crew’s future medical expenses. A Tepco official said, “We would like to withhold any comments since we have not received the lawsuit documents.” This is the first lawsuit against Tepco or the government to be tried outside of Japan. (Kyodo News Service; Japan Probe; Courthouse news Service; NHK World, Mainichi Shimbun; Japan Times; Japan Today)
  • Futaba mayor Katsutaka Idogawa has dissolved the Futaba town assembly, rather than resign in accordance with the group’s unanimous no-confidence vote. The Assembly passed the motion on December 20 because Idogawa refused to meet with government representatives concerning the siting of temporary low level decontamination waste facilities. Idogawa had 10 days to decide to resign or affect assembly dissolution. This means a new election for assembly members must be held within 40 days. If the new assembly also passes a no confidence motion after the election, Idogawa will be required to immediately step down by Japanese law. (Japan Times)
  • Toshiba announced it has placed 36% of its stake in Westinghouse Electric Corporation up for sale. Toshiba says they already have three prospective buyers. Toshiba says a 20% block has at least two interested American buyers, and the remaining 16% parcel includes the Americans and at least one international concern. The company says they have an “overabundance” of Westinghouse shares and wish to divest themselves of some, so long as they remain the majority owners. (Japan Daily Press)