Tag Archives: nuclear

Where things change very slowly

Seems I wasn’t the only one who heard the call of the anti-nuclear power plant protestors outside the Japanese Prime Minister’s residence and decided to see what was happening. In amongst the crowds that gathered yesterday was former PM Yukio Hatoyama. The wheels-within-wheels and behind the scenes machinations of politics being what they are, it seems less than likely that he had entirely pure motives for wanting to join in calling for no more restarts to the country’s nuclear power plants.

Still, as we were held for a time behind barricades, watched over by bored police officers and an array of cameras, it was difficult to escape the feeling that all this celebrity attention could mean that the weekly protests are becoming too big to ignore. That hasn’t prevented some of Japan’s media from trying, with coverage of Monday’s huge Yoyogi Park gathering making headline news… on page 38 of certain publications.

And some remained unimpressed by Hatoyama’s appearance at the demo, with one attendee quoted in the Japan Today story saying:

He can come here and say something impressive but it doesn’t really matter. This is a grass roots movement. Things change very slowly in Japan, but we must continue to protest.

I would agree with that assessment. The crowd I saw on Friday night was striking not only for the people you would have expected to see – students and seasoned protestors among them – but also the business people, families and retirees that I imagine could be experiencing standing in the streets outside the Prime Minister’s house shouting slogans for the first time.

It would be easy to say that there are no easy answers to Japan’s current energy difficulties. The protestors in the streets understand that glib soundbites won’t provide the necessary solutions, here’s hoping that the politicians, former amd current, are also cottoning on to that.

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You say you want a revolution?

I have a confession to make. I’m not in this picture.

You say you want a revolution, well you know,
we all want to change the world

– The Beatles, Revolution

Protestors have been coming together in Tokyo each Friday evening, gathering outside the Prime Minister’s residence to demonstrate against the restarting of some of the country’s nuclear power plants. Not me though. Instead, your fearless correspondent was sipping a vodka tonic, pontificating on what it all meant and making bold statements all over the internet about what an heir to Orwell she is.

If Orwell had walked into that bar he probably would have told me to go to hell and he would have been right. I don’t have the excuse of working on a Friday, or having commitments, or living far away from the district where the demonstrations have been taking place, like others who would have loved to attend but couldn’t. With no good excuse, only my own preoccupations, I’ve been lazily watching as the protests built via word of mouth to the point where organisers and police could argue about tens or hundreds of thousands attending (organisers say around 150,000, the police 20,000).

So I sipped my drink and pondered the more-than-fifty shades of grey area that surround The Nuclear Question:

Because it’s dangerous, sure. There could be another earthquake and tsunami at any time. But we need the electricity. Except TEPCO (the utility in charge of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant) falsified safety test results, while METI (the Government department with oversight of the industry) looked the other way. You like electricity, especially the lights, the music and the air conditioning that it brings, but when the yakuza are all but running some plants, who is really overseeing them? Fukushima Daiichi was years out of date, as well as poorly maintained and inspected, they don’t build nuclear power plants like that any more.

Maybe alternative power can make up the gap, Panasonic is planning to build a town where all the houses are energy self-sufficient to show it can be done or we could just switch all the old power plants back on and this time make sure they get checked properly. Can Japan innovate again, this time on renewables and will we really do setsuden (power saving) properly when the air conditioners are already running full blast and it’s only July?

I heard they want to make Miyagi a hub for green manufacturing as part of the reconstruction but it’s a big gamble, the Oi nuclear power plant is built on a fault but up and running at full capacity and the kids of Fukushima have radiation in their thyroid glands but still talk on the Children of the Tsunami video about how they want to go home but people must know that’s a never by now. If we switch all the plants off the economy is doomed, it will mean no jobs, but the lakes are radioactive, parents aren’t letting their children drink tap water although the neon and screens are loud and bright in Shibuya and please show me the box where I mark the ‘X’ that makes this all go away for another few years…

How to cover all those thoughts with a slogan like ‘no nukes’ is beyond me, so I drink more vodka and lime and try to pretend it isn’t happening, for an evening at least. How do we begin to fix this mistake, sixty years in the making? Collective errors that brought nuclear power plants and prosperity to the regions of Japan, yet left them mismanaged and vulnerable to natural disasters. It is easy to forget, but the plants weren’t dumped on places like Fukushima, they were welcomed by populations desperate for the jobs and incomes they brought with them.

And I can’t help thinking that if Fukushima Daiichi had possessed a back-up generator on a hill somewhere – or even on its own roof – if the inspectors had made sure the company was prepared for the once in a lifetime event, if everyone had done their jobs like they were supposed to, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. No anger, no disbelief, no mistrust, no demonstrations.

The banner I want to hold says ‘no stupidity’ or ‘no hubris’, perhaps. No more cosy lunches between regulators and the regulated. I don’t know if we can un-invent nuclear power now it exists, or make it safe enough to be used to power us into a greener future. I don’t know if we can convince politicians to look beyond the short term and their own self-interest. I do know that if enough of us put down our drinks, get involved, engage with the problems that have us wide-awake and staring at 4am instead of rolling over and going back to sleep, maybe we can get a little closer to that revolution after all.

I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse

– Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

I know where I’ll be next Friday evening. See you there?

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Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city

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We had all suspected it, but the official confirmation that the rainy season had ended seemed to give summer an unrequired impetus. Barely into July and already with the mercury regularly nudging 30 before breakfast time, this is perhaps no sensible climate for an auburn-haired English rose.

This is my first Japanese summer, as I arrived in late August last year, still in enough time to know the feeling of being covered in sweat from waking until falling fitfully asleep again, but thankfully having ducked the worst.

This year has also been compounded by the events of March. Aside from the nuclear power plant damaged by the quake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi, a large number of others have been taken offline for checks. To avoid the real possibility of unplanned power cuts, everyone is trying to save energy where possible. Lights are off or dimmed, factories are planning weekend shifts and the train companies preparing for reduced services. But the biggest cause for concern and topic of conversation is air conditioning.

As part of what has been designated ‘cool biz’ companies (including the one I work for) have agreed to set their AC to 28 degrees. At first I thought this would be far too warm, however when it is 32 outside, 28 feels rather pleasant! I have heard about other companies turning it off completely though, and it is here where my patience wears a little thin.

As a person who cares about the planet, I confess to feeling a little uneasy about running the AC for long periods. Pushing out all that warm air makes the city warmer, so it creates a greater need for cooling and so on and so on. This week has seen embattled Prime Minister Kan call for Japan to begin weening itself off nuclear power completely and it is to be hoped that new technologies can over time advance more sustainable methods to bridge the gap.

And yet, and yet…

This is not an ideal world. There is no avoiding that Japan has a hot and humid climate at this time of the year. I have already heard of one person who, when feeling unwell, was told by his doctor to forget the power saving and get the AC on. Of course,  precious power resources shouldn’t be used wastefully but it seems that asking people to economise to such an extent can only lead to more headlines like this in the future.

My fear is that this summer, people are going to be putting their lives on the line to save the power companies revenue streams [As, although they may lose in the short term on electricity bills, they won’t have to invest in new plants just yet]. Meanwhile, governments and utilities can swerve the essential decisions on where we go from here for another couple of decades. That really should be enough to make anyone’s blood boil!

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