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Issue #1655      September 10, 2014

Facing the fallout

Renewable energy in a post Fukushima world

Naoto Kan was the Prime Minister of Japan from June 2010 to August 2011. He led the country at the time of the devastating earthquake and tsunami which hit Japan on March 11, 2011 and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Facility.

As the momentum was building in Western Australia to bring into operation a number of uranium mines, the Conservation Council of WA helped to organise a public meeting in Perth for Naoto Kan to speak about the hazards of nuclear energy and Japan’s progress in moving towards renewable energy.

Following the Fukushima disaster, Kan became an outspoken critic of nuclear energy and advocate for renewable energy. Kan also visited other uranium mining state capitals such as Brisbane and Darwin.

On Sunday evening, August 24, he spoke at the Perth Town Hall before an enthusiastic crowd of 330 people.

One of the first speakers was 11-year-old Parkwood Primary School student Ashwin Creswell who recalled as an eight-year-old that he had written a letter to Prime Minister Kan via the then Australian PM Julia Gillard to say that a Japanese boy who was orphaned by the Fukushima disaster could stay with him and play with his toys. Ashwin was given the opportunity to finally meet with Mr Kan and presented him with a book.

Well known Aboriginal activist Della Rae Morrison spoke about her tour to Japan in January 2011, shortly before the Fukushima disaster, to talk about the hazards facing her people and their country from uranium mining.

Naoto Kan began his presentation by recalling the events of that day on March 11, 2011, when the large chandelier in the Japanese Diet or parliament building in Tokyo began to shake.

As the details of the meltdown and hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima nuclear facility, following the earthquake and tsunami, became known he became aware of the need to respond to the growing nuclear crisis confronting Japan.

The Fukushima disaster was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. At Fukushima the nation faced the possibility of an incident that could potentially have seen tens if not hundreds times more radioactive material being released than at Chernobyl.

Kan spoke of having to face the possibility of evacuating up to 50 million people from a 250 kilometres radius of the Fukushima reactor which included Tokyo and how terrifying this was as there were losses of life incurred through the displacement – and speculated how this would have multiplied if the disaster had escalated.

Today 100,000 people are forced to continue living in evacuation centres as their homes and communities are still too dangerous to inhabit. As a consequence, Kan said, he changed his view 180 degrees that nuclear energy was a safe and viable energy option for Japan. Japan could have lost its ability to function as a country.

Kan said it was not always possible to prevent the impact of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis or typhoons. In the case of a nuclear power plant disaster, however, Kan said it was relatively simple to stop such an event from happening. To rapturous applause he said the way to achieve this, as nuclear reactors are man made, is to get rid of all nuclear power plants.

Prime Minister Kan announced a policy of moving away from nuclear energy and moving towards increasing the use of renewable energy. One way to achieve this was through the introduction of tariffs which his government did and in the two and a half years since their introduction Japan has been able to lift the use of renewable energy three fold.

At this rate said Kan, Japan would be able within 10 years to meet the needs through renewable energy that were previously met by nuclear energy.

He added that in regard to renewable energy Australia has one of the greatest potentials for solar energy in the world and could follow countries like Germany which has set a target to achieve complete renewable energy use by 2050.

In regard to uranium, Kan noted that it was Australian uranium that was bought by plant operator TEPCO for use in the Fukushima reactor when it had started its meltdown.

Japan now has 54 nuclear power plants that have been shut down since the time of the Fukushima disaster – the last was shut down 10 months ago – due to stricter regulatory controls and community support for their closure.

However, the current Liberal Democratic government of Shinzo Abe is trying to put pressure on regulatory authorities to restart the nuclear reactors.

Kan said that Japan and Western Australia can work together in the dual project of decreasing the use of nuclear energy.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has been a tireless campaigner in Australia against uranium mining and nuclear energy and promoter of renewable energy.

Ludlam paid tribute to the political and community volunteer activism – including among Aboriginal people – which to date, in Western Australia, had ensured that there is still not one uranium mine operating.

The Communist Party of Australia joins the call by former Japanese PM Naoto Kan to shut down the nuclear power generating business and Scott Ludlam’s call to ban uranium mining in Australia.

The CPA also calls for urgent introduction of timely and significant renewable energy targets in Australia as it is only through the use of renewable energy (and energy conservation) that sustainable energy use can be achieved.

Next article – New fears for future of FVPLS

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