06/30/2011, 00.00
JAPAN

Earthquake in Japan, 7 injured. The country thinks about energy policies

by Pino Cazzaniga
The epicenter is in the central prefecture of Nagano. After Fukushima the country anxiously wonders how to rebuild the area affected by the earthquake and tsunami, doing without nuclear energy. From tomorrow the supply to industry will decline by 15%. For individuals it means a change in the lifestyle. The government distributes "condolence money" to those who have lost a relative. But not all accept it.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) - An earthquake measuring 5.4 struck central Japan today, injuring seven people. However, there were no casualties or serious damage. The epicentre of the quake, recorded at 9.16 am local time, was located in Nagano Prefecture, about 120 km from the capital Tokyo. The Japanese Meteorological Agency reports that no tsunami warning was launched after the shock of an initial 5.5 magnitude on the Richter scale, since lowered by a decimal point. Most of the wounded were hit by debris or objects falling from houses and roofs, but none of them are in a serious condition.

20% of earthquakes of magnitude 6 (or higher) in the world are registered in Japan. On 11 March, the north-east coast was devastated by a 9.1 earthquake - the strongest ever recorded in Japan - which was followed by a giant tsunami, which destroyed homes and buildings for dozens of kilometers. It also generated a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant, where technicians are still working to contain the damage of a radiation leak. For this reason, the ruling class and the country's civil society has initiated a profound reflection on energy policies and programs based on nuclear technology, which could lead to a change in the way of life.

The following is the account of the AsiaNews correspondent.

The aftermath of Fukusima, Japan faces a similar situation to the aftermath of the explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
The two cities are linked not so much by the similarity of their names, but because both have experienced the disaster of nuclear explosions. But the similarities end there.

Between the two events there was a sufficient time to ensure that tragedies like this would never happen again: August 6, 1945 an atomic bomb (the first) dropped on Hiroshima destroyed the city within minutes, killing 160 thousand people 66 years later, on March 11, 2011, an earthquake measuring 9.1 devastated the northeast coast of the archipelago, reducing the cities and villages to rubble, killing 23,000 people and depriving another 85 thousand of their homes.

But the most 'serious' damage was suffered by the Fukushima nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO): a tsunami with waves of 15 meters lashed it violently uncovering it: the steel and concrete structures of containment of potential radiation could not resist: tens of thousands of people who lived in a 30 kilometres radius from the plant were evacuated.

The economy of the area, which was based on agriculture and employment in the nuclear power plant has been reduced to a ‘no mans land’ : no one' in Japan will 'buy agricultural products from the Fukushima prefecture 'because polluted by radiation.

Myth of nuclear safety collapses

The recovery of the area is directly linked to neutralising the threat of the damaged power plant.

To control the emergency, TEPCO has sent 3,700 workers who have been exposed to radiation in excess of safety limits. Two workers have died and others have been hospitalized with worrying symptoms.

To support its powerful industrial sector, Japan needs a lot of electricity: it produces this largely through the power nuclear reactors. TEPCO, above all others has pursued this path for decades.

In 1969 it sent 16 young workers to Dresden (United States) for intensive courses. "We thought it was our mission to bring nuclear technology home and make it take root in Japan," said one of them. . Although they were aware of the hazard, they were so caught up in gaining atomic technology that they soon passes from the position of students to teachers. In this sector between 1992 to 2001 the Japanese government has accepted about 1000 former Soviet Union and Eastern European apprentices.

Psychologically, the results have given rise to a kind of messianic atmosphere. "The program was designed to spread the culture of safety in the world of nuclear energy," said a technician from TEPCO. "We were convinced that nuclear power plants in Japan were the most advanced and safest. We probably had too much confidence in ourselves. "

But much of Japanese (and world) public opinion continued to express concern 'about these plants, a sentiment that strengthened particularly in the 1980s and 90s after the accident at Chernobyl (Ukraine, April 1986). This created a tug of war between the scientific community and the popular movement.

The over confidence of the scientists and their repeated statements of optimism have created the "myth of security." The tsunami of 11 March against the plant in Fukushima brought it tumbling down.

The antinuclear movement

On 11 June, three months after the disaster of Fukushima in Japan marches and protests against the production of nuclear energy were held. For the occasion, a group was created called: "June 11: a million people for a generation free from nuclear power." According to the organization, demonstrations, protest marches and other events were held that day in 140 locations from one end of the archipelago to the other, including Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukushima Prefecture where there are four powerful plants .

In the city 'Koriyama, in the middle of Fukushima prefecture a group of people marched with placards which read: "No more' Fukushima" and "Give us back our town '."

In the Tokyo district of Shinjuku, Makoto Saito (43), participating in the protest march with his wife and two children said: "I think especially of the future of my children. There is no 'other way (to solve the problem of nuclear power) but to immediately suspend the operations of the facilities. "The same day meetings and demonstrations were held in 11 foreign cities such as Paris, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Taipei ..

A dilemma of conscience

Among the various measures taken by the Japanese government to alleviate the suffering of the families of the victims of the disaster on 11 March, there is also the "law of condolence money". According to the National Police Agency inquiries there are at least 7,931 missing from the March 11th disaster. The "law of condolence," states that those who are missing for three months or more are presumed to have died: the government has decided to award a substantial sum of money to the families of the victims. This has given rise to painful problems of consciousness. We will mention two cases.

Ms. Hiromi Miura (51 years) after completing the documents necessary to request the "condolence payments", put it in her purse, saying: "I think it's best not to ask the question." Takeshi her husband, a government employee, on the afternoon of 11 March was seen exhorting a group of residents to evacuate a building. Immediately after the tsunami occurred and overwhelmed him. Hiromi, cannot support her family on her salary, desperately needs the 5 million yen in "condolence money". She said: "I can not even begin to think about three months after his death as proof of his death. I will continue to look until I find him ".

The decision of Mrs. Reiko Chiba (56 years) was exactly the opposite. On June 1 received an application for "condolence money" for the loss of her husband Kazuo (60), a government official swept away by the tsunami. But Reiko, a nurse by profession, who also lost her job because the tsunami swept away the hospice where she worked. Now she lives with her mother-in-law and daughter. "Honestly, I said, I will not accept the death of my husband, but in this situation I can not keep my family".

Reconstruction and the ethical problem of energy

For the second time in half a century Japan is paying for everything. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was the first price. But that suffering was not in vain: since then all men and women, thoughtful and honest, became convinced of the immorality of the use of nuclear energy for military purposes. The second price exacted by nature and the "myth of science" on 11 March this year, the nation is paying in first person with the destruction of the north-east of the country.

But as the tragedy of the two atomic bombings of 1945, it seems that even the huge tsunami that damaged the nuclear plant in Fukushima has started a new era for Japan and the world. The Japanese people were upset but not discouraged. Reconstruction of the vast disaster area, has become a national priority, for which it appeals to the power of intelligence, culture and love of country.

100 days on from the government commission for reconstruction, Prime Minister Naoto Kan brought a bill called "Basic Law on reconstruction" before the Diet (parliament) approved by the Diet on June 20 last.

The economic price for the reconstruction has been estimated at 10 trillion yen (about 85.8 trillion euros). To determine the highest price is taken into account not only the construction of houses and public facilities but also the problem of energy sources.

A change of life to save energy

There are two paths to resolving the problem: spreading the ethic of saving energy and intelligence to engage in the development of renewable energy sources (ie non-nuclear)

Two of the major companies producing electricity are already on the road towards "Energy Saving": TEPCO in Tokyo, and KEPCO (Kansai Electric Power Company) in Osaka: starting from July 1 they will decrease by 15% the electricity energy distribution to large factories and public buildings. But it is more difficult is to convince the private sector.

Criticism of the insufficient use of intelligence in predicting the possibility of a disaster of this magnitude has arrived from the UN Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA: International Atomic Energy Agency). "Japan, the agency's report into the Fukushima disaster reads, has a well-organized system to deal with emergencies. But too complicated structures and organizations can lead to dangerous delays when you require quick decisions. "

The criticism applies not only to Japan. Shaun Bernie nuclear consultant with Greenpeace in Germany wrote: "No country applies a high degree of seismic risk prevention. If they did pass such a regulation several nuclear power plants in California and some countries of Asia and Eastern Europe would not exist. "
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