"Is Nuclear Power Really Safe?"
Hirohiko Izumida, Governor of Niigata Prefecture
Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 15:00 - 16:00
Over three years since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is a nation divided over the merits of nuclear power. The government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, wants to restart at least some of the nation's 50 idling reactors. Many local communities remain deeply doubtful that the government and regulators have really learned the lessons of Fukushima. Polls consistently found most Japanese also skeptical of the restarts.
Nuclear regulators have recently given the safety green light for the Sendai plant in Kyushu and are examining other reactors around the nation to check if they meet new nuclear safety standards. One of their most vocal critics is Hirohiko Izumida, governor of Niigata Prefecture. He says even if nuclear plants pass safety checks, the government has still not worked out how to safely evacuate thousands of residents in the event of another accident.
These criticisms come from very real fears. Niigata is home to the seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the biggest in the world in terms of output. In 2007, the Niigata Chuetsu-oki Earthquake sparked a fire at the plant and what many people now view as a rehearsal for the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Roads were destroyed in the quake and poor weather hampered emergency work – what would happen in a real nuclear emergency, asks Izumida.
Izumida is responsible for working out local evacuation plans and says the utilities and the central government are shirking their responsibilities in the rush to restart reactors. He wants major changes to what he calls "grossly inadequate" evacuation plans before any more nuclear plants are brought back online. Among his suggestions is for the government to build a nuclear shelter in every local house, and appoint people to take charge of the most dangerous tasks in the event of an emergency. But will the government listen?
As the prospect of restarts grows, Izumida doesn't mince his words. He says the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that owns both Fukushima Daiichi and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, are lying when they call Japan's nuclear safety standards "the world’s strictest." He says they must learn the lessons of the Niigata and Fukushima quakes and prepare properly for the next crisis, if and when it comes.
Izumida is a Graduate of Kyoto University, Faculty of Law. He was a senior bureaucrat with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry before entering politics. He has been Governor of Niigata since 2004. Come along and hear what he has to say on this vital topic.