Myth (2014)

Nuclear technology has been used in medication, transportation, and unpleasant war applications, such as X-ray, submarines, nuclear missiles and bombs. Nuclear technology is indeed relatively new; nuclear fission was eventually discovered in 1938. 1938 eventually became the beginning of everything, a tragic year after which the catastrophes of World War II followed. The war for Japan culminated in the Pacific War. With the fact that nuclear fission was discovered at the dawn of mobilization, it was first plunged into military use and developed its violent power through the brutal concerns of the principal countries of the war: how it could be applied to win a distinct advantage in the war game. It was first utilized as a bomb. The US was the first successful country to develop it among Japan, Germany and the UK, who all commenced at the same period. Hiroshima and Nagasaki hence became the first places of its practical use. Secondly, it was utilized to create submarines. The propulsion system for the small creature that stays deep down had to be tiny and have no need for refueling. Its ultimate objectives were finally reached with the 1938 discovery.

After the war, human intelligence was faced with a question; “How could we utilize such technology after the bloody war ended?” The answer was to utilize the heat from nuclear fission, a means of electricity generation. The US took a leading position in its development. Companies such as GE and Westinghouse successfully remodeled nuclear submarine propulsion systems into nuclear reactors for electricity generation. The original account for the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear disaster in 2011 was the import of such new technology at that time. The plant was the very old model.

Let’s look at nuclear history. In 1938 nuclear fission was discovered, followed by nuclear bombs some of which were used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis made the whole world shudder. Then US. President Kennedy overthrew the Cuban regime in response to the USSR placing nuclear missiles on Cuba. I was a high school student then and still remember how the fear shook me. In 1979, the Three Mile Island accident happened in the US. Although it wasn’t a big accident and no radiation was leaked, it gave the whole world a great shock because it had happened in the country leading in nuclear research. In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, USSR was more shocking. It was a catastrophic accident because radioactive contamination spread not only over Europe but also over the entire northern hemisphere. It was a bloodcurdling accident. Iranian Caspian caviar was no longer edible, as it was contaminated by radiation. Neither pistachios nor wheat produced in that region were edible. This also affected Japan. Far more appalling was the catastrophe of the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in 2011. If it were the USSR or China, such an accident would be unsurprising. However, since Japan is known for its high technology and its distinct safety, it shudderingly stunned the whole world.

I believe that nuclear technology is outstanding and an outcome of human intelligence. However, technology could be plunged into brutality by the intentions of people who utilize it. Nuclear fission, in particular, can generate violent destructive power, although peaceful power can also be generated. Great human intelligence has been questioned for its wisdom. My most serious concern is the disposal of used nuclear fuel. Scientists and engineers evidently knew that it would become problematic, and take millions of years to become inactive and harmless to the human body. It was an obvious truth of nuclear energy. It’s been 60 years since the first nuclear power plant started operating. However, scientific solutions haven’t been discovered yet, which is a terrifying reminder of the limits of our intelligence. We’ve been facing the significant question of whether human beings have the great intelligence and wisdom that can handle nuclear energy. However, the countries that have given up nuclear technology are very few. For example, ones that have eliminated nuclear power generation are Germany, Switzerland and Italy. More than 440 reactors in the world are being operated at present. The number is rapidly increasing. That will inevitably remain the greatest question to which future historians need to find the answer.

I’m not someone like a nuclear specialist. Energy, well… I was an oil specialist… I worked as the IEA director responsible for oil market and oil security for some 5 years in Paris; I was an oil analyst. My first experience with nuclear warfare was the Cuban crisis back in the 60’s, when I was a rural high school student. I remember looking up at the sky in my classroom, was terrified that the explosion would turn the East sky white with a flash of light. I remember feeling the brutality of nuclear so close to my life… This became my subconscious fear of the nuclear age. My second experience followed almost half a century later. It was the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. I had been giving speeches on energy policies at international conferences, but hadn’t dedicated myself to researching much into nuclear power; I’d always thought some specialists would do great work… In the aftermath of the disaster, I was soon asked to talk about nuclear power for international conferences. At that time I confronted all those difficult questions as an expert would. It has been my genuine calling to share with the world what I had researched on nuclear power and its truth in response to the event (3.11). As if I were a first grade student, I devoted myself to reading many books on nuclear fission, nuclear history, Japanese history and technology, as well as visiting and discussing with many specialists. I finally wrote up my first paper on nuclear in Japan’s energy mix in 2012 and presented it in an international science and technology conference. That’s been what I have devoted myself to.

Nuclear energy as electricity generation is a great solution in theory. The best contribution is that it doesn't emit CO2. Carbon dioxide emission has been the global concern. A reactor keeps generating electronic power for several years after the nuclear fuel is installed once. If advanced recycle technologies are developed, it’s possible to generate it permanently in the reactor. It is outstanding technology. Nuclear power generation is outstanding as opposed to, for example, coal and natural gas, which need to be transported by tankers every week from thousands of kilometers away. Coal, for example, needs huge stockyards. Its greatest demerit is emitting a significant of amount of CO2. It also produces a ton of coal ash. Hence, I believe nuclear power has potential in this sense, and it’s not a wise decision for humans to eliminate it due to accidents. It is highly beneficial for countries that are not wealthy in natural resources, for ones that can produce coal but not gas, and for ones that can’t build water power plants to promote CO2 reduction. However, the fatal question reminds us of how much our intelligence can control the highly destructive power and the intangible, invisible yet harmful effects of radiation. I am very anxious because it remains to be seen if we can discover any solutions about the disposal of used nuclear fuel (which causes deadly effects on human body for millions of years) in safe sustainable repositories; all people agree with this.

I was originally an historian. It’s interesting to discuss from various perspectives political, historical, and economical why nuclear power has become widespread in Japan. Japan is a country of fully populated islands, which doesn't have a vast land mass and is often hit by earthquakes and typhoons. Hence, I believe it is one of the most difficult counties to ensure nuclear power plant safety. Japan would easily be contrasted to the US, which has a vast land mass, and France, which isn’t hit by earthquakes. Moreover, Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been and will hopefully remain, the only cities hit by nuclear bombs. Although there were such major inappropriate conditions and trauma, prior to the March 11 disaster, Japan grew to the world’s third largest nuclear power provider. Japanese people had had an immense intuitional hatred against nuclear technology in the aftermath of the brutality of WW II. However, it had very few natural resources to generate electricity; importing coal, oil, and gas was estimated to be far too expensive. There were people who were intoxicated with the prospect of low cost electricity. All the people who were complicit with the idea undertook measures to erase the deep hatred from the nation. Matsutaro Syoriki, in particular, the founder of Yomiuri Newspaper, took a central role. He conducted pro-nuclear energy campaigns, in which the CIA was involved in the background. Many people and documents in the US National Archives and Records Administration testify to this. So, the number of nuclear plants gradually increased, and at the end of the day this became cursor to the Fukushima catastrophe… 55 nuclear reactors were being operated at the peak. This was again the world’s third largest nuclear energy development after France, the second, and the US, the first. This has unquestionably contributed to low-priced electricity, Japan’s competitive position in the world economy, as well as the various innovations of Japanese technology. However, the ‘safety myth’ of nuclear power plants was lamentably spread nationwide. Some politicians and regional political leaders boldly spoke of its undoubted absolute safety. Although it sounded suspicious initially, after the propaganda the human mind gradually functioned to adapt to the indulgence, the sweet myth. That was human psychology… Electronic companies and the government, in particular the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, worked together to create the propaganda myth. Ironically, it was they who fell blind to what they created on their own. For that, the safety-technology and guidelines, which were far from current, were totally over-trusted prior to the disaster. The country is now abysmally divided in its opinion on the nuclear future: some hope to re-operate closed nuclear plants to produce low-priced electricity and enhance Japan’s economic competitiveness. It is a reality that this profits many people. On the other hand, some hope to completely eliminate nuclear power, so as not to repeat the same tragedy. The ramification of radiation to future generations can never be measurable. The latter group of people doesn’t hope to stop the reliance on it straightaway, but gradually reduce it, as billions of yen has been invested in it and a power plant creates approximately 3,000 jobs, including related businesses such as catering and cleaning etc. Employment is an important factor in society. The Democratic Party Administration aimed to reduce it to zero by the end of the 2030’s. The current Abe government has changed this policy, and the new policy aims to improve the country’s economic competitiveness with cheap and carefully secured, re-operated nuclear power generation.

Again, one thing that has never reached any conclusion is the method of repository and disposal of used nuclear fuel. The Japanese government’s official policy has been, for over the last few decades, to recycle used nuclear fuel to reduce it into 1% high-level radioactive waste before disposal. However, the nuclear fuel cycle technology is extremely complex. No country has ever succeeded in developing the full cycle system. It could be a brilliant plan to challenge it with Japan’s high technology, but it’s just uphill… Finland, for example, is constructing deep geological repositories. However, it remains a formidable problem if Japan can have such repository sites where the population density is high all over the islands and all its stratums have possible danger of earthquakes. Families who are raising children intuitively offer a NIMBYism response. The government has failed to find any local governments who agree to have final repository locations for the last few decades due to NIMBY perspective refusals. Moreover, this “world recognized, safest and technologically most advanced country” hasn’t even been able to successfully solve the issue of radioactive contaminated water leaking from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. For all these reasons, I am very skeptical whether the consolidation of Japanese technology is possible to bring us the long-awaited success in the recycling project. I’m very critical of financial strength backing it, too. In the prominent US, the Obama Administration rejected the long-term repository project in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada, which had been developed till the final stages of the Bush regime, due to the civil concern of the radioactive contaminated water underground. They still haven’t found any other solution either.

So, we’ve got some scientific ideas that are theoretically possible… Plan A is depositing the waste in the abyss as deep as thousands of meters underwater. Plan B is depositing it in space. I checked with a scientist the viability of plan A and it is impossible due to the food chain. In case of accidents, the leaked radioactive contaminants would pollute the water and accumulate in small fishes and bigger fishes that eat them. Ultimately, human beings will have health problems within several years. Space rockets facilitating plan B sounds good. However, crashes are not avoidable all the time. When they occur, the enormous quantity of radiation would leak into the atmosphere and spread hazardously to the earth like a nuclear bomb. Thus, this is also impossible. Still, the following two ideas remain a little more realistic.

One is to deactivate the radioactive waste with all our technological and scientific knowledge, so that disposal is not required, but a little remains reposited. This research has been conducted for decades, but has not succeeded yet, nor is it guaranteed if it ever will in another lengthy half a century of consumption. Another is a space elevator, if not a space rocket, to more safely transport and dispose of nuclear waste in space. Geoscience will make it possible to build up an elevator from the earth to a satellite, where a rocket filled with waste is shot into the atmosphere, to orbit around the earth. However, as we have seen, there aren’t any sustainable solutions that we all agree with politically and socially that governments and companies can also invest in. It’s been, well… over 70 years since human beings had the 1938 discovery in their wise scientific hands. However, these hands haven’t been able to handle it for 70 years. Such technology is abnormal. That is, it is a great deal not only for politicians, scientists, companies and international organizations, but all civilians as well. We cannot play with the idea, “It will work out OK”. As a civilian, I do whatever I can to contribute to society: research, speeches in international conferences and discussions with other specialists. We all should think seriously to contribute to a better future. I think this is such a significant issue. In a sense, it is similar to the issue of climate change. It is hard to imagine how our behaviors affect the climate beyond our everyday life. It is not a ban on throwing trash in the street, but in the atmosphere. We all need to think for ourselves. Otherwise, our civilizations will be destroyed as if they were a sci-fi movie. Nuclear power is such a difficult issue that we are all faced with. I’m a powerless civilian, but I will contribute to anything I can. Thank you.

This interview was conducted in Tokyo in 2013.

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