Nuclear Comeback in Energy Policy

TEPCOIn Japan, government officials are moving ahead with plans to revive nuclear power. Prior to the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi meltdown, 30% of the country's electricity was generated by more than 50 commercial reactors. Previous leaders had vowed to phase nuclear out, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe released a new policy redefining it as an important energy source. Here's NHK with more.

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Toshimitsu Motehi, Japanese Industry Minister:

We will figure out how much nuclear power we need and we will secure that amount.


Reporter:

The draft document adopted by a group of cabinet ministers endorses a major change in Japan’s energy policy. The nuclear accident in Fukushima 3 years ago triggered a nationwide debate over nuclear power. The ruling party at that time promises to phase-out nuclear energy within 30 years. Shinzo Abe’s return to power in the December 2012 election changed the situation. The Prime Minister called elimination of nuclear power irresponsible.


The draft energy policy adopted on Tuesday says the government will re-start the reactors once they clear the latest safety regulations.


The document also underlines the need to learn from the nuclear accident and the importance of safety. But some people question whether it is really safe to resumes operations at nuclear power plants.

Among them, the governor of Niigata. His prefecture hosts the world largest nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company.


Hirohiko Izumida, Niigata Governor:

TEPCO hasn't learned from the Fukushima accident. It's not qualified to operate nuclear plants.


Reporter:

Paul Scalise is an expert on Japan’s energy policy. He explains the rationale behind the government renewed  emphasis on nuclear power.


Paul Scalise/ Research Fellow, Temple University:

You have Japan's very precarious lack of natural resources and the hope that by moving away from fossil fuels like imported gas, oil, and coal, you can avoid very disrupted shocks to both electricity prices as well as gas prices that took place in the 1970s.


Reporter:

Scalise said the energy policy will be welcomed by the business community. But he adds the utilities and the government needs to display more transparency in order to convince the general public. 

 
 

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Japan: Heavy Rains Fall on Fukushima, Become Radioactive
In Japan, the weather's making an environmental disaster worse. Heavy rains from recent typhoons fell on the stricken nuclear plant at Fukushima. Some of the rainwater became radioactive. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK with the story.

Reporter:
Workers at Fukushima-Daiichi have been struggling for months with leaks of contaminated water. Now they're dealing with another problem -- rain. They saw a heavy downpour last week during a typhoon. And on Sunday, another storm brought more than 100 millimeters of rain. All that water built up inside barriers surrounding tanks that store contaminated water. Workers discovered it had flowed over the barriers at 11 spots. In six areas, they detected levels of radioactive strontium above the government's safety limits. The highest rating was more than 70 times the standard. Now the workers are trying to find out whether some of the water flowed through ditches and into the Pacific Ocean. The barriers are designed to contain any tainted water that leaks from the tanks. The ones that fitted with drainage pipes. Initially, whenever it rained, workers opened the pipes to discharge rainwater. But in August, they found that 300 tones of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the tanks. It traveled through a pipe to the area beyond the barrier. Workers decided to shut off all the pipes and pump out any water that collected inside the containment area. They now check the pumped out water for radioactivity to ensure it meets government's standards. Heavy rains are making that job a lot harder. Managers plan to install more pumps around the tank to make sure they can deal with any amount of water. They say they don't want to get caught out the next time a storm hits.
 
 

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Weekly Roundup of News from Japan's NHK World NEWSLINE
Thuy Vu:
The latest crisis at Japan's crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant: Officials from the Tokyo Electric Power Company announced another leak of highly radioactive water. Six workers were exposed to radioactive liquid. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, filed this report on the radiation leak on October 9th.

Reporter:
Tokyo Electric Power Company says workers mistakenly disconnected the pipe carrying radioactive water. This caused toxic wastewater to wet six of eleven workers, spraying radioactive substances onto their skin. TEPCO staff are now checking their exposure level. Company officials say the water continued leaking for about one hour. They say some seven tons of spilled water is presently being contained. It is highly radioactive at about 34 million Becquerel's of beta ray-emitting material per liter. Human error has caused a string of recent mishaps at the Fukushima plant.

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Shinzo AbeThuy Vu:
Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, spent time at this week's summits talking defense. Japan, like four other Southeast Asian nations, has a territorial dispute with China. And Abe told Indonesia's president that Japan is going to take a more active role in the region's security problems. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported on the summit on October 8th.

Reporter:
Abe told President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono that Japanese officials will play a more active role in maintaining peace and stability. He referred to China's presence in the South China Sea. Chinese leaders have been arguing with their counterparts from other nations over the sovereignty of various islands. Abe offered to help those leaders deal with their territorial disputes. Yudhoyono agreed they need to draw up a maritime code of conduct to insure the rule of law.

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Thuy Vu:
An animal on the list of critically endangered species has been captured on video. The Sumatran rhinoceros was thought to be extinct in Indonesia. And this is the first time in decades that conservationists have recorded one. Decades of poaching and deforestation have reduced the number of Sumatran rhinos left in the wild to less than 300. Japan's NHK covered the story on October 8th.

Reporter:
The rhinos are native to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, but locals cut away at the forest in which they lived. And poachers harvested their horns for use in Chinese medicine. So their population declined drastically. Specialists with the World Wildlife Fund and local officials installed cameras in 16 locations to try to catch one on camera. They were delighted with their success. A WWF official says they hope to work with authorities to ensure that measures are in place to protect the animal.
 
 

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Fukushima: Four Tons of Radioactive Rainwater Leaks from Stricken Nuclear Plant
FukushimaThere's yet another problem at Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear reactors. The operators of the reactors reported earlier this week that four tons of radioactive rainwater has leaked from the plant. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported on the story.

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Reporter:
An official with plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company says crews were pumping up pools of contaminated rain water. A tropical storm passed over the complex last month. Rain built up around tanks used to store contaminated water. The crews may have transferred it to the wrong tank leading to an overflow. Workers measured the radiation levels inside the tank after the leak. It was 13 times higher than the government safety limit for releasing tainted water into the ocean. For some reason the level of radiation has doubled since measurements taken just after the storm. Plant managers are looking into what caused the spike.

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And, Japanese and American scientists are trying to work together to find out how much radiation seeped into the Pacific Ocean since the disaster at Fukushima 31 months ago. The American side says it's found low levels of the radioactive cesium in Bluefin tuna caught off the US coast. NHK has a report.

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Reporter:
Professor Hideo Yamazaki of Kinki University has been studying marine creatures in the waters off Fukushima Prefecture.

Hideo Yamazaki:
We estimated concentration levels to be so low, they wouldn't be detectable in the US, But the fact that they found contaminated fish off the coast of the US really shocked us, even if the figures are extremely low.

Reporter:
Yamazaki says the level of contamination doesn't pose a threat to human health. But he says he wants to share his data with the US researchers to figure out how the tuna picked up the radioactive material. Yamazaki says it takes time for tuna to accumulate radioactive substances since they're at the top of the marine food chain. Tiny creatures such and plankton absorb radioactive substances first. Small fish then eat the plankton. Then big fish like tuna eat the smaller ones. Recent studies show Bluefin tuna spend their juvenile period in Japan's coastal water. The fish take one to four months to migrate across the Pacific to the US West Coast. Yamazaki says he thinks he can figure out how and where the Bluefin tuna accumulate radioactivity by studying fish on both sides of the ocean. He asked US researchers to collaborate with his team.

Hideo Yamazaki:
Japan needs to work with people from different sides to gather and assess the same kind of data. We need to provide the public with reliable information.

Reporter:
Researchers from Stanford University sent last April twenty three-gram slices of Bluefin tuna to Japan. But customs agents at Kansai International Airport stopped them. They said proper documentation was missing. But the US government does not issue such paperwork for research purposes. So the samples are still at the airport, frozen, six months on.

Hideo Yamazaki:
This is an urgent situation. We need customs officials to understand just how critical this is and facilitate the timely transportation of materials that need to be studied.

Reporter:
Scientists in the US and Japan are calling for international cooperation and flexibility, so they can better study the effects of the nuclear accident.
 
 

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Chinese Tourists Flocking to Japan Despite Tense Relations

SenkakuRelations between Japan and China are more than a little rocky at the moment. What's getting all the attention is a territorial dispute over a group of tiny, uninhabited islands south of Okinawa. Both countries claim them. The dispute has hurt Japanese travel to China. But as Japan public broadcaster NHK reports, Chinese don't seem to be deterred from visiting Japan.

 

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Reporter:
The centuries old Forbidden City is a popular site in Beijing, but take a look around and you hardly see any Japanese visitors. Travel agency owner, Sun Bo, says it's been this way for almost a year.

Sun Bo:
It's so bad, business is down 80 to 90 percent. I'm making no money at all. My business is almost in the red.

Reporter:
Sun works with a major firm in Japan to bring Japanese groups to China. But as relations remain tense between the countries, fewer Japanese are choosing to come. On the other hand, Chinese businesses arranging tours to Japan have seen a rebound in business. In the past two months, Japan's embassy in Beijing has issued 10 percent more tourist visas compared to the same time last year.

Chinese Tourist:
Political relations between China and Japan are not so good. But that has no impact at the grassroots level.

Reporter:
And it's not just for holidays. Japan is still attracting many young Chinese wanting to stay for an extended time. Last month, Liu Muyan began a year of studies at this school in Nagano. It's part of an exchange program set up by the Japanese government several years ago to promote mutual understanding between the countries.

Liu Muyan:
I'm sure that I can become a bridge that links the people of Japan and China.

Japanese Student:
I was expecting him to be anti-Japanese, but he is seeker to learn all he can about Japan. And his Japanese is good. This experience taught me not to be misled what other say.

Reporter:
This expert says people like Liu are exactly what Japan and China need.

Satoshi Amako: The scale of misunderstanding may grow time goes by, but exchanges are taking place between people from the two countries on a daily bases. Those people deserve our attention. I think they should have more prominence.

Reporter:
So while the governments of Japan and China continue to seek ways to mend ties, some regular people are already forging ahead. Improving relations and understanding to strengthen ties.

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Pakistan is reeling from a horrific suicide bombing. More than 80 people were killed and more than a hundred others were injured after an Episcopalian church was attacked. Here's Japan's public broadcaster NHK.

 

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Reporter:
Two suicide bombers blew themselves up among hundreds of worshippers in a church in Peshawar. Sectarian violence between majority Sunni and minority Shi'a groups has been rampant. But attacks against Christians have been rare in the predominant Muslim country. A local Islamic extremist group has claimed responsibility. They said all non-Muslim groups are targets and the attack was to retaliate against US drone strikes in Pakistan. Christians called for an end to the violence. They protested across the country including the capital, Islamabad, and in Karachi in the south.

 
 

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Japanese Honor War Dead at Controversial Shrine

Yasukuni ShrineAugust 15th marks the 68th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two. It's also the day when Japanese honor their war dead at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. Yasukuni is controversial because it also commemorates fifteen men convicted for war crimes. So, paying respects at the shrine angers many in Japan and abroad, because they view the shrine as a memorial to Japanese militarism. This year, many notables, including members of the Japanese government, stayed away from Yasukuni. Japan's public broadcaster, NHK, reported from the shrine.

 

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Reporter:
Many Japanese observe this rite year after year. They head to Yasukuni shrine which honors the war dead. They stop and pray for those who died for Japan.

Shrine visitor 1:
I'd like to come here as long as I live and pray that my father's soul is in peace.

Shrine visitor 2:
My father died in the war. I come here to feel close to him, even at my age.

Reporter:
This shinto shrine was constructed in the late 1800s to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the process of building Japan. The shrine commemorates two and a half million people. In the 1970s, officials here decided to enshrine wartime military and political leaders. Some have been convicted of war crime by the international military tribunal after World War Two. A number of Japanese lawmakers visit every year on this day. About one hundred came today, including members of the cabinet.

Yoshitaka Shindo, Japanese Official:
I came here today to pay my respects to those who devoted themselves to protect the country and their loved ones.

Reporter:
Chinese and South Korean leaders have criticized their Japanese counterparts for going to the shrine. Four South Korean lawmakers tried to get in to protest in person, but police blocked them to prevent trouble. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said other members of his cabinet were free to visit on the anniversary. He chose not to go. He says he will not disclose whether he will visit the shrine in the future, noting that it could cause diplomatic difficulties.

 
 

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Survey Says: China and Japan Really Hate Each Other

Thuy Vu:
A troubling revelation: The Japanese government believes the stricken nuclear reactors at Fukushima are leaking 300 tons of radioactive water into the ocean every day. To give you some idea: That's way more than an average American family consumes every year. The government says the leak's been going on for most of the two and a half years since an earthquake and a tsunami smashed the reactors. The owner of the nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric and Power Company, or TEPCO, says the 300 tons is only a guess. Guess or not, it adds to growing doubts about TEPCO's efforts to clean up. The Japanese government has become impatient. Here's Japan's public broadcaster, NHK.

 

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Reporter:
Prime Minister Abe gave details of his decision when government officials met about the nuclear disaster. Abe told the industry minister to instruct TEPCO managers to do whatever they can to stop the leaks right away. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says the government is considering a plan to give TEPCO funding to contain the radioactive groundwater and protect the sea.

 

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Thuy Vu:
Relations between Japan and China have steadily declined over the past year, largely due to territorial disputes. Diplomacy has taken on a frosty tone. Researchers in both countries wanted to know how citizens feel. They say the recent survey reveals more than 90 percent of Japanese and Chinese have negative feelings toward each other. For more on that survey, here's NHK.

 

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Reporter:
Staff with the Tokyo-based non-profit think tank Genron NPO and the state-run newspaper, China Daily, have been conducting the poll annually since 2005. They asked more than 2,500 Japanese and Chinese what they think about their neighbor. They carried out the survey between May and July. Ninety percent of Japanese said they have negative feelings towards China. That's up six percentage points from last year. Ninety-three percent of Chinese said they had negative feeilngs towards Japan, an increase of 28 percentage points. The new poll suggests animosity between people in China and Japan worsened over the past year.

Japanese Citizen:
I don't have a positive image of China.

Japanese Citizen:
Chinese people push too much about their views on historical issues.

Chinese Citizen:
I especially hate Japan.

Chinese Citizen:
We don't need good relations with Japan.

Reporter:
The researchers asked Japanese and Chinese why they have bad impressions of each other. The tug of war over the East China Sea was the top reason. More than 53 percent of Japanese cited the territorial dispute compared with nearly 78 percent of Chinese. Wartime history is the second highest reason for this ill will. Nearly half of Japanese surveyed say they don't like Chinese criticizing them over the past. Sixty-four of Chinese feel Japan's apology for its invasion of their country isn't good enough. Some respondents consider armed conflict in the future a possibility. Nearly 24 percent of Japanese believe hostilities could break out compared to nearly 53 percent of Chinese. The leader of the Japanese NGO that conducted the joint survey said the results show relations have entered a critical phase. But he notes more than 70 percent of respondents on both sides consider the Japan-China relationship important.

Yasushi Kudo:
It's now a crucial time for both governments to start talks to resolve the deadlock. And the private sector should start taking action as well.

Reporter:
The researchers say their study suggests animosity is at its worst level since 2005. They say they want to see ways to overcome the bad feelings with dialogue. They are scheduled to hold a joint forum in Beijing this coming October. Tomoko Kamata, NHK World, Tokyo.

 
 

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Japanese Cosmetic Company Takes Heat for Skin Damage Claims
A popular Japanese cosmetic company is scrambling to save face. More than 8,000 users of Kanebo Cosmetics skin whitening creams and lotions have reported serious skin damage after using its products. Japan's public broadcaster NHK digs deeper into this scandal with this report.

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Reporter:
People have seen the ads. Products that promise to make the skin on their faces whiter. Some believe that will hide any flaws. But now they're finding out that cosmetics are not safe.

Woman 1:
I wonder if the products were thoroughly tested.

Woman 2:
I do whitening because I worry about blemishes. But when things like this happen, it makes me think twice about buying another product from the company.

Reporter:
Kanebo was founded in 1887. It grew into one of the Japan's leading cosmetic companies. In 2008, the company started selling products to whiten the skin on people's faces. Customers in 11 other countries and territories started buying them up. Then, two years ago, managers started hearing some complaints. More than six thousand customers have contacted the company since the beginning of this month. More than two thousand complained the product left their skin with blotches.

Masumi Natsusaka:
We will continue to take action until every affected customer is completely cured. It's our responsibility to know the customers' present conditions and come up with measures to deal with their problems as soon as possible.

Reporter:
Company executives said they can't confirm whether their products cause the problems. But, they're looking into an ingredient called rhododenol. Company scientists developed the substance, and got it cleared in testing required by law. The executives admit they should have taken a measure earlier to prevent any further damage. This month, they started recalling 450,000 units. They believe about 90,000 are still out there. And now they are considering offering customers some compensation to pay for any medical expenses. The case is a major blow for the people who run Kanebo. They're still trying to figure out what the impact will be but customers are already shying away from Kanebo cosmetics.

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It's been two years since Japan's triple disaster -- the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, but recovery efforts are far from being over. Japanese broadcaster NHK filed this report on the slow recovery.

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Reporter:
Crews have focused their decontamination efforts based on levels of radiation. The government is responsible for cleaning up the evacuation zone around the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant. And it's subsidizing work in other areas. Government officials have allocated about 11 billion dollars. But they haven't said what the total cost might be. Experts from a science and technology institute carried out a study. They estimated cleaning up the evacuation zone alone would cost 20 billion dollars. They say, work in other areas would add up to more than 30 billion.

Junko Nakanishi:
The government should study the cost before deciding whether to complete decontamination or reallocating the money to help people rebuild their lives.

Reporter:
Nakanishi says government officials are overseeing the work without considering the expectations of residents.
 
 

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Japan: Nuclear Disaster Fallout Still Felt in Power Industry
FukushimaAs Japan's citizens prepare for the next disaster, the fallout from the last one continues to influence Japan's nuclear power industry. The operators of four power plants want permission to restart their reactors in July. The units have been kept offline because of the accident at Fukushima-Daiichi. On May 28th, Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported on the latest in the struggle over Japanese nuclear power.

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Reporter:
Officials at Kansai Electric power Company and Kyushu Electric Power Company say they want to restart two reactors each. Executives with Hokkaido Electric Power Company say they hope to bring three back online. And those with Chikoko Electric Power Company are planning to restart one.

Makoto Yagi:
We hope to restart reactors as soon as their safety is confirmed.

Reporter:
Operators will be required to introduce tougher measures against accidents and natural disasters. They have to study the potential height of tsunami and the possibility of a volcanic eruption. And they'll have to present safety measures to deal with the risks. Officials from the nuclear regulation authority will study their applications and decide whether to permit any restarts. All but two of Japan's reactors are offline following the accident in Fukushima.

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Of the 50 commercial reactors in Japan, only two are currently online amid safety concerns after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi plant disaster.
 
 

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Radioactive Water Leaks Found at Fukushima Nuclear Plant
(LinkAsia: April 12, 2013)
Thuy Vu:
More bad news for Japan's nuclear energy industry. Radioactive water is leaking out of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and crews are rushing to contain it before it spills into the ocean. For more on the story, here's NHK.

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NHK World NEWSLINE
Airdate: April 9, 2013

Reporter:
This plant has sprung leaks, and lots of them. Water is seeping in from underground through walls damaged by the earthquake and tsunami. Once inside it's contaminated, so workers are forming a seemingly dangerous task removing the water to temporary storage tanks and underground pools.

Masayuki Ono:
There have been leaks since a state of cold shutdown was achieved, but the recent case is probably the largest ever.

Reporter:
The pools sit about 800 meters from the shore. But Ono says there's no fear that the water leaked directly into the ocean. TEPCO investigators suspect the problem rides with the design and construction of storage facilities. Each pool is six meters deep. Three layers of water proof sheets cover the sides and bottom. Crews poked a hole in the sheets so that they could insert a sensor to monitor any leakage. Spokespersons say the holes themselves became the problem. The water pressure pulled the sheets down and widened the holes, allowing the water to leak out. Trade and industry minister, Toshimitsu Motegi asked the TEPCO president Naomi Hirose, to fix the problem.

Toshimitsu Motegi:
I would like you to make sure that contaminated water won't leak into the sea.

Reporter:
The assurances from TEPCO have not calmed residents.

Fusayaki Nanbu:
The leaks should never have happened in the first place. Regardless of whether or not the water has reached the ocean. TEPCO should deal with the matter more seriously.

Reporter:
Crews face another challenge too. They are running out of space. They've been filling up the seven pools and hundreds of tanks. But the tanks are nearly full. And now, the integrity of the pools is in question. So the people who run the plant are searching for somewhere else to put water that just keeps on coming.
 
 

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