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The LinkAsia blog features in-depth analysis from expert contributors and LinkAsia producers, as well as transcripts from NHK Japan reports.

 

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LinkAsia News Brief

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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