Japan agreed to transfer a share of its highly enriched uranium and weapons grade plutonium stockpiles to the US as part of the global effort to secure nuclear materials. Other nations are also urged to deposit excess nuclear materials in the US.
On the eve of the two-day Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, US and Japanese leaders arranged a deal on “final disposition” in the US of well over 300 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium and an unspecified quantity of highly enriched uranium (HEU) that will be “sent to a secure facility and fully converted into less sensitive forms.”
This quantity of plutonium is enough to produce 40-50 warheads. The total quantity of HEU currently stocked in Japan is estimated at approximately 1.2 tons. According to The New York Times, some 200 kilograms of HEU is currently designated for the US.
After Barack Obama announced in Prague in 2009 an ambitious agenda to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the American president has been pressing his foreign counterparts, both in Asia and Europe, demanding they either get rid of their excess nuclear materials via the US, or tighten security of stockpiles at home.
Two more countries, Belgium and Italy, have also agreed to hand over excess nuclear materials to the US and issued separate joint statements with the White House, Reuters reported.
“This effort involves the elimination of hundreds of kilograms of nuclear material, furthering our mutual goal of minimizing stocks of HEU and separated plutonium worldwide, which will help prevent unauthorized actors, criminals, or terrorists from acquiring such materials,” US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in a joint statement released by the White House on Monday.
There is no information whether the deal between Japan and the US has a financial side; nuclear materials, of course, have a solid market value.
After the Russian-American HEU-LEU agreement came to an end in 2013, the US nuclear power generation industry is likely to face a sharp fuel price surge and shortage.
For two decades, the US was buying nuclear fuel from Russia for a dumping price. This fuel was made from down blended Soviet military grade highly enriched uranium, which constituted up to 40 percent of nuclear fuel for America’s 104 nuclear reactors (America’s 65 nuclear power plants generate over 19 percent of electric power in the country).
In the meantime, the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), the leading US nuclear fuel supplier remains in dire straits and plans to voluntarily file for bankruptcy in the first quarter of 2014 in order to restructure.
The US also has problems with producing plutonium, used not only in nuclear warheads, but for space exploration as well; only plutonium can produce enough power for long missions to distant planets in the Solar system.
Tokyo also reportedly possesses several dozen tons of plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel called MOX, which it intends to burn in 16 reactors the country plans to restart. All Japanese nuclear power generating facilities halted operation following the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in March 2011.
The nuclear materials designated for transfer to the US have been kept for decades at Japan’s research reactor site in Tokaimura, where it was used for research.
During the Cold War era, the US and UK reportedly handed over some 331 kilogram of plutonium to Japan to be used for developing breeder reactor technology.
After decades of research, practically all fast (breeder) reactor projects around the world, including Japanese ones, are now closed down. The only country that currently possesses operating breeder reactor power generation facility is Russia.
In 1999, the Tokaimura facility witnessed an accident involving a highly enriched uranium solution. Two workers mishandled radioactive fluid and died as a result, while over 300 were exposed to high doses of radiation.
The New York Times maintains that while the nuclear materials at the Tokaimura facility are of American and British origin, Japan also has vast stockpiles, up to nine tons of plutonium, created at the country’s nuclear power stations as a byproduct of burning uranium for electric power generation. Once Japan restarts some of its nuclear reactors, there will be even more plutonium generated.
The world’s largest military alliance seems annoyed about Russia’s “lack of transparency” over military drills at a very “delicate time.” NATO, however, has its own long history of war games all over the globe.
Western politicians have leveled criticism at Russia for planned drills on its own territory, seemingly glossing over the many joint military exercises Western powers, namely the US and NATO forces, have conducted on foreign soil over the years.
This week, US and South Korean forces began their annual joint military drills, which will last until mid-April. The Foal Eagle exercise is conducted near Iksan and Damyan, South Korea.
The drills prompted a stern reaction from North Korea, which slammed the exercises as “a serious provocation” that could plunge the region into “a deadlock and unimaginable holocaust.”
The US joined Greece, Italy, and Israeli forces at Ovda air base in southern Israel for the ‘Blue Flag’ air-training drills in November 2013. The drills were called the “largest international aerial exercise in history,” by Israeli news outlet Haaretz.
According to Israel National News reports the exercises are geared towards “simulating realistic engagements in a variety of scenarios, based on Israel’s experience with air forces of Arab armies in previous engagements.”
Poland and Latvia
NATO’s ‘Steadfast Jazz’ training exercise was held in November 2013, in Latvia and Poland. The drills included air, land, naval, and special forces.
Over 6,000 military personnel from around 20 NATO countries and allies took part in the largest NATO-led drills of their kind since 2006.
In October, NATO also held anti-aircraft drills in Bulgaria, along with the Greek and Norwegian air forces. The exercises were held to test responses in conditions of radio interference, according to the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense.
In May 2013, the US joined 40 other countries in the Persian Gulf for maritime war games. The US Navy said the mass exercises are aimed at “enhancing capability to preserve freedom of navigation in international waterways.”
The drills provoked a sharp response from the Iranian government who voiced concerns at how the maneuvers came in the run-up to the Iranian elections.
In August 2012, US Marines joined Japanese troops for military drills in the western Pacific. The drills were held in part in Guam, a US holding, just as an old territory dispute reemerged between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea.
“China will not ignore hostile gestures from other nations and give up on its core interests or change its course of development,” the Chinese Communist Party stated in response to the drills, warning the US and Japan not to “underestimate China’s resolve to defend its sovereignty.”
The US joined 16 other nations in May 2012 for military exercises in Jordan near the Syria border. The ‘Eager Lion’ drills included 12,000 soldiers from the participating countries, Turkey, France, and Saudi Arabia among them.
Denying accusations that the violence in Syria had nothing to do with the drills, the US claimed it was “designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships through a joint, entire-government, multinational approach, integrating all instruments of national power to meet current and future complex national security challenges.
In August 2010, the US Navy joined Vietnamese forces for drills in the South China Sea, to the dismay of China. Sovereignty claims in the South China Sea have long been a subject of debate and animosity among Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, and Malaysia, though China’s territorial declarations have been the most aggressive.
Ukraine welcomed a fleet of NATO warships for a two-week period of military drills in July 2010. Operation ‘Sea Breeze-2010′ focused on joint anti-terror exercises, despite Kiev’s decision not to enter the NATO alliance. Some 3,000 international military personnel were said to be a part of the drills.
Ukraine began hosting the Sea Breeze exercises in 1997, as part of its commitment to join the alliance. In 2009, the Ukrainian parliament voted against the drills, curtailing then-President Viktor Yuschenko’s efforts to seek NATO membership.
In May 2009, 15 NATO countries held a series of controversial military exercises in Georgia less than a year after it launched an offense against its breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russia called the maneuvers “dubious provocation” saying it may encourage the country’s regime to carry out new attacks.
TEPCO has revised the readings on the radioactivity levels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant well to 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter – both a record, and nearly five times higher than the original reading of 900,000 becquerels per liter.
Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years. The legal standard for strontium emissions is 30 becquerels per liter. Exposure to strontium-90 can cause bone cancer, cancer of nearby tissues, and leukemia.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. originally said that the said 900,000 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter, including strontium – were measured in the water sampled on July 5 last year.
However, the company noted on Friday that the previous radioactivity levels had been wrong, meaning that it was also likely readings taken from the other wells at the disaster-struck plant prior to September were also likely to have been inaccurate, the Asahi Shimbum newspaper reported.
The Japanese company has already apologized for the failures, which they said were a result of the malfunctioning of measuring equipment.
TEPCO did not mention the radioactivity levels of other samples of both groundwater and seawater taken from between June and November last year – which totaled some 140.
However, the erroneous readings only pertain to the radiation levels measured in water – readings taken to measure the radiation levels in air or soil are likely to have been accurate.
In the basement of the station, the drainage system and special tanks have accumulated more than 360,000 tons of radioactive water. The leakage of radioactive water has been an ongoing problem in the wake of the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.
TEPCO also said on Thursday that 600 liters of contaminated water – which had 2,800 becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter in it, leaked from piping leading to a tank at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
A record high level of beta rays released from radioactive strontium-90 was detected at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant beneath the No. 2 reactor’s well facing the ocean, according to the facility’s operator who released news of the measurements mid-January.
TEPCO measured the amount of beta ray-emitting radioactivity at more than 2.7 million becquerels per liter, Fukushima’s operator said as reported in the Japanese media.
In March 2011, an earthquake triggered a tsunami that hit Japan’s coast, damaging the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The catastrophe caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the facility, leading to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The water used to cool the reactors has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water ever since. Some of the radioactive water has been escaping into the Pacific Ocean.
Naha, Okinawa – The 2010 Governor’s election in Okinawa was a game changer. Up to then the pattern of elections here had been, a progressive candidate clearly opposed to the US military bases on the island, vs. a conservative candidate who was not positively in favor of them, but took the attitude, if we can’t get rid of them we might as well make a little money off them.
In 2010 the issue on the table was not all the bases, but what to do with the US Marine Air Station at Futenma, in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. In 1996 the US and Japanese Governments had announced that they would close it down, but only on the condition that the 1st Marine Air Wing, which it houses, be moved to a new base to be built offshore from the fishing village of Henoko, in the less populated northern part of Okinawa. This construction has been fiercely opposed by Okinawans. Pacifists argue that the base should be abolished altogether; ecologists and fisher-people point out that construction would be devastating to the coral-rich Oura Bay, habitat to the endangered sea-mammal the dugong; Okinawans generally feel that the Government’s insistence that the base stay on their island amounts to discriminatory treatment. Okinawa comprises 0.6% of Japanese territory, but just under 75% of all US bases in Japan are located here. More and more people are using the word “colonialism” to describe this. Thus after the 1996 announcement the Okinawans, by means of rallies, demonstrations, lawsuits, petitions, sit-ins, and direct action civil disobedience, have so far prevented construction from beginning.
In 2010 the incumbent conservative Governor Nakaima Hirokazu [family name first, following East Asian practice], who had been elected on the What the Hell can you do about it? ticket, was advised that the electorate had changed, and that he could not be reelected unless he changed his position. This he did, saying that now he favored moving the Futenma base to mainland Japan. This enabled him to pick up the support of people who were not ready to oppose all the US bases, but who resented the unequal treatment.
The result was an election in which both the progressive and the conservative candidates opposed moving the Futenma base to a different location within Okinawa. There was a third candidate, from the crackpot Happiness Realization Party, who supported the US-Japan plan to move the base to Henoko. The progressive and conservative candidates between them got 97% of the votes; the only party that supported the US-Japan plan got a little over 2%. It’s not often that you see that kind of agreement in a free election. In that election the US-Japan plan was supported only by the crazies. Governor Nakaima, campaigning on the slogan Move the Base to the Mainland, was re-elected.
For three years after that, Governor Nakaima put on a pretty convincing performance. Again and again Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers, Defense Ministers came to his office trying to persuade him to accept the Henoko base plan, and again and again he sent them packing, sometimes after only a few minutes. (One of them, I think it was a Foreign Minister – these fellows have been changing like a game of musical chairs in recent years so it’s hard to remember – was caught on TV looking at his watch to see how much time he had got, as the Governor walked out of the room.) During that period not only the governor, but many Okinawan Liberal Democratic Party politicians, defying their Party headquarters in Tokyo, came out against the base plan. People began to talk about an All Okinawa Anti-Base Movement. Increasingly anti-base activists, instead of appealing for sympathy, were calling the plan “impossible”.
Last year the Tokyo Government, after completing a survey of Oura Bay, wrote up an environmental impact report and handed it to the Governor for his approval, without which they cannot legally begin reclamation work in the Bay. He set up a committee, and they fiddled with it for the better part of a year. Many people believed, I among them, that Nakaima would reject it in the end: why would anyone want to put their name on a document that claims that dumping several millions of tons (or whatever the amount is) of dirt and junk into a coral bay will have no detrimental effect on the environment? But at the end of December last year, he approved it, which opened the way for construction to begin. Most people were stunned, though there was also a minor chorus of I Told You So. In exchange the Governor claimed to have gotten some major gifts and concessions from Tokyo, a mess of pottage that turned out to be mostly promises that won’t be kept and aid money that Okinawa Prefecture was entitled to anyway. It continues to amaze me that a person presented with the opportunity to become a hero whose name would be passed on in Okinawan culture for generations, would instead choose to be remembered as a liar and a turncoat. There is a strong movement calling for his resignation or, failing that, his recall.
It seemed that Okinawa was in danger of falling into despondency and resignation. But there was one more test coming up. Just a couple of weeks after Nakaima’s collapse, on January 19, there was the election for Mayor of Nago City, of which Henoko is an administrative part. The incumbent Mayor, Inamine Susumu, had been elected on the public promise that he would oppose new base construction in the city. Two candidates declared against him, both supporting base construction. For the Abe Shinzo Government, this was a must-win election. First they sent down a gang of top Party and Government officials to persuade one of the pro-base candidates to stand down – a very unusual case of interference in local politics (of course, they were successful). Then when campaigning began they sent down Party and Government superstars to join in the electioneering. A lot of dubious money is said to have been passed around. Nago is the home of several of the construction companies which would likely get the reclaiming contracts, and which also have political clout in the city. Presumably a lot of pressure was put by those and other companies on their employees. In the last days of the campaign the Liberal Democraic Party’s Secretary General Ishiba suddenly announced that if the pro-base candidate won Nago would be rewarded with 50 billion yen (about $500 million) in extra aid. It was the town of Nago, population 62000, vs. the state of Japan, and to the last moment no one knew which side would win.
Inamine won, by a healthy margin. Okinawa’s temptation to despondency ended after just a few weeks. This has got to be remembered as one of the great election victories in the history of democracy. Nago would not be bought; the voters took the aid offer as an insult. Immediately after the election, Inamine announced that he would use his powers as Mayor, not to appeal to Tokyo to reconsider their plan, but positively to prevent it from going forward. Concretely, he said he would prohibit any construction-related use of roads, harbors or rivers that are under the City’s administration, and that he would not participate in any negotiations that presuppose base construction. Inamine, incidentally, is not a professional politician or an ex-movement activist. Before he ran for Mayor he was an official in the City’s Board of Education. To this day he goes out every morning to work as a traffic safety volunteer at a corner where kids cross the street on the way to school. There is a good lesson in politics here: You don’t need charisma; all you need is to say “no”. It’s also a lesson in popular sovereignty. The Tokyo Government says, We will decide. The people of Nago reply, No, we have decided. Like they say, it takes a village.
The Abe Shinzo Government has painted itself into a corner. They continue to tell the US Government, and the world, that they will build the new base at Henoko anyway. They say they will “persuade” Inamine, but it looks like that can’t be done. Will they rewrite the law, to take away the Mayor’s powers? Will they send in the Riot Police, or maybe the Self-Defence Forces? Will they revive the method used by the US military to get land for bases right after the Battle of Okinawa, the method known here as “bulldozers and rifles”? Of course all these are possible, but they will be made less possible the more the Nago situation comes to the attention of people around the world. That’s why it’s a good thing that some overseas supporters of the Okinawa anti-base movement, beginning with Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick who visited Okinawa last year, after the election drafted a letter of solidarity that has been signed by over 100 writers, scholars, movie makers and others. This has evolved into a general petition campaign on the internet. I have no illusion that submitting this petition to President Obama and Prime Minister Abe will have any effect on their consciences. What it will do is send a message to the people of Nago that they are not isolated. And by making clear to both heads of state that the whole world is watching it will make it difficult for them to use dirty tricks or violence to get their way in Nago.
The petition can be accessed at http://chn.ge/1ecQPUJ
Douglas Lummis is a political scientist living in Okinawa and the author of Radical Democracy. Lummis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
With scant energy and mineral reserves of its own, and nuclear plants mothballed since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is investing heavily in exploring beneath the oceans for resources that will power its future.
Seabed off coast of Japan
On the first day of 2014, the Japanese research ship Chikyu set a new record by drilling down to a point 3,000 meters beneath the seabed off southern Japan. It was an appropriate way to ring in the new year and signals an increased commitment to learning more about the secrets that lay beneath the floor of the ocean close to Japan.
The research has two distinct but connected driving forces. As Japan prepares to mark the third anniversary of the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Chikyu is undertaking the most extensive survey ever attempted of the Nankai Trough, a geological fault that extends for several hundred kilometers parallel to the southern coast of Japan and widely seen as the source of the next major earthquake that will affect this tremor-prone nation. And with all of Japan’s nuclear reactors presently mothballed in the aftermath of the disaster, which destroyed the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, there is a new sense of urgency in the search for sources of energy and other natural resources close to Japan.
Limited natural resources
“When I was in elementary school, we learned that Japan does not have many natural resources of its own and that we needed to import all the oil, the gas, the metals and minerals that we needed,” Toshiyaki Mizuno, the deputy director of the Ocean and Earth Division at the ministry of science and technology, told DW.
“And that was what we thought for a long time,” he said. “Until we recently discovered that there are significant deposits of methane hydrates within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”
Also known as natural gas hydrate or “fire ice,” it is a solid compound in which high levels of methane have been trapped in a crystal structure of water. Originally believed to only exist on the outer reaches of the solar system, significant deposits are now being discovered beneath seabed sediment and it is estimated that supplies are as much as 10 times the known reserves of natural gas.”
The dream of new energy
“There are many problems that we need to overcome before we can say that Japan’s energy problems have been solved, but the dream is to exploit this new source of energy and other resources and this is the first step in achieving that,” Mizuno said.
The Japanese government has announced plans to work with private companies to develop new technologies to explore the resources that are below the seabed off Japan, including the development of advanced submersibles and remote-controlled underwater vehicles.
Companies will work with no fewer than four Japanese ministries, representing trade and industry, science and technology, land and infrastructure and the Internal Affairs Ministry and there are hopes that the proposed recovery of resources could go ahead in as little as five years.
The government is putting aside a portion of the 50 billion yen (352.3 million euros) budget for strategic innovation projects to support the ambitious drive, with organizations such as the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology tasked with developing submarines that can operate at depths of up to 3,000 meters and large-scale excavation ships.
“This issue is becoming quite urgent for Japan because the government’s growth policy to date has largely focused on the weakening yen, which means that all imports of resources and energy are very expensive,” said Martin Schulz, senior economist at the Fujitsu Research Institute.
“Japan has to reduce those costs over the long term and developing these undersea resources is becoming much more economic than it was before,” he said.
“It is also important in terms of Japan’s energy mix as it does not seem likely that the nuclear reactors will be restarted in a significant way in the immediate future,” he added.
“Exploring close to Japan’s coastline for these resources makes complete sense, although we also know that methane hydrates can be extremely dangerous to collect and develop,” he said.
At the same time as Japan attempts to reduce its reliance on expensive imports and distance itself from relying on volatile suppliers of rare earth minerals – such as China – it is also in a hurry to learn more about the geological structure of the surface of the Earth close to the Japanese archipelago and the threats that natural disasters pose.
a Chinese navy missile frigate passing a drilling rig at the Tianwaitian gas field in the East China Sea, taken by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces patrol plane on 09 September, 2005.
Questions over sovereignty and natural resources in the East China Sea have led to disputes with China
The drilling being conducted by the Chikyu is to examine the layers beneath the seabed in the Nankai Trough. In March last year, a study by the Central Disaster Management Council as a direct result of the impact of the earthquake that struck northeast Japan predicted that a magnitude-9 quake in the danger zone could trigger a tsunami as much as 30 meters high that could kill 320,000 people.
The disaster would destroy road and rail links the length of the country, the tsunami would pulverize buildings that had already been weakened by the tremor, infrastructure would be wiped out for hundreds of kilometers along the coast and the projected cost in terms of the damage wrought on the country is 220 trillion yen (1.84 trillion euros).
Given the scale of the threat, scientists say there is no time to lose in trying to determine when and precisely where the disaster might strike.
The American army conducted experiments with biological weapons aimed at destroying rice crops on the Japanese island of Okinawa in the 60s, Kyodo news agency reports. The alleged target of the tests was the China and Southeast Asia region.
Citing classified US documents, Japanese news agency Kyodo said the US military carried out experiments on their sovereign territory between 1961 and 1962. At this time Japan’s southern island of Okinawa was still under post-WWII, US jurisdiction. The US did similar tests in Taiwan and the American mainland, notes Kyodo.
The American army experimented with rice blast fungus – a plant pathogen – which infects rice crops with disastrous effects. The pathogen latches onto the rice plant as a spore and produces lesions and spots all over the rice plant and then reproduces.
A single lesion can generate a thousand spores in one night alone, while an entire cycle – lasting about a week – can have a devastating effect on rice crops.
Kyodo reports that tests were conducted over a dozen times, and mentions test sites, Nago and Shuri, in Okinawa. The US army reported some success in their experiments and the gathering of “useful data”.
“Field tests for stem rust of wheat and rice blast disease were begun at several sites in the (US) Midwest and south and in Okinawa with partial success in the accumulation of useful data,” wrote Kyodo, citing its documents.
The US government discarded all its biological weapons in 1969 and discontinued testing, after a leak of chemical weapons made 20 American soldiers stationed on the island sick. Moreover, residents had to be evacuated from the surrounding area and were reported to still be suffering the effects of the toxins two years after the leak.
In response to public outrage, the US government was forced to launch Operation Red Hat – a mission to remove all the biological weapons stored on Okinawa.
Six years later in 1975, Washington signed the international convention against production and possession of biological weapons.
Okinawa came back under Japanese jurisdiction in 1972, but the US still keeps a military presence of around 50,000 troops on the island.
Their presence is a constant source of tension with local populations due to crimes committed by servicemen, disruptions caused by military flights and land use by the US military.
‘Don’t take away our freedom’
Thousands of people protested in Tokyo against a bill that would see whistleblowing civil servants jailed for up to 10 years. Activists claim the law would help the government to cover up scandals, and damage the country’s constitution and democracy.
A 3,000-seat outdoor theater in a park in downtown Tokyo, near the parliament, was not enough to contain everyone who came on Thursday to denounce government plans to considerably broaden the definition of classified information.
For photos of the Tokyo protests, see RT’s Gallery.
According to organizers’ estimates, about 10,000 people crowded shoulder-to-shoulder in the isles of the theater and outside of it, holding banners that read: “Don’t take away our freedom.”
The adoption of the law, proposed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would enable the authorities to put civil servants responsible for information leaks behind bars for up to 10 years.
This would seriously threaten the freedom of the press, as Japanese media would face serious problems gathering information on burning issues, because state employees would be reluctant to share information for fear of prosecution.
That’s why a group of Japanese journalists gathered at the Nagatacho District, close to the country’s parliament, to protest the proposed bill.
Currently, long prison terms for whistleblowers only apply to those Japanese citizens who leak classified data that came from the US military.
“The definition of what will be designated as secrets is not clear, and bureaucrats will make secrets extremely arbitrarily,” TV journalist Soichiro Tahara told Japan Daily Press.
Protesting journalists have submitted a petition to the Cabinet Office, calling for the bill to be scrapped.
The proposed law is conceived in such broad terms it allows wide interpretation and could be used for many purposes, for example such as hiding information about the situation at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.
The bill could be adopted as soon as next week, because the ruling Liberal Democrat Party has a majority in both houses of the Japanese parliament.
“If this law comes to pass, our constitution is nothing more than a scrap of paper,” Reuters reported Yasunari Fujimoto, an activist with the Peace Forum NGO, as saying. “Without the right to know, democracy cannot exist.”
Many Japanese have been suspicious of the legislation, since it reminds them of the tough military secrecy laws that existed before World War II, when Japan’s hardline militarist government was engaged on an expansionist policy throughout Asia, until its defeat in 1945.
PM Shinzo Abe says that the new legislature is extremely important to secure cooperation with Japan’s major ally, the US, as well as other countries.
The data security bill resembles laws targeting whistleblowers in the US, and Abe is also considering setting up an American-style National Security Council, too, Reuters reports.
The protesters do not support Abe’s eagerness to copy repressive foreign laws.
“We have a right to know everything,” said Akio Hirose, a 54-year-old transport worker, adding that the proposed law is “absolutely unacceptable.”
- Fuk-’hush’-ima: Japan’s new state secrets law gags whistleblowers, raises press freedom fears (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- #Japan Likely To Pass New Secrecy Law That Would Put Whistleblowers & Journalists in Jail (techdirt.com)
- Journalists hold protest action against Japan’s state secrets bill (japandailypress.com)
Many of the people who were forced to evacuate after the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may never return, Japanese lawmakers admitted, overturning initial optimistic government pledges.
A call to admit the grim reality and step back from the ambitious Fukushima decontamination goals came from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s coalition parties. Japan has so far spent $30 billion on the clean-up program, which has proven to be more difficult to carry out than initially expected.
The new plan would be for the government to fund relocation to new homes for those who used to live in the most contaminated areas.
“There will come a time when someone has to say, ‘You won’t be able to live here anymore, but we will make up for it’,” Shigeru Ishiba, the secretary General of Abe’s Liberal Democrat party said in a speech earlier this month.
On Tuesday, evacuees reacted with anger at the government’s admission.
“Politicians should have specified a long time ago the areas where evacuees will not be able to return, and presented plans to help them rebuild their lives elsewhere,” Toshitaka Kakinuma, a 71-year-old evacuee, told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
Some 160,000 people escaped the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, when a powerful earthquake and tsunami transformed the plant into the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. About a third of them are still living in temporary housing. They were promised that this would not last for longer than 3 years.
In August the death toll among the evacuees surpassed the threshold of 1,599 lives, which is how many people in the prefecture were killed by the disaster itself. The displaced residents are suffering from health problems, alcoholism and high rates of suicide.
The Ministry of Environment wanted to decontaminate 11 townships in the affected area, bringing the average annual radiation dose to 20 millisieverts, a level deemed safe by the International Centre for Radiological Protection. It further pledged to pursue a long-term goal reducing it to 1 millisievert per year.
The clean-up, however, has been marred by delays and reports that workers sometimes simply dumped contaminated waste rather than collect it for safe storage, causing the environment ministry push back the deadline. There are also calls on the government to abandon the more ambitious dose target, arguing that it is unrealistic.
Some evacuees said they wouldn’t return even after the first phase of the cleanup, saying the dose of 20 millisieverts per year still poses health risks.
“No matter how much they decontaminate I’m not going back because I have children and it is my responsibility to protect them,” Yumi Ide, a mother of two teenage boys, told Reuters.
The fear of radiation has soared in Japan in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, with rallies against the use of nuclear power scoring record attendance. The government shut down all 50 remaining Japanese reactors for safety checks, and there is strong pressure to keep them offline.
The Japanese government is reportedly seeking to borrow an extra $30 billion for the Fukushima cleanup and compensations, which would raise the total cost of the disaster response to $80 billion. The figure does not include the cost of decommissioning reactors to be carried out by the plant operator, Tepco. The company recently complained about the huge expense of the process, which may last at least 30 years.
As more information comes to light about the global snooping being conducted by the NSA and GCHQ, it is becoming clearer that much of it had little to do with combating terrorism, as a recent EFF article makes plain. But most damaging to the idea that massive surveillance was justified, because it was to protect people from extreme threats, is the revelation that commercial espionage was also being conducted. So far, the chief example of that is in Brazil, but The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) now has information about large-scale industrial spying on Japanese companies carried out by Australian secret services:
BHP [BHP Billton -- the world's largest mining company] was among the companies helped by Australian spy agencies as they negotiated trade deals with Japan, a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer says.
A former diplomat has also confirmed Australian intelligence agencies have long targeted Japanese companies. Writing in The Japan Times, Professor Gregory Clark said Australian companies were beneficiaries of intelligence operations.
“In Australia, favoured firms getting spy material on Japanese contract policies and other business negotiations used to joke how [it had] ‘fallen off the back of a truck’,” Professor Clark wrote.
The article has more details, but doesn’t reveal how the materials were obtained. However, since Australia is part of the “Five Eyes” inner circle of snooping countries that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, it seems likely that information of interest from those partners also found its way to Australian companies. SMH quotes Clark as saying:
Business information is a main target for [intelligence] agencies
It will be interesting to see if later releases from Snowden’s hoard of documents show any evidence of this Australian use of NSA materials for industrial espionage.Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+
Many issues of national importance to Japan, probably including the state of the Fukushima power plant, may be designated state secrets under a new draft law. Once signed, it could see whistleblowers jailed for up to 10 years.
Japan has relatively lenient penalties for exposing state secrets compared to many other nations, but that may change with the introduction of the new law. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has agreed on draft legislation on the issue on Friday and expects the parliament to vote on it during the current session, which ends on December 6.
With a comfortable majority in both chambers, the ruling coalition bloc would see no problems overcoming the opposition. Critics say the new law would give the executive too much power to conceal information from the public and compromise the freedom of the press.
Currently only issues of defense can be designated state secrets in Japan, and non-military leakers face a jail term of up to one year. Defense officials may be sentenced to five years for exposing secrets, or 10 years, if the classified information they leaked came from the US military.
The new law would enact harsher punishment to leakers, but more importantly, it would allow government branches other than defense ministry to designate information as state secrets. The bill names four categories of ‘special secrets’, which would be covered by protection – defense, diplomacy, counter-terrorism and counter-espionage.
Under the new legislation a ministry may classify information for a five-year term with a possibility of prolongation to up to 30 years. After that a cabinet ruling would be needed for the secret to be treated as such, but there is no limit for how long information may be kept under a lid.
“Basically, this bill raises the possibility that the kind of information about which the public should be informed is kept secret eternally,” Tadaaki Muto, a lawyer and member of a task force on the bill at the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, told Reuters.
“Under the bill, the administrative branch can set the range of information that is kept secret at its own discretion.”
Media watchdogs in Japan fear the bill would allow the government to cover up serious blunders, like the collusion between regulators and utilities, which was a significant factor in the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The quake- and tsunami-hit nuclear power plant went into meltdown and continues to leak contaminated water as its operator TEPCO failed to contain it.
TEPCO has long been accused of obscuring the crisis and Fukushima. Many details on its development were first published in the media before going to governmental or corporate reports.
Critics of the state secrets bill say it would undermine media’s ability to act as the public’s eye on the actions of the government and whoever it would choose to shield.
“It seems very clear that the law would have a chilling effect on journalism in Japan,” said Lawrence Repeta, a law professor at Meiji University.
In a bid to address those concerns the cabinet added a provision to the draft which gives “utmost considerations” to citizens’ right to know and freedom of the press. The addition came at the request of the New Komeito party, the coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party. The added provisions also state that news reporting is legitimate if its purpose is to serve the public good and the information is not obtained in unlawful or extremely unjust ways.
The clause is based on the 1970s scandal in Japan, in which a reporter was charged and found guilty of unlawfully obtaining secret information about the government. The reporter, Takichi Nishiyama, revealed a secret US-Japanese pact under which Tokyo paid some $4 million of the cost of transferring Okinawa Island from the US back to Japanese rule in 1972.
Nishiyama’s report, which was revealed to have been truthful in 2000, was based on documents he received from a married Foreign Ministry clerk with whom he had an affair. The scandal ultimately ruined his career and dealt a serious blow to the newspaper he worked for.
Japanese law has no clear definition of what kind of new gathering could be deemed ‘grossly inappropriate’. The bill introduces a jail sentence of up to five years for non-officials, including media professionals, using such methods to obtain information. But it does not clearly state that if a journalist reporting on a state secret is found to have obtained the information legitimately, he or she would not be punished. This has led critics to dismiss the ‘freedom of press’ provisions as political window dressing.
Despite criticisms, the Japanese cabinet insists that the law be adopted promptly. It is needed for the planned establishment of a national security council, which would involve members from different ministries and agencies. The law would protect information exchanged through the new body from being leaked, the government says.
Abe’s party has sought unsuccessfully to enact a harsher law on state secrets in the past. The effort had been given a boost after a leaking of a video in 2010, which showed a collision between a Chinese fishing boat and a Japanese patrol vessel near disputed isles in the East China Sea. The government led by the now-opposition Democratic Party wanted to keep the video under wraps, fearing that its publication would harm the already tense relations with Beijing.
Japan had harsh state secret legislation before and during World War II, so in the post-war period government secrecy has been viewed with suspicion, along with militaristic traditions and other things associated with the Imperial past. Abe’s LDP is among the political circles in Japan, which seek change to some of those policies.
- Cabinet to OK state secrets bill (japantimes.co.jp)
- State secrets act feared to have ‘chilling effect on journalism’ in Japan (japandailypress.com)
Petitioning the American government and the United Nations to take over the Fukushima clean-up would be morally wrong and a political folly.
The argument goes that since TEPCO and the Japanese government have shown themselves incompetent and untrustworthy in their information policies regarding the Fukushima disaster, now the international community and especially the United States government should step in and take over.
However, looking at the US’s own track record in giving comprehensive and accurate information about its nuclear accidents and the failure of its nuclear industry to even implement the most basic safety precautions would actually be letting the fox guard the hen house. It wasn’t just the Three Mile Island disaster. In reality 56 of the 99 globally recorded reactor accidents occurred in the United States. And charging a US dominated UN organization with the task would not be any better. This would be similar to what happened with the fake swine-flu scare, where the Big-Pharma dominated WHO licensed Pharma corporations which before had been caught red-handed at contaminating ordinary flu-vaccines with live bird-flu viruses to produce anti-swine-flu vaccines.
Demanding an American take-over of the clean-up efforts at Fukushima would also imply that the Japanese, after a catastrophe like this happening to one of their nuclear installations, are incapable of cleaning up the mess themselves; that everything is fine and dandy with western — and especially American — nuclear facilities, since Americans and other westerners via the western dominated UN must step in to rescue the Japanese.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the Al Jazeera documentary “Danger Zone: Ageing US Nuclear Reactors” the decrepit state of many American nuclear reactors and the corrupt relationship of the industry with its supposedly regulating government agency is shown in terrifying detail. Vital infrastructure at nuclear sites is often in a state of corrosion or are even falling apart. And still these reactors are getting their licenses renewed. Like in Japan, many reactors were built in earthquake-prone areas and to the same design as the Fukushima reactors and to standards that do not allow them to withstand major earthquakes beyond 7.2 on the Richter scale.
The money that has to be expended to repair and renew the infrastructure would make the reactors financially no longer viable. This means that the industry would have to shut down a large part of its reactors and the US government regulating agency therefore looks the other way rather than having to risk a shut-down.
This insane attitude endangers the American people and the rest of humanity just as much as a possible further melt-down at Fukushima.
While the Japanese government might have lots of reasons for not informing their own population of the severe danger they are in at the moment, especially the people of Tokyo, it has all the reasons in the world for the best and most carefully deliberated actions to clean up the fuel-pool at the Fukushima reactor 4.
The people who will be most effected by a further melt-down are the people of northern Japan, including the political and economic elites themselves. Once the nuclear clouds reach the rest of the northern hemisphere their impact will be far more diluted.
Japan is a highly developed country, has a population of 127 million people with many highly educated technicians, engineers and scientists in the nuclear field. The Japanese government already has consulted with foreign nuclear experts and without doubt they will do so in the future. There is no reason to believe that an American dominated international group of experts could do a better or more competent job than a Japanese dominated one. The Japanese people have the most to lose and would therefore be the most intent to avert a further nuclear catastrophe.
Japanese workers are already risking their lives every single day in the clean-up efforts motivated not by money but by wanting to protect their families and their fellow citizens. Those who will start the dangerous work in November will be no less motivated.
While the energy corporation TEPCO might be too cash-strapped to carry the enormous costs of the operation, the argument that the Japanese government could not carry them either does not hold any water at all.
While America is the greatest debtor nation on the planet, Japan is next to China as the second greatest creditor nation. It holds about 6% of the American debts in its central bank. Cashing in on those debts and using this money would certainly cover whatever astronomic costs might be incurred by the clean-up.
There is no necessity whatsoever to violate Japanese sovereignty over the Fukushima clean-up attempts.
To do so would create a dangerous precedent that would allow American and UN interference in a quasi take-over of every country that has suffered natural or man-made disasters.
It also would be a dangerous re-writing of international law and one more increase of power for the un-elected corporate elites which rule America and have enormous influence on most of the UN organizations.
Yes, we should have more transparency of information. Different from what the governments of our nations think, the general population has indeed a right to the truth and is quite capable of processing truthful information in a productive manner. One thing that would emerge out of it would be more pressure on governments all over the world to shut down or at least phase out their nations’ nuclear reactors and replace this dangerous form of energy-production with a better, less poisonous and destructive one.
- Japan Shuts Down Its Last Running Nuclear Reactor (inhabitat.com)
Japan’s government has agreed to give Washington $3 billion to facilitate the downsizing of the U.S. Marine force on Okinawa.
The longstanding American military presence on Okinawa has been a sore point for many Japanese living on the strategic island, which has been under U.S. control since World War II.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met with Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera to sign an amendment to the 2009 Guam International Agreement (pdf), which calls for removing 4,000 Marines from the island.
Japan’s contribution of $3.1 billion will cover more than one third of the $8.6 billion that the U.S. will spend to transfer the Marines and their dependents to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as develop new infrastructure to support them.
Under a separate agreement signed in 2012, the U.S. plans to withdraw another 5,000 Marines from Okinawa and relocate them to Hawaii and Australia. (The number was reduced from 8,000, which had included family members.)
Members of the III Marine Expeditionary Force stationed on Okinawa won’t begin moving until sometime in the early 2020s.
For many of the island’s residents, the move can’t come soon enough. Many Japanese have been calling for the U.S. to get off Okinawa for decades, particularly after American military personnel stationed on the island were convicted of raping a Japanese woman last year and gang-raping a 12-year-old Japanese girl in 1995.
To Learn More:
Japan, U.S. to OK Deal on Transfer of Marines (Japan Times)
Japan to Pay $3.1 Billion to Relocate Okinawa Marines to Guam (Agence France-Presse)
1995 Okinawa Rape Incident (Wikipedia)