INTERVIEW SERIES WITH PRIME MINISTER KAN’S SPECIAL ADVISOR & NUCLEAR EXPERT DR. HIROSHI TASAKA
Nuclear expert, philosopher, strategist, social entrepreneur and former advisor to Prime Minister Kan, Dr Hiroshi Tasaka shares his views on Japan.
TJ: What role have you played in serving as an Advisor to Prime Ministers?
Tasaka: On March 29, 2011, shortly after the March 11 Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident, I was appointed by the Prime Minister of Japan Naoto Kan as his Special Advisor to serve him as an expert of nuclear engineering in an effort to cope with the accident. My role as a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister shifted from devising a way to stop the accident to proposing ways to reform nuclear regulations and nuclear industries, as well as investigating ways to change national energy policy.
I resigned from the position on September 2, 2011, when the cabinet changed. I had served as an advisor for five months and five days during the most critical period after the accident.
TJ: How did your role with the Kan administration change after the earthquake occurred?
Tasaka: Before I was appointed as a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, I had been advising Prime Minister Kan on how to participate in and present at the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference. After the earthquake, Prime Minister Kan asked me for advice on how to cope with the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident, as well as how to reform the nuclear administration and regulation systems to reflect the true cause of the accident. I was also asked how to adapt the national energy policy given the change in public opinion after the accident.
TJ: What are you currently doing to assist the Japanese government with the nuclear crisis that currently exists in Fukushima?
Tasaka: Even after resigning from my position as a Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, I continued to advise ministers of the present Noda Cabinet on how to realize a “No Nuclear Plant Society.” I have attempted to present a vision of the future with an action policy of a “Renewable Energy Society.”
Of course, it is very difficult to realize a “Renewable Energy Society.” However, the Japanese people demand that the government moves toward nuclear free energy. Also, I have been advising ministers on how to reform the nuclear administration and regulation systems including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of Japan.
TJ: What is the current situation with the crippled Fukushima Power Plant?
Tasaka:As many people and the media know, right after the accident, the government faced the worst-case scenario of evacuating 30 million people in the Tokyo Metropolitan area. We very fortunately escaped that scenario.
However, in the Fukushima Power Plant, the spent fuel pool of Reactor 4 remains unstable. Something that the media continues to ask is, “Is the Reactor 4 spent fuel pool safe enough?.”
Another serious problem is how to decommission three reactors that have suffered a meltdown of their reactor cores. The decommissioning of these three reactors is completely different from that of a normal reactor because the Fukushima meltdown reactors are the most difficult to deal with and the most dangerous “high level radioactive waste” in the world.
Since, it would take more than 30 years to decommission a normal reactor, it will probably take more than 50 years to decommission the Fukushima reactor. That is because there is not adequate technology at this moment to work in radiation at this high of a level.
TJ: Can you provide our readership with any insight into the fundamental problems that led to the manmade disaster?
Tasaka: The fundamental problem that led to the manmade disaster is the terrible irresponsibility of the bureaucratic system of the Japanese government. One symbolic example is the fact that SPEEDI was not used in the appropriate way at the most important moment. SPEEDI is the computer prediction system for the wind dispersion of radioactive material in the surrounding environment when a nuclear power plant accident happens. Although SPEEDI did work and made its prediction, the information was not immediately reported to the Prime Minister’s Office as it should have been.
Another example is the fact that emergency actions ordered by the government to all of the nuclear power plants in Japan just after the accident were not checked correctly by the bureaucratic system.
Many irresponsible mistakes in the report from power plants to the government were discovered by the staff in the Prime Minister’s Office. We were surprised by the fact that no one in the bureaucratic system was responsible enough to discover the mistakes in the power plants’ reports despite the great importance of the situation they were dealing with. Therefore, I advised the Prime Minister that a drastic reformation was needed in the Japanese government’s nuclear administration and regulation systems.
TJ: What is the most essential problem?
Tasaka: Individuals in a bureaucratic system are not bad. However, the system itself can become very bad and irresponsible. I am reminded of a famous ironic saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
TJ: What do you feel is the best course of action that can be taken from here forward in order to protect people from the threat of nuclear radiation?
Tasaka: The best way to protect people from the threat of nuclear disasters and radiation exposure is to realize a “No Nuclear Plant Society” as soon as possible. We need to understand a “No Nuclear Plant Society” is not a matter of policy choice. It is an unavoidable reality. On September 11 this year, the highest scientific authority “The Science Council of Japan” recommended to the government, in an official report, that the final disposal of high level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel by means of “geologic disposal” should not be carried out in Japan and this waste should be stored for hundreds of years. That means there is a definite limit for nuclear power generation caused by the serious problem of nuclear waste disposal. The Japanese government and industry should consider this serious and crucial problem without ignoring facts and reality for political reasons.
The people strongly expect after such a terrible disaster at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, that the government and industry will demonstrate a sincere attitude towards this very serious matter.
We have just started down the long road to the reformation of the bureaucratic system that allowed this terrible disaster. The people of Japan hope to realize a dramatic change in the national energy policy. tj
This story appeared in Issue 270 of the Tokyo Journal.
To order Issue 270, click here.