Saturday, May 21, 2011

12/05 VOX POPULI: Are nuclear plants in Japan standing on tofu?

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.


The bonnet bus I often rode as a child had directional indicators that stuck out horizontally. To this day, I remember the slogan on the driver's seat apparently because it left a deep impression on my young mind. It went: "Don't fend off with the handle. Stop first."

It may be unreasonable to compare an old-fashioned bus with nuclear power plants but I believe the slogan remains an unchanging truth as a basic action to ensure safety. Chubu Electric Power Co. agreed to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's request to shut down the reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture. The plant, which sits on the assumed epicenter area of a potential Tokai earthquake, is said to be "the world's most dangerous." I wish to support the bold decision of politics and the private sector.

Responsibility for nuclear power plants does not stop at the domestic level. Referring to nuclear tests that disperse radioactive substances, a scientist once said, "No one ever thought it was possible to contaminate the whole world from a single point on earth," according to the book "Watashitachi wa Koshite 'Genpatsu Taikoku' o Eranda" (This is how we chose to be 'a major country of nuclear power plants') by Toru Takeda.

After the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union, radioactive iodine was observed in extensive areas across Japan. A catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant could induce a similar situation. The determination not to make Hamaoka internationally infamous is also a message to the world without regard to profits.

If I remember correctly, there is a rakugo story about a person who buys a turtle at a night stall because the vendor said it would live 10,000 years. But the turtle dies right away and the buyer complains to the vendor only to hear the reply: "Today happened to be its 10,000th birthday."

Experts estimate the probability for a major Tokai earthquake to strike within the next 30 years at 87 percent. But the probability that it may strike today is no laughing matter.

Nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone Japan are said to be standing on "tofu." We need courage to also shut down other plants if necessary. Humans do not live by business and economy alone. This is what Fukushima's suffering is telling us.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 11

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

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