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Sunday, June 26, 2011

OUR PLANET EARTH

Readers offer 3/11 insights, valuable resources


As Japan has struggled with the physical and emotional challenges of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, and the ongoing nuclear crisis that resulted, I have written three Our Planet Earth columns related to those events: one on Japan's response (March 27); one on alternative energy options (April 24); and one based on an interview with Tom Twomey (May 22), an American lawyer who faced off against nuclear power interests in the United States, and won.

Each month the response has been heartening, with readers sharing new perspectives, interesting suggestions and valuable resources. Some of the responses undoubtedly warrant an entire followup column; others were brief questions or comments.

For a columnist, mail is the best measure of reader engagement, and in nearly two decades writing for The Japan Times, my mailbox has rarely had so much traffic: more than 35 emails, over 5,800 words in less than three months.

More important, the responses have been overwhelmingly thoughtful and articulate, and are proof that JT readers are well informed and eager for positive change.

Below are some of the emails I have received. They have all been edited for length, some considerably. Many thanks to all of you who have written in and my sincere apologies if I have cut the part(s) you felt most seminal to your concerns.

March 27 column, headlined: Spare us shoōganai as we face an ominous spring

Re: shoganai

I just tweeted about shōganai before I read your article. I think it explains so much about Japanese society and culture.

Eddie

Re: Sources of information

I read your piece in The Japan Times and just wanted to say I appreciate the tone of the article. My wife is very concerned about the harm, potential and imminent, to the ecosystem and food supplies here in Japan.

Jesse

April 24 column, headlined: After March 11, Japan must reconsider its energy options

Re: Japan's energy needs

I am a foreign professor at Tohoku University in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and stayed in my office during the earthquake.

By far the largest provider of energy in the future could be energy conservation. Maybe as much as 40 percent of current energy consumption could be saved by using better technology. My own country, Denmark, has been through this exercise.

The dominant part of Japan's energy consumption is used to either heat or cool buildings and to provide hot water. As much as 90 percent of this energy can be saved by insulating buildings and heat-transmission systems.

Energy savings could match the total output of all nuclear reactors in Japan.

Frank

Re: your article

Your article regarding Japan's energy production diversity was an excellent read.

I fully applaud promoting such diversity (especially geothermal energy). Being located near volcanic activity is an untapped asset in this case. One day (geothermal) may save the globe from another nuclear/plutonium disaster ... and/or produce clean energy until constant tidal/wave power is also more advanced.

Colin

Re: 4/24 Column

Excellent piece, I agreed with every word you wrote. I share your amazement that more people aren't out on the streets demonstrating, especially given the threat posed by the Hamaoka reactor (in Shizuoka Prefecture).

Gio

May 22 column, headlined: U.S. court victories show how to get rid of nuclear plants

Re: U.S. court victories

The government, the utilities, and complicit kisha kurabu (press clubs within all the ministries in Japan, and most official agencies) have been so successful in their obfuscation and suppression of the real circumstances surrounding Japan's nuclear energy program that little is understood by the average taxpayer/voter. Certainly we cannot rely on elected officials or bureaucrats to lead reform; therefore, a mass shift in public opinion, as unlikely as that might be for the normally sheepish Japanese, is required to bring about change.

Michael

Re: JT Interview

Thanks for your outstanding interview with Mr. Twomey.

It was highly informative, well written, and very unsettling. I guess greed will impel some very bright folk to do some very bad things. I recall reading recently an outstanding text called "Chemistry in Context," from the American Chemical Society, a text for liberal arts students at college, and readily ingesting the authors' claims of the great safety and benefits of nuclear power. I believed it all.

Stephen

Re: Thank you!

Thank you for the informative JT interview with lawyer Tom Twomey about the importance of citizen participation in making energy policy. I am a former CBS and CNN Tokyo correspondent and am involved in dissemination of news about the efforts of residents in Shizuoka Prefecture to close the Hamaoka nuclear power plant. Through protest marches and media events we have succeeded in getting Prime Minister (Naoto) Kan to call for the suspended operations at the plant pending the construction of reinforced safety measures. While we are inspired by this action, we are not certain to what extent it remains a risk with radioactive materials still being stored at the facility.

Malcolm

Re: Chairman of the board none other than Pinocchio!

Interesting observation by Robert Jay Lifton, a noted psychiatrist, who asked: How could Japan, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, allow itself to draw so heavily on the same nuclear technology for the manufacture of about 30 percent of its national energy needs?

Lifton answers his own question: "There was resistance, much of it from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. But there was also a pattern of denial, cover-up, and cozy bureaucratic collusion between the nuclear industry and the government, the last especially notorious in Japan but by no means limited to that country. However, even these pro-nuclear power forces could prevail only by managing to instill in the minds of Japanese people a dichotomy between the physics of nuclear power and that of nuclear weapons, an illusory distinction made not only in Japan but throughout the world" (NYT, April 15, 2011; "Fukushima and Hiroshima").

Robert

Re: nuclear disasters

I started breathing in Haarlem, the Netherlands, and as a permanent resident of Japan, I hope to halt breathing in this country (of-my-choice), but not before trying to make several useful contributions for the better.

Does Japan know fundamental justice? Japanese people are said to be firmly ingrained with the paternalistic assumption that the government will take good care of them. It's more the other way around. The state, the politicians and in this case the N-industry, are severely endangering people.

Dolf

Re: Advice

I totally agree we should stop the nuclear plants as soon as possible. But demonstrating, as fulfilling as it may feel, doesn't seem the most efficient way to go about it. I am surprised, for example, that there's very little talk about geothermal energy, or sea-current-born energy.

Annie

Re: Fukushima: What about war?

What nobody wants to consider is that a war is much more dangerous than a tsunami. Infrastructure as well as nuclear reactors will be bombarded. The chance is high: Europe had two wars in one century. Just stopping reactors will make no sense, because nuclear material is still present in the core and the spent-fuel pools.

Cor

Re: nuclear power politics

(Recent articles in the NYT) have well documented the interface of poverty-stricken rural communities facing demographic, economic and social disintegration, with the enormous clout of the nuclear power-state complex, which buys support with lavish subsidies.

To me the stat that packed the biggest wallop was the one that mentioned that one in two families in Fukushima have a member employed in the nuke power industry. This is only part of the pattern that places so much power in the link among big power companies, METI (the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) and the government. This challenges us to rethink the options for dying agricultural/fishing communities and to come to grips with the options local people, and local politicians, confront.

Mark

Re: Radiation, Fukushima and Japanese children

I have been very upset by the Fukushima catastrophe and the fate looming for the children of the contaminated areas. I belong to an NGO, Independentwho (www.Independentwho.com), which puts pressure on WHO (the World Health Organization) to work in the field of the health effects of radiation.

I would like you to know about a book published in Dec 2009 by the New York Academy of Sciences, "Chernobyl, consequences of the catastrophe on people and the environment." It is out of print but can be downloaded from the website: www.enfants-tchernobyl-belarus.org.

Every day counts for the children and pregnant women most affected.

Odile

Re: Gov't steps in to support Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the Fukushima nuclear power complex) compensation

I realize things really don't run by rule of law here, and there is little direct influence Japanese voters have over what "their" political representatives are doing, but is there no legal recourse on the part of the Japanese people to take control of this thing, either by civil suit to take control of Tepco or by direct referendum?

Michael



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