How Long Will Japan’s Nuclear Recess Be? Enter Kazakhstan
Environmental victories are so scarce these days that you can’t blame eco-activists for trumpeting any good news—even when the news turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors.
Take the latest sequel to Japan’s March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which was deemed the “most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl” by NewScientist. To this day the city of Fukushima is surrounded by a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) deadzone.
On May 4, in an action hailed by anti-nuclear activists around the world, Japan announced that it was putting its last remaining operational nuclear power plant, located in the northern city of Tomari, on “recess.” The next day, five thousand demonstrators in Tokyo celebrated what one participant called a “historic” victory, in a country where some 30 percent of electrical power had been provided by nuclear reactors.
While pressure from activists undoubtedly influenced the government’s decision, a closer look at Japan’s nuclear power industry raises serious questions about the extent of the victory.
Japan Announces Big Nuclear Deal with Kazakhstan
Unmentioned by all but two news outlets was the fact that a day before the announcement, the Japanese government signed a deal with Kazakhstan’s state-owned nuclear giant, KazAtomProm, to begin supplying Japan with more nuclear fuel starting in 2013.
“Japan will take part in the implementation of 40 projects in Kazakhstan,” explained the Kazakh state-run news outlet, CaspioNet. “This applies to cooperation in the nuclear industry, mining and metallurgical complex, high technology, as well as mechanical engineering and gas-chemical industry.”
As for “projects” in Japan itself, the picture is a little murky, perhaps intentionally so. “The Japanese government never actually said it was going to turn off the lights on the nuclear industry at any point in time,” the Netherlands-based Nuclear Campaigner for Greenpeace International, Aslihan Tumer told WhoWhatWhy in an interview.
“What the Japanese government has been saying is that they’re going to restart it, eventually, once the safety checks are done, once they take local concerns into consideration,” said Turner. “So, they are not saying it is off the table right now.”
Japan’s newly strengthened ties to Kazakhstan come on top of the major foothold Japanese multinational energy corporations already have in that Central Asian country, which is four times the size of Texas.
Japan’s Nuclear Alliance with KazAtomProm
Known for its massive reserves of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas resources, Kazakhstan also possesses roughly 15 percent of the world’s known uranium supply, accounting for roughly one-third of current global production, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA).
With no uranium resources of its own Japan, the world’s third biggest economy, has relied on the global market to fuel its nuclear reactors, trading mainly with Australia, Canada and, increasingly, Kazakhstan, according to WNA. In 2010, three Japan-based nuclear fuel corporations, Kansai Electric Power Company, Sumitomo and Nuclear Fuel Industries Ltd, signed a deal with KazAtomProm to supply its plants with uranium.
A complex web of agreements across national borders links many of the biggest players in the nuclear industry. For example, in October 2006, the Japanese multinational corporation Toshiba purchased a 77-percent share of the U.S. nuclear company Westinghouse Electric for $5.4 billion. Two other companies were involved in the deal: Japan’s IHI Corporation, and U.S. multinational Shaw Group. Later, in July 2007, KazAtomProm paid $486.3 million for 10 percent of Toshiba’s stake in the jointly owned corporation, meaning it now owns 7.7 percent of the corporation formerly known as Westinghouse.
As a result of such deals Kazakhstan has a direct tie to the Fukushima meltdown. Investigative reporter Greg Palast explained in a March 2011 story: “One of the reactors dancing with death at Fukushima Station 1 was built by Toshiba. Toshiba was also an architect of the emergency diesel system.”
Eerily enough, Kazakhstan is still recovering from a nuclear tragedy of its own. The city of Semey, near the country’s northeastern border with Siberia, was formerly known as Semipalatinsk. From 1949 to 1989, a secret complex 93 miles west of the city was the site of the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons tests.
History Repeating Itself?
“After a wave of popular protests, the Semipalatinsk site was closed in 1991. It had carried out 456 secret nuclear tests,” explained EuroNews. “However, the closure could not reverse the environmental damage to the region, which has more than a million inhabitants, most of which are villagers.”
“Local oncology centers are screening tens of thousands of patients, trying to detect and treat tumors at early stages…Infant mortality here is five times higher than the average or developed countries. Embryonic defects are widespread, and cancer strikes teenagers as well as adults,” the report continues.
The nuclear tragedies at Chernobyl, Semipalatinsk and Fukushima have not proved a deterrent to the global nuclear industry’s ambitions. “Japan hasn’t used the Fukushima disaster as an opportunity to push for renewable energy or energy efficiency,” said Tumer. “Instead, it has used the time since the disaster to push for the restart of nuclear reactors.”
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By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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