Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Shutdown Crisis the World is Ignoring

Hofstra Sustainability Studies major Taiyo Francis with noted
sustainability expert Van Jones on the Hofstra campus.

The below is a guest post from Hofstra Sustainability Studies Major, Taiyo du B. Francis.  Taiyo has lived in Japan and he has a unique perspective on the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crisis.  His sister was in Japan when the disaster struck and he has many friends in the region.  

In New York and across the United States, people were quietly sleeping last night; dreaming  about a solution to the current government shutdown.    On the other side of the world a powerful typhoon struck the Pacific Coast of Japan.  I have been keeping up with the live updates all morning:  refreshing pages, scrolling through tweets, and reading articles.  With every click it seems another person has gone missing, or another house has disappeared.  At this point 17 are dead, 50 or more are missing, more than 300 houses are damaged or displaced, and over 200,000 additional residents have been asked to evacuate. 
The storm has hit the island of Izu Oshima the hardest.  Izu Oshima is about 75 miles south of Tokyo and home to a population of about 8200.  High winds, falling trees, and 30 inches of rain have led to mudslides and floods.  News outlets have been reporting people wading through knee deep mud in order to find others and belongings.  Although this typhoon is not on the scale of the tsunami that hit the Northern Pacific Coast of Japan in 2011, it is enough to give Japan an eerie experience of déjà vu.
With the typhoon moving up the coastline of Japan, Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant is preparing for excessive rain by releasing large amounts of water already collected in the facility.  This water surrounds storage tanks filled with radioactive water. The move comes after water overflowed from the facility last month, during another typhoon, in which the water had not been tested for radioactivity. “The operator of Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear power plant sounded the alarm on the gravity of the deepening crisis of containment at the coastal site on Friday, saying that there are more than 200,000 tons of radioactive water in makeshift tanks vulnerable to leaks, with no reliable way to check on them or anywhere to transfer the water.” (New York Times)
Moving forward, Japan will have to decide whether nuclear energy is in the best interest of the country. Current Prime Minister Shnzo Abe’s policies indicate he wants to restart all of Japan’s nuclear power plants; which are currently shutdown.  From there, Mr. Abe would like to extend Japan’s nuclear program to export to other countries; including the Middle East, where he plans to travel in the coming weeks.  On the other side of the debate is former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.  Koizumi who once supported the nuclear program has called its continuation “aimless” and “irresponsible.” (New York Times)  Shinzo Abe has vowed that the Japanese government would take a more decisive role in the cleanup of Fukushima.  However, a poll showed that 76 percent thought that the situation in Fukushima was not under control.  Koizumi was once an advocate for “cheap and clean” nuclear energy, but has now stated that it is expensive and not in the best interest of Japan’s economic growth.
“Mr. Koizumi, whose change of views is startling, shows that there is quite a split on the issue in the political class. As a pro-growth prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he was an enthusiastic proponent of cheap and clean nuclear power. Now he declares that it is the most expensive form of energy, citing not only the many billions of dollars needed to clean up Fukushima but also the unknown cost and method of dealing with nuclear waste.” (New York Times)
                  In a country that has struggled with deflation over the past two decades, it will be interesting to see where the government decides to go.  The Pacific coastline of Japan is covered with nuclear plants that could be exposed to torrential downpours and harsh storms.  That seems like too much of a risk to continue their nuclear program.  Japan realized the effects of a nuclear leak after the 2011 tsunami, which led to vast amounts of contamination of water, agriculture and meat.  Over 80,000 people are still unable to return to their homes around Fukushima two and a half years later.  Since 2011, almost every article, tweet, and letter has been negative towards the continuation of nuclear power.  Mr. Koizumi has remained firm that nuclear energy is not essential to the economic growth of Japan.  He has been very critical of the current government’s ignorance to renewable energy infrastructure and development.
“Prime Minister Abe has been stressing the need to shed the deflation mentality for Japan to lift itself out of economic stagnation. Japan can certainly do with a change in attitude. Mr. Koizumi makes a compelling argument that if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were to announce a zero nuclear policy, “the nation could come together in the creation of a recyclable society unseen in the world, and the public mood would rise in an instant.” (New York Times)
Will the powerful voice of Junichiro Koizumi reach the ears of his protégé Shinzo Abe? 
While our country continues to argue about simply running the government, other countries are arguing about sustainability.  Sometimes I feel embarrassed for policy makers in Washington.
-Taiyo Francis
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