Rethinking Nuclear Energy and Democracy after 09/11

26-27 April, 2002

Basel, Switzerland
Mitsuhei Murata
Professor at
Tokai Gakuen University

It is for me a great honour and pleasure to chair this session that concerns the decision making process of nuclear policy.

Let me start by explaining to you the position I take on nuclear policy.

In January 1997, when I was ambassador in Switzerland, I sent out a personal message to Japanese leaders, pleading for organising a simulation of a nuclear accident, as was done in Switzerland a few months earlier. In doing so, I broke a sort of taboo, because in Japan, there is a peculiar atmosphere that makes you think that referring to nuclear dangers that insinuates an anti-nuclear attitude is to be avoided in order not to invite serious troubles and disadvantages. Two months later, a reprocessing plant in Tokaimura exploded. And again a year and a half later, at the JCO uranium processing plant in the same village, a single milligram of uranium 235 reached critical mass due to improper handling, and a serious accident took place, as you all know.

Since my retirement two and a half years ago, I have been arguing in Japan and abroad for the denuclearisation of the globe, based on a total ban on the use - be it military or civil – of nuclear energy.

When I presented the same argument at the Silver Jubilee Conference of the Tata Energy Research Institute in India two years ago, former US Secretary of Defence Mr. Robert McNamara, who was present at the Conference ardently appealed for an earliest possible total ban on nuclear armament, stressing the high risk of human errors leading to catastrophic accidents. September 11 terrorist attacks, the accident caused by a US nuclear submarine sinking a Japanese training ship in the Pacific Ocean and the collision between a Chinese and an American warplane over the Taiwan Straits, all seem to justify these arguments. Nowonder the Congress of the State of New York unanimously dicided to start examining the possibility of closing down the Indianpoint nuclear plant on march 19 this year.

As for the actual nuclear policy of Japan, I must say that Japan has not learned lessons from many serious accidents and pursue the same policy of promoting nuclear energy. I think it is a great irony that Japan, the only victim of atomic bombs, is doing this. With 53 nuclear plants, Japan has become most vulnerable from the viewpoint of national security.

I published a book a year ago. The title is “A Plea for a New Civilization – Dedicated to future generations”. In this book, I pointed out that Japan, the victim of the military use of nuclear energy, is treading the path toward becoming the victim of the civil use of nuclear energy. I first used the term “the sickness of Japan” in this book to explain this peculiar phenomenon.

I pleaded for a new civilization, based on ethics and solidarity that respects the environment and the interests of future generations. Such a new civilization calls for a conversion from material to the more spiritual priorities, and brings about a less – energy – consuming society.

I am publishing my second book from the ASAHI Newspaper in a month or so. The title of the book is “Nuclear Energy and the Sickness of Japan”. I point out that this sickness is the outcome of a lack of three senses. That is, the sense of responsibility, the sense of justice and the sense of ethics.

The world is also suffering from this sickness, if to a lesser degree. I attribute all this to a lack of sensibility which is the source of compassion and imagination.

I further ague that nuclear energy and the sickness of Japan could destroy the world, and I cite, in particular, two cases. The first concerns 4 nuclear plants in Hamaoka, built at the very center of an area where an magnitude 8 class earthquake is predicted by an official organ. The second concerns the reprocessing plant in Rokkashomura , Aomori prefecture, where radioactive waste materials equivalent to one million Hiroshima atomic bombs are to be accumulated.

When it should come to the worst, the damages could by far surpass those suffered in the last war. Nevertheless , the awareness of this horrible danger is totally lacking in the Japanese society, due to a self-restraint tacitly imposed on reporting the subject. This reminds us of the athmospere that existed in Japan prior to the last War. In this book, I call for the immediate closing down of Hamaoka nuclear reactors. I am now preparing a statement on this subject to be issued shortly in order to awaken the public opinion with the participation of some famous, influential personalities.

The nuclear policy of Japan, contributed for some time to coping which the shortage of energy resources. But after witnessing the fatal pitfalls of giant technology, more and more people recognize the necessity to change it. Japan, however, still faces unimaginable dangers emanating from the difficulty for her nuclear policy to change course.

In recent years, I sent out on numerous occasions, personal messages to leaders, in order to warn them against nuclear dangers. In view of the disappointing results, I have come to the conclusion that changing course in nuclear policy requires the involvement of civil society. Fortunately, I have recently been offered support from several civil groups. They encouraged me to issue the above mentioned statement on Hamaoka nuclear plants.

In my mind, the best approach, under present circumstances, is to have civil groups influence local autonomies so that these may in turn move the national parliament. The government cannot but be influenced by these moves. The statement to be issued shortly aims to mobilize the public opinion so that the local autonomies may start the right initiative in the right direction.

I firmly believe that civil society plays a vital role in the decision making process of nuclear policy. This reflects the dawning shift of importance as regards determining factors of human society; from intelligence to sensibility, from power to philosophy, from technology to intuition, and from experts to citizens. A sensible citizen endowed with good intuition and a sense of philosophy could defy experts and declare that it is totally impossible to assure for a long time the safety of a reprocessing plant with pipes of 1500 km and welded joints surpassing 400’000.

Before closing, I would like to mention thee important tasks international community is called upon to tackle.

The first concerns the dissemination of a basic fact about nuclear energy, namely, with the internalization of the price that takes into account all the costs needed to assure safety, the civil use of it cannot be commercially viable. There is no reason for taking a serious risk by depending upon it. To export nuclear plants should be out of the question.

The second concerns the necessity to strengthen the control over the safety of existing nuclear plants. Sovereignty can no longer serve as a pretext to reject necessary intervention, for a fatal accident in one country could destroy the world.

The third concerns the dialogue among civilizations. The problem of nuclear policy must be tackled with a view to changing our life style so that it consumes less energy. This can be best dealt within the framework of the dialogue among civilizations. Because of the grave consequences nuclear accidents could bring about, countries that do not possess nuclear installations should be involved and consulted concerning the measures taken by the concerned countries. This is also a timely subject for the dialogue.

I believe the problem of nuclear energy boils down to the question of ethics and responsibility. Is it ethical to export nuclear installations to other countries, fully aware that they are dangerous and not commercially viable? Is it ethical for decision makers to side with importing such installations, fully aware of the dangers and the costs?

Isn’t it a lack of the sense of responsibility to allow the continued functioning of more than 430 nuclear reactors in 36 countries, without knowing how to dispose of waste materials, nor how to suppress an eventual accident that requires the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of people?

I cannot but conclude that to do nothing in order to eliminate the obvious seeds of catastrophies reflects a sheer lack of the sense of justice.

I do hope that this symposium organized by consciencious medical doctors will help to heal the sickness the world is suffering from, restoring the three senses of ethics, responsibility and justice.

We are faced with two choices. The first is to start the denuclearization of the globe and the second is to be eventually forced into it by a catastrophic disaster.