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【#541(Special)】Problems with Public Hearing on Tritium-contaminated Water Disposal

Yumiko Nishimoto / 2018.09.06 (Thu)

September 4, 2018

     On August 30-31, public hearings on the disposal of water containing radioactive tritium stored at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Co. took place in Fukushima Prefecture’s Tomioka Town and Koriyama City and in Tokyo. Newspapers and television broadcasters reported that many speakers at these hearings raised objection to a plan to release such water into the sea. It was the fact that many of speakers opposed the plan. However, few media reports covered problems behind the fact. Here, I would like to point out three problems with the public hearings.

Biased selection of speakers and METI’s weakness
     The first problem was the biased selection of speakers giving opinions at the hearings.
     Even at the hearings designed to collect diverse comments from citizens, the list of speakers lacked diversity. At the Tomioka hearing, the speakers on the stage included a former member of the Fukushima Prefecture assembly affiliated with the Japanese Communist Party who had argued against nuclear power plants at the prefecture assembly for many years, an Iwaki City assembly member who got expelled from a senior high school due to his participation in student movements and now acts with anti-nuclear plant activists, and local leaders of anti-nuclear plant groups affiliated with either the Communist Party or the Social Democratic Party.
     At the hearing in the town where the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is located, most of the 14 speakers had such political ideologies.
     The Tomioka hearing was still better than the other two as the 14 speakers included the chairman of the Fukushima Prefecture federation of fisheries cooperative associations, a judicial scrivener from Tomioka and others who gave opinions in a bid to resolve problems while being aware of local realities. Such speakers were not seen at the Koriyama and Tokyo hearings.
     The second problem was the weakness of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that organized the hearings.
     The hearings were dominated with jeers and shouts. Audience people applauded and inflamed speakers shouting indecent words. Not a small portion of more than 100 audience people were affiliated with groups represented by speakers.
     Preparations for the hearings were too poor. The objective of the hearings was not clear. The selection of speakers and audience people was open to question. Secretariat bureaucrats were yelled at and consulting with each other in whispers. The secretariat lost control of the hearings.
     As a local resident who has faced the problem for 7 and a half years since the Fukushima nuclear accident, I have no choice but to conclude that the disaster resulted from the failure of the secretariat, i.e. METI to assume in advance what it could have assumed when arranging the hearings.

Mass media’s easy reporting
     The third problem is mass media’s easy reporting about the hearings. Media reports about the hearings remained superficial.
     We suffer not from the nuclear power plant accident itself but from harmful rumors that mass media have continued to create. Mass media should have reported the message from the chairman of the prefectural federation of fisheries cooperative associations who was among the speakers at the Tomioka hearing.
     Fukushima fishermen oppose the release into the sea of water containing tritium not because they believe that such water is dangerous but because they are concerned that dwindling rumors about Fukushima waters might surge again. The message from the representative of Fukushima fishermen was that mass media should avoid any situation in which media reports indicating Fukushima waters as dangerous due to the release would prompt consumers in Japan and abroad to refrain from buying seafood products from Fukushima, forcing Fukushima fishermen out of business.
     The message amounted to a request for mass media to fulfill their responsibility of controlling a reputational damage by making correct reports.

Yumiko Nishimoto is Representative Director of Happy Road Net, a non-profit organization.