The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 14. 2011  
April 4, 2011  
New Articles Posted
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In This Issue


This is the Third issue centered around the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, with many articles in the present issue illuminating the quake, its aftermath and its implications for Japan's future. 

The articles below examine the post-3.11 events from numerous perspectives including: an economist's plan to rebuild an environmental sound Japan from the ruins of Fukushima; a scientific analysis of the causes of high Cl-38 radioactivity in Fukushima Daiichi reactor #1, and the plight of communities whose lives have been destroyed by the quake and tsunami; a proposal for dealing with radioactive water leaking from the damaged reactors; and an assessment of the "Fukushima Fifty", workers who risked their lives to overcome problems in the dangerous reactors. Finally, Karel van Wolferen offers a sweeping analysis of the changing face of the US-Japan relationship.

Many of the  articles mentioned above  appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" zeroes in on breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, often on a daily basis and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it.

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Kaneko Masaru,The Plan to Rebuild Japan: When You Can't Go Back, You Move Forward. Outline of an Environmental Sound Energy Policy


Japan seems on the verge of a second defeat. The March 11 magnitude 9.0 East Japan earthquake shoved the entire country 2 metres and brought even more mayhem in a tsunami that wrecked whole communities and snatched away the lives of thousands. Now we see 100,000 troops from the Self-Defense forces dispatched to rescue operations amidst the pall rising from massively damaged nuclear reactors. Radioactivity is drifting out to sea and over the surrounding prefectures, poisoning farm produce and forcing restrictions on their shipment and sale. The crisis has extended even to drinking water in the capital of Tokyo. The scale of disasters evokes embedded memories of the cusp of postwar reconstruction, the moment when rebuilding economy and society was about to harness prodigious resources and time.

So it is urgent, right now, to confront the question of how Japan should be rebuilt, and in whose interests. TEPCO, METI, the nuclear regulators, and their allies strewn through academe insist even now, in the face of the facts, that "nuclear power is safe." They seek to sidestep responsibility for this incident by declaring it "unforeseeable." But was it actually "unforeseeable"?

The author presents a vision for a new environmentally sound, non-nuclear powered future for Japan.

Kaneko Masaru is Professor, Keio University, Department of Economics and a leading public intellectual and prolific author whose work has focused on political economy and public finance.

Recommended citation: Kaneko Masaru, The Plan to Rebuild Japan: When You Can't Go Back, You Move Forward. Outline of an Environmental Sound Energy Policy, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 2, April 4, 2011.

 Read more . . .  
Arjun Makhijani and F. Dalnoki-Veress,  What Caused the High Cl-38 Radioactivity in the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #1? [Japanese translation available]

The presence of highly radioactive water in three turbine buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is widely understood to be from the damaged fuel rods in the reactors.  This has rightly raised concerns because it indicates several problems including extensive fuel damage and leaks in the piping system.  Less attention has been paid to the presence of a very short-lived radionuclide, chlorine-38, in the water in the turbine building of Unit 1.  The following paper evaluates whether its presence provides evidence of a serious problem - one or more unintended chain reactions (technically: unintended criticalities) - in the reactor.  Such chain reactions create bursts of fission products and energy, both of which could cause further damage and aggravate working conditions that are already very difficult.



Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research ( He holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley and has produced many studies and articles on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years. He is the author of Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy.  

Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress is a Research Scientist at the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He is a specialist on nuclear disarmament and on aspects of global proliferation of fissile materials. He holds a PhD in high energy physics from Carleton University, Canada, specializing in ultra-low radioactivity background detectors.  

Recommended citation: Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress and Arjun Makhijani, What Caused the High Cl-38 Radioactivity in the Fukushima Daiichi Reactor #1?, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 3, April 4, 2011.

 Read more . . . 
David McNeill, Communities Struggle to Rebuild Shattered Lives on Japan's Coast

Kanno Mitsuhide (36) is standing on a pile of muddy firewood where his home used to be. He has come to salvage what he can and found a single object: a hibachi, a traditional Japanese charcoal heater. "We could only locate the house because of this," he says, pointing at an old green water pump still clinging stubbornly to solid ground. The small family car is 200 meters away, upside down, across the ruined landscape of Rikuzen-Takata.

A few days ago, Mr. Kanno gave up the search for his father, Ken (68), who was washed out to sea. "We think he was in his car, trying to reach relatives when the tsunami came," he explains. "Everybody ran up there," he says, nodding up toward a temple. His mother has gone to the local makeshift morgue to identify the bloated, partly decomposed body of her husband. A few days ago the police showed her the wrong corpse. "She was terribly upset."

Rikuzen-Takata until recently was a picturesque fishing town boasting a 900-year-old festival of floats and a coastline bathed in the azure blue Pacific waters. Today it exists only in name. The quake and muddy deluge has torn the town from its roots, leaving a gaping wound of smashed cars, pulverised wooden houses and twisted metal girders.
 David McNeill writes for The Independent, The Irish Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. He is an Asia-Pacific Journal coordinator.

Recommended citation: David McNeill, Communities Struggle to Rebuild Shattered Lives on Japan's Coast, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 4, April 4, 2011.
  Read more . . . 

Arjun Makhijani,  Light and Water in Fukushima

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have been trying to reestablish electricity connections to pumps so as to restart the cooling system for the reactors at the plant. According to news reports, two of the major obstacles have been
a high radiation environment (on the order of 1,000 millisieverts per hour) due to contaminated water on the floor of the turbine buildings, and
a lack of light in the turbine buildings, which has forced the electricians to work in the dark.
The combination of these two factors has made it exceedingly difficult to accomplish the objective and has so far frustrated it. The author recommends an approach to resolving the problems.  


Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research ( He holds a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley and has produced many studies and articles on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past twenty years.  

  Read more . . . 
 Matthew Penney,  Heroes or Victims? - The "Fukushima Fifty"

The Fukushima plant workers have been widely lionized but who they are, why they work under such desperate conditions, and how they are being treated is less discussed. On the 29th, however, the Tokyo Shimbun published an article that sheds light on some unpleasant realities behind the heroic "Fukushima Fifty" (workers at the plant really number in the hundreds) story.
Under the title "We'll give you $5000 a day", the article describes how the company is having difficulty finding and keeping volunteers at stricken reactor site. TEPCO is seeking workers from subcontractors and related companies. Workers who have evacuated from Fukushima prefecture are being offered large sums of money to return to labor at the plant. A worker who declined the offer, Fukuda Ryuta, is quoted as saying that he knows of men past their fifties who have been enticed to return by large cash offers. Others testify that they fear losing their jobs if they do not undertake potentially dangerous work at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO and related dispatch companies are reported to be deliberately searching for workers over 50 to take on dangerous jobs.

Matthew Penney is an Assistant Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal. He is a Japan Focus associate who researches contemporary Japanese cultural history.

 Read more . . . 

Asia-Pacific Journal Editors, SOS from Minami Soma City

The mayor of Minami Soma, one of the cities closest to the Fukushima Daiichi plant, has posted vidoes appealing to the Japanese government and international community for supplies and evacuation assistance. This video, recorded on March 24, describes the plight of locals and criticizes the Japanese government's confusing "voluntary evacuation" order. (Japanese and English)


 Read more . . . 
Matthew Penney,  Bodies in Fukushima

Amid myriad scenes of tragedy, scenes of horror are also being reported from around the Fukushima Daiichi site. Because of elevated radiation, workers have been unable to collect and bury bodies. There are reports of corpses, at least one of which was found to be heavily contaminated with radiation on March 27, simply left where they lie. This news must be horrifying for families and could be the harbinger of a different public health crisis given the thousands missing in the region.
Kyodo has placed the number of unrecovered bodies within the evacuation region as high as 1000 and describes the painful dilemma both the authorities and families face

   Read more . . . 

Karel van Wolferen,  Japan, Europe and The Dangerous Fantasy of American Leadership

The peculiar and unique U.S.-Japan relationship has entered a new phase, in which its future is shrouded in mist. While few Americans can be bothered ever to think about it, in the back of many Japanese minds it is something as generally accepted as a fact of nature, but at the same time a permanent complication that is recently showing sharp and irritating edges. Quite a few have begun to think that they should shake themselves out of the habit of taking it so much for granted. The author reviews the history of the alliances and explores this new relationship through analysis of the nature of the American empire and the Japanese state-society relationship.

This is a revised and expanded version of an article that appeared in Bungei Shunju in the March and April issues of 2011.
Karel van Wolferen is a Dutch journalist, writer and Emeritus University Professor of Comparative Political and Economic Institutions at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of The Enigma of Japanese Power .

Recommended citation: Karel van Wolferen, "Japan, Europe and the Dangerous Fantasy of American Leadership," The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 14 No 1, April 4, 2011.

 Read more . . .