The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 21. 2011  
May 23, 2011  
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In This Issue


Four featured articles examine multiple dimensions of Japan's 3.11 earthquake/tsunami experience. Hirose Takashi locates Fukushima in light of the
potential of other nuclear catastrophes. Matthew Penney and Mark Selden examine the Fukushima-Chernobyl comparison in light of the ongoing debates about death and risk. Peter Karamaskos offers a new interpretation of the Fukushima and Chernobyl death tolls. Peter Bosshard assesses the impact on China's ambitious nuclear power plans of the Fukushima meltdown. And Gavan McCormack, in a major piece on the US-Japan-Okinawa relationship, examines four decades of duplicity from the Mitsuyaku (secret diplomacy) now revealed in Wikileaks to the Hatoyama and Maher affairs and new base proposals now emanating from Washington.

The Asia-Pacific Journal has a new home page. Please have a look and let us know if you encounter technical problems as we work these out. Have you noticed that the Journal has published fifty articles on the Fukushima catastrophe since 3.11. If you appreciate this work, we would be pleased to have your financial support as subscriber or donor to help us meet the heavy expenses this has entailed.

Many of our most import articles on 3.11  appear in What's hot and they bring a diversity of sources and reports from Ground Zero in Tohoku and Tokyo. "What's hot" present breaking stories and provides information beyond the headlines, to cast them in broader perspective. What's hot is regularly updated, at times on a daily basis, and we invite you to consult it and contribute to it.

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Hirose Takashi and C. Douglas Lummis, The Nuclear Disaster That Could Destroy Japan - On the danger of a killer earthquake in the Japanese Archipelago


Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years, which means that in that time its toxicity will be reduced by half.  What could possess a person, who will live maybe one three-hundredth of that time, to produce such a thing and leave it to posterity to deal with?  In fact, "possess" might be the right word.  Behind all the nuclear power industry's language of cost efficiency or liberation from fossil fuel or whatever, one can sense a kind of possession - a bureaucratized madness.  Political science has produced but one candidate for a scientific law - Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. But the political scientists haven't noticed that the closest thing we have to absolute power is nuclear power.  Nuclear power corrupts in a peculiar way.  It seems to tempt the engineers into imagining they have been raised to a higher level, a level where common sense judgments are beneath them.

The nuclear power plants in Japan are ageing rapidly; like cyborgs, they are barely kept in operation by a continuous replacement of parts.  And now that Japan has entered a period of earthquake activity and a major accident could happen at any time, the people live in constant state of anxiety.

Seismologists and geologists agree that, after some fifty years of seismic inactivity, with the 1995 Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (Southern Hyogo Prefecture Earthquake), the country has entered a period of seismic activity.  In 2004, the Chuetsu Earthquake hit Niigata Prefecture, doing damage to the village of Yamakoshi.  Three years later, in 2007, the Chuetsu Offshore Earthquake severely damaged the nuclear reactors at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa.  In 2008, there was an earthquake in Iwate and Miyagi Prefectures, causing a whole mountain to disappear completely.  Then in 2009 the Hamaoka nuclear plant was put in a state of emergency by the Suruga Bay Earthquake.  And now, in 2011, we have the 3/11 earthquake offshore from the northeast coast.  But the period of seismic activity is expected to continue for decades. From the perspective of seismology, a space of 10 or 15 years is but a moment in time.

Hirose Takashi is among Japan's most widely published authors on nuclear issue, most recently, Nuclear Meltdown (2011). C. Douglas Lummis is the author of Radical Democracy anda Japan Focus associate.

Recommended citation: Hirose Takashi and C. Douglas Lummis, The Nuclear Disaster That Could Destroy Japan - On the danger of a killer earthquake in the Japanese Archipelago, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 21 No 2, May 23, 2011.

 Read more . . .  
Matthew Penney and Mark Selden, What Price the Fukushima Meltdown? Comparing Chernobyl and Fukushima

On April 12, 2011 the Japanese government officially announced that the severity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster had reached level 7, the highest on the International Nuclear Event Scale. Before Fukushima, the only level 7 case was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, whose 25th anniversary was marked on April 26. Two and a half months after the 3.11 catastrophe, the first to affect multiple reactors, TEPCO and the Japanese government continue to struggle to bring the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi under control. TEPCO estimates that the problems could be solved in six to nine months now appearing extraordinarily optimistic and plans have been announced to close nuclear power plants deemed of particularly high risk such as the Hamaoka facility. This article assesses the Fukushima-Chernobyl comparison.

Matthew Penney is an Assistant Professor at Concordia University in Montreal and a Japan Focus associate. He is currently conducting research on popular representations of war in Japan.

Mark Selden is a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Journal and Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Program at Cornell University. His recent books include Chinese Society: Change, Conflict and Resistance; China, East Asia and the Global Economy: Regional and historical perspectives, The Resurgence of East Asia: 500, 150 and 50 Year Perspectives, and War and State Terrorism: The United States, Japan, and the Asia-Pacific in the Long Twentieth Century.

Recommended citation: Matthew Penney and Mark Selden, What Price the Fukushima Meltdown? Comparing Chernobyl and Fukushima, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 21 No 3, May 23, 2011.

 Read more . . . 

Peter Karamoskos, Fukushima Burning: Anatomy of a Nuclear Disaster

Nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos poses and answers key questions for understanding what has taken place at Fukushima and what the likely public health effects will be.

  Read more . . .


Peter Bosshard,Will Fukushima Make China Reconsider Its Hydropower Boom?

While the Three Gorges Dam was under construction, it was celebrated by China's leaders as a symbol of economic and technological progress. With a capacity of 18,200 megawatts, it is the world's biggest hydropower plant and generates about 2 percent of the country's electricity. Yet since the dam project was completed in 2008, its massive social, environmental and geological impacts have become ever more apparent. At the same time, recurrent droughts have placed a question mark over the project's expected benefits.

On May 18, China's State Council acknowledged the serious problems of the Three Gorges Dam in an unexpected statement. "The project is now greatly benefiting the society in the aspects of flood prevention, power generation, river transportation and water resource utilization," the council maintained, but it has also "caused some urgent problems in terms of environmental protection, the prevention of geological hazards and the welfare of the relocated communities." On the same day, the government announced specific measures to improve the living conditions of the people displaced by the dam, protect the Yangtze's ecosystem and prevent geological disasters. How are China's leaders responding to the Fukushima disaster in planning China's ambitious power agenda?

Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International Rivers, an environmental organization with staff in four continents. He has a PhD from Zurich University, and has worked to strengthen international environmental standards for more than 20 years. Before joining International Rivers, Bosshard was the coordinator of the Berne Declaration, a Swiss development organization.

Recommended citation: Peter Bosshard, Will Fukushima Make China Reconsider Its Hydropower Boom?, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 21 No 4, May 23, 2011.

 Read more . . .

Gavan McCormack, Deception and Diplomacy: The US, Japan, and Okinawa

The Asahi Shimbun and The Ryukyu Shimpo have both introduced a small selection of Wikipedia documents on Japan, Okinawa, and the US-Japan-Okinawa relationship. But this is the first text in any language to make extensive use of the treasure trove of documents whose release has begun, setting them in the frame of four decades of chicanery. Apart from the diplomatic cables that have been published by Wikileaks, this paper also discusses the so-called "mitsuyaku" or secret diplomacy between the two countries that has gradually come to light in the past two years without any help from Wiki, the "confession" of former Prime
Minister Hatoyama, the strange case of the "Maher Affair," and the shock
waves of recent shifts in thinking about the Okinawa problem in Washington.

Gavan McCormack is a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Journal, author of many studies previously posted at this site on aspects of US-Japan relations and Okinawa, and emeritus professor at Australian National University in Canberra. He is the author, most recently, of Client State: Japan in the American Embrace (New York, 2007, Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing 2008) and Target North Korea: Pushing North Korea to the Brink of Nuclear Catastrophe (New York, 2004, Tokyo and Seoul 2006).

Recommended citation: Gavan McCormack, Deception and Diplomacy: The US, Japan, and Okinawa, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 9, Issue 21 No 1, May 23, 2011.

 Read more . . .