The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus Newsletter
Newsletter No. 1. 2013    

January 7, 2013    
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Gabrielle Hecht, Nuclear Janitors: Contract Workers at the Fukushima Reactors and Beyond

The hydrogen explosions at the three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants in March 2011 launched one of the largest disasters in industrial history. A year after the Japanese government declared that the reactors were under control, experts continued to find radioactive leaks. According to TEPCO's latest estimate, cleaning up the mess-removing fuel rods and debris, decommissioning the reactors, and decontaminating some of the surroundings-will take four decades and cost at least $125 billion." Along the way, thousands of workers will be exposed annually to levels of radiation well in excess of 20 milliSieverts, the internationally recognized maximum limit for normal working conditions.


At one level, of course, working conditions in the three devastated reactors are anything but "normal." By definition, states of emergency - nuclear or otherwise -entail a suspension of the ordinary, a breach of normal rules. In the nuclear sector, this eventuality has been codified. Recommendations developed by the International Commission for Radiological Protection (ICRP) allow for higher exposures during post-accident recovery operations.2And Chernobyl established a precedent: at least half of the roughly 700,000 "liquidators" who cleaned up after that accident were exposed to 100 milliSieverts of radiation, and many received far higher doses.


Drawing legitimacy from these precedents and the exceptional nature of the emergency, the Japanese government raised exposure limits for workers to 250 milliSieverts immediately after the accidents. Limits for the general public rose from 1 to 20 milliSieverts. Widespread outrage ensued: citizens and experts loudly denounced the fact that infants were being permitted radiation exposures equivalent to the ICRP maximum for industry workers.


What can Fukushima tell us about the relationship between normal and exceptional working conditions in the nuclear sector? This article addresses this question by discussing the relationship between the Fukushima cleanup and ordinary maintenance work in nuclear reactors.
Gabrielle Hecht is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. She wrote about the early history of French nuclear power in The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. More recently, she published Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade. Hecht is spending 2012-13 in Paris, as a visiting professor at Sciences Po and at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.  
Recommended citation: Gabrielle Hecht, "Nuclear Janitors: Contract Workers at the Fukushima Reactors and Beyond," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 2, January 14, 2012."


 Read More . . .  

 John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, China's Energy Industrial Revolution

China's energy strategies have attracted a huge amount of attention, precisely because they have been so effective. Chinese energy companies - from global oil and gas giants, to new wind and solar power success stories as well as electric grid operators, not to mention rising Electric Vehicle (EV) producers - have all had an impact on the industry, and sometimes shaken it up. In solar Photovoltaic (PV) cells there are aggressive counter-moves being made by both the US (and potentially the EU) against Chinese subsidized exports. These threaten to spill over into related sectors, and could trigger an all-out trade war.


In such a setting, it is important we argue to understand just what the aims of the Chinese strategies and associated policies might be. Of course China is offering all kinds of subsidies, both direct and indirect, to its nascent renewable energy and nuclear power industries, which are viewed in China as essential guarantors of energy security and export platforms for the future. The fact that they can deliver lower carbon emissions is a convenient side effect. We make this point not to belittle the efforts of those who take seriously the environmental threat (after all, we count ourselves as amongst them) but to emphasize the primacy of 'growth' in China's 'green growth' strategies.


The fact is that China is undergoing an astonishing energy transformation that underpins an industrial revolution that is making it the workshop of the world. It is building its 'black' energy system at a prodigious rate - building the equivalent of a 1-GW thermal power station every week 1, and burning vast amounts of coal in doing so. But at the same time it is building a 'green' energy system based on non-fossil sources (renewables and nuclear) faster than any other country on earth. China's green revolution is reflected in its targets for building renewable energy systems, which are being expanded as fast as is humanly and technically possible - in the name of energy security and nation-building infrastructure as much as for decarbonizing the economy. Which wins in this close race between black and green development is a matter of the highest importance, for China and for the world.



John Mathews, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University, Sydney NSW 2109, Australia and Eni Chair in Competitive Dynamics and Global Strategy, LUISS Guido Carli University, Viale Romania, 32 00197 Roma, Italy.


Hao Tan, Newcastle Business School, University of Newcastle, Australia. Their article "The Transformation of the Electric Power Industry in China" appears in Energy Policy, Vol. 52, January 2013.


Recommended citation: John Mathews and Hao Tan, "China's Energy Industrial Revolution (Part II)," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 3, January 14, 2012."


Read More . . .


Jon Mitchell, "Herbicide Stockpile" at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa: 1971 U.S. Army report on Agent Orange

A single sentence buried among 7000 pages of documents recently released by the Pentagon might well be the needle in the haystack that conclusively proves the U.S. military stored toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange, on Okinawa during the Vietnam War. American veterans have long claimed that large volumes of these chemicals were present on the island and hundreds of them are suffering from serious illnesses they believe were triggered by their exposure. But the U.S. government has repeatedly denied their allegations, insisting it has no records related to the issue.


Now it seems the Pentagon's denials might not have been entirely correct.


In September 1971, U.S. Army Fort Detrick, Maryland, the center for the Pentagon's bio-chemical weapons research, produced a report titled "Historical, logistical, political and technical aspects of the herbicide/defoliant program." The document summarized the military's usage of these chemicals during the Vietnam War and among the locations cited is a reference to "Herbicide stockpiles elsewhere in PACOM-US (Pacific Command) government restricted materials Thailand and Okinawa (Kadena)."



Jon Mitchell is a Welsh-born writer based in Japan and an Asia-Pacific Journal associate. In November 2012, "Defoliated Island", a TV documentary based upon his research into the U.S. military's usage of Agent Orange on Okinawa was awarded a commendation for excellence by Japan's National Association of Commercial Broadcasters. The English version can be watched here. An earlier version of this article appeared in The Japan Times on January 12, 2013.


Recommended citation: Jon Mitchell, "Herbicide Stockpile at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa: 1971 U.S. Army report on Agent Orange," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 5, January 14, 2012.


Read More . . .

Steve Rabson, Okinawa's Henoko was a "storage location" for nuclear weapons: published accounts

According to accounts published after Okinawa's reversion to Japan in 1972, nuclear weapons were stored in the northern Okinawan village of Henoko at an Army ordnance depot adjacent to the Marines' Camp Schwab. The depot was constructed in 1959, becoming the Army's 137th Ordnance Company (Special Weapons) and was turned over to the Marines as Camp Henoko (Ordnance Ammunition Depot) following reversion in 1972. The camp is located only a few hundred yards from the proposed site of the replacement base for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, which is located in the middle of densely populated Ginowan City. Newly re-instated Prime Minister Abe Shinzō has vowed to push for construction of the base, delayed more than sixteen years by local protests and despite widespread Okinawan opposition. The January 11, 2013 Japan Times reported, "The [Japanese] government may apply next month to bring in earth to fill a coastal area in [Henoko,] Okinawa where a U.S. Marine Corps air base is to be relocated, ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip to the United States, government reports said Thursday."


Henoko, long suspected by Okinawans to be a nuclear weapons site,1 is specified as a "nuclear storage location" in the "agreed minute" negotiated between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Satō Eisaku in Washington, but not released to the press, as part of the Okinawa Reversion Agreement of November, 1969.

Steve Rabson is author of The Okinawan Diaspora in Japan: Crossing the Borders Within (University of Hawaii Press, 2012), translator of Okinawa: Two Postwar Novellas (Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 1996), and co-editor with Michael Molasky of Southern Exposure: Modern Japanese Literature from Okinawa (University of Hawaii Press, 2000). He is professor emeritus of East Asian studies, Brown University, and an Asia-Pacific Journal Associate.


Recommended citation: Steve Rabson, "Okinawa's Henoko was a 'Storage Location' for Nuclear Weapons: Published Accounts," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 5, January 14, 2012."

Read More . . . 
Totsuka Etsuko, Proposals for Japan and the ROK to Resolve the "Comfort Women" Issue: Creating trust and peace in light of international law

Why did ROK President Lee, Myung-Bak, changing his position on the issue of "comfort women", forcefully demand for the first time in December 2011 in Kyoto that Japan's Prime Minister Noda Yoshihiko act to settle this issue? The reason is that the ROK government was compelled to do so by the August 30, 2011 decision of the Korean Constitutional Court.1 As of January 2013, however, there has been no tangible Japanese action on the issues. This article considers possible ways to resolve the issues that continue to poison relations between two neighbors with extensive economic, financial and cultural bonds.




Totsuka Etsuro, Former Professor of Ryukoku University, Law School, Japan.

International Human Rights Law; former General Secretary, Research Institute of International Human Rights Policies; former Main Representative of Japan Fellowship of Reconciliation, Geneva.


Recommended citation Totsuka Etsuro, "Proposals for Japan and the ROK to Resolve the 'Comfort Women' Issue: Creating Trust and Peace in Light of International Law," The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 6, January 14, 2012."



Read more . . .