HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the latest lecture in Einaudi Center Distinguished Speaker Series. The Distinguished Speaker Series is the Center's really, the signature core program. Over the years, we have welcomed many world leaders and influential thinkers to that Cornell campus.
Today, as you all know, we have a very special guest. As the 94th Prime Minister of Japan, the Honorable Naoto Kan led Japan's response to an unprecedented crisis following the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant disaster in 2011. On March 11, 2011 at 2:46 PM, a strong earthquake of magnitude 9.0 rocked eastern Japan. I was in Tokyo at that time. And I was really literally shaken by that experience. Within an hour, a massive tsunami hit Japan's northeastern coast. Over 15,000 people were killed. And over 2,500 people are still missing today.
The tsunami damaged the cooling system of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, one of the largest nuclear power plants Japan has, which led to a series of explosions and meltdowns at three of the four reactors at the plant. A massive amount of radioactive substance was released into the air. And more than 150,000 people, local residents, were eventually evacuated.
Mr. Kan provides an intimate account of his heroic effort to respond to the disaster in his book My Nuclear Nightmare which was published recently by Cornell University Press. The book offers invaluable insights into how the Japanese government handled this unprecedented crisis and the confusion and the uncertainty that followed.
This is not just of historical interest. Six years later, today, the disaster has still not been fully contained. And the full extent of the damage it inflicted on Fukushima and the rest of eastern Japan is not yet known. The ongoing disaster has forced us to reassess the way we think about the social and economic costs of nuclear energy.
Naoto Kan has demonstrated a strong commitment to civic participation and government accountability. After studying applied physics at Tokyo Institute of Technology, one of the country's top science and technology universities, he became a patent attorney, which is an unusual career path for someone with that training, and began to participate in civic activism. He apprenticed himself to Fusae Ichikawa, a renowned veteran, women's rights activist and long-term member of the Upper House of Japan's Diet, or parliament.
In 1980, after several unsuccessful runs, Mr. Kan, himself, won a seat in the Diet's Lower House as a member of a small progressive party, the Social Democratic Federation. In 1996. He became the Minister of Health in a coalition government headed by Ryutaro Hashimoto. He became a national hero during a scandal involving HIV contaminated blood products by exposing and candidly acknowledging the Japanese government's responsibility for allowing these products to circulate, and, in fact, more than 1,000 hemophilia patients with HIV during the 1980s. I still remember this dramatic event in which Mr. Kan personally apologized to the victims.
Later that year, he co-founded the Democratic Party of Japan, which put an end to the long reign of the Liberal Democratic Party in 2009. Mr. Kan became the 94th Prime Minister of Japan in September 2010.
Today's lecture, The Truth About the Nuclear Disaster in Fukushima and the Future of Renewable Energy, Serves as the capstone event for Einaudi Center's International Cooperative Project on Nuclear Energy. We have posted several events since the first anniversary of the disaster in 2012. Our goal has been to explore the global significance of this disaster for the future of energy in an age of rapid climate change.
The project is a joint effort of the Einaudi Center, the East Asia Program, the Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, and Meridian 180, a multilingual platform for global policy solutions. This effort will soon culminate in an e-book and a report on nuclear disaster compensation schemes, jointly authored with our international partners.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Cornell University Press, especially its director Dean Smith, and its editor-in-chief, Mahinder Kingra, for originally suggesting that we bring Mr. Kan to the campus. I'd also like to thank my Japanese studies colleagues who have helped organize his visit. This is really a truly collaborative endeavor. I thank Jane-Marie Law, Professor of Japanese Religion, and her husband, Adam Law, President of PSE Healthy Energy, a group of physicians, scientists, and engineers devoted to exploring evidence based climate change and energy solutions, for helping organize the really interesting workshop this afternoon with Mr. Kan about renewable energy.
And John Whitman, Chair of the Department of Linguistics, has practically served as a full time interpreter doing Mr. Kan's visit. I just can't thank you enough for your service. And Brett de Bary, Professor of Asian Studies, translated today's lecture. And an English translation will be projected on the screen as Mr. Kan delivers his speech in Japanese.
After the lecture, Naoki Sakai, Goldwin Smith Professor of Asian Studies, will moderate a Q&A session. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Heike Michelsen who has brought all this together seamlessly as usual.
After the event, I hope you will all join us for a reception in the foyer where copies of Mr. Kan's My Nuclear Nightmare will be available for sale. And Mr. Kan has kindly offered to sign books and I have his signature on the original Japanese version of the book, but I haven't got the signature on the English version. So I'll be one of the first people to line up.
So thank you all so much for coming and please join me in welcoming the 94th Prime Minister of Japan, the Honorable Naoto Kan.
NAOTO KAN: I am Naoto Kan. Thank you very much for your invitation. It's a very honor to have a chance to speak here. From now, I will speak in Japanese.
INTERPRETER: It has now been six years since the accident in Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. A year and a half after its occurrence, I published the book My Nuclear Nightmare, Leading Japan through the Fukushima Disaster to a Nuclear-Free Future based on my experience as prime minister of Japan at the time of the accident. The English translation of this book has just been published by Cornell University Press. And I am deeply grateful.
The book offers an account of the situation I faced at the time of the accident, focusing especially on what I confronted during the week that begun on March 11, 2011. I will be very pleased if you find my account of what actually happened during this time instructive.
The great east Japan earthquake erupted without any forewarning at 2:46 in the afternoon of March 11, 2011. At that moment, I was attending a meeting of the Audit Committee in our Diet's Upper House. No sooner has a Committee Chair announced the recess of the session that I raced to the Crisis Management Center in the Prime Minister's Office complex beside the Diet building. There, reports about the earthquake and tsunami were pouring in in rapid succession.
According to these initial reports, all nuclear power plants in areas where the earthquake has occurred had been shut down successfully. In nuclear power plants, control rods can be automatically inserted between the fuel rods to halt a nuclear fission chain reaction. However, if due to earthquake damage to the plant, these rods cannot be inserted. There is no way of halting the reaction and a meltdown will occur.
Despite initial assurances, about one hour after the earthquake, we received another report which announced that the tsunami which followed the earthquake had disabled not only the electrical generators outside the Fukushima Daiichi plant, but even the diesel fuel equipment intended for emergency backup use. This meant there was a total loss of power at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Soon after, we received further news that the cooling system throughout the plant had shut down.
I still remember the chill that ran down my spine when I heard this. I am not a specialist in nuclear energy. But as a university student, I majored in applied physics and had gained knowledge of the fundamentals of the field. In a power plant, even when nuclear fission chain reactions have been stopped, the decay of nuclear fuel will continue to create massive amounts of heat for a considerable period of time. I knew that if the cooling systems were disabled, a meltdown would occur.
According to Japanese law, in the case of a severe accident in which the cooling system of a nuclear power plant have been disabled, a Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarter is to be set up with the prime minister as its head. NISA, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency within the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, METI, oversees this disaster headquarters. The reasoning behind establishing such oversight is that the prime minister, as a politician, is generally not a specialist in nuclear energy. So a system is in place whereby government officials, who are experts, can offer him support.
Therefore, before doing anything else, after the accident occurred, I summoned the Director General of NISA to obtain his views on three questions. What was the nature of the situation we were facing? How was it likely to develop? What measures should be taken? As it turned out, the response of the Director General made no sense to me. And I could not grasp the gist of his explanations.
When I asked him if he were an expert in nuclear energy, this Director General of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency replied that he was at Tokyo University Graduate with a degree in economics. I was stunned by this answer. Of course, since METI also deals with economic policy, it is not surprising for an official to hold a degree in economics. But how can we fathom the appointment of an economist to be director general of an agency charged with responding to a nuclear accident? One can only conclude that the assignment of personnel within METI was premised on the assumption that a severe nuclear accident would never occur in Japan.
Two days later, the government of officers with expertise in nuclear energy transferred into NISA from other agencies and came to consult with me. It was only at that point that I was able to receive an informed assessment of the situation. Since many politicians and government officials have had experience in dealing with nuclear disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, they were able to propose response measures quite rapidly. However, there was not a single person among us who had previously dealt with what is classified as a severe accident at a nuclear power plant. I received words of advice from members of the nuclear. Safety Commission as well as from members of NISA.
I had requested that the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission himself attend my meetings, but at first, no information had arrived about the actual circumstances of the accident. And not a single person could shed light on what its consequences might be.
At this early stage, I had no choice but to start to set up an organization within my own office to gather information about the accident. My special advisers and executive secretary were at the heart of these activities.
Over the course of the week following the initial accident at the power plant, its consequences increased in gravity. First, after the emergency generators had been disabled by the initial impact of the tsunami, I received a request from TEPCO to coordinate with them in the dispatch and power supply trucks to the site. Since the earthquake had left many highways impassable, I called on the police to help with this task. When at 10:00 PM on the night of March 11, the day of the earthquake, we finally succeeded in getting power supply trucks to the plant, we rejoiced.
Yet, before long, we received word that the plugs in the truck could not be connected to the plant. Although we did not understand what the problem was, ultimately the power supply trucks were useless and we could not restore power.
At the midnight that same night, word arrived that steam pressure was building up inside the containment vessel in the number one reactor and that it would be necessary to release pressure from the vessels. Since radioactive matter would be released together with the steam, however, there was a possibility of harming area residents. The Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters which would be responsible for evacuating residents in such a situation had received a request for permission to release the pressure.
Let me explain that under ordinary circumstances, radioactive material should never be released into the atmosphere from power plants. However, if the containment vessel were to burst because they were unable to withstand the pressure, in this case, a very large amount of radioactive material would be released all at once. In the view of the Nuclear Safety Commission, the venting of steam pressure was now necessary in order to prevent the vessel from bursting.
On this basis, and in the last hours of the night of March 11 following the initial accident, we communicated to TEPCO our understanding that the venting would be carried out. However, in the following several hours, the venting did not take place. Knowing that the chances of the containment vessel bursting were increasing with the delay, I asked the liaison officer from TEPCO headquarters who had been sent to my office why the delay was taking place. The TEPCO officials told me they simply did not know. In other words, I realized at this moment that TEPCO headquarters itself did not have a precise grasp of the situation. It was then that I felt that I would need to speak directly to the responsible people at the site of the disaster.
To clarify, it was TEPCO that had the responsibility for managing the power plants where the accident had occurred. But it was myself as prime minister and the head of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters who bore responsibility for the evacuation of residents. I went to Fukushima because I felt that I would need to have an accurate knowledge of the situation at the power plant in order to determine the radius of evacuation.
On the morning after the accident, I went by helicopter to talk directly with the responsible parties at the site. Although I was criticized by the media and the opposition parties for hastiness and absenting myself from the Prime Minister's Office complex, I felt it was important to get an accurate view of what had happened.
At the site, I was able to meet the plant manager, Masao Yoshida, and to speak with him. Mr. Yoshida was a straightforward man who made a favorable impression on me. His explanation of the situation was very clear. Under ordinary circumstances, the venting system is operated by a switch. But because the electrical power in the plant is out, this will have to be done manually. This is a risky job because radiation levels near the valve that would need to be manipulated are very high. But do or die, we'll get the job done. I wish them good luck as I left the plant. I felt Mr. Yoshida was someone I could trust.
The first week after the accident was a nightmare. More accidents occurred one after another. Although we were learning this from investigations later, by 6:00 PM on March 11th, the day of the first accident, a meltdown had occurred at the unit one reactor. This was only 3 and 1/2 hour after the initial earthquake. At 10:00 PM that night, we had received reports from on-site that water had overflowed the spent fuel rods. This was because no one had realized that the water gate was malfunctioning.
On the following day, March 12th, a hydrogen explosion occurred at the unit one reactor. Another occurred at the unit three reactor on March 14. On March 15, when I was at TEPCO headquarters, sound of an explosion came from the unit two reactor. And almost simultaneously, there was a hydrogen explosion at the unit four reactor.
When the accident first occurred, the United States government issued a directive requiring American citizens within a 50 mile, 80 kilometer, radius of the Fukushima power plant to leave. Many European embassies in Tokyo closed down and their personnel began to move to the Kansai area.
If all of the reactors at the Fukushima power plant were to become dysfunctional, the plant in its entirety together with the cooling pools that contain spent fuel would undergo meltdown in a matter of several weeks or months. And massive amounts of radioactive materials would be released. I understood that in the case of this eventuality, an evacuation of people within a large area, including the city of Tokyo, would be unavoidable.
On March 22nd, just about 10 days after the earthquake, when cooling by water pump had begun and I was feeling we had narrowly escaped the worst, I had my Special Adviser, Mr. Goshi Hosono, convey a message to Dr. Shunsuke Kondo, the Chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. It was my request still conduct a scientific evaluation of the area that would have to be evacuated in the event of multiple worst case scenarios.
This scientific study is what the media have referred to as the Prime Minister's Office's Worst Case Scenario. It was a document delivered to me on March 25th from Dr. Kondo entitled Rough Sketch of a Contingency Plan for the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. Dr. Kondo's was a highly technical document. It stated that if unit one's containment vessel is destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, increased radiation level would force the plant's workers to evacuate the site. It would then be impossible to cool unit two and three with water.
Radioactive material will be discharged by these reactors and by the spent fuel pools in units one through four. And there is the possibility that a forced evacuation will be required for an area within 170 kilometers, 106 miles, radius of the site and a voluntary evacuation area of 250 kilometers, 155 miles, including Tokyo.
Here was a scientific confirmation from a specialist of my own worst nightmare. As I read it, a chill went down my spine. To the 250 mile radius around Fukushima included a large part of the Kanto region containing the city of Tokyo.
The population of this radius is about 50 million people. And an evacuation on that scale would be necessary. Dr. Kondo also calculated that purely on the basis of the amount of time necessary for radioactive material to decay on its own, it would take several decades before the evacuated areas were suitable for human habituation again. The evacuation of 50 million people from their homes for a period of several decades would have been an event without past precedent in any countries in the world.
While the stoicism with which Japanese responded to the events of March 11th won admiration around the world, an evacuation of 50 million would be veritable hell. It would mean the upending of 50 million lives.
Unlike moving to a new residence, evacuees flee leaving their belongings behind. What can they carry with them? Can they move as a family? Where will they go? And if they find a place to go, will they find jobs? What will happen to their homes? How where their children go to school?
Unimaginable hardship and confusion would ensue. Yet there was nothing imaginary about this forecast. We were a hair's breath away from this actuality.
For one week following March 11, 2011, eastern Japan was on the verge of being occupied by an enemy-- radiation. This enemy was not an invader from outside. While many Japanese did not think of it this way, this was an enemy the Japanese people had created for themselves. This was all the more reason they themselves should get the situation under control.
In order to cope with the Chernobyl crisis, the Soviet Union mobilized its army to extinguish fires by dropping 5,000 tons of sand and lead onto them with helicopters. Within a half a year of the disaster, the stone sarcophagus was constructed. It was reported that about 30 people, mainly firefighters, died from intense exposure to radiation during just the first 10 days of working to extinguish fires. I have heard that military personnel who were the next to be mobilized also died in considerable numbers.
However, if one were to do nothing about the reactors just because the work of dealing with them is so dangerous, the risk of having even greater numbers of victims would be very high. At the 3:00 in the morning of March 15, as I was taking a short nap in the Prime Minister's office, my executive secretary awakened me to announce the arrival of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Mr. Bari Kaieda. He told me that he had been informed by TEPCO's president, Masataka Shimizu that TEPCO wished to allow its employees to leave Fukushima Daiichi. One cannot fault Mr. Shimizu, as president of TEPCO, for wanting to allow his employees to leave a plant that had become highly dangerous. Yet, I had to ask what would become of the plant if these employees left.
Key TEPCO personnel who knew how to operate the plant could not be replaced anywhere. Abandoning the plant would mean the situation would worsen in a matter of hours. Fuel would not be burnt up. A meltdown would take place. And radioactive material would start to be released into the environment. The increased toll and damage resulting from this was incalculable. The discussion over whether or not TEPCO would abandon the site continued throughout the night of the 14th until dawn on March 15.
The import of that action was clear, however. If the 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools were abandoned, Japan itself would be decimated. My own view was that to abandon the site was unthinkable. The view extend not only to TEPCO, but also to the self-defense force, the fire department, and the police. In ordinary circumstances, I would be asking too much from a private corporation.
But TEPCO was the party responsible for the accident. And the nuclear reactor at the Fukushima plant could only be operated by TEPCO technicians. Without them there was simply no way to bring the situation under control. For this very reason I could not allow TEPCO to withdraw, even if it meant lives were being put at risk.
I reached the conclusion that in order to get TEPCO to join forces with the government, it would be necessary to set up a joint command center staffed by both and located at the TEPCO headquarters. And it would take both to tackle the nuclear accident. And yet even on the grave question of TEPCO's request to withdraw, we did not have smooth communication. Such communication problems could very well be fatal to the process of trying to come up with a strategy for containing the disaster.
I therefore called Mr. Shimizu to my office. TEPCO's withdrawal is not an option, I told him. I proposed we set up an integrated response center in TEPCO's offices. And he agreed.
In order to launch the integrated response center, I went to TEPCO's headquarters at 5:30 in the morning on March 15. Since I assumed that the plan to withdraw from the plant reflected the view not only of President Shimizu, but also of the CEO and other executives, it was my intention to personally try to persuade them to drop the plan.
Summoning all the strength I could muster, I addressed them as follows, "More than anyone, you all know the gravity of the situation we are in. There is a need for the government and TEPCO to strategize together in a real time. I will be the director and Minister Kaieda and President Shimizu will be the deputy directors.
I'm not just concerned about unit two. If we abandon unit two, what will happen to one, three, four, five, and six. And what will happen to the Fukushima Daini plant? If we withdraw, within months all the reactors and nuclear waste will further deteriorate resulting in the spread of radiation. It will be two or three times the size of Chernobyl, equal to 10 or 20 reactors.
Japan will cease to exist if we don't risk our lives to bring the situation under control. We cannot withdraw quietly and watch from afar. If we were to do that, it would not be out of the question for a foreign country to come along and take our place.
You are all party to this. So I ask you to put your lives on the line. There is nowhere to run. Communication is slow, inaccurate, and often mistaken. Don't become dispirited. Provide information that is needed. Take in what is happening now, but also look five hours, 10 hours, a day, a week ahead and act accordingly. It doesn't matter how much it costs. No one can do this but TEPCO. When Japan is at risk of failure, withdrawal is out of the question.
Mr. Chairman and Mr. President, prepare yourselves. Employees who are over 60 should go to the site. Withdrawal is out of the question. If you withdraw, TEPCO will inevitably fail."
I am repeating the speech for you based on notes taken by one of my staff members who attended the meeting.
At 6:00 o'clock in the morning of March 15, shortly after I had visited TEPCO headquarters to urge them not to withdrawal but to do everything in their power to bring the situation under control, I received a report from the on-site response headquarters in Fukushima. Sounds of a blast were coming from some place near the unit two reactor suppression chamber. At the same time, the internal pressure in the containment vessel had reached the same level as the external pressure, which could lead to an explosion. A hole was visible in one part of the suppressant chamber.
Later investigation revealed that the source of the greatest submission of radioactive material during this period had been the unit two reactor. Had the entirety of unit two's containment vessel have been destroyed at that time, the possibility that my worst case scenario would unfold was very high. It was, in fact, precisely because pressure in the unit two containment building had dropped that we were able to pump water into the reactor.
Once the Integrated Response Center had been established at TEPCO's headquarters, communication between TEPCO and the government gradually grew more efficient. In the case of draining water from the spent fuel rod pools, for example, we were able to greatly improve the system for cooperation between the self-defense force and the police. And it was on March 16, the day after the Integrated Response Center was set up, that the self-defense force were able to use helicopters to bring in water to be pumped into the spent fuel rods pools. The first move forward in a counter attack against the relentless attack of radioactivity released by the accidents.
Because there was a high level of radioactivity being emitted in the atmosphere above the plant on March 16, on March 17th, we brought in water by helicopter and commenced a life or death battle to get water into the plant. It was at this juncture that the determination to save Japan at the risk of their own lives swept across the ranks of the self-defense force, the firefighters, and the police.
Moreover, a reduction oppressor in the unit one, two, and three containment vessels had made the pumping in of water possible. As a result, it became possible to cool the nuclear fuel and to gradually reduce the heat it produced, stabilizing each of the reactors. As I have said, had venting of the unit two reactor had been delayed and pressure risen within its containment vessel, explosion would have erupted that shattered the entire reactor like a rubber balloon. And we would have confronted by a worst case scenario.
We escaped this only because the containment vessel was not destroyed, but rather survived with partial damage. It was due to the heroic efforts of the TEPCO employees, the self-defense force members, firefighters, and police that we escaped the worst case scenario. However, it was not for this reason alone. I cannot help feeling that we escaped, as they say, by the grace of the gods.
There were several lucky accidents that also came into play. One was that the unit four reactor happened to have water in its spent fuel rod pool. Because of a delay in construction work, the upper part of this unit four reactor happened to have been filled with water on the day of the accident. It is thought that the wooden partition between the upper level and the pool below worked that day allowing water from the upper level to spill into the pool below. Had there been no water flowing into the pool at the time, the spent fuel rods that were being transferred into the pool would have undergone melt down and there would have been no way to avert the worst case scenario.
Thanks to this good fortune, we escaped the worst. And I never had to confront a situation that required formulating a concrete evacuation plan. The 50 million person evacuation simulation that had been constantly playing itself out in my mind came to a stop. Nevertheless, that worst case scenario, that evacuation would have represented occupies a part of my mind to this very day.
Why did the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant happen? The direct cause was impact of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that caused a total loss of power at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Nevertheless, Japan is a country that has experienced numerous earthquakes and been inundated by tsunamis any numbers of time.
The accident occurred because the plant was built without giving adequate attention to these factors. The Fukushima plant was initially constructed on a bluff facing the Pacific Ocean, 35 meters above sea level. However, earth was removed from the bluff to bring it down to an elevation of 10 meters above sea level at the time of the construction of the reactors. Had they been located at 35 meters above sea level, the tsunami would not have reached them and the accident would not have occurred. The elevation was lowered to reduce the costs of electricity needed to pump in water from the ocean for cooling purposes.
It is also said that several years before the accident, researchers at TEPCO had noted the possibility of a 17 meter tsunami hitting the plant. But TEPCO courted disaster by never formulating a contingency plan. At the present time, responsibility for the accident is being adjudicated in court.
Prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan had provided for 30% of its energy need through nuclear energy and had planned to increase this to 50% by the year 2030. After the accident, I called for a review of the basic energy plan that had recommended this increase with the aim of reversing Japan's course in the direction of nuclear free energy.
Furthermore, I requested that Chubu Electric halt operations of the Hamaoka Power Plant, which was located above an earthquake hypocenter at the juncture of two tectonic plates. My request was granted. I also introduced to Japan to help replace nuclear energy a system developed in Germany 20 years ago for establishing fixed prices for the purchase of energy generated from renewable sources, which should make it possible to expand the use of generators of renewable energy.
When I resigned as Prime Minister in September 2011 and was replaced by Prime Minister Noda, a member, like myself, of the Democratic Party of Japan, we resolved to reduce Japan's dependence on nuclear energy to zero by the year 2030. However, the Democratic Party regrettably suffered a big defeat in the 2012 election while the LDP saw a resurgence of political power. The LDP decided to maintain a nuclear energy supply of 20%-22%. Today they are gradually restoring 44 reactors to operation.
However, the Japanese population at large is against this policy. And in a number of cases, courts have ordered a stop to restarting the plants. For this reason, only three nuclear power plants are operational in Japan today. The situation at the Fukushima power plant had still not yet been brought under control. More than 100,000 people still live as evacuees from the area.
Among the reactors at the plant, units one, two, and three have had meltdowns. And water is still being pumped in to cool the nuclear debris. But part of this water, now having been contaminated by radiation has been leaking out from the containment vessels. Following the example of Three Mile Island, TEPCO and METI have made a plan that envisions completing the process of collecting and incinerating the radioactive debris over about a period of 40 years.
However, I doubt whether this plan is feasible. Even at Three Mile Island where the reactor's pressure vessels had been left intact, debris had accumulated in the vessel. It was for this reason that a submersion method was used at Three Mile Island. That is, the pressure vessels were filled with water to block the omission of radiation allowing the debris to be extracted.
In the case of the unit one, two, and three at Fukushima, however, the pressure vessel had been melted by heat and have holes in them. This caused debris to be scattered throughout the containment vessel. The radiation level inside the containment vessels are so high that even one minute's exposure is lethal. To deal with the debris inside them would require flooding the entire containment vessel. But the presence of the holes make this much more difficult to do that than it had been at Three Mile Island.
At Chernobyl, a giant metal dome have had to be placed over the number four reactor because even after the passage of 30 years, radiation is leaking from the stone sarcophagus. But there's still no plan at all for moving debris in Chernobyl. My guess is that at Fukushima, the process will take more than 100 years.
In response to the Fukushima accident, the interest of the Japanese population in matters related to energy has heightened. And the whole situation surrounding energy use continues to change. Energy consumption in general in Japan now is down by 10% from its 2010 levels prior to the Fukushima accident. People have a greater awareness of the importance of conserving energy. This has resulted from the measures undertaken at workplaces, large buildings, and private residences to reduce energy use.
In private homes, for example, it is becoming more common for people to install two or three layers of glass in their windows to conserve heat. And the number of households that have reduced their heating expenses to zero by installing solar panels in rooftop is growing. In 2013, I had my own home converted to an energy saving home. By installing a 5 kilowatt solar panel on the roof, I now have a negative balance on my energy bill and my heating bills are zero.
Although many countries have increased their use of wind and solar energy before the Fukushima accident, in Japan at that time, water generated electrical energy accounted for only 10% of electrical energy used. And the use of other renewable energy had not been promoted at all. This was because the vested interest in nuclear energy have had a great deal of power and had been unable to suppress the use of renewable energy sources.
But I came to believe in the necessity of encouraging the use of renewable energy-- solar power, wind power, biomass-- as a means of ending our reliance on nuclear power and fossil fuel. Thus, I took as my last task as prime minister three months after Fukushima the job of proposing to the Diet a bill for the establishment of a FIT system in Japan. A FIT, or feed-in-tariff system, allows consumers generating renewable energy to be paid for feeding energy back into the power grid.
Since the introduction of the FIT system, the use of renewable energy, and especially solar power, has grown in Japan. By the year 2015, the generators of solar energy established in every prefecture were producing an amount of energy equal to that of five nuclear reactors. We expect that by the year 2020, this will exceed the production of 10 nuclear reactors.
In recent years, the possibility of combining farming with solar energy production has attracted attention in Japan. Japan's plains are dotted with wide swaths of rice paddies. Yet the rural population has declined because rice prices have been lowered and farming these paddies no longer generates sufficient income. But in the past few years, method for cultivating rice and vegetable while generating solar power have been developed and are gathering interest.
For example, by implementing a practice called solar sharing, farmers can install posts about three meters high in rice paddies and vegetable gardens and use these to install solar panels in regular intervals. In this approach, sunlight can be shared between crops in the solar panels. Since Japan has long hours of sunlight each day, this method allows for the effective cultivation of rice and vegetables combined with generating solar energy. If this practice spreads in Japan, which has 4.6 million hectares of agricultural land, Japan could supply over half of its energy supply from farmlands.
In concluding my talk, I would like to introduce a few thoughts about nuclear power in countries I have been invited to visit. Within a few months of the Fukushima accident, Germany decided to close down all of its nuclear power plant by the year 2022. In truth, I think Japan should have been the first nation to reduce its use of nuclear energy to zero, but regrettably it appears that will not happen.
The first group to invite me to visit after the events of Fukushima was a citizen group in California opposing restarting the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. I participated in a symposium there with Gregory Jaczko who had been serving as the Chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission at the time of the Fukushima accident. A few days later, Southern California Edison, the owner of the plant, decided to decommission the plant.
In the United States, nuclear power plants tend to be fewer on the West Coast, which is prone to earthquakes and more numerous on the east coast. Yet even in America, at the present time, closings of nuclear power plants are outnumbering the constructions of new ones leaving a total of 100 reactors.
Following my visit to California, I was invited by anti-nuclear groups to visit Korea, Poland, and the UK, and Taiwan. Taiwan decommissioned its newly constructed number four reactor and has resolved to move to zero reliance on nuclear power by 2025. Even in France, which matches the United States in the scale of its development of nuclear energy, Prime Minister Hollande has publicly vowed to reduce the proportion of energy supplied by nuclear power plants from 75% to 50% and has cut back on the construction of new plants.
A chief reason for this reduction in construction of nuclear power plants is that costs have risen, pushing the price of electricity generated by nuclear power plants above that generated from renewable energy. Nuclear energy has become less profitable. In England, for example, the government has approved the closing downs of older nuclear power plants and approved the building of new ones. But it has proved difficult to raise funds from the private sector to support this new construction. Two companies are turning-- but it has proven difficult to raise funds from the private sector to support the new construction and companies are turning to the government for assistance.
Scientists have calculated that the amount of energy radiated from the sun to the earth is 10,000 times greater than the energy used by the earth's human population. According to this logic, if humans could effectively harness even 1,000th of that energy, it will be sufficient to satisfy their needs for electricity and heat. If we made use of the technologies available to us today, almost every nation in the world would be able to produce enough power from renewable sources, like wind and solar power, to satisfy its energy needs.
If every nation in the world could satisfy its own energy needs, struggles for its resources among nations, like the global competition for oil, would no longer arise. The use of renewable, natural energy and the end of reliance on nuclear energy and fossil fuel can open a path to a peaceful world. It is my intention to continue to commit myself without respite toward the achievement of this goal.
NAOTO KAN: Thank you very much.
NAOKI SAKAI: Good afternoon. My name is Naoki Sakai. I would like to moderate the session where I think we welcome your questions. And then I would like to ask Mr. Kan to answer your questions.
And then, first of all, I think some of you might have very specific questions after listening to Mr. Kan's lecture. And then I'd like to just open to the floor first of all. Do you have any specific questions that you would like to ask? And I think we have two microphones there. So please come up to the microphone. And then I would appreciate if you mentioned your name and then ask the question. Yes, yes. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon. My name is Fay [INAUDIBLE] and I'm a member of the community. And as we all are, we're all very concerned about what happened. I've read a lot of reports and watched the news every day. And my take on it was that I felt that Japan was abandoned by the world community.
From my understanding that the nuclear power plant is a US built power plant and it didn't seem to me that the US was helping Japan. And that's the first thing, that concerns me immensely. I felt that you were abandoned. And I believe that you have done your best for your country. But I'd like it if you could answer that, because even reading the Cornell Daily Sun today, it seems to me that people did not come to you with the information and also that TEPCO wanted to evacuate when it was unrealistic to do that unfortunately.
It leaves a lot of questions for me in terms of the help that was given to you, and also the fact that Japan was prone to tsunamis, prone to earthquakes, that the plant was not built correctly is mind boggling to me. And the last thing is is radiation still being spewed into the ocean? Thank you.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Immediately after the earthquake, Mr. Kan received a phone call from President Obama. And then at that time, President Obama offered any sort of help the United States could possibly provide in order to deal with the disaster.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: From the NRC, for instance, they gave the Japanese government all sorts of advisors to deal with the nuclear problems.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: As you mentioned, that the particular reactor, the reactor number one, was entirely created by the United States General Electric.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: The first number one reactor was installed more than 40 years ago. So he assumed that TEPCO engineers were already very familiar wise with the operation of the reactor number one. Yet, it was not the case. And some device, such as isolation condenser, was not really fully understood by TEPCO engineers. And the recent investigation disclosed some of these problems.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: The emergency diesel equipment for the generator which was installed in the reactor number one was actually done by GE. And then many of the reactors were built, not by the sea, in the United States, but by the riverside. So they were not actually fully aware of the danger of tsunamis in a sense. And we are now learning these problems.
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: OK. Next question.
NAOKI SAKAI: Next one.
AUDIENCE: My name is [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you so much for your story today. I was just wondering if in addition to the role you played in the nuclear plant evacuation, did you also play a major role in helping the citizens through the tsunami and earthquake? Because that did have a tremendous effect on the population as well.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: The largest portion of the victims of this instant were caused by, actually, tsunami. And then something like 15,000 people died of tsunami. But in this sense, the other states, particularly United States Navy offered-- I think he mentioned in the previous question that the extended all these helps to rescue. But nonetheless, many of the people were killed tsunami.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Originally, they understood that it was mainly caused by tsunami. Hence, they planned to go to rescue some of the people the following morning. Yet in the meantime, the nuclear accident occurred. Therefore, they couldn't go back to rescue them. And as a result, many people were killed. So it's a kind of tragedy Mr. Kan was told about.
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: Next question.
AUDIENCE: Hello, Mr. Kan. My name is [INAUDIBLE]. Thank you for your good speech. As we know, Chernobyl sealed other nuclear plant after six months after accident. But Fukushima, it has been six years that radioactive matters are still leaking out of the nuclear plant. So my question is if you were to lead Japan again during that time of the disaster facing it, what different choices would you make? What differences would you make? Thank you.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: There's a fundamental difference between Chernobyl case and then Fukushima case, because I think the Chernobyl reactor was not within the containment vessel, while the Fukushima reactors were all containment vessels. Which means not much were a huge amount of radioactive materials that were not released in the case of Fukushima accident.
AUDIENCE: Hello, my name is [INAUDIBLE]. I'm a PhD student in the Department of Psychology. My question is about-- so in the years following the disaster, there have been several credible reports in peer-reviewed journals about the increase in prevalence of thyroid cancer in children, [SPEAKING JAPANESE]. And despite the publication of these studies, I do not see any structured discourse in the mass media regarding this issue. And I understand that the nature of the phenomenon is such that it is hard to reach certainty, absolute evidence, in terms of the results.
But still it's kind of mystifying why there's so much silence in the media. And I was hoping to ask Mr. Kan what he thinks the forces are that explain this silence.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Yes, actually, the government has conducted the sort of examinations on the effect on children. And their view, government's view, is that it is very hard to establish causal relationship between Fukushima nuclear accident and then effects on children. But personal view of Mr. Kan is that there may well be some effects on children.
AUDIENCE: But the media, why does the media need to be silent though?
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Yes, some media have reported. But again, officially, the government has not acknowledged that causal relationship.
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: Next question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, my name is Justin. Thank you again for coming to speak. Most of the major nations, including Japan, have invested resources into nuclear fusion technology which promises to be more energy efficient and safer than current power plants. Do you support the development of this technology further? Or do you feel we should devote all of our resources to just renewable technology, renewable energies?
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: The current Japanese government wants to put somewhat equal sort of emphasis on nuclear energy and in the renewable energy. And therefore, they want to see that something each of which will consist of something like a 20% of inter-energy consumption. Mr. Kan's opinion is that he should abolish the nuclear energy in the long run and then depend upon renewable energy sources.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Mr. Kan heard about Bill Gates' the proposal that there should be smaller nuclear reactors to be developed. But thinking about the future children, generation of humanity, because what ever size the nuclear reactor may be, it necessarily produces nuclear waste. Hence, I think he believes that the nuclear energy itself should be eventually abolished.
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: Next question.
AUDIENCE: My name is Joe. And I want to ask actually a pretty similar question, but specifically about thorium-based reactors. And so a bit of background being that in recent years a lot of countries have looked into thorium-based reactors. And they provide quite a few advantages, according to their proponents, being, for example, for the most part, they don't have an uncontrollable chain reaction and they produce a lot less waste. So does Mr. Kan have any specific opinions about thorium-based reactors or related research?
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Whether or not they adapt the new types of nuclear reactors, the basic principle of nuclear fission reaction necessarily produces nuclear waste. So in this sense, he believes that nuclear reactor is in this sense is essentially something for him it's a negative that should be in a sense abolished.
AUDIENCE: Mr. Kan, thank you for your speech. So my question is addressed at your position on abolishing nuclear power. So even though you had mentioned that you want to abolish nuclear power in long run, or least you would like to see so, the steps that you have taken towards expressing that view have been quite immediate such as serving-- I mean such as attending requests to speak at different anti-nuclear talks.
Now my question is, then, what about the alternative which is maintaining nuclear power but reinforcing nuclear plants, by example, looking at the structural integrity of the plants or perhaps building plants that are further away from population centers, which I understand is your main concern of the damage that nuclear reactors are causing. And the reason why I'm somewhat appalled by your decision to take an anti-nuclear stance so immediately is also because nuclear power does confer advantages in things like reducing carbon dioxide emissions as opposed to gas.
So why-- if I may summarize my question-- why are you so strongly opposed to nuclear power so immediately as opposed to leaving it something for the future and seeing nuclear power as something that can be a transition from oil to renewable energy?
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: Basically, I think nuclear technology necessarily produces radioactive waste. And therefore, I think renewable energy sources are exempt from that kind of worries. Hence, he believes that the energy policy should encourage the fastest shift away from nuclear energy to renewable energy sources.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I'm [INAUDIBLE]. Do you mind me asking in Japanese or is it better in English?
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: Go ahead, yeah.
AUDIENCE: OK. [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: She's asking, as someone from Japan, she felt that the impact of Fukushima disaster on renewable energy issues overseas and outside Japan is far greater than that in Japan. And so she's asking where this difference came.
NAOTO KAN: [SPEAKING JAPANESE]
NAOKI SAKAI: His assessment about the nuclear energy is this. That is already globally, the wind energy production is larger than nuclear energy consumption-- uh, production in this sense. And that solar energy and wind energy are, in fact, very, very fast growing today. And this is a general trend globally. So this trend cannot be stopped, in Mr. Kan's view. Yes.
HIROKAZU MIYAZAKI: So, unfortunately, we are kind of out of time. I know that you have so many questions. But there will be reception following this. And I would like to leave some time for book signing, too. So please join me in thanking Mr. Kan.
Thank you very much for coming today.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister from 2010 to 2011 and author of My Nuclear Nightmare (Cornell University Press, 2017), discussed his experience leading his country through the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, March 28, 2017 as part of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies Distinguished Speaker Series. Kan also shared his views on the direction he believes the world should take with energy.