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Japan Rethinks Nuclear Energy Future, Mourns Dead and Missing
TOKYO, Japan, May 11, 2011 (ENS) - Two months after the March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, the Japanese Prime Minister is promising a comprehensive nuclear accident investigation, and a redesign of the country's Basic Energy Plan to de-emphasize nuclear power and develop renewables instead.

Today, people across the region participated in a moment of silence for the 24,834 people dead or missing in the disaster. Evacuees sheltering in school gyms and other public buildings joined with students and public officials in offering silent prayers.

The tsunami ruined this building in the town of Minami Sanrriku. (Photo by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard)

In the town of Minami-Sanriku a candlelit service took place overlooking the sea where the enormous tsunami swept the entire town away.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, visited Fukushima prefecture to encourage evacuees from the 20 kilometer zone surrounding the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is still unstable and leaking radiation.

At several shelters, the imperial couple knelt and expressed sympathy for the plight of evacuees struggling to survive their exile. The couple then visited a coastal area of Honshu Island destroyed by the tsunami. Standing in the rain, they bowed silently toward the ruined homes.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake March 11 cut off outside power to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company. The resulting tsunami disabled emergency generators required to operate the reactors' cooling systems.

In the five days following the quake, hydrogen gas explosions blasted through three of the plant's six reactors, and nuclear fuel rods partially melted down in three reactors.

Radiation releases have forced more than 80,000 people to evacuate, food and water supplies were contaminated, and several nuclear workers died.

The accident is rated at Level 7, the highest on the UN's International Nuclear Event Scale, and is considered the world's second most serious nuclear disaster, after Chernobyl.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan at news briefing, May 10, 2011 (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)

Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a televised news conference on Monday the government is preparing to launch an Investigation Committee to examine the causes of the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Prime Minister promised an investigation based on three basic principles, "independence, openness and comprehensiveness."

"The first principle, independence, means independence from the existing nuclear energy administration," he said. "Those who can make independent judgements, not those who have involved in the past, will become the core of the committee."

"Openness, means that we will firmly open the facts to the public and the international community," said Kan.

"Comprehensiveness, means the investigation of not only the technical aspects but also of the existing systems and the shape of institutions," he said.

Due to the Fukushima Daiichi crisis, Japan will revise its Basic Energy Plan "where the ratio of the nuclear energy is expected to be more than 50 percent in 2030," said Prime Minister Kan.

Smoke rises from the Unit 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. (Photo courtesy TEPCO)

"The past energy policy has regarded nuclear energy and fossil fuels as two major pillars in electricity. With the recent accidents, I think two additional pillars are important," he said.

"The first additional pillar is to add renewable energy, such as solar and wind power as well as biomass, to one of the core energy resources," said the Prime Minister. "The second additional pillar is to create an energy-saving society where energy will not be used as much as it is now."

"I would like to add natural energy and energy saving as two major pillars and to exert further efforts to achieve them, while promoting safety on nuclear energy and reducing CO2 on fossil fuels," he said. "Based on these thoughts, I would like to accelerate the discussion on reviewing the overall energy policy."

Japan currently has 52 operating nuclear power plants, the third most in the world, after the United States and France.

While the direct causes of the nuclear accidents were the earthquake and tsunami, Kan said the government, which has promoted the nuclear energy policy as a national policy along with TEPCO, the plant operator, is also responsible for failing to prevent such accidents.

A worker in the Unit 1 reactor building of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, May 9, 2011 (Photo courtesy TEPCO)

"As the Prime Minister, who is responsible for this, I would like to apologize to the public of Japan," he said.

Today, Prime Minister Kan invited foreign ambassadors in Tokyo to an event to express his gratitude for the support extended by their countries to the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

Diplomats from about 130 countries took part in the event. In a speech, Kan offered thanks for the funds, technology and sympathy that were offered to quake survivors from around the globe.

The prime minister referred to his government's decision to reduce aid to developing countries when it drew up a first 2011 supplementary budget in order to finance the reconstruction of the affected areas.

Kan said once Japan has rebuilt the quake-hit regions, it will redouble its efforts to help developing countries.

Today, TEPCO again apologized for the nuclear disaster.

TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto told a news conference the company regrets that those forced to evacuate the area around the plant have not been able to return home.

Matsumoto admitted there have been some delays, but no major obstacles, in implementing the utility's plan to bring the stricken power plant under control. He said TEPCO will announce its assessment of the progress it has made on May 17, one month into its restoration plan.

Japanese actor Ken Watanabe has posted a video message online with the help of Hollywood celebrities to encourage survivors of the March 11 quake and tsunami.

Among those appearing on the video are Clint Eastwood, Leonardo Di Caprio, Cameron Diaz and baseball player Matsui Hideki. Music in the video is by Japanese-American ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, a Hawaii musician of Okinawan ancestry.

Watanabe plans to enlist Hollywood personalities in a charity auction to benefit the survivors.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.



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