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Ex-Japanese PM on How Fukushima Meltdown was Worse Than Chernobyl & Why He Now Opposes Nuclear Power

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Three years ago today a massive earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast, resulting in an unprecedented nuclear crisis: a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. As Japan marks the anniversary with continued uncertainty around Fukushima’s long-term impact, we are joined by Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time. It’s rare that a sitting world leader changes his position completely, but that’s what Kan has done. He explains how he came to oppose nuclear power while still in office, as he weighed Tokyo’s evacuation. “It’s impossible to totally prevent any kind of accident or disaster happening at the nuclear power plants,” Kan says. “And so, the one way to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change the position, that the only way to do this was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Three years ago today, a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a devastating tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast. The twin disasters resulted in an unprecedented nuclear crisis: a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Three years later, about 267,000 people are still living in temporary housing and other makeshift facilities. Many cannot return home due to high levels of radiation. The cleanup and decommissioning effort at Fukushima could take decades. In February, the owner of the nuclear plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, said about 100 tons of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the hundreds of storage tanks at the devastated plant. On Sunday, thousands of Japanese residents marched to Parliament and called on the new Japanese government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to restart some of Japan’s 48 idled reactors. Speakers at the rally included former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who held the post at the time of the Fukushima meltdown.

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I believe that now is the crucial time for us to eliminate nuclear power, or we forgive the Abe administration, which is going in the opposite direction.

AMY GOODMAN: Since the Fukushima crisis, Naoto Kan has become a vocal critic of nuclear power, saying it’s too dangerous for Japan to keep open any of its nuclear plants. Up until the time of Fukushima, he was a longtime supporter nuclear power.

In this exclusive extended broadcast interview, I sat down with former Prime Minister Naoto Kan when we were in Japan in January. I began by asking him to talk about what happened three years ago today, on March 11, 2011. Naoto Kan is translated in the interview by Meri Joyce.

NAOTO KAN: [translated] On that day, at the time of 2:46 in the afternoon on Japanese time, I was at the House of Councillors for a budgetary committee meeting. At that time, the earth started to shake. And then, when the committee went into a break, I returned straight back to go back to the office, and also went, within my official residency there, to the crisis management center, and first trying to gather information about this earthquake and tsunami which had just occurred. And at that time, the first information that we received in regards to the nuclear power plant was that although the earthquake had hit, it was safely stopped, all of the operations at the plant. And so, hearing this information, I initially felt very relieved. However, less than one hour after that, I received information that at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, all of the electricity had been stopped, and not only this, but all of the cooling functions at the plant had failed. And at the time of hearing this information, I felt this terrible chill or cold all over my body and a feeling which I can never forget. And the reason for this was, of course, knowing that even though the nuclear plant had been stopped, for a long time after this it was continuing in this critical situation, and there was the potential risk that the nuclear fuel could actually go into meltdown.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did you do?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] So, at the time, one of the first things I did following the nuclear disaster was to set up a control center to deal with this, and set up to lead this center three people in particular, one being a staff from the NISA, one being a representative of the expert academics group on nuclear power safety and regulations, and one person also from representing TEPCO, who was actually the former vice president of the company. And one of the first things that we set up this center to try and do was to find out what the actual situation in the plant was, what was really happening, and also try to make predictions about what would happen from there. However, at that time, at first, it was almost impossible to have any kind of accurate information.

And so, the first thing that we found out at the time was we were considering that the reactor one at Fukushima Daiichi was the most likely to be in a very serious situation and have serious problems. However, even at the night of that first day of March 11, what I was being told, being reported, was that the water levels were safely above the level of where the fuel rods were located within the container. And, however, now we know that actually the measuring equipment to measure the water level was broken at that time. And only four hours after the earthquake occurred, actually, was when it experienced meltdown in the reactor one. And even through the container of thickness 20 centimeters, there was actually a hole being burned through, and melted fuel had been actually leaking through to the outside of the container. And now we know this information, that this was happening at 7:00 p.m. approximately on that day. But at the time, none of this information was accurately conveyed to me.

And this was actually the first incident of an accident where a hole in the pressure container was actually—or a hole had been created. Even at the time of the Three Mile accident, while there was a partial fuel meltdown inside the container, it wasn’t gone to the extent of actually having a hole in the container and leaking through in this way. So the Fukushima accident was the first accident to actually melt down in this kind of way. And it was a situation very close to what we call perhaps the “China syndrome.”

And also at this time, because of the high levels of pressure inside the container, there was the need to open the vents to release some of this pressure. However, the debate in regards to how to go about doing this was going between the actual site, the TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo and my office—so, within these three locations, the debate and the discussion going back and forth. And it was very difficult to obtain accurate information and to know what was really happening. And so, the next morning at around 6:00 a.m., very early, I decided that the best thing to do would be to speak directly with the person responsible at the site. So I departed at 6:00 a.m. by helicopter to go to the Fukushima Daiichi site. And there, I met with Mr. Yoshida, who was the person responsible at the plant, and he explained to me about the situation, from his perspective, which was occurring on the site. And he was a very clearly spoken man, which meant that it was very much a plus in terms of considering how to deal with the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn’t TEPCO management saying the same thing to you as this man you spoke to, the head of the actual plant, when you flew there?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] From what I was hearing from the headquarters of TEPCO, and in particular from Mr. Takeguro, who was the former vice president, was—had almost no accurate information being conveyed about what was actually the situation on site.

And one other important and serious issue at the time also was, in the case of a nuclear disaster, the system which was in place, well, the prime minister and the prime minister’s office would be in the head of, you know, the measures to be taken, the office, of what to be done from there. But the bureaucratic organization which was established to support that function was within the NISA, which is actually located within the Ministry of the Economy. And so, the person who was seconded to explain to me from the NISA about what was happening was actually not an expert on nuclear issues or nuclear power, but an economic expert. And so, through his explanation, it was impossible to know the actual situation of what was happening in the reactor.

And so, through this situation, it really showed to us that in the case of such a severe accident, the whole situation of the allocation of staff which was in place and what should be done in that case and what kind of human resources we needed for that and also what kind of hardware was needed for that, it became clear that no precautions had been put in place, no consideration of what to actually do if a nuclear disaster really happened. This hadn’t been prepared for at all.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the worst-case scenario that you understood at this point, Mr. Kan?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] So, at the time that the accident happened and for the first week from there, I didn’t return at all to my own house but remained within the office, within the official residence. And every time there I was alone, I would consider, “Well, how much worse can this accident get? How could it expand? What could happen?” So, at the time, what I was thinking about was about the accident at Chernobyl. Of course, the accident there was of huge scale, but there was one reactor in this case, in Chernobyl. However, when we were thinking about the situation at Fukushima, at the Daiichi plant, there are six reactors and seven spent fuel pools. And then, 12 kilometers from there, at the Daini, the second Fukushima nuclear power plant, there are four additional reactors and four spent fuel pools, meaning that when you combine both Daiichi and Daini together, there’s 10 reactors and 11 spent fuel pools altogether. And if we were to lose control of all of this, it would mean that the accident, the disaster, could be on a scale of many tens or even hundred times more radioactive materials being released than what happened at Chernobyl. And so, thinking about this made me also think about the risk of the possibility that maybe even areas including Tokyo might need to be evacuated.

And after this, I asked Mr. Kondo, who was the head of the nuclear committee, to simulate what a kind of worst-case scenario could be, and this simulation was presented to me on March the 23rd, I believe it was. And within this scenario, it said that the worst case could mean having to evacuate up to a 250-kilometer radius of the area, as in this map in my book, which I have just shown. And this is almost the same as what I was fearing could be the worst scenario, personally, also. And so, in the case where a 250-kilometer-radius area would have to be evacuated, that would involve 40 percent of the population of the whole country of Japan. This is talking about a population of something like 50 million people. And so, when we think about this, or thinking about Japan as a country in the long term, it would suffer extreme damage. And how to even consider functioning in such a situation? So we were really just on the verge of such a situation as this.

AMY GOODMAN: In their book, Strong in the Rain, the journalists Lucy Birmingham and David McNeill reported that when the NISA—that’s the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency—spokesman Koichiro Nakamura let slip soon after the earthquake that meltdown was a possibility, meaning core fuel melt inside at least one of the reactors, he was removed from his post. Who removed him?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] First of all, in regards to the meltdown, from the very first stages of after the disaster, I was speaking with, of course, the NISA, but also TEPCO and people from the nuclear safety committee and also other experts and so on. And from hearing all of these different opinions, I personally, at least, also felt that there was a risk of potentially experiencing a meltdown.

And so, in regards to how the government at the time was explaining to the public of Japan of what was happening, each day in the morning and afternoon the chief of Cabinet would be giving a press conference to explain the situation. And as well as this, the NISA was also giving their press conferences. And in regards to the content of your specific question, this particular spokesperson gave information that had not actually been reported to the Cabinet’s office, to the chief of Cabinet, in advance to this. And there was an—you know, there should have been an agreement where if the NISA was going to be making any such announcements or having this kind of new information, it should be of course reported to the Cabinet office; otherwise, there would be differences in the information which was being presented. And so, I believe that that was perhaps involved in the background about why this—there was this change in the position and spokesperson. But this decision was not made by politicians, but internally within the organization.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there’s the possibility of having 40 percent of Japan evacuated. What happened next?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] And so, first of all, in the case of Japan, we do not have actually a rule for—in the case of martial law. Ninety years ago, at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake, this kind of law was in place, but, however, this kind of function does not exist within the Japanese system. And so, first of all, I was thinking, well, in the case where we would have to evacuate these 50 million people, there would have to be very strong decisions or strong authority in terms of the logistics of this—for example, transportation or how to go about this. However, at the time when I received the worst-case scenario from Mr. Kondo on March 23rd, this was actually—we could say that we had managed to avoid perhaps one of the biggest potential crises which could have happened. Although the reactors had already happened to explode at Reactors 1, 3 and 4, and three of the reactors had already by this stage gone through meltdown, it had been possible also to start to inject water, and so the temperature within the reactors was becoming somewhat less. And so, at the time of this report being issued on the 23rd, we could say that hopefully there would not be a need for such a full-scale evacuation as this worst-case scenario laid out.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, one of the most notable opponents of nuclear power since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. He was head of the country at the time of the crisis and resigned later that year, but not before he ordered the closure of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant and froze plans to build new reactors. Back with Prime Minister Kan in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we mark the third anniversary of the triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, we return to our exclusive extended interview in Tokyo in the offices of Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister at the time of the catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Kan, can you explain your decision to order the TEPCO workers to remain at the plant when TEPCO wanted them removed?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] Well, the first thing which happened at 3:00 a.m. on March the 15th, the minister for the economy came to my office, came to me, and he said that the TEPCO headquarters had requested to him for the workers from the Daiichi site to be withdrawn from their positions. However, then considering what would happen on the site if all of TEPCO’s technicians from on site were withdrawn, considering the fact that there were six reactors and four spent fuel pools at the Daiichi site itself, this would mean the potential of being—losing control completely of this whole site. Even if the Self-Defense Forces, for example, were sent into the location, sent into the site, of course, they are not trained to deal with nuclear operations. So, with no TEPCO staff, no TEPCO technicians on site, this would, in effect, mean actually abandoning all of these six reactors and seven pools on the Daiichi site, which would mean in turn that the worst-case scenario could actually become reality. And so, despite the, of course, huge risk that was there, I decided that it was very important to keep the technicians and the TEPCO workers on site for as long as possible to try and deal with the situation. So I called in the president of TEPCO to tell him this, and also I physically went myself to the headquarters of TEPCO at 4:00 a.m. to directly tell this to the officials of the company.

At the same time, I also decided it was important, to make sure that decision making and information could be done properly between TEPCO and the government, to set up a joint control center. I set this up within the TEPCO headquarters, but brought in Minister Kaeda and also my adviser, Mr. Hosono, in place to be permanently within this control center to work with TEPCO and the government together to try and deal with the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Who was responsible for this catastrophe, for the meltdown at the reactors?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] First of all, I believe that the fact that all of the electricity was lost through this earthquake and tsunami, but no preparation or no consideration of such accidents or such things happening, and no preparations being made for this, under the assumption that no accidents could happen, and the technical side of things from this, including both the facilities and also the staffing situation, and the lack of ensuring the full safety of the plant, but still continuing to increase nuclear power plants and the situation, the responsibility for this lies on the state of Japan and on the government, including me. There is also responsible on TEPCO as the operator, in fact, of the site for not predicting, not expecting, not planning for such an accident to happen. But politically, of course, the responsibility lies on me, the government at the time, and also the previous government and TEPCO, in charge of the plant.

AMY GOODMAN: There have been questions about another of the owners of the nuclear reactors having higher levee walls to protect the reactors. Here you have TEPCO very close to those that are regulating them. Who in fact was in charge?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] So, the location of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is originally actually on a high level, originally 35 meters above water. But what happened when the nuclear power plant was constructed is that the soil was actually cut down and built lower so that the plant was actually—the six reactors were actually, in the end, built at a height of 10 meters above sea level. And so this fact, the fact that although it had originally been 35 meters, but it was changed to be built at 10 meters, if this had not happened, if it had stayed at the original 35, or even 20 meters, then even in the case of a large tsunami, this may have been high enough to prevent this kind of damage. And so, the problem here is the fact that no kind of measures had been put in place, expecting or saying that no such accident, no such disaster, could ever happen.

And in regards to the second part of your question, in regards to regulations, the safety standards for construction and operations of the nuclear power plants was in large set by the Ministry of Economy and within the government. However, when these kind of standards are being decided, there are of course many different experts, nuclear experts and so on, debating on this. However, the influence on these experts by the utility companies is so strong. So this means that, for example, if there are very strict regulations in place, this means a much higher cost for the utilities. And so, these experts and the standards that were set—and this is what I have especially learned from studies which have happened, investigations later—is that the standards were set at a level which would be high enough to say to assume to keep safety, but still low to try and keep the costs also as low as possible, as cheap as possible.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very rare for the leader of a country to change their position in the middle of ruling. That’s exactly what happened with you when it came to your position on nuclear power. You were for nuclear power, and then you turned against, while you were still a sitting prime minister.

NAOTO KAN: [translated] Before March 11 and the disaster, I was holding the position that if the safety could be ensured, then we should continue to utilize nuclear power, nuclear power plants. But, as you said, this position changed. The Fukushima disaster brought us on the verge of having to evacuate 50 million people, and we were only just one small step away from perhaps facing this kind of situation. So, thinking about how to avoid such a risk, such a situation happening again, of course, there are many technical suggestions and opinions in place, but if we think also of the risk which is posed by, for example, when we consider what happened with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it’s impossible to totally prevent any kind of accident or disaster happening at the nuclear power plants. And so, the one way to prevent this from happening, to prevent the risk, to get rid of the risk of having to evacuate such huge amounts of people, 50 million people, and for the purpose, for the benefit of the lives of our people, and even the economy of Japan, I came to change the position, that the only way to do this, what was necessary to do this, was to totally get rid of the nuclear power plants.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to step back. When you were weighing evacuating Tokyo, you had the communities closest to the plant not yet evacuated. The American Embassy said Americans should leave. Other international, other foreign governments told their nationals to leave. But Japan, you, the prime minister, did not tell those people at the closest areas, like Futaba. The mayor of Futaba himself evacuated that community. Why?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] So, at the time, the measures which were in place in the case of a nuclear disaster is what is first supposed to be done is to set up a local control center, where the local governments, local municipalities, gather on this off-site center, as we call it, in the case of an earthquake, for example, to decide what to happen, or in the case of the nuclear disaster. However, because of the earthquake, it was not actually possible for these people to actually gather at an early stage, and also because of the high levels of radiation. So this meant that this off-site center was not able to function as it should have in the plan. And so, what did happen, in order to decide upon the policies for evacuation, how to do this, was those who gathered at the prime minister’s office, so the NISA and also the TEPCO and experts and so on, debated this. In particular, Mr. [Madarame], who was in charge of the nuclear safety committee, was giving advice about this, and upon the advice of Mr. Madarame is how this decision and the policy was put in place for the evacuation.

And so, upon hearing reports of the fact that the cooling functions at the plant had stopped, the first thing that we did was to evacuate those within the five-kilometer radius of the plant, and then, from here, expanding to the 10, 15, 20 and 30 kilometers, giving instructions for people to remain indoors. And this was done straightaway on the days of March 11 and March 12. And so, upon the advice and recommendations of experts as we were thinking how to set these evacuation zones, and when and how, one of the considerations was that if the broader evacuation zone had been set right from the beginning, then those who were living closest to the plant, because of transportation and congestion, may not actually be able to leave the area. And so the decision was made to first evacuate those closest to the plant, so within the five-kilometer zone. And then, from there, we gradually expanded to 10, 15, 20 and so on. At the time, I had been hearing also and we were aware of the instructions which had been given, for example, by the United States Embassy and the embassies of other countries for their citizens within, for example, 50 miles to evacuate. However, in the case, of course, from the position of the Japanese government, there are so many citizens living within this area, so to move this number of people all at once was something we had to really consider how this could be feasible.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Kan, can you explain what the “nuclear village” is?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] This is the strongest pressure group politically, socially, and in terms of even influence on the media, the most powerful of this kind of network, shall we say, and even now having huge influence.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the nuclear village brought you down?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] In regards to the reason why I left the position of prime minister, I don’t believe the influence of the nuclear village was necessarily so strong. More than that, the problems within the party and within the Diet were more the reasons for this. But if I were asked whether they had zero influence, well, considering that I changed the policy and I put forward the path to nuclear phaseout, to zero nuclear, and because of this, there was various misinformation and criticism which was put forward by the village against this, and so I could not say that there was absolutely no influence at all.

AMY GOODMAN: You have said that the meltdown at Fukushima was the most serious accident in the history of mankind. More serious than Chernobyl?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I believe that the nuclear disaster at Fukushima was one of the—or was definitely the largest, most severe of all nuclear disasters, including going above Chernobyl. The reason for this, as I mentioned before, is the accident itself in Chernobyl was of course immense, but it was one reactor in this case. In the case of Fukushima, we have the meltdown, the melt-through of three reactors, and not only this, but the high number of spent fuel pools also. And even now, radioactive material is continuing to be released in Fukushima. And this is having a very long-lasting effect that will continue from now. So because of this, I believe that the disaster at Fukushima was larger than that of Chernobyl and is still continuing today.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that the food and water of Japan is now safe?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] In regards to the food and water, there is very thorough monitoring taking place. And so, that which is actually going for sale or to market is only that which has gone through this monitoring and testing and has been declared to be within the safe standards. And so, because of this, I believe that the food which is available on the market is safe. However, when we consider that there is still the issue of contaminated water on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant being unresolved, and the fact that decontamination efforts are continuing, but in many places this remains insufficient, while it can be said that perhaps the food which is actually going onto the market is safe, we cannot say that the situation has returned to as it was.

AMY GOODMAN: Is part of the reason for the push for nuclear power, even after Fukushima—do you think it has to do with nuclear weapons, with developing plutonium?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] In regards to considering countries which are considering or wanting to build new nuclear power plants, I believe that there are two main reasons for this. One is in the situation particularly of countries which are, for example, at the moment reliant on buying natural gas from Russia, wanting to be not controlled or not having to completely follow Russia for this, but to be energy-independent. And so, for example, the country of Estonia, which did actually decide not to build its nuclear power plant, but is perhaps one example of this. And the next major reason, I believe, is also because, of course, if nuclear power plants are built, this also does lead to creation of plutonium. And so, this leads to the latent capability to create nuclear weapons. And so, having this is also one reason that I believe some countries consider building or having nuclear power, so keeping the future possibility of this. And this is a reason which I think cannot be denied.

AMY GOODMAN: Months after the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, you went to the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It was August 6, 2011, that you went for the memorial service. What is the connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] Well, first of all, in regards to the anniversary memorials of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I participated in these as almost all prime ministers of Japan do every year, so attendance at this ceremony was not necessarily because or connected to Fukushima, but something which occurs every year. However, of course, there is a fundamental connection between Fukushima and Hiroshima, Nagasaki, between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The technology of nuclear reactors was actually developed, of course, through the Manhattan Project, and it is through the development of foreign nuclear weapons, nuclear bombs, that the technology for nuclear power plants came about, and the same technology is being used within this. So there is this fundamental link between the two. As well as it’s through the creation of plutonium, this connects to, of course, the development of nuclear weapons, which threaten the whole of humanity, and also nuclear power, which puts all of humanity at a huge risk. So I personally believe that it is important to abolish both of these, both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Of course, in the case of Japan, we do not possess nuclear weapons, so we’re working now here in Japan to prevent or to get rid of nuclear power plants.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2011, Shigeru Ishiba, a former defense minister, said, “I don’t think Japan needs to possess nuclear weapons, but it’s important to maintain our commercial reactors because it would allow us to produce a nuclear warhead in a short amount of time. It’s a tacit nuclear deterrent.” Can you comment on this, Mr. Kan?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] This way of thinking is something which has existed since a long time ago, particularly within the Liberal Democratic Party. Actually, nuclear power was first promoted within Japan by the former prime minister, Nakasone, and the reason for this was very similar to the reason in Mr. Ishiba’s statement. I personally believe that for Japan, developing nuclear weapons is not an option for Japan and not something that is necessary at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the current Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is so pro-nuclear, even after Fukushima?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I believe that in the case of Prime Minister Abe, he is not necessarily more pro-nuclear power or stronger for nuclear power than other previous LDP prime ministers. However, the biggest problem, the biggest issue, is the fact that he is continuing to push for this even after the experience of Fukushima. So, the situation—I don’t believe that the current LDP, including Prime Minister Abe, is necessarily more strongly pro-nuclear than they have been in the past, but I just cannot understand why he can make the decision, how he can make the decision that even having the risk of having to evacuate 50 million people, residents, he still wants to promote nuclear power. Why we have to bear such a risk, I just cannot understand this.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s said that there could be an even larger earthquake in the Tokai trench area of central Japan. Could this lead to a disaster like Fukushima, or even larger?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I believe that such a risk does exist. It is not possible to prevent natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunami. But humans can stop, can prevent man-made disasters, such as nuclear disasters. If a disaster does happen, as, for example, an earthquake in the Tokai trench, that is exactly why we need to stop nuclear power plants now. Japan is a country, an area very prone to natural disasters, similar to the West Coast of the United States, for example. And this is why it’s so important to get rid of the nuclear power plants now, because even though we cannot prevent the natural disasters, it is possible for us to prevent nuclear disasters.

AMY GOODMAN: Can Japan secure its energy future without nuclear power??

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I believe that indeed it is very much possible for Japan to secure its energy needs without relying on nuclear power. My last job when I was in the position of prime minister was to introduce the feed-in tariff. And that system, which has now been in place for one-and-a-half years, has led to now there are applications in place for, in the case of solar power, up to 20 million kilowatts of energy to be produced through solar. And actually, already in operation is 3.5 million kilowatts, in just this one year. And so, considering this equivalent capacity, that is almost the same as, for example, 20 nuclear power plants. So, if we consider what could be done in 10 years, 20 years, I believe that it is very much possible to replace the proportion of electricity and energy needs which were covered by nuclear power with renewable energy. And also, up to the year 2050, I believe it is very much possible to decrease the reliance on fossil fuels and cover the majority of power needs by our energy—by renewable energy. Japan can follow the path that, for example, Germany is going on now, and Japan has enough technological capacity to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re traveling the world, and you’ve come to the United States. What’s your international message, and particularly for President Obama, who is pushing for the building of more nuclear power plants? This hasn’t happened in close to 40 years because of the anti-nuclear movement and the costs of insuring nuclear power plants, as well as dealing with the nuclear waste. What would you say specifically to President Obama?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] In regards to the situation in the United States, I have actually been there several times recently and heard from people involved. And I believe that actually the situation, well, there is no creation of new nuclear power plants because of the aging nature of many of the plants. There is actually moves towards—or reduction of the number of nuclear power plants. At the peak, I heard that there was about 150 plants in Japan—in the United States, sorry, and the number now, I hear, is at around 95. But I believe the big reason for this is the disaster at Fukushima showed the cost of how much it is to maintain the safety of the nuclear power plants, and really showing that economically also, rather than relying on these nuclear power plants, but it’s more economically beneficial to look for other options of energy, including also perhaps fossil fuels and shale gas. So I believe that while there are many plans in place for the construction of new nuclear power plants, they are not actually physically going into the construction phase for this. So my message to Obama would be: When considering energy policy from now and considering the issues and the problems of cost and also nuclear waste, while it may have been once said that there was a nuclear renaissance, nuclear technology now is clearly old and dangerous technology, and we need to be looking at other ways.

And finally, there is one point which I would like to share also, through many different discussions and visiting the United States and so on, but one thing which has left a very deep impression on me through exchange and discussions with the former NRC chair, Gregory Jaczko, and the thing that he said to me was: We don’t know when or where a nuclear disaster may happen, but we do know that it may happen. And so, we need to think not that this won’t happen, but think about what to do if this does, or how to prevent this from happening. And he, when he was in Japan, met with many people from Fukushima, many people who it directly affected and suffering from the disaster. And what he said was that nuclear power plants should not be built in places near where people would have to evacuate if something did happen. And this is the reason, for example, I hear, why he was against the extension of the Pilgrim plant near Boston. And I also very much share this opinion with him. Nuclear power plants should not be built in any kind of location where people would have to evacuate if something were to happen. So when we consider that in the case of Japan, there is nowhere where nuclear power plants could be built, should be built. And within the whole world also, I believe there is no or probably almost no places where a nuclear power plant should be built. So I would like to share this, finally.

AMY GOODMAN: What message do you have for anti-nuclear grassroots activists for reaching the old you, the prime minister of Japan, who was pro-nuclear?

NAOTO KAN: [translated] I personally have visited California, New York and Boston on the invitation of such grassroots anti-nuclear activists, and speaking with them and hearing about what they’re doing and also visiting Taiwan in a similar capacity. I feel that of course it is important to speak or to approach presidents, Congress, parliaments, but more than this, we need to look at the local level, how you can speak with your municipal government, mayors, state governor, for example, and how to approach and work with local political leaders is the most effective. In the case, for example, of the decision to decommission the San Onofre plant in California, I believe that this was crucial for this point also. So it’s very important. My message that I would like to share for grassroots activists is to remember to not only look at the national, but also think about how you can actually approach your local politicians to work for this.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Naoto Kan, arigatou gozaimasu. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Naoto Kan, he was prime minister of Japan when the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown occurred. He’s one of the few sitting world leaders to have changed his position completely while in office. He’s now a leading opponent of nuclear power anywhere. I interviewed him in his offices in Tokyo, Japan. Special thanks to Meri Joyce, Makiko Nakano and Neil Shibata. When we come back, Noam Chomsky.

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