The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
Between January and March of next year a shipment of nuclear waste will be delivered from France to Rokkasho plant in Aomori Prefecture. The announcement was made by Japan Nuclear Fuel, the consortium of power companies that runs Rokkasho. The waste came from spent nuclear fuel used in Japanese reactors, and was sent to France for reprocessing. (JT 2 Apr)
The Aichi prefectural government will submit its bid to host World Expo 2005 to the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris. The Exposition site covers an 80-hectare area in Seto city, near Nagoya, and a local conservation group objects that Expo construction will destroy valuable forest, harm wildlife, including the endangered northern goshawk, and cause erosion (see Nov-Dec 1995 JEM, p. 7). Since the original plan appeared in 1994, the Environment Agency and Finance Ministry have already forced a downsizing to preserve forest and save costs. Organizers estimate 25 million people would attend the Expo. The only other Expo 2005 contender is Calgary, Canada. The deciding vote will take place in June. (DY 3 Apr)
A Science and Technology Agency research ship off the coast of Peru and Ecuador has observed a cold-water ocean current moving west and reaching the Gilbert Islands beyond the International Date line. The current is known as La Nina, and is thought to affect weather in the western Pacific, and in particular to cause very hot summers in Japan. La Nina's counterpart, El Nino, is a warm equatorial current that has been blamed for severe weather in many places. With the help of a U.S. weather satellite, the research ship observed temperatures 2 to 4 degrees lower than normal, the first occurrence of La Nina since 1988. (JT 7 Apr)
Donen, the semi-governmental corporation which also operates Monju, has agreed to remove radioactive tailings from an old uranium mine in Katamo precinct in Tottori Prefecture. The site is now closed to entry, but Katamo residents want the tailings taken away. After 8 years of negotiations with local governments, the parties settled on a disposal site at Ningyo Pass on the border of Tottori and Okayama prefectures. There are 16,000 cubic meters of tailings at the mine; 3000 have been identified as highly radioactive. Donen will remove these 3000 cubic meters of waste and bury it in concrete over the next two years. (JT 7 Apr)
A fund has been established to give advice and defray the legal costs of individuals and organizations filing lawsuits to protect the environment. The Fund for the Rights of Nature was formed by lawyers, academics, and NGO's. The head of the secretariat, Takaaki Kagohashi, said that, "because legal frameworks to protect nature have failed to prevent development, filing lawsuits is an unconventional way to protect nature." Takaaki pointed out that a February 1995 lawsuit in Kagoshima Prefecture successfully halted golf course development. (JT 12 Apr)
Japan has loosened its import rules to allow two-by-four lumber to enter with fewer restrictions from the U.S. Japan will recognize the stamp of approval of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) on two-by-fours, which are used in building houses. According to the Minister of Construction, the move is part of a gradual deregulation of the Japanese housing industry. Robert Hunt of the WWPA said, "Japan is our producers' largest market and favorite customer." U.S. lumber imports in Japan totalled $3.25 billion in 1995. (DY 17 Apr)
The Cabinet has sent a bill to the Diet to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, and expects enactment by July 1. Two hurdles remain, however. The first, the territorial dispute over the Takeshima/Tokdo and Senkaku/Diaoyu island groups will be put aside for now. The other hurdle is resolving fishing rights with China and Korea. Japanese negotiators began unofficial meetings with China in early April, and were expected to open talks with Korea soon after its April 11 general election. The Japanese fishing industry is urging the government to crack down on foreign boats fishing in Japanese waters (DY 27 Mar; JT 8/10 Apr). In the midst of the territorial dispute with Japan, South Korea has made a survey in preparation for building a prefabricated wharf on Takeshima/Tokdo that will be large enough to berth a 500-ton ship. Tokyo protested the action, and claimed its own sovereignty over the islands in the Sea of Japan (DY 19 Mar). Finally, a Chinese minister says that because China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea have overlapping claims in northeast Asia, all five countries should hold multilateral talks in order to define their sea zone borders (DY 17 Apr).
The town of Maki in Niigata Prefecture has scheduled a referendum for August 4 to decide on construction of a nuclear power plant by the Tohoku Electric Power Co. In February, after the town's pro-nuclear mayor resigned under threat of a recall election, the newly elected Takaaki Sasaguchi promised to hold a referendum. The city assembly announced the date on March 21 (JT 22 Mar). Tohoku Electric is being criticized for promoting and organizing bus tours to a nuclear plant 60 kilometers from Maki, in order to demonstrate its safety. Various tour options include a trip to a hotspring and a French-style meal. The tours are scheduled to begin in mid-May and last until late June. Kuwabara Masashi, who represents a citizens' group opposing the plant, says, "The pros and cons of the nuclear power station should be debated squarely without such meddling" (DY 18 Apr).
The International Ski Federation (FIS) and the Nagano Olympic Committee still disagree over the Hakuba course for the 1998 Olympic downhill ski race. The Nagano committee has set the start for 1680 meters, but FIS argues that the course is too short, and wants an 1800-meter starting gate. Above 1680 meters is a national park, and Nagano officials say construction of a higher starting area and related facilities would harm wildlife, and bring opposition from environmental groups. Nagano has proposed combining two runs for the competition, or making more turns to lengthen the course, but FIS rejects both alternatives. Nagano's position is complicated by the fact that a public ski course already exists on the contested site, with a lift taking skiers to 1800 meters. The May Congress of the FIS may settle the matter. (DY 9/14/18 Apr)
The Ministry of International Trade and Industry held a public hearing over a proposed nuclear plant in Higashidori-mura, a fishing village in Aomori Prefecture. Two hundred seventy people attended. It was the first public hearing regarding a nuclear plant since 1986. Tohoku Electric Power Co. plans a 1.1 kilowatt plant, and with approval of a government panel construction could start in 1998. Eventually the site is scheduled to have four reactors. (JT 18 Apr)
Monju workers are cutting away coolant pipes to retrieve the 15-centimeter long sheath of the temperature sensor that broke due to metal fatigue, causing a large sodium leak and subsequent plant shutdown on December 8 of last year. They are also busy analyzing other temperature sensors (DY 19 Apr). The Atomic Safety Commission said the accident caused fear and distrust in the Japanese public, and plans to stage roundtable talks to exchange opinions with the public two or three times a month. The opening roundtable will be April 13 in Tsuruga, and the Director of the Science and Technology Agency will attend. The Commission will also organize symposia to put forward its nuclear policies (DY 16 Mar). Meanwhile, over 870,000 people so far have signed a petition calling for debate and consensus on fastbreeder reactors (JT 8 Apr).
The National Space Development Agency has placed a satellite into orbit that is designed to monitor the global environment. Known as Midori ("green"), the satellite has sensors for detecting ocean temperatures and surface wind, greenhouse gases, and the ozone layer. Data will be gathered in cooperation with the U.S. and will be available worldwide to scientists. (DY/JT 20 Aug)
After 5 months in the Antarctic Sea, a fleet of five whaling ships has returned to Japan having caught 440 minke whales. Two ships docked in Nagasaki, and the Fishery Port there will distribute an estimated 1900 tons of whale meat around Japan. The other three ships are from Shimonoseki. Between 1987 and 1995 Japan legally conducted minke whale surveys, in which whalers killed about 300 minkes per year. In 1995, however, the International Whaling Convention suspended the surveys, and both Japan and Norway have been in violation of the convention. (JT 20 Apr)
An Environment Agency survey asking a wide range of questions about the environment was released last month. Ninety percent of Japanese said they were concerned about the environment, and were willing to alter their lifestyles; 66% say stores may charge deposits for recyclable cans; and 60% are willing to pay more taxes for environmental protection. Numbers are lower, however, when it comes to real action: 54% usually or frequently buy recycled products, and 7% help out the environment in civic activities. Only 7% know what the Environment Agency does to protect the environment. Of the 3000 people surveyed, 1003 responded. (DY 23 Apr)
A government report on nuclear safety says that nuclear plants must be more thoroughly overhauled when they turn 30 years old. The report, by the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, also says that general maintenance must be improved for all plants regardless of age. Over the next few years the agency will outline specific overhaul steps for older plants. By 2000, the Tsuruga No. 1 reactor and the Mihama No. 1 reactor, among others, will reach their 30th year of operation. (JT 24 Apr)
The Forestry Agency, over 3 trillion yen in debt, intends to sell 100,000 hectares of forest during the next 20 years to raise cash. Since 1991, it has sold about 13,000 hectares, and leased another 14,000 for ski areas and golf courses. In addition, it will cut its workforce to 10,000 employees. The agency claims that it makes prudent sales in order to preserve the environment, but in fiscal 1994, 60% of the land sold was used for industry, farming, housing, and damsites. Now the agency is trying to lease a Gumma Prefecture forest, home to endangered golden eagles, for a ski area. Critics also complain that there is little cooperation between the Forestry Agency and the Environment Agency; at present, endangered species have no protected habitat in national forests. A senior agency official said, "to tell the truth, we don't want areas within national forests to be placed under the management of the Environment Agency. If we're accused of defending our turf, we won't deny it." To solve the debt crisis, several proposals have been raised: imposing a conservation tax; shifting around budgets; or giving the Forestry Agency, or at least those forests slated for ecological conservation, over to the Environment Agency--in that way, fresh funds from the national budget could eliminate the need to sell off national forests (AEN 7 Apr). In its latest survey, the Environment Agency reported that 70,000 hectares of natural forest and 180,000 hectares of secondary forest have been lost to development since 1990. About 70% of Japan is covered by forest (JT 27 Apr).
The endangered golden eagle, with a population of about 400 in Japan, needs special protection measures, according to an Environment Agency advisory panel. Early this summer the agency will prepare to research the eagle's breeding conditions, and will consider artificial feeding. Ninety eagles per year must enter the population to maintain it, but currently about 45 young are fledging successfully. The agency has found 134 pairs of golden eagles (inu-washi, Aquila chrysaetos). In Japan the golden eagle is a mountain resident, living mainly above 1200 meters in central Honshu. It preys almost entirely on the Japanese hare (no-usagi, Lepus brachyurus), the copper pheasant (yamadori, Phasianus soemmerringi), and a snake, Elaphe climacophora. The Environment Agency will also make special protection plans for Abe's salamander of Kyoto Prefecture, the bekko tonbo dragonfly, and the hanashinobu perennial plant. (JT 27 Apr; The Birds of Japan, Mark Brazil)
Despite opposition from the Environment Agency and many citizens, the governor of Shimane Prefecture has given the go-ahead to reclaim agricultural land from Lake Nakaumi, the fifth largest lake in Japan. With the consent of the prefectural assembly and three local municipalities, work could begin in fiscal 1997. The project would reclaim 1700 hectares (17 sq. km.) from the lake. The Environment Agency says that a previous water quality study "is not adequate." About 800 hectares were reclaimed between 1968 and 1988, but work stopped because of opposition from residents. Many worry that the project will pollute the water, as well as threaten a important aquifer situated under an island in the lake. Over 60,000 residents signed a petition requesting a referendum to decide the fate of the project, but the petition was rejected in February. Cost overruns beyond the current 27 billion yen price tag are also feared. Although Lake Nakaumi is subject to pollution laws, the Environment Agency has no power to halt the project. (JT 20/24/29 Apr)