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).
In the town of Maki in Niigata Prefecture, 88 percent of the voters turned out for a referendum, and turned down a long-planned nuclear power plant. Nearly 61 percent voted against construction of a reactor by Tohoku Electric Power Co., with 39 percent in favor. The referendum is not legally binding, but the town's mayor, Sasaguchi Takaaki, has promised to respect the vote, and will not sell municipal land to Tohoku Electric on the proposed site. Sasaguchi won a special election in January after the former mayor resigned under pressure of a recall election; the former mayor was preparing to sell the city's plot to Tohoku Electric, and had refused to hold a referendum. The Maki referendum follows a fierce campaign by both sides, and has set off a chain reaction of speculation over the future of nuclear power in Japan. In addition, other towns may hold similar referendums. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kajiyama Seiroku said the government's policy of promoting nuclear power will not change. "I don't think that the voting was held to ask residents of Maki if nuclear power generation is necessary," he added. "But they voted against providing a site for a nuclear power plant." The referendum has been criticized for being an expression of "local ego" that should not influence national policy. A Tohoku Power official said, "I don't think it's appropriate to hold a referendum on nuclear power plants at the local level. It's a matter that should be discussed at the national level. The result of a referendum in such an isolated area might not be fair." Mayor Sasaguchi counters that the government and power companies "have never tried to create agreement among Japanese citizens on Japan's energy policies," and says, "the people should discuss important issues." Several cities and towns have ordinances calling for referendums on nuclear plants, but Maki's was the first such vote in Japan. Tohoku Electric has been trying to build a plant in Maki since 1969, and the project has been delayed since 1983 because of the land issue. (DY 3/5-6 Aug, JT 4-6 Aug)
The LDP's pro-nuclear plant candidate has won a mayoral election in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture. With a 92 percent turnout, he defeated an anti-nuclear independent candidate 9,356 votes to 7,498. The campaign's top issue was construction of a nuclear plant. The pro-nuclear side promised the plant would bring an economic revival; Suzu's population has been dropping steeply, and revenues cover only 25 percent of its budget (DY 16/20 June). In Mie Prefecture, Nanto's incumbent mayor, who had pledged to stop Chubu Electric Power Co. from building a plant, won re-election. The challenger also opposed the project (JT 6 August).
North Korea has established 3000-hectare and 2000-hectare sanctuaries in order to protect migrating white-naped cranes (mana-zuru, Grus vipio) and hooded cranes (nabe-zuru, Grus monacha). Development in the area will be prohibited, and rangers will enforce protection measures. The two cranes species migrate from Siberia and winter in Japan at Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture. (DY 11 Aug)
Japan has started work on various technologies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, which leads to global warming. Along with Norway and the U.S., Japan is considering whether release at sea is feasible. In one plan, carbon dioxide will be collected and put in ships, then pumped through pipes to 1000 meters under the surface. Researchers must still find ways to nullify the side effects. Also, the research institute of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry will commission projects to chemically stabilize carbon dioxide, a process which converts it to calcium carbonate, which is harmless. (DY 20 Aug)
The only wild crested ibises in the world, in Shaanxi province in China, are on the increase. There are now 43 wild ibises (toki, Nipponia nippon), plus 25 living at a breeding center. According to Japanese ornithologists who visited Shaanxi, the province is considering giving birds to Japan to continue captive breeding efforts. Japan had been attempting to breed the species at a facility on Sado island, Niigata Prefecture until last year, but a female ibis, on loan from China, was given back to Shaanxi after its last potential mate died in April 1995. The breeding center in China was established in 1990 with Japanese assistance. It returned three birds to the wild last year. (JT 21 Aug)
The Environment Agency has listed 22 toxic pollutants for regulation. Companies will not be obligated to reduce emissions of the listed substances, but are being requested to do so in advance of next spring's revision of the Air Pollution Control Law. Among other substances, the Agency designated benzene, dioxin, mercury compounds, trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene, and hexavalent chromium compounds. The pollutants may cause cancer or other diseases. The current law has mandatory regulations for only six substances. (JT 23 Aug)
Japan may be the only remaining choice to host an experimental nuclear reactor developed by the U.S., Japan, Russia, and the European Union. The so-called International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor will test nuclear fusion, and is scheduled to open in 2008. The U.S. has said that it will probably be unable to bear the host country's cost of 500-700 billion yen (4. 5-6.4 billion U.S. dollars at the current exchange rate). Germany, France, and Russia have already indicated they also cannot host the reactor. Japan has not officially agreed, but municipalities in Ibaraki, Aomori, and Hokkaido have volunteered sites. Fusion reactors run not on uranium or plutonium, but on tritium, which consists of two oxygen atoms plus one hydrogen atom with two neutrons. (JT 27 Aug)
In Koto Ward, Tokyo, 79 plaintiffs lost a suit to force Nippon Chemical and the Tokyo metropolitan government to remove an underground waste storage container from government land in the ward. In 1979 the Tokyo government and the company agreed to build a concrete tank to dispose of slag containing hexavalent chromium. The government subsequently built a park on the land. Local residents opposed the project but were unable to stop it, and now worry that the chromium will enter the soil. A District Court judge ruled that the slag is now too difficult to move. The plaintiffs plan to appeal. (DY 28 Aug)
This June and July about 350 loggerhead turtle eggs were found on Motosaru Beach in Oita Prefecture, three years after the turtles had stopped coming to the beach. In 1993 the beach road was widened to deal with increasing numbers of tourists, and construction carried over to the beach. Although beach reclamation was scaled back because of local opposition, the turtles did not return until this summer. For safety, the eggs will be stored in foam boxes in a facility until they hatch. (JT 29 Aug)
The Health and Welfare Ministry wants to develop a system to follow the status of industrial waste each step of the way, in order to prevent illegal disposal. A central computer will retrieve information from terminals located at companies that handle or dispose of waste. Then, via the central computer companies or local governments will be able to know at a glance the status of the waste. The Ministry plans to start the system after the industrial waste law is revised next year, but will have to address the cost burden to small companies. Since 1991 a similar system has been in place, but it lacks real-time information and requires much paperwork. (DY/JT 31 Aug)