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).
The Environment Agency has changed its mind, and will back a plan to build an airport on reclaimed land in Kobe Port, three kilometers off Port Island. The Agency says the airport would be important in case of a natural disaster. After an environmental assessment, reclamation work could begin by late fiscal 1997 if the Transport Ministry gives the go-ahead. Opponents of the airport plan claim that a law preserving the Seto Naikai (Inland Sea) is designed to limit land reclamation. The airport will cost an estimated 310 billion yen ($2.6 billion), and some Kobe residents feel money should first be spent on victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. According to the plan, the artificial island will cover 272 hectares and have one 2500-meter runway, which will serve 10 domestic routes. If construction starts on schedule, the airport could open in 2004. The Osaka-Kobe area already has two major airports, the Kansai International Airport and Osaka Airport in Itami. (JT 2/4 Mar)
A proposed drainage canal in western Hokkaido has been a center of controversy for 15 years and is likely to continue that way for some time. The canal would lead from the Chitose River to the Pacific Ocean via the Bibi River. Promoters say it would alleviate the constant flooding on the Chitose; land along the river lies only seven meters about sea level. That sounds like a typical public works project in Japan, except for the scale: the planned canal is 40 kilometers long, and the Chitose actually flows into the Sea of Japan. In effect, the canal would reroute part of the Chitose into a watershed draining in the opposite direction. The fishing industry worries that water from the canal will endanger salmon and scallops in the Pacific; environmentalists are concerned about the effect on Lake Utonai, a Ramsar Convention wetland on the Bibi River. The project was proposed in 1982 by the Construction Ministry, and is priced at 480 billion yen ($4 billion). If construction ever begins, it could take up to 20 years. The Hokkaido prefectural government says it will follow the Ministry's plan only if citizens agree with it. A Hokkaido Shinbun poll in January found 35 percent of Hokkaido residents against the canal, and 22 percent in favor. (JT 4 Mar)
The Fukui Prefectural Assembly has rejected a government plan to burn MOX fuel in the prefecture's light water reactors, but another meeting will be held when the government makes its formal request for approval. The assembly wants more information about the safety and economics of MOX use, and is waiting for a promised roundtable discussion dealing with Monju, the Fukui fast-breeder prototype that shut down in December 1995 after a major sodium coolant leak (JT 1 Mar). Meanwhile, the president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Araki Hiroshi, met with Niigata Governor Hirayama Masao to discuss the details of a planned MOX-burning reactor in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa scheduled for 2000. Araki later met local mayors in the area where the plant would be constructed (JT 7 Mar).
The Education Ministry has decided not to give money for research on human cloning. Some Japanese universities are conducting research to clone cattle and mice; those studies will continue to receive ministry funding. The ministry's Science Council will set up guidelines regarding the ethics of cloning. The Science and Technology Agency will also report on worldwide cloning research to the government. No laws currently govern cloning in Japan, and there are no moves to impose legal restrictions in the near future. In February, a team in Edinburgh, U.K. led by Ian Wilmut successfully cloned a sheep. The team extracted DNA from an udder cell and placed it in an egg cell whose nucleus had been taken out. In effect, the experiment reprogrammed the udder cell not to turn on and off genes that cause cells to specialize. The differentiation between a brain cell and a kidney cell, for example, occurs when particular genes in the cells are selectively switched on or off. Previous clones developed in research or for agriculture came from young embryo cells, a relatively straightforward operation. Wilmut's experiment showed that differentiation can be reversed and cells' identities changed, and has opened the door to a variety of powerful applications. The enormous ramifications have provoked debate worldwide, and some countries are considering laws against human cloning experiments. (JT 9 Mar)
The Pacific Teal has brought its 20-ton cargo of waste back to Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture after two months at sea. After arriving at Mutsu-Ogawara port, the waste was trucked seven kilometers to the Rokkasho waste storage facility. It left France on January 13 after the French state company COGEMA processed spent fuel rods from Japanese nuclear plants. The waste has been mixed with glass and is contained in 40 steel canisters. It will be stored at Rokkasho for 30-50 years before being placed in permanent storage underground. About 300-400 people protested the shipment at the port, where 500 riot police were on hand. A radiation leak one week earlier at the Tokai plant has alarmed some local residents. This is the second waste shipment from France to Japan; the first arrived in April 1995. During its trip around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, 20 nations prohibited the Pacific Teal from entering their territorial waters. (JT/DY 19 Mar)