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).
Scientists in Kitakyushu are looking for explanations of frog deformities in the Yamada Greenery park. This May researchers found 83 out of 1681 deformed frogs from the yamaakagaeru species. The frogs generally have an extra set of forelegs. Researchers checked the water for agricultural chemicals, heavy metals, and dioxin, but found none present. Until 1972 the park was part of a larger property that the U.S. military used as an ammunition dump. Only the Yamaakagaeru, out of 8 species that live in the pond, seems to be affected. The city government has set up a group to monitor the problem (DY 2 Oct). In the north central region of North America misshapen frogs are being discovered, and scientists there are equally baffled. The deformities include extra limbs, missing or shriveled eyes, and small sex organs. A University of Minnesota herpetologist found that the more aquatic frog species had greater abnormalities; he guesses that water pollution, possibly airborne, is the cause. The U.S. head of the Declining Amphibian Population Task Force says that methporene, used for mosquito control, is a top suspect. The U.S. EPA also plans a study. Amphibians, having permeable skin, are especially vulnerable to pollutants, and are considered "sentinel" species that warn of future risks (JT 11 Oct, 1 Nov).
The Japanese government has drafted a proposal ahead of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Kyoto in December 1997. Before the end of this year, the more than 150 signatories will start negotiating new targets for greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto conference is expected to set binding targets for reducing emissions after 2000. The Japanese proposal would give countries a choice of two targets: the first, a rate of reduction of output; the second, a per capita output. The proposal also calls for countries to devise national programs to meet the targets. In Kyoto, Japan hopes to "play a leading role," a government official said. But Japan will likely be criticized for giving itself an escape hatch: with its population slowly increasing for now, Japan can choose the per capita option and not be forced to severely limit emissions. Trends show that Japan's carbon dioxide output will continue to rise until 2020. (JT 1 Nov)
Japan continues to dump large amounts of waste into the sea, over 43 million tons last year. Almost three-quarters of it came from harbor-dredging. Industrial waste, some toxic, counted for 15 percent of the total. Non-industrial waste, including raw sewage, represented about 10 percent. Of the major industrialized countries, only Japan dumps raw sewage into the sea, because of a shortage of treatment plants. The London treaty on waste disposal advocates a ban on dumping. (JT 2 Nov)
Six thousand people in Arise district in Kobe have signed a petition to stop construction of an electric transfer station in their neighborhood. The residents fear the effects of electromagnetic emissions, though Kansai Electric Power officials say they will not exceed 10 milligauss. Construction of the transfer station was suspended in October, and the Kobe city government is considering the petition. Scientists disagree about acceptable levels of electromagnetic fields, and studies so far have not given consistent results. A comprehensive study by the World Health Organization is expected to provide more answers, but is not due out until 2000. (JT 3 Nov)
A proposed model city in Okinawa Prefecture will show off environmentally-friendly technology, in a plan put forward by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). Wind and solar generators outside the city, and low-emission public transportation, such as electric buses, will be featured. MITI also wants to set up an international research center to act as a go-between with Asian countries in transferring clean-energy technologies. The proposal is part of a package to help the prefectural economy. In the wake of the military base issue in Okinawa, the national government has agreed to provide more economic support. (DY 10 Nov)
In Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Chugoku Electric Power Co. has officially applied for permission to build two advanced boiling water reactors. At present there is only one ABWR in Japan. The company hopes to start construction in 2001. Opposition from fishing unions and other residents is strong, however. One union leader said, "It is arrogant for the company to try to proceed with the plan despite opposition from local people." In addition, an anti-nuclear group is trying to prevent Chugoku Power from acquiring the land it needs (JT 14 Nov). The first advanced boiling water reactor in Japan, the No. 6 reactor in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, began operations on November 7. The No. 7 reactor, also an ABWR, will be tested in December. When fully operating, Kashiwazaki will become the largest nuclear power plant in the world (JT 8 Nov).
After the October general elections, Prime Minister Hashimoto has revamped his cabinet. Out as Environment Agency chief is Iwatare Sukio; the new director is Ishii Michiko, 63, representing a Saitama district and serving her third term in the Upper House of the Diet. She was vice minister of the Agency in 1988. She is already pointing toward the U.N. Climate Change conference in Kyoto in December 1997, and says "Japan is lagging behind its industrialized counterparts" in reducing fuel emissions. Ishii believes the Agency must serve as a watchdog for a safe environment in order to avoid disasters like the Minamata mercury poisoning. She also supports environmental assessments for public works projects. Critics say she lacks boldness. (DY 8 Nov, JT 16 Nov)
The Forestry Agency will go deeper into debt, and must be radically restructured, according to a Board of Audit report that will be submitted to Prime Minister Hashimoto. The Agency's massive debt, over 3 trillion yen at the end of fiscal 1995 (see March, June JEM), is not likely to improve with declining lumber prices and high labor costs. The Agency workforce has been nearly halved in the last five years, to 17,000, and there has been some restructuring. But the board concluded that major changes, such as separate accounting for lumber product forests and public benefit forests, are necessary. (DY 16 Nov)
A growing number of cases of sick house syndrome and the more serious multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS) are leading two government ministries to develop healthy construction materials for new buildings. Some people, especially those with allergies, skin disorders, or asthma, become sick when they move into new buildings, and the syndrome can be traced to a variety of chemicals. Formaldehyde in adhesives, volatile organic compounds in paints and wood preservatives, anti-mildew carpet treatments, and petrochemicals in building materials can all contaminate indoor air. Furthermore, many buildings are constructed of airtight ferroconcrete. The presence of household insecticides, formalin in mothballs, plant fertilizers, and cigarette smoke can also aggravate the symptoms, which include dizziness, headaches, and eye and skin irritation. The government will analyze harmful chemicals, and give grants to businesses that develop safer materials. (DY 12 Nov, JT 21 Nov)
Delegates from the Bureau International des Expositions in Paris have completed their tour of the proposed World Expo 2005 site in Seto, Aichi Prefecture. About 100 protesters waited at the entrance to the Kaisho forest to demonstrate their opposition to the plan, which would develop 80 hectares in the forest and affect 11 Red Book-listed species (see July JEM). After blocking the bus route into the site, protesters tried to persuade the delegation to walk through the forest. In the end, the delegates inspected the site by helicopter. The delegation will continue on to Australia, a late entrant, for its final inspection. Calgary, Canada is the third candidate for the World Expo. Reports on the three bids will be completed by December, and the Bureau will decide next June. (JT 20/22 Nov)