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).
With the announcement that Japan's oldest nuclear power plant will close, the long process of decommissioning begins (see Aug-Sept JEM). The Tokai plant in Ibaraki Prefecture opened in 1957, and is scheduled for shutdown in April 1998. It will be the first plant in Japan to be decommissioned. Since 1988 nuclear power companies have been obligated to set aside money for future shutdown costs, and usually about 0.2 yen per kwh is added to consumer electricity bills for the purpose. The Japan Atomic Power Co., a mainly private consortium of utilities, has estimated decommission costs at 25 billion yen, but the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center says the final bill could more than double that amount, because some waste disposal costs are not included. Some 4000 tons of waste has not been categorized, and the government is still determining how to deal with it. Most of the 20,000 tons of low-level waste will be stored in the Rokkasho facility in Aomori Prefecture. Tokai's design, a graphite-moderated gas-cooled reactor, is uncommon, and little is known about dismantling it. Worldwide, only four major reactors have been fully decommissioned, one in Germany and three in the U.S. At Tokai the entire process will take about 15 years. (JT 2 Oct)
The World Wide Fund for Nature has picked the Nansei islands as one of 200 areas in the world that need to be preserved. The islands stretch 1200 kilometers from Kyushu to Taiwan. The WWF said the island chain's coral and subtropical forests are threatened by agricultural and coastal development and deforestation. The Japanese WWF branch wants to set up a research center for coral protection on Ishigaki island, 400 kilometers southwest of Okinawa. (JT 3 Oct)
The 1991 Antartic environmental protocol has been ratified by all 26 nations involved, except for Russia, Finland, and Japan. According to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, Japan is behind in getting the bill ready for passage. The Environment Agency says preparations have been time-consuming. The protocol will ban mining for 50 years and regulate waste disposal, marine pollution, and plant and animal conservation. It does not take effect, however, until every nation signs it. (JT 5 Oct)
Toyota Motor Co. has announced a fuel cell electric vehicle that is powered by a hydrogen and oxygen reaction. The hydrogen is split into positive and negative charges to provide the power; the emissions are water vapor. The cell can be filled with hydrogen in only 20 minutes, and the company is working to shorten this time to 3 to 5 minutes. One hydrogen charge can take the vehicle 250 kilometers, and its top speed is over 100 kph. Daimler-Benz in Germany came out with a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle earlier this year, but Toyota says its own fuel cell is far more compact, thanks to a new hydrogen-absorbing alloy. (DY 6 Oct)
Chinese medicines containing black bear and tiger parts are still widely sold in Japan and other countries, at a time when tiger populations in particular are crashing. Tiger bone products are supposed to treat rheumatism, and bear gallbladders are used in expensive medicines to reduce fever and pain. Legislation and public education projects are limited in scope. The tiger population is estimated at 3000 in India and 5000 overall, and poachers are killing about one tiger each week. The Environment Agency announced a consumer education campaign last year, and tiger product imports are banned in Japan, but sales are legal and smuggling continues. Between 1978 and 1988 Japan imported gallbladders from over 60,000 bears in China and India, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Now North American black bears are replacing those from Asia as a source of gallbladders. (JT 7 Oct)
The Sendai High Court has mediated a settlement under which Mitsubishi Materials Corp. will pay 1.64 billion yen to 107 miners suffering from lung disease. The miners worked in the Hosokura mine in Miyagi Prefecture, and contracted pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, from mine dust. In March of this year, Mitsubishi was ordered by Sendai District Court to pay 396 million yen to 23 plaintiffs, but the decision was appealed by both sides (see April JEM). The High Court said mine operators did not provide adequate safety measures. The settlement is the highest ever for a lung disease case, and is expected to influence other lawsuits filed by miners in Japan. (JT 16 Oct)
The town assembly of Hamaoka in Shizuoka Prefecture has approved a plan by Chubu Electric to build another nuclear power plant, the fifth in the area. Thirteen of 16 assembly member supported the plant. Construction is scheduled to begin in 1999. The plant will be an advanced boiling water reactor with a capacity of 1.3 million kw. Chubu Electric will now hold a public hearing and submit its plan to the national government. In 1993 the company also asked for approval of the No. 5 plant, but citizens were opposed (JT 17 Oct). This time over 3000 Hamaoka residents have signed petitions against the plan, and in favor of a referendum on the issue (Nuke Info Tokyo, Sept/Oct).
Poison gas shells left over from World War II have been recovered by the Self-Defense Forces from the bottom of Lake Kussharo in eastern Hokkaido. One of the 26 shells, which was corroding, contained a mixture of yperite (mustard gas) and lewisite, which has arsenic. The gas irritates the skin and attacks respiratory and digestive organs, and is usually lethal. The other 25 shells were not tested, but are assumed to be identical. Hokkaido Prefecture has buried the shells in a sealed concrete container, but the Prefecture hopes the national government will dispose of them permanently. Water tests in the lake show no abnormalities. Lake Kussharo, in Akan National Park, is a major tourist draw in Hokkaido (JT 21 Oct). Japan will have to dispose of chemical weapons abandoned by the Imperial Army in China during World War II. China is demanding that they be removed from China. Since no local government in Japan will take them, Tokyo is considering a floating offshore factory for disposal. The government has been meeting unofficially with several companies, including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (JT 25 Sep).
Research by Nagoya University at a South Korean company shows that the organic solvent 2-bromo-propane, a replacement for ozone-depleting gases, may reduce men's sperm counts and suspend menstruation in women. The 2-bromopropane in the study was used as a cleaner in an electronic parts manufacturing plant. The results were announced at a scientific meeting in Tokyo. (JT 25 Oct)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has adopted a resolution asking Japan to protect the endangered Amami hare (Amami no kurousagi, Pentalagus furnessi), which lives only on Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima islands. The Amami hare is a relic species surviving from the time when the Nansei chain was joined to the Asian continent. Since the islands became separated from the mainland, continental species have changed. Amami Oshima is 300 kilometers southwest of Kyushu. (JT 25 Oct)
Since the U.N. Law of the Sea took effect in July, the Maritime Safety Agency has introduced a system by which foreign violators of the pollution law may pay bail money and continue sailing. Violators must then return to Japan later for criminal investigation. Five out of 11 crews have returned after paying collateral, up to 2 million yen per ship. Of the remaining 6 ships, however, only one crew member has appeared; he faced charges of spilling 4800 liters of waste oil in Oita Bay. None of the other crews has been heard from. The U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, and Singapore have enacted similar bail policies for pollution violators. (DY 25 Oct)
Kujukuri beach in Chiba Prefecture will ban motor vehicles, bicycles, and helicopters after next summer. The law will cover a 60-kilometer stretch between Iioka and Ichinomiya. The beach is a nesting area for little terns (ko-ajisashi, Sterna albifrons), snipes, and plovers, and possibly sea turtles. The sweetbrier, a rare plant, also grows there. The prefectural government will adopt measures based on national park ordinances. (DY 26 Oct)
In talks with Namibian President Sam Nujoma, Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro said he supports lifting the worldwide ban on the ivory trade. Nujoma told Hashimoto that the number of African elephants is increasing. In February of this year, government and business representatives from Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Malawi came to Japan to gain support for their position before an international meeting next year. Visiting officials of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, the Environment Agency, and Japanese ivory dealers, they said that proceeds from ivory sales will be used to protect elephants. The director of an elephant protection fund in Japan, Obara Hideo, argues that the ivory trade encourages poaching. If the ban were lifted, Japan would probably be the world's largest importer. Ivory is commonly used to make personal seals. Japanese dealers say their current stock of ivory, 160 tons, will be gone in five years. Next spring the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meets in Zimbabwe. (AEN 30 Oct, JT 22 Feb)
There has been little improvement in air quality in large Japanese cities despite a law passed two years ago to reduce diesel exhaust. The Environment Agency reported levels of nitrogen oxides and suspended particulate matter from over 2000 measurement stations around the nation. The areas in which emission levels most often exceeded standards were Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Osaka, and Hyogo prefectures. In addition, the average concentration of nitrogen dioxide increased slightly from fiscal 1994 (DY 12 Oct). The Environment Agency has ordered the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to directly supervise the disposal of waste resulting from the nitrogen oxide measuring process. Tokyo contracts the work to a private company. The 81 measuring stations in Tokyo produce thousands of liters of liquid waste, which is subject to special disposal laws (DY 24 Oct). In related news, the Tokyo government will ask large truck companies to voluntarily reduce nitrogen oxide exhaust output by 10 percent over the next 5 years. About 650 companies, each owning more than 50 trucks, are targeted. Small companies will be asked to join the program in 1998 (AEN 30 Oct).
After discussing the feasibility of a tax on carbon dioxide emissions (see Aug-Sept JEM), a committee has made its report to the director of the Environment Agency. The report recommends a tax, together with subsidies for companies that reduce their emissions. Businesses have consistently opposed the carbon tax, but the report says Japan's action plan for reducing emissions falls short of its goals. In 1994, carbon dioxide levels were 7 percent higher than in 1990, despite the government enacting 460 measures to reduce output. The U.N. Convention on Climate Change stipulates that 2000 levels must not exceed 1990 levels. Japan's emissions in 1994 were equivalent to the total volume produced by Africa or South America. (DY 31 Oct)