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).
U.S. and Japanese carmakers, including Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mazda are developing a new generation of electric cars to take advantage of California's new emissions law. The law stipulates that by 2003 at least 10 percent of vehicles sold must be zero-emission; intermediate steps begin in 1998. The cars will sell in Japan, but for now California and other U.S. states are the primary targets. In January, General Motors debuted the EV1, priced at 4 million yen (36,000 U.S. dollars). Newly introduced cars have been forced to compete with this price. Toyota's new model sells at 4.95 million yen, and next spring Nissan's Prairie Joy EV and the Honda EV will go on sale. Electric car batteries have evolved from lead-acid to nickel-metal and lithium-ion. The latter two types can double a car's maximum distance on one charge; cars can now go 130 kph and 200 km. In Japan, there were 2300 electric cars in use in fiscal 1994; the government subsidizes the cost of switching from gasoline vehicles. Nineteen eco-stations for charging electric vehicle batteries have been built around the country so far. Odawara City in Kanagawa Prefecture is being considered as a model city for zero-emission vehicles. (JT 28 Aug, 3 Sep)
The mayor of Kushima, Miyazaki Prefecture has announced that if re-elected in November, he will hold a referendum within a year regarding a nuclear plant in the city. Kyushu Electric Power Co. put its plan on hold last December, but the mayor claims that the company has not given up. His November opponent is in favor of the nuclear plant. This would be the second such referendum in Japan, following the one in Maki. (DY/JT 5 Sep)
The Shiraho reef off the southeast coast of Ishigaki island in Okinawa Prefecture will be preserved as a piece of Iriomote National Park, the Environment Agency announced. Shiraho has the world's largest colony of blue coral, in addition to over 100 other coral species. Until 1992 there were plans to construct an offshore airport over the reef, but they collapsed due to pressure from environmentalists in Japan and abroad. Recent studies also show soil runoff from farms harming the reef. (DY/JT 6 Sep)
The head of the environment subcommittee of Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) said in a lecture that Japan must promote nuclear energy to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide. Kano Tokio, who is also an executive of Tokyo Electric, said Japan will probably not meet the U.N. Convention global-warming agreement to hold 2000 carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels. Hydroelectric and other alternative energies should also be pursued, he said. Currently about 28 percent of Japan's energy comes from nuclear plants, and 12 percent from other non-fossil fuel sources. Keidanren also supports comprehensive recycling, improved environmental management and audits for businesses, and environmental oversight for projects overseas. (DY 7 Sep)
Despite the result of the August 4 nuclear referendum in Maki, Niigata Prefecture, International Trade and Industry Minister Tsukahara Shunpei says government plans to build a nuclear plant there have not been abandoned. Based on the non-binding referendum, in which 60 percent of Maki residents opposed a nuclear plant, Mayor Sasaguchi Takaaki has pledged not to sell municipal land to Tohoku Electric Power Co. But the MITI head told reporters, "the mayor has to represent his residents' will, but we have to persuade them once we decide the plant is necessary" (JT 7 Sep). Mayor Sasaguchi paid an official visit to the Natural Resources and Energy Agency to request that Maki's name be struck from the list of proposed nuclear power plants (JT 8 Sep).
Six hundred tons of uranium hexafluoride have been delivered from France by ship to the Rokkasho nuclear facility in Aomori Prefecture. According to the Japan Nuclear Fuel Corp., the consortium of power companies that runs the facility, this was the first sea delivery to Rokkasho. Previous shipments went to the port of Tokyo and were trucked to Aomori; since 1991 there have been 22 overland deliveries from Tokyo. For security reasons the arrival was announced shortly before docking, while the ship passed by Wakayama Prefecture. Fifty containers of uranium were unloaded by crane and transported to Rokkasho. The facility will enrich the uranium to produce fuel for nuclear plants. The consortium said that in future it will deliver uranium by sea once a year, and by land two or three times a year. A citizens' group was on-hand to protest the shipment (JT 15/18 Sep). Aomori District Court officials inspected another part of the Rokkasho nuclear facility, the spent fuel reprocessing plant which is under construction. An anti-nuclear group has filed suit to revoke government authorization for the plant because of safety hazards. Judges and representatives of both sides examined and photographed 21 areas in the plant. Preliminary plant operation will begin in October, and the court agreed with the plaintiffs that inspection must take place beforehand (JT 15 Sep).
Japan's whaling fleet has returned from the South Pacific with a harvest of 77 minke whales. The fleet set out in July. The Fishery Agency says the whaling will provide data on distribution and migration of minkes. This summer's meeting of the International Whaling Commission called on Japan to give up research whaling, but the Agency says the IWC resolution is not binding. (JT 18 Sep)
The endangered Blakiston fish-owl, living in Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands, can't wait much longer for Japan and Russia to settle their 50-year old dispute, according to an owl researcher. Currently there is no overall management plan for the species (shima-fukuro, Ketupa blakistoni). An estimated 100 birds live in Hokkaido, with about 300 on the Russian islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, and Shikotan, which are also claimed by Japan. The owl is nearly extinct on the Russian island of Sakhalin. Now Russian and Japanese researchers are exchanging information over the Internet, but the Japanese researcher says intergovernmental surveys and other steps must be carried out to save the species. In Hokkaido little habitat is left for the fish-owl; many birds nest in special boxes or catch fish at fish farms. In the Kurils, however, the fish-owls still live in a natural state. The Kurils have belonged to the USSR, and now Russia, since 1945; they were seized two weeks after the Japanese surrender in World War II, and Japanese diplomacy has failed to get them back (JT 20 Sep). The fish-owl uses various hunting strategies like snatching or plunging to catch trout, char, salmon, frogs, and in winter, various rodents. It depends on large trees with cavities for nesting. Logging and river development have mainly caused the population decline. Though designated as a Natural Monument, the owl has no protected habitat in Hokkaido (The Birds of Japan, Mark Brazil).
A Japanese and British organization have jointly inspected zoos throughout Japan and have called on four to close down because of substandard conditions. The Japanese group, All Life in Viable Environment (ALIVE), asked the U.K. Born Free Foundation and a British zoo inspector to carry out the examination. Odawara Zoo in Kanagawa Prefecture, Petland Himeji in Hyogo, Shirotori Zoo in Kagawa, and a zoo run privately by Yoshikawa Shokai in Osaka all failed to provide a good environment for animals. At Shirotori Zoo, for instance, hippos and a polar bear had small cages with no bathing water, and an African elephant was on a 1-meter chain. Seven other zoos were named as needing to upgrade facilities. Ueno Zoo in Tokyo and Tennoji Zoo in Osaka received passing marks. (JT 13/22 Sep)
Fifty-eight Minamata disease victims in Kansai have resumed their lawsuit in Osaka High Court against the national and Kumamoto Prefecture governments. They are appealing a district court judgement that held the government was not responsible for the disaster. In May of this year over 1500 victims finally compromised with the government and Chisso Corp., and received cash settlements (see June JEM). But the Kansai victims have refused all compromises. One plaintiff said, "Getting money does not end the matter. We want the government to admit responsibility." In the 1950s, mercury discharges into Minamata Bay by Chisso poisoned the water and contaminated seafood (JT 26 Sep). Meanwhile, in Fukuoka High Court, another group of victims lost a retrial which claimed damages because the government took too long to recognize them. The plaintiffs had waited up to nine years for benefits, but the Fukuoka judge ruled that in the 1970s mercury poisoning was not well understood, and that doctors needed a long time to make the thousands of diagnoses. The plaintiffs had first filed suit in 1978 and won the case, but in 1991 the Supreme Court ordered a retrial. Six of the 24 original plaintiffs have died (JT 29 Sep).