VOX POPULI: We must face the specter hiding in the nuclear gloom

May 05, 2012

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.

"Hyakumonogatari" (One hundred tales) is a traditional Japanese parlor game for people who love to tell and listen to "kaidan" ghost stories. Participants tell their tales in a room lit by 100 candles. At the conclusion of each tale, the candles are extinguished, one by one. When the last candle has been snuffed out, a real ghost is supposed to appear.

Imagining that eerie darkness makes me think of the state of nuclear power generation in Japan. Many candles were knocked down in the Fukushima disaster. Some more were snapped in half when the Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture went offline. On May 5, the last remaining candle is finally going out. The No. 3 reactor at the Tomari plant in Hokkaido is set to be shut down for regular inspections. The last time Japan had no nuclear power generation was back in 1970, when commercial nuclear power generation was in its early stages.

Now that all the candles are out, what macabre presence should we expect? The government and the electric power industry, which fear power shortages, argue that the only way to protect the nation from the dreaded specter of a blackout is to restart the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture.

May 5 is "rikka," the beginning of summer according to the traditional calendar. This summer is expected to be moderately hot.

But no specter is more ominous and dangerous than radiation. What we should be worrying about is not the unpleasant heat of summer, but the risks to which our children and grandchildren will be exposed.

Our atonement for having knocked down the candles, so to speak, is to make the future safer for our descendants while buying time for now with energy conservation efforts.

May 5 is also Children's Day. The fact that Japan is going nuclear free on this day must not be allowed to become just one of history’s coincidences.

In "Fukushima no Kodomotachi kara no Tegami" (Letters from the children of Fukushima), a book from Asahi Shimbun Publications Inc., a third-year senior high school student says she can't stop her mind gnawing away at certain topics.

"Anxiety. Sorrow. Anger," she writes. "I am worried about the effects (of radiation) on my health. Why did this have to happen at all, and why here?"

We have already dumped a huge debt on descendants who are not even born yet. How can we harm them further by shoving uncertain nuclear technology on them?

We must identify the specter lurking in the darkness of nuclear power generation and draw up a fail-proof plan to defeat it. We need to prepare to answer many questions that will be asked in the future.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 5

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a daily column that runs on Page 1 of the vernacular Asahi Shimbun.
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