Japan's lower house on July 16 approved legislation that would allow an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces in a vote boycotted by the opposition. The vote came one day after Prime Minster Shinzo Abe's ruling LDP-led bloc forced the bills through a committee despite intensifying protests. Opposition lawmakers walked out after their party leaders made final speeches against the bills. Abe cited China's growing military presence in the region in support of the legislation. The bills were drafted after his Cabinet last year adopted a new interpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution. Opponents counter that the new interpretation is unconstitutional. A criticism of the reform is that it is unclear what the new legislation actually does, but it is clearly intended to permit Japanese troops to be deployed on combat missions for the first time since the end of World War II. The package will now be passed on to the upper house of the Diet, and could be approved as early as next week.
As thousands of protesters blocked a main traffic artery in Taipei and clashed with police sent to clear them, Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party agreed April 28 to halt work on two nuclear reactors. Work on the Lungmen nuclear plant, which would be Taiwan's fourth, started more than a decade ago in the island's northeast, about 20 miles outside Taipei, but has met growing opposition since the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The No. 1 reactor at Lungmen is to be sealed, while work on the No. 2 reactor will be put on hold, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said. The decision was made following negotiations with opposition parties. Jiang added that the announcement does not represent a major change in the government's energy policy, and refused to say that the Lungmen project has been permanently abandoned. (BBC News, Radio Australia, Taiwan Today, NYT's Sinosphere blog, April 28)
Some 100,000 people from eight cities across Taiwan marked the approaching three-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster by taking to the streets to demand an end to nuclear power in the island nation. Protesters called for a halt to construction on the island's fourth nuclear power plant, now underway at Lungmen, as well as closure of the existing three installations. They also demanded the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, and that the government review its policy on the long-term management of radioactive waste. (Taiwan Today, March 10; China Post, March 9)
While the world media are paying little note, and most of the stateside public thinks of the Fukushima disaster in the past tense, in fact the ongoing effort to stabilize the stricken nuclear complex is now about to enter its most dangerous phase. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) will this month begin removing fuel rod "assemblies" from reactor building No. 4—where they are vulnerable because the containment dome was shattered by a hydrogen explosion four days into the disaster, on March 15, 2011. They are to be transferred to an "undamaged facility" within the complex. There are 1,533 of these zirconium-plated "assemblies," and they are said to be in a chaotic "jumble." The transfer is to take about a year—if all goes well. (Japan Times, FukuLeaks, Nov. 14; EneNews, Nov. 6; Fukushima Update, Sept. 14)
A Japanese appeals court is expected to rule soon in a suit filed on behalf of 14 children by their parents and anti-nuclear activists in June 2011 in a district court in Fukushima arguing that the nearby town of Koriyama should evacuate its children to an area where radiation levels are no higher than natural background levels in the rest of Japan, or about 1 millisievert annual exposure. After the Fukushima accident, Japan set an annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts for determining whether people can live in an area. The average radiation for Koriyama is below this level, but some "hot spots" around the city are above the cutoff. The district court rejected the suit in a December 2011 decision. An appeal is now before the Sendai High Court in nearby Miyagi prefecture.
A group of 40 Argentine environmentalists invaded the Embalse Nuclear Center in the central province of Córdoba on March 11 to mark the second anniversary of the earthquake that caused meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan's Fukushima prefecture, the second-worst nuclear accident in history. The protesters, members of Greenpeace Argentina, "entered [the complex] peacefully, waving flags and wearing orange overalls," according to Greenpeace Energy Campaign coordinator Mauro Fernández. They proceeded to climb to the top of the reactor, where they unfurled a giant banner reading: "Enough with nuclear danger!" The activists were then "beaten and arrested," Greenpeace said, and taken to Río Cuarto federal court, with jurisdiction over the facility.
Contractors could be illegally dumping radioactive soil, vegetation and water into rivers and open areas near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Japan's Environment Ministry admitted Jan. 4. The ministry said it will summon senior officials from companies contracted by the Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration to answer questions on how they manage contaminated waste following claims of illegal dumping in the coastal town of Naraha, the evacuated village of Iitate, and the inland in the city of Tamura. Under a law passed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, illegal dumping of contaminated substances may be punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to ¥10 million. "It is very regrettable if that is true," Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato said of the suspected dumping at his first news conference of 2013. (Kyodo, Jan. 5)
Japan scrambled fighter jets on Dec. 13 after a Chinese maritime aircraft entered airspace over the disputed islands known as the Senkaku to the Japanese and the Diaoyu to China. The Japanese defense ministry said the incident was the first violation of Japanese airspace by a Chinese official aircraft since 1958. "It is extremely deplorable," said Osamua Fujimura, Japan’s chief government spokesman. Kyodo News quoted Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura that the plane belonging to the Chinese Oceanic Administration was spotted near the Uotsuri Island at 11:06 AM local time, and Japan's Air Self-Defense Force responded by dispatching F-15 jets. The response was of course prosted by Beijing. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "Flying a marine surveillance airplane in airspace above the Diaoyu Islands is completely normal. China urges Japan to stop illegal actions in the waters and airspace of the Diaoyu Islands. The Diaoyu islands and affiliated islands are part of China's inherent territory. The Chinese side calls on Japan to halt all entries into water and airspace around the islands." (Japan Today, FT, BBC News, Dec. 13)