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12:10 14 May 2012

OPINION: May 5 could mark new beginning for Japan with reactor shutdown

By Arjun Makhijani
WASHINGTON, May 13, Kyodo

May 5, 1943, was a terrible date for Japan. But May 5, 2012, when all of Japan's nuclear reactors were shut, could mark a new beginning.

Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, wrote in 1945 that ''The target [of the atom bomb] is and was always expected to be Japan.'' It began two years before, on May 5, 1943, when the Manhattan Project decided not to target Germany with the atom bomb.

Project leaders feared that if the bomb was a dud, Germany might use the knowledge with devastating effect. Japan, specifically the Japanese fleet based at the Pacific island of Truk, was to be targeted instead; if the bomb was a dud it would sink. When it was clear the uranium bomb would work, Japanese cities became the targets.

Following President Eisenhower's 1953 Atoms for Peace speech, U.S. propaganda aimed to overcome Japan's ''nuclear allergy'' -- arising from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fifty-four nuclear power reactors, including the six at Fukushima, were the result.

Will Japan's national leaders be able to resist the economically easier but short-sighted course of prematurely restarting some of its reactors this summer before the lessons of Fukushima are clear?

Or will Japan do every month what Germany did in December 2011, when it installed 3 gigawatts of photovoltaic solar power? Will Japan produce more nuclear spent fuel and increase risks, even as the problem of spent fuel in Unit 4 at Fukushima is unresolved?

Or will it leave the reactors closed and replace every light bulb with LEDs within one year? Will it once more present parents with the Faustian bargain of restoring air-conditioning and increase the risk of having to send children to more contaminated schools?

It will take great courage and some sacrifice for Japan to resist a premature nuclear restart and even more to chart a new energy path without nuclear power.

But the rewards will be great too: Japan could reestablish itself as a great economic example to the world. It could turn a tragic date, May 5, into a date that history would note as the moment when Japan remembered the roots of its nuclear allergy and joined it with the tragedy of March 11, 2011, to turn away from a way of making electricity that also makes plutonium.

(Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research near Washington. He has a Ph.D. in nuclear fusion from the University of California at Berkeley and has worked on nuclear and renewable energy issues for more than forty years.)




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