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20:25 24 March 2014

OPINION: Japan should not be a nuclear playground

By Kumi Naidoo
TOKYO, March 24, Kyodo

A busy playground beams with hope and echoes with giggles. It was in this safe place, three months after the disaster, that I heard infectious ripples of laughter from children going back and forth on swings and slipping down slides, bringing my daughter's smile to the forefront of my mind.

The little boys and girls here were like any others in one of the world's many playgrounds. But something was missing: they were not wearing masks, when the strange thing was, they should have been. I was in Fukushima.

At that time, a Greenpeace investigation into the radiation levels in Fukushima showed they were at dangerously high levels and that the decontamination work being done was not enough.

Many of these radiation hot spots were found near schools, however the government and local prefecture had not provided enough information about the contamination risks.

Information is power and for these children and their parents, it was crucial. But it was lacking then, it is now and it will continue like this as the Japanese government enacted a controversial state secrets law in December toughening penalties on those who leak information and at its worst, acts as a cover for governmental misdeeds.

This has caused uproar among journalists and unsurprisingly, according to Reporters without Borders, press freedom in Japan has worsened for a second year running.

This is very troubling as core elements for civil society -- Shimin Shakai -- are openness and transparency, as well as freedom of the press.

Nearly 19,000 comments from Japanese citizens were sent to the government regarding the country's draft energy policy, yet these opinions and views were not reflected in the politicians' papers, as Japan will continue to rely on nuclear power.

This leaves Japan's government, and therefore the country, open to energy risks; risks that are not worth taking again and are unfounded.

All of Japan's 48 reactors have been offline since September 2013. In spite of this, the country has produced the equivalent energy capacity of seven large reactors -- 6,800 megawatts -- since July 2013 through 400,000 small household solar PV installations.

Fukushima has been a very painful experience and like a passing, it needs to be addressed and discussed so that it can be overcome.

For Japan to succeed and leave Fukushima behind -- though never forgotten -- more democratic space is needed. Valuable lessons from the nuclear crisis need to be learned and this knowledge taken into the future so another Fukushima cannot and will not happen again.

This, along with a decentralized yet civil society, is needed not only for power, but for energy too.

However, the Japanese government is yet to show it has reflected on Fukushima as it is still trying to sell nuclear technologies to emerging countries like India and Turkey.

In society, the role of international non-governmental organizations like Greenpeace involves the monitoring of governments and businesses.

While the freedom of the press is being tightened, there is more pressure on NGOs to investigate, expose and hold governments and companies accountable for their mismanagement and mistakes. Greenpeace takes on that role without hesitation.

Japan should not be a playground where politicians toy with nuclear energy. Three years on from Fukushima, Japan needs an Energy Revolution and is best placed to have one, in the interest of all its children.

(Born in South Africa in 1965, Kumi Naidoo has been Greenpeace's International Executive Director since November 2009.)

==Kyodo

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