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Ex-PM Koizumi: Abe should aim to eliminate nuclear plants; former U.S. sailors exposed to radiation need help

Exclusive interview with former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi by Hiroyuki Okada


Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 74, has been campaigning for the elimination of nuclear plants in the belief that the tragedy of Fukushima must never be repeated. He has also started a campaign to help former U.S. Navy members who participated in Operation Tomodachi during the Great East Japan Earthquake who were inadvertently exposed to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident.


Q: In your campaign to eliminate nuclear plants, you have also launched the Operation Tomodachi Victims Foundation on July 5. Why did you start trying to help former U.S. soldiers?


Koizumi: I learned from Ms. Aimee Tsujimoto, a fourth generation Japanese American journalist introduced by a friend, that former U.S. soldiers who participated in Operation Tomodachi sued TEPCO Holdings and GE, the U.S. company that manufactured the Fukushima nuclear reactors. According to Aimee, many of them were forced to leave military service because of poor health and they are not even able to buy health insurance.


I thought this was terrible. Jonan Shinkin Bank adviser Tsuyoshi Yoshiwara, a colleague in the anti-nuclear plant movement, asked me to go to the United States, so I visited San Diego, California in mid-May. There, I talked to 10 former service members and their families. This prompted me to set up the relief fund.


Q: What did you learn from these meetings?


Koizumi: Many of them are in their 20s or 30s and used to be strong and healthy soldiers, but they started to suffer from illnesses 6-12 months after Operation Tomodachi — constant nosebleeds, rectal bleeding, pain all over the body, X-rays showing tumors, and so forth. Before I departed for the U.S., Aimee had shown me videos taken by soldiers with their cellphones during Operation Tomodachi. I was stunned.


They were based on the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during the relief operations for the quake victims. At that time, a meltdown occurred at the Fukushima nuclear plant and a radioactive cloud floated toward the carrier in waters off Fukushima. The soldiers were not aware and they were performing their duties without even wearing hazmat suits. They only realized after the alarms sounded during their security check upon returning from helicopter-borne rescue operations.


Even though the sea was also contaminated with radiation, the soldiers were using desalinated sea water to shower and cook. Therefore, internal exposure to radiation was probably also very serious.


However, these soldiers had signed an agreement not to sue the U.S. government for any damages when they enlisted. Doctors and the U.S. forces would not admit the causal relationship, so they were forced to sue TEPCO and GE. At first there were only 8 plaintiffs, but now the number has increased to over 400. Seven of them have already died. News of the seventh death came right when I was having my meeting in California. TEPCO refuses to clarify the causal link between radiation and health damages and argues that jurisdiction over this case lies in Japan, in its apparent attempt to delay the start of court proceedings.


Q: Did you start campaigning for the elimination of nuclear plants after the Fukushima accident?


Koizumi: When I was prime minister, I believed that nuclear plants were necessary. After I retired and after witnessing the nuclear accident, I began to study. I realized that the claim of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the electric companies that nuclear power is “safe, low cost, and clean” was a lie. I regretted my own mistake and felt that I had to do something. I started the anti-nuclear plant campaign out of my desire to correct my past mistake.


Q: Kagoshima Prefecture has just elected a governor who favors the elimination of nuclear plants. Do you think there will be growing public opinion in support of the elimination of nuclear plants?


Koizumi: The previous governor of Kagoshima was thought to be unbeatable, but he was defeated. These are unpredictable times. Mr. Satoshi Mitazono was elected as the new governor. I have high expectations for him. I believe that even though the electric companies would like to reactivate nuclear plants, the opposition movement will be resilient. It will become a great force in time.


Q: Are you confident about this?


Koizumi: I am quite confident. The more I study, the more I become convinced that nuclear plants are unnecessary. As a matter of fact, Japan did not have any problem in the past five years practically without any nuclear plants. There were no power outages. Natural energy sources used to be regarded as insignificant, but they are now overtaking nuclear energy. Getting rid of nuclear plants is structural reform in the energy sector. Japan has shown that it can be done.


Q: What do the political authorities need to do?


Koizumi: A policy to eliminate nuclear plants has the support of the majority of the people. I don’t understand why it is not being adopted. It is also incredible that the top opposition party, the Democratic Party, is not saying anything. Is this because the electric companies, big business, and labor unions support them in elections?


If the Prime Minister declares a policy to eliminate nuclear plants right now, no one will be able to oppose him. Public opinion will be on his side. If the goal is to eliminate nuclear plants in the future, it is better to do it right now because this will prepare us for the future. The elimination of all nuclear plants is just a matter of time. (Slightly abridged)

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