24 Juillet 2017
June 24, 2017
EDITORIAL: Is nuclear power compatible with human rights in Constitution?
One year has passed since an evacuation order was lifted on July 12, 2016, for most parts of the Odaka district of Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, which lies within a 20-kilometer radius of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Stores and schools in the district are gradually being reopened. Voices of high school students are heard echoing through the streets at times of the day when they go to school and return home. At the same time, though, many stores remain shuttered and grass is running wild in the yards of many houses.
City government figures show that Odaka was home to only 2,046 residents as of July 12, less than one-sixth of the corresponding figure at the time of the 2011 disaster at the nuclear plant, which is operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).
The nuclear disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, deprived many people of their “lives as usual,” which should have been guaranteed under the Constitution of Japan.
DISASTER HIGHLIGHTED ESSENTIALS OF CONSTITUTION
Katsuaki Shiga, a 68-year-old fisherman, has given up hope of returning to Odaka.
His home, which he had just built near the coastline, was inundated by the tsunami. The home went dilapidated while he was banned entry to the premises in the wake of the nuclear disaster, and Shiga had no choice but to have it dismantled.
“(The disaster) changed not just my life but also the lives of all people in our community,” Shiga said. “That made me think about the essentials of the Constitution, such as the right to life and fundamental human rights.”
The government of Minami-Soma in May last year distributed a brochure containing the entire text of the Constitution to all households in the city.
Yasuzo Suzuki (1904-1983), a scholar of constitutional law who hailed from Odaka, included an explicit mention of the right to life in a draft outline of Japan’s Constitution, which he worked out immediately after World War II ended in 1945.
“The people shall have the right to maintain wholesome and cultured living standards,” the draft said, in a prelude to Article 25 of the current Constitution.
Katsunobu Sakurai, mayor of Minami-Soma, wanted the city’s residents to cast their minds back to a starting point at a time when life had taken a sudden turn for the worse for many of them.
Several tens of thousands of inhabitants of Fukushima Prefecture remain evacuated either within or outside the prefecture’s borders. Countless people have lost their longtime livelihoods or dwellings, which means their freedom to choose and change their residences and to choose their occupations (Article 22), along with their right to own or hold property (Article 29), were severely violated.
Many children were no longer able to attend schools in their hometowns, which means their right to an education (Article 26) was also compromised.
And most importantly, the tragedy drove many people into “disaster-related deaths.”
“The nuclear disaster has made it impossible to maintain the sort of life that is described in the Constitution,” Sakurai said emphatically. “That is unconstitutional, isn’t it?”
CONSTITUTION AS PILLAR AND POST
The Fukui District Court in May 2014 issued an injunction against the planned restart of reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi nuclear plant in a lawsuit filed by residents living near the power-generating facility in Fukui Prefecture.
“The use of nuclear energy is meant to fulfill the socially important functions of generating electric power, but that is inferior in standing to the core part of personal rights in light of the Constitution,” the court said in its decision.
Akiko Morimatsu said she was given hope by that court decision, which based itself on the Constitution. The 43-year-old heads a group of plaintiffs from the Kansai region in a group lawsuit filed by evacuees from the nuclear disaster, who are demanding compensation from the central government and TEPCO.
Worried about her two young children’s exposure to radiation, Morimatsu fled to Osaka from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, although the area she was from was not under an evacuation order.
Voluntary evacuees like her, who constitute a minority, have had to face unfriendly eyes both in and outside of Fukushima Prefecture, and have received little help from administrative organs and scanty damage payments from TEPCO.
She said she wondered if she had made the right choice, and she took a fresh look at the Constitution, which she had studied in her student years. She thereupon found such statements as “all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want” (preamble) and “all of the people shall be respected as individuals” (Article 13).
“This should be the pillar and post for me,” Morimatsu said she thought.
She argued that it is up to individual freedom to choose between evacuating and staying, and that all individuals, no matter which option they have chosen, should be granted assistance that allows them to realize the sort of life that is guaranteed under the Constitution.
Seventy years after the Constitution came into force, people are still turning to the supreme law of Japan as a weapon in their fight to win back their “lives as usual.” That reality should not be forgotten and should be taken seriously.
CHOICE IS UP TO THE PEOPLE
The use of atomic energy was seldom called into question in light of the Constitution before the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred.
The development of nuclear power in Japan has been advanced in line with the Atomic Energy Basic Law, which was enacted in 1955, eight years after the Constitution took effect.
The law has the stated goal of the “improvement of the welfare of human society and of the national living standard” and says explicitly that the use of nuclear energy should be limited to “peaceful purposes.”
“It used to be taken for granted that the use of nuclear power does not violate the Constitution,” said Yoshikazu Sawano, a professor of Constitution studies with the Osaka University of Economics and Law. “The issue was seldom ever discussed within academic circles.”
There is probably no doubt that nuclear energy, which can supply large amounts of electric power, has contributed to the economic development of Japan, a country poor in natural resources.
Once there is a nuclear accident, however, that puts the human rights of countless individuals at immediate risk. That danger used to be shrouded under a “safety myth” and was not fully understood by the public.
Even after the Fukushima nuclear disaster affected many people, the central government and electric utilities continue to adhere to their policy of promoting the use of atomic energy.
More than 4 million people are living within a 30-km radius of nuclear power plants across Japan where residents may face evacuation orders in the event of an accident.
The future path of Japan should be reviewed from the perspective of whether the continued use of nuclear power would allow the country to maintain society in a state envisaged by the Constitution.
A national referendum in Austria voted against activating a nuclear power plant, which led the Central European nation to pass a law against building nuclear plants in 1978. Public calls for a phase-out of nuclear power intensified following the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union, and a ban on the use of atomic power was included explicitly in Austria’s Constitution in 1999.
The right to choose the future path of Japan lies with every single member of the country’s public, with whom sovereign power resides. There should be broader discussions that take into account of what has taken place during the latest period of a little more than six years.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 23