Jinzaburo Takagi

(1997, Japan)
Joint Award with Mycle Schneider

...for serving to alert the world to the unparalleled dangers of plutonium to human life.


After working for the nuclear industry, Jinzaburo Takagi put his energy and knowledge at the service of environment protection, with special emphasis on the fight against the nuclear threat, topic on which he extensively wrote. His advocacy activity contributed to the recent scale-down of Japan's plutonium programme, while abroad he helped other Asian NGOs to get correct scientific information on the risks and environmental implications of nuclear energy.

Contact Details

Citizens' Nuclear Information Centre
Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B
8-5 Sumiyoshi-cho
Tokyo, 162-0065

Laureate deceased


Jinzaburo Takagi started his career of nuclear activism from a position as associate professor of nuclear chemistry at the Tokyo Metropolitan University (TMU). He was born in 1938, graduated in 1961 from the University of Tokyo and spent four and a half years working for the nuclear industry and another four years for the nuclear institute at the University of Tokyo, winning the Asahi Science Encouragement Award in 1967, gaining his doctorate in 1969 and being Guest Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in 1972-73.

When he left TMU in 1975 to set up the non-profit Citizen's Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), he stepped off the ladder to top status within the nuclear elite. He directed CNIC until his death, reporting on the results of their analytical and public education work through the CNIC publications including SNIC Monthly in Japanese and bimonthly Nuke Info Tokyo in English. Takagi was the author of many books and innumerable articles on nuclear issues, environment protection and peace, with special emphasis on the fight against the nuclear threat as well as human rights.

Takagi and CNIC concentrated since 1988 on the Japanese plutonium programme. Takagi organised the International Conference on Plutonium (1991), the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sea Shipments of Japanese Plutonium (1992) and the Aomori International Symposium on Japanese Plutonium (1994) and produced the proposal for a Moratorium on Japan's Plutonium Utilisation Programme. These activities contributed to the recent scale-down of Japan's plutonium programme. Takagi also helped other Asian NGOs to get correct scientific information on the risks and environmental implications of nuclear energy.

Following the IAEA 1991 report that claimed "radiation from the Chernobyl accident had almost no effect on the local population", Takagi produced a paper estimating that 100,000-200,000 extra cancers in former USSR countries are a result of this accident. To follow up, CNIC was co-organiser, with the Belarus Academy of Sciences and a number of Japanese scientists, of the 1994 Belarus-Japan Symposium 'Acute and Late Consequences of Nuclear Catastrophes: Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl'.

In 1991 Jinzaburo Takagi invited Mycle Schneider to Japan to participate in an International Plutonium Conference. The two men started working together on the issues of waste and plutonium shipment between their two countries, a collaboration which was recognised in 1997 by the bestowal of a joint Right Livelihood Award on the two men.

In December 1995, the prototype Japanese fast-breeder reactor (FBR) had a serious accident, which the authorities tried to cover up. Takagi and CNIC were constantly quoted in the press as the scientists who could be trusted. With Japan and France hosting the two remaining large-scale interests in plutonium use, and MOX (uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel) being the main use for plutonium outside fast breeder reactors (FBRs), Takagi started work with Schneider on a two-year intensive international research project on 'A Comprehensive Social Impact Assessment of MOX in Light Water Reactors'.

In 1992 Takagi received the Yoko Tada Human Rights Award and in 1994 the Ihatobe Award for his practice as a scientist working for the people. He was also successful as a writer of children's books and in 1997 received the Sankei Children's Book Award.

In 1997 France shut down its Superphénix FBR, and Schneider edited a 32-page brochure that highlighted France's increasing isolation on nuclear policy. In Japan there was another nuclear accident, this time at the Tokai waste disposal facility, and another abortive attempt at a cover-up. With the escalating costs of reprocessing, and a MITI-imposed moratorium on fast-breeder development, public confidence in the industry in Japan decreased dramatically.

With his RLA prize money, Takagi started the Takagi School, to educate people who aim to be citizen scientists. He was diagnosed with cancer, but continued his activity under medical treatment until he died in 2000. Following his last will, the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science was founded to encourage and support Japanese and Asian citizen scientists.


Acceptance Speech by Jinzaburo Takagi

December 8th, 1997

Madam Speaker, Honorable guests, Mr von Uexkull and the representatives of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation!

Ladies and gentlemen!

It is a great honor and pleasure for me to be here to receive the highly esteemed Right Livelihood Award. Receiving the award is particularly glorious to me, because, firstly, I know that many respectable people who have marked really good achievements received the Award in the past; secondly, I was nominated for the Award by Professor John Gofman, a 1992 RLA recipient, for whom I have the greatest respect as a scientist; and thirdly, I have the pleasure to share the Award with one of my dearest friends, Mycle Schneider.

As a nuclear scientist as well as an anti-nuclear citizen activist, I have long been involved in activities of analyzing and criticizing Japan's and the world's nuclear energy programs and warning the public about their dangers and problems. Recently my work is focused on criticizing and campaigning against the Japanese and worldwide plutonium utilization program.

Plutonium is a man-made element. Glenn Seaborg and his colleagues synthesized it in 1941 and, soon after the synthesis, it was found that plutonium-239, the main isotope of plutonium with a half-life of 24,000 years, undergoes nuclear fission upon reaction with neutrons. Seaborg thought, by breeding plutonium, the human being could obtain an almost limitless source of energy and he called his nuclear chemistry the modern alchemy, which finally realized the alchemist's dream of large scale element transmutation, or production of gold from low grade metals. So plutonium should be the gold of nuclear age.

It had become a dream story for many people and remained so even after plutonium turned Nagasaki into hell in a flash. Breeding plutonium is still a fancy belief for some industries and governments.

In his 1958 book (The Transuranium Elements), Seaborg wrote:
"The story of plutonium is one of the most dramatic in the history of science." It was discovered and methods for its production were developed during the last war, under circumstances that makes a fascinating and intriguing story. It is, of course, a continuing story, and added chapters will have to be written at a later date. 

In 1962 just a few months after I started working at a laboratory of Japan's nuclear industry, I bought this book at a secondhand book store in Tokyo and was utterly fascinated by this last line. I resolved firmly to add a new chapter to the science of plutonium. I was 23 years old at that time.

Certainly, about a quarter of a century later, I felt that we were beginning to add something to the history of plutonium - maybe just a section, but towards a direction Professor Seaborg and myself at that time had never imagined. Now, at this moment, I feel more positively that we, Mycle Schneider, I and all those who are working together internationally towards a plutonium-free world, may be writing the final chapter of the plutonium story - the chapter on the end of  the plutonium threat. Receiving the Right Livelihood Awards greatly encourages us to make further efforts to finalize the chapter.

Plutonium is a direct-weapon-usable material. 7 to 8 kilograms of plutonium produced in a usual type of reactor, the so called reactor-grade plutonium, can be built into a nuclear weapon of Nagasaki type.

Plutonium is also a well known cancer-inducing element. Seaborg admits that plutonium is "the most dangerous poison known to man". According to the international standards for the limit of annual intake, less than a microgram - a millionth of a gram - is of health concern to occupational workers and nanogram - a billionth of a gram - is of concern to the general public.

The current full scale civil plutonium program in countries such as Japan and France envisages to separate, transport and use as much as millions to tens of millions of grams of this material. Historical evidences have proved, however, that every effort to obtain significant positive energy failed due to technical, economical and political difficulties.

There seems now no reasonable justification for continuing any civil plutonium program. One of the key factors which keep the program alive is above all the huge bureaucratic inertia. You can easily understand why the two countries with a very much centralized bureaucratic system, i.e. France and Japan, are going to be plutonium giants. Secondly there is a lot of binding contracts which make policy change difficult. As a third important factor, I would like to add that scientists and engineers would not usually like to speak against the interest of the community to which they belong, thus avoiding to confront the reality and real problems.

My first work as a nuclear scientist was related to the safety of nuclear fuel. I was interested in the behavior of radionuclides such as cesium and plutonium in nuclear fuel. After a few years of study, I found that the behavior of radionuclides in irradiated nuclear fuel were far more complicated than we expected. I was surprised at how little we nuclear chemists knew about the behavior of radioactive substances.

In the mid sixties, Japan's full-scale nuclear program started. Residents' protest movements at the planned plant sites and public concern over safety of nuclear energy also began to grow. But my colleague scientists and engineers all behaved as if they knew everything about safety and neglected the public concern saying that the concern only came from lack of scientific knowledge on the side of the public.

At that time I was not so critical of nuclear energy itself, but I realized that one of the most important responsibilities of scientists is to make clear what we know and what we do not know and also to point out what are the uncertainties of the scientific and technological projects in which we are involved.

This marked a turning point of my life as a scientist. I wanted to share citizens' concern and, after a period of deliberation, I finally decided to leave the expert community and work together with the citizens, as a scientist citizen or citizen scientist, whichever you call it. At that time I was an associate professor of nuclear chemistry at the Tokyo Metropolitan University. I joined the founding of a public interest organization, the Citizens' Information Center (CNIC), in Tokyo in 1975.

Our activities were dedicated to analyzing and critically reviewing the government nuclear programs in Japan and giving the public well-founded and understandable information and views on nuclear issues, independently from the interests of the government and industry, i.e. from the perspective of human rights and the environment.

My recent activities  have been concentrated on criticism on and actions against Japan's and worldwide plutonium programs, since it is, as I believe, one of the greatest threats to the world, and also because plutonium was just my starting point. Since the start of my social activities, a sense of responsibility as a nuclear chemist for the future generation has always occupied my mind in regard to the vast amount of plutonium stockpile which our generation had accumulated and is still going to produce.

Although our direct goal was always to reverse the Japanese plutonium program, we believed that our anti-plutonium activities had to be international. The plutonium industry is indeed multinational and nuclear industrial activities associated with the plutonium program such as the long-distance transport of plutonium and highly radioactive materials are arousing concern worldwide.

I was lucky in that we could cooperate so closely with Mycle Schneider's WISE-Paris and many other NGO organizations such as Greenpeace International, the Washington-based Nuclear Control Institute and the Oeko-Institute in Germany. We were successful in developing a very unique, effective international network of cooperation.

Our recent activities in this area include organizing the International Conference on Plutonium (1991), Asia-Pacific Forum on Sea Shipments of Japanese Plutonium (1992), the international campaign against plutonium and high level radioactive waste shipments including a campaign demanding unrestricted access to information, and Aomori International Symposium on Reprocessing (1994).

Recently, an important international project organized by CNIC with myself as the Director and Mycle Schneider as the Assistant Director has just been completed. It is the IMA project - International MOX Assessment which has conducted a comprehensive impact assessment of MOX - plutonium-uranium mixed oxide - use in conventional light water reactors.

Let me give an example of our cooperation. In 1992-93 when 1.5 tons of Japanese plutonium on board the freighter Akatsuki-maru were shipped from France to Japan all the way round Cape Hope and Australia, little information was made public by the responsible authorities of France and Japan despite international concern.

But some details on the shipment were given by the French government due to pressures from the citizens' movement there. Also there were some insider reports to the movements. All these were immediately informed by WISE-Paris to CNIC, where we quickly analyzed the information and asked the Japanese government for more detailed explanations.

The answers from the Japanese government and our revelations based on our own information source, in turn, helped the movements in France and other countries. Of course, our activities were not always so successful.

What are our actual achievements? I am not in a position to evaluate our achievements objectively. But, the scaling down of the Japanese plutonium program has become obvious, particularly after the sodium fire accident at Japan's plutonium fast breeder reactor (FBR) Monju in December 1995 and the explosion accident at Tokai Reprocessing plant in March 1997. The decision was taken to scrap the French FBR Superphenix.

The status of access to freedom of information has been improved in a remarkable way in Japan, although the current level of transparency is still far from sufficient. Awareness of people on the important issues of plutonium has really increased in Japan and worldwide.

In Japan, local residents and the local governments have begun to challenge the secrecy policy of the Government and nuclear industry. They are now strongly resisting the central government which tries to force the MOX program, which is the last remaining program for the survival of the plutonium industry after the setback of the FBR program. We hope that our IMA report could contribute to putting an end to this final plutonium program.

The situations surrounding plutonium are really changing. Mycle Schneider and I may have contributed to these changing processes. But it was made possible as a result of a broad and close international and national cooperation of people. We two are only part of this global cooperation. Therefore, the honor of the Award should go to all those who work together with us.

In fact, after the report of me winning the award, I received a large number of letters, telegrams, phone calls, faxes, e-mails, flowers etc. from people all over Japan, who mainly belong to local grass roots groups. Many of the messages included not only congratulations but words of thanks.

They show appreciation not only to me but rather to  the RLA Foundation and the Jury, since they feel that the Award is a great encouragement to them. They really share the honor with me. I believe that this is also an honor to the Foundation, because nothing can be more becoming to the Right Livelihood Award than such an acceptance by a large number of people with a feeling of sharing.

Before I conclude my speech, please allow me to give a word of thanks to my partner, Kuniko Nakada. If I ever achieved something, it was only made possible with her continuing support and encouragement. Last, but not least, thanks go also to all the staff members of the Citizens' Nuclear Information.

Thank you.


FAQ about Jinzaburo Takagi

Questions asked in 2005, answered by his widow

1. Mrs. Takagi, your late husband once worked for the nuclear industry. Why did he decide to fight against it?

He said: "One of the most important responsibilities of scientists is to make clear what we know and what we do not know and also to point out the uncertainties of the scientific and technological project in which we are involved. The more I was concerned, the more deeply I felt: how uncertain is the scientific basis for the safety of nuclear industry! And this marked a turning point of my life as a scientist."

2. What do you think about the Japanese information policy on nuclear issues?

Thanks to the free access to information law, some information on nuclear issues has become more open than before, but plutonium-related information is not open to the public for the reason of security.

3. How can it be that Japan, a country that experienced the effects of two nuclear catastrophes, has such an interest in plutonium use?

Japanese plutonium stockpiles keep on rising. Japan has no use for plutonium. The public opinion does not support plutonium use in Japan.

4. Do you continue Jinzaburo's work? 

I continue part of Jinzaburo's work, the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science.

5. How do you keep up a small fund like the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science?

I don't have a good answer. Fundraising is very difficult in Japanese society because there is no institutional support to private foundations. I try to keep up the Takagi Fund with my full strength.

6. What effect has the RLA had on Jinzaburo's work?

The RLA gave Jinzaburo encouragement. It made him realize his idea to educate the next generation. His death interrupted but I took over his work as a Secretary General of the Takagi Fund for Citizen Science to encourage next generations. So the RLA has had an enormous effect on my life, too. The Takagi Fund is a small foundation, and I think I can learn a lot from the RLA Foundation.



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