I now think for the first time in my life that we will be able to relieve Japan and the world from the plutonium nightmare.
Acceptance speech – Jinzaburo Takagi
Madam Speaker, Honorable guests, Mr von Uexkull and the representatives of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation!
Ladies and gentlemen!
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 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.
Citizens’ Nuclear Information Centre
Akebonobashi Co-op 2F-B