Peace Boat

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  • Saturday, 12 January 2013 11:18
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Sailing the Seas for Peace and Sustainability

Interview with Peace Boat Co-Founder Tatsuya Yoshioka

Peace Boat is sailing the seas for peace and sustainability. Founder Tatsuya Yoshioka shares how Peace Boat has evolved since 1983 and how his organization seeks to make our world a better place.

TJ: Can you tell us about Peace Boat?
Yoshioka:We started Peace Boat in 1983 to offer an educational program for peace, and every year we organize a passenger ship “peace voyage”. In the eighties, these trips were in the Asia Pacific region and in the nineties, we began global voyages. We currently organize three global voyages each year visiting more than 80 countries, with nearly 1,000 people per voyage. After Chernobyl, we became committed to the anti-nuclear power and anti-nuclear weapon movements. We have worked closely with the United Nations in the areas of nuclear and conventional weapon disarmament as well as peace education. We have also been working on sustainable development issues and supporting millennium development goals to eliminate poverty.

TJ: What are you trying to accomplish?
Yoshioka: We are providing peace and sustainable education programs. In addition, the voyages provide networking opportunities for Sailing the Seas for Peace and Sustainability establishing mutual cooperation with local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) internationally.

In 2008, 30,000 people from around the world attended Peace Boat’s global disarmament conference. We are avidly promoting Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution to the world. Article 9 renounces war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of armed forces.

I and Peace Boat were fortunate to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. However, President Obama won that year. Of course, we are big fans of President Obama, and before he resigns as President, we hope he will be able to abolish nuclear weapons.

This year, more than 10,000 people from all over the world attended Peace Boat’s conference in Yokohama to promote a nuclear power free society. It was quite a successful international conference in Japan

Since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, we have been working very hard to provide relief activities for Tohoku, as well as organizing anti-nuclear power demonstrations.

TJ: After the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, it was diff icult to obtain accurate information about what was happening. Later we found that some information was being deliberately withheld. Given that Japan has been a victim to nuclear fallout three times, I would think Japan would feel like a victim, instead of a violator and thus be more open. By internalizing this information, do you feel the Japanese government unnecessarily burdened themselves?
Yoshioka: The U.S. originally sold the Mark 1 and Mark II nuclear reactors to Japan. These are now a huge problem. I strongly believe the withholding of information was a result of political culture and a weakness of democratization in this society. The Japanese government, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), large companies related to TEPCO, and Japanese society itself have a huge responsibility. This disaster has contaminated not only the soil of Japan, but also the pubic ocean. As a civil society member of Japan, I strongly insist that all information about what has happened and what is happening be made public. The world must be informed of this information. This is our minimum responsibility.

TJ: One would think that once you open this problem to the world, the world has to take some responsibility for what happened. To me, this does not seem to be a problem unique to Japan. This is an example for everyone to see that nuclear power plants around the world are at risk. Do you agree?
Yoshioka: Yes, I agree completely. Japan’s minimum amount of responsibility is to give a wake-up call to the world. Once everyone understands what is happening in Fukushima, they will realize it is not a “Japanese-only” problem. If we don’t alert the world, how many more nuclear power plants are Korea, Taiwan, China and so on, planning to build?

TJ: That’s an interesting point. Given the fact that Japan is known for having some of the top quality control systems in the world. Do you think we should have greater concern about standards in other countries?
Yoshioka: Yes, exactly! Do you think if the same kind of accident happens in China, they will make their information public? No! So the international society has to really start thinking very, very seriously about what is going on in Fukushima. Although this is one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents, we have an opportunity to learn from this horrible accident.

TJ: What do you think the current situation in Fukushima is like? Do you have information about the actual situation?
Yoshioka: I think the situation is not good at all, but it is very difficult to get accurate information. Reactor #4 is in an especially fragile situation. Everyone is praying to God that we don’t have another big earthquake, but no one knows what will happen. It is a very, very fragile situation. The nuclear materials are leaking into the water on a daily basis, which is contaminated by radiation and they haven’t figured out how to treat the water that is used to cool down the nuclear materials. So every day they are increasing the amount of contaminated water in the tanks in that area. That’s crazy. Try to imagine how many huge contaminated water tanks there are now! It’s like science fiction.

TJ: If the Japanese government could take action based on your recommendation, what would you recommend they do?
Yoshioka:It is very, very clear. Of course, it may be very difficult for the government to shut down all of the nuclear power plants right away due to Japan’s economic situation. However, they need to do so as soon as possible as nuclear power plants in Japan are too old and dangerous to survive tsunami and earthquakes. They must abolish nuclear power. In order to accomplish this, the government must setup inspections for safety, stress tests, etc. and decide if each nuclear power plant can continue to operate or not. At the same time, they need to setup a 10-year plan for abolishing nuclear power plants, while investing money and resources into renewable energy at the same time. I believe there is huge potential for geothermal power plants in Japan.

TJ: Do you think there will be a huge impact on the economy if Japan becomes a leader in renewable energies?
Yoshioka: Yoshioka: Yes, definitely! And one of the advantages of Japan is that once society has a concrete purpose, they move forward strongly. An example of this is how hard Japan worked to rebuild itself after World War II.

TJ: Do you face a lot of resistance from the government, TEPCO or other companies?
Yoshioka: So far, not so much. However, there has been an interesting phenomenon occurring with some big companies or very conservative organizations we have been working with to provide relief for victims of the Tohoku earthquake. They may send volunteers or cooperate on a project, but withdraw their support after Peaceboat clearly indicates its anti-nuclear stance. They will support earthquake relief, but do not want to be related to anti-nuclear activities.

TJ: What are your thoughts on Prime Minister Kan’s response to the whole nuclear issue?
Yoshioka: We were quite disappointed with him. I’m not against what he is doing now as he has tried to start a group for abolishing nuclear power, and I hope in the future he will make a strong impact on society. However, we were disappointed with how he handled Fukushima and Tohoku. The impression of myself, people in Fukushima and those involved in the antinuclear movement is that he could have done a lot but did not as he spent a huge amount of energy on internal politics. I can list 20 issues he did not address, the first of which is - why wasn’t a larger evacuation scale required..

TJ: Maybe he was completely paralyzed by the fact that this situation was bigger than he could imagine?
Yoshioka: Yes, that’s true. I completely agree about that. However, I think people cannot accept the fact that the government continues to lie to the public. For example, they did not release information from SPEEDI. SPEEDI is a computer program that estimates where radiation in the air goes. The government had information, which said that areas beyond the 20 km evacuation zone were clearly contaminated, but did not release the information. As a result, people evacuated to highly contaminated areas from less contaminated areas. Whose responsibility was that? I think thousands of court cases will soon begin in Japan. From the beginning, Prime Minister Kan and TEPCO’s leadership were concerned about the financial implications as nuclear power plants are a huge asset, and if a plant shuts down, TEPCO becomes financially jeopardized. I think TEPCO threatened Prime Minister Kan and the Japanese government, telling them that the bankruptcy of TEPCO would have a huge impact on the Japanese economy. tj

This story appeared in Issue 270 of the Tokyo Journal.

To order Issue 270, click here.



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