The former Japanese PM visits Flamanville and La Hague, and draws 400 locals to an inspiring evening event in Normandy, France
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Most of the time you don’t see former leaders of major world powers trudging along windy clifftops as they listen to anti-nuclear activists hold forth. That is why I find the odyssey of former Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan, ever more extraordinary. For a handful of years now he has been traveling around the world speaking out in favor of an end to the use of nuclear power. And he has been talking to us.
Kan of course was the Prime Minister in power at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster which struck on March 11, 2011. For all the mistakes and naiveté swirling at the time, Kan made one monumentally important decision. He picked up the phone and countermanded Tepco’s decision to pull its workforce out of the stricken Fukushim-Daiichi nuclear site.
That saved countless lives and likely the entire country. Untended, the reactors would have melted down and released a radioactive inventory that would have forced the abandonment of the neighboring Fukushima-Daiini nuclear plant. That in turn would have melted and the resulting cascading accident could have led to the evacuation of Tokyo. As Kan says in every speech, losing Tokyo would have been the end of Japan.
Unlike many such statesmen, however, Kan does not limit his addresses to august institutions. He gets down in the weeds with the grassroots. And perhaps never before as much so as during his mid-March visit to France.
Kan was in Normandy, France at the same time that its president, Emmanuel Macron, was promoting his country’s deeply flawed EPR reactors in India, an irony that was not lost on his audience. His visit was hosted by two of the leading anti-nuclear organizations in the region — CRILAN and Collectif anti-nucléaire Ouest.
Kan came right to Flamanville, the site of the French “flagship” EPR, the very one Macron was flogging in India. Flamanville 3, now fast approaching hot testing, has become a disaster of epic proportions in which nothing has gone right, from a faulty concrete pour for the foundation to the flawed forging of essential safety components. It is massively over-budget and years behind schedule.
Kan’s Normandy itinerary included a public event that drew 400 people along with a press conference. But he also walked the talk, literally, visiting the beach where the first occupations occurred against the first two Flamanville reactors; a site where activists planted granite headstones in memory of the “unknown irradiated”; and the La Hague reprocessing site. After learning about the latter, Kan vowed to campaign to stop the opening of the long in the works Rokkasho reprocessing facility in Japan.