Kyoto Joins Protest Against ‘Mystery Ship’

By Brian Covert
Staff Writer

KYOTO — Citizens’ groups here are joining the barrage of protests over the return home of the Japanese vessel Akatsuki Maru and its controversial cargo of plutonium.

One group, Japanese Citizens Concerned About Plutonium, placed a full-page advertisement in The Australian newspaper on Nov. 5.

“Can Australia Stop the Japanese Mystery Ship?” reads the ad, urging Australian citizens to immediately protest the ship’s possible passage near their country to “spare the world 20 years of nuclear terror on the high seas.”

Similar ads were published in the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa on Oct. 28 and in the New York Times on June 2.

Protesters like
Aileen Mioko Smith — a representative of the JCCAP as well as the Kyoto-based Plutonium Action Network and Citizens’ Coalition Against the Plutonium Fast-Breeder Program — are volunteering their own time to help organize protest marches and distribute information to the public.

“It’s been a crazy but exciting two, three months,” says Smith, recalling the international contacts made by local activists in preparation for the controversial voyage of the Akatsuki Maru.

Smith attributes the massive media exposure of the issue to hundreds of increasingly committed Japanese grassroots voices — a marked departure, she admits, from the politically apathetic image most countries have of Japanese citizens.

“Nobody here has a face because nobody knows us,” she says. “But we are doing things.”

Smith places the number of grassroots network volunteers involved in the Akatsuki Maru issue at around 1,000.

But amid all the controversy, Smith maintains that one basic point is misunderstood: that the plutonium aboard the Akatsuki Maru is not for immediate use in nuclear power plants like the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture — but to be stored away as surplus.

The plutonium for the first fueling of Monju has already been produced at the Tokai Village nuclear facilities in Ibaraki Prefecture, Smith said, with plenty more to spare for refueling the Monju reactor even after probable delays in its opening next spring.

“This all means that the 1.5 tons of plutonium shipped from France to Japan will be stockpiled in Japan for years,” according to Smith.

She added that the local network of grassroots volunteers plans to continue pressuring Asian-Pacific countries located along any of the Akatsuki Maru’s possible routes back to Japan.

For more information on the groups’ activities, call (075) xxx-xxxx.