THE ANTI-NUCLEAR MOVEMENT IN JAPAN

CONCERNS ABOUT NUCLEAR POWER IN JAPAN

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monks staging anti-nuclear protest
Japan’s nuclear power plants are getting old. Under their normal lifetime schedule many that should have been shut down have continued to operate. Many plants have cracks in vessels containing the core caused the long-term bombardment by neutrons. Building new plants is prohibitively expensive.

There have been both environmental and security concerns over the transportation of nearly weapons-grade plutonium waste from nuclear plants. The nuclear waste is placed in huge shock-proof canisters and moved slowly by truck to a port, where it loaded onto a ship that carries it to Britain for processing. The ship is outfit with machine guns but has no naval escort. Some people worry it could be a target for terrorists.

There have also been complaints that safety regulations are treated lightly, workers are inadequately trained and the lives workers are endangered. In 1999, it was found that quality control documents on reprocessed plutonium had been fraudulently certified. In 2002, it was discovered there a systematic cover up of data showing cracks in reactors that dated back to the late 1980s.

Critics of nuclear power complain that new plants are not necessary and suggest they are pork barrels projects funded more to gain political support that supply energy needs. In a 1996 public referendum citizens voted against the building of nuclear plant in the town of Maki north of Tokyo.

An NHK poll conducted in late October 2011 found that nearly 70 percent of Japanese people want to reduce or abolish nuclear power in the future. NHK polled about 2,600 randomly selected adults nationwide over three days, 1,775 people responded. Twenty-four percent of respondents said all nuclear power plants should be shut down and 42 percent said the number should be reduced. Twenty-three percent said the existing facilities should be maintained and 2 percent said they want more nuclear plants. Forty-nine percent of respondents said they are very afraid of another nuclear accident and 37 percent are worried to a certain extent. When asked if nuclear power generation will become safe in the future, 46 percent said yes and 48 percent said no. [Source: November 4, 2011]

Anti-Nuclear Movement and Lawsuits in Japan

According to government opinion polls from the 1980s and '90s, however, more than half of respondents continued to express "worry over nuclear plants," likely reinforced by the Chernobyl accident in 1986 and the nuclear accident in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, in 1999. But in spite of this an anti-nuclear movement has never gained much traction in Japan. Even so Shunichi Tanaka, former acting chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, said people in the nuclear industry were always on guard. "If we even mentioned there was a slight possibility that nuclear plants were dangerous, antinuclear advocates pushed for shutting every plant down," he said. "So, we just kept on declaring the plants were safe." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2011]

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Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant

Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times,” Over decades small groups of protesters, lawyers and scientists, who sued the government or operators here and elsewhere. They were largely ignored by the public. Harassment by neighbors, warnings by employers, and the reluctance of young Japanese to join antinuclear groups have diminished their numbers. But since the disaster at Fukushima and especially the suspension of Hamaoka, the aging protesters are now heralded as truth-tellers, while members of the nuclear establishment are being demonized. “[Source: Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 16, 2011]

“Advances in seismology and the discovery of faults near nuclear power plant s led to lawsuits being filed against nuclear power plants as being unsafe. Only two courts have issued rulings in favor of plaintiffs, but those were later overturned by higher courts. Since the late 1970s, 14 major lawsuits have been filed against the government or plant operators in Japan, which until March 11 had 54 reactors at 18 plants.” [Ibid]

“In one of the two cases, residents near the Shika nuclear plant in Ishikawa, a prefecture facing the Sea of Japan, sued to shut down a new reactor there in 1999. They argued that the reactor, built near a fault line, had been designed according to outdated quake-resistance standards. A district court ordered the shutdown of the plant in 2006, ruling that the operator, Hokuriku Electric Power Company, had not proved that its new reactor met adequate quake-resistance standards, given new knowledge about the area’s earthquake activity.” [Ibid]

Worries About the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant

“The Hamaoka nuclear power station in Omaeziki, Japan and its vulnerability to earthquakes was the subject of a lawsuit filed a decade ago,” Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler wrote in New York Times. “If such a quake struck, electrical power could fail, along with backup generators, crippling the cooling system, the lawyers predicted. The reactors would then suffer a meltdown and start spewing radiation into the air and sea. Tens of thousands in the area would be forced to flee---predictions that sound eerily like the sequence of events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.” [Source: Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 16, 2011]

“The lawsuits reveal a disturbing pattern in which operators underestimated or hid seismic dangers to avoid costly upgrades and keep operating. And the fact that virtually all these suits were unsuccessful reinforces the widespread belief in Japan that a culture of collusion supporting nuclear power, including the government, nuclear regulators and plant operators, extends to the courts as well. Yuichi Kaido, who represented the plaintiffs in the Hamaoka suit, which they lost in a district court in 2007, said that victory could have led to stricter earthquake, tsunami and backup generator standards at plants nationwide. [Ibid]

History of Activism Against the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant

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Greenpeace Japan anti-nuclear protest
In 1976, as Hamaoka’s No. 1 reactor started operating and No. 2 was under construction, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist and now professor emeritus at Kobe University, publicized research showing that the plant lay directly above an active earthquake zone where two tectonic plates met. Over the years, further research would back up Mr. Ishibashi’s assessment, culminating in a prediction last year by the government’s own experts that there was a nearly 90 percent chance that a magnitude 8.0 quake would hit this area within the next 30 years. [Source: Norimitsu Onishi and Martin Fackler, New York Times, May 16, 2011]

After the 1995 Kobe earthquake, residents in this area began organizing protests against Chubu Electric. They eventually sued the utility in 2003 to stop the plant’s reactors, which had increased to four by then, arguing that the facility’s quake-resistance standards were simply inadequate in light of the new seismic predictions. [Ibid]

In 2007, a district court ruled against the plaintiffs, finding no problems with the safety assessments and measures at Hamaoka. The court appeared to rely greatly on the testimony of Haruki Madarame, a University of Tokyo professor and promoter of nuclear energy, who since April 2010 has been the chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission of Japan, one of the nation’s two main nuclear regulators. [Ibid]

Testifying for Chubu Electric, Mr. Madarame brushed away the possibility that two backup generators would fail simultaneously. He said that worrying about such possibilities would “make it impossible to ever build anything.” After the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, Mr. Madarame apologized for this earlier comment under questioning in Parliament. “As someone who promoted nuclear power, I am willing to apologize personally,” he said. [Ibid]

Sentiments About Nuclear Power

An August 2011 AP-GfK poll showed that 55 percent of Japanese want to reduce the number of nuclear reactors in the country, while 35 percent would like to leave the number about the same. Four percent want an increase, while 3 percent want to eliminate them entirely.

Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Genkai nuclear power station in Saga Prefecture enjoyed friendly ties with local residents for many years. But the government's response to the nuclear disaster has changed that relationship. Because of the delayed government reaction, the confusion of leadership and a lack of accurate, timely information, the residents now question the safety of the plant.

In Fukui Prefecture, which has more reactors than any other prefecture, people have focused on one point--whether the age of the crippled reactors was a factor in the damage. Of the 14 reactors in Fukui Prefecture, including the fast-breeder Monju reactor, eight are more than 30 years old. Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa said, "I want the central government to make clear how much of a factor the age of the reactors was in the nuclear disaster."The governor also asked the central government to present guidelines based on the outcome of the Fukushima crisis as preconditions to approve reactivating nuclear reactors in the prefecture.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, June 15, 2011]

Japan Antinuke Groups Divided on Nuclear Power Generation

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Greenpeace Japan anti-nuclear protest
In Japan 2011, Kyodo reported: “Opposition to nuclear power generation among the Japanese public has risen enormously in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, but two major groups which in the past campaigned vocally against nuclear weapons have played little part in the growing movement. While many people have taken to the streets calling for the suspension of nuclear reactors, the traditional antinuclear groups -- whose members have been deeply divided over economic issues related to atomic power generation -- have not led any of the protests. [Source: Kyodo, Mainichi Shumbun, July 13, 2011]

One of the groups, the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs, decided to hold the opening ceremony of its annual convention in Fukushima for the first time since its establishment in 1965, preparing a new slogan: "Humans and atomic power cannot coexist." But leaders of the congress are not confident that some of its longtime members and other participants will support the new slogan. The head of the confederation addresses key gatherings of the convention in Hiroshima and Nagasaki every year but has never mentioned the issue of nuclear power plants. An official of the congress said, "This year we cannot go without mentioning the nuclear plant issue...But the convention could turn out to be chaotic." Another antinuclear organization, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, has yet to decide either how to address the issue of nuclear power generation ahead of many events commemorating the 66th anniversary of U.S. atomic bombings this summer.

In postwar Japan, the military use and nonmilitary use of atomic power have been treated as completely separate issues, even though both can cause serious radiation-induced health problems. While choosing not to use or possess a nuclear arsenal, the Japanese government promoted nuclear power before the Fukushima crisis and public, including atomic-bomb survivors, had in general accepted atomic power plants.

Even people in Hiroshima, including atomic-bomb survivors, were said to have been very enthusiastic about the use of atomic power technologies for "peaceful" purposes aimed at helping rebuild and economically rejuvenate the war-torn country after World War II. "There was no substantive discussion" of whether the use of atomic power for nonmilitary purposes was the right thing to do, Toshiyuki Tanaka, professor at Hiroshima Peace Institute, said. "It is unthinkable today ... but there was an image of hope and dreams in nuclear power," said Kota Kiya, secretary general of a Hiroshima group of atomic survivors.

In 1956, only 11 years after the atomic bombing, the Hiroshima city government and a U.S. government entity among others organized an exhibition promoting U.S. nuclear power technologies at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, completed a year earlier near ground zero. The exhibition attracted around 110,000 visitors in Hiroshima and showcased models of a nuclear reactor and nuclear-powered ship, as well as a presentation on use of radiation for cancer treatment.Kiya was a teenager at the time. He recalls that the city of Hiroshima was filled with slogans and activities related to the promotion of nuclear power. The manga "Tetsuwan (Mighty) Atom," widely known as "Astro Boy" overseas, was becoming popular at that time.

In Nagasaki as well, the public accepted the campaign for the "peaceful" use of atomic power. A group comprised of atomic bombing survivors said in its declaration in August 1956, "Our only hope is that atomic power, which could lead humanity into destruction and annihilation will be used in the direction for human happiness and prosperity." Ichiro Moritaki, a deceased antinuclear activist who drafted the declaration, said in his book, "I'm so ashamed of myself and feel like crawling into a hole and dieing. I fantasized that if such great power were used for peaceful means it could open the door to a wonderful future."

Anti-Nuclear Protests in Japan

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Greenpeace Japan anti-nuclear protest
In September 2011, an estimated 60,000 people took to the streets in downtown Tokyo to protest nuclear power in one of the largest protests of any kind to take place in Japan for some time. Malcolm Foster of Associated Press wrote: Chanting “sayonara nuclear power” and waving banners, tens of thousands of people marched in central Tokyo yesterday to call on Japan’s government to abandon atomic energy in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear accident....The demonstration underscores how deeply a Japanese public long accustomed to nuclear power has been affected by the March 11 crisis. [Source: Malcolm Foster, Associated Press, September 20, 2011]

Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 people, while organizers said there were three times that many people. Nobel-prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe, journalist Satoshi Kamata, actor Taro Yamamoto and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who composed the score to the movie “The Last Emperor” were among those who who spoke at or participated in the event.

Mari Joh, a 64-year-old woman who traveled from Hitachi city to collect signatures for a petition to shut down the Tokai Daini nuclear plant not far from her home, told AP she acknowledged that shifting the country’s energy sources could take 20 years. “But if the government doesn’t act decisively now to set a new course, we’ll just continue with the status quo,” she said yesterday. “I want to use natural energy, like solar, wind, and biomass.”

“Radiation is scary,” Nami Noji, a 43-year-old mother who came to the protest on this national holiday with her four children, ages 8 to 14, told AP. “There’s a lot of uncertainty about the safety of food,” Noji said, “and I want the future to be safe for my kids.” The next day the Japanese environmental group Green Action staged a small anti-nuclear protest outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

In August 2011, on the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, about 1,500 people mounted a rally in downtown Hiroshima opposing not only nuclear weapons but also atomic power, calling for entirely eradicating the threat to human health of radiation. The demonstrators took to the streets near the headquarters of Chugoku Electric Power Co., which operates one nuclear plant and plans to build another. [Source: Kyodo, BBC Monitoring, August 7, 2011]

Kazuki Okada, 24, said he organized the rally as "the antinuclear movement in Hiroshima that began decades ago has only concentrated on atomic weapons." But many of the participants in the rally came from outside the city. Demonstration participants Chiho Ishii and Ayako Ueda said they had been worried about Chugoku Electric's plan to construct the Kaminoseki nuclear plant in neighbouring Yamaguchi Prefecture even before the March earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi complex.

Opinions about the nuclear power plant appeared mixed among atomic-bomb victims on the A-bombing anniversary. A 79-year-old survivor said, "Atomic bombs are absolutely evil. But I don't dare to absolutely oppose nuclear energy because it has helped Japan grow." Ishii, 33, said, "As I grew up listening to my grandparents' experiences as atomic-bomb survivors, it is natural to me that radioactivity and atomic bombings are something to be feared. The experiences of those who have been exposed to radiation from the Fukushima plant overlap with those of my grandparents." Ueda, 42, also said a lot of people, even in Hiroshima, do not see the risks of civilian use of nuclear power.

Small Japanese Island’s Anti-Nuclear Protest

Reporting from Iwaishima, Japan, Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “When the boats came to start work on a planned nuclear power plant just off this tiny island, an aging fisherwoman named Tamiko Takebayashi carried out a dramatic protest: she lashed herself to the dock." The move, while reminiscent of a Greenpeace action, was highly unusual in understated Japan. But it was emblematic of the islanders’ nearly three-decade fight against the powers arrayed against them---their own government and the nuclear industry it has championed.”The sea is our livelihood,” said Ms. Takebayashi, 68, whose family has fished for sea bream, mackerel and other local delicacies for generations. “We will never let anyone sully it.” [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, August 27, 2011]

In another protest in 2011, a small armada of fishermen raced out to sea to head off the utility’s vessels. “No nuclear power plant here!” they shouted, their boats’ engines in full throttle. “This sea does not belong to you.”

The story of Iwaishima’s battle has become something of a touchstone in Japan, especially among those who feel uneasy in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for having accepted decades of government assurances that nuclear power was safe. And because the plans to build the plant are closer to approval than any others in Japan, many antinuclear activists see the island’s struggle as their best hope of ending the country’s reliance on nuclear energy. If the plans are scuttled, they believe, the decision is likely to set a precedent that will end the construction of nuclear plants in Japan.

History of the Japanese Island’s Anti-Nuclear Movement

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Greenpeace Japan anti-nuclear protest
Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Iwaishima’s tale of resistance started in 1982. The town of Kaminoseki---made up of Iwaishima, two islets and the Murotsu peninsula off Japan’s main island, Honshu---was one of many backwaters that seemed ripe for the revitalization that the nuclear industry promised. With no industry to speak of beyond small-scale farming and fisheries, the town struggled to keep up with Japan’s rapid changes in the postwar era.So in 1982, when the Chugoku Electric Power Company first raised the idea of building a nuclear power plant on the peninsula’s deserted tip, many residents were enthusiastic. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, August 27, 2011]

Chugoku Electric wooed them, paying for lavish “study tours” to nuclear reactors around the country---trips that included stops at hot springs, according to residents who participated. It also offered local fishing cooperatives compensation for the loss of fishing grounds that would be filled in to build the 3.5-million-square-foot plant. “The town needed the money,” said Katsumi Inoue, 67, who led a movement supporting the plant. “Kaminoseki was shrinking. We needed to grow.”

But Iwaishima, an island of about 1,000 people just two and a half miles from the planned site, was not convinced. The island’s fishing cooperative voted overwhelmingly against the plans. On a chilly morning in January 1983, almost 400 islanders cut short their New Year’s festivities to stage a protest march, the men in their fishing boots and the women in bonnets, through alleyways lined with stone walls. It was the first of more than 1,000 protests the islanders would carry out, some of them involving scenes of high drama to rival Ms. Takebayashi’s 2009 protest.

Still, the larger town of Kaminoseki remained supportive of the plans, electing a pro-nuclear mayor in every election since 1983. A majority of the town council’s members are still for nuclear power. In 1994, the central government threw its weight behind the project, designating the plant a “critical source of electricity” for Japan.

For its support, the town was handsomely rewarded. From 1984 to 2010, Kaminoseki received about 4.5 billion yen (about $58 million at current rates) in government subsidies, according to town records. It also received 2.4 billion yen, or $31 million, from the plant operator, according to local news media reports.

But Iwaishima was not ready to give up. The islanders fielded antinuclear candidates for the city council. Iwaishima’s fishing cooperative refused to accept its share of cash gifts from Chugoku Electric, worth about 1 billion yen, or $13 million. And when Chugoku Electric submitted a study of the plant’s environmental impact to the central government, protesters pointed out glaring omissions, like the failure to mention the porpoises that breed in nearby waters.

The islanders also sued the utility, charging that part of the plant would stand on public land; Japan’s Supreme Court threw out that lawsuit in 2008, part of a pattern of similar legal losses for activists against nuclear power. (The islanders, meanwhile, were countersued by the utility for obstructing its construction plans.) “We did everything we could to throw obstacles in their path,” said Misao Ishii, 68, who fought a nine-year court battle over obstruction charges.

Then in a crushing blow in 2008, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which controls some aspects of plant’s construction, gave Chugoku Electric permission for reclamation work to begin. Angry islanders built a hut near the construction site to spy on workers. And in September 2009, when Chugoku Electric tried to use buoys to mark off a section of the sea for reclamation, Ms. Takebayashi and her fellow commercial fishers raced into action. While she was tied to the dock, others headed out in their boats to stop the work vessels.

But the next month, the utility’s boats used the cover of night to put buoys in place and declare the start of the reclamation work.Iwaishima, meanwhile, was losing a completely different kind of battle. As residents aged and the population shrank, the island’s economy suffered. Its elementary and middle schools were closed. By last March, its population had been reduced by half to 479, and the residents’ average age had climbed past 70. The antinuclear protests that used to go on for hours now lasted just 20 minutes, with the frail islanders no longer able to walk the cobbled paths for long.”It’s getting hard to keep fighting when everybody’s got a cane,” said Hisako Tao, 70.

Then, on March 11, a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami wiped out the defenses at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, setting off one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. “That changed everything,” said Mr. Isobe, who had worked at the plant.

Reasons for Japanese Island’s Anti-Nuclear Movement

Hiroko Tabuchi wrote in the New York Times, “Not even the residents of Iwaishima are exactly sure why they were willing to challenge the establishment when so many of their compatriots were not. The best they can venture is that their livelihoods depend on the sea too much to take a chance, and that if disaster struck, it would be much harder to flee. Beyond that, many of the island’s men had, over time, left for work elsewhere. Some of them worked in nuclear plants, and they returned home with worrisome stories. They would become part of the front line in the island’s struggle. [Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, August 27, 2011]

Kazuo Isobe, 88, was one of them. He left the island in Japan’s postwar chaos and initially worked at construction sites. But in the 1970s, he started work at the newly opened Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. He worked to clean up radioactive buildup at the plant’s No. 2 reactor, using rags while sweltering in a protective suit.His radiation records from the time, which he provided, show he received about 850 millirems of radiation during just three months of work---about the amount of radiation allowed for nuclear workers in a year, and more than eight times as much as the limit set for civilians.

When Mr. Isobe heard, on a trip back to Iwaishima in 1982, that Chugoku Electric planned to build a nuclear plant just across the water, he was “terrified.” “I had seen with my own eyes that radiation is hard to contain,” Mr. Isobe said. “I told everyone in the neighborhood not to agree to anything they said.”

In July 2011, the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture said he would not renew the license permitting Chugoku Electric to perform reclamation work. Surrounding towns have declared their opposition to the construction plans. Even the mayor of Kaminoseki, Shigemi Kashiwabara, long a proponent of the planned power plant, suggested that it might have to be scrapped. “We may have to think about building a town with no nuclear power,” he told a town council meeting.

Large Rallies against Nuclear Power in Japan in July 2012

In mid-July 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Tens of thousands of people opposed to nuclear power gathered for a rally---believed to be the largest antinuclear protest since the Fukushima nuclear crisis started in March 2011---at Yoyogi Park in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo,. According to the organizer, 170,000 people took part in the protest. The Metropolitan Police Department put the figure at about 75,000. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, July 18, 2012]

“The protest was called "100 thousand People's Rally to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants." It began just before noon in stifling hot conditions. Calling out, "Protect our children's future," the protesters filled the venue and even spilled out to some nearby streets. Nobel-prize-winning writer Kenzaburo Oe, a core organizer of the event, addressed the crowd through a microphone. "I believe we'll be able to break free from the fear and indignity caused by the existence of nuclear power plants, and to live freely," he said. Musician Ryuichi Sakamoto said: "We should never jeopardize this beautiful land of Japan and the lives of our children, who are the future of this country, just for the sake of electricity.” [Ibid]

“After the speeches, the participants split into three groups to march in demonstrations in the Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya areas. One participant, Setsuo Fujita, who runs a resort inn in Nishigo, Fukushima Prefecture, said his sales had halved since the crisis began at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. "I want Prime Minister [Yoshihiko] Noda to hear what the people here today are saying," said Fujita, 60. [Ibid]

“In late July 2012, the Asahi Shimbun reported: “Thousands of anti-nuclear protesters almost encircled the Diet building in Tokyo on July 29 in the latest of more than four months of demonstrations against the reopening of nuclear plants following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Estimates of the crowd differed wildly between the event organizers, who said 200,000 people had attended, and police sources, who unofficially claimed only 14,000 people had taken part in the human chain around the Diet building and 12,000 in demonstrations before it. [Source: The Asahi Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

But the flashlight and candle-lit protest, an offshoot of the growing weekly Friday-night protest at the prime minister’s office, ratcheted up the pressure on a government committed to reopening nuclear plants despite widespread public opposition. Some prominent members of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan joined the protest including Hiroshi Kawauchi, a member of the Lower House, who said he was committed to stopping the restarts. The number of demonstrators increased sharply in late June after the government decided to restart two of the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant. “It is becoming a social movement to an extent that we did not initially anticipate,” a member of the coalition said. [Ibid]

Organizer of Large Rallies against Nuclear Power in Japan in July 2012

Asahi Shimbun reported: “The Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes, the organizing committee of the Tokyo protests, is made up of 13 anti-nuclear group. It has imposed strict rules to try to ensure that the demonstrations, already the largest protest movement in decades in Japan, gain broad-based public support. Participating organizations are not allowed to promote any other cause than opposition to nuclear power. They are asked not to hoist their flags or to hand out leaflets or collect petitions. They have to limit their speeches on microphones to a minute. [Source: The Asahi Shimbun, July 30, 2012]

“Ordinary people find it hard to join a rally filled with flags of organizations,” said Hirofumi Harada, a 45-year-old member of the No Nukes Plaza Tokyo, which is part of the coalition. “We wanted to create a movement that would expand.” No Nukes Plaza Tokyo was established in 1989 after the 1986 Chernobyl accident and is the oldest group devoted to opposing nuclear power in the coalition. Many of the other groups were formed after last year’s accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Harada said the rules were aimed at avoiding the mistakes of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s. One reason the movement lost steam, he said, was its closed nature. [Ibid]

“Despite the strict rules, the rallies in the Nagatacho district are attracting other causes. About 150 people demonstrated on July 23 to oppose the deployment of the U.S. Marines’ MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft in Japan. In the human chain on July 29, some protesters displayed the flags of their organizations and others handed out fliers criticizing the Osprey deployment and the government’s proposed consumption tax hike. [Ibid]

“Noda, who was in his official residence near the Diet building all day, has shown no sign of changing his position on the restart of reactors. Aides to the prime minister stressed that the country could not be run through direct democracy alone and that it is necessary for some decisions to be made in the face of public opposition. “(Restart of reactors) is an issue that splits the nation,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said in a news conference on July 27. “I am aware of various opinions on it.” But the protests are having an impact in the corridors of power. The administration has already decided to postpone its decision on the nation’s energy policy from late August to September or later. [Ibid]

“Meanwhile, labor unions, a key part of protest movements in the past, are struggling to come to grips with the nuclear issue. Rengo (the Japanese Trade Union Confederation), a key DPJ supporter and the nation’s largest labor organization with 6.75 million members, is split on the nuclear issue. Although Nobuaki Koga, president of Rengo, has said that Japan needs to ultimately achieve a society that does not rely on nuclear power, some member unions say nuclear energy is important to ensuring a stable power supply and jobs. [Ibid]

“The National Confederation of Trade Unions, which has about 1.14 million members including many public sector workers, wants nuclear power to be eliminated and has mobilized members to attend the protests at the prime minister’s office. However, it is keeping a low profile at the protests because members believe many citizens are resistant to labor union-led movements. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Japan Nuclear Power Program, TEPCO, Greenpeace Japan

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2012

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