Opposition to nuclear power generation among the public has risen enormously amid the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, but two major groups that in the past campaigned vocally against atomic 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.
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 aren’t confident that some longtime members and other participants in the July 31-Aug. 11 convention will back the new slogan.
One of the organizers of the convention is Rengo, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, the country’s largest union group. Under its umbrella are unions at power utilities and nuclear reactor manufacturers.
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.
“This year we cannot go without mentioning the nuclear plant issue,” an official of the congress said. “But the convention could turn out to be chaotic.”
Another antinuclear organization, the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, also has yet to decide how to address nuclear power generation ahead of many events commemorating the 66th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings this summer.
In postwar Japan, military 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 government long promoted nuclear power, until the Fukushima crisis. The public, including atomic-bomb survivors, had in general accepted atomic plants.
Even people in Hiroshima, including hibakusha, were considered enthusiastic about the use of atomic power technologies for “peaceful” purposes aimed at helping rebuild and economically rejuvenate war-torn Japan.
“There was no substantive discussion” of whether the nonmilitary use of atomic power was the right thing to do, said Toshiyuki Tanaka, a professor at Hiroshima Peace Institute.
“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 bomb survivors.
In 1956, only 11 years after the atomic bombing, the Hiroshima Municipal Government and a U.S. government entity among others organized an exhibition promoting U.S. nuclear power technology at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, completed a year earlier near ground zero.
The exhibition attracted around 110,000 visitors 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 Atom,” known as “Astro Boy” overseas, was becoming popular at the time.
In Nagasaki as well, the public accepted the campaign for the peaceful use of atomic power. A hibakusha group 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.”