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Antinuclear activists need injection of fresh ideas

by

Staff Writer

One of the basic jobs of any journalist is to cover public demonstrations. Not only do they make for great stories, they also provide the reporter with a chance to play amateur social anthropologist by observing how the individuals and groups involved interact with each other, and the public, before, during and after the protest itself.

As the nuclear power plants owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. and other utilities head toward restart, we’ve heard much about the return of the nuclear power village. However, we’ve heard less about the traditional, elderly and semi-professional antinuclear activists also making a return, so to speak.

After the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent nuclear crisis in Fukushima Prefecture four years ago, a broad range of citizens in Kansai and the rest of the country chose to start protesting nuclear power. They weren’t the typical, sometimes jaded activists of the past who have decades of experience demonstrating. They were simply earnest citizens spontaneously exercising their democratic rights, and the way they interacted with the seasoned marchers was interesting.

The traditional antinuclear movement was taken aback by the newcomers. Set in their ways and suspicious of outsiders, some older activists were contemptuous of any protest they themselves didn’t organize. Other veterans were blatant self-promoters more interested in doing TV interviews or pontificating in high-brow magazines than in actually protesting, and didn’t want to share the media limelight.

With the restart of the Sendai No. 1 plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, it’s clear that, while millions of people from all walks of life remain opposed to nuclear power and will still take to the streets to protest, the traditional antinuclear movement, thankfully, has not disappeared. The problem is, it’s unclear if the old activists have learned anything new these past four years, or if they even want to engage the broader public.

The great thing about the organic protests that came after the Fukushima disasters is that those involved made extensive use of social media and worked hard to be inclusive and easily understood. They did not instinctively see, as too many older protesters do, either the mainstream media or the broader public as sworn enemies with whom deep conversation should be avoided. They saw stopping nuclear power as an urgent civic duty all Japanese ought to participate in — not as a lifelong quasi-profession taken on by the self-chosen few.

Many who first protested against Fukushima continue to protest today using inclusive, modern methods. But from the Sendai plant to Kansai and beyond, long-term activists are back in the forefront of protests.

Thus I look forward to receiving hand-drawn paper flyers and notices at “citizens rallies” that can be understood by anybody off the street with an advanced degree in nuclear engineering, a fair bit of knowledge about Japanese law, and decades of experience following the issue. And let’s not forget the three or four hours of long-winded speeches from the veterans that follow — the ones with little or no Q&A from audience members. Yes, “succinct” and “broad public debate” are concepts too often missing from the traditional activist lexicon.

With two Kansai Electric Power Co. plants in Fukui Prefecture close to restarting, the Kansai region will likely be the next major battleground for the pro- and antinuclear movements. No one denies that the old guard’s experience, knowledge and commitment is crucial to effective opposition. But people, especially young people, in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe also need to see a movement that includes fresh faces, one that innovates by being inclusive, media-savvy and egalitarian.

The traditional antinuclear movement resembles too many of Kansai’s small- and medium-sized enterprises: behind the times when it comes to image and technology, unwilling to change business practices, and interested only in serving old customers. Social and political innovation is the key to the movement’s survival, and will help influence the future of nuclear power. Not only in Kansai, but across all of Japan.

View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.

  • GBR48

    Here’s a question they might like to raise.

    Nuclear power is still touted as being cheap as chips. Despite the trillions of Yen spent on extra safety precautions, the trillions of Yen that the Fukushima clean-up will cost and the zillions of Yen that the long-term storage of radioactive waste will cost for generations to come.

    Let’s employ Toshiba’s accountants to help us forget those extra costs, particularly if they will be paid through tax revenues, and concentrate on the man on the Tokyo omnibus and his monthly outgoings.

    If nuclear power is so darned cheap, can we expect some clear promises on the reductions every Japanese householder can expect on their power bills? 50% off starting January 2016 maybe? Surely that’s the least folk can expect for the extra risk involved.

    Unless of course the switch-on is solely about increasing the profits for Power Co shareholders.

  • robrob

    It seems a shame to besmirch the activities of those few brave souls who protest the Nuclear Industry in Japan. Were it not for Fukushima Japan’s reliance on the Atom,this kind of stockholm rocky romance,would have remained largely unknown to the wider world. As a whole the response to peoples concerns regarding Fukushima has been to play it down, bury it in a sea of banana speak and a low level background murmur! Japan’s future has been irrevocably ruined by this ongoing nightmare so a little respect is due to those who would expand protest.
    If one wants a ‘tired old story’ to call out and deride, try CND with their endless cash cow of a folly that produces nothing other than time wasted!

  • Starviking

    It would be nicer if anti-nuclear activists, new and old, stopped fearmongering, tried to understand a complex subject, and supported nuclear power in its fight against climate change.

    It would be nice if Japanese journalism also followed that path.

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    Oh brother.

    “a broad range of citizens in Kansai and the rest of the country chose to start protesting nuclear power. They weren’t the typical, sometimes jaded activists of the past who have decades of experience demonstrating. ”

    Yes. Yes they were. What has turned me, a Tohoku resident, off to the whole anti-nuclear protest thing is that it is so obviously astro-turfed. You had the effective social ban of anyone remotely associated with the nuclear industry first. As a result, people actually working at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima were banned from discussions held in their own communities. They were demonized and cast immediately as shills, despite the fact that they had all the relevant knowledge.

    Then you had the incessant harangue of Caldicott, Greenpeace, and Concerned Scientists telling everyone they were going to die. With no skin in the game, they had no reason to stop.

    And then the Asahi Shimbun’s ex editor formed an “independent committee” to pin all the blame for… well.. everything on the only entity they could not interview: TEPCO.

    The fix was in. Anybody with an axe to grind against capital, big science, or the LDP saw their chance and piled on. Anyone wanting to pit Japanese against Japanese got their green light.

    Did anyone consider: if protesters are so dominant among the public, how come they can’t get their candidates elected?

    But now the protesters want new ideas? OK. I have a new idea for protesters. How about just being reasonable? How about emphasizing cost/benefit instead of just scaring everyone? How about supporting more efficient technologies instead of just assuming they exist and telling everyone else to use them? How about acknowledging that radiation is not as dangerous as people had been led to believe? I want to see a protester go for one week using no electricity as a protest. Has anyone had that idea yet? It might be revealing to all involved, and get some great headlines.

  • Starviking

    I think this is quite telling:

    Thus I look forward to receiving hand-drawn paper flyers and notices at “citizens rallies” that can be understood by anybody off the street with an advanced degree in nuclear engineering, a fair bit of knowledge about Japanese law, and decades of experience following the issue. And let’s not forget the three or four hours of long-winded speeches from the veterans that follow — the ones with little or no Q&A from audience members. Yes, “succinct” and “broad public debate” are concepts too often missing from the traditional activist lexicon.

    To summarise: The traditional activists are too long-winded (a general problem for Japanese Society) and they give too much and too advanced information.

    Now laying aside the fact that most of this cornucopia of high-level information is likely to be wrong, and the fact that anyone with an interest could gain some familiarity with it, this statement is saying: Don’t give us any information, we don’t want to know! We’re going with out guts, not our brains.