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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.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      Well, I pay some electric bills and I look at them closely. Do you? What I have noted is that my utility has been giving me DISCOUNTS for the last couple of months. What? Why? I will tell you why. They have a fuel surcharge that got as high as about 1.50 yen per kWh several months ago. Now it is about negative 0.70 yen. So they are giving me a discount for every kWh I use. Fancy that. Simply because fuel is cheap now. I fully expect that they will bring their prices down along with their costs because they are facing wide deregulation and competition.

      This canard that utilities are out to gouge everybody is just nonsense. Their job is to provide electricity securely and efficiently. And they do it. I have not had a blackout since April of 2011. They are giving back money to customers now, and they are accepting large amounts of solar energy to meet SOCIETY’S environmental goals. Take a look at the typical US or Aussie utility and you might find that the Japanese are doing pretty well with their various challenges. And most aren’t losing their shirts as German utilities seem to be doing. Factor in the sanctions and headaches they have had to deal with over the last four years.

      Now as far as nuclear, any lefty worth his salt will tell you how expensive nuclear power is. And it is. But there is always a big but. And the big but here is …. but these power plants are fully depreciated and have large amounts of fuel already paid for. What that should mean to you is that nuclear power plants are essentially FREE to run in Japan these days, which is, as you would say “darned cheap.” Is society going to let them/us use the plants, or are they going to be wasted? Can they earn enough cash before the reactors are decommissioned and replaced? If utilities can’t earn profits now, who is going to pay for your wind turbines and geothermal plants. You? Masayoshi Son? He is off rebuilding India.

      And just as a note, don’t kid yourself that the “risk” from these plants is borne by customers at all. Most of Fukushima’s generated power went to Tokyo. Nobody in Fukushima ever got a discount for the cheap power they sent to Tokyo for 40 years. Why start now? But Fukushima residents DID stop dying in coal mine accidents and they got jobs for those 40 years, and they did not die like 16000 other people up and down the Tohoku coast on 3/11. So they have that going for them.

    • jeppen

      Japan had 27% nuclear before Fukushima, so expecting a 50% power bill reduction from reinstated nuclear seems a bit excessive. But over the first three years after Fukushima, Japan’s added imports of fossils amounted to some 34 trillion yen. There are nicer things to import than fossil fuels.

      Nuclear costs are more or less chosen by regulation. If Japan choose expensive regulation, nuclear becomes expensive.

  • 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!

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      Japan needs protest and I am all for it. I truly believe that all parties had a chance to air their views, and that people who feel disenfranchised have received special consideration for their claims by various media. That is not folly.

      Folly is failing to move on and get past interminable hand-wringing. Coming generations will face nuclear risk. As a society, we have apparently judged that nuclear risk poses less danger than other risks posed by environments, economies, etc. This is the same decision our parents and grandparents made. Despite the damage in Fukushima, I think they were right.

      Would our children forgive us for using tar sands and coal to blacken the air and impoverish the nation? Can this aging population spend enough and devote enough space in this country to meet all power needs using renewable alone? Should Japan switch to natural gas, which has historically been expensive and scarce, just because it has become cheap and available in the last six months? Should we hold on and just wait a few more years for fusion?

      Those are academic questions. To many people who just want to live in the real world, it has

      produced nothing more than time wasted!

    • jeppen

      The world has indeed been ruined by TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima, but only in the way that these accidents scared people enough to make them keep using powersources a thousand times more damaging instead of scaling nuclear power further.

  • 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

      Many upvotes for this.
      I have heard, oh… a million times, about the “lesson of Fukushima.”

      I think the lessons of Fukushima are the following.
      1. You think nuclear power is bad? How about we shift to coal?
      2. You think nuclear is expensive? How about we shift to natural gas?
      3. You think renewables are cheap and easy-peasy? Have a look at Japan’s expensive crash program over the last few years, which has raised the share of solar and wind to… maybe 5%?
      4. You think you are Helping Fukushima residents by droning on and on about radiation? Tell that to the people still trying to make a livelihood there and throughout Tohoku.
      5. And on a positive note, if Fukushima was the worst case scenario, and after feeling that earthquake and seeing that tsunami, I think it is, then humans are doing a darn good job. Perfection does not exist, but no deaths? That is a wow.

      • Starviking

        And many upvotes for that! A great summary of what is so wrong about the response to Fukushima.

  • 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.

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  • 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.

    • Rockne O’Bannon

      I am not pro nuke. I am not pro utility. But I am not against them either. I live in Miyagi and I have had to find my own information and come to my own conclusions since 3/11, frankly, because I have felt it to be a matter of life and death from the get-go.

      Life and death.

      So I have never thought for a moment that I or my family would be even a tiny bit safer if I were to act by my gut instinct. I have paid close attention to knowledge and advice from people who can explain, without emotion, what happens and what happened. And what is happening. I have looked at outcomes and timelines. I have considered the sources.

      I have to say that I have been wholly unimpressed with the whole array of panic-mongering, sky-is-falling, panacea-selling, agenda-pushing group who have tried to convince me from about 3/13/11 that I am doomed and Japan is doomed. I think that many do not particularly care if they are repeating accurate information because they figure there is no harm in erring on the side of “safety” or “doing nothing.”

      In fact, it is extremely harmful to err that way. Climate-deniers. Anti-vaxxers. Illuminati-believers. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. It is great to want to save the world. But just as one example, Japan has spent tens of billions burning fossil fuels it did not need. Those emissions are estimated to have killed more people than the 3/11 tsunami several times over. How many people are skipping health care and nutrition or education because electric bills have been increasing for the last four years? As Japan turns to burning more coal for longer than it had anticipated, the environmental, political, and economic harm is likely to continue, and multiply.

      That is REAL HARM, not some made-up horror story from Hollywood or Environmentalism Inc.. I have also seen real harm come from this attitude of people … some Japanese people… that other Japanese people might be so despicable and ghoulish that they purposely and maliciously put others in harm’s way for profit. The Fukushima 50 and their managers had families and loved ones that they saved in addition to mine. In my view, they have been vilified and disgraced by the anti-nuclear faction simply for doing their duty before, during and after 3/11. If they were not honorable, why did they stake their lives on protecting the rest of us? If they were honorable, why should I not stand with them?

      I have not been misled. And I never felt fear after about 3/15. I think that says a lot. I have not felt “reassured” so much as “confident” that smart people were doing their best with adequate resources in an imperfect world, putting protection of human life as their highest priority. In contrast, people who have been driven by fear and who then drive the fear are likely to see one day that they were misled. If a gut feeling is what is driving protests, a little more thought, not less, is what is needed. Letting their brains do their thinking might bring more peace of mind to exhausted protesters.

      • Starviking

        I’m pro-nuke myself, but as a Tohoku resident, I also had to hunt for information, more to reassure relatives than myself. I’ve a background in the sciences, so FUD is pretty easy for me to pick out (refutation can take a bit more work though…)