Five years after the horrific nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant stunned the nation as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan’s once highly motivated anti-nuclear movement is struggling to maintain momentum.
The disaster prompted tens of thousands of people who had never participated in demonstrations to take to the streets demanding that the government shut down the nation’s nuclear reactors over safety fears.
That public anger and energy, however, seems to have lost steam over the past few years, especially after the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in December 2012.
The anti-nuclear rallies held every Friday in front of the Prime Minister’s Office staring in March 2012 once were able to draw some 200,000 protesters, according to the organizer, Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes. The crowds were comprised of people of all stripes and ages, including students and young mothers with little children.
But these days, to see the face of a newcomer is a rarity, with most people having simply stopped coming. In “Friday rallies” held in February, there were less than 1,000 people each time, according to data provided by the organizers.
On Friday, as the nation marked the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster, anti-nuclear civic groups held rallies nationwide, hoping to reignite public interest and momentum to bring about a tangible change in energy policy.
But at a gathering in Tokyo on Friday to remember Fukushima, which was organized by the anti-nuclear, non-governmental organization Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE), some of the more than 300 participants voiced their concerns over the fading interest in nuclear energy policy.
“I have a sense of crisis about the current state of things,” said Chie Otake, 50. “I guess people are tired of speaking up, as nobody (in the government) seems to listen to them,” she added.
Eisuke Naramoto, 74, who lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, agreed, saying he understood that it is tiring to participate in anti-nuclear rallies when no visible progress can be seen.
“If you look at media polls, a majority of people are still against restarting Japan’s idled nuclear reactors,” he said. “But such opinions didn’t seem to be reflected in the elections.
“I think it’s because, even if many are opposing the use of nuclear energy, their overall interest in energy policy is not that strong.”
The activists say most of the participants who now show up at the Friday rallies are hard-core opponents of nuclear power.
“Since the LDP attained its grip on power (in December 2012), our voices do not seem to reach the government,” said Kanna Mitsuta, an FoE board member. “I believe people kind of gave up hope (for the government to phase out atomic energy).”
In 2012, amid loud cries from the public to abolish atomic power, the then-DPJ government pledged to eliminate nuclear energy production in the decades after 2030.
The plan, however, was scrapped after the pro-nuclear LDP returned to power. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is now looking to have nuclear power generation supply 20 to 22 percent of the country’s electricity needs by 2030.
“I’m not pessimistic about the situation,” Mitsuta of FoE said. “I don’t think the movement is dead.
“We should never forget that people are still suffering from the disaster.”