Protesting nuclear power

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Yokohama the weekend of Jan. 14-15 to show their support for a nuclear power-free world. Organizers of the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World claimed 6,000 participants from some 30 countries on the first day and 5,500 on the second. Newspaper reports put the number closer to 2,000.

Whatever the actual numbers, including a no-doubt large Internet audience for the live broadcast, the conference showed that organized opposition to nuclear power has gained momentum in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis.

The conference shows all the signs of turning into a coherent, focused movement. For a movement to have impact, though, it needs more than people in parks — it also needs viable ideas. This conference had both. Rather than calling the weekend a “protest” or “rally,” they called it a “conference.” And rather than demanding an immediate ban, they called for transitions toward a nuclear-free world. That softer, more sensible approach is more likely to succeed.

The convincing and reasonable ideas in the conference declaration, available online in both Japanese and English on the Global Conference for a Nuclear Power Free World homepage, are also likely to succeed.

The declaration’s most immediate demand was for the protection of rights for those affected by the accident in Fukushima. Establishing this as a rights issue underlines the universal connection to basic human rights such as health care, living standards and safety. The conference’s call for “full transparency, accountability and responsibility by the Japanese Government and Tokyo Electric Power Company” is just as important. Without complete disclosure, progress toward grasping the causes of the problem and finding solutions cannot gain traction.

The conference’s calls for ongoing data collection about the safety of food and materials will also be close to the hearts of all consumers. Already, consumers have been demanding basic information about foodstuffs and potentially contaminated materials. Last week’s discovery that radioactive gravel in concrete used to build a new condominium in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, is one more reminder that problems will continue for a very long time. Nuclear issues have come to home to roost.

The conference’s other calls for gradually reducing dependence on nuclear power, slowing its global spread and working both locally and globally are all sensible, mature and feasible.

Although the conference did not clearly outline how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and establish energy independence, it is clear that a practical consensus towards a different energy future is well underway. Now that is a weekend well spent!