Last year saw a new dimension added to the anniversaries of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unlike in the past, people and groups involved with the cause of abolishing nuclear weapons started calling for the phaseout of nuclear power generation, including dropping plans to build new nuclear power plants while decommissioning existing plants, one by one.
This attitude was driven by the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has made the risk of radiation exposure all too real for many people.
This year we hear voices spreading at the grass-roots level, calling on Japan to stop its reliance on nuclear power. Every Friday evening, tens of thousands of people gather near the Diet Building and the prime minister’s official residence, calling for an end to Japan’s use of nuclear power.
Similar street protests and lecture meetings have also been held in other places including Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima, Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya. The Internet is playing an important role in mobilizing people.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the first cities in history to be destroyed by nuclear weapons; survivors there have suffered from the serious effects of radiation exposure.
The Fukushima nuclear crisis has turned out to be one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents. In the psyche of Japanese people, Fukushima was added to Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a symbol of the suffering and tragedy caused by the use of atomic energy, whether in the form of weapons or in the form of electricity generation.
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and that of Nagasaki three days later, killed an estimated 140,000 people and 74,000 people, respectively, by the end of 1945. Many survivors suffered from illnesses caused by radiation.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster continues. Radiation exposure risks have forced some 160,000 people to evacuate their homes. Many people had to shutter their businesses. Out of despair, some people chose to kill themselves.
On the evening of July 29, people calling for ending the use of nuclear power ringed the Diet Building. The police said that more than 10,000 people took part. But organizers said that some 200,000 people participated. One participant said he would like to see all nuclear power plants as well as all nuclear weapons banished from the face of the Earth.
The viewpoint of extending the anti-nuclear power movement in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster to include the movement for abolishing nuclear weapons is important. The momentum started by U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009, in which he called for creation of a world without nuclear weapons, appears to have weakened this year.
As a nation that has experienced three nuclear tragedies, Japan is in a position to push for abolition of nuclear weapons with persuasive influence.
It is also important to quash any move inside Japan to utilize nuclear power generation as a preliminary step toward nuclear armament, as was implied by a national “security” clause recently inserted into the Atomic Energy Basic Act and in the law to establish a Nuclear Regulatory Commission.