Down but not out: Japan’s anti-nuclear movement fights to regain momentum


Staff Writer

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.”

  • Suraj Parkash

    It would be a great folly if Japan does not change with the neighbor hood changes for the worse, as being provided by North Korea with mindless nuclear programs, and also threatening to use nuclear weapons around the world, right upto USA.

    Suraj Parkash Tuteja

  • kyushuphil

    Mistake #1 here: forgetting how nukes float on the seas of materialism.

    U.S. corporate predators require that the world lust after shopping malls, hermetically-sealed office towers, fast food, chemically-processed food, and zillions of miles of roads and highways to which zillions of the formerly human are now captive.

    One key way the culture of sprawl engorges and metastasizes is for the schools more and more to rid themselves of the humanities. Apparently Minae Mizumura is correct — no K-12 school anywhere in Japan anymore asks students to read any novel, Japanese or other, from beginning to end.

    Schools remain too much in the death grip of the patriarchy. All but dead, lifeless, elderly men rule by the habits of cowardice and conformity which years of the patriarchy have wrought. They like the robotic regimentation, the lack of questioning, dearth of essay writing, infantilized textbooks in anything connected to language or humanities.

    So the juggernaut of materialism proceeds at the rates the corporate predators set. The people thus supposedly “need” all those nukes to fuel it, as the people have all fallen to death wish ed ruling out anything else.

  • Robert Matsuda

    Quite a few Japanese learned that life is much more important than economy or money from the Fukushima nuclear power accidents. Getting cheaper electric power is a small matter compared to keeping our life safe and secure. But the authorities, who have got big profits from nuclear power, want to keep their privileges by keeping atomic power stations. If the government invests more resources in renewable energies instead of using money in nuclear power generation, we are able to spend a life without nuclear power in the near future.

    • Sam Gilman

      Have you looked at the numbers on how much electricity from renewable energy is reasonably possible here? It’s actually not a huge amount. Where does exiting fossil fuels fit in to your plan?

      • GRLCowan

        The Japanese who “learned that life is much more important than economy or money from the Fukushima nuclear power accidents” don’t include those in government who saw them as an opportunity to shut down the country’s nuclear power industry. Exiting fossil fuels is very much what they don’t want. The post-Fukushima fossil fuel tax revenue windfall is what they want, and have.

        For them nuclear power’s resurgence will mean renewed loss, not, as Matsuda falsely asserts, profit.

        Understanding this can shed some light on why “such opinions didn’t seem to be reflected in the elections”, and turnout for these “non-governmental” demonstrations, even if they are well-funded, has been diminishing.

      • Sam Gilman

        I think I’ve said this to you before, but I don’t buy your argument, at least not in the Japanese context. From economic and fiscal standpoints, the government would love to turn all the reactors back on.

  • Hideomi Kuze

    About next Nuclear disaster,
    Current Japan Govt and ruling party politicians cannot answer definite plans yet.
    because They can do nothing.

    Their Nuclear policy is danger.

  • Hideomi Kuze

    About next Nuclear disaster,
    Current Japan Govt and ruling party politicians cannot answer definite plans yet.
    because They can do nothing.

    Their Nuclear policy is danger.

  • Robert Matsuda

    Quite a few facilities and houses have introduced solar power generation using the subsidies of the government. But the government has stopped the subsidies for placing solar power panels while it has paid huge money to keep nuclear power stations. If the government allots more money for subsidies and development of renewable energy, the practical use of renewable energy will speed up.