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Japanese Government Refuses to Listen to Its People

Amitabh Pal

 by The Progressive

The Japanese government has defied the will of its people. In the face of stiff opposition, it has resumed its reliance on nuclear power, ending a two-month period when the country had rid itself of that source.

The Japanese public hasn’t been too happy.

“News reports said that about 1,000 protesters marched on Sunday in central Tokyo, two days after tens of thousands of chanting anti-nuclear demonstrators filled streets in front of the prime minister’s residence,” states the New York Times.

And these demonstrators do not reflect just a minority opinion.

"Seventy-one percent of respondents to a Mainichi newspaper poll published on June 4 objected to a speedy restart” of Japan’s reactors, says a Bloomberg News piece. “In a separate poll released June 5 by the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Japanese said the country should reduce its reliance on atomic energy and 52 percent feared they or their families may have been exposed to radiation.”

But the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda chose to rush in regardless. That even experts are cautioning otherwise seems to have had little effect.

“Two prominent seismologists said on Tuesday that Japan is ignoring the safety lessons of last year's Fukushima crisis and warned against restarting two reactors,” Reuters recently reported. “Seismic modeling by Japan's nuclear regulator did not properly take into account active fault lines near the Ohi plant, Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a seismologist at Kobe University, told reporters. Experts advising Japan's nuclear industry had underestimated the seismic threat, Mitsuhisa Watanabe, a tectonic geomorphology professor at Toyo University, said at the same news conference.”

Apparently, Tokyo Electric Power, which owns the damaged Fukushima plants, was able to persuade the Japanese government of the necessity of heading in the wrong direction.

But the company’s wisdom is in doubt. Last month, an internal report of the nuclear corporation (which being taken over by the government) found that serious lapses led to the Fukushima disaster.

"We must admit that our tsunami anticipation was too optimistic, and our insufficient preparations for a tsunami were the fundamental cause of the accident," TEPCO Vice President Masao Yamazaki told a news conference.

The story of Japan’s break with nuclear energy was an example of people power. In the aftermath of Fukushima, when reactors were taken offline for review and maintenance, citizen activists in the communities where the reactors were situated made sure that they weren’t allowed to restart. As a result, Japan’s fifty-odd reactors were rendered nonfunctional one by one.

The people started mobilizing soon after last year’s catastrophe.

“On September 19 in Tokyo, about 60,000 people, including refugees from Fukushima Prefecture, held a rally called Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants,” Akira Tashiro reported for The Progressive in the December/January issue. “Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe and eight other prominent figures initiated this rally, at which Oe declared, ‘Nuclear power is always accompanied by ruin and sacrifice.’ ”

The Japanese have not quietly accepted their government’s decision to ignore their sentiments.

"It's a lie that nuclear energy is clean," said Taisuke Kohno, a musician joining hundreds of others in an attempt to blockade the restarted Ohi plant. "After experiencing the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, how can Japan possibly want nuclear power?"

The Japanese leadership should heed the wisdom of folks like Taisuke.


© 2021 The Progressive
Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal teaches at Edgewood College in Madison, WI. Formerly, he was managing editor of The Progressive. He interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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