For a time, Fukushima Dai-ichi’s 2011 triple-reactor meltdown seemed to herald the demise of the global nuclear industry. Japan took all of its plants offline. Germany — with a strong anti-nuclear movement and Green Party in ascendance — closed eight of its plants and pledged to close the remaining nine by 2022. Mexico cancelled a number of planned reactors. And economics played a large role in sidelining dozens of plants planned in the United States, including San Antonio’s intended expansion of the South Texas Project rejected by the NRC today because of the partnership’s residual dominating foreign ownership interests.*
A week after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami that knocked out backup generators and flooded the cluster of reactors resulting in three meltdowns and explosions releasing high levels of radioactivity into the air and water, Nobel Laureate Kenzaburō Ōe told Le Monde, “The people of Japan, who have been burned by the nuclear fire, must not think of nuclear energy in terms of industrial productivity, they must not try to devise a ‘recipe’ for economic growth from the tragic experience of Hiroshima.”
A couple months later, a coalition of artists, including Ōe, launched a petition drive to end nuclear power in Japan once and for all. Sixty thousand turned out into the street in September 2011 to demand an end to Japan’s reliance on nuclear power and to chart a renewable course forward. And as of April, 2013, that petition had been signed by more than 8.2 million people.
Yet things appear to be turning around rapidly in this nation thrice burned by “nuclear fire,” Yoshiko Kayano (top), professor of English at Meisei University in Tokyo, told a small group at an Association for the Study of Literature & the Environment conference in Lawrence, Kansas, today.
“We need more pressure from overseas,” Kayano said after presenting on “Japan’s Unprecedented Anti-Nuke Grassroots Movement” Friday. “Our prime minister continues to sell nuclear power around the world.”
In fact, just yesterday Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, committed to tripling the nation’s floundering post-meltdown export trade by 2020, pledged higher levels of defense cooperation and nuclear and rail technologies for India. According to the Asahi Shimbun, Abe peddled Japanese nuclear technology in the United Arab Emirites, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey earlier this year.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano told 12th biennial general meeting of the World Association of Nuclear Operators in Moscow on Monday that while the Fukushima disaster had “deeply shaken” public confidence in the nuclear industry, “I believe we have made good progress in winning back that confidence,” Platts reports.
Although all but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain offline, Reuters reports this week that the country’s nuclear lobby has reawakened this year.
“The ‘nuclear village’ is back in the driver’s seat,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus. The term ‘nuclear village’ refers to the powerful nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and utilities that for decades promoted atomic power in Japan. “All the noises from the government are in favour of restarts … They own the corridors of power.”
The petition still being circulated by 10 Million People’s Action to say Goodbye to Nuclear Power Plants demands the cancellation of plans for new nuclear power plants and termination of existing nuclear power plants, the permanent closure of the fast-breeder reactor “Monju” and nuclear reprocessing plants, and “an immediate shift in energy policy towards energy conservation and placing natural energy in the center.”
Japanese residents were largely ignorant of the risks posed by nuclear power before Fukushima’s plants were overwhelmed, Kayano said. “They were sort of forced to be blind to the dangerous aspects of nuclear power plants by the government, media, and the electric company,” she said.
Afterward, as TEPCO continued to wrangle with plant fires, flooding, power outages, and radioactive leaks into the Sea of Japan (planned and otherwise), Kayano said that “people started to know how little we knew, started to educate themselves, started to participate in these actions.”
But to solidify the gains made by Japan’s citizens as governmental and industry pressure mount to restart their nuclear program on economic grounds, international support is needed, Kayano said.
“We need to make it a global movement,” she said. “This is what I told myself, because I didn’t know much about the nuclear danger before [Fukushima]: Educate yourself. Try to educate yourself. There are many ways to learn more about the danger of nuclear.”
Kayano circulated a message from organizers with the Japanese organization Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes that reads simply: “We are seeking Support from Foreigners. Increasing the number of overseas supporters strengthens our cause.”
The organization of 14 member groups holds weekly Friday actions (above, courtesy of MCAN) that draw tens of thousands to protest.
* Writes James Osborne at the Dallas Morning News’ business blog:
Regulators took issue with NRG’s decision two years ago to pull back its investment in expanding the existing two reactors at the South Texas Project facility. At the time electricity prices were falling rapidly with the tapping of vast domestic reserves of natural gas.
Since then the licensing process, which takes years to complete, has been wholly funded by Toshiba in the form of a loan, an NRG spokesman said.
But Houston-based NRG has not completely dismissed the project, at least in concept.
“It is unknown where natural gas prices will be in the future,” said spokesman David Knox. “At some point it’s very possible new nuclear will be economically viable.”
NRG and Toshiba remains hopeful they can convince the atomic safety board to overrule NRC staff. But they will likely face an uphill climb.
“In this case it would seem unlikely the board would come to any different conclusion than what the staff has stated,” Burnell said. “They would have to prove day to day control of the company lies within the United States.”
UPDATE 6/7/13: My new friend Yoshiko Kayano contacted me today and suggested I add these very specific ways to stand in solidarity with those fighting nuclear power in Japan.
1. “Like” the Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes on Facebook.
2. Tweet this message out on Twitter (or other social media): “Join us in Japan’s largest anti-nuke demos each Friday. See what the protests look like here: http://coalitionagainstnukes.jp/en .”
3. Become a supporter by sending along a message and a few personal details to firstname.lastname@example.org, including:
– Name of affiliated organization (if applicable)
– Country, city
– Personal Message
– Photo (if possible)
4. Finally, Kayano says, “Another way to support Japan’s anti-nuke movement is to print out the English petition form (pdf file) in this site, collect signatures and send it to them. Petitions from foreign citizens living outside Japan are valid as long as the petition is addressed to the Japanese Prime Minister. The original deadline was set for May 2012, but they continue their petition drive till they collect 10 million signatures. On June 6, it reached 8,270,914.”
More info, including updates on donating to MCAN, are here.