After Fukushima, Japan Seeks Non-Nuclear Option

Lindsey Kratochwill

Anti-nuclear activists participate in a demonstration at Minami-Hotie Park on May 5, 2012 in Osaka, Japan. The last of Japan's nuclear reactor will go offline on May 5 for regular maintenance. Since the March 11 Fukushima nuclear disaster Japan's other 53 reactors have been shut down for regular maintenance during which stress tests have been conducted before restarting. Japan will be without nuclear generated electricity for the first time more the 40 years after. (Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

On May 5, a lit­tle more than a year after the melt­down at Fukushi­ma Dai­ichi, thou­sands marched to cel­e­brate as Japan shut down its last work­ing nuclear reac­tor. Though the clo­sures are rou­tine, anti-nuclear groups are work­ing to pre­vent the reac­tors from reopen­ing in the hope that this moment could mark the end of nuclear pow­er in Japan.

Before the dis­as­ter in March 2011, Japan had 54 nuclear reac­tors, four of which were decom­mis­sioned due to dam­age. Though it’s required that reac­tors be shut down and inspect­ed approx­i­mate­ly every 13 months, local offi­cials wary of pub­lic pres­sure have so far refused to restart them. Pub­lic out­cry is the sin­gle most impor­tant thing in keep­ing [the reac­tors] shut down,” accord­ing to Michael Mar­i­otte, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Nuclear Infor­ma­tion and Resource Center.

The back­lash from Fukushi­ma has reen­er­gized civ­il soci­ety in Japan. Since the dis­as­ter, shocked com­mu­ni­ty groups have joined forces with exist­ing anti-nuclear orga­ni­za­tions to push for greater pro­tec­tions against radi­a­tion. Orga­niz­ers say they have gath­ered enough sig­na­tures to hold local ref­er­en­dums on nuclear pow­er in two cities, and Occu­py-style camps have sprung up in front of the Min­istry of Econ­o­my and Min­istry of Trade.

In an Octo­ber 2011 poll by a nation­al broad­cast­er, 66 per­cent of respon­dents said they want­ed nuclear pow­er abol­ished or reduced. But Japan was the world’s third largest user of atom­ic ener­gy pri­or to the dis­as­ter, and there is strong pres­sure to restart the reac­tors. Cit­ing fears of ener­gy short­ages, gov­ern­ment offi­cials are already seek­ing to rein­state two reac­tors at Ohi nuclear plant.

We’re at this key turn­ing point of whether or not we’ll go back to the sta­tus quo,” says Aileen Mioko Smith of Japan’s Green Action. Smith, who has been has been work­ing against nuclear pow­er for the past 30 years, said that she is encour­aged by the issue’s move­ment from the fringe to the cen­ter of pub­lic discourse.

Anti-nuclear activists also hope that Japan’s exam­ple will bol­ster move­ments else­where. Japan is unique; you have a sit­u­a­tion where they were get­ting 30 per­cent of their pow­er from nuclear on March 10, 2011, and the next day they went down to half that and now they’re all the way down,” says Mar­i­otte. If they can main­tain it … it’s a les­son to the rest of the world that nuclear isn’t real­ly needed.”

Lind­sey Kra­tochwill, an In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern, is stu­dent at North­west­ern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
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