Japan’s PM Hears The Anti-Nuclear Protestors But Is He Really Listening?

If you speak out, sometimes you are heard. That’s the first step.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda finally met with a dozen anti-nuclear activists. It was a victory for the protestors, who have railed against the restarting of Japan’s nuclear reactors, for months, with increasing public support and growing numbers of sympathisizers. However, while Prime Minister Noda did meet with them, he seemed more concerned about his talking points than what they had to say. He and the government of Japan now hear the rising anti-nuclear sentiment but its doubtful that they are really listening. The wealth and influence of Japan’s nuclear power industrial complex has a much louder voice, one that seems capable of drowning out the roar of dissent. However, one of the protestors summed up the meeting very optimistically, “Half of Japan is opposed to the restarting of the nuclear reactors. They were started anyway. But now the government is began to listening to the voices of opposition. Democracy has also been restarted.”

The protestors speaking at a press conference after the meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister. (Ms. Redwolf is in the center)

 

Whether the Government of Japan or Prime Minister Noda is really paying attention to the message of the anti-nuclear movement is hard to say.

(Note: The rest of this article first appeared in the Daily Beast/Newsweek on August 19th and has been slightly revised. Please follow the link at the bottom for the full article.)

Still….it’s hard to ignore more than 20,000 anti-nuclear protesters at your front door. It’s even harder in a country like Japan, where more often than not repressive tradition and political apathy combine to stifle social protest. So after Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s unpopular prime minister, found his home surrounded by thousands of protesters for weeks on end, he seems to have  finally got the message.

Last week the prime minister agreed, albeit reluctantly, to meet with representatives of Japan’s increasingly vocal and influential citizens network “Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes” (MCAN).

According to an opinion poll conducted by the Mainichi Shimbun, a major Japanese daily newspaper, almost half of Japan now sympathizes with the protesters. That statistic is all the more remarkable in a country which hasn’t seen mass social protest since the early 1960s. But the anti-nuke coalition besieging the prime minister’s home and other government sites is nothing if not broadbased, a characteristic summed up by the characters of its two leaders: a tattooed female artist and fashion designer and an ultra-conventional looking, soft-spoken white-collar worker. How did this dynamic duo come together and “politely” make themselves a force to be reckoned with? And will they really make a difference? No one knows, of course, but in the past few months Japan’s leaders have learned conclusively that these two cannot be easily ignored.

On March 11, 2011, an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and a subsequent tsunami left thousands dead in Japan and caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, managed by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The Japanese government and TEPCO for months afterward denied a meltdown had taken place and then later blamed the accident on “an unprecedented and unforeseeable tsunami,” which knocked out the power to the plant.

he report officially confirmed the Japanese people’s worst fears and added impetus to a growing anti-nuclear movement.The loosely structured network of groups opposed to nuclear energy in Japan known as “Metropolitan Coalition Against Nukes” (MCAN),was founded in September last year.

Every Friday night thousands gather to call for an end to nuclear power in Japan.

The leader of the group is an outspoken tattooed female artist and fashion designer who choses to be referred to by her adapted name, Misao Redwolf. (Don’t dare ask her age, because she will just glare at you fiercely.) Redwolf says, “I organized anti-nuclear protests for more than five years now, but nobody knew about our movement simply because we never received media coverage before.”

Misao Redwolf working with the police to keep the protests peaceful.

Redwolf, noting that many small groups of protesters were scattered around Tokyo, decided to bring together all the organizations to fight for the same cause. “And so we founded the MCAN.”The protest organizers always make sure to thank the police officers for their hard work—with a polite bow and traditional greetings—when the event is done.

The first anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the National Diet building and the prime minister’s residence took place on March 29, 2012. Almost every Friday evening, between 6 and 8 p.m., protesters meet in front of the prime minister’s residence to protest the government’s decision to restart two reactors at the nuclear power station Oi, which belongs to Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), in the Fukui prefecture.

“The protests cannot change the decisions of the politicians,” Redwolf says, “but if our voices can reach the ears of the lawmakers at the Parliament (the Japanese Diet) and influence their decisions, then we will win a unique battle.”

Her major ally in winning that battle is the mild-mannered, clean-cut, and soft-spoken Norimichi Hattori, the group’s spokesman, who has captured the hearts of the Japanese public and the media.A consultant for a small company that manufactures carrying bags for children, Hattori, 36, was not an environmental activist before the meltdown contaminated his home with radioactivity. In April 2011, he first got involved in small anti-nuclear protests. In September, after meeting with Redwolf several times, he became MCAN’s spokesman.

Mr. Hattori looks more like a boy scout troop leader than a protest organizer.

His black hair is cut straight and short, and even in summer he wears a white shirt and a dark suit. He looked like any Japanese “salary man” (white-collar worker).

Hattori lives in Matsudo City, in the Chiba prefecture. In mid-March 2011, heavy rains carried the radioactive particles emitted by the explosion at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant to his home. As a result, his home has become a so-called “hot spot”—a place where sediments containing radioactive fallout tend to accumulate via rainwater and other factors. click here for the rest of the story…

*most of this article was originally published in The Daily Beast/Newsweek on August 19th) 

Comments
7 Responses to “Japan’s PM Hears The Anti-Nuclear Protestors But Is He Really Listening?”
  1. Level3 says:

    Inconvenient truth.

    The Oi reactors saved Kansai from rolling blackouts last week, not by much, merely about 100MW. That’s “only” enough power for about 50,000 households. Of course rolling blackouts can’t be perfectly scaled to the exact amount, so some in Kansai Blackout Group 4 would have had a hot afternoon. It would have been a good idea to take a nap, but the wailing of ambulance sirens transporting heat stroke victims would have kept you awake.

    Ah, I forgot, people dying of heat stroke, or lung disease aggravated by burning fossil fuels doesn’t make you guys lose any sleep.

    Data at KEPCO website. But the anti-nuke crowd will just say its lies, right?
    If it’s lies, you’d think they’d make more dramatic ones, and brag.

    • subcultureist says:

      I think people dying of heat stroke would bother anyone.
      I’m not sure I believe the data. KEPCO and TEPCO have a long history of falsifying data and they’ve done it again and again over the last ten years.
      NISA has been a complete failure as a regulatory agency.
      Why should we believe them now? Why don’t you study the history of Japan’s nuclear industry a little bit more.

      http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20020831a3.html

      Saturday, Aug. 31, 2002

      Koizumi, Hiranuma blast Tepco over alleged nuclear-hazard coverup

  2. Level3 says:

    Frankly, when I’m not in snark mode, I am a bit amazed that Japan has been able to just about squeak by without nuclear power. Though thinking about it, there has always been quite a bit of excess available from fossil fuel plants, which we had been switching away from to reduce CO2 and at least try to hit Kyoto Protocol targets. Say goodbye to that plan. Global warming is no longer on the radar for a lot of people now.

    Will be interesting to look over the weather stats at the end of the summer and see if we were lucky on that front. While it has been hot for extended periods, the thing that breaks the back of the power grid is record high temperatures.. which I think most have been lucky not to see this year. Though in theory, such heat waves are going to be much more common than in the past, thanks to global warming, thanks in part to burning fossil fuels, which Japan is dedicated to increasing for the foreseeable future. Irony.

    Still, the very small amount of “nukes saved the day” data, just about 6 hours over 2 days? If they were going to lie about it, you think KEPCO might come up with something more dramatic? The data seems realistic to me. Meanwhile KEPCO built a new gas turbine generator unit and put it online in Himeji a couple weeks ago, but I guess the conspiracy blogs aren’t writing about that. Still claiming KEPCO is deliberately shutting down fossil plants to make Oi output seem necessary? (Again, if KEPCO is deliberately cutting the available power to make nukes seem like the hero that saves the day, why does their data only end up showing Oi saved the day for just 6 hours on just 2 days? Doesn’t make sense even if you believe the conspiracy theory… unless people want to go 2 levels deep and say the data is deliberately created with such a thin margin to look believable, and the building of new fossil fuel generation capacity is some kind of blind? Too far down the rabbit hole for me.)

    I do study the history. The Commission report on Fukushima shows that TEPCO execs should not even be trusted to work in a scrapyard, let alone manage one. And the reporting on the questionable personnel practices getting nuke worker drones (including your reporting) are friggin scary.

    The problem is the lack of independent oversight in Japan, not the technology itself. Nuke accidents are caused by stupid people doing stupid things (Chernobyl, most of the minor accidents), or stupid execs cutting corners on backup systems and refits (Fukushima). Homer Simpson and Monty Burns.

    Kind of like airlines. Some accidents are mechanical failure because some technician or desk jockey in accounting decided a part didn’t need to be fixed immediately. Some are pilot error because of bad communication, bad training, bad policy. Some are just bad luck. Hundreds of people killed each year.
    But there are no mass protests against airplanes. Why?

    Nor against automobiles. A bit shocking as we’ve all decided to not think about it, but automobiles cause 1-2% of all deaths. A lifetime in a society with automobiles is as dangerous as riding the Space Shuttle. Twice.

    No protests. Why?

  3. VK says:

    Jake, has it occurred to you that the reason why the PM is not agreeing with these people is that they’re not presenting persuasive arguments to someone in his position? The fact that you chose to use the word “listening” when you meant “agreeing with” suggests not. (I’m not getting at you in particular – a lot of journalists have turned away from objectivity in their political analysis when it comes to the issue of nuclear power policy.)

    Let’s put aside for one moment any conspiracy theories that nuclear power around the world is being employed solely for the benefits of shady capitalists and the military-industrial complex. What is the honest alternative to restarting at least some of these plants, where we can be best assured of safety and oversight? (As Level3 suggests, not only the official report, but your journalism and others shows – possibly inadvertently – that it’s the governance, and not the technology that’s the problem. A perfect storm of avoidable awfulness seems to be the narrative you and others are producing.)

    When I read reports like not only like yours but like those of many journalists, I get very little coherent sense of what these protesters want to do for power instead. But that’s Noda’s prime consideration. He needs to keep the lights on, and keep vital industry powered as safely and cheaply as possible. And that’s before he’s being strong-armed by supposed dark forces hell-bent on killing people for profit.

    A lot of protesters seem very keen on power by any other means necessary. As a result, these people – many of whom would call themselves environmentalists – would rather have coal, oil and gas. So we have the astonishing situation where the prime environmental crisis of our age – global warming – vanishing from the lips of “environmentalists”.

    I can’t think of a serious environmental scientist – even those who are anti-nuclear – who would want to see coal being burnt instead of nuclear, and most would probably say the same for oil. The numbers are there to see: we know that these fossil fuels are lethal now and very lethal in the near future. If you had an entirely moral politician, he would certainly choose nuclear before coal, and a responsible politician would not want to rely too heavily on imported oil these days even if not persuaded by the environmental arguments. Which kind of leaves gas. If you’re attentive, you’ll find a lot of anti-nuclear “environmentalists” have fallen in love with natural gas of late. It’s currently cheaper, and the “least worst” of the fossil fuels in terms of CO2, although it’s still bad, and very dangerous to handle. (Quiz – No googling: name the five most fatal gas explosions in history. No, me neither. Fossil fuels have good PR.)

    You miss Level3′s point about deaths in heat waves: we don’t politicise these deaths, even though the increase in heatwaves and increase in their severity around the world is almost certainly part of climate change. People say “oh dear” and have the same sympathy as for any other deaths that appear in the news each day. They might even check up on their grandparents or parents, but these deaths are not tied to government energy policy. I don’t see any protests around fossil-fired power stations, even though the numbers of deaths from climate change are absolutely going to dwarf anything ever created by nuclear power, if they’re not already doing so (the WHO would say definitely yes already, and by a factor of thousands). So in that sense, yes, those anti-nuclear protesters honestly don’t appear to care that much about these deaths, as by and large they’re studiously not talking about global warming. This is pretty awful given the debate is about how we generate power. Such deaths are part of exactly the same equation as to whether or not we deploy nuclear power.

    Of course, it’s hard to say how much Japan meeting Kyoto agreement targets matters to Noda, but if it does, he will not want to increase CO2 output. But it should matter to the protesters and supporting journalists if they believe they have some kind of moral high ground, and they certainly should not be avoiding the issue, or paying it lip service.

    Which brings us to renewable energy, and the second failure of journalism with regard to the nuclear debate in Japan – not critically examining the prospects for renewables let alone examining with anything like the severity that is applied to nuclear. If a journalist took TEPCO press releases on nuclear safety, or an industry front group on costs, and published them as independent analysis, they would quite rightly be laughed at and ridiculed. Yet when much the same thing happens on the current viability and prospects for wind and for solar power in particular, no one complains – or even notices. Renewable power companies are just as much in it for the money as the nuclear industry. They’re not charities. And they put out propaganda.

    The thing is, most independent and even some pro-renewable analysis shows that powering *everything* or even rather less than most of everything by such technologies is going to take (a) a very long time, (b) an astonishing amount of money (not just panels and turbines, but a whole new grid system) and (c) in Japan’s case, some very unlikely political arrangements, such as handing China and Korea the on/off switch to the necessary transnational supergrid. Responsible, rather than knee-jerk populist, journalists who want to write about energy, need to find out about this and, if they are anti-nuclear, help prepare the ground for people to accept what is going to be a far more uncomfortable burden in that transition, by trying to get them informed. We need truth and honesty, not propaganda or lazy hand-waving. If we’re going to go for renewables, we cannot do it based on myth and wishes. Otherwise, as is currently happening, we’ll just carry on burning fossil fuels while we hope someone will “work something out”.

    At the moment too many journalists are in a bubble of anti-nuke propaganda – the kind of bubble that the internet is good at creating (Here’s an egregious example – looking at the singular sourcing for “some people”: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20120822a3.html.) But Noda is not in that bubble. He can listen as carefully as he likes to these protesters, but the problem is, given the immaturity of the debate as put forward by most anti-nuclear protesters, he’s not going to hear answers to the challenging questions on the alternatives that need answering, and which his civil servants will be putting to him. They will be asking hard questions about energy capacity and reliability in the next ten years, not in fifty years time.

    Consider Noda’s position: half his party hates time, most people think he’s toast come the next election. The thing he’s going to worry most about is his legacy, with may be less than half an eye on the fact that seeming principled (for which read – doing unpopular things) may be the most effective way to generate electoral support. If the anti-nuclear protesters don’t have anything in their arguments except an opinion poll that would not translate into extra votes, what’s he going to gain from that? On the other hand, keeping the power running, and reforming nuclear governance to create at least a medium term strategy for power possible? He might, either with the purest most honest heart, or with a cynical politicians heart, see that as better – and that’s before the intervention of dark nefarious powers enforcing their nuclear will. Which is why I raise the question of whether the protesters actually have persuasive attractive alternatives for powering Japan in the next two or three decades. I’m really not sure, if I were sitting in Noda’s chair, that they do.

  4. VK, you make some excellent points. I’m thinking them over.

  5. VK makes some great points here:

    “I do study the history. The Commission report on Fukushima shows that TEPCO execs should not even be trusted to work in a scrapyard, let alone manage one. And the reporting on the questionable personnel practices getting nuke worker drones (including your reporting) are friggin scary.

    The problem is the lack of independent oversight in Japan, not the technology itself. Nuke accidents are caused by stupid people doing stupid things (Chernobyl, most of the minor accidents), or stupid execs cutting corners on backup systems and refits (Fukushima). Homer Simpson and Monty Burns.

    Kind of like airlines. Some accidents are mechanical failure because some technician or desk jockey in accounting decided a part didn’t need to be fixed immediately. Some are pilot error because of bad communication, bad training, bad policy. Some are just bad luck. Hundreds of people killed each year.
    But there are no mass protests against airplanes. Why?

    Nor against automobiles. A bit shocking as we’ve all decided to not think about it, but automobiles cause 1-2% of all deaths. A lifetime in a society with automobiles is as dangerous as riding the Space Shuttle. Twice.

    No protests. Why?”

    –Indeed.

    Here’s the thing: TEPCO in charge of nuclear facilities scares the hell out of me. The recent released video footage has the executives protesting the use of sea water to stop the meltdown–not because the seawater is dangerous but because it would “destroy the expensive reactors.” Even in the face of nuclear disaster, their bottom line was saving their property.

    I don’t know if government run nuclear facilities would be any safer, but I have a feeling they would be. The costs of a nuclear meltdown aren’t usually immediate deaths but the long-term damage is immense.

Leave A Comment