Tokyo When the world watched the daily horror of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the tragedy it brought to eastern Japan, we also then read the daily headlines as several nuclear power plants hovered near meltdown. Gayle Soto, a professor of Asian-American literature, at Meiji University told me to write down the date October 12, 2012, more than 18-months later when TEFCO, the Japanese power company, finally admitted that they had made some mistakes in eastern Japan!
Unfortunately, many others may not do so even as soon. Unbelievably, there was starting to be a movement back towards nuclear power even in the United States, where there has been no construction since the Three Mile Island disaster, with even President Obama starting to endorse what Soto called the “nuclear umbrella.” All of that stopped when the world watched Japan, where more power is delivered through nuclear plants, than almost any other country, fail to be prepared for disaster and see huge parts of its population threatened and large parts of its territory contaminated.
I met Tamotsu Shimoyama on Saturday morning in the tent that he and many others have occupied for over 400 days in the middle of a covey of government buildings including Japanese ministry that regulates nuclear power and only a few minutes walk away from where I had spent time with more than 1000 others at the regular Friday night “No Nukes” rally that another wing of the movement has been conducting since the disaster. When I asked Shimoyama what the government was likely to do, he first told me a little of his and the country’s history of activism. There were real movements that raged in Japan in the 1960s that were provoked by the Japan-USA defense treaties, but in his view by the 1970’s and the following decades there had been little in the way of grassroots social movements, until the rekindling of the anti-nuclear movement after the earthquake. I listened carefully because this was a serious organizer of great substance. He had been active in the 1960s and when the tide turned he had founded the giant PAL consumers’ cooperative and retired as its president when the cooperative had 1.2 million members. The government had asked them to leave, but had not demanded so their three tents, one for women from the affected area, stood as symbols and rallying points for the anti-nuclear movement.
If the government loses power in the elections which could happen soon, they will be evicted but they will also simply move elsewhere. The support of Shimoyama’s giant cooperative and many union that were their allies, sustains their protest. Perhaps more powerfully almost every poll of the Japanese people still runs between 70 and 80% opposition to nuclear power. The government allowed several of the plants to be “turned on” again recently despite previous promises, which fueled more protests as well. Promises by the government to mothball every nuclear plant within 30-years seem to have lost any credibility.
The fight has been joined and its spirited with deep grassroots support. It is fair to say that the anti-nuclear movement in Japan is the sharp point of a global struggle that may be determined by their resolve and the outcome of these battles. No question from what I saw and heard the movements are in good hands, but everyone also felt the outcome was very uncertain.