From Muroran to Jaitapur: Energy Colonialism and Resistance to Nuclear Expansion in India and Japan

By Maia Sikina

“For us fisherfolk, who make a living on the ocean, this is a matter of life and death. The power plant is a plankton-killing machine and, if built, it will alter the entire ecosystem.” (Shiba Takeji, Hokkaido, Japan)[1]

“Local residents have been fighting against these nuclear projects for twenty years. We refuse to be guinea pigs for India’s nuclear expansion by hosting technology untested anywhere in the world…it will destroy our fisheries and our farms.” (Vaishali Patil, Jaitapur, India)[2]

“We have encountered the strongest and most terrifying power, a power that never appeared in the stories of indigenous peoples all over the world.  It affects us endlessly, that is the power whose name is radioactivity.” (Ainu speech at the United Nations, May 2011)[3]

If the twentieth century was shaped by resource contests for oil, the twenty-first century is being defined by an aggressive quest for nuclear, especially with emerging nations’ embrace of nuclear and arguments that nuclear energy is the preferred low carbon answer to climate change. More than four decades and two oceans apart, indigenous Ainu in Hokkaido, Japan and fisherfolk and Adivasi in Maharashtra, India voiced shared concerns about how energy generated by thermal and nuclear plants erected in their backyards would put their livelihoods at risk. For Ainu in the 1970s, these concerns focused on the loss of habitat for edible seaweeds, fisheries, and corresponding loss of livelihood with the unwanted new neighbor of an oil-fired power plant. For fisherfolk and farmers in 2016 Jaitapur, anxieties center on a group of six yet-unbuilt reactors, and how they will alter the region’s ecosystem by raising temperatures and introducing radioactive elements. These fisherfolk also fear a seismic accident or, worse, a nuclear meltdown. Moreover, for these farmers and fisherfolk, the government has already begun expropriating land by force, triggering loss of livelihood with insufficient resettlement funds. Each community is now intertwined in the morass of Japan’s and India’s development ideologies, then and now.


In northern Japan’s Date in the late 1960s, the community was inflamed by plans to construct an oil-fired thermal power plant on the shoreline of one of Japan’s most productive fisheries. The national government urged Hokkaido prefecture to push plant construction, arguing that it needed a new energy supply to support its burgeoning industrial sector, and Hokkaido, a former colonial territory, was ideally positioned for this new expansion. Indeed, the electric utility accused protesters of being “anti-progress” and “anti-modernity,” and urged them to sacrifice themselves, and their fisheries, for the nation.[4] And yet the Date fisheries union, led by a group of young Ainu fishermen in Usu, was deeply concerned about pollution of the airways and local marine life. Should the plant be built, release of heated water from its outtake pipes would elevate ocean temperatures between 8-10 degrees Celsius, which would eliminate several species of plankton, and thus impact edible seaweeds and marine products like fish, all vulnerable to minute changes in the environment.[5]

In local ecology study sessions residents had learned that heavy oil combustion would pollute not only the waterways, but the airways as well. Release of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere was projected to cause irreparable damage to the local ecosystem. Fisheries union member Shiiyama Iwao argued, “As fisherfolk we depend on a living ocean, an ocean that feeds us protein and provides our livelihood. If the ocean ecosystem is ruined, we will be forced to depend on imports, and we fishermen will be out of a job.”[6]

Quietly and with complete disregard for the growing opposition among fisherfolk, farmers, doctors, and teachers unions, Date Town Council voted unanimously in favor of the plant’s construction in February 1970, and in June 1972, they signed a “Pollution Prevention Agreement” with Hokkaido Electric Power Company (HEPCO), the plant operator.[7] Citizen anger escalated and determination to stop the plant’s construction fostered new strategies. In July 1972, some 56 local citizens sued for an injunction to block plant construction. In what became known as the “Environmental Rights” case, the plaintiffs argued that they possessed the constitutional right to enjoy a favorable environment, rooted in their right to life, liberty, and happiness (Article 13), and their right to personal security (Article 35).[8] These, they argued, would be obstructed by the plant. Illuminating the necessity of a healthy ecosystem to ensure viable fisheries, and thus economic survival, the plaintiff’s group linked environmental vitality to human survival, and thus a healthy environment as a basic human right for those employed in primary industries.

The fisherman’s demands and the “environmental rights” case came at a moment in the 1970s when the nation’s embrace of development ideology and scapegoating of its rural margins had begun to raise serious questions about industrial modernity and trigger public outcry.[9] With Japan’s embrace of rapid-fire economic growth in the postwar era it appeared to have mortgaged its countryside. Newcomer toxic industries (1950s-1970s) such as petrochemicals, chemical fertilizers, mining, and heavy industries had choked Japan’s rural arteries, hollowing out sacrifice zones in regions of former abundance. These sacrifice zones became global icons of industrial excess and misplaced priorities. Many became household names: Yokkaichi (asthma). Ashio (copper mines). Toyama’s “Ouch Ouch Disease” (cadmium). Toroku (arsenic). Narita International Airport (Sanrizuka protest movement). And most notoriously, Minamata (mercury poisoning).

Back in Date, local fishermen and citizen groups engaged in intense civil disobedience between 1973 and 1978. Theirs was an embodied resistance in the fullest: they placed bodies on the line in front of backhoes, staged sit-ins to block cement mixers, and then barricaded construction of the port with their most prized asset, their fishing boats. Much to the chagrin of the opposition movement which had now expanded to include students and workers across Hokkaido, the courts ruled against the plaintiffs, overturning the “environmental rights” lawsuit in 1980.[10] Despite this loss, Date City incorporated “Environmental Rights” under its municipal charter, and the notion of “rights to protect the environment” to ensure livelihood security began to travel across Japan.

Date Thermal Power Station has been feeding Hokkaido’s electrical grid since 1978. Yet in 2004, Date only provided 4.4% of Hokkaido’s total power supply. After the 3.11 Fukushima nuclear accident and with the ongoing shutdown of Tomari’s three reactor units in Hokkaido, Date is now supplying some 12-13% of HEPCO’s total output, alongside five other thermal plants, together generating roughly 63% of HEPCO’s total. Yet, expressing a concern that the company did not have at the time of construction, HEPCO is now worried about Date’s carbon footprint and would prefer that the Tomari reactors be restarted, lowering Date’s contribution to 4%, according to HEPCO.[11] Despite Hokkaido’s abundance of renewable energy potential, including wind, solar, and geothermal, which presently provide a combined total of 15 megawatts, HEPCO now focuses on nuclear as the preferred energy source.

Now: Japan


A reactor pressure vessel under manufacture. The vessel head with control rod apparatus protruding is in the foreground. Source: WNN

This 12-13% of HEPCO’s electric power, wrought from these clashes between opposition comprised of Ainu, fisheries and farmer’s unions, teachers, doctors, and students, and pro-plant factions in HEPCO and the Date Chamber of Commerce, now feeds the engines of Japan’s nuclear and development aid exports to Jaitapur, Kovvada and beyond. Date’s neighboring town is Muroran, home of the renowned Japanese nuclear components manufacturer, Japan Steel Works (JSW).[12] Today, JSW is renowned for its state-of-the-art technology in single-forging the calandria, or the reactor pressure vessel (RPV), as a seamless chamber.[13] JSW’s Hokkaido plant is the only heavy forging operation equipped to manufacture the innermost piece of the large-size reactor containment vessel, forged from a 600-ton ingot, a technological feat which is designed to reduce radiation exposure and ensure longer-term integrity of nuclear reactors. As such, JSW currently retains some 80% of global market holdings for calandria production.

Now: India

JSW’s reactor vessels are critical for another reason: they are quite literally the centerpiece of Japan’s nuclear export technology. Despite tying nuclear deals with India in 2008 and 2015, today even France and the US have been stalled in constructing promised nuclear reactors because of the need for this Japanese component. For the 6 EPRs that France’s AREVA plans to construct in Jaitapur (Maharashtra), and likewise for the 6 PWRs (AP-1000s) that Toshiba subsidiary Westinghouse has contracted for Kovvada (Andra Pradesh), JSW pressure vessels are quite literally the core of these projects. Currently, both the French and American reactor projects hang in the balance because Japan and India have not inked the Indo-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement mandated for international nuclear trade. (While in May 2015 media reports indicated that contracts for the RPVs would be awarded to domestic manufacturer L&T, insiders speculate that Indian manufacturers lack the equipment and experience essential for forging an RPV, despite the Modi government’s cheerleading under the “Make in India” initiative.) Meanwhile PM Shinzō Abe and PM Narendra Modi struck a memorandum of understanding (MOU) during a bilateral summit in Delhi in December 2015, the specific details of the MOU remain contested, and media reporting on the agreement differs widely on such issues as whether the memorandum includes an “abandonment clause” should India resume nuclear testing. For its part, the Indian government would be unlikely to agree to forfeiting sovereign control of its nuclear program due to the importance of nuclear energy to national security concerns, nor give control of the Indian nuclear agenda to Japan.

Now: Jaitapur

For rice and mango farmers, and fisherfolk in the fertile Konkan region, abundant with cattle-grazing, fruit and nut orchards, and productive fisheries, the prospect of a sextet of experimental nuclear reactors in one’s backyard, or displacing one’s yard altogether, is nothing short of catastrophic. Likewise for the Ainu fisherfolk and fisheries union in Date and Usu with the thermal power station in 1978. Local residents’ concerns focus on land expropriation, loss of livelihood, damage to the surrounding environment, adequate compensation for displacement and sufficient compensation in the case of an accident, and the spike in police repression and use of violence to silence resistance. Ecologists in Mumbai argue that plant wastewater will raise the ocean’s temperature some seven degrees (celsius),[14] introduce radioactive contaminants into the local ecosystem, and negatively impact marine biodiversity. In turn, according to local NGOs such as Konkan Forum against Disastrous Projects, such thermal pollution would alter the ecosystem, as well as the forests and farmland on the shorelines surrounding the plants, and endanger some 15,000 families whose livelihood is linked to the two creeks which run through the Jaitapur nuclear site. Anxieties about reactors also include broader concerns about nuclear accidents in India and elsewhere, which are commonplace if regularly camouflaged, not to mention full-scale meltdowns. Concerns about these risks have pushed community members to register opposition through mass demonstrations, Ghandhian-style jail bharo (voluntary arrest) type protests, and municipal resolutions denouncing the project.

Back in Muroran, a citizen group to interrupt reactor components production has called for a freeze on JSW’s production line. Calling itself Citizens Denouncing Reactor Manufacturers (CDRM), the group declares,“If Muroran [JSW] is stopped, global nuclear reactor construction would come to a standstill.”[15] With its global dominance of key steel forged reactor components, the JSW Muroran plant is arguably the lynchpin in Japan’s nuclear exports. JSW currently manufacturers between four and twelve shell flange pressure vessels annually, and has upgraded its forging equipment to keep up with expanding orders. Moreover, formerly known as Tōyōichi Corporation, JSW’s history as the nation’s largest pre- and post-war manufacturer of tanks, artillery, battleships, and munitions enabled it to handily parlay mass-production of steel military components into reactor manufacture, an irony not lost on CDRM.

“Humanity and nuclear technology cannot coexist; there are no walls, national borders, nor ethnic distinctions separating people from the impact of nuclear processes, especially radiation. It does not discriminate” writes CDRM in its call to action.[16] Echoing Moritaki Ichirō, the former president of Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs (Gensuikin), who argued as early as 1965 that “Humanity and nuclear technology cannot coexist,” in its mission statement, here CDRM stakes a firm position on nuclear fission. Despite benevolent makeover of nuclear power under Eisenhower’s “atoms for peace” rhetoric in the 1950s, in its mission statement CDRM argues that by simply adjusting the controls on nuclear fission one can trigger the all-destructive force of a nuclear weapon or dial down its power for commercial energy production. In other words, the difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear power is merely a matter of degree. Both applications of nuclear technology are implicated in the ecological impacts of uranium mining and the problems of nuclear waste disposal. Thus CDRM argues that the anti-nuclear movement must expand its critical lens to focus not simply on weapons or even “civilian” uses of nuclear power, but hone in on the nuclear manufacturers as well.

For Ainu artist-activist Yūki Kōji whose father’s comrades stormed construction vehicles to stop the Date plant, these extractive industries and today’s nuclear manufacturers exact violence on the local environment. “Knowing that steel and electricity from my ancestor’s land, Hokkaido, where I share the burden of tending the land, would be applied in building these steel calandria, I had to raise my voice against it.”[17] Today, as a founding member of CDRM, Yūki seeks to put a stop to nuclear technology exports by opposing JSW and speaking up for self-determination and democracy of marginalized peoples everywhere, whether by nuclear expansion or garden-variety settler colonialism of the type that ordained seizure of his grandparents’ land.

CDRM is not isolated in their attempt to stop nuclear manufacturers and nuclear exports. The Indo-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (IJNA) represents the capstone of India’s ambitious nuclear expansion, and is simultaneously the axle upon which scheduled US and French plant construction hinges. As outlined above, planned French-Japanese and American-Japanese nuclear construction, totaling some 18 reactors across the subcontinent, all of which require Japan’s and specifically JSW components for completion, is on indefinite hold until Japan inks the deal with India. Civil society groups across Japan and India have united in transnational partnerships to block the IJNA and halt further dangerous forays into nuclear adventurism in India.

According to NPCIL, India aims to increase its domestic nuclear energy supply to ten times the current 5870 MW, or roughly triple its nuclear power plants from 21 to 60 reactors by 2032, in order to generate 25% of India’s electricity needs from nuclear power. Yet, India’s nuclear ambitions are premised on a triad of logical fallacies: 1) nuclear energy as sustainable development and an equitable energy; 2) nuclear as a solution to climate change; and 3) nuclear technology as a “peaceful” and stable energy supply. Regarding the first argument, nuclear technology presently supplies less than 3% of India’s total electricity supply, and much of what is generated is lost in the nation’s inefficient distribution system. The Indian government and NPCIL’s claims about nuclear as an equitable energy source that will resolve energy disparities fail to account for the fact that nuclear-sourced electricity now powers urban areas, rather than rural communities, and in fact exacerbates inequality. The development of renewable energy and local electricity grids offers a better solution for rural development. Further, the Indian government has brutally clamped down on non-violent demonstrations opposing new reactor construction. Indeed, nuclear has proven neither efficient, sustainable, nor an empowering form of development.

Secondly, as scientists and economists have modeled, in order for nuclear energy to make a sizable dent in ongoing climate change, the world would require 1000 new reactors over the next thirty years, an engineering and technical feat that simply is not feasible. At the current glacial pace, where each new reactor requires 10-15 years for construction in India, the new French-Japanese and US-Japanese jointly produced reactors will arrive far too late to significantly alter climate change in the subcontinent and beyond.

Indeed, most troubling is that India’s nuclear expansion feeds directly into nuclear proliferation. Expanding its commercial nuclear sector has allowed the nation to boost training and expertise of its nuclear engineers and ultimately ramp up its nuclear weaponization. Through its commercial nuclear deals with the US, Russia, France, over the last decade, and now potentially Japan, India has been able to once again secure access to imported uranium for its civilian energy production. International sanctions in the wake of India’s 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests prevented its entrée into the global nuclear marketplace. These recent deals allow India to set aside all domestic uranium supplies for enrichment toward weaponization. This aspect of India’s nuclear expansion, not surprisingly, raises the biggest hackles with the Japanese citizenry and Hibakusha A-bomb survivors who are vehemently opposed to nuclear proliferation. Anti-nuclear activist groups across India are in full agreement as well. Pursuing this course of nuclear diplomacy (Japan) and expansion (India) means that India has exchanged sustainable development and a rich tradition of participatory democracy for an untenable and risk-laden nuclear expansionism, a gamble that will undoubtedly become a millstone around PM Modi’s neck should a Fukushima-scale or Bhopal-scale disaster ever occur.


[1] “Usu no Umi wo Yogosu na.” Anutari Ainu. June 1, 1973: 1(1): 2.

[2] Vaishali Patil, speaking on the Indo-Japan Nuclear Cooperation Agreement’s impact on the Jaitapur region, Osaka, Japan, 23 November 2015.

[3] Kano Oki and Abe Yūpo addressing the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, May 25, 2011.

[4] Anutari Ainu 1973: 2.

[5] Anutari Ainu 1973: 1.

[6] Shiiyama Iwao. In Anutari Ainu 1973: 2.

[7] Koshida, Kiyokazu. 2005. “Teikō suru Ōrutanatibu he: Hokkaido Date no Keiken kara kangaeru.” PRIME (22) Nov. 2005: 104.

[8] Article 13 of the constitution guarantees individual freedoms, such as the “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Meanwhile, Article 25 ensures the right to secure a livelihood base and protects fundamental human rights therein.

[9] Koshida 2005: 104.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Interview with HEPCO Electric Generation Section Chief Isomura, August 4, 2016.

[12] Unlike some heavy manufacturers, JSW does not have its own independent electricity source and depends on HEPCO for its electric supply. Due to the nature of electric grid design, the author was unable to determine what percentage of JSW’s electricity is supplied by the Date Thermal Power Station.

[13] While three other global operations are capable of forging large single-piece pressure vessels, France’s Creusot Forge, Russia’s OMZ Izhora and Chinese state-owned firm China First Heavy Industries, JSW is widely respected for its technological prowess in this domain, and thus controls 80% of market shares.

[14] Bedekar, Ajinkya M. 2012. “Electricity at a cost of Biodiversity.” Presentation at the National Centre for Science Communicators, Institute of Science, Mumbai, India.

[15], Accessed 25 September 2016.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Yūki Kōji, Interview with author, September 21, 2014.

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