Anti-Nuclear Movement in Japan: A Socio-Historical Perspective

The Institute of East Asian Studies In the University of California, Berkeley organised a conference on April 20-21, 2012. The theme of the conference was “Towards Long-term Sustainability: In Response to the 3/11 Earthquake and the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

An interesting paper titled “Historical Background of the Fukushima Accident and the Anti-nuclear Movement in Japan” was presented in the conference by Eiji Oguma of Keio University in Japan. It situates the anti-nuclear movement in the larger context of evolution of post-war industrial Japan, delves into the social constituencies behind it, its relation with women, workers and other movements and concludes that: Although there may be a swing toward nuclear plants due to the work of the core group in political and economic spheres, undoubtedly nuclear power will disappear from Japan in the mid- and long-term.

We are publishing the abstract of the paper here.

The full paper can be accessed from the links below:



Paper Abstract

What was the role and significance of nuclear power plants for the Japanese government and society? How has the anti-nuclear power plant movement shifted over time? This presentation will focus on these issues and their historical background.

Development of nuclear power plants in Japan started during the 1950s. For the Japanese government led by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party), this was a symbol of international competitiveness and advanced industrialization of Japan. This symbolic meaning was shared by the opposition parties as well as residents of the areas that invited nuclear plant construction. Although not explicitly stated, the Japanese government also hoped to develop nuclear weapons someday.

By the late 1960s, these conditions began to change. As a result of active anti-environmental-pollution movements, opposition parties and many local residents adopted an anti-nuclear stance. Internationally, the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) resulted in the prevention of the Japanese government from developing nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, after the Oil Shock of 1973, the Japanese government increased the promotion of the construction of nuclear power plants. In order to ease the opposition of the local residents in the prospective construction areas, the government established a legal system to provide subsidies. During the 1970s and 1980s, when the slogan of Japan as No. 1 became popular, labor unions made a compromise with the nuclear business community. Opposition parties, which were supported by these unions, also became less confrontational. As a result, the anti-nuclear power movement weakened, and the construction of nuclear power plants peaked.

After the Chernobyl Accident in 1986, the anti-nuclear power movement in Japan was reinvigorated. While local residents and labor unions were already incorporated into the nuclear business economy and thus less willing to challenge nuclear developments, city dwellers, especially women, took the initiative in the anti-nuclear movement. This new surge of interest, however, did not last, and, faced with steady economic development, the nuclear power plant issue lost its prominence.

With the slumping Japanese economy from the 1990s to the 2000s, the political structure of influence-peddling began to fall apart. The LDP government, which had strong ties with the business community and was strongly supported by rural residents, fell from power in 2009. This was the sociopolitical background in which Fukushima accident occurred in 2011. Today, Japanese anti-nuclear plant movement is joined by a large number of non-permanent employees and house wives whose actions are not constrained by social obligations to their employers and local communities.

Given this historical background of the changes in social structure, the anti-nuclear plant movement in Japan may gain more support in the future. Recent opinion polls indicate that over 70% of the Japanese people support phasing out nuclear power plants. Collaborations with prefectural and municipal governments near nuclear plants will increase the possibility of abolishing all the nuclear power plants in Japan.





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