The Dream of a Nuclear Japan: Interview with Mr. Koide Hiroaki



This interview with nuclear specialist Hiroaki Koide was originally posted on September 3, 2007 at, and can still be found in its original form via the Wayback Machine, as can the script of the original interview in Japanese. (The domain was not renewed last year.) More information on Koide can be found here, and his views on the current crisis are expressed in this March 17th interview (in Japanese).

We have reposted the interview here in light of the increased attention on Japan’s nuclear power situation in the last week. In hindsight, Koide’s words have proven to be prophetic.

(editors note at


More than 40 years have passed since 1966, when the first nuclear reactor was put into operation, and there are at present 55 reactors in existence in Japan. Hiroaki Koide first entered the world of nuclear power and came to know the reality of the situation in 1968, and throughout its history he has consistently and continuously appealed for its abolition. Gyaku visited and talked with Mr. Koide at the Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute.



The Dream of Nuclear Power and the Reality

gyaku (g): In 1968, you entered the nuclear engineering department of Tohoku University. Had you already decided, from back when you were in high-school, to pursue a career path in nuclear power?

Hiroaki Koide (K): Yes. I was ready to devote my life to nuclear power. I was born and raised in Tokyo, and at that time in Tokyo there were a lot of exhibitions about the atomic bomb. On the other hand, nuclear power was also attracting a lot of attention. In that context, I personally felt strongly that something as horrible as the atomic bomb should not exist, and that Japan had to take the lead in using the atom for peace. I felt that this was my mission.

Hiroaki Koide

g: Then in 1970, you joined a movement that was the complete opposite [of your former position]. What happened?

K: That was the era of university strife. From the time when I was in high school, I was a very conservative, serious student, and at university as well, I wore a student uniform and wouldn’t miss even one hour of class. So with student activism as well, at first I just thought something to the effect of: “It’s disturbing [people who are] studying.” Meanwhile, there was a plan taking shape to build a nuclear power plant at Onagawa, and local residents had started a protest movement against it. For me, someone who had embraced the dream of nuclear power, this appeared to be something completely incomprehensible. Most of the power produced at Onagawa would be consumed by the city of Sendai and surrounding areas. So then I became suspicious and asked myself: why then don’t they build the nuclear power plant in Sendai? After doing some investigating here and there, I figured out that the reason was that nuclear power is dangerous. The consensus of opinion at that time was that “nuclear power is safe,” and I had also come to believe this, but at that point I realized that, in reality, this was not the case. I then came to understand what kind of thing nuclear power really is, and on October 23rd, 1970, I joined the protests against the nuclear power plant at Onagawa.

g: You were in the nuclear engineering department, so naturally all your friends around you were studying about nuclear power, right? Were there any other students who also participated in the protest movement? And also, what kind of reactions did you get from the people around you?

K: There was next to nobody participating in the protest movement. Other than myself, there was my mentor Mr. Shinohara, who is still active up to this very day. But among the people around me I was seen as kind of crazy, and the arguments with my university professors were never-ending. But, in the arguments about scientific issues, we always came out the winners.

g: But even so, the professors did not call into question the safety of nuclear power, or oppose construction [of nuclear power plants]?

K: After losing an argument, they often said this kind of thing: “I have a wife and children to take care of.” They said that kind of thing and then made their escape.

g: But it is not only the public, but also national surveys, that depend on the research findings of these scientists, and on the [expert] opinion of “specialists”. Business plans are then advanced [based on this]. For example, in the case of the planned construction of a heliport at Henoko Bay, they are apparently reviewing the construction based on the results of a scientific survey.

K: What is referred to as “science” is always connected to society, and even though scientists carry a great responsibility, very few scientists are actually conscious of this. This is because science is completely detached from its relevance to society. In this way, scientists and university professors attempt to defend their position by taking refuge in the “domain of science”. They completely ignore the impact on society. This is the so-called “ignorance of the learned”.

g: When you take a position opposing nuclear power plants within the field of nuclear power, doesn’t your involvement with academic society also become more difficult?

K: I used to be a member of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan. However I withdrew when the head of the former Kansai Electric Power Co. assumed the position of vice-president of the society. Although called an academic society, there are also interest groups involved. 60% of the energy supplied by the Kansai Electric Power Co. is generated by nuclear power plants such as the ones in Fukui.


The problem of nuclear power is a problem of discrimination

K: You claim that: “The problem of nuclear power plants is a problem of discrimination.”

K: Most nuclear power plants ? the case of Onagawa is like this as well ? are built in sparsely populated areas with the aim of supplying power to large cities. In places, such as those in Australia and the U.S., where uranium is being dug up to power nuclear power plants, it is often the case that aboriginal people are the ones affected. It is not well-known, but there were once uranium mines in Japan as well. In 1950 at a place called Ningyotoge in Okayama Prefecture a uranium deposit was discovered, but after 10 years they only managed to dig up 85 tons [of uranium]. The soil in that region is now contaminated, and the issue has gone to court.

Kyoto University Reactor Research Institute


g: Wherever you look, at various different places around the world, the industry of nuclear power is connected to discrimination. America, Australia, Canada… is there any kind of international solidarity movement connecting the victims suffering from various kinds of discrimination across the world?

K: I believe there are some loose connections, but there are close to none of these. In various places, native populations are used as cheap labour, and on top of this their land is being contaminated. Even so, horizontal connections linking these kinds of victims across the world are not strong.

g: But at the actual sites [where this is happening], in each respective place, people are raising their voices. From here on in, do you think conditions will change?

K: Humans are creatures that do not understand until they are themselves trampled over. When the number of people in these kinds of circumstances grows, there is a possibility that things might change. When a debating session was opened concerning bidding for a permanent disposal site for radioactive waste at Toyo City in Kochi Prefecture, more than 300 people showed up. In a city with a population of about 3000 people, 300 people showed up. Calculate what the corresponding figure would be for the population of Tokyo, and it’s a huge number of people. With their combined power, the people of Toyo City were able to resist construction of the disposal site.


Not being crushed by power

g: In various regions, you are very active giving lectures and engaging in debating sessions. I heard that, as a result, you have been exchanging letters with certain advocates [of nuclear power].

K: It started when I appeared on Asahi television. A program on Asahi television took up my appeal about the dangerousness of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant that was constructed on top of the seismic focus where the Tokai earthquakes had been centred. After the show was broadcast, a threat was made in response to a criticism of nuclear power made by a representative of a group on the side of the television station. The television station tried to deal with the situation in an appropriate way such as to not cause waves, but I said: “If there are complaints, then turn them over directly to me.” What I was most worried about was that this thing would cause the mass media to impose self-restrictions. Following that, after a panel discussion in Tokyo about the Monju fast-breeder reactor, this person wrote a letter and sent it to me, and this was the start of our letter exchange. I have posted every detail of the entire exchange at my website.

g: You have been active trying to rid Japan of nuclear power plants for almost 40 years now. During that period, more than 50 power plants have been constructed. After all this, how is it that you have continued your activism and not let this get you down?


Hiroaki Koide giving a talk on Mount Takao

K: The history of my activism is a history of defeat. Even so, I don’t give up because of Mr. Shinohara, who I mentioned earlier and who protested the Onagawa nuclear power plant together with me. He and I continue our activism together today in the movement against nuclear power generation, but we each have chosen different paths. He rejected being in the world of nuclear energy, so that he would be able to live “without having to make excuses” like those professors, and chose to quit his graduate studies and become a construction worker. I, however, could not agree with him on this. The reason is that, as someone who had already set foot in the world of nuclear power, I felt that I should use my knowledge of science to appeal for the abolition of nuclear power. In this way, the two of us watch over each others’ activities. Because he is watching, I know that there is no excuse for me to suddenly stop what I am doing.

g: What is your outlook for the future?

K: From here on, my position will not change. Compared to the history of this planet, the existence of humans is a very new thing. The use of electric power only started after the industrial revolution, just 200 years ago. If we don’t change the way we think, there is no question that we will destroy ourselves. Changing a way of thinking is also about how much you can recognize about other problems. If you think about the problem of nuclear power, you become aware of many other problems as well. I think of the issue of nuclear power as grounds not for “opposition” (??) but for “resistance” (??). This is because, as I mentioned earlier, the problem of nuclear power is a problem of discrimination. Among the people in the movement against nuclear power plants, there are many people who “break with nuclear power generation”, in other words they adopt a lifestyle which does not require nuclear power. In its own way, I think that this is good. However, I am thoroughly and absolutely resisting nuclear power. In order not to be crushed by the government or large organizations, it is necessary to resist. I think that if people see that, of the entire world population, one quarter of all humans are consuming nearly all of the world’s energy, and that, in Japan, as a result of nuclear power, some people are suffering, then I think that people’s judgements and actions will change a bit.









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