- Anti-Nuclear Protest in Post-Fukushima Tokyo: Power Struggles by Alexander Brown, and: Networks and Mobilization Processes: The Case of the Japanese Anti-Nuclear Movement after Fukushima by Anna Wiemann
A massive 9.0 earthquake rocked Japan's northeast region in 2011, setting off multiple 20-meter (65+ feet) tsunami that took the lives of 18,400 Tohoku residents1 and destroyed or ruined more than 400,000 homes and buildings along the coast. These waves also triggered the meltdown of three of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi site, driving out more than 160,000 residents, some of whom had to evacuate in two hours. Many former residents were forced to move multiple times as their initial evacuations took them into supposedly safe areas that were in the plume of the spreading radiation cloud. These two works by scholars with Japanese fluency, self-reflective fieldwork, and theoretical reach provide rich description and deep readings of critical elements in Japan's post–3/11 civil society.
Melted nuclear fuel removal from the basement of the Fukushima nuclear plant and broader decommissioning for the plant will take at least five decades. Workers continue to scrape radionuclide-contaminated topsoil near homes and schools across Fukushima Prefecture and place it into bags for indefinite storage in above-ground storage depots in ghost towns. All children (and many grownups) in Fukushima have been tested for radiation exposure and for signs of potential health consequences. The higher rates of [End Page 423] thyroid cancers, cysts, and abnormalities found among local youth, governmental scientific panels have argued, should not be linked to the disaster.2 While the extent of physical health outcomes from the nuclear disaster remains contested, social scientists have extensively documented high levels of death, mental health decline, and extreme anxiety among evacuees.3
Beyond upending the lives of those previously living in Futaba, Ōkuma, Namie, and other host communities nearby, the ongoing Fukushima crisis altered the calculus of decision makers around the world about atomic power. Germany—and then Belgium and Italy—moved to reduce or end their use of nuclear energy.4 Large-scale antinuclear rallies, citizens' referenda on energy sources, sit-ins at bureaucratic offices, and policy pressure surged across Japan, as did the visibility of governors and local courts siding with communities seeking to prevent atomic restarts.5 Doubting the official radiation data produced by the government and industry, many residents across Japan joined bottom-up citizen science organizations such as SafeCast to capture and analyze their own readings.6 Politicians eventually created the Nuclear Regulation Authority because of concerns that, prior to the disaster, utilities were too closely connected with the government, a situation often referred to as regulatory capture. At the same time, Japan's central government has continued to push for a restart of nuclear power plants despite public opposition to the policy. As policymakers plot the nation's energy future, Japanese utilities have activated fossil fuel plants to fill the gap caused by the offline status of all but nine of the 48 remaining viable nuclear facilities.7
Casual observers may believe we know the story here: the Japanese central government's dominant pro-nuclear perspective has "won" while civil society has been ignored in the field of atomic energy. Much has been written [End Page 424] about the closed nature of Japan's nuclear village (genshiryoku mura) and the tight relationship between power utilities like the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Further, directed financial incentives for nuclear host communities generated from submerged electricity consumption taxes8 have kept peripheral, greying, coastal host localities like Futaba in a "cycle of addiction"9 and a "culture of dependence."10 While few would dispute the political economy of nuclear power in Japan, that simplistic narrative overlooks some ongoing...