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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tomoko Oji: Japan's Nuclear Plants & Okinawa's Military Bases

Tomoko Oji's sensitive comparison of nuclear power plants in Tohoku and U.S. military bases in Okinawa, "Seeing the U.S. base issue in a different light" published at The Mainichi on March 17:
Seeing the U.S. base issue in a different light

One year has now passed since the devastating quake and tsunami that triggered the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima, and recently I overheard a worker living near a U.S. base in Okinawa comment on the latest news reports.

"The nuclear power plant issue and the base issue are similar. But the people in mainland Japan don't take the base issue to heart like the nuclear power plant issue," the worker said.

Indeed, the majority opinion is that nuclear power plants and bases bring major "benefits," so it can't be helped if some sectors are forced to carry a heavier burden. One can catch glimpses of the discriminatory idea that problems stemming from forcing one area to host a "dangerous facility" can be resolved simply by paying grants.

I think both issues are similar yet different. Nuclear power plants were built as part of a national policy, and local bodies that were struggling with depopulation and financial burdens accepted them in agonizing decisions. The land for many bases in Okinawa, on the other hand, was literally taken after World War II with the U.S. military's use of "bayonets and bulldozers."

There are also differences in the ways that the receiving ends "take the issue to heart." After the nuclear accident, the Tokyo metropolitan area, where Diet members, central government bureaucrats, and nationwide media reporters gather, became a "concerned party" that felt the issue up close. The merits and demerits of nuclear power plants emerged in the form of both thankfulness and unseen fear of radiation every time people turned on a light or a faucet.

But what about the base issue? It takes a considerable amount of imaginative power to take the issue to heart to the same extent. The main merit of the bases is said to be military deterrence, but it is not easy to feel grateful for something that can't actually be measured. What about the demerits, then? Every time a fighter or helicopter flies low above rooftops near a base, people's conversation is cut off, window frames rattle, and the television reception goes fuzzy. These are things that people probably cannot understand unless they live in those areas. The "concerned parties" are more localized than those affected by radiation, which crosses prefectural borders and the sea.

The merits and demerits of bases are harder to see. I think people first need to be aware of this. (By Tomoko Oji, Foreign News Department)

March 17, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

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