Sunday, October 27, 2013

Japan as Number One in Radiation Education: Lessons for the World

"Children taught radiation studies: Nuke education now compulsory subject in schools in Fukushima" 
(Story and Photo: Mizuho Aoki, JT, March 24, 2012)

Today Martin Frid at Kurashi reminds us that Japan is now number one in the world in radiation education.

The Japanese educational system should have been number one in radiation education starting in 1946, when Japan's grassroots nuclear-free movement began, amidst US Occupation censorship of news about the consequences of radiation fallout from the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When the US Occupation ended in 1952, the Japanese nuclear-free movement gathered more steam, especially after the March 1954 irradiation of the fishing boat, "The Lucky Dragon #5," by fallout from the US hydrogen test bombing of the island of Bikini in the Marshall Islands.  Outrage increased after people learned irradiated tuna was sold and eaten in Japan.  The explosion provided the initial scenes of the film quasi-sci-fi film Godzilla which premiered eight months after the bombing.

With the raw hindsight of 3/11, it's astonishing to realize that Washington was able to explode 105 nuclear test bombs in the Pacific from 1946 to 1962, vaporizing entire islands, irradiating the Asia-Pacific region, and, simultaneously, in partnership with the Japanese postwar political establishment, was able to overcome the nascent Japanese nuclear-free protest movement, and successfully promote the idea of nuclear energy production as "safe." How did nuclear industry promoters subdue awareness and concern in Japan about the dangers of nuclear radiation?

Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick detail how Washington's "Atoms for Peace" program worked to counter the widespread perception of the dangers of nuclear radiation in Japan.  This program was especially calculated to obscure the memory of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Atomic Energy Commissioner Thomas Murray and a US congressman even proposed that Japan's first nuclear energy plant be built in Hiroshima to push the images of radioactive carnage out of the Japanese public mind.  The Washington Post seconded their idea:
Many Americans are now aware … that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan was not necessary. … How better to make a contribution to amends than by offering Japan the means for the peaceful utilization of atomic energy. How better, indeed, to dispel the impression in Asia that the United States regards Orientals merely as nuclear cannon fodder!"
Japan's first nuclear power plant was not built in Hiroshima, of course, but The Daily Yomiuri's traveling exhibition "The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy” did make a stop in the atom-bombed city in 1958, incredibly with the support of the Hiroshima establishment:
Although in other cities the exhibition was sponsored exclusively by the Yomiuri with the assistance of the U.S. Information Service, in Hiroshima co-sponsors also included the Hiroshima City Council, Hiroshima Prefectural Government, Hiroshima University, and the Chugoku Newspaper... All praised the promotion and application of this new powerful energy.  By contrast, many A-bomb survivors were skeptical and cautious about this non-military application of nuclear power, claiming that there was still no solution to the problem of managing radioactive materials produced by operating nuclear power reactors.
The newly completed A-bomb Museum building in Hiroshima was even used as the pavilion for the  exhibition:
Thus, in the same building, exhibits related to the devastation caused by the atomic bombing were displayed together with various dream-like applications of nuclear energy.  Such things as nuclear powered planes, ships and trains, as well as medical, agricultural and industrial uses of radioactive materials were displayed.
Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Japan, including 155,000 in Kyoto, visited the exhibition when it stopped in their cities. However, nuclear-free activists, including many Hibakusha, and some media, notably The Mainichi, countered:
First, baptism with radioactive rain, then a surge of shrewd commercialism in the guise of 'atoms for peace' from abroad. 
Nuclear power propaganda efforts continued, and the nuclear industry made inroads by the 1960's. In 1966, Tokai, Japan's first nuclear power plant began operating, and in the 1970's, nuclear plants were constructed throughout the archipelago.  The nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are from this era.

Even throughout the heyday of nuclear boosterism, the Japanese nuclear-free movement stayed strong, with notable local successes. The movement strengthened after the Chernobyl meltdown and during the 1990's, a period of numerous nuclear accidents in Japan.

Local communities, Japanese civil society and nuclear-free activists stopped the construction of nuclear power plants, notably in Iwaishima, where the Chugoku Electric Power Company has attempted to build a nuclear power plant in the Inland Sea National Park. In 2006, musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and  Greenpeace launched an international awareness project protesting the Rokkasho [plutonium] Reprocessing Plant under a campaign called "Wings of Peace – No more Hiroshima Nagasaki."  Japanese nuclear-free activists warned of the risks at Fukushima Daiichi long before 3/11.

Gavan McCormack says it's no longer possible to kick Japan's radioactive cans down the road in "Japan as a Plutonium Superpower."  He suggests a way forward for Japan (and the world) in "Hubris Punished: Japan as Nuclear State."  It's the same choice that Japanese nuclear-free,  carbon-free, renewable energy, energy conservation, organic, and Slow Life advocates have been calling for and working towards: turning the ongoing disaster into a time of change towards a sustainable future.
Successive generations of Japan’s bureaucratic, political, corporate, and media elite have insisted that Japan pursue the nuclear power path at all costs. In retrospect, they drove the country forward, as the elite of the Kwantung Army drove it in the pre-war era, towards disaster, ignoring, coopting, or crushing all opposition. Only now, facing the costs—human, environmental and economic—the long-postponed debate opens...

What is called for, in short, is the reversal of a half century of core national policies and the switch to a renewable energy system beyond carbon and uranium.  Such a strategic decision, turning the present disaster into the opportunity to confront the key challenge of contemporary civilization, amounts to a revolutionary agenda, one only possible under the pressure of a mobilized and determined national citizenry.

At this crucial juncture, how Japan goes, the world is likely follow. The challenge is fundamentally political: can Japan’s civil society accomplish the sovereignty guaranteed it under the constitution and wrest control over the levers of state from the irresponsible bureaucratic and political forces that have driven it into the present crisis?


"Children taught radiation studies: Nuke education now compulsory subject in schools in Fukushima" (Mizuho Aoki, JT, March 24, 2012)

Anti-Nuke Who's Who (Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Tokyo)

"The Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant: Community Conflicts and the Future of Japan’s Rural Periphery" (Tomomi Yamaguchi, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Oct. 10, 2011)

"Japan, the Atomic Bomb, and the “Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Power” (Yuki Tanaka and Peter Kuznick, The Asia-Pacific Journal, May 2, 2011)

"Hubris Punished: Japan as Nuclear State 驕れる者は久しからず−−核国家としての日本" (Gavan McCormack, The Asia-Pacific Journal, April 18, 2011)

Japan's Once-Powerful Nuclear Industry is Under Siege" (Caroline Fraser, Environment 360, March 17, 2011)

Japan as a Plutonium Superpower" (Gavan McCormack, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Dec. 9, 2007)

"The Power of Protest: The campaign against nuclear weapons was not simply an ideological movement; it was a potent political force"  (Lawrence Wittner,  Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, July-August 2004)

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