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Asia

Opposition to nuclear power grows in Japan

Up until Japan’s March 11 earthquake, there had been relatively little opposition to nuclear energy. But since the crisis at Fukushima nuclear power plant, more and more Japanese citizens are turning against it.

A Japanese protester holds a placard, which reads: don't spread radioactive substance

A Japanese protester holds a placard, which reads: "don't spread radioactive substance"

Life in most of corners of Tokyo seems normal – like the way it was before the March 11 earthquake. But not everywhere...

As fears of nuclear radiation rage on in Japan, many are taking to the streets in anti-nuclear rallies. The anti-nuclear activists who work at Tokyo’s "Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center," are happy now that their numbers are growing; while there only used to be around 30 people who participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations, there were 1,200 at the most recent one.

The Fukushima disaster has inspired people all over the world to rally against nuclear energy, like these people in Germany

The Fukushima disaster has inspired people all over the world to rally against nuclear energy, like these people in Germany

Opposition at its best

59-year-old Masako Sawai has been working for the NGO since 1991. 30 years ago, she studied German and has since been to Germany many times. She says many Japanese people talk highly of Germany, especially the scenery, like in Heidelberg and Munich. But Masako Sawai is interested in more than just Germany’s scenery. On each trip there, she visits two places that are synonymous with Germany’s anti-nuclear activism: Wackersdorf and Gorleben. She believes Japanese can learn a thing or two from German nuclear opposition.

That is because Tokyo’s "Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center" activists have been quite lonely in their fight against nuclear power. Not many people in Japan had been against nuclear energy, partly because the country has very little oil and natural gas reserves. For many years, nuclear energy was thus propagated by the government and by companies as the best and cleanest solution.

The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant has brought many out on the streets in Japan

The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant has brought many out on the streets in Japan

"But now the Japanese public has realized that this is all not true," she says. "Fukushima plant operator TEPCO had always said that Japan would not have any energy were it not for atomic energy. But now they are having to carry out power cuts in Tokyo because of the nuclear power plant!"

Great concern

Telephones at the "Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center" have been ringing off the hook since Fukushima's reactors started leaking radiation. People are calling with questions about radiation and the general dangers of nuclear energy. Now, it seems, Japan’s anti-nuclear movement is growing.

Sawai believes one of the reasons there was so little resistance in the past is because nuclear energy was so heavily promoted: "More money goes into nuclear energy in Japan than into any other form of energy. Alternative forms of energy, for example, renewable energy, have been ignored. Maybe it is because you can’t earn as much money with renewable energy as with nuclear energy. Corporate interests have always been top priority in Japan – now we are feeling the consequences of that kind of politics."

Countries throughout the world are now reevaluating standards at their nuclear power plants

Countries throughout the world are now reevaluating standards at their nuclear power plants

Members of the "Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center" have been taking regular radiation measurements since the Fukushima disaster. The center posts the results on its website. They go out with their Geiger counters that instantly begin beeping. When it beeps, that means it is picking up radioactivity. This Geiger has been beeping more in the past few days than it ever has.

Author: Silke Ballweg / Sarah Berning
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein

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