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3 doctors to be dispatched nationwide to respond to nuclear accident; government requests early expansion

Doctors from around the country examine workers on the grounds of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. They rushed to Fukushima to provide medical support in June 2011.

May 2, 2022
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (DENJIREN) learned in an interview on May 2 that only three doctors have been dispatched to power plants nationwide to provide initial treatment and health care to workers in the event of a nuclear power plant accident. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (DENJI-ren) explained that “doctors can be stationed at the power plants for about one month after the accident,” and they plan to increase the number of doctors to five in FY2024.

 The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) has pointed out that “it is difficult to maintain a permanent system with only three doctors,” and has called for an early expansion.

 The dispatched doctors will provide lifesaving treatment and simple decontamination in the plant’s infirmary and other facilities in the event of worker injuries and illnesses, determine the priority of treatment, and prevent heat stroke and infectious diseases. Surgeries and mass exposures will not be handled, but transported outside. The company will respond to any nuclear power plant.


May 9, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Nuclear submarine for Japan? Kono says yes, Kishida says no

Poll leader believes capability is ‘extremely important’ for country

Navy divers assigned to Naval Special Warfare Command conduct operations with the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine USS North Carolina off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

September 26, 2021

TOKYO — Following a recent deal by the U.S. and the U.K. to offer Australia classified technology to build nuclear-powered submarines, should fellow Quad member Japan also seek such a capability? The four candidates running for the Liberal Democratic Party presidential race to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga were asked the question Sunday on Fuji TV.

Poll leader Taro Kono, minister for administrative reform and also in charge of vaccine distribution, gave a thumbs-up. “As a capability, it is very important for Japan to have nuclear submarines,” he said.

“Whether there are regions [in Japan] willing to host them as a home port, or whether the operating capabilities or costs are pragmatic, these are issues we need to consider going forward,” he added. 

Sanae Takaichi, the former internal affairs minister, also looked favorably upon the idea. “If we think of the worst-case risks in the international environment ahead, I do believe we could have [submarines] that can travel a little longer,” she said, referring to the advantage of nuclear propulsion in that they can stay submerged longer without refueling.

Japan’s Atomic Energy Basic Law stipulates that the use of nuclear power will be limited to peaceful purposes. Takaichi said there was “a need to sort things out” but added she did not believe nuclear-powered submarines to be unconstitutional. 

Former LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida, meanwhile, was less receptive to the idea. “When I think about Japan’s national security arrangements, to what extent do we need it?” he asked.

Nuclear-powered submarines are faster and can travel longer compared to the diesel-electric submarines that Japan currently has. But Kishida was alluding to the fact that the Self-Defense Forces’ operations are primarily in areas close to Japan.  

“To maintain stealth, it will require long hours of work,” he said. “We have to prioritize improving working conditions [of sailors] and secure the personnel.”

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has struggled to hire sailors in a country whose population is declining. Submarines are especially unpopular among young recruits, partly because they are unable to use their smartphones for extended periods.

Seiko Noda, the LDP’s executive acting secretary-general, said: “I have no intention to hold such a capability. I want to make clear that we are a nation with three non-nuclear principles,” she said, pointing to Japan’s long-held position of neither possessing nor manufacturing nuclear weapons, nor permitting their introduction into Japanese territory.

“This is not a situation where we can immediately buy and start to use the submarines,” she said. “We must properly establish a national consensus.” 

On Sept. 16,  the U.S., the U.K. and Australia announced an enhanced trilateral security partnership called AUKUS, that will see Washington and London share sensitive nuclear-propulsion technology with Canberra to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. It is a move to bolster deterrence against China’s growing maritime power.

September 28, 2021 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

RADIATION lies – theme for OCTOBER 2021

As the world prepares for the Glasgow  Climate Summit , the nuclear lobby aims to get its status approved there as clean, green and the solution to climate change.

New nuclear reactors do NOT solve the radioactive trash problem, despite the nuclear lobby’s pretense on this.

banana-spinThe nuclear lobby is intensifying its lies about ionising radiation, with the cruel lie that it is harmless, even beneficial. The nuclear liars claim that radioactive isotopes like Cesium 137 and Strontium 90 are the same as the harmless Potassium 40 in bananas. They espouse the quack science of “radiation homesis”  – i.e. a little more ionising radiation is good for you.

Ionising radiation is the most proven cause of cancer. The nuclear industry from uranium mining through nuclear power, nuclear weapons, nuclear waste, is the planet’s recent new source of ionising radiation.  Even medical radiation has its cancer risk. Radioactive minerals left in the ground are a minor source.


September 25, 2021 Posted by | Christina's themes | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Local governments growing more reliant on nuclear taxes

Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama nuclear power plant in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture

January 20, 2021

Local governments are increasingly depending on tax revenues from the nuclear plants they host, a relationship that has deepened over the 10 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, an analysis by The Asahi Shimbun shows.

That follows the introduction of new tax regimes that ensure a steady flow of nuclear-related tax yields–even when reactors are idle or in the process of being decommissioned. They were brought about largely through increasing existing taxes on nuclear fuels and levying new taxes on spent nuclear fuels kept at the plants.

In fiscal 2011, right after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, jurisdictions home to nuclear plants and related facilities yielded some 20.1 billion yen ($193.7 million) in taxes. The bulk of that came from taxes on nuclear fuel; many local governments only began collecting spent fuel taxes years after the accident.

But then the figure more than doubled to an estimated 46.7 billion yen in fiscal 2020, ending in March, despite the nuclear plants being offline.

The Asahi Shimbun studied nuclear-related tax revenues received by host municipalities and the 13 prefectures where those municipalities are located.

Local governments can impose taxes on nuclear fuel and spent nuclear fuel at plants and related facilities through approving ordinances to do so.

Of all the jurisdictions examined, Aomori Prefecture, where nuclear fuel cycle facilities are concentrated, and Fukui Prefecture, which hosts 15 reactors, the most in Japan, account for more than 60 percent earned through those taxes.

The amount for fiscal 2020 is larger than the 40.3 billion yen brought in during fiscal 2010, when the plants were operating.

Nuclear fuel taxes were originally based on the value of reactor fuel.
But all the nuclear plants went offline following the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

As a result, six prefectures housing nuclear plants reported no tax revenues from nuclear fuel taxes in fiscal 2011.

Desperate to secure income sources even during plant closures, Fukui Prefecture introduced in autumn 2011 a new fuel-tax system based on reactor output capacity–meaning the reactors can be taxed even when shut down.

Other jurisdictions home to nuclear plants followed suit.

In 2014, Ehime Prefecture devised a tax on output capacity that can still be applied when the reactor is undergoing decommissioning. Soon after, Saga Prefecture introduced a similar system.

Nuclear plant operators must pay taxes on spent nuclear fuel to the local government as well as to the prefectural government if ordinances requiring the payment were enacted at both levels. 

Ehime and Saga prefectures began taxing spent nuclear fuel in 2019.

Ikata, home to the Ikata nuclear plant in Ehime Prefecture, introduced a tax on spent nuclear fuels in fiscal 2018, after Genakai, which hosts the Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture, did the same in fiscal 2017.

Mutsu, located in Aomori Prefecture, is ready to capitalize on playing host to an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, which is expected to go into operation in fiscal 2021.

The Mutsu city government established new rules in March last year so it can levy tax on spent nuclear fuels. The tax is projected to bring 9.3 billion yen to the city over five years.

Fukui Prefecture introduced a tax regime for nuclear fuels in 1976, ahead of any other local governments with nuclear facilities in the country.

Since then, tax revenues from nuclear fuels and spent fuels brought in by all jurisdictions totaled more than 1 trillion yen through fiscal 2020. And the figure is projected to grow in the years to come.

The driving force behind these local governments expanding their nuclear taxes in new and creative ways is a decline in tax revenues from fixed assets on nuclear facilities, and fewer grants and subsidies coming in from the national coffers to promote nuclear energy.

Many host communities have underlined the need to secure income from hosting nuclear plants, operating or not, to finance new roads and other infrastructure that would be used to evacuate residents in the event of a serious accident.

But a significant number of local governments used tax revenues derived from nuclear plants to cover upkeep of hot spring resorts and other seemingly unrelated facilities, the study shows.

Regional utilities added the amount of taxes on nuclear fuels and spent nuclear fuels they will pay into the electricity rates that consumers paid until 2016, when the retail electricity market became fully liberalized.

Even after the market liberalization, they can do the same to come up with funds to pay nuclear fuel and spent nuclear fuel taxes.

January 25, 2021 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Mayor in Kyushu admits to ‘bribe’ from company in nuclear business

Shintaro Wakiyama, mayor of Genkai, Saga Prefecture, speaks at a news conference on Jan. 23.
January 24, 2020
GENKAI, Saga Prefecture–The mayor here said Jan. 23 that he received–but returned–what he suspected was a bribe from a contractor tied to an individual known to have lavished gifts on nuclear power company executives.
Shintaro Wakiyama, 63, said at a news conference at the Genkai town office that he received “about 1 million yen ($9,140)” from Shiohama Industry Corp. in July 2018, immediately after he was elected mayor for the first time.
He said he returned the money to the company, which is based in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, through an acquaintance in December 2019.
Wakiyama also said he recently learned that the acquaintance had died soon after the money was returned, but he did not provide any details about the intermediary.
A Shiohama Industry official said in an interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the company has received 1 million yen, apparently from Wakiyama.
“No employee can recount how our company handed cash (to the mayor),” the official said.
But the official explained that Shiohama Industry was seeking to expand its nuclear plant-related business.
“Heads of municipalities with nuclear power plants have influence over electric power companies,” the official said.
Genkai hosts a nuclear power plant, and Wakiyama has expressed his support for nuclear power generation.
Under the Political Fund Control Law, companies and organizations are prohibited from giving donations to politicians or their support groups.
Donations from individuals are permitted, but if the sum from one person exceeds 50,000 yen a year, the recipients must describe the donation in their income and expenditure reports on political funds.
The 1 million yen from Shiohama Industry was not listed in any of Wakiyama’s reports.
“I thought it was a temporary deposit,” the mayor said. “I cannot offer any rebuttal if the legality (of the money) is called into question. I was too naive.”
He said he will consult his supporters about his next course of action.
Wakiyama said he was suspicious of the money from the start.
He explained that several days after the mayoral election was held on July 29, 2018, two men connected to Shiohama Industry visited his home.
The men tried to hand Wakiyama something wrapped in small silk cloth, saying, “This is a congratulatory present,” according to the mayor.
Wakiyama said he caught sight of an envelope for gift money, so he told the men, “I don’t want it.”
But the men insisted, saying they would be “scolded” if they failed to deliver the present.
They put the envelope, along with a business card of the company’s president, at the doorway of Wakiyama’s home and left.
“I felt like I received a bribe,” Wakiyama recalled.
He said he felt a sense of shame but kept the money in a safe.
“I was too busy after becoming mayor and didn’t have time to go to faraway Fukui Prefecture to return the money,” he said.
Also located in Fukui Prefecture is the town of Takahama, where Eiji Moriyama had served as deputy mayor.
Moriyama, who died in March last year at the age of 90, had helped to bring nuclear power plants to the prefecture.
He also had close ties with Shiohama Industry, according to an industry source.
Several executives related to nuclear power operations at Kansai Electric Power Co. have resigned for receiving cash and other presents from Moriyama. They said he had demanded contracts from the utility for his company.
News of that scandal, which surfaced in September, “made me feel more and more that I needed to return (the money),” Wakiyama said.
After learning that his acquaintance had a connection with Shiohama Industry, the mayor gave the company’s money to the acquaintance in Genkai in mid-December, according to Wakiyama.
He said that after a few days, he received a phone call from the acquaintance: “The money has been returned to the manager of the company’s Tokyo branch.”
Wakiyama, who was elected as a town assembly member for the first time in 2001, declined to reveal the name and occupation of the acquaintance, citing privacy, but said that person died soon after the phone call.
An employee at Shiohama Industry’s headquarters in Tsuruga told The Asahi Shimbun, “It is highly likely that the head of the company’s Osaka branch, who died in December 2018, visited the mayor with a corporate adviser and handed (the money) directly to the mayor.”
Shiohama Industry has done civil engineering and construction work in the Wakasa region of Fukui Prefecture, home to 15 nuclear reactors, the most in the nation.
These reactors include ones operated by Kansai Electric Power at its Takahama nuclear power plant, as well as decommissioned units.
According to company documents, Shiohama Industry has received contracts for projects at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Shimane nuclear power plant operated by Chugoku Electric Power Co. and the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co.
A former senior official of Kansai Electric Power said that Moriyama and Shiohama Industry “had known each other since at least 20 years ago.”
(This article was written by Matsuo Watanabe, Manabu Hiratsuka and Shingo Fukushima.)

February 1, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

109 Fukui officials received money in Kansai Electric gift scandal

November 21, 2019
Can someone say quid pro quo? In a scandal that continues to rock the Fukui prefecture, an investigation involving a former mayor and major utility has now found that more than 100 former and current gov’t officials received gifts or money!
This photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter on May 30, 2019, shows the No. 3, left, and No. 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan.
November 21, 2019
FUKUI, Japan (Kyodo) — A total of 109 current and former Fukui prefectural officials received money and other gifts from a former deputy mayor of Takahama who is at the heart of a gift scandal involving Kansai Electric Power Co., an investigative committee said Thursday.
The committee set up by the prefecture last month had been looking into whether Eiji Moriyama exercised influence over the central Japan prefecture’s public work projects, after the late deputy mayor of Takahama was found to have given massive gifts to the utility’s top officials.
The revelation that the utility officials received a total of 320 million yen ($3 million) worth of gifts from 2006 led to the resignation of its Chairman Makoto Yagi. Kansai Electric operates a nuclear plant in Takahama and Moriyama, who died in March, served as an adviser to its subsidiary for more than 30 years.
The three committee members, all lawyers, interviewed about 300 people including former governors, deputy governors and other senior officials in compiling their report.
Moriyama had also served as a human rights researcher for the prefecture between 1971 and 2018.

November 25, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan urges nuke plants to get ready for decommission era

hjhkjk.jpgTokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant


September 2, 2019

Japan’s nuclear policy-setting body adopted a report Monday saying the country is entering an era of massive nuclear plant decommissioning, urging plant operators to plan ahead to lower safety risks and costs requiring decades and billions of dollars.

Twenty-four commercial reactors–or 40 percent of Japan’s total–are designated for or are being decommissioned. Among them are four reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that were severely damaged by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan.

The annual nuclear white paper, adopted by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, urges utilities to learn from U.S. and European examples, especially those of Germany, France and Britain. Japan hasn’t yet completed the decommissioning of any reactors and doesn’t have concrete plans for the final disposal of radioactive waste.

“Taking into consideration further increase of nuclear facilities that will be decommissioned, new technology and systems need to be developed in order to carry out the tasks efficiently and smoothly,” the report said. “It’s a whole new stage that we have to proceed to and tackle.”

Japanese utilities have opted to scrap aged reactors instead of investing in safety requirements under post-Fukushima standards. The decommissioning of a typical reactor costs nearly 60 billion yen ($560 million) and takes several decades.

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had 60 commercial reactors that provided about 25 percent of the country’s energy needs.

Despite the government’s renewed ambitions for nuclear power, reactor restarts are proceeding slowly as nuclear regulators spend more time on inspections. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear sentiment persists among the public and makes it more difficult for plant operators to obtain local consent in making revisions to their facilities. Any plan related to nuclear waste storage tends to get strong resistance.

Since the Fukushima accident, only nine reactors in Japan have restarted, accounting for about 3 percent of the country’s energy supply, compared to the government’s ambitious 20-22 percent target.

In July, Tokyo Electric Power Holdings Co., or TEPCO, announced plans to decommission all four reactors at its second Fukushima plant, Fukushima No. 2, which narrowly avoided meltdowns in 2011. The move followed eight years of demands by the local government and residents for the reactors’ closure.

TEPCO said the decommissioning of Fukushima No. 2 alone would cost 410 billion yen and would take four decades, but experts have raised concerns about whether those estimates are realistic for a company already struggling with the ongoing cleanup of the wrecked Fukushima plant, estimated to cost about 8 trillion yen.

Japan Atomic Power Co., which has been decommissioning its Tokai nuclear plant since 2001, announced in March that it was pushing back the planned completion of the project by five years, to 2030, because the company still has been unable to remove and store highly radioactive materials from the core. The decommissioning of the government’s Tokai fuel reprocessing facility is expected to take 70 years and cost 770 billion yen.

The white paper stated that Japan is pursuing its divisive spent-fuel reprocessing ambitions and a plan to develop a fast-breeder reactor despite international concerns over the country’s plutonium stockpile of 47 tons, though the commission calls for more efforts in reducing the stockpile and increasing transparency.

France’s recently reported move to abandon ASTRID, its next-generation fast reactor that would theoretically produce more plutonium while burning it as fuel, could be a setback for Japan, which was hoping to jointly develop the technology.

September 8, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

8 years after disaster, Japan must commit to a nuke-free future

hhkk.jpgVisitors observe the No. 2 reactor building, left, and the No. 3 reactor building on the grounds of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in February.


March 12, 2019


In January, the Renewable Energy Institute released a report saying nuclear power generation is losing its competitiveness globally.

While the costs of nuclear energy have risen due to enhanced safety requirements following the Fukushima accident, the report says, those of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power have fallen, thanks to technological innovations.

Some countries, including Germany and South Korea, have decided to phase out nuclear power generation. In other major countries, including the United States and Britain, the share of nuclear power in the overall power supply has dropped because of the rise of renewable energy.

Even France, a leading nuclear power producer, plans to significantly lower its dependence on atomic energy. In China and India, where the government has been eager to promote nuclear power, renewable energy production is growing faster than nuclear power generation.

Nuclear power once accounted for 17 percent of the world’s total electricity production, but it is now responsible for only around 10 percent of the global power output. In sharp contrast, the share of renewable energy has risen to nearly a quarter of the total. The International Energy Agency predicts that renewable energy will contribute 40 percent of the world’s energy supply in 2040.

A big global energy shift from nuclear power to renewable energy is taking place.


The Abe administration’s efforts to promote exports of nuclear power technology, a key component of its growth strategy, have run into the sands in Britain and Turkey.

It is a big irony that a nation that has suffered a catastrophic nuclear accident is making frustrating efforts to sell its nuclear technology to other countries while repercussions from the accident are driving the world toward a new energy future.

This nation’s government still continues devoting huge amounts of resources to maintaining nuclear power generation, which is clearly in decline worldwide, while putting renewable energy, which will assume growing importance in the coming years, on the back burner. Sticking to this policy would cause Japan to be left out of the emerging mega-energy trend.

To read more :

March 18, 2019 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Eastern Japan cities sign nuclear accident evacuation accord

tokai 2 npp.jpg
This July 17, 2018 file photo shows the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant, front, in the village of Tokai in Ibaraki Prefecture.
October 31, 2018
CHIBA, Japan (Kyodo) — A local government near a nuclear power plant in eastern Japan signed an accord Wednesday that will allow its residents to take shelter in six municipalities further away from the complex in the case of an accident at the plant.
The arrangement aims to enable the evacuation of about 43,000 of around 270,000 residents from Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, which is located within 30 kilometers from the Tokai No. 2 plant, to Kashiwa and five other cities in Chiba Prefecture.
Under the accord, the six cities in Chiba are to set up shelters to be managed by the Mito municipal government. The maximum evacuation period will be one month in principle and Ibaraki Prefecture and Mito will be in charge of securing necessary supplies.
Screenings for radioactive materials and decontamination work will be carried out by the Ibaraki prefectural government.
The nuclear plant located northeast of Tokyo is operated by Japan Atomic Power Co. In September, it cleared a safety screening to resume operations under stricter rules introduced after the March 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The conclusion of the evacuation accord met with opposition from civic groups in the six cities which claimed the cooperative partnership could be viewed as a step toward the aging plant’s resumption.
The city of Mito has concluded similar accords with municipalities in Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures to evacuate around 180,000 people. It is arranging an agreement to flee the remaining 40,000 residents to Saitama Prefecture.
Eight other municipalities within a 30-km radius of the Tokai No. 2 plant in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, have also signed evacuation accords with local authorities in nearby prefectures.

November 3, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima, Media, Democracy: The Promise of Documentary Film

August 7, 2018
An Interview with Kamanaka Hitomi with Introduction by Katsuya Hirano
Translation and Footnotes by Margherita Long
Transcription by Akiko Anson
The original interview is available here:

This interview is accompanied by Margherita R. Long’s essay Japan’s 3.11 Nuclear Disaster and the State of Exception: Notes on Kamanaka’s Interview and Two Recent Films

Kamanaka Hitomi

Born in Toyama Prefecture, Kamanaka Hitomi entered Waseda University and joined her friends in a filmmaking club. Kamanaka won a scholarship from the Japanese government and spent time in Canada and the US between 1990 and 1995 studying at the National Film Board of Canada and working as a media activist at Paper Tiger in New York. Kamanaka then returned to Japan at the time of the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that caused over 6,000 deaths and displaced over 300,000 people in the greater Kobe area of Japan in 1995. While working as a volunteer for the victims of the earthquake, she began to produce documentaries for NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) as a freelance director. Kamanaka’s first nuclear-related film, Hibakusha at the End of the World (Radiation: A Slow Death, 2003), won several awards, including one from Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs for excellence in documentary. The film shed light on the transnational links of nuclear policies and their fatal consequences by comparing radiation effects at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the State of Washington, the effects of depleted uranium on Iraqi citizens during and after the first Gulf War, and victims of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hibakusha was the first of three works that came to be known as Kamanaka’s “nuclear trilogy.” Her second work, Rokkasho Rhapsody (2006) covered Rokkasho village residents’ rifts and struggles resulting from the still ongoing struggle over construction of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori Prefecture, Japan. Her third work, Ashes to Honey (2010), documented local residents’ struggle against the construction of a nuclear power plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture. In 2015, Kamanaka released Little Voices from Fukushima that followed the mothers in Fukushima who made every possible effort to protect their children from external and internal radioactive exposure, especially the effects of radiation on the thyroid glands of children following nuclear meltdowns, after the 3.11 nuclear disaster. By comparing their stories with those of Chernobyl victims’ ongoing struggle in Belarus, Little Voices highlights the necessity for measures to protect against radiation. Kamanaka is the only film director who has worked as a nuclear documentarian for over two decades, raising awareness about the gigantic profit-making structure known as the “nuclear village” or “nuclear mafia” consisting of international nuclear agencies, government, energy companies, and financial institutions and underscoring the overwhelming power exercised by this conglomerate of political and financial powers over local residents. Concerned with the fundamentally undemocratic nature of nuclear energy policies, Kamanaka combines her filmmaking and activism. Kamanaka taught filmmaking at Tokyo University of Technology from 2003-2011 as an associate professor and is currently affiliated with Tama Art University as a lecturer. I interviewed Kamanaka in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Kyoto in 2015 about her views of 3.11, filmmaking, and activism. This interview is based on those meetings. Professor Margherita Long offers an accompanying essay that puts Kamanaka’s idea of Fukushima, media, and democracy in a comparative perspective, and offers a reading of Kamanaka’s two most recent films. Katsuya Hirano.


What it means to make films after 3.11

Hirano: You’ve been addressing issues of nuclear power and nuclear exposure for a long time. Prior to 3.11 you made your “Nuclear Trilogy” with the three films Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003), Rokkasho Rhapsody (2006) and Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future (2010). Your most recent film Little Voices of Fukushima (2015) is a documentary shot after 3.11.1 Has the Fukushima nuclear accident changed your approach to filmmaking, or your thinking about filmmaking?

Kamanaka: Let me start by saying that my core motivation in making the nuclear trilogy was to lessen nuclear exposure worldwide. The more humans have used nukes – whether we call them “peaceful applications” of nuclear technology or “nuclear deterrents” to war – the more toxicity the planet at large has had to absorb.

What I came to understand in Iraq making Hibakusha at the End of the World was that as this toxicity spreads into people’s daily lives, future generations are the first to be sacrificed. As I was realizing that humanity would seal its own fate if it didn’t change course, and as I myself was meeting so many children who were dying, their futures cut short, I wanted to take some sort of action. This was my starting place.

Over the course of making the trilogy I was pondering, debating, and filming questions of what could be done and how the status quo could be changed. Yet as soon as I started searching for a way to capture that status quo on film, it became clear that even discerning it would be no easy task: the propaganda-driven manipulation of information blocks our view, nuclear power is imposed on us by a powerful lobby that robs us of our options for protecting the infrastructure of daily life, and basic facts are simply not understood. Also, while I could see that this was true on the one hand, I also came to appreciate the assumption, held by the great majority of Japanese people, that it is impossible to resist powerful stakeholders like the government and the electric companies. People have only a faint awareness that they are themselves the bearers of sovereign power in a democracy; this became clear to me for instance as I made Ashes to Honey and saw how hard it was for the people of Iwaishima to resist the Chugoku Electric Power Company.2 So what I wanted to put forward as I documented these various issues was a method for implementing positive solutions.

Then on March 11th 2011 the reality of a worst-case scenario nuclear accident took precedence over all the solutions that might have materialized if we hadn’t run out of time, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of powerlessness.


A Poster for Hibakusha

H: So when you say you ran out of time, do you mean that all the films you had made had in a certain sense failed, with respect to the unfolding disaster?

K: Yes that’s exactly what I mean. My intention had always been that no one be exposed to radiation, but the 3.11 accident had not only exposed a huge number of people, but was continuing to expose them, and would keep exposing them into the foreseeable future. Meanwhile to look at Fukushima, the most severely affected area, was to see the same “safety myth” propaganda as before the meltdowns sweeping up everything in its path, so that people continued to have no awareness of risk even as they were awash in radiation.

To some extent the harmful effects will manifest themselves with time and a sense of crisis will finally be born, but by then it will be too late – my films can’t simply deliver the truth now when it’s needed; they don’t work like television or the mass media. So I worried that anything I did might be useless. Yet as I kept pondering what course to follow, I couldn’t help concluding that people really need to know the truth.

It’s like the adage that what goes unrecorded never happened. If we never make a record of what is unfolding, if we never grasp what is actually taking place, all is forgotten: the past, present and future are rewritten at the convenience of a designated few. Nothing illustrates this as well as the problem of war memory. So I made up my mind to make work based on facts, work with a high-impact message. That’s why my first project [after 3.11] was Living Through Internal Radiation. I made it with the goal of increasing radiation exposure literacy, as a kind of tool for viewers.

When I’m making a film I’m always conscious of the fact that viewers will be looking for an answer. They want instant gratification, a kind of fast-food response to the question “Well, what are we supposed to do?” This was true especially after 3.11. I know the desire well myself, and that’s why I had such a feeling of powerlessness. What would be the point, if I couldn’t provide something that would be useful right away? But I knew I had to shake this conviction; I knew the most important thing was to convey the truth carefully and accurately, if only to one or two people at a time. That’s why I made Internal Radiation.

When faced with a critical situation like Fukushima, we tend to think in terms of miracles: “If only the world would mend its ways right this second!” But I came to understand that the only honest way forward was to start with the possible, with what we can do with the reality before us, even if it yields no immediately useful results.

H: Listening to you I’m hearing two salient points. First is that those in economic and political power hold on to their positions by ensuring a lack of proper record-keeping, of documentation of fact that are inconvenient to them and their organizations. So it’s important to keep recording what has been unfolding in various places, and to oppose their attitude of moving things along in the absence of documentation. That’s the first point.

The second is that the government responded quickly to the triple disasters and especially the nuclear accident with propaganda, disseminating a new safety myth to counter the prospect of radiation damage in Fukushima and elsewhere. Meanwhile, to leave a record in opposition is to disseminate facts at odds with government propaganda, even if those facts don’t sink in right away. My sense is that your [immediate post 3.11] work shows not only that this is possible, but that it can represent a timely, concrete political intervention into the “state of emergency” that the government uses to conceal the truth and make it legal to trample on human rights.

In other words, what you’ve accomplished by means of your documentary filmmaking is to intervene both in history (by carefully recording facts and memories) and into the political status quo (by resisting the propaganda of the government, the electric company, and the mass media). Without your intervention, everyone would have fallen in line with the safety myth.

K: Well, in fact people are falling in line. It’s because of the overwhelming power of the government, TEPCO, and the media.

H: True enough. The government offers these simplistic resolution policies: “A little soil decontamination and you’ll be all set to move back!” “There’s no need to worry about radiation!” Although people harbor doubts, it’s natural to want to indulge the fantasy. Meanwhile, the message you’ve wanted to send in opposition is that things are not so simple; that we need a firm grasp of what’s really happening, so that we can start from a place of comprehension.

K: Right. But even that is still beyond most people. So the question is how to construct an alternative media, and how to use filmic media to sustain connections. What I’m struggling with most now is this problem of continuity: of funding streams, and also of networks.

Tokyo University dining halls are currently serving 500-yen lunch specials with names like “Fukushima Plate” and “Namie Dish.” They feature Fukushima rice and vegetables and are enormously popular with women students, selling out in a flash to comments from the students along the lines of “It must be safe, because it’s within radiation limits set by the government!” and “If anything, it’s tested food from Fukushima that we can eat with confidence!” These sorts of scenarios really hit home how resolutely the pro-nuclear energy establishment has been trivializing the accident.

With what sort of filmic technique is it possible to address this mindset, and relay a truth that is for them unspeakable and unknowable? It’s not clear one could ever secure enough funding for such a task!

H: This strategy of replacing the prospect of internal radiation with images of eating right, then selling the package to women college students is horrific, isn’t it? It’s unbelievably underhanded to satisfy students’ ethical impulses by convincing them they’re supporting Fukushima’s economic recovery by consuming Fukushima food.

K: It seems to me that the nature of discourse within Japan has changed dramatically since 3.11. We’ve seen the birth of a psychology that can recognize a lie perfectly well, then internalize it regardless.

H: I know what you mean. People know the line they’re being fed smells fishy, but they end up accepting it because it’s what they want to hear and it makes them feel safe. They’ve stopped being able to think properly, buffeted since the disasters by catch-phrases like “recovery” (fukkō), “bonds” (kizuna), and “Hang in There Fukushima!” (ganbare Fukushima). This is why they cast reason aside and fall in line with whomever offers the quickest solution.

K: Yes, it’s as if people are living only by their reflexes, playing some sort of mindless video game. They no longer think in terms of contexts and narratives; there’s no sense of history, or reflecting on cause and effect within the flow of time and the particulars of chronology. What we’re seeing is the proliferation of a style of living only with what is right in front of one’s eyes.

Within this sort of ephemeral atmosphere, Abe Shinzō’s regime can push through whatever it wants because its majority in the Diet is so secure. Things they’ve been unable to accomplish for seventy years of Postwar Democracy they’re accomplishing now in the blink of an eye. Those of us who can see what’s happening think how awful it is, and that we’d better do something, all while being dragged hopelessly along.

One example is the easing of the Three Principles on Arms Exports; apparently it’s fine now for Japan to sell weapons.3 Very few Japanese are even aware of the fact that Mitsubishi has been allowed to manufacture and sell tanks. While policy-makers are advancing their own projects the whole process is obscured in a black box, and ordinary citizens go about their lives with no inkling of what’s happening. By the time the flames come licking up around them it will be too late! But they don’t know this either. In my observation, we have already headed down a pretty dangerous path.

H: Here we arrive at the topic of the picture book (2004) and film project (2015) with which you’ve been involved, “What Happens Before War”?4

K: Indeed. And of course one of the issues addressed by both those projects is how to resist being swept up in the flow of time, to resist the inevitable militarization. That’s why when I’m asked whether my way of making films has changed since 3.11, I have to say that fundamentally it has not. My films have always aimed to provide the viewer with a full understanding of historical context, and his or her place within it. It’s only by means of such an understanding that we can solve problems. That’s why I think filmmaking is crucial.

H: It seems to me that in fact the act of thinking historically is exactly this act of pondering our historical situation in as broad a context as possible, and grasping its topology or phase as specifically as we can. This is what being a historian has in common with your way of making documentaries.

It’s precisely at times like this, when everyone is agitated and we feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us, that we need an approach that doesn’t lose sight of the big picture becomes that much more essential.

K: It seems that documentary films, like history, force us to think about what it means that we’re socially positioned the way we are. Prior to 3.11, I focused on getting people to ask why we (people in Japan and other “advanced countries”) are able to exist amidst such wealth. I wanted them to consider the aggression inherent in achieving this affluence at the expense of the rest of the world’s poverty. Wasn’t it the very fact of our living in wealthy societies that made each of us in some sense a perpetrator of suffering? This is one of the points I tried to get across with my film Hibakusha at the End of the World.

H: Hibakusha was a film that took up the injustice of Global North versus Global South.

K: You’re right it was, of people being trampled underfoot from deep in the past until far in the future, and as a structural problem, rather than mere coincidence.

H: Exactly. Within an unjust and asymmetrical world structure.

K: Asymmetry. It’s such an important concept. When 120-odd people are killed in Paris there’s not a single world leader or “developed country” media outlet that doesn’t call it a “huge tragedy.” But when 600,000 Iraqi children fall victim to American and NATO bombs, or are sacrificed to civil war, it never makes the news.5 This is the exorbitant asymmetry of our world. Without understanding this distortion it’s also impossible to understand where terrorism comes from, and why it proliferates.

H: I couldn’t agree more.

K: That’s why I think it’s crucial for us to realize that if we’re all being used as leverage to squeeze the Global South, we can also remove our personal weight from that equation, one by one, and counter the distortion by standing against it. It’s not unrelated to the warped relationality between Fukushima and Tokyo, between the cities and the provinces.

H: Being committed to theorizing this relationality or structure is really important, I agree. It’s what your film Hibakusha succeeds in doing so well.

K: I’m so glad you think so.


Information Control: The State and the Nuclear Industry

H: Hibakusha at the End of the World shows how tightly the nuclear energy industries in Japan, the U.S. and the former Soviet Union controlled information about nuclear risk. Watching the film we feel that an entire system of concealment has developed to obscure the realities of exposure after a nuclear accident.

K: Right, and in this sense Chernobyl represents a total failure of the system. That accident harmed a wide area, and the idea that radiation exposure is terrifying was fairly widely disseminated across the affected area. So from the perspective of international nuclear power advocates, Chernobyl was completely mishandled.

There was a great deal of work done on the realities of exposure, and it became clear not only that children would be born with congenital defects, but also that the effects of radiation would be passed on to the next generation. This created a situation in which, all around the world, just the word “Chernobyl” immediately conjured a nuclear accident. Regretting this, nuclear advocates began stepping up their efforts to control information.

H: This needs to be seen as something that happened on a global scale, doesn’t it, through offices like the IAEA.

K: Exactly. What’s more, the IAEA has direct ties to Japan, in the sense that those who promote nuclear energy in Japan are intimately connected to key players in the IAEA. After all, Japan’s position within the global nuclear energy industry is increasingly central.

With Toshiba purchasing a controlling share of Westinghouse, and Mitsubishi investing heavily in Areva, it’s not an overstatement to say that Japan is assuming a leadership role in the global nuclear industry.6 Areva ran up a huge deficit on the construction of the Olkiluoto plant in Finland, and just when it was facing fiscal crisis Mitsubishi Heavy Industries stepped in.7

As you’re well aware, however, we mustn’t forget that the roots of controlling information about nuclear exposure and the risks of nuclear energy stretch all the way back to policies developed at the time of the first nuclear bombs. There’s historical continuity here. Directly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or even before that, during the process of developing the technology, the minimization of exposure and the concealment of harm were already taking place on a grand scale.

H: Do you think it’s accurate to view what happened with 3.11 as an instance of this larger operation of information control? Immediately after the triple-meltdowns the Japanese government dispatched “government scholars” (goyō gakusha) like Yamashita Shun’ichi to give public lectures at dozens of places in Fukushima, and these lectures were covered with zero criticism by television, radio and newspaper companies that disgorged their contents without changing a single word.

K: Yes, that’s how I view it. Of course, Yamashita Shun’ichi is a unique character who played a specific role. Because he is a Chernobyl specialist there were very few people who could rebut his arguments. It was he after all who had taken the initiative to produce the most comprehensive epidemiological survey after Chernobyl. True, the Y500,000,000 ($4.5M) he spent on the survey came from the Sasakawa Foundation, but still . . .8

The government and TEPCO were well aware of this. Because Yamashita was president of the Japan Thyroid Association, in dispatching him they were forming a precise battle formation, with someone who seemed unbeatable out in front. As for the media simply disgorging everything he said, that set up the basic structure of information dissemination that started right after the Fukushima nuclear accident and continues to this day.

H: Still, a scholar like Mr. Yamashita — surely he knows what he’s doing when he manufactures and disseminates supporting evidence for the safety myth? Don’t you think he’s aware that he is concealing the truth?

K: Yes I think he is definitely aware. But I think he and all the other “government scholars” have bought into the government and nuclear industry’s logic of collateral damage. This is how I read his notorious statement “I am a Japanese. I will honor what the Japanese nation has decided.”9 He’s tacitly acknowledging that nuclear contamination and radiation exposure will be explained away as unfortunate but ancillary events. It’s the reasoning that this is the most appropriate way to avoid the escalation of fear toward radiation, and to avoid the extensive damage of social panic and community destruction that would be caused by mandatory evacuations.

H: So they deal with the accident as an unavoidable ancillary event caused by chance rather than as a structural problem, rather than as a case of criminal negligence resulting in death and carrying criminal repercussions. In turn, this generates even bigger profits and shores up the system that drives the whole operation. A certain number of people have to sacrifice themselves in order not only for profits to continue to flow, but also for the nation not to descend into chaos. This is the logic.

K: Right, and we can see how it lines up perfectly with the American logic we’ve heard repeated since 1945, that dropping atomic bombs and killing 200,000 people was regrettable, but far better than the deaths of 1,000,000 Americans. In other words, the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sad but ineluctable sacrifices necessary to end the war. They get justified as collateral damage.

H: This is where I’ve come to see an analogy between the way war works and the way nuclear power works. It’s true as well for the modern state. The logic that a certain amount of sacrifice – it differs whether we’re talking about democracy or dictatorship – is necessary to industrial and political prosperity has already been made immanent from the start. In other words, this sort of structure in which it’s possible to force the country’s citizens to sacrifice themselves when necessary is always operating as an essential precondition to the creation and maintenance of so-called “prosperity” and “sovereignty.” In English we call it the logic of the “national sacrifice zone,” which functions even within democratic societies. Those who are sacrificed tend to come from the ranks of the socioeconomically and racially disempowered. What both war and nuclear power keep at the ready is the evocation of a “state of exception,” in which the law will be temporarily suspended and civil rights will not be protected. This is how it’s possible for the nuclear power industry to cause a catastrophic accident and never face criminal charges, and for the government to ask people to die on behalf of the country without anyone talking about murder.10 Quite the contrary, the dead and dying are glorified as heroes of the state. Your film Hibakusha at the End of the World does a magnificent job of showing how this sort of violent structure is expanding on a global scale.

K: That’s right. I could never have said it quite so theoretically, but it’s precisely what I have in mind as I make my films. When you’ve got a group of people who know full well the persistent risks of nuclear energy but fall under its spell and become advocates nonetheless, there’s got to be some sort of righteous pretext or moral obligation for them to rally around. You come to feel it especially keenly when you’re involved in the process of making a documentary film.

H: What I sensed in the scenes of Hanford, Washington from your Hibakusha film was the righteous pretext “This is how we defeated the Soviets;” “This is how we protected the Free World.”

Another element in the Hanford scenes is the attitude of emphasizing the invincibility of scientific knowledge, of declaring ad infinitum that if one looks at the data scientifically, the likelihood of actual harm to bodies and health is extremely low. Meanwhile lots of the residents are dying of cancer.

K: It’s because they can’t see the cause and effect relationship; because they’re able to make themselves not see it. The structure of discrimination you mentioned earlier figures in here as well, toward those who are being sacrificed.

H: Well, it’s too bad for those folks, but if we hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have been able to protect America and protect the whole world. That’s the rationale – that a certain amount of sacrifice is unavoidable. And so we see how the state of affairs that gives rise to national policies (kokusaku) is premised on the possibility of sacrificing human rights, of ignoring them. And when it comes to the nuclear energy industry, military power and industrial profits are intimately connected. It’s the story of industry profiting handsomely when the state maintains its nuclear weaponry capacity.

K: That’s certainly a valid point; in Japan they say an already-built plant with a generating capacity of one million kilowatts makes Y100,000,000 ($904,000) a day. But isn’t the nuclear industry in the U.S. in decline? Because the risks are too high not a single plant is under construction,11 and in Europe as well everyone is keenly aware of Areva’s failure [with the Olkiluoto plant in Finland].

True, places that have grown rich selling oil like Dubai and Saudi Arabia are hurrying to build nuclear power plants before they exhaust their fossil fuel resources. It makes sense, given that they only have about 40 years left. Probably less than 40 years, truth be told. But eventually they’ll spend more decommissioning these plants [than they ever made generating electricity with them].12

And there’s also the whole issue of nuclear reprocessing, which American scientists are now saying is a dead end. What [both nuclear reprocessing and] decommissioned nuclear warheads produce is plutonium. But the United States has no need for plutonium from reprocessing plants because it still has a surplus of decommissioned nuclear bombs. Using this surplus for power won’t work either. When we think of current plans to develop a reactor that could burn plutonium as fuel, and the amount of time these plans have been in the works, what we see worldwide is nothing but failure. Japan is the perfect object lesson here, with the Monju plant leaving its negative legacy of having sat completely idle since causing an explosion [in 1995].13 Globally, reprocessing is over.

Nevertheless, where energy policy is concerned Japan remains as fixated [on nuclear] as ever, even though globally the fundamental thinking, the philosophy itself, has been changing. Of course the reason people dig in their heels is because they’ve been able to set up [nuclear power] as a profit-making enterprise. But in the grand scheme of things it loses money.

H: Still, it’s been contrived to earn money for a certain segment of its proponents?

K: Right, because that’s the sort of system that’s been set up. In other words, of Japan’s roughly Y600 billion ($5.3 billion) annual Energy Development Budget, roughly 60 or 70 percent goes to nuclear, and this has been true for over thirty years.

So for example, in the case of the Kaminoseki plant which I document in Ashes to Honey, the Chugoku Electric Company spent Y450 billion ($4 billion), but when you consider that over several years the Energy Development Budget (enerugii kaihatsu yosan) incentivized them with annual sums of Y100 billion ($887 million) and Y50 billion ($443 million), it’s clear they were able to build it for next to nothing. Then in addition they’re allowed to take a 3.8 percent profit on capital expenditures, which they tack directly onto peoples’ electricity bills. That’s the system we have.

Given that there’s also something called a Subsidy for Electricity Generating Locations (dengen ritchi kōfukin) paid directly from the tax base, we can see that electric companies, far from exposing themselves to risk, have actually set up a system for nuclear power that guarantees they make money hand over fist. The more plants they build, the more they profit. This is the single biggest reason nuclear power expanded at a breakneck speed in Japan.

H: And it is also how depopulated areas came to hear so much about how nuclear power would fill town and village coffers, and provide plenty of employment. “Japan is poor in natural resources so relying on nuclear is the only way!”

K: Exactly. “It’s because electricity is essential to Japan’s trade and industry.” “It’s because nuclear is the lynchpin to economic growth.” This is what we are told, and yet Japan experienced no energy shortages when every plant shut down after 3.11. So why all the talk about restarts? In a country with so many earthquakes? We’ve gotten by just fine for the past 695 days without a single reactor in operation (laughter).

H: Seen in an international frame, the Japanese standard of living even without nuclear power has been excessively extravagant. The high level of energy consumption has continued unabated.

K: I agree: excessively extravagant. I mentioned earlier the fixed assumption that arose from within the dire poverty of life right after WWII, namely that life is only as affluent as the amount of energy you consume. This assumption is still alive and well.

The same assumption helps us understand how it’s possible, despite 695 days without nuclear-generated electricity during which there were no restrictions and no brownouts, and during which we maintained extremely high levels of energy consumption by international standards, for government officials, government scholars, and business leaders to reproach the anti-nuclear contingent by saying “It’s not like we can just return to the Edo Period!” The number of people who say this is staggering.

So we see how difficult it will be to change the collective consciousness. That’s how deeply and indelibly [the assumption that affluence equals energy consumption] gets imprinted onto peoples’ consciousness, time after time.

H: You’ve given us a vivid picture of the way nuclear policy and economic growth get imprinted, or shall we say naturalized, in the collective consciousness, and how the Japanese media has largely failed to problematize this. What is your view of how the major media outlets responded to this most recent accident at Fukushima? What do you make of how it continues to be handled in the press?

K: The only truly serious coverage has been in the Tokyo shinbun. And maybe a little in Chūnichi shinbun. Beyond that I feel like the press is just not covering it. Of course to some degree they can’t get away with not reporting the facts. “Yes, reactor one exploded;” “Yes, reactor three blew up.” That’s about the extent of it. But beyond that they offer no investigative reporting, for instance, on the state of nuclear contamination in the environment, or what is planned for the melted-down fuel inside the reactors, and the spent fuel still stored on-site.

Oh yes, the Asahi Shinbun has been running its “Prometheus’ Trap” series.14 That’s quite good. But the problem is that Japanese people just got so tired of Fukushima. After the accident, information that had never been disseminated suddenly came gushing forward as if a dam had broken. People felt completely saturated, hearing nothing but that day after day. Past a certain point people couldn’t bring themselves to tune in and consume it. In addition, during those first six months the news became obsolete incredibly quickly.

H: It’s a small step from becoming obsolete to being forgotten entirely.

K: “Enough is enough!” That’s generally how people felt. But I don’t think that exonerates the media from accurately covering how much the government is minimizing the accident and dodging its aid responsibilities, or how each successive policy strays from its stated intention.

Television coverage was the worst. Television stations stopped talking about Fukushima sooner than any other media outlet. It’s the same with their coverage today: nothing, zero. It’s because the biggest sponsor for most of them was TEPCO.

In 2011 I received a prize for something or other and at the party there were a lot of producers from local commercial broadcasting stations saying I should appear on their programs. When I replied I would if it were feasible they responded, “Oh it’s fine now! Because TEPCO is no longer sponsoring us . . .”

But in the end they never once reached out to me. The people who come to me for material are all from French newspapers and TV, or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), or the BBC. Places like that. The Japanese media never come. Never.

3.11 happened just as I was taking my film Ashes to Honey on the road for its premiere. The Japanese media covered this correspondence only reluctantly. It’s hard not to conclude that they simply don’t comprehend the seriousness of the nuclear accident.

When you ask journalists from the local news outlets like the Fukushima Minyū and Fukushima Minpō newspapers or the Fukushima Hōsō television station why they didn’t respond immediately to the nuclear explosions by reporting that this was dangerous for the people of the prefecture, that they should evacuate, that according to Japanese law a certain level of radiation designated a place an uninhabitable nuclear regulation zone, they claim it was because they didn’t know; because they themselves were without the proper knowledge. Instead, they waited to see what the government would say and simply broadcast that, with no analysis or interpretation.

During the postwar period, as the “Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” slogan gained strength, it was taboo for the media to talk about risks in the future or environmental damage in the present. So local reporters deemed it futile to spend energy investigating and writing about these topics. Either they knew their findings would never see the light of day and therefore omitted them, or they held back from doing the reporting in the first place. As a result no one accumulated this knowledge and no one handed it down, so even when it seemed something might be happening there was no interest and no attempt to understand.


Exercises in Democracy: What Documentary Film Can Accomplish

H: What was it that first made you think you would like to make documentaries about nuclear problems and nuclear exposure?

K: It was definitely my trip to Iraq. Many children were exposed to radiation as a result of the US invasion of Iraq and its use of depleted uranium bullets [rekka urandan].15 I was moved by the fact that once a body is exposed, it can never completely recover. I’ve since learned from the case of Belarus that it’s possible to reduce the effects of radiation exposure to some degree through recuperative care outside the contaminated zone. But in the cases of both Iraq and Chernobyl of course it was not possible for the entire population to move, and in any case a certain amount of harm is unavoidable.

As I myself resolved to learn as much as I could about these issues I came to discern various elements, one by one. I needed for instance to trace the history of nuclear energy, to speak with people in the “nuclear village,” and to understand how the “nuclear fuel cycle” works.16 I also needed to study what happens to the human body when it is exposed to ionizing radiation.17 Although of course I consulted the literature on the topic, there was a lot I could only learn in the field, at the sites I was studying.

H: Your experience making Hibakusha at the End of the World seems to have influenced the content of the film on many levels.

K: It’s true it did, because that was the very beginning for me. First I had to consider, in both the American and the Japanese contexts, who had first made nuclear bombs and nuclear weapons, and for what purpose, with what results. Then I also needed to consider the harm being done by depleted uranium bullets used in modern warfare during the Iraq War: about low-dose radiation and chronic exposure. When I was making Hibakusha at the End of the World no one in the mainstream was asking these sorts of questions. They were considered minor.

H: I see. I’ve always admired the way you were able to connect those three places – America, Japan, and Iraq – both spatially and temporally. It’s a really original approach, and beautifully executed. Usually documentary filmmakers train their sights on just one place. Then they isolate the problem. But you illustrate so effectively how, structurally, the nuclear problem is always a global problem, and has been from the beginning.

K: I tried to draw both axes into the film – both the depth of vertical time as it relates to the problem of the nuclear, and the breadth or horizontality of space.

H: It comes across wonderfully clearly. We start in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and move to Hanford in the United States, then to Iraq. So we get spatial continuity and also temporal expansion at the same time.

K: When we talk about time it’s important to focus on the temporal process by which radiation exposure manifests in the individual bodies of those who experienced the bombings. That time is internal to each hibakusha – the time it takes for the radioactive material to establish itself in the body, and for the body to begin changing in response. Because this is something that requires the passage of time, I wanted to trace the existence of what we might call the life that lives that interval: human existence, flesh-and-blood existence.

H: I think I know what you mean. Dr. Hida is a great example.18 Dr. Hida Shunsuke definitely embodies that interval.

K: Exactly.

H: He’s both a first-person narrator of the Hiroshima bombing, and a medical doctor who grappled with addressing its effects his entire life.

K: Precisely. And what’s really marvelous about him is that he never lords his status as a scientist over his patients. Instead he gives each one of them his intimate attention, asking how he can support not their illness but their life. This is what I find incredibly human about him – that as a doctor he takes this approach.

H: There were doctors who responded like this in Iraq as well.

K: Yes there were. Dr. Jawad. Jawad Al-Ali.

H: He once said that the tragedy of watching children succumb to cancer one after another made him so sad he feared his own heart would give out.19

K: And I would say that, among the Iraqi people I’ve met, the type of deep humanity that Dr. Jawad exemplifies is not at all rare. Islam is perceived negatively in the West today, but what does it mean to turn toward God five times a day and pray? Isn’t it also turning toward oneself to reflect? We’re talking about a people who set aside time morning, noon and night, five times, to face themselves and face God.

When I first set out for Iraq I did not have a positive image of Islam, but I was impressed by this introspective quality that Muslims have. And their humor! I found them to have a keen sense of compassion.

H: Yes, this comes out quite naturally in the documentary.

K: I think so, too. When I left for Iraq the image of that country constructed by the Japanese media was a negative stereotype, personified almost entirely by Saddam Hussein, of a belligerent people: dictatorial, violent, and warmongering. It was discriminatory.

It makes sense when you consider the relations between the American media and the Japanese media on this point. Like a Russian doll, the American version of Iraq opened to a Japanese version of Iraq inside, exactly the same, as if Japanese reporters had no ability to refashion the stereotype on their own.

So when I took the clear position that these Iraqi people whom it was supposed to be obvious deserved bombing were actually just as human as we are, and have pride, and human rights, and are not aggressors but victims – when I took this position it became difficult for NHK to accept my work. Because originally I had gone to Iraq on a shoot for NHK (laughter)! You’re never supposed to give the “enemy” a human face. A stereotype is an ideological device for dehumanization.

H: They felt uneasy about your shattering the stereotype that they had helped create.

K: Precisely. Yes. There’s an element of the mass media that only functions to strengthen stereotypes – that may just be its destiny. Of course this is not true of all mass media. On the contrary, I myself try to break stereotypes, to grasp a more multi-faceted, three-dimensional reality.

H: This is an objective you’ve said you first encountered through the media activist group Paper Tiger during a stay in New York, isn’t it?20 Participating in that group and developing this kind of thinking was a formative experience?

K: That’s right. Before I went to New York I was already working in Japan making films and television programming. But like most people in those fields I wasn’t much interested in questions of why and for whom we make our works. My priorities as a filmmaker and as a television director were how to make successful, high quality images. I wanted to express my individuality, and I cared about how critics responded. The question of for whom we make our works was unimportant because it was obvious: I make works for myself! But I came to realize that media has a crucial additional role to play.

Because I worked more in film than in television I had convinced myself that authorial style was paramount. But when I started working with Paper Tiger in New York almost every single person in this citizen-directors’ group was a minority. There were undocumented filmmakers from Mexico and black filmmakers with AIDS. Hispanic worker filmmakers. And of course there were also middle class white people, but what they wanted to make films about were radical changes within their daily lives, like implementing a Canadian-style single-payer national health insurance in the US. Mainstream American media couldn’t muster any enthusiasm whatsoever for such topics. It was only through Paper Tiger that I was able to discern this contrast. And so I resolved to make films at Paper Tiger – to make our own media as a counter-culture to the existing media culture.

Of course the people who wanted to produce this sort of alternative media had only rudimentary skills – many had never picked up a camera before. What they did have was vision and conviction. “This is what we want!” “This is what we need!” In contrast, I had skills. I began to wonder what would happen if I used them for someone else — for their cause rather than mine. This was a real stroke of luck for me.

H: They had an internal vision that they wanted to express, and you were able to back it up not with your authorial style but with a shared sense of political commitment.

K: That’s right; we wanted to address our own problems, and to solve them through media. We definitely had political commitment. But we struggled because we didn’t know how to put a film together. We also had no budget. Still, I had skills. And the experience helped me appreciate, not that I should use them in America, but that I should take them back to Japan, This is what I had in mind when I returned to Japan in 1995.

H: What kind of issues did you want to address? Did you have a clear vision of the perspective you wanted to bring to bear on certain issues in Japan?

K: I was in a bit of a daze for a while after I returned, and then the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck. Because I had no job and lots of free time I went to Kobe as a volunteer, and all of Japan’s problems came tumbling down on me. They were problems of the Japanese family, of the sort that had been invisible while peoples’ houses still stood, but that were exposed when the walls fell and the families were driven out.

My job was to drive to Kobe and deliver special meals provided by a sponsoring group in Tokyo for children with food allergies who were living in cardboard evacuation shelters within school gyms. It was when I visited the families of these children with allergies that I sensed there was something terribly wrong. It wasn’t just gender problems between the parents, or the extreme environment in which the children were placed, or administrative problems, or problems of medical treatment and PTSD. It was all of them together. This was the place from which I began.

H: So, completely by chance, the same Kamanaka Hitomi who in New York had been drawn into a political consciousness and acquired a new way of making films found herself face to face with the Great Hanshin Earthquake.

K: Yes it was a real encounter! For me the act of filmmaking always is. I never set out conceptually with the idea to make this or that kind of work. Instead I encounter it on site, and it either draws me in or it doesn’t. I feel it or I don’t. I don’t think metaphysically. I just start digging and that sets the filmmaking process in motion.

H: Still, when we consider the films you started to make at that time, there’s a certain continuity isn’t there? I’m not sure whether to call it continuity or a sustained political sensibility, but it’s at work in all of them.

K: Yes, well, for instance it was in the process of making Hibakusha that I came to see what my next film would address. After all, the problem of the nuclear is quite deep, and it is intertwined with our modern lives in a staggering number of ways. So it was natural that in the midst of making Hibakusha the theme of my subsequent film Rokkasho Rhapsody, namely, the current state of the nuclear industry in Japan, would come into view.

I like to exhibit my work in a way no one else does, by attending the screenings in person, getting feedback from the audience immediately afterward, and using my camera to make a record when new social movements arise, like I did when I took Rokkasho Rhapsody on the road. That was when what was needed was the theme of Ashes to come into view: not “What should we do about nuclear energy?” but “What should we do about the future of energy writ large?” One of the most important questions of this film is how to offer positive solutions.


Rokkasho Village

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Anti-Rokkasho Demonstration in Tokyo


H: Watching Ashes to Honey I was struck by the way a glimmer of hope keeps appearing and disappearing, even while there is no explicit vision of exactly what should be done in the future. The film suggests a certain sense of possibility – that if we only make up our minds, something called community can form itself from the bottom up, while we’re in the process of devising new forms of renewable energy and taking various measures.

K: In Japan, even if people know this phrase “from the bottom up” (botomu appu), they’ve usually never created that kind of community. But that’s not true of Sweden. We can really learn a lot from observing what happens there, for instance, when a cattle farmer realizes he can achieve energy self-sufficiency using methane gas from his herd’s manure, and when local people invest in his project.

It’s a way of thinking in the direction of local autonomy, in the direction of being able to do things independently without relying on the national government. Compared to countries such as Sweden, Japan is weak at this. I made Ashes to Honey in 2010, in which I addressed the issue of local autonomy, but the theme is still very much on my mind because local autonomy is fundamental to democracy. Especially when faced with “national this” and “the Abe administration’s that,” I think being able to decide how to solve problems at a local level – the problems we face in the places where we live, and where we’ve put down roots – is crucial to cultivating a democratic society.

That’s why I don’t spend much time at weekly protests in front of the Prime Minister’s Office. If I’m always making the rounds with my films between the far corners of Hokkaido, remote places in Tohoku, Shiga Prefecture, Shimane Prefecture, and Kyushu, it’s because I’ve come to believe that the center has no hope of changing if these other places don’t change.

What we see in Sweden and in the places I filmed for Ashes to Honey are not the actions of a centralized state but rather humble struggles on the part of people living in small towns and villages to bring about, on the strength of their own actions, a wholesale transformation in the way energy is produced and used. In point of fact the people of Iwaishima are up against centralized nuclear energy policies that rob them of their right to self-determination. Although whether or not to build a nuclear power plant is something that people who live there should be able to decide by themselves, they’re left with no say in the matter whatsoever. So it’s in places like this that the change must begin.


Iwaishima, the focal point of Ashes to Honey

Anti-Iwaishima/Setouchi Power Plant Protest in Tokyo. Koide Hiroaki21 is second from left.

H: When we think about nuclear energy policy it’s really this part that feels most violent. All at once the logic of the state and the logic of capital arrive on the scene and people are robbed of their communities, their land, their way of life: everything is gutted. Meanwhile local people are bought off. “What’s to complain about? Haven’t you got more money now than you’ve ever seen in your lives?” But what it means to live, to experience life’s happiness, is not a matter of purchasing power or consumer confidence. With the influx of cash comes the gradual destruction of the quality of food, water and air — of the condition of not having to worry about their safety — and also the pleasure of work, the pleasure of encountering nature. These are lost together with the community. Your films make us feel this especially keenly; they make us feel your conviction that democracy is fundamentally a matter of building community in the place where you live, by your own will and determination, according to your own vision.

K: That’s exactly right. If you think about Fukushima’s problems past and present, they all stem from the uprooting and destruction of autonomy. It’s clear if you look at my screenings by region. My films are only screened if an independent group brings them to town, so they only find an audience when invited by local people.22 The number of times they’ve been screened in Fukushima Prefecture is extremely low.

H: I see. Does this point to an absence of civic groups?

K: Yes it does. Civic groups exist but they’re weak, and few and far between. In comparison, someplace like Nagano Prefecture has quite a lot. There is a great variety of groups, and their regional initiatives are lively. The sense of autonomy is strong. It makes a huge difference.

When the accident at Fukushima occurred, if a variety of civic groups had already existed I think they would have mobilized right away. Especially in the dissemination of information. We would have seen an immediate attempt from within the region to share facts and communicate locally.

One advantage of diverse and active civic groups is the accumulation of knowledge and experience around collective action. People know how to work together toward a single goal even with those with whom they disagree. In Fukushima it seems this was lacking. And while there were any number of complicated contributing factors — historical, political, social and economic – those same factors were what predisposed Fukushima to its dependence on nuclear policies in the first place. So while we saw many civic groups take shape after 3.11, we also saw them quickly splinter and dissolve. It was the same kind of splintering and dissolution as when the plants were constructed. Buying up farmers’ land to build the reactors, the government and TEPCO used money to eradicate their way of life. The community was splintered into supporting and opposing factions, and only after these factions had been set to battling each other did the authorities make their move. It’s what’s called “nipping solidarity in the bud.” It’s a method of dismantling solidarity, whether solidarity exists from the start or arises in opposition to nuclear construction. We saw it in Rokkasho. We saw it in Iwaishima. We saw it in Fukushima.

H: So what you’re saying is that on top of a comparatively weak tradition of civic groups invested in local autonomy, Fukushima had its weakness doubled by the divisive policies rolled out by TEPCO and the government after the accident. The disaster gave rise to a sort of twice-enfeebled situation.

K: Yes that’s exactly my point. I’m a big supporter of Mutō Ruiko but I can’t help feeling she’s up against quite a lot in Fukushima.23 It would really be disastrous for the movement in which she’s participating to become isolated. Because there are so many people throughout the country who want to support Ruiko-san, I feel confident that things will work out, but it’s harsh there inside Fukushima.

H: I was speaking with Mutō-san recently and she too spoke of how “government scholars” wasted no time making their way to Fukushima after the accident to start spreading the safety myth all over again. When these scholars said they knew Chernobyl and that Fukushima was nothing in comparison, even people who had been allies in the anti-nuclear movement, and who had attended study groups, would applaud and exclaim their admiration, saying “What a splendid person.” Mutō-san said she had witnessed this moment of surrender time and time again.

K: Well, isn’t it the same thing we saw at Hanford, Washington? The local people listened to the scientists’ explanations and quickly capitulated. “Oh I see, so there’s nothing to worry about.” The main challenge with solidarity is whether a community can maintain itself without falling into the traps of capitalism and power (division, bribery, safety myths). That’s why what my films attempt to discern is the structure that sets the traps. The viewer quickly comes to recognize that he or she is not only complicit with a

structure that requires sacrifice, but that the policies that sustain it will eventually bring about the destruction of his or her own way of life as well. “I’m next.” That’s the point.

What’s crucial is that we learn to extricate ourselves from positions of support. So it’s not a matter of ad-hominem attacks or forcing two or three people to take responsibility, but of gaining a comprehensive perspective on how the problems presently unfolding are connected and mutually determined: of seeing things from an objective, high-angle view. This is what I want my documentaries to accomplish – the birth of a new consciousness; the feeling of a new self, out of alignment with the old. I call it a “chemical reaction of consciousness.”

H: When a local group self-screens your films, I wonder if you would call it an exercise in democracy. I’m asking in relation to the phrase you just used, “a chemical reaction of consciousness.”

K: I would! It takes time, to be sure. After a screening we never fail to make time for discussion. When you make a space for conversation people start speaking out, even general audience members, and there’s a cultivation of debate. For instance, at a post-screening discussion in one town a Fukushima evacuee spoke up and said that in order to save her three children she’d had to leave behind her husband, who refused to acknowledge the dangers of internal radiation. But evacuation rent subsidies had been cut off, and she’d never received any support from her husband, so she was wondering how she and her three children could get by. In the course of the discussion, this woman ended up declaring that she was going to go to the local administration and petition that her housing subsidy be extended. This is a woman who had never once in her life done anything remotely political. There are lots of evacuees like her. When you talk to them you hear that they’re lower middle-class, income-wise. So at a screening to which, say, 100 people come, you’re face to face with the fact that people like this are not getting any state aid at all. Little by little, as the concrete details of their lives become clear, the injustice of policies toward refugees is vividly exposed, together with the criminal irresponsibility of the government.

Listening to the discussion, it’s impossible not to start thinking, “what am I myself going to do about this?” At one screening there was a city council member who told everyone that, having been consulted that night by the evacuee, he now planned to go with her to petition the prefectural office, and that everyone else should come too. That was how the conversation developed! By the end, two more people in the audience had declared that they would also make the trip.

H: So by means of the screening they are able to see how they are already connected to each other, and how they should be connected. It’s the spontaneous birth of activism. Having come to see the film they come to this realization and, exchanging conversation and ideas, discover a new relationality.

K: Exactly, they have a connection. And to make this discovery, watching the film together and discussing it amongst themselves are really important.

What the mass media is saying and what Kamanaka’s film is saying are totally different. How to take this in? People feel unsettled. So to keep them from going home like that, I ask them to wait a bit, to stay and discuss it together for 30 minutes or an hour, so that they can return with something a little more organic.

I also always ask them to fill out a questionnaire. This way, in addition to watching the film and the discussion, and listening to my lecture, they don’t leave without making an effort to verbalize what they themselves felt. The return rate is extremely high. People write a lot. This way each person has a chance to give feedback. It helps connect them with the group that organized the screening as well. I work hard to facilitate these connections.

H: When fellow humans are forced to speak to each other face to face, and especially when they come from completely different backgrounds, one for instance from a difficult economic situation, and another rich but perhaps ignorant of social realities – from the coming together of such different perspectives a diversity of voices is born, and what they have in common is the ability to achieve a certain kind of exercise in democracy.

K: Right. This is precisely what the Paper Tiger excelled at: gathering extraordinarily diverse people and giving them all a voice without affixing any hierarchy to their opinions. Every Wednesday ten people would get together and one by one all ten would say what they thought. Because there was zero tolerance for interruptions we had to listen to each person to the end, and it took forever! The process was so arduous that we all worried we would never be able to make a program or any kind of coherent work. But that was how we did make films, one by one, very slowly. Because that was how I came to understand democracy, I’m fully aware that democracy is a major hassle.

Hirano: Yes. Democracy happens in the practice and operation of everyday culture, doesn’t it?

K: Shouting in front of the Prime Minister’s office is incredibly important. But even more important I think are the small acts that one undertakes oneself in one’s own daily life.

H: To create a democratic society requires an enormous amount of time, and the task is never finished; if it is not sustained, it disappears.

K: Exactly, and it can’t be a matter of saying, “Oh, let’s do this or that.” There has got to be a collective conviction, “This is something we must do.” It’s only from such conviction that real action begins, that everyone commits their abilities, their brain power, their power to act.


Kamanaka’s citizen-led independent film screening.

H: Is it that people have never given themselves license to exercise their potential? Or that great swaths of the population aren’t even aware they have it? If I think about a democratic society in which, by some means or another, each person is able to express what they feel and think in daily life, transmitting this collectively, nurturing it, transforming it into action.

K: You’re exactly right. The notion that I might be free, that it’s fine to feel, think and speak freely, and live freely, so long as I take responsibility for my feelings, thoughts and speech: this notion is very weak. It’s weak that people are free to express themselves, and that it’s only through self-expression that they realize their potential. The history of nuclear power is built on that kind of political culture, and has had the unfortunate effect of strengthening it.

The Japanese education system restricts that sort of potential.24 What I try to cultivate at my documentary screenings is exactly the sort of space that has never been nurtured within the Japanese education system, in which people know they can speak freely because they themselves are free, their choices are theirs, and no one will harm them if they give voice to their thoughts and feelings. Quite the contrary, people will all listen, their opinion will be respected, and everyone else will be free to speak as well.

H: Yes, and one more principle applies here: that we are equal to the end.

K: Exactly. Without hierarchy. Whether we are women or men, old or young, college-educated or not. A level playing field. Completely flat. I always remind people that we are equal.

H: Do audiences feel a sense of emancipation after participating in these discussions?

K: Yes, they go home extremely satisfied! One way or another they feel gratified, emboldened.

H: It’s empowering isn’t it?

K: Empowering! Exactly!

H: I can see how this would be transformative, given that the sense of empowerment, the experience of potential, has been locked away until then.

K: That’s right, because the powers that be are intent on keeping it confined; they want to restrict people’s open debate, and the sense of connection that arises. They want to keep “chemical reactions of consciousness” under lock and key. But when people in Fukushima are worried about radiation and ask about the effects of ionizing radiation, and possible harm to children, this shared emotion itself, this overwhelming worry itself is an injury. For people to narrate their experience it is to narrate a violence that has been done to them, and to protest.

Those in power want to control and confine the growth of a movement that arises when a collective consciousness is born from this sort of protest. “You’re crazy getting all worried like that! It’s because you’re ignorant. If you go on saying those things you’ll be conspiring with harmful rumors (fūhyō higai)! You’ll be standing on the side of those who discriminate!”25 This is how those in power preempt protest. This is how they root out and eradicate voices that speak out against violence.

H: One thing that’s always left a deep impression on me in your films is the way they introduce different voices even-handedly, even pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear voices. In academic language it’s called “polyphony,” from the music theory term for the sound of multiple voices. Independent melodies stand out variously in time, intersecting, colliding, and reverberating, and the result is called “polyphonic.” Do you keep this sort of thing in mind when you are shooting a film?

I also want to ask a little bit about the viewing experience, insofar as your audience is invited to keep track of these various opposing, colliding and harmonizing voices and interpret what they’re saying. It strikes me that this gets to the heart of the democratic potential of documentary cinema, because the viewing itself is an exercise in democracy.

K: The emphasis is less on my own message than on those of the people who appear in the film. This sort of space for discourse is rarely opened within Japanese society. So my job is to prepare a receptacle and ask how it’s possible actually to listen, to pay attention.

Opportunities to make diverse voices actually resonate are rare. But for instance, when I made Rokkasho Rhapsody, even though the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear factions almost never had the occasion to exchange opinions in real life, it was possible to make them talk to each other within the reality constructed by my film.

H: Yes I think you wrote about this somewhere, that it was only after they had seen your film that the people of Rokkasho started talking to each other.

K: I never make just a film; for me it’s crucial to follow up and talk about “what happened after that.” So after Rokkasho Rhapsody I made something called Dispatches from Rokkasho 1-4, and in the fourth dispatch we see people from the opposing sides begin a dialog.26 I think it’s really important that this takes place at the grassroots level. My role is to be the facilitator.

H: Both in your work and in your way of life, you take dialog very seriously. So of course as you outlined earlier in your filmmaking you always begin by finding out what people want to say, and make listening your point of departure for coaxing out dialog. Then in turn your audience members absorb the film and negotiate its dialog internally, as we’ve discussed. And finally, after the screening, they engage in a dialog with each other. So the emphasis is on the creation of binding relationships through dialog.

K: That’s right. It comes from my own experience of not necessarily getting my best ideas while lost in thought, alone. What happens far more often is that you get inspired in conversation with someone completely different from you, and discover within yourself an unknown voice. Preaching to the choir doesn’t work. It’s this dialog with difference that’s lacking in Japanese society I think. So when I teach young people I always emphasize the importance of putting thoughts into language. Maybe because they seem to communicate only through images, young people try to get by on obfuscation, in a rush of imprecise words. I want them to appreciate the importance of working toward effective verbalization. I’m thinking here for instance about the way someone like Mutō Ruiko communicates. Her words are precise and powerful. I really admire them.


A Revolution of Feelings: The Politics of Everyday Life

H: You’ve written about new citizens’ movements in terms of “a revolution of feelings” and “a revolution underfoot.” Could you speak to this idea, of the potential inherent in new ways of doing things? I imagine it’s hard to separate this from the problem of filmmaking.

Of course in the 1960s and 1970s political movements were very organized; they had clear leaders, and factions, and a kind of compunction to declare allegiance to right or left – that’s how they worked. They were always pursuing questions of who was orthodox and who was not. That sort of thing. But now we’ve entered a completely different age, and it seems to me that this is reflected clearly both in your method of filmmaking, the way you distribute your films, and the way you participate in movements. I wonder if you could say a little bit about that potential, in terms of “a revolution of feeling” and “a revolution underfoot.”

K: Well it’s really about daily life, isn’t it? True transformation emerges from everyday living, not from historical principles or dogma. In this sense I have to say that, like Mutō Ruiko, I believe in the sensitivity of women (“onna” to iu kanjō). It’s because women are the ones who live daily life most intimately. Whether they live in the city or the countryside, women cook, women do laundry, and women sort the trash. They think about what kind of trash they’re putting out; it’s inevitable that the person who takes out the trash be conscious of its contents. And they think about food: what ingredients should be used? Are they safe? Are they healthy? Then there’s the choice of clothing, and whether or not it has been conceived ethically. It seems to me that the self who coordinates all these aspects of daily life experiences a kind of satisfaction: a kind of happiness.

Where the maintenance of daily life is concerned, women are really the ones who do it closest to the source. Of course one could object that statements like this presume natural gender differences. But my point is that in society as it actually exists, it’s undeniable that it’s overwhelmingly women who do this work. Isn’t that why women are the ones who are best able to sustain political movements that derive from daily life? The discovery of potential within the act of living itself seems old, but it’s quite new.

When I made “Ende’s Testament: A Fundamental Interrogation of Money,” (1999) the reaction it elicited was unheard of for a television program.27 People were fascinated with the question, “what is money, actually?” They were eager to rethink the value system that has completely overtaken Japanese society, in which it’s possible to exchange anything for money, and substitute money for anything. It became possible to consider the slightly utopian notion of a lifestyle that could sustain daily existence in the absence of money.

But concern for food – where it comes from, how far it travels – has really increased. People are more and more aware that a wholesale shift in the way we use energy can only begin from a reconsideration of lifestyle, because “energy” means so much more than just electricity. What we see increasing is the sensitivity that comes from examining, at every step, our own ways of living, eating, and moving.

H: Yes and this is what you mean by “a revolution of feelings,” isn’t it? A reexamination of the priorities and values that sustain our everyday lives?

K: Definitely. It’s important to appreciate that living in accordance with the same values as always simply won’t work anymore. It takes a great deal of time both to achieve this appreciation with one’s brain, and to enact it with one’s flesh.

But unless consciousness is reformed first it’s impossible to take control of our own way of living; we just remain sunk in a kind of addiction to “common sense.” People need to ask themselves whether living as they are is really okay. They need to wake up to the fact that to go on living in blind pursuit of an excessive, material, money-oriented wealth is complicit both with the sacrifice of people and with wholesale environmental destruction. What’s revolutionary is when this awakening begins to happen, person by person.

H: Is this what you mean when you talk about “the consciousness of the directly concerned” (tōjisha ishiki)?

K: Exactly. To the extent that we live in a modern society it’s impossible not to bear some responsibility for harm, but what’s imperative is to think actively about how to lessen the violence. What we’re seeing now are communities of people who’ve realized this – people much younger than myself – banding together and finding really marvelous ways, online especially, to share information about how they’re living. So even though it’s my policy not to call this “politics,” I see it as the most political possible choice.


Respite Care: Hope in Learning From Each Other

H: You’ve mentioned that your current focus is saving the maximum number of people from radiation exposure. In the case of Little Voices from Fukushima, you depict something called “respite care” (hoyō) as one possible protective measure, one possibility for relief.

K: Yes, that’s right, I’ve been proposing it as one possible approach because I want to offer positive solutions. Rather than simply rail against the problem, the trick is to figure out how we can come to grips with it, as humans: how we can solve it. And essential here is the wisdom of our predecessors.

After all, the mothers of Belarus are a group of people who have been fighting this hand-to-hand battle for more than 30 years. Since the same situation is unfolding in Fukushima, there’s a great deal we can learn from the struggles of these women.

H: Was it because you knew that respite care had been set up by the people of Belarus and offered consistently all these years that you first thought of connecting Belarus to Fukushima, and thinking about the two places together?

K: Well, what’s happening now in Fukushima is chronic low-dose internal radiation. What I really wanted to know was how people had coped and continue to cope in the case of Chernobyl, when they went through the same thing.

H: Watching your film I was struck by how effective it was to compare Belarus and Fukushima. What the mothers and children of Fukushima want to know most is how to lessen the risks and effects of internal radiation. Especially for people under constant psychological pressure, to pose an answer is to provide a ray of hope amidst great darkness.

K: It’s true! And the point is that human beings never give up on learning from other human beings.

H: Your conviction in the experience and wisdom of other people is one of the great strengths of your documentary.

K: People learn so much from failure, from trial and error. It’s undeniable. That’s why simply not being judgmental is a key tenet of my documentary-making. It’s so important not to pass judgment on the other person. To be human is to harbor contradictions, by definition. That’s why calmly accepting contradictions just as they come is the first step toward discerning more essential problems, and how to solve them. We have to ask after the origin of the contradiction, and the status of those who have no choice but to live inside it. When you’re caught up in the vortex yourself, you can’t understand. But if from that same position you’re able to observe others objectively, to observe them as if you were observing yourself, you come to understand quite clearly. That’s the effect I always aim for with my filmmaking.

In the absence of judgment, I can gather up voices with equanimity and impartiality, no matter what the position. Impartiality does us the favor of presenting things extremely simply.

H: Extremely simply, yes, but we also sense that the conversation is quite layered; that a great deal lies behind it.

K: Exactly.

H: So is that what you mean by simplicity? The simple fact of recognizing this?

K: That’s right. The contradictions arise and present themselves as such.

H: You do a beautiful job of introducing a world that cannot be separated straightforwardly into good and bad. Although you certainly have your own opinions, you never impose them, or skip suddenly to a conclusion. Instead you present the complexities of reality. As a result, audiences are reminded that although they are bearing up under the same dilemma, the same contradictions, they’re also still living everyday lives. And the conversation opens onto what choices they can make.

K: Precisely. It’s crucial for people to make these issues their own, and think about them deeply. That’s really what I think is missing most in Japanese society today. People are simply in survival mode with their minds in neutral, having severed all ties to empathy. “I simply can’t empathize with every last person,” they say. Put crudely, it’s an extremely lonely kind of society. The only kind of common feeling that gets supported is the warped empathy of patriotism and nationalism. That’s why I want to move forward with a firm conviction in the hope and empathy born of building relationships and learning from each other, through the moving image.

H: Thank you so much for talking today.

I would like to thank Kamanaka Hitomi for her friendship and many stimulating conversations over the past 3 years. My many thanks also go to Margherita Long for writing an excellent accompanying essay for this interview and making the interview available in English. Norma Field and Mark Selden offered very helpful comments and suggestions as always. I am grateful to them. Lastly I also want to extend my thanks to Akiko Anson who kindly transcribed the interview, provided notes, and proofread the English version.


Related articles


Other interviews on the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hirano can be found here.

Notes are by the translator except where noted.


1This is Kamanaka Hitomi’s third co-authored piece for Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. She discusses her 2006 film Rokkasho Rhapsody in Kamanaka Hitomi, Tsuchimoto Noriaki and Norma Field, “Rokkasho, Minamata and Japan’s Future: Capturing Humanity on Film,” trans. Ann Saphir, The Asia-Pacific Journal Vol 5, Issue 2 Dec 1, 2007. She discusses her 2011 film Ashes to Honey: Toward a Sustainable Future in Kamanaka Hitomi and Norma Field, “Complicity and Victimization: Director Kamanaka Hitomi’s Nuclear Warnings, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 9, Issue 18 No 4, May 2, 2011.


2The Chugoku Electric Power Company is one of ten government-regulated electric companies supplying power over two separate grids. Three companies cover the Eastern Japan grid (Hokkaido Denryoku, Tohoku Denryoku, Tokyo Denryoku (TEPCO), and seven cover Western Japan (Hokuriku, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa Denryoku). In 2008 Chugoku Electric was granted a license to begin landfill in the Seto Inland Sea to build two reactors at a new Kaminoseki Plant. It made slow progress amidst the active local protests Kamanaka documents in Ashes to Honey. Operations were suspended in 2011 after Fukushima but in 2016 Yamaguchi Prefecture renewed its landfill license citing national energy policy.

3Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs English website states “On April 1, 2014, in accordance with the NSS, the Government of Japan set out the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology as a set of clear principles on the overseas transfer of defense equipment and technology that fits the new security environment. The new Principles replaced the previous ‘Three Principles on Arms Exports and Their Related Policy Guidelines.’”

4In 2004, in response to legislation that allowed the LDP to override opposition and send Japanese Self Defense Forces to fight in Iraq without a UN Mandate, a group called Ribbon Project collaborated with the publisher Magazine House to produce a bilingual children’s book titled The Way War Is Created (in Japanese) and What Happens Before War (in English). In 2015 an animated version was produced by a group of filmmakers and artists concerned that 3.11 and the Fukushima nuclear accident were also being used as a pretext for militarization. Kamanaka sells the dvd for educational use on her web shop and it is also widely available online.

5This interview originally took place in October and December 2015. Here Kamanaka references the Paris terror attacks of 13 November 2015. The figure “600,000” corresponds to the World Health Organization’s estimate for the number of children under fifteen who died during seven years of the Iraq War. Kamanaka discusses this figure in the first chapter of her book Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara [Hibakusha: From Ground Zero of Documentary Filmmaking] (Tokyo: Kageshobō, 2006), 23.

6The nuclear businesses of the American conglomerate Westinghouse were sold to British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) in 1999 after Westinghouse purchased the communications company CBS in 1995, renamed itself CBS, and divested from non-broadcast operations. BNFL sold a 77% share in Westinghouse to Toshiba for $5.4B in 2006 at a time when the global market for nuclear power was expected to grow in China, India, the UAE and Eastern Europe. In late 2015 when Hirano interviewed Kamanaka, Toshiba had already weathered an accounting scandal centered in part on its failure to disclose Westinghouse losses. But it had yet to suffer the full impact Kamanaka predicts, which the Financial Times would call in February 2017 the “Downfall of Toshiba, a Nuclear Industry Titan”. In early January 2018, Toshiba sold Westinghouse to the Canadian company Brookfield for $4.6B.

In contrast, Mitsubishi remains sanguine about its investment in the French multinational group Areva, with which it began partnering in the early 1990s to sell nuclear fuel and established a joint venture in 2007 to make reactors. Here Kamanaka references Mitsubishi’s decision to purchase more shares in Areva just as the German company Siemens was pulling out, in part over failures at the Olkiluoto NPP in Finland. Losses of almost $9B motivated Areva in 2017 to spin off its reactor unit as “Areva NP,” selling about 50% to the French Government company Electricite de France (EDP) and 20% to Mitsubishi. According to the Nikkei Asian Review, Mitsubishi’s investment in Areva is now $621M.

7The Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland had two reactors built in the 1970s and in 2005 commissioned Areva to build a third. Originally scheduled to be completed in 2010, the project has gone 200% over budget and is still not finished.

8Wikipedia’s English entry on Yamashita is incomplete but indicates the controversy that surrounds him. He served as chair of the Japan Thyroid Association after co-authoring several Chernobyl papers under the auspices of the Sasakawa Foundation and in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The Sasakawa Foundation was funded by Sasakawa Ryōichi (1889-1995), a controversial right-wing figure who made money in China and Manchuria during the Fifteen Years’ War and through a gambling empire in post-war Japan.

It is worth noting also that many regard the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), with which Yamashita collaborated, to be compromised by the close relationship with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) mandated by a 1959 agreement in which the two agencies promise always to act in “close collaboration.” The WHO rebutted this argument in a 2001 statement.

9Kamanaka is quoting a line from Yamashita’s 3 May 2011 public meeting in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima, in which he defends the claim that exposures of up to 100 millisieverts per year are safe. One of the people who asks him a question is Jodo Shinshu priest Sasaki Michinori, who appears in both of Kamanaka’s post 3.11 documentaries. A transcript and video of the 70-minute meeting is available from

10An important exception to the tendency for perpetrators of nuclear disasters to go legally unpunished is the mandatory indictment (kyōsei kiso) seeking criminal penalties (keijibatsu) for three TEPCO executives currently making its way through Tokyo District Court. See here.

11As 2016 ended, 99 U.S. reactors produce 19.5 percent of U.S. electricity. Many of these reactors will reach the end of their current licenses and could close by mid-century. A number of these reactors are at risk of near-term closure due to market competition and the possibility that expensive major components will need replacement. Two reactors are currently under construction in the United States. Georgia plans to go ahead with two new reactors, just after South Carolina backed off. See an August 2017 article from New York Times as well as World Nuclear Association website updated February 2018 (KH)

12It should be noted that Saudi Arabia decided to build two large nuclear power reactors in 2015. This is a significant scale-back from its original plan to build 16 reactors over next 20-25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. It projects that nuclear reactors provide 15% of energy by 2040, along with over 30% of solar capacity. This indicates that Saudi Arabia is investing more resources into the development of solar and other renewable energy than nuclear even though nuclear energy is by no means insignificant. (KH)

13In 1995 the Monju “fast breeder” nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture suffered a sodium leak and explosion that was subsequently covered up. The close of the plant was announced in September 2016.

14The series ran from October 2011 to March 2016 and has since been edited into nine total volumes by Gakken Publishing.

15Weapons enhanced with depleted uranium (DU) were used by the US military for the first time in the Persian Gulf War in 1991 to penetrate Iraqi tanks. They were subsequently used in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq again in the Iraq War of 2003-2011. Widely reported health consequences led to requests for a global moratorium on their use.

16Nuclear fuel cycle” (kakunenryō saikuru), refers to the multi-stage process by which uranium is mined, enriched and burned in a standard reactor, then either stored as spent fuel (nuclear waste) or reprocessed into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for use in a “fast-breeder” reactor.

17Kamanaka gathered what she learned into a book co-authored with Dr. Hida Shuntarō. See Naibu hibaku no kyōi: genbaku kara rekka urandan made [The threat of internal radiation: From nuclear bombs to depleted uranium bullets] (Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 2005).

18Hida Shuntarō (1917-2017) survived the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and devoted his life to caring for victims of radiation exposure. He became a mentor of Kamanaka after her return from Iraq; she describes the process in the first chapter of Hibakusha: Dokyumentarii eiga no genba kara. Dr. Hida plays major onscreen roles in her films Hibakusha at the End of the World (2003) and Living Through Internal Radiation (2012).

19Dr. Jawad Al-Ali of the Sadr Teaching Hospital in Basrah is quoted widely in global media accounts of cancers caused by depleted uranium in Iraq. See for instance here.

20Founded by media activist Dee Dee Hallock in New York City in 1981, Paper Tiger Television continues to pioneer alternative community media and curate an extensive archive of independent and DIY programming.

21See Katsuya Hirano’s interview with Koide.

22For the first few years after release, Kamanaka’s films are generally shown only through jishu jōei or self-organized screenings. Her website gives detailed instructions on how to book, advertise, and stage events. For a detailed account of their significance for community formation and social activism see Hideaki Fujiki, “Networking Citizens through Film Screenings: Cinema and Media in Post-3.11
Social Movements,” in Patrick W. Galbraith and Jason G. Karlin, eds., Media Convergence in Japan (Creative Commons, 2016).

23Mutō Ruiko is a long-time antinuclear activist based in Fukushima and a key figure in the movement to hold TEPCO executives and government officials criminally liable. To understand the movement’s evolution from a group of “Complainants” to “Supporters of a Criminal Lawsuit,” see this video at the Fukushima genpatsu keiji soshō shiendan website. For Asia Pacific Journal pieces about Mutō, see Tomomi Yamaguchi’s essay from 2012, Katsuya Hirano’s interview from 2015, and Norma Field’s essay from 2016.

24Japan’s Basic Law of Education (kyōiku kihonhō) enacted in 1947 was amended under the leadership of Abe Shinzo in 2006 to de-emphasize equality and critical thinking and emphasize “patriotism.” For facts see Wikipedia. For analysis, see McNeill and Lebowitz.

25“Those who discriminate” can refer to school bullies calling Fukushima evacuees “radioactive,” or people who practice marriage discrimination against prospective partners who have been exposed, or those who exert social pressure on parents who speak openly about thyroid cancer. Norma Field provides an overview and a wealth of citations in her essay “From Fukushima: To Despair Properly, to Find the Next Step.” As Kamanaka notes here, however, the term “discrimination” (sabetsu) has also been appropriated by the pro-nuclear faction to silence those who speak out about radiation’s effects, on the grounds that they too are practicing sabetsu.

26All four “dispatches” (tsūshin) take the form of documentaries. The four-disc set is available from ILL and also from Kamanaka’s website.

27Kamanaka’s program about the German fantasy and children’s book author Michael Ende (1929-1995) aired on NHK in May 1999. A book version by Kamanaka’s production company Group Gendai and NHK producer Kawamura Atsunori was published in 2000 by NHK Press. It remains in print in a bunko edition by Kodansha.



August 22, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Japan’s divestment campaign pits Buddhist priest against banks

In the wake of Fukushima, Tomonobu Narita is at the forefront of a movement to withdraw money from banks that back environmentally harmful energy projects.
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Buddhist priest Tomonobu Narita admits he hadn’t thought much about energy policy until the Fukushima nuclear meltdown forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes in 2011.
Now he’s at the forefront of a budding movement in Japan to withdraw money from banks that provide finance for environmentally harmful energy projects.
“I was taught about the idea of how changing your bank account can contribute to bettering the environment, and that was an enlightenment for me,” said Narita, the third-generation head priest of a temple in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
The campaign to “divest” from fossil fuels such as coal has gained traction in the United States, Europe and Australia in recent years, but environmental activists are now targeting Japan. They see the country as crucial to the success of international efforts to address climate change.
On top of fossil fuels — which release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned, contributing to global warming — campaigners here are working to oppose nuclear power.
While advocates of nuclear power say it can provide carbon emissions-free energy, critics say the overall dangers are too high.
Residents are still barred from returning to some of the towns closest to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, where three reactor meltdowns occurred after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
Most of the country’s nuclear plants remain offline amid safety checks and legal challenges.
Driven by concern about nuclear power, Narita recently shifted some of his temple’s funds to a financial firm that is rated as one of Japan’s 45 “earth-friendly” banks. This means the bank is not known to provide finance for the fossil fuel and nuclear sectors.
Narita told NBC News he planned to explain the decision to his counterparts in other temples, believing that “we need to be more mindful of what we’re blessed with.”
Tomonobu Narita is the head priest of Totsuka Zenryo Temple in Yokohama, Japan.
“That small action when combined [with the actions of others] leads to a bigger effect, so I hope for divestment to have that kind of spread in Japan,” he said during an interview at Totsuka Zenryo Temple.
In the next room, about 100 people gathered to hear from the veteran American climate campaigner Bill McKibben, who co-founded the global divestment and climate action movement known as and has organized rallies around the world.
McKibben described being jolted into action by a visit to Bangladesh more than a decade ago when he saw people die from dengue — a mosquito-borne viral illness that is projected to worsen in that country as the globe warms. McKibben said he viewed it as “very unfair” that Bangladesh would bear major impacts from climate change when it had not been the source of most of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“They’re suffering from a problem that they didn’t cause, a problem that we caused,” McKibben said. “And so, when I went back to the United States, I decided that the time had come to fight — in a good, nonviolent, Buddhist peaceful way,” he quipped to the temple crowd.
Now, McKibben said, it was important for the divestment movement to spread to Japan “because Japanese banks are now the biggest lenders of money for coal projects around the world.”
Japan’s Mizuho provided an estimated $11.5 billion in loans to the world’s top coal-plant developers from January 2014 to September 2017, according to analysis published by BankTrack, a pro-renewable energy network. That led to Mizuho being assessed as the most prolific lender in that category, followed by another Japanese financial group, MUFG, in second place, while Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation came in at fifth.
These banks have signaled that they are weighing their future lending criteria.
Mizuho said on its website that it was currently discussing the “best due diligence methods” for reducing environmental and social risks, while MUFG told investors it would strengthen its focus on financing renewable energy.
A spokesperson for Sumitomo Mitsui told NBC News: “Coal-fired thermal power generation is considered as a relatively low-cost power generation method; however, since we consider that the impact on climate change is significant, we are considering [reviewing] our current credit policy.”
Still, the number of ordinary people in Japan actively divesting from fossil fuels remains small: Just 146 individuals have so far reported divestments worth 568.2 million yen ($5.1 million) since the campaign launched late last year, according to Japan.
Takejiro Sueyoshi, a former senior banking executive who is now a special adviser to the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative, believes it will require strong government leadership for banks to take a more assertive step toward renewables.
“Many people are very well aware of this matter, but what they are saying is: ‘Personally I understand that, but under the current situation no Japanese government [has set] any new direction, new policy, new strategy.’”
This was because the Japanese business culture tended to be “government-oriented,” he explained. “When the Japanese central government says ‘do this,’ they follow. And if the Japanese central government does not say anything about something, no institutions or companies will [act].”
Some senior government figures, at least, seem to be paying attention. The foreign minister, Taro Kono, recently blasted his country’s lackluster embrace of renewable sources like wind and solar as “lamentable.”
Japan’s target for renewables to make up 22 percent to 24 percent of its overall energy mix by 2030 is low, Kono said in a speech in January. He pointed out that such technology already accounts for about a quarter of the total global energy mix, and there had been a “dramatic decrease” in the price of renewables.
“We have prioritized keeping the status quo for fear of change,” said Kono, whose climate advisory panel warned the following month that Japan was facing increasing scrutiny from other countries about its plans to build dozens of new coal-fired power plants.
As the government and experts continue to debate the best way forward in terms of policy, campaigners will step up their efforts to build community momentum for change.
Narita, the Buddhist priest, said he had not sought media attention for his decision to divest but simply wanted to do his part “to contribute to society.” The action is grounded in his beliefs.
“Right now the greenery that we have, the earth, the soil — everything is a product of the things that people who have come before us have left behind, so we can’t just treat those things carelessly,” Narita said.

June 5, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Dynamics of Nuclear Power Policy in the Post-Fukushima Era: Interest Structure and Politicisation in Japan, Taiwan and Korea

This article compares the different trajectories of nuclear power policy in Japan, Taiwan and Korea in the post-Fukushima era. The Fukushima nuclear accident ratcheted up the level of contention between civil activism and supporters of nuclear power in all three states. The result of this contention has been decided by the combined effects of two factors – interest structure (complexity vs simplicity) and politicisation (national level vs local level). In terms of scope, policy change has taken place in Taiwan, Japan and Korea in that order. This analysis contributes to a balanced understanding of both structural constraints and the political process in which each actor, and in particular civil activism, is able to manoeuvre.
In the wake of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “atoms for peace” speech at the United Nations General Assembly in December 1953, the United States signed bilateral atomic energy cooperation agreements with its allies, including Japan, Korea and Taiwan. By providing those allies with nuclear technology, Washington intended to strengthen its defence and foreign policy, the centrepiece of which was the maintenance of nuclear hegemony and containment of the Soviet Union (Medhurst, 1997 Medhurst, M. J. (1997).
Atoms for peace and nuclear hegemony: The rhetorical structure of a Cold War campaign. Armed Forces and Society, 23(1), 571–593.[Crossref], [Google Scholar]).
Washington’s three East Asian allies, all of which suffered from a lack of energy resources, made nuclear power a major state-sponsored industry and relied on it for their industrialisation and economic development. The emergence of strong coalitions in each of these countries – consisting of conservative or authoritarian politicians, state-controlled or private electricity companies, and government bureaucrats – provided sustained support for the growth of nuclear power during the Cold War. When energy security was seriously challenged by the oil shock of the 1970s, nuclear power became the most viable source of electricity. Whereas fears of nuclear proliferation and safety concerns encouraged Western countries to retreat from nuclear power in the 1980s, reliance on nuclear power in these East Asian countries continued to grow. Not only did they become an attractive market for US vendors, but they also succeeded in developing independent nuclear power technology. In particular, Japan successfully developed its own nuclear fuel cycle technology, including enrichment and reprocessing (Kido, 1998 Kido, A. (1998). Trends of nuclear power development in Asia. Energy Policy, 26(7), 577–582.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]).
Prior to the Fukushima nuclear incident, one-third of all electricity in Japan, Korea and Taiwan came from nuclear power. As of August 2016, there were 43 reactors capable of operation in Japan, six in Taiwan, and 25 in Korea. Japan has only two reactors currently in operation, but Tokyo is trying to increase that number. Nuclear power still accounts for 18.9 per cent of electricity generation in Taiwan and 31.7 per cent in Korea (World Nuclear Association, 2015 World Nuclear Association. (2015). Nuclear share figures. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]; World Nuclear Association, 2016 World Nuclear Association. (2016). World nuclear power reactors and uranium requirements. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). Japan and Korea are also competitive exporters of nuclear reactors to countries that aspire to have access to nuclear energy.
The Fukushima nuclear incident of 2011 came as a shock to the nuclear power industry. Fukushima has not only escalated calls to “exit-from-nuclear” from civil activists in Japan but has also had repercussions around the world, particularly in Japan’s neighbours Taiwan and Korea. In the wake of the huge public backlash provoked by the incident, the three countries face the conundrum of how to enhance the sustainability of their economies while reducing their reliance on nuclear power. This situation prompts a number of questions. To what extent has the Fukushima incident brought about changes to existing nuclear policies in Japan, Taiwan and Korea? How has rising civil activism been translated into policy change in each of these countries, and what factors have been at work to convert the shock of Fukushima into a shift in energy policy? In addressing these questions, this article closely compares contentions involving different interest structures and levels of politicisation in the three cases. The interest structure under examination is the way in which the conflicting interests of supporters of nuclear energy and those opposing it are configured (complex or simple). The “level” of politicisation refers to the level at which the campaigns are fought (national or local).
This article is an exercise in inductive analysis, which seeks to use these cases to identify two factors that result in changes in nuclear power policy. The findings we obtain from an examination of the three cases are that the external shock (i.e. the Fukushima incident) has intensified contention; and that for a significant policy change to occur, the interest structure has to be simple (i.e. state-controlled nuclear power and the absence of new interests such as nuclear exports), and civil activism has to be able to cross partisan lines and raise contention to a nationally prioritised level.
This article consists of three parts. In the first part, we conceptualise the two factors that decided the policy direction in the three cases: interest structure and level of politicisation. In the second part, we outline the development of nuclear power and examine the development of contention between civil activists and nuclear power supporters in the three cases. In the third part, we identify some generalisations concerning changes in nuclear power policy.
Two Factors: Interest Structure and Politicisation
Despite common energy security needs and US support for the peaceful use of nuclear energy, nuclear power policies and the nuclear industries in the three countries under consideration have followed somewhat different paths of development. As a result, each case has displayed a different type of contention, but in all three cases government decisions and social consent have been equally important for changes in the nuclear power policy (Golay, 2001 Golay, M. W. (2001). On social acceptance of nuclear power. The Center for International Political Economy & the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Rice University. [Google Scholar]; Parkins & Haluza-DeLay, 2011 Parkins, J. R., & Haluza-DeLay, R. (2011). Social and ethical considerations of nuclear power development. Staff Paper #11-01, Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta. [Google Scholar]). Changes in outcomes ranged from a minor adjustment of existing policy, through a significant change, to abandoning the use of nuclear power entirely. With this diversity of outcomes in mind, it is useful to investigate how the relevant actors – the government, pro-nuclear politicians (or political parties), electricity companies, and civil activists – have contended and/or coalesced with one another.
It is noted in the literature that the Fukushima incident brought about a big change in the public perception of nuclear power all around the world (Kim, Kim, & Kim, 2013 Kim, Y., Kim, M., & Kim, W. (2013). Effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on global public acceptance. Energy Policy, 61, 822–828.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). This change in public perception has led to construction delays and cost overruns that have interrupted the principal nuclear states’ attempts to lead a nuclear revival (Szarka, 2013 Szarka, J. (2013). From exception to norm – and back again? France, the nuclear revival, and the post-Fukushima landscape. Environmental Politics, 22(4), 646–663.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). Nevertheless, as it has become clear that the perceptual change by itself is not bringing about an immediate change in policy, analysts have also delved into the sources of policy continuity or partial change, including the impact of short-term interests (Nohrstedt, 2005 Nohrstedt, D. (2005). External shocks and policy change: Three Mile Island and Swedish nuclear energy policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 12(6), 1041–1059.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]), the strength of links between governments and the nuclear industry (Fam et al., 2014 Fam, S. D., Xiong, J., Xiong, G., Yong, D. L., & Ng, D. (2014). Post-Fukushima Japan: The continuing nuclear controversy. Energy Policy, 68, 199–205.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]), the way perceived benefits and risks affect public opinion (Park & Ohm, 2014 Park, E., & Ohm, J. Y. (2014). Factors influencing the public intention to use renewable energy technologies in South Korea: Effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Energy Policy, 65, 198–211.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]), and the links between the social movements and party politics (Ho, 2014 Ho, M.-S. (2014). The Fukushima effect: Explaining the resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan. Environmental Politics, 23(6), 965–983.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). These individual analyses have their merits, but they have not systematically addressed the question of what mediates the conversion of an external shock into a policy change (or what impedes such a conversion). The issues we should examine are (1) the structure that determines the relationship between those who are deeply involved in the contention at a critical moment, particularly the relationship between supporters and challengers of nuclear power, and (2) the process by which the issue of nuclear power is politicised and those in power are forced to adopt (or resist) a new policy. In this article, we focus on these two factors: the interest structure (as structure) and politicisation (as process).
The first of the two factors, interest structure, may be defined as the way in which the competing interests of supporters and challengers are configured. The actors who support nuclear power and related industries differ from case to case, and the interest structure differs accordingly; depending on how the relationship between actors is formed, the interest structure takes on its own unique form, either complex or simple. This definition helps to identify the mode of contention between supporters and challengers. If the interest structure is complex, it is difficult for civil activists to fight against the supporters of nuclear power because a complex interest structure diversifies the battlefield and thus diffuses the activists’ ability to fight the supporters.
The degree of complexity of the interest structure is determined by two elements: type of ownership and whether new interests have been created. Specifically, ownership – whether nuclear power is state-owned or privatised – determines the degree of complexity. The form of ownership arises at an early stage in the introduction or development of the industry. Nuclear power that is owned by the state is mostly controlled by the state and thus has a less complex interest structure than privatised nuclear power. If nuclear power is state-owned and controlled, when there is serious contention over the issue, the fate of nuclear power will depend on government decisions. In contrast, if the industry is privatised and thus managed by electricity companies, the interest structure will be highly complex. Privatised ownership contributes to the creation of an “iron triangle” consisting of profit-seeking electricity companies, government bureaucrats who sustain nuclear power, and politicians who protect the interests of nuclear power (Vivoda, 2014 Vivoda, V. (2014). Energy security in Japan: Challenges after Fukushima. Surrey: Ashgate. [Google Scholar]; Iguchi & Koga, 2015 Iguchi, M., & Koga, M. (2015). Energy governance in Japan. In S. Mukherjee & D. Chakraborty (Eds.), Environmental challenges and governance: Diverse perspectives from Asia (pp. 219–234). Oxon & London: Routledge. [Google Scholar]). The iron triangle is complicated by the differing motivations of the actors, but it is collective and cooperative in the way that it promotes the interests of the nuclear industry.
Businesses involved in nuclear power try to create new interests by, for example, exporting nuclear plants, fuel and related technology. These new interests mean that nuclear vendors become a new promoter of nuclear power, thus strengthening existing supporters. This allows the nuclear industry to expand and create links with other industries, and in these circumstances, the relevant government agencies are likely to continue to support nuclear power and the advancement of related technology.
Hence, both private ownership of the nuclear power companies and export opportunities in the nuclear industry make nuclear power complex. They make any policy change exceedingly difficult, and any change that does take place is likely to be incremental and marginal in scope. If the interest structure is complex and as a consequence contention is diversified, civil activists must fight on many different fronts. If nuclear power produces new interests – that is, exports – supporters will benefit from uniting to continue to support the existing nuclear power policy, and thus civil activists will grow weary. Conversely, if the interest structure is simple, the activists will fight against a simple target – that is, a pro-nuclear government and a state-owned electricity company working as one body. If the target is solid, the fight may be tough. But if the target is in disarray, any policy change is likely to be drastic and far-reaching.
The second factor, the level of politicisation, addresses the level at which the contention between supporters and civil activism takes place: the national level or the local level. An issue that is politicised at the national level is more controversial than one at the local level, and it attracts broader public attention and triggers a tug of war between the pro- and anti-nuclear camps. The key point of contention is whether the existing nuclear power policy should be maintained or changed. In contrast, any contention that is limited to the local level tends to be issue-specific, involving particular questions such as whether a nuclear power plant or nuclear waste storage facility should be sited in a particular location. Contention normally remains with a locally specific issue, but it may often be elevated to the national agenda. Whether or not activists can seize and act upon such opportunities would decide the fate of the contention. At this stage of being a national agenda, the contention may become entangled in electoral politics, and the form of the alliance between civil activists and political parties becomes a critical factor in policy change.
Once the contention is escalated to and politicised at the national level, it normally securitises the issue of nuclear power in both the administration and the legislature. “Securitisation” means that administrative and legislative actors take up the issue as an existential problem in a given society. The notion of securitisation, which has been used in the study of international relations (Buzan, Wæver, & de Wilde, 1998 Buzan, B., Wæver, O., & de Wilde, J. (1998). Security: A new framework for analysis. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers. [Google Scholar]; Gerard, 2014 Gerard, A. (2014). The securitization of migration and refugee women. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]; Naujoks, 2015 Naujoks, D. (2015). The securitization of dual citizenship: National security concerns and the making of the overseas citizenship of India. Diaspora Studies, 8(1), 18–36.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar]), is applicable to the persistent threat caused by both hazardous radiation and the difficulties of relocation, as exemplified by the Fukushima incident. Despite its invisibility, this threat affects people both physically and psychologically. Politicisation of nuclear power at the national level may also be described as securitisation. This means that nuclear power is not just a controversial issue but becomes a nationally significant one. For example, as Prime Minister Naoto Kan said with respect to the Fukushima incident, it would have brought about “a collapse of the nation’s ability to function” if it had been necessary to evacuate the residents of Tokyo (New York Times, 28 May 2015).
In identifying changes to nuclear policy, it is necessary to trace and compare the trajectories of the contention between supporters and challengers of nuclear power – and the combined effects of interest structure and politicisation – after the critical shock. Although this article is an inductive analysis, we attempt, in Figure 1, to summarise the trajectories of the contention in the three cases.
The three cases have undergone changes to varying degrees and in different directions. The Japanese case underwent a striking change – that is, the elevation of contention from local to national level – but it shows the limitations of policy change when dealing with complex interests. As demonstrated by the gradual resumption of operation of the reactors that have undergone safety checks, any drastic policy change, such as the mothballing of entire reactors or exit-from-nuclear, is unlikely to happen in the Japanese case. The Taiwanese case shows a more intense political struggle which was undertaken at the national level and resulted in the highest degree of policy change among the three countries: the freezing of the recently constructed fourth power plant. Furthermore, following the victory of Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the 2016 presidential election, the possibility of decommissioning the existing nuclear plants in the future has become even more likely (Focus Taiwan, 11 March 2016). The Korean case shows the least likelihood of dramatic policy change. Not only does civil activism mostly remain local and issue-specific and seemingly incapable of gearing itself up at the national level, but the industry has created new interest opportunities by exporting four nuclear reactors to the United Arab Emirates. The current progressive administration, which launched in May 2017, has pursued transformation in the energy mix, but has not officially declared that it will cease the export of nuclear plants.
Japan: Elevation of Politicisation but Increasingly Complex Interest Structure
Before Fukushima, nuclear power in Japan was characterised by a complex interest structure and relatively localised civil activism. From the inception of the atomic energy development plan in 1955, nuclear power had diverse promoters with a focused and common goal of expansion and technological advancement, a situation that for a long time disadvantaged anti-nuclear civil activism. The government offered business opportunities in nuclear power to the nine electricity companies, including Tokyo Electric Power Company and Kansai Electric Power Company. The main government organisations – the Japan Science and Technology Agency and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), and its successor the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) – played decision-making and supervisory roles. In addition, the long years of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rule allowed conservative pro-nuclear politicians to exercise powerful influence over local decisions concerning the location of nuclear power plants.
The convergence of interests between the government, electricity companies and politicians, even if they were driven by different motives, made nuclear power a state-sponsored industry (Kim, 2013 Kim, S. C. (2013). Critical juncture and nuclear-power dependence in Japan: A historical institutionalist analysis. Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, 1, 87–108. [Google Scholar]). The government was deeply involved in the expansion of the nuclear industry, and politicians in both Tokyo and the localities were closely engaged in the siting of nuclear power plants. The nine private electricity companies were beneficiaries of the state-sponsored nuclear industry. Just as in other industrial sectors, there emerged a so-called iron triangle made up of politicians, bureaucrats, and the electricity companies (Vivoda, 2014 Vivoda, V. (2014). Energy security in Japan: Challenges after Fukushima. Surrey: Ashgate. [Google Scholar], p. 142; Iguchi & Koga, 2015 Iguchi, M., & Koga, M. (2015). Energy governance in Japan. In S. Mukherjee & D. Chakraborty (Eds.), Environmental challenges and governance: Diverse perspectives from Asia (pp. 219–234). Oxon & London: Routledge. [Google Scholar], p. 227).
Civil activists were disadvantaged by the complex interest structure: diversity of supporters and state sponsorship. Most of their movements were both locally confined and issue specific. Against this backdrop, pro-nuclear supporters were able to achieve the relatively smooth expansion of nuclear-related industries. Furthermore, they succeeded in coopting cash-strapped local governments and residents. The prime movers of the cooptation were electricity companies and conservative LDP politicians, with both groups approaching council members and opinion leaders in the targeted municipalities. The central government also carried out public relations campaigns: placating local opposition through the legislation of subsidies that expedited the construction of new plants and related facilities. The subsidies were basically government funds, although the electricity companies contributed a significant portion of them through their taxes (Nanao, 2011 Nanao, K. (2011). Genbatsu kanryo [Nuclear power bureaucrats]. Tokyo: Soshisha. [Google Scholar], pp. 146–147; Kaneko, 2012 Kaneko, M. (2012). Ishitsuna kukan no keizaigaku: Richi jichitai kara mita genpatsu mondai [Heterogeneous space economics: The problem of nuclear power plants viewed from the hosting local governments]. Sekai, 8, 136–143. [Google Scholar], pp. 136–143). On top of this cooptation, the oil crisis – and the consequent elevation of energy security to a matter of national survival – contributed to sustaining the nuclear industry throughout the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s.
The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 increased public suspicion about the safety of nuclear power, and protests by activists against the construction of nuclear power plants ensued. One notable consequence of this was an increase in the cost of constructing new nuclear power plants and delays in their construction. Civil activists, however, lacked nationwide collaborative networks and thus found it difficult to gain widespread public support (Kim, 2013 Kim, S. C. (2013). Critical juncture and nuclear-power dependence in Japan: A historical institutionalist analysis. Asian Journal of Peacebuilding, 1, 87–108. [Google Scholar], p. 97). The supporters of nuclear power regarded civil activists’ protests as a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) phenomenon rather than as a movement aimed at achieving a policy change (Lesbirel, 1998 Lesbirel, H. S. (1998). NIMBY politics in Japan: Energy siting and the management of environmental conflict. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. [Google Scholar]). It was not until the second half of the 1990s that several accidents in nuclear-related factories began to draw public attention to the safety of nuclear power: a liquid sodium leak at the Monju fast breeder reactor in December 1995; a fire at the Tokaimura reprocessing plant in March 1997; and an accident at the Japan Nuclear Fuel Conversion Co. in September 1999 (Yoshioka, 2011 Yoshioka, H. (2011). Genshiryoku no shakaishi [Social history of nuclear power]. Tokyo: Asahi Shinbun Shuppan. [Google Scholar], pp. 245–362).
To be sure, the Fukushima incident on 11 March 2011 was a critical shock. The incident triggered widespread calls for exit-from-nuclear from activists and the politicisation of the nuclear power issue at the national level. The composition of the participants in civil activism was different from what it had been in the past. Rallies demanding exit-from-nuclear were attended not only by the usual activists but also by housewives, intellectuals, students and middle-class workers. They were joined by anti-nuclear weapons activists who had been mostly silent on the nuclear power issue for decades. This represented a new convergence of Japanese civil activists.
As civil activism has gained momentum, the government’s policy and political discourse have changed to some extent, and a new business interest in alternative energy sources has emerged. First, from September 2013 to August 2015, the government, under public pressure, postponed the resumption of operations of the nuclear power plants that had been shut down for safety checks. Second, keenly aware of the significance of the nuclear safety issue, the government restructured the organisations in charge of safety, establishing a new body, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), in June 2012. The NRA is an independent organisation, in contrast to the previous nuclear safety watchdog that was part of METI (Ueta, 2014 Ueta, K. (2014). Nihon no enerugi seisaku wa kawattaka [How energy policy is changed in Japan after Fukushima]. Seisaku Kagaku, 21(3), 45–57. [Google Scholar], pp. 45–57). Third, METI led changes in the power system from early 2013 that focused on the liberalisation of the retail market for electricity, although each electricity company still retains its monopoly status (METI, 2013 METI. (2013, February). Denryoku shistemu keikaku senmon iinkai hokokusho [The Report of the Committee on Electricity System Reform]. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]; Asahi Shinbun, 11 August 2013). Fourth, electoral candidates from both the ruling LDP and the opposition parties have felt unable to openly support the government’s policy of dependence on nuclear power. For instance, during the election for the Tokyo governor, the LDP-supported candidate, Masuzoe Yoichi, expressed an interest in renewable energy sources, although his commitment remained mostly within the scope of the LDP’s pro-nuclear policy (Mainichi Shinbun, 12 February 2014). Furthermore, in July 2014, Mikazuki Taizo, a Democratic Party candidate who ran an anti-nuclear campaign, was elected governor of Shiga prefecture, which is adjacent to Fukui prefecture, the location of a number of nuclear plants (Japan Times, 15 July 2014). Fifth, some businesses, particularly Softbank under its chairman Son Masayoshi, have begun investing in alternative energy sources, particularly solar power; Son seems keen to exploit the potential synergy effect between information technology and the transmission of smart grid power (Japan Times, 19 April 2012).
Despite the above-mentioned changes on many fronts, the change in public attitude and strengthened civil activism have not been translated into votes for anti-nuclear candidates in most national and local elections. The pro-nuclear LDP was returned to power thanks to a landslide victory in the Lower House election in December 2012. The LDP-led government, having renewed its coalition with the electricity companies, is trying to bring those reactors that have passed safety checks back into operation. As of August 2016, two reactors were operating (Japan Nuclear Safety Institute, 2016 Japan Nuclear Safety Institute. (2016). Licensing status of the Japanese nuclear facilities. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). In accordance with this line, a report issued by METI on long-term energy policy states that Japan will bring its nuclear power capacity back up to 20–22 per cent of its total electricity output by 2030 (METI, 2015 METI. (2015, July). Long-term energy supply and demand outlook. [Google Scholar], p. 7).
By redoubling its efforts to promote the export of nuclear plants, the Abe cabinet is creating new interests for the nuclear industry, thus increasing the complexity of the interest structure and cancelling out the effects of mushrooming civil activism. Taking advantage of the 2007 US–India Civil Nuclear Agreement (India Review, 1 November 2008, pp. 2–6), Japan had already begun negotiations with India on nuclear energy cooperation in 2010. Yet as soon as it launched, the Abe cabinet newly expanded nuclear cooperation with countries in Southeast Asia (e.g. Vietnam and Indonesia), the Middle East (e.g. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), and Eastern Europe (e.g. the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland) that aspired to possess nuclear power generation capability (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2014 Center for Strategic and International Studies. (2014, 20 November). Japanese nuclear policy background paper. [Google Scholar]).
At the same time, Japanese nuclear businesses such as Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi have sought export markets for their products, and their efforts have begun to bear fruit. In one example, a Japanese–French consortium – consisting of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and AREVA – struck a deal in 2013 to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey. The Japanese government regards the US$22 billion deal as a bridgehead to the nuclear market in the Middle East (BBC News, 3 May 2013). In 2014, Japanese vendors contracted with Lithuania and Bulgaria to build nuclear power plants (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2014 Center for Strategic and International Studies. (2014, 20 November). Japanese nuclear policy background paper. [Google Scholar], p. 26). It is estimated that any nuclear export contract with India will be worth US$69 billion or more to Japanese vendors (Japan Times, 24 January 2014; Hindustan Times, 13 December 2015). To be sure, the exports would make a major policy shift even more costly. The new export opportunities make the interest structure more complex than it was before the Fukushima incident, a situation that is disadvantageous to those calling for exit-from-nuclear. With the new interests, promoters remain united.
In sum, in the post-Fukushima era, the surge in civil activism succeeded in elevating the level of politicisation of the issue, thus contributing to changes in national policy. In response to the rising tide of anti-nuclear activism, the government strengthened safety regulations and suspended the operation of nuclear plants (except for two reactors, as of August 2016). But civil activism has not been able to break up the coalition between the LDP-led government, conservative politicians and electricity companies since Fukushima. Furthermore, the export of nuclear plants has created new interest opportunities for nuclear vendors, thus contributing to the fundamental maintenance of the nuclear power policy. The Japanese government is unlikely to change its policy drastically, for example by scrapping nuclear power plants completely. Indeed, the government is trying to bring the reactors back into operation as it completes safety checks.
Taiwan: Escalation of Politicisation in a Simple Interest Structure
The Taiwanese case represents a simple interest structure and a high level of politicisation. The simple interest structure, based on state sponsorship, has remained constant since the establishment of Taiwan’s nuclear industry in the 1950s. The issue of nuclear power had already been politicised to a certain extent before Fukushima, and afterwards, in early 2014, fierce contention within and outside the legislature induced the government to decide not to bring the recently completed fourth power plant into operation. It is the existence of politicisation at the national level combined with a simple interest structure that has led to a policy shift away from reliance on nuclear power.
The development of nuclear power in Taiwan has been characterised by a convergence of interests between supporters, including the government, conservative politicians and the state-owned electricity company. The main electricity company, Taiwan Power Company (TaiPower), constructed and operates the nuclear power plants, and has remained state owned. Decades of rule by the conservative Kuomintang (KMT) ensured the establishment and continuation of a pro-nuclear policy direction (Hsu, 1995 Hsu, G. J. Y. (1995). The evolution of Taiwan’s energy policy and energy industry. Journal of Industry Studies, 2(1), 95–109.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar]; Hsiao, 1999 Hsiao, H.-H. M. (1999). Environmental movements in Taiwan. In Y.-S. F. Lee & A. Y. So (Eds.), Asia’s environmental movements: Comparative perspectives (pp. 31–54). Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe. [Google Scholar]) and consolidated a network of interests throughout the nuclear industry. Professionals working in or advising the Ministry of Economic Affairs, which regulates the industry, and the Atomic Energy Council under the Executive Yuan, which is in charge of safety inspections, are mostly graduates of the same university department, which also aided the convergence of interests. The Institute of Nuclear Engineering and Science at National Tsinghua University is Taiwan’s only higher education department training nuclear technology specialists.
Taiwan initially wanted to develop nuclear power for military purposes as well, prompted by China’s first nuclear test in 1964 (Central Intelligence Agency, 1972 Central Intelligence Agency. (1972, 1 November). Taipei’s capabilities and intentions regarding nuclear weapons development (Special National Intelligence Estimate). [Google Scholar]). This ambition was soon frustrated by intervention from the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Since then, Taiwan’s pursuit of nuclear technology has been limited to non-military uses (Albright & Gay, 1998 Albright, D., & Gay, C. (1998). Taiwan: Nuclear nightmare averted. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 54(1), 54–60.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). Furthermore, in contrast to Japan and Korea, Taiwan has recently made it clear that it has no interest in developing an indigenous uranium enrichment capability (Grossman, 2012 Grossman, E. M. (2012, 19 July). Taiwan ready to forgo nuclear fuel-making in US trade pact renewal. National Journal. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). This implies that Taiwan has no intention of developing the nuclear fuel cycle; its only aim is to maintain the existing interest structure of the pro-nuclear camp. This distinguishes the development of the nuclear industry in Taiwan from that in Japan and Korea. Taiwan has a simpler interest structure than the two other countries, because it has a state-controlled electricity company and is not an exporter of nuclear technology.
Anti-nuclear activism in Taiwan has developed while forging close partisan linkages during the struggle for democratisation. By joining forces with the then opposition party, the DPP, the activists helped to politicise the nuclear power issue more than any other environmental issue. On the flip side, civil activists have been unable to make progress when they have failed to obtain DPP backing for their moves (Ho, 2003 Ho, M.-S. (2003). The politics of anti-nuclear protest in Taiwan: A case of party-dependent movement (1980–2000). Modern Asian Studies, 37(3), 683–708.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). Anti-nuclear activism experienced a major setback when the DPP came to power in 2000 and failed to deliver on its campaign promise to halt construction of the fourth nuclear power plant. This was because, despite the election of a DPP president, the party held less than one third of the seats in the legislature and therefore could not force through a bill to halt construction of the plant (Wu, 2002 Wu, Y.-S. (2002). Taiwan in 2001: Stalemated on all fronts. Asian Survey, 42(1), 29–38.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). Since then, activists have become increasingly disillusioned with party politics (Shih, 2012 Shih, F.-L. (2012). Generating power in Taiwan: Nuclear, political and religious power. Culture and Religion, 13(3), 295–313.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Google Scholar]), and the anti-nuclear issue has not proved particularly attractive to voters, as seen in the 2012 presidential election (interview with activist, Taipei, 15 July 2013). Thus, although at one time it was near the top of the national political agenda, the anti-nuclear cause did not have a significant impact on politics for several decades prior to the Fukushima incident.
The Fukushima incident reignited the national-level contention over the continued use of nuclear power in Taiwan. There was fierce public criticism of the government’s pro-nuclear stance, followed by demands for a radical change in the existing policy. Activists and their supporters have called for a “nuclear-free Taiwan” and demanded that the government scrap the almost-completed fourth nuclear power plant and decommission the other three plants when they reach the end of their scheduled terms (Pingguo Ribao, 10 March 2013). Anti-nuclear activism has attracted more attention across the country than ever before, and its support base has become broader, attracting participation from housewives, celebrities and successful entrepreneurs. Even some KMT politicians, presumably with one eye on the ballot box, have been prompted to show support for anti-nuclear activism (Taipei Times, 27 March 2013). This split in the KMT has been advantageous to the anti-nuclear cause. Meanwhile, experience has taught the activists not to get too close to the DPP, as that would likely discourage non-DPP supporters. Thus, activists have been careful in managing their relations with political parties lest parties and politicians attempt to jump on the anti-nuclear bandwagon (Ho, 2014 Ho, M.-S. (2014). The Fukushima effect: Explaining the resurgence of the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan. Environmental Politics, 23(6), 965–983.[Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]).
As the issue of the continued use of nuclear power became more controversial, the contention moved into the legislature. In early 2013, Premier Jiang Yi-huah proposed a national referendum to decide whether to scrap the fourth nuclear plant. The legislature soon divided into pro- and anti-nuclear camps, and there were skirmishes over when and how the referendum should be implemented. Outside the legislature, the KMT and the relevant government organisations, including the Ministry of Economic Affairs, launched campaigns to persuade people of the economic necessity of the power plant. The DPP offered indirect support to the anti-nuclear activists, and its members delivered speeches at their rallies (interview with activist, Taipei, 30 June 2013). Fierce confrontation continued in the legislature for several months, with no prospect of compromise. When Lee Ching-hua, the KMT legislator who had initiated the referendum proposal, suddenly declared that he would withdraw it, the result was a stalemate (Taiwan News, 10 September 2013).
The deadlock ended when 72-year-old Lin Yi-Hsing, a very important symbol of democratisation and anti-nuclear activism in Taiwan, went on a hunger strike. Lin’s decision to risk his life for the anti-nuclear cause attracted the attention of the public and politicians alike. It soon provoked demonstrations and clashes between anti-nuclear protesters and the police (Taipei Times, 24 April 2014). The escalation of the contention increased the pressure on the Ma Ying-jeou administration. The administration wanted to avoid stirring up more trouble, given that the country had just experienced the Sunflower movement, a civil disobedience campaign on an unprecedented scale. At this time, the government was facing challenges not just from anti-nuclear activists but from society as a whole. Now that escalating protests had crossed partisan lines, the KMT decided that it would freeze the construction of the fourth nuclear power plant as long as there was no shortage of electricity (Pingguo Ribao, 8 September 2014). Even though debate continued over whether the plant should ultimately be scrapped, the move was evidence of meaningful changes in the stance of the Ma administration, as previously the administration had pushed for the fourth power plant to be completed. Additionally, a plan to make the Atomic Energy Council an independent body in charge of nuclear safety has been discussed (Focus Taiwan, 3 January 2014).
The KMT suffered a crushing defeat in the general and presidential elections in early 2016, and in May 2016 the DPP became the ruling party. This change in the political landscape suggests that Taiwan may become even less reliant on nuclear power. Tsai Ing-wen, the new president, has previously proposed a “nuclear free Taiwan”, which would involve decommissioning all nuclear power plants by 2025, exploring alternative energy sources, and pursuing the liberalisation of the electricity industry. It is expected that Tsai will adopt a multi-pronged approach to reducing reliance on nuclear energy, although she will be careful not to stir up massive confusion in the political arena similar to the events of 2000 (Global Issues, 13 January 2016).
The shock of Fukushima seems to have brought about meaningful change in Taiwan. A high level of politicisation and a simple interest structure have been crucial in bringing about such an outcome. Compared to the other two cases, Taiwan has retained an integrated, state-controlled electricity company and has not sought additional sources of income for the nuclear industry. At the same time, anti-nuclear activism has broadened its support base and is pressing forward on two fronts, thus creating a society-wide struggle. By triggering heated debates that cross partisan lines, nuclear power has become a nationally salient political issue. Of the three countries under discussion here, Taiwan is the one that is most likely to undergo drastic and far-reaching change. A sudden national blackout in mid-August 2017 has called into question the feasibility of nuclear phase-out in Taiwan (South China Morning Post, 20 August 2017), but it is unlikely that the hard-won social consensus on nuclear phase-out will easily dissipate.
Korea: Evolving Issue in a Relatively Simple Interest Structure
In Korea, as in Taiwan, the nuclear industry developed within a simple interest structure based on a state-controlled electricity company. The existence of strong links between conservative politicians, bureaucrats and the electricity company emasculated civil activism for several decades. Since Fukushima, Korean civil activism has ridden a tide of rising public awareness of nuclear safety and an increasing unwillingness to accept the construction of nuclear plants and waste storage facilities on their doorstep. Nevertheless, a policy shift is still a long way off: nuclear power remains a local issue, and the creation of new interest opportunities has increased the complexity of the interest structure. Both the government’s “low carbon, green growth” policy introduced in 2008 and its nuclear exports to the United Arab Emirates in 2009 have provided the supporters of nuclear power with new interest opportunities. Consequently the Fukushima effect has remained limited in Korea.
In Korea, both pre- and post-Fukushima, the supporters of nuclear power – especially the government and the government-controlled electricity corporation – have acted almost as a single body, and this simple interest structure has been consolidated over several decades. Under the 1956 Korea–US atomic energy cooperation agreement, Korea started to receive nuclear technology from the United States. Under the junta led by General Park Chung-hee, three private power companies were merged to form the Korean Electric Power Company (KEPCO), the sole state-owned electricity company. Park’s developmental zeal encouraged the growth of the electric power industry in the 1960s, but when, in the mid-1970s, Park tried to introduce fuel cycle technology and related facilities from Canada and France for the purpose of nuclear weapons development, the United States put pressure on Korea to abandon these plans (USNSC, 1975 USNSC. (1975, 28 February). US National Security Council Memorandum, Development of US Policy toward South Korean Development of Nuclear Weapons. History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]).
The Korean nuclear power community, rather than being paralysed by the Chernobyl accident in 1986, took advantage of the downturn in its US counterpart, which was desperately seeking a way out of the business slump (Price, 1990 Price, T. (1990). Political electricity: What future for nuclear energy? Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Google Scholar]). KEPCO obtained technology transfers under favourable conditions when it chose a US vendor, Combustion Engineering (CE), to construct its nuclear power plants, Yeongguang 3 and Yeongguang 4 (Lee, 2009 Lee, J.-H. (2009). Hangukui haekjugwon [Korea’s nuclear sovereignty]. Seoul: Gulmadang. [Google Scholar], p. 222). The KEPCO–CE collaboration laid the foundation for the development of indigenous reactor design capability in Korea. During the 1990s and 2000s, Korea succeeded in designing its own standard reactor model APR-1400 (KEPCO, 2014 KEPCO. (2014). Hanguk jollyok sasipnyonsa [The history of forty years of the Korea Electrical Company]. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). Gaining confidence in indigenous technology and reducing its reliance on American knowhow, Korea sought to export its own standard model reactors, signing a contract with the United Arab Emirates in 2009 (Financial Times, 28 December 2009). Korea also continued its efforts, in collaboration with the United States, to develop pyroprocessing, a new technology designed to reduce nuclear waste (Sheen, 2011 Sheen, S. (2011). Nuclear sovereignty versus nuclear security: Renewing the ROK–US Atomic Energy Agreement. Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, 23(2), 273–288.[Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]; Korea Times, 29 April 2013).
Anti-nuclear activism was relatively slow to develop in Korea. The democratisation of the late 1980s fostered environmental activism, including a certain amount of anti-nuclear activism. But the activists were not able to get the nuclear issue onto the national agenda (Lee, 1999 Lee, S.-H. (1999). Environmental movements in South Korea. In Y.-S. F. Lee & A. Y. So (Eds.), Asia’s environmental movements: Comparative perspectives (pp. 90–119). Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe. [Google Scholar], pp. 92–103). Activists have been able to achieve a certain amount of autonomy in the political realm, but the downside has been that neither of the competing major political parties has taken up the issue of nuclear power in a serious way.
This weak civil activism was the target of cooptation by the pro-nuclear government and KEPCO. Between 1989 and 2005, civil activists – with the support of environmental organisations – seemed to have achieved success in preventing the government from locating nuclear waste storage facilities in economically disadvantaged or remote areas, such as Yeongdeok, Anmyeon-do, Guleop-do and Buan (Kim, 2005 Kim, C.-K. (2005). Banhaek undonggwa jiyokjumin jongchi [Anti-nuclear movement and local politics]. Hanguk sahoe, 6(2), 41–69. [Google Scholar]). In the 2003 Buan case in particular, resistance by civil activists and local residents ended in violence, and the local mayor, Kim Jong-gyu, was injured. The pro-nuclear government and KEPCO’s cooptation strategy overturned that trend in 2005 when they offered US$250 million to any city prepared to host a storage facility for low- and medium-level radioactive waste. Four cities came forward, attracted by the prospect of funds to boost their stagnating economies (Lee, 2009 Lee, J.-H. (2009). Hangukui haekjugwon [Korea’s nuclear sovereignty]. Seoul: Gulmadang. [Google Scholar]). Despite strong protests by civil activists, Kyeongju emerged as the winner after 89.5 per cent of its voters came out in support of the project in a local referendum. The issue of where to locate radioactive waste storage facilities, by its very nature, was unable to attract national attention or prompt joint resistance. The central government collaborated with cash-strapped local governments in order to divide the local population (Yun, 2006 Yun, S.-J. (2006). 2005nyon jung-jeojuwi bangsasong pegimul chobunsiseol chujin gwajonggwa banhaekundong [The process of siting medium- and high-level radioactive waste storage and the anti-nuclear movement, 2005]. Siminsahoewa NGO, 4(1), 277–311. [Google Scholar]). Cooptation in the guise of the “democratic process” justified and empowered the government in its plans. It also further incapacitated anti-nuclear activism in Korea. In this context, it is not surprising that the Korean government, particularly the previous Lee administration and the incumbent Park administration, is not committed to reducing reliance on nuclear power (New York Times, 4 August 2013; Hankyoreh, 15 January 2014).
Owing to the critical shock of the Fukushima incident, the government has had to pay more attention to nuclear safety. When Korea hosted the Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012, the then president, Lee Myung-bak, stressed the link between nuclear security and safety. This new concern was timely in view of the ramifications of Fukushima. In the same context, the Lee administration separated the Nuclear Security and Safety Commission from the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology in October 2012, making it an independent body.
Amid heightened concerns about nuclear safety, revelations about a bribery scandal in the nuclear power business in 2013 gave new impetus to anti-nuclear activists, although action was slow to develop and was local in scope. First of all, the country’s four religious groups – Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist and Won Buddhist – adopted an exit-from-nuclear stance, and more than 40 anti-nuclear civic organisations came together in a loose but extended umbrella organisation, Collective Action for a Nuclear-free Society. Second, local politics in a few cities has begun to reflect concerns about the country’s excessive reliance on nuclear power. At the local elections held in June 2014, a candidate who opposed the government’s plan to construct a new power plant was elected in Samcheok, and a politician who opposed extending the life of the oldest plant at Gori was elected in Busan. In a local poll held in Yeongdeok in August 2015, 62 per cent of voters opposed the construction of two new nuclear plants (Dalton & Cha, 2016 Dalton, T., and Cha, M. (2016, 23 February). South Korea’s nuclear energy future. The Diplomat. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). The city government of Seoul has adopted a policy of gradually reducing energy consumption and facilitating the generation of renewable energy, with the aim of transforming the city from a consumer to a producer of energy. With the support of ardent activists, Mayor Park Won-soon has led the “one fewer nuclear power plant” drive since 2012 (interview with activist, Seoul, 31 July 2014).
As far as the activists are concerned, the contention in general remains local; that is, the most problematic issues are the safety concerns of local residents and their unwillingness to accept nuclear power. The trend towards declining local acceptance, as seen in Samcheok, Yeongdeok and Busan in recent years, certainly raises the cost of construction of both nuclear power plants and nuclear waste dumps, but the candidate sites for nuclear power plants are located far from the capital and other cities that are benefiting from nuclear-powered electricity. Civil activism, despite its gradual expansion due to localised opposition to nuclear facilities, is still weak. Its nationwide network is only loosely integrated, compared to the solid interest structure of the nuclear supporters.
There are two factors that bolster the solidarity of the supporters of nuclear power in Korea. The first is the government’s pursuit since August 2008 of a “low carbon, green growth” policy, in which nuclear power continues to have a significant role. This policy, which was adopted under President Lee, has continued under the present administration. Indeed, the Seventh Basic Plan for Electricity Demand and Supply states that 28.2 per cent of Korea’s total electricity should be generated by nuclear power by 2029 – which is similar to the 2014 level of 30.0 per cent. In order to meet the increasing demand for electricity, the government plans to build two more reactors (Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, 2015 Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy. (2015). 7cha jeonryeok sugeup gibongyeohweok, 2015–2029 [The Seventh Basic Plan of Electricity Demand and Supply, 2015–2029]. [Google Scholar], p. 4, p. 8).
The second factor that favours the solidarity of the promoters of nuclear power is the rise of new interests, especially the export of nuclear power plants, which is solidifying the policy on nuclear power. With strong government support, in 2009 Korea succeeded in winning a contract with the United Arab Emirates to build four reactors worth US$20.4 billion. This has strengthened the ties between stakeholders (Wall Street Journal, 28 December 2009). As a competitor of Japanese and French manufacturers, the Korean vendor is also seeking new opportunities in other countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. It is unlikely that this solid interest structure, which has also become more complex than before, will be shaken to any significant degree in the near future.
With the launch of the new administration in May 2017, and particularly with President Moon Jae-in’s personal preference for the gradual phasing-out of nuclear power, Korea’s policy today is different from the previous administration’s reliance on nuclear power. The Moon administration has tried to ratchet up public support for its policy by facilitating debates in a public-opinion committee with regard to the issue of stopping or continuing the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Sin-gori. Yet the public-opinion committee produced a contradictory result: support for the continuation of the construction of the reactors at Sin-gori and simultaneous support for a gradual reduction of nuclear power domestically (Jang, 2017 Jang, S. Y. (2017, 26 October). South Korea’s nuclear energy debate. The Diplomat. Retrieved from %5BGoogle Scholar]). The Moon administration has committed to implementing the committee’s recommendations, and has reconfirmed its policy priority regarding the gradual phasing-out of nuclear power. What should be noted here is that, unlike its domestic nuclear policy, the administration has not declared its firm intention to reject the possibility of exporting nuclear plants. This inconsistent position has sparked criticism from the opposition party, which has claimed that no country will buy Korean nuclear power plants if the Moon administration is reducing the use of nuclear power domestically. Given this situation, it seems that Korea’s underlying reliance on nuclear power is unlikely to undergo a dramatic change.
Generalisations about the Contention over Nuclear Power and Likely Policy Changes
Any major change to a government’s nuclear power policy is most likely brought about by contention between pro- and anti-nuclear forces. Specifically, change is determined by the combined effect of the interest structure and the level of politicisation. By examining these two factors, we are able to establish some generalisations regarding the conditions under which the challengers (i.e. civil activists) are able to contribute to a significant change in nuclear power policy.
In relation to the interest structure, the analysis in this article leads us to the following generalisation: civil activism is less likely to bring about policy change if it has to compete with diverse supporters of nuclear power than with a monolithic supporter. In a complex environment, activists are besieged by different supporters of nuclear power, including the government, electricity companies and politicians. Activists need to contest the government’s energy policy, demonstrate against the siting of nuclear plants, monitor electricity companies’ safety measures, and keep a vigilant eye on the triangular relationship between supporters. Anti-nuclear activism is, by its very nature, constrained by the supporters of nuclear power who act as veto players against policy change. The way in which the complex nature of the defenders (who in this case are the supporters of nuclear power) diffuses the effect of the challenger’s strategy (the challenger here being civil activist groups) is not unique to the case of nuclear power, but analogous to opposing alliances in international relations (e.g. Christensen, 2011 Christensen, T. J. (2011) Worse than a monolith: Alliance politics and problems of coercive diplomacy in Asia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.[Crossref], [Google Scholar]). The supporters of nuclear power tend to coalesce, even if they have different reasons for supporting nuclear power as an essential energy source; dealing with this complexity exhausts civil activism. Furthermore, the export of nuclear power plants creates additional supporters: reactor vendors, nuclear fuel makers and technologists. Therefore, unless the complex interest structure breaks up, the politicisation of the nuclear power issue at the national level will not by itself bring about any major policy change. The Japanese case demonstrates this very well.
We can also make a generalisation concerning politicisation: if civil activism manages to exert pressure on both the pro- and anti-nuclear political camps, a drastic and far-reaching policy change is likely to occur. Politicisation at the national level is a kind of securitisation of the nuclear power issue. Calls for exit-from-nuclear at a national level involve the dissemination by activists of information regarding the hazardous contamination of water and air, and the effects of radiation on children’s health and the mental health of evacuees, and so on. All these activities are aimed at securitising the issue among both the public and politicians and political parties. In order to be successful, civil activists must act strategically, making sure that the issue is a salient campaign agenda item for both the ruling and opposition parties. Civil activism should not rely on one particular party. Although reliance on one party may allow activists to take advantage of that party’s organisational resources, it can mean that they become the instruments of the party (Ho, 2003 Ho, M.-S. (2003). The politics of anti-nuclear protest in Taiwan: A case of party-dependent movement (1980–2000). Modern Asian Studies, 37(3), 683–708.[Crossref], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]). Alignment with a particular party will lead to a policy shift only if that party wins a presidential election and holds a majority in the legislature. Thus, a more viable strategy for activists is to work on both the ruling and opposition parties, thus turning nuclear power into a nonpartisan, securitised national issue.
The comparisons we have drawn in this article, and generalisations that are based on them, provide us with a balanced understanding of both the structural constraints on actors in the contention over nuclear power and the process in which each actor manoeuvres. This balanced understanding has significant implications for anti-nuclear activists all over the world with regard to their choice of strategy: in order to achieve their aims, they need to politicise and securitise the issue of nuclear power at the national level, while at the same time crossing the partisan line and putting pressure on both pro- and anti-nuclear political parties. The Taiwanese case demonstrates this model. Activists have benefited from the simple interest structure and the resultant single battlefront (i.e. activists vs the government); furthermore, they have enhanced their ability to cross the partisan line to press both the ruling and opposition parties to support exit-from-nuclear. Additionally, the change in the political landscape brought about by the DPP’s victory in the January 2016 presidential election has improved the prospects for further policy change (e.g. the decommissioning of old plants and a halt to the construction of new ones).
The analysis in this article helps us to address the question of why anti-nuclear activism produces different outcomes in different countries. A diversified, complex interest structure produces a threshold, if not a fault-line, that makes significant policy change exceedingly difficult, even when the nuclear power issue is highly politicised. For civil activism, it is not a matter of choosing whether to confront a complex or a simple interest structure, as the interest structure is already in place. The activists’ cause may be helped by a combination of heightened public awareness, collaboration with the political leadership, and the commercial development of alternative energy sources.
The Fukushima incident has certainly energised civil activism in all three countries under consideration in this article, and in all three cases it has led to calls for exit-from-nuclear, to varying degrees. The incident has served to securitise the political discourse regarding nuclear power and has laid the foundation for the adoption of a modified energy policy, but these changes do not mean the end of nuclear power in these three countries: they mean different things in each of the three cases.
This article has demonstrated the combined effect of interest structure and level of politicisation on the scope of policy change. Interest structure is more historically dependent than the level of politicisation. The complexity or simplicity of the interest structure is related to the industrial development pattern at the time of the introduction of nuclear power and the export structure of the key industries, including nuclear power, at the advanced stage of industrial development. In contrast, the level of politicisation is something that civil activism is able to manipulate at the time of a critical shock, such as the Fukushima incident.
By tracing the trajectories of contention over nuclear power policy, this article finds that the scope of policy change is greatest in Taiwan, followed by Japan and then Korea. The Taiwanese case has a simple interest structure, so politicisation at the national level and civil activism’s crossing of the partisan line make significant policy change more likely. Because of the complex interest structure and new interest opportunities stemming from the export of nuclear plants, the Japanese case, despite strengthened nationwide civil activism, is likely to see pro-nuclear forces regain a certain degree of momentum in the long run. We also find that Korea is the least likely of the three to undergo a policy change, although civil activism there is slowly expanding.
We have learned two lessons from the above analysis that may be relevant for anti-nuclear civil activism: first, a complex interest structure presents a more formidable obstacle to civil activists than a simple, monolithic one; second, if civil activism manages to exert pressure on both the pro- and anti-nuclear political camps at a critical moment, a drastic and far-reaching policy change is likely to occur.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea Grant funded by the Korean Government (NRF-2010-361-A00017) and the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund.
The authors express their deep gratitude to Nathan Batto, Stephan Haggard, Ming-sho Ho, Nae-Young Lee, Taedong Lee, Tse-Kang Leng, Takemoto Makiko and Hungwen Tseng for their insightful comments and suggestions. The authors also thank the three reviewers for their critical, helpful comments for the improvement of this paper.
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December 19, 2017 Posted by | ASIA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kobe Steel scandal: ‘look the other way’ culture of corporate Japan, faked data for over a decade

The Kobe Steel scandal: What we know so far
It’s the latest big scandal to rock corporate Japan.
Kobe Steel (KBSTY), a century-old industrial giant, has admitted to falsifying data on products sold to top customers like Boeing (BA) and Toyota (TM).
It says as many as 500 companies could be affected, including manufacturers of Japan’s famous bullet trains.
Here’s the lowdown on the crisis that’s rippling through major industries around the globe:
What happened?
Essentially, Kobe employees faked reports to make it look as though products met the specifications requested by customers when in fact they didn’t.
The scandal initially concerned copper and aluminum parts, but has spread to steel products, too. It has raised doubts about thousands of tons of material shipped over a period of more than 10 years.
For the aluminum and copper parts, false data was given about their strength and durability.
Which industries?
Kobe steel sells metal to all kinds of different businesses. Some of the main industries to which it has supplied the suspect products include aviation, automobiles, railways and nuclear power.
Who’s affected?
In the aerospace industry, Boeing and Japan’s Mitsubishi (MHVYF) both used Kobe parts made with falsified data in their aircraft. But the two companies insisted they don’t believe the parts present a safety concern.
Japanese automakers Toyota (TM), Honda (HMC) and Nissan (NSANF) acknowledged they had used affected Kobe materials but were still assessing the consequences for their vehicles.
Ford (F) has said it found aluminum parts in the hood of its Mondeo model in China, but can’t confirm if they were sourced during the affected period.
Other big companies — including GM (GM), Mazda (MZDAF) and plane-maker Airbus (EADSF) — said they haven’t found any suspect parts so far but are combing their supply chains regardless.
The future of Kobe Steel is unclear, but it looks bleak right now. Its stock has nosedived 40% since the revelations first emerged.
Some analysts have warned the company could go bust, and others have suggested it could be broken up and sold off to rivals.
Kobe hasn’t put a number on the likely size of the financial hit from the scandal. The firm’s CEO has said it will bear the costs of any product recalls by its customers. He is also leading an internal probe into what happened.
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
Japan Inc has amassed a growing pile of embarrassing scandals in recent years.
They include Takata’s deadly airbags, Mitsubishi Motors’ fudged fuel-efficiency tests and Toshiba’s damaging debacles over its accounting and nuclear power business.
Japan’s Kobe Steel May Have Faked Data for Over a Decade
Kobe Steel Ltd. said it will co-operate with the U.S. Department of Justice after the agency requested documents related to the fake data scandal that risks engulfing Japan’s third-biggest steelmaker.
Kobe has said some 500 companies worldwide are in a supply chain tainted by admissions that it falsified certifications on the strength and durability of metals going back to 2007, including automotive giants Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. and the U.S.’s biggest plane maker, Boeing Co. The besieged Japanese company said in a statement it can’t yet quantify the impact of the crisis on its earnings.
The DOJ’s involvement means the company is “going to have to go overboard to be cleaner than clean,” said Alexander Medd, managing director of Bucephalus Research Partnership Ltd. in Hong Kong. “This is going to require a complete mental shift and rebuilding of trust.” Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has also asked the company for a report on the scandal including causes and remedies.
Kobe’s global review of its units will probably reveal that data falsification began even longer than 10 years ago, according to a company executive, asking not to be named as the information isn’t public. The Nikkei newspaper reported Tuesday that irregularities over quality control at Kobe’s plants in Japan date back decades, citing a person it didn’t identify.
As the steelmaker works to contain the fallout, it has briefed analysts that short-term liquidity isn’t an issue as it seeks to generate cash including via asset sales.
Kobe Steel is also considering the sale of its real estate unit, the executive said. Jefferies Japan Ltd. analyst Thanh Ha Pham said that, while the company has enough cash and funding to cover short-term needs, it’s looking to raise money by lowering working capital and through asset sales, according to a note that followed a briefing with Kobe’s management on Monday.
Last week saw Kobe’s stock collapse 41 percent as investors rushed to punish the latest instance of corporate malfeasance in Japan, following similar misconduct around data at companies such as Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Asahi Kasei Corp. It has since pared those losses, closing 3.1 percent higher in Tokyo on Tuesday for a two-day gain of 6 percent.
Kobe Steel could face losses of as much as 200 billion yen ($1.8 billion) in a worst-case scenario arising from its misconduct, according to Nomura Securities Co., while Japan Credit Rating Agency has placed the company’s A rating on watch for a possible downgrade.
A QuickTake Q&A explainer on the Kobel Steel data scandal
Nomura’s tally assumes customers would be forced to recall products and then have Kobe assume the cost, and that it will have to pay compensation, including to investors, credit analyst Shintaro Niimura said in a report Monday. The bank estimates that about 30 percent of Kobe’s aluminum and copper, two of the metals subject to data falsification, is bought by automakers.
Capital Adequacy
Still, with about 700 billion yen in capital, the worst case would only put a dent in Kobe’s capital-adequacy ratio, which would fall from 30 percent to 23 percent, according to Niimura. He cautioned that losses could widen if evidence comes to light that the scandal has affected more products than reported so far by Kobe, which on Friday added another nine to the list, including core steel products, to make 16.
The units implicated in the crisis make the steel, copper, aluminum and other materials that account for over half the company’s revenue.
Kobe’s property unit, Shinko Real Estate Co., had fixed assets of 89.9 billion yen, according to a March filing. The company is considering a number of sales options for the business, which leases and sells real estate, including a full divestment, according to the executive, although he said the sale isn’t linked to the company’s wider problems.
None of Kobe’s customers has so far raised specific safety concerns or recalled products. Jefferies’ Pham cited management as saying that customer feedback, including from beverage can producers and railway companies, is that no immediate recalls are required and products involved are not a safety concern.
Some of Japan’s biggest automakers — Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. — are investigating whether any car parts contain falsified materials from Kobe, according to company spokespeople. Toyota supplier Denso Corp. is also checking its products, while Tokyo Metro Co. and Seibu Railway Co. are investigating if Kobe’s aluminum parts are used in their trains.
Kobe Steel declined to comment on the details of the analyst meeting on Monday. A spokeswoman said it’s investigating past records to determine the cause of the falsifications.
Scandal-hit Kobe Steel has a ‘look the other way’ culture, they say in hometown
KOBE, Japan (Reuters) – The fresh university graduate, eager to make a good impression on the job at one of Kobe Steel Ltd’s (5406.T) main plants in Japan, punched the wrong measurements into machines making steel pipes, causing a large batch to come out too short.
“I thought I was going to be fired,” recalled the former employee nearly 40 years later. But Shinzo Abe, now Japan’s prime minister, stayed on the job at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker for three years before entering politics in 1982.
Abe has called the steel industry the backbone of the nation. Kobe Steel, a 112-year-old company in south-central Japan’s Hyogo prefecture, has risen from wartime devastation and natural disaster but its past is littered with examples of corporate misconduct.
Its admission last month that workers had tampered with product specifications for at least a decade is the latest in a string of scandals that has battered Japan’s reputation as a manufacturing powerhouse.
Clients around the world, including top carmakers and airplane manufacturers, have been scrambling to check whether the safety or performance of their products have been compromised.
Workers, executives and shopowners in Kobe, a gritty, industrial city bordered by sloping hills where cattle are bred for the famed Kobe beef, said they were concerned but not surprised by the scandal.
Kobe Steel, which has apologized for the tampering, declined comment for this article.
“The corporate culture was to look the other way even while you saw what was going on,” said a retired employee who worked at the company’s flagship steel plant, Kobe Works – a symbol of the city’s quick recovery from a 1995 earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. The company’s other main plant in the area is Kakogawa Works, in the nearby city of Kakogawa.
“They were supposed to be instilling a culture that paid attention when improprieties were discovered,” the former employee said. “In the end they didn’t create such a corporate culture. That’s management’s responsibility.”
The company initially said some workers had falsified data on contract specifications for a relatively small amount of aluminum and copper products, but it later admitted the problem had spread.
In 2006, Kobe Steel admitted falsifying soot-emissions data from the blast furnaces at Kobe Works and Kakogawa Works.
The latest scandal reflects “exactly the same set-up”, said Shoichi Tarumoto, who was then mayor of Kakogawa. “It looks like nothing has changed at Kobe Steel.”
Kobe Steel has admitted taking part in bid-rigging for a bridge project in 2005, and failing to report income to tax authorities in 2008, 2011 and 2013. The company exceeded established limits for ground and water pollution in 2006.
Illegal political funding to candidates in local assembly elections in 2009 prompted the resignations of the then CEO and chairman. And last year Kobe Steel admitted a subsidiary falsified data on stainless-steel products.
A senior official in local government who has dealt with the company for years said: “Kobe Steel always scouts the backstreets for shortcuts. That’s their nature.”
Although its local dominance has waned, Kobe Steel remains one of only two Kobe-based companies, along with Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd (7012.T), that have revenues over 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) a year. The Kakogawa Works is that city’s biggest company, vital as a local taxpayer and employer.
More than a third of the Kobe Steel group’s 6,123 domestic customers are concentrated in Hyogo or neighboring Osaka, according to credit-research firm Teikoku Databank. More than half its customers are small and midsize Japanese companies.
The other clients are spread around the world and include top automobile manufacturers, airplane makers, railways and nearly any industry that uses steel, aluminum or copper in any form.
No safety issues have been found so far because of the tampering, but Kobe Steel has withdrawn its forecast for its first annual profit in three years. Whatever the eventual economic impact, the scandal is already affecting morale in Kobe city.
“If Kobe Steel suffers a blow, this is the area that will be most affected,” said Tsuyoshi Matsuda of Teikoku Databank’s Kobe office.
Kobe Steel acknowledges some customers have shifted orders to other suppliers. Major banks are instructing their Kobe area branches to keep close watch on the credit management at companies that do business with the steelmaker, bankers say.
The scandal “isn’t an open topic on the job,” said a worker in his 30s, finishing the night shift around 8 a.m. at Kobe Works, a hulking jumble of rusting pipes, risers and tanks.
“Nobody says it out loud, but I think people are worried,” he said. “It’s a heavy mood.”
Shinzaike, the local train station closest to Kobe Works, is home to several bar-restaurants that count the company’s employees among their best customers. Since the latest scandal erupted, business has dried up, traders said.
“Looks like they’re holding back from going drinking,” said a pub owner.
Reservations for year-end parties would normally be starting now, but there haven’t been any yet, he added.
Abe, who worked at both the Kobe and Kakogawa works, has called his years at Kobe Steel “the starting point of my adult life.”
Last year, according to media reports, he urged young people entering the workforce to follow his example of learning from mistakes at Kobe Steel.
“I got through it without incident,” he said. “I want you not to be discouraged by a few mistakes but rather do the best you can.”
Kobe Steel blames data scandal on focus on profit, lack of controls
TOKYO (Reuters) – Kobe Steel Ltd said on Friday a lack of quality controls and a focus on profits was behind the widespread data tampering that has shaken up the supply chains of car and plane makers around the world.
Japan’s third-largest steelmaker, which has posted losses in the last two business years, promised to automate more of its operations and reorganize its quality control systems to recover from one of the nation’s biggest corporate scandals.
The 112-year-old company admitted last month that workers had tampered with product specifications, causing global automakers, aircraft manufacturers and other companies to check whether the safety or performance of their products had been compromised.
No safety issues have so far been identified from the data cheating, which mainly involves falsely certifying the strength and durability of products.
Kobe Steel was ordered last month by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to provide a detailed explanation of the data cheating and say what steps it would take to prevent future abuses.
“Improving our management and corporate governance and instilling a culture where employees can say anything are imperative,” Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Hiroya Kawasaki said at a press briefing after submitting its report to the government. “This is my utmost priority and I will work on these with unflagging resolve,” he said.
Kawasaki said his “ultimate management responsibility” will be decided after recently appointed outside investigators report back to the company.
“Given the magnitude of the scandal, we expect upper management to get the boot,” Thanh Ha Pham, an analyst at Jefferies in Tokyo, wrote in a note on Friday, without saying when that might happen.
Multiple workers and managers at nine production sites were involved in tampering data on specifications of products, the company said in its internal report.
Some of the fabrication of data went on for 10 years, Managing Executive Officer Koji Yamamoto said, though he could not say when exactly it started.
The company is in talks with fewer than 10 customers who want to recover the costs of safety inspections, Managing Executive Officer Yoshihiko Katsukawa said.
“Clarifying your company’s thinking on the causes of this incident is a meaningful step towards restoring trust,” Akihiro Tada, director general of METI’s manufacturing industries bureau, told Kawasaki as he arrived to deliver the report.
Kobe Steel, also subject of a U.S. Justice Department inquiry as well, has had a Japanese government-sanctioned seal of quality revoked on some of its products and lost customers.
As of Friday, the company said 474 out of 525 affected customers found no safety issues or their products were deemed safe by Kobe Steel, up from 470 earlier this week.
The company has said it cannot yet fully state what impact the tampering will have on its finances. Last week, it pulled its forecast for its first annual profit in three years for the 12 months through next March.
Kobe Steel’s shares have fallen by nearly a fifth since it revealed the data fabrication a month ago.
The company’s shares rose nearly 2 percent on Friday, while the Nikkei 225 fell 0.8 percent.
Kobe Steel Blames Plant Managers for Quality Control Scandal
TOKYO — When a roll of aluminum produced at a Kobe Steel factory fell short of customers’ exacting demands for qualities like strength, plant managers were supposed to make a painful but necessary decision: Start again and make a new, better roll of metal, even if it cost the company time and money.
But for at least a decade, according to an internal company report released on Friday, those managers took an easier way out, manipulating test data on some products to avoid expensive do-overs.
The report by the Japanese steel maker is its first public accounting of the causes of a data falsification scandal that has shaken the company and prompted around 500 of its customers around the world — including manufacturers of cars, trains and aircraft — to scramble to verify their products’ safety.
The report, produced by Kobe Steel without input from regulators or other outside parties, concluded that the company had erred by elevating the pursuit of short-term profit over the maintenance of scrupulous quality standards. That failing, it said, was exacerbated by lax oversight by senior executives and an “insular” corporate culture that discouraged employees from questioning improper but long-established practices.
“There was a climate where employees on the ground couldn’t speak up. Even if they did speak up, it wouldn’t make a difference,” Kobe Steel’s chief executive, Hiroya Kawasaki, said at a news conference. “As long as the revenue was coming in, management wasn’t interested.”
Mr. Kawasaki said that the practice of misrepresenting not-quite-perfect metals was at least a decade old but that, because records going back further than that were incomplete, it might have been going on longer.
A second report on the scandal, by a commission of outside experts, will be completed by the end of December, he said.
In a series of announcements beginning last month that have rattled corporate Japan, Kobe Steel acknowledged faking data about the quality of aluminum, copper and other products to make it appear as though they met standards promised to customers when in fact they did not.
The metals still met basic safety requirements, according to the company and customers who have reviewed their purchases from Kobe Steel. Nonetheless, the episode has reverberated through global supply chains and dealt a fresh blow to Japan’s reputation for scrupulous, dependable manufacturing.
The report published on Friday outlined several changes the company plans to make to prevent cheating, including automating record keeping for product tests and requiring multiple employees to verify that test results are accurate.
The report faulted what it said was Kobe Steel’s excessively segmented structure, saying that the company’s seven separate divisions — which produce products ranging from aluminum used by automakers to steel for the construction industry — had become insulated fiefs where problems could fester.
Top managers escaped direct blame for the scandal: The report said there was no evidence that they were aware of the data falsification, though it criticized executives for setting unreasonable production targets and then failing to scrutinize how subordinates met them, or at least appeared to meet them.
“The fact that management did not grasp what was happening on the front lines is in itself a major problem,” it said.
Kobe Steel quality scandal driven by pursuit of profits and demanding corporate culture
Scandal-hit Kobe Steel’s troubles were driven by a relentless focus on profits and the company’s regimented corporate culture, which led to more than decade of faked quality guarantees on its products.
Japan’s third largest steel-maker said it “sincerely and deeply apologised for the enormous amount of worry and trouble we have caused” as the findings of an investigation into its problems emerged.
A 27-page document detailing what went inside Kobe – which has been loss-making for the two years – said failed quality controls were behind testing data being altered.
The report said that “a severe management environment” with demanding profit targets had contributed to the scandal.
The investigation into the issues which affected more than 500 customers – including those in the aerospace, transport and nuclear industries – was ordered by Japanese government.
Customers of Kobe included Toyota and Nissan, along with international clients such as Boeing, General Motors and Daimler. The scandal – which affects aluminium, copper and steel products – has sent Kobe’s customers racing to check components acquired from the company, though no safety problems have yet been identified.
In the wake of the report, Kobe has promised to transform itself with more automation and better quality controls.
In an update on checks into the affected products on Friday, Kobe said 474 of the 525 affected customers had not identified problems or Kobe had satisfied itself the products were safe.
News of the scandal saw shares in Kobe plunge as much as 40pc and Hiroya Kawasaki, president of Kobe, admitted that “trust in our company has fallen to zero”.
Customers have been deserting the business, causing Kobe to scrap financial forecasts. Naoto Umehara, executive vice-president, signalled the scandal could kill the company, warning Kobe “may incur extraordinary losses”.
Reports of the malfeasance at Kobe is just the latest of a string of scandals that have rocked corporate Japan, with companies including Nissan, Toshiba and Olympus also having been revealed to have suffered huge issues. 

November 30, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

NIRS Telebriefing: Arnie discusses Nuclear Disasters

Spring: The Season of Nuclear Disaster – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima Daiichi was the title of the April 4, 2017 tele-briefing hosted by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and guest speaker Fairewinds’ Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen. Hosted by Tim Judson, NIRS executive director, Arnie discusses the myths of atomic energy, the ins and outs of each disaster, and his own personal experiences with assessing the industry failures and magnitude of each disaster. At the end of his presentation, Arnie and Tim also answered questions from listeners in this enlightening segment.

April 20, 2017 Posted by | World Nuclear | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan, France confirm nuclear and security cooperation


PARIS (Kyodo) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande on Monday confirmed bilateral cooperation in the research of the commercial use of nuclear power as well as in security.

The two countries agreed on joint research on a French-led fast reactor development project called ASTRID, an acronym for Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration.

As the leaders met, Japanese industry minister Hiroshige Seko, who is accompanying Abe, and French environment minister Segolene Royal signed a nuclear power cooperation agreement, stating that they will work together on nuclear fuel cycle and fast reactor development.

France aims to start the operation of ASTRID in the 2030s.

Abe and Hollande also attended a signing ceremony on a deal in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. will each acquire a 5 percent stake in a nuclear fuel reprocessing joint venture to be established by French atomic energy company Areva.

In the sphere of security, Abe revealed to reporters after the talks with Hollande that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces will jointly conduct naval exercises with France, the United States and Britain.

The Japanese premier welcomed the “significant” agreement on the exercises to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, including off Guam in the Western Pacific, apparently in view of China’s expansionary maritime activities.

The Japanese leader said he and Hollande shared a view that the Indian and Pacific oceans are international public goods and need to be maintained as free and open areas.

Abe said a French training squadron, including a helicopter carrier, will visit Japan in late April.

On regional issues, Abe strongly condemned North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, while Hollande expressed Paris’ support for Tokyo on the matter.

It was the 10th and final meeting between Abe and Hollande as the latter is not running in France’s upcoming presidential election. The first round of the election is in April followed by a potential runoff vote in May.

As for economic issues, Abe and Hollande agreed on the importance of promoting free trade amid the threat of rising protectionism across the world following the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

They affirmed cooperation for the early signing of the free trade agreement between Japan and the European Union.

Abe expressed Japan’s support for “a strong Europe” to be maintained even after Britain’s forthcoming exit from the bloc.

“Japan and Europe must fly the flag of free trade high, together with the United States,” Abe said.

Hollande said the Japan-France relationship can be further strengthened.

France’s election is one of a series in Europe this year in which public unease about immigration and the functions of the European Union have fuelled speculation voters could pick populist candidates over the current political establishment.

Abe arrived in Paris on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Hanover. He is scheduled to meet European Council President Donald Tusk and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni before returning to Japan on Wednesday.


March 26, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment