On March 20, 1500 people marched in Tokyo opposing nuclear power in the aftermath of the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima that followed the devastating March 9 earthquake.
Protesters also opposed the imposition of fiscal austerity by the government in the face of the earthquake disaster.
Activists have also staged speak-outs at the offices of Tokyo Electric, which runs the Fukushima plants, and government offices.
Since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States military at the end of World War II, anti-nuclear campaigners in Japan have struggled against the threat posed by nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
As the residents of Fukushima and surrounding areas, including Tokyo, contend with increasing levels of radiation in the atmosphere, food, water and seawater, anti-nuclear campaigners are demanding the end of the nuclear cycle once and for all.
After the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was little awareness in wider Japanese society of the devastation that had occurred. US censorship prevented information about the effects of the atomic bombing from being distributed freely.
Nevertheless, citizens’ groups in Hiroshima began to organise events as early as 1946 to commemorate the bombings and to protest against the nuclear arms race.
Thanks to the efforts of Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto and the Hiroshima Peace Association, World Peace Day, also known as Hiroshima Day, was established on August 6.
Hydrogen bomb tests carried out by the US in the Marshall Islands in March 1954 resulted in large clouds of radioactive fallout outside the test site affecting the crew of a Japanese fishing boat, the Lucky Dragon.
The 23 crew members returned home suffering from severe radiation sickness. One of them died six months later.
These events brought the dangers of nuclear weapons to the attention of a large domestic audience. In May that year, housewives in Suginami, in central Tokyo, organised a petition against the H-bomb that eventually collected 32 million signatures.
Tens of thousands of delegates gathered on August 6, 1955 for the First World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. Out of this process, the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs was formed.
The organisation organised big demonstrations throughout Japan that attracted tens of thousands.
In the early 1980s, major anti-nuclear organisations, survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, labour, women’s, youth, consumer and religious groups came together to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
In 1982, 200,000 demonstrators marched in Hiroshima and 400,000 marched in Tokyo.
As the traditional peace and anti-nuclear movements went into decline during the 1980s, new citizens’ groups were formed. These included the National Movement for Nondeployment of Tomahawk Missiles, Peace Boat and the Peace Office.
By 1987, 1104 local councils had declared themselves nuclear free. Some brought in regulations that challenged the presence of nuclear armed US warships in Japanese ports.
The huge opposition to nuclear weapons forced the government to recognise the plight of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and provide compensation.
The government was forced to publicly criticise nuclear testing and the nuclear arms race, despite its alliance with the nuclear-armed US.
In December 1967, the Japanese government proclaimed the “three non-nuclear principles”. It promised that Japan would not possess, manufacture, or introduce nuclear weapons.
However, government officials made secret concessions to the US about the entry of nuclear-armed warships into Japanese ports.
The development of nuclear power has also been contested in Japan.
Many anti-nuclear groups were formed following the Chernobyl nuclear accidents of 1986. This includes Tanpoposha No Nuke Plaza Tokyo, which has been campaigning about the danger of nuclear power plants in earthquake-prone Japan.
An older group is the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Centre (CNIC), a Tokyo-based group established in 1975. It provides information on nuclear energy through its websites and publications and by organising symposia.
The CNIC is seeking to monitor the Fukushima crisis and provide reliable information, independent of the government’s spin campaign.
Local residents’ groups have consistently opposed the building of nuclear power plants in their neighbourhoods, but pork-barrel politics has divided communities.
The government pumped large amounts of money into local government areas that accepted nuclear power plants. It provided infrastructure such as gymnasiums, hospitals and libraries.
Nuclear power companies paid off local farmers and fisherpeople to get them to relinquish their land and fishing rights.
The myth of clean and safe nuclear power was peddled to marginalise opposition groups.
There are now 17 nuclear power plants in the earthquake-prone Japanese archipelago. These contain 54 nuclear reactors that provide close to 30% of the country’s energy.
In its 2010 Basic Energy Plan, the Japanese government plans to build nine new nuclear plants by 2020 and at least 14 by 2030.
However, vibrant local campaigns against the building of nuclear power plants have long been a thorn in the side of Japan’s nuclear industry.
Just before the earthquake disaster, the struggle against nuclear power plant construction in the region of Kaminoseki began to heat up. Kaminoseki is a peninsula in the Inland Sea about 80 kilometres south of Hiroshima.
Local residents have been fighting against the Chugoku Electric Power Company’s plans to build two nuclear power plants in the region since the plans were first revealed in 1982.
Residents of the island of Iwaishima, which lies only 3.5km from the proposed site, are overwhelmingly opposed to the plans.
The plan would involve the reclamation of land in an environment rich in biodiversity and home to the rare finless porpoise.
In October, the company tried to start land reclamation works. Local fisherpeople bound 30 fishing boats together with mooring ropes to block the reclamation works. They were supported by activists in sea kayaks.
After construction was delayed for four weeks, the company resorted to violent and dangerous tactics. These included hitting protesters’ vessels with bamboo rods and throwing large concrete blocks indiscriminately into the sea.
One man was hospitalised after falling into the sea as a result.
After the Fukushima disaster, the governor and the Kaminoseki mayor asked Chugoku Electric to temporarily suspend the reclamation effort.
Nevertheless, “exploratory” construction works are continuing. This prompted local residents and anti-nuclear activists to stage a sit-in at the company’s offices.
Behind the Japanese government’s continuing support of nuclear power lies the largely unspoken agenda of developing nuclear weapons. Japan has a stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium which it could use to build nuclear weapons.
Only days before the earthquake, Tokyo metropolitan governor Shintaro Ishihara declared, in an interview with the British Independent, that Japan ought to develop nuclear weapons.
After the quake and subsequent tsunami, Ishihara declared the disaster a “heavenly punishment” that would “cleanse Japan of its selfishness”.
Facing dangerous megalomaniacs such as Ishihara in key offices, the anti-nuclear movement will continue the struggle for a future free of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear disasters.
Australia plays an important role in the nuclear cycle by supplying 33% of Japan’s uranium.
In support of the Japanese anti-nuclear movement, we must oppose the Labor government’s plans to expand the nuclear industry in Australia. This means opposing plans to increase uranium mining and the development of a nuclear waste-dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory.