Editorial: Forging a new path to free the nation of nuclear power

The threat of radiation, invisible and odorless, has taken hold in Japan.

The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant occurred in the A-bombed nation and now the people who have long appealed for the elimination of nuclear weapons are challenged by the question: Can nuclear power and humanity coexist at all?

Today Hiroshima mourns her dead. Sixty-six years ago, at 8:15 a.m., a U.S. airplane attacked the city with an atomic bomb. The nuclear explosion, a detonation that took place high above the heads of Hiroshima residents, bathed the city in radiation.

The attack brought about scores of deaths. Even to this day, the effects of the bomb's radiation have continued to inflict suffering on the survivors. We can't help but see the atomic bombing as a grave sin that opened the door to this nuclear era.

The A-bomb survivors, whose average age now exceeds 77, hold sympathy for the people of Fukushima.

Fumiaki Kajiya, a former elementary school principal, offered a photo of himself bare from the waist up, a self-introduction, and words of encouragement for an exhibition held in Hiroshima last month by the Association of Teachers Continuing to Speak about Hiroshima. “I was exposed to the atomic bomb at the age of six,” he wrote. “I lived through the radiation of my childhood and I am now 72 years old. Although I am old and thin, my spirit is still strong. Hold out, Fukushima, we're with you!”

When it comes to the horror of radiation, there is no difference between radiation leaked through peaceful use or radiation released through military attack. There is no difference, either, in the impact of that radiation, which afflicts the sufferers with a host of bewildering information, including unfounded rumor.

Thinking about Fukushima

What concerns Mr. Kajiya most is the possibility that the children of Fukushima will one day encounter discrimination when they wish to marry. Recalling that worry of his youth, Mr. Kajiya created a tanka poem of thirty-one syllables: “Seeing a notice of no A-bomb effects, I made up my mind. After several years of wavering, I finally proposed.” Beyond words, he wants to convey the fact that he has overcome the past to live in high spirits today. This is why he included the photo of his bare, scarred body.

The impact of this radiation exposure in the future is unknown. Prejudice and discrimination could be the consequences. The A-bombed nation should be aware of the horrors of radiation. Yet why have so many nuclear power plants been built in Japan?

In 1955, when nuclear power was set to be harnessed in Japan for peaceful use, the United States proposed that a nuclear power plant be built in Hiroshima. The idea was conceived with the following rationale: Hiroshima has suffered the horror of the atomic bombing so the city should be given the privilege of nuclear energy.” This idea illustrates how the United States served as a force for nuclear power development.

In the wake of the Bikini Incident, where Japanese fishing boats were victims of nuclear fallout as a result of a U.S. hydrogen bomb test, there were growing calls in Japan to ban all atomic and hydrogen bombs. In response, the peaceful use of nuclear power was intentionally made distinct from its military use. Electric power companies, academia, and the media, including newspapers as well, gave their backing to the national policy of promoting nuclear energy. The “safety myth” of nuclear power was an extension of this support.

Now the disaster at Fukushima has occurred and we have witnessed the reality of nuclear power: an accident has led to a nuclear power plant spinning out of control. When nuclear plants are built on this earthquake-prone archipelago, the gravity of the risk has become very clear.

The accident also raised apprehension over the spent nuclear fuel that has been accumulating inside the buildings housing the nuclear reactors with no destination in sight for its removal. The plutonium contained in this spent fuel is the same nuclear material that was used in the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

When the idea of arming Japan with nuclear weapons is raised, the fact that Japan now possesses a large amount of plutonium is pointed to in support of this notion. This underscores how the peaceful use of nuclear power and its military use are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.

Though the Japanese government has endeavored to promote the realization of a nuclear fuel cycle in which spent fuel is reprocessed and reused, the fulfillment of this system is nowhere in sight. Measures to fully dispose of highly radioactive waste have not been found. The use of nuclear power involves the risk of potentially exposing human beings to radiation at every stage of the process, starting with the mining of uranium. That is the reality of the “peaceful use” of nuclear power.

At the World Conference Against A- & H-Bombs in 1975, Ichiro Moritaki, the leader of the A-bomb survivors' movement at the time, declared clearly: “Nuclear power, whether military use or peaceful use, is hostile to the very existence of humanity. Nuclear power and humanity cannot coexist.”

Reducing reliance on nuclear power

Belated as the time is, we must heed Mr. Moritaki's warning and forge a new path that will completely free us from nuclear power.

It is only natural that we now stop and review the nation's energy policy. We must engage in a national debate and move to reduce our reliance on nuclear power generation, ultimately eliminating all nuclear power stations from the nation. This will require the resolve of the people of Japan to change our way of life and industry that has been carried along by a wasteful consumption of electricity.

We also must strengthen the appeal from the A-bombed city of Hiroshima for the central government to move forward with the goal of ending the nation's reliance on nuclear energy. The Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations, comprised of A-bomb survivors (hibakusha) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will launch a campaign seeking the “elimination of nuclear power generation.” Let us link Hiroshima and Fukushima with the phrase “No More Hibakusha.”

The accident at the nuclear plant in Fukushima has highlighted the vulnerability of science and technology. It will be no surprise if nuclear warheads, which number more than 20,000 on the earth, come to be detonated beyond current assumptions. The risk of use is growing due to the aging of the weapons and the scourge of terrorism.

However, instead of moving forward, recent steps have taken us backward from the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons.

Two years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he pledged to help create a world free of nuclear weapons. But under the Obama administration, the United States has pursued as many as five nuclear tests since last fall, including subcritical experiments and other new types of tests. These actions clearly demonstrate that the United States is intent on maintaining its status as a nuclear superpower.

The Obama administration has characterized nonproliferation as the central pillar of its nuclear policy by seeking to prevent terrorist organizations and countries other than the nuclear weapon states from acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), which underpins U.S. policy, has substantial shortcomings.

The NPT guarantees signatory nations that they have the inviolable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy if they agree to refrain from possessing nuclear arms and engage in nuclear non-proliferation efforts. In a sense, the treaty promotes nuclear energy. The treaty also obliges the nuclear weapon states to undertake steps toward nuclear disarmament, but does not address nuclear abolition.

Nuclear weapons convention is needed

To realize a world free of nuclear power, including for peaceful purposes, a nuclear weapons convention, designed to make nuclear arms illegal, must be concluded. The final document of last year's NPT Review Conference stipulated that negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention would be reviewed. Holding an international conference to prompt the start of such negotiations should be hastened.

The Japanese government made no protest of the nuclear experiments conducted by the United States. While calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the A-bombed nation of Japan has shown a contradictory stance, in which the nation cannot move away from the idea of continuing to cling to the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

Has the Democratic Party of Japan forgotten its campaign pledge of standing at the forefront of the nuclear abolition effort? Since Katsuya Okada, a proponent of nuclear disarmament, left his post of foreign minister, the party has shown no initiative in this regard.

One year ago, at a press conference held after the Peace Memorial Ceremony, Prime Minister Naoto Kan remarked on the need to maintain nuclear deterrence. With Mr. Kan now saying that the nation should eliminate nuclear power, he must make a serious effort to eliminate the U.S. nuclear umbrella at the same time.

(Originally published on August 6, 2011)