Editorial: Nuclear power questioned at Nagasaki A-bomb observance

At the Peace Memorial Ceremony held yesterday in Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, the mayor of the city, stated at the start of his Peace Declaration, “We were astounded by the severity of the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.” In the Peace Declaration made from Hiroshima, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said, “The trust the Japanese people once had in nuclear power has been shattered.”

In Hiroshima and Nagasaki, among other cities, efforts to advance the abolition of nuclear weapons have undergone a significant change this year. This change has been driven by the accident at the nuclear power plant. Even five months after the accident was triggered by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake, the crisis has not been brought under control.

A-bomb survivors’ organizations and both of the two World Conferences Against A- & H-Bombs held meetings in Fukushima, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and set the tone for breaking away from nuclear power.

It is no longer enough to merely raise objections to the military use of nuclear power. We must face up to both uses of nuclear power by addressing the fundamental issues involving its peaceful use as well.

Mr. Taue argued that “It is necessary to promote the development of renewable energies in place of nuclear power.” This is an expression of his determination that there should be no more “hibakusha” who “are threatened once again by the fear of radiation.”

In order to prevent the radioactive contamination caused by the accident to spread even further, the findings from research conducted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be used to the best advantage. Toward this end, partnerships between administrative bodies and universities should be strengthened.

Let us also boost exchange activities between A-bomb survivors and residents of the crisis-stricken area. We should not tolerate prejudice and discrimination against these residents based on false perceptions of radiation.

It appears that the Japanese people are coming to a general consensus that the nation should revise its energy policy from scratch and eventually reduce its reliance on nuclear power.

However, under current conditions where shortages of electricity are anticipated, it is true that opinions are divided with regard to specific measures concerning nuclear reactors that are temporarily out of operation.

The labor unions of the electric power companies have long supported nuclear power. Because these unions are members of the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo), Japan’s largest central organization of labor unions, Rengo will not readily be able to accept an about-face on this issue. Nuclear power is also a contentious issue within the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons.

Other problems include the radiation exposure of power plant workers and the disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

At the same time, there remain significant hurdles in the road to eliminating nuclear weapons.

In connection to the shattered myth involving the safety of nuclear power, the mayor of Nagasaki raised the question: “Do we still believe that the world is safer thanks to nuclear deterrence?” This indicates that the mayor views the idea of nuclear deterrence, which is rooted strongly not only in the nuclear weapon states but also in Japan, as the largest obstacle to nuclear abolition.

Mr. Taue also urged the international community and the Japanese government to make efforts to conclude a nuclear weapons convention and create a nuclear-weapon-free zone for Northeast Asia. Specific proposals of this nature were not found in the declaration made in Hiroshima and should be given due appreciation.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan stated clearly, both in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the goal remains the elimination of nuclear weapons, but the fact that he said the “ultimate” elimination of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. In doing so, he has shifted the target for abolition to a distant future, as an end that may or may not be realized. There will be no satisfying progress if the nation's prime minister claims that Japan will work to “expand activities related to disarmament and non-prolifeation around the world” while seeking to evade the appeals made from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The accident at the nuclear plant in Fukushima clearly demonstrates the risk of employing nuclear power for even peaceful purposes. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have appealed to the world for nuclear abolition, must now shoulder a greater challenge. To advance toward a world that is thoroughly nuclear-free, the A-bombed cities must take the lead in building a consensus of public opinion both inside and outside Japan.

(Originally published on August 10, 2011)