Hiroshima Memo: Citizens of the A-bombed city begin new efforts to end use of nuclear energy

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

In September 2011, Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe and other public figures spearheaded the “Farewell Nuclear Power Plants Rally”in Tokyo, which attracted about 60,000 participants. Another large-scale event, the two-day Global Conference for a Nuclear Power-Free World, with over 10,000 people in attendance, was held in Yokohama in January. Meanwhile, other small and medium-sized gatherings and rallies seeking the elimination of nuclear power plants from Japan have been organized across the nation by local residents. Although the number of participants at these smaller-scale events is modest compared to the events that took place in Tokyo and Yokohama, such gatherings and rallies have been burgeoning since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.

In the A-bombed city of Hiroshima, too, the first gathering of the “Goodbye Nuclear Power Plants Hiroshima Society” was held on February 12 with about 350 people in attendance. The 22 founders of the group include scholars, A-bomb survivors, intellectuals, and religious figures. Arthur Binard, a poet and one of the founders, touched on the name of the group in his remarks, saying that his preference was for a name that avoided the use of “Society,” since there were already so many groups in Hiroshima referring to themselves in this way.

Mr. Binard’s comment appears to be a reference to past developments in Hiroshima involving antinuclear organizations. Because such organizations have struggled with internal differences over the policies of their campaigns, they have had difficulty pursuing the goal of nuclear abolition with their full energy. Rather than simply working to maintain their organization, Mr. Binard told those in attendance, “the initiative of each individual is essential in achieving the group’s goal.”

At the meeting, some A-bomb survivors and others reflected on the past and expressed remorse over showing little opposition to the construction of nuclear power plants, despite having suffered themselves from the damage wrought by radiation released in the atomic bombing. “Neglecting this issue led to the disaster in Fukushima,” was a repeated sentiment.

At the close of the gathering, the group issued a statement. Called the Hiroshima Appeal, it expresses the keen sense of mission felt by the participants as citizens of the A-bombed city.

“Let us create a new momentum to eliminate nuclear power plants and change the nation’s energy policy. The people of Hiroshima suffered the worst nuclear attack in human history and it is vital that we speak out and take determined action to help eliminate nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants so that no more hibakusha, or sufferers of radiation, will be produced.”

The accident at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, which fanned fears of a “worldwide exposure to radiation,” occurred 26 years ago. In the aftermath of that disaster, a movement expressing opposition to nuclear energy spread among the citizens of various European nations, including Germany. But this movement did not gain much traction in Japan.

About ten years ago, I spent almost four months investigating serious cases of radiation exposure in the former Soviet Union and the United States, including the area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant, nuclear test sites, and facilities involved in the nuclear weapons industry. Based on this investigation, I wrote a series of feature articles under the title “The 21st Century: The Negative Legacy of the Nuclear Age.” This series appeared in the Chugoku Shimbun for about ten months, starting in September 2001. In my final article for the series, I concluded by stating: “Japan, too, must achieve the aim of creating a nuclear-free nation as early as possible in the 21st century. It is now time to shift the nation’s energy policy away from nuclear power in order to gradually realize this goal.”

But voices seeking to stem the ardor for nuclear energy, like my own, had little impact. The number of nuclear power plants in Japan continued to grow and the energy policy of the Japanese government did not change. I find it lamentable that our nation’s mindset and energy policy have been unable to change without the occurrence of a tragic accident that takes place on our own soil. And yet, even in the wake of the accident at Fukushima, I can see no major shift within the Japanese government, its bureaucrats, and the electric power companies. Although building new nuclear plants in Japan has become a more daunting prospect, nuclear power plant manufacturers are joining forces with the Japanese government to market their power stations in overseas markets, including in Vietnam and Jordan. The people of those nations are unaware of the true terrible extent of the radiation contamination now plaguing Japan as a result of the recent accident.

Another dubious plan that has emerged involves storing spent nuclear fuel from Japanese power stations in Mongolia. With Japan unable to dispose of this waste within its own borders, the implication is that hazardous nuclear material, which must be safely stored for tens of thousands of years, will have to be sent overseas. The nation which suffered the atomic bombings has already imposed troubles on the international community as a consequence of contaminating the oceans with radioactive elements from the accident at the Fukushima plant. We must not become involved in commercial activities which could result in producing new hibakusha. Rather, we must contribute to the growth of developing nations by providing them with safe technologies, such as the use of natural forms of energy.

In the days ahead, the people of Hiroshima and Japan will face questions regarding our conscience and our actions, including our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

(Originally published on February 20, 2012)