The first nuclear reactor in Japan was built by the UK's GEC. In the 1970s, the first light water reactors were built in cooperation with American companies. Robert Jay Lifton has asked how Japan, after its experience with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, could "allow itself to draw so heavily on the same nuclear technology for the manufacture of about a third of its energy". He says:
There was resistance, much of it from Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. But there was also a pattern of denial, cover-up and cozy bureaucratic collusion between industry and government, the last especially notorious in Japan but by no means limited to that country. Even then, pro-nuclear power forces could prevail only by managing to instill in the minds of Japanese people a dichotomy between the physics of nuclear power and that of nuclear weapons, an illusory distinction made not only in Japan but throughout the world.
Japan's nuclear industry was not hit as hard by the effects of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident (USA) or the 1986 Chernobyl disaster (USSR) as some other countries. Construction of new plants continued to be strong through the 1980s and into the 1990s. However, starting in the mid-1990s there were several nuclear related accidents and cover-ups in Japan that eroded public perception of the industry, resulting in protests and resistance to new plants. These accidents included the Tokaimura nuclear accident, the Mihama steam explosion, and cover-ups after an accidents at the Monju reactor. More citizens subsequently became concerned about potential health impacts, the absence of a long-term nuclear waste storage facility, and nuclear weapons proliferation. The more recent Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant was completely shut down for 21 months following an earthquake in 2007. While exact details may be in dispute, it is clear that the safety culture in Japan's nuclear industry came under greater scrutiny.
Research results show that some 95 post-war attempts to site and build nuclear power plants resulted in only 54 completions. Many affected communities "fought back in highly publicized battles". Co-ordinated opposition groups, such as the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center and the anti-nuclear newspaper Hangenpatsu Shinbun have operated since the early 1980s. Cancelled plant orders included:The Maki NPP at Maki, Niigata (Kambara)—Canceled in 2003
The Kushima NPP at Kushima, Miyazaki—1997
The Ashihama NPP at Ashihama, Mie Prefecture—2000 (the first Project at the site in the 1970s where realized at Hamaoka as Unit 1&2)
The Hōhoku NPP at Hōhoku, Yamaguchi—1994
The Suzu NPP at Suzu, Ishikawa—2003
Genpatsu-shinsai, meaning nuclear power plant earthquake disaster is a term which was coined by Japanese seismologist Professor Katsuhiko Ishibashi in 1997. It describes a domino effect scenario in which a major earthquake causes a severe accident at a nuclear power plant near a major population centre, resulting in an uncontrollable release of radiation in which the radiation levels make damage control and rescue impossible, and earthquake damage severely impedes the evacuation of the population. Ishibashi envisages that such an event would have a global impact and a 'fatal' effect on Japan, seriously affecting future generations.
The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center is an anti-nuclear public interest organization dedicated to securing a nuclear-free world. It was established in Tokyo in 1975 to collect and analyze information related to nuclear power, including safety, economic, and proliferation issues. Data compiled by the CNIC is presented to the media, citizens' groups and policy makers. The CNIC is independent from government and industry. In 1995, Jinzaburo Takagi, the late former director of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, "warned about the dangers posed by the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Station and other old atomic plants", and also "cautioned the government and utilities about their policy of not assessing the safety risks for nuclear power stations beyond their assumed scenarios".
No Nukes Plaza Tokyo was established in 1989, after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and is one of the oldest groups opposing nuclear power in Japan.
In May 2006, an international awareness campaign about the dangers of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, Stop Rokkasho, was launched by musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. Greenpeace has also opposed the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant under a campaign called "Wings of Peace – No more Hiroshima Nagasaki", since 2002 and has launched a cyberaction to stop the project.
In 2008, members of hundreds of opposition groups demonstrated in central Tokyo to protest the building of the Rokkasho Plant, designed to allow commercial reprocessing of reactor waste to produce plutonium.
In July 2011, the Hidankyo, the group representing the 10,000 or so survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan, called for the first time for the elimination of civilian nuclear power. In its action plan for 2012, the group appealed for "halting construction of new nuclear plants and the gradual phasing out of Japan’s 54 current reactors as energy alternatives are found".
The movement of "Women from Fukushima Against Nukes" (Genptasu iranai Fukushima kara no onnatachi) expresses views against nuclear power. Women’s groups have been critical of the government’s handling of the Fukushima aftermath—they object to the raising of the allowed radiation exposure rate from 1 to 20 mSv, poor identification of radiation "hotspots", calculation only of external radiation while omitting internal radiation, and patchy food supply arrangements. Fukushima has also highlighted earlier research showing a much greater risk of radiation-induced cancer for women and children. The women say the government should evacuate children from areas with consistently elevated radiation levels. Hundreds of women, from Fukushima and elsewhere, organized a sit-in protest at the Ministry of Economy headquarters from October 30-November 5. Women have helped to follow through on the September 19 Tokyo protest that where 60,000 marched. Some women have long participated in protest against the Fukushima TEPCO nuclear plants and there are also many newcomers. Now, in the wake of March 11, 2011, they are airing their views nationwide. Greenpeace has reported on their activities in a blog entry.
The founders of the Article 9 group advocate the removal of nuclear power from the nation's energy policy in light of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Article 9 says that Japan forever renounces war, stating, "Land, sea and air forces as well as other war potential will never be maintained." Kenzaburō Ōe, one of the nine founders of the Article 9 Association, spoke at the group's national rally in Tokyo in November 2011, which drew about 700 people.
The Sayonara Nuclear Power Plants group will deliver the petition to local governments hosting nuclear plants or located near them to help pursue a society independent of nuclear energy. The group says it has many supporters, including Minamisoma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai in Fukushima Prefecture and Tokai Village Mayor Tatsuya Murakami in Ibaraki Prefecture, in addition to film director Yoji Yamada, actress Sayuri Yoshinaga and other high-profile personalities. The group will hold a rally in Koriyama, Fukushima, on March 11, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and a rally in Tokyo on July 16, which the group hopes will draw 100,000 people.
The National Network of Parents to Protect Children from Radiation is a Japanese anti-nuclear organization with over 275 member organizations from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Mainly made up of mothers, the Tokyo area has the most groups, followed by the Osaka/Kyoto region and then the prefectures near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Michael Banach, the current Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a conference in Vienna in September 2011 that the Japanese nuclear disaster created new concerns about the safety of nuclear plants globally. Auxiliary bishop of Osaka Michael Goro Matsuura said this serious nuclear power incident should be a lesson for Japan and other countries to abandon nuclear projects. He called on the worldwide Christian solidarity to provide wide support for this anti-nuclear campaign. Statements from bishops’ conferences in Korea and the Philippines called on their governments to abandon atomic power. Columban priest Fr Seán McDonagh's forthcoming book is entitled Is Fukushima the Death Knell for Nuclear Energy?. Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Kenzaburō Ōe has said Japan should decide quickly to abandon its nuclear reactors.
The National Confederation of Trade Unions, which has about 1.14 million members, wants nuclear power to be eliminated and its members have attended protests at the prime minister’s office.
The proposed Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant is to be built on landfill in a national park in Japan's well-known and picturesque Seto Inland Sea. For three decades, local residents, fishermen, and environmental activists have opposed the plant. The Inland Sea has been the site of intense seismic activity, yet the utility involved continues with its plans. In January 2011, five Japanese young people held a hunger strike for more than a week, outside the Prefectural Government offices in Yamaguchi City, to protest site preparation for the planned Kaminoseki plant.
The possibility of a magnitude 8-plus earthquake in the Tokai region near the Hamaoka plant was "brought to the public's attention by geologist Ishibashi Katsuhiko in the 1970s". On 10 April 2011 protesters called for the Hamaoka nuclear-power plant to be shut down. On 6 May 2011, Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant be shut down as an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher is likely to hit the area within the next 30 years. Kan wanted to avoid a possible repeat of the Fukushima disaster. On 9 May 2011, Chubu Electric decided to comply with the government request. Kan later called for a new energy policy with less reliance on nuclear power. In July 2011, a mayor in Shizuoka Prefecture and a group of residents filed a lawsuit seeking the permanent decommissioning of the reactors at the Hamaoka nuclear power plant.
In 1982, Chugoku Electric Power Company proposed building a nuclear power plant near Iwaishima, but many residents opposed the idea, and the island’s fishing cooperative voted overwhelmingly against the plans. In January 1983, almost 400 islanders staged a protest march, which was the first of more than 1,000 protests the islanders conducted. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 there has been wider opposition to construction plans for the plant.
Public opposition to nuclear power existed in Japan before the Fukushima disaster. But it was not as strong and visible as it has been post-Fukushima, when demonstrators turn to the streets in the thousands to protest the use of nuclear power. Worldwide, the traumatic events in Japan in 2011 revitalised the anti-nuclear movement.
Consumers Union of Japan together with 596 organisations and groups participated in a parade on 27 January 2008 in central Tokyo against the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. Over 810,000 signatures were collected and handed in to the government on 28 January 2008. Representatives of the protesters, which include fishery associations, consumer cooperatives and surfer groups, handed the petition to the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Several large protests occurred on April 10, 2011, a month following 3.11: 15,000 people marched in a "sound demonstration" organized by Shirōto no Ran (Revolt of the Laymen), a used-goods shop in Kōenji, Tokyo, while thousands also marched in Shiba Park, Tokyo and other locations. One protester, Yohei Nakamura, said nuclear power is a serious problem and that anti-nuclear demonstrations were undercovered in the Japanese press because of the influence of TEPCO."
Three months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, thousands of anti-nuclear protesters marched in Japan. Company workers, students, and parents with children rallied across Japan, "venting their anger at the government's handling of the crisis, carrying flags bearing the words 'No Nukes!' and 'No More Fukushima'."
In August 2011, about 2,500 people including farmers and fishermen marched in Tokyo. They have incurred heavy losses following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and called for prompt compensation from plant operator TEPCO and the government.
In September 2011, anti-nuclear protesters, marching to the beat of drums, "took to the streets of Tokyo and other cities to mark six months since the March earthquake and tsunami and vent their anger at the government's handling of the nuclear crisis set off by meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant". Protesters called for a complete shutdown of Japanese nuclear power plants and demanded a shift in government policy toward renewable energy sources. Among the protestors were four young men who started a 10-day hunger strike in an effort to bring about change in Japan's nuclear policy.
Sixty thousand people marched in central Tokyo on 19 September 2011, chanting "Sayonara nuclear power" and waving banners, to call on Japan's government to abandon nuclear power, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Author Kenzaburō Ōe and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto were among the event's supporters. These were the largest set of demonstrations in Japan since the US-Japan security treaty protests of the 1960s and 1970s.
Female protest leaders helped to maintain the momentum of the September 19 protest in Tokyo. Hundreds of women, many of them from Fukushima, organized a sit-in protest at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry from October 30-November 5. Women’s groups have been particularly scathing and effective in condemning the government’s casualization of radiation exposure – "the increase of the permissible exposure rate from 1 to 20 mSv, its inadequate attention to "hotspots" outside of the official evacuation areas, its calculation only of external radiation while ignoring internal radiation, and its spotty food supply oversight".
More than 1,000 people formed a candle-lit human chain around Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry on the evening November 11, 2011, the eight-month anniversary of the Fukushima crisis. On November 18 at the site of another nuclear power plant on the southern island of Kyushu, some 15,000 people demonstrated to call on the government to abandon all of the nation's reactors. People have also been protesting in other parts of the country.
Thousands of demonstrators marched in Yokohama on the weekend of January 14–15, 2012, to show their support for a nuclear power-free world. The demonstration showed that organized opposition to nuclear power has gained momentum in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The most immediate demand was for the protection of basic human rights for those affected by the Fukushima accident.
On the 2012 anniversary of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami all over Japan protesters called for the abolishing of nuclear power, and the scrapping of nuclear reactors.Tokyo: a 15,000-strong demonstration was held in the Ginza and the Kasumigaseki districts of Tokyo, marching by TEPCO headquarters and ending with a human chain around the Diet Building.
Koriyama, Fukushima: 16,000 people were at a meeting, they walked through the city calling for the end of nuclear power.
Shizuoka Prefecture: 1,100 people called for the scrapping of the Hamaoka reactors of Chubu Electric Power Co..
Tsuruga, Fukui: 1,200 people marched in the streets of the city of Tsuruga, the home of the Monju fast-breeder reactor prototype and the nuclear reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co. The crowd objected the restart of the reactors of the Oi-nuclear power plant. Of which NISA did approve the so-called stress-tests, after the reactors were taken out of service for a regular check-up.
Saga city, Aomori city: Likewise protests were held in the cities of Saga and Aomori and at various other places hosting nuclear facilities.
Nagasaki and Hiroshima: Anti-nuclear protesters and atomic-bomb survivors marched together and demanded that Japan should end its dependency on nuclear power.
By March 2012, one year after the Fukushima disaster, all but two of Japan's nuclear reactors had been shut down; some were damaged by the quake and tsunami. Authority to restart the others after scheduled maintenance throughout the year was given to local governments, and in all cases local opposition prevented restarting. According to The Japan Times, the Fukushima nuclear disaster changed the national debate over energy policy almost overnight. "By shattering the government's long-pitched safety myth about nuclear power, the crisis dramatically raised public awareness about energy use and sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment". In June 2012, a Pew Research Center poll showed 70% of Japanese surveyed wanted nuclear power use reduced or eliminated. It also found 80% distrustful of the government's ability to properly manage the safety and environmental issues associated with the nuclear industry.
Meanwhile, protests every Friday had begun in front of the prime minister's residence in late March 2012; between late June and early August, about 150,000-200,000 gathered every week. 170,000 gathered in Yoyogi park for a Sayonara-Genpatsu demonstration in mid-July 2012, while about 200,000 marched around the government district and surrounded the Diet on July 29, 2012. Organizers and participants said recent demonstrations signal a fundamental change in attitudes in a nation where relatively few have been willing to engage in political protests since the 1960s. Groups and activists websites, such as the Frying Dutchman's gathered notable audience. In July 2012, Ryuichi Sakamoto organized a concert entitled "No Nukes 2012," featuring performances by 18 groups including Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Saito Kazuyoshi, Akihiro Namba, and others. The concert attracted 17,000 people over two days; its U-Stream simulcast was accessed 542,000 times. These protests against nuclear power were never as large as the anti-nuclear weapons protests in 1982 in Hiroshima (200,000) and Tokyo (400,000).
As of September 2012, most Japanese people supported the zero option on nuclear power, and Prime Minister Yoshihiko and the Japanese government announced a dramatic change of direction in energy policy, promising to make the country nuclear-free by the 2030s. There will be no new construction of nuclear power plants, a 40-year lifetime limit on existing nuclear plants, and any further nuclear plant restarts will need to meet tough safety standards of the new independent regulatory authority.The new approach to meeting energy needs will also involve investing $500 billion over 20 years to commercialize the use of renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar power.
40,000 protesters marched in Tokyo on March 10, 2013 calling on the government to reject nuclear power.
More than 60,000 people marched on June 2 near the Diet building in Tokyo against the government's plan to restart nuclear power plants. Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe attended the march. Marchers had gathered more than 8 million signatures in a petition against Japan's plan to restart nuclear power plants after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Mizuho Fukushima is the leader of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, which has an anti-nuclear platform, and she has been referred to as a prominent anti-nuclear activist. For three decades, she was at the forefront of an often futile fight against the utilities that operated Japan's nuclear reactors, the corporations that built them and the bureaucrats who enabled them. That situation changed with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.
Kobayashi Yoshinori is an influential conservative who has criticized his pro-nuclear colleagues and supported the anti-nuclear movement. In August 2012 Kobayashi wrote a detailed assessment of the nuclear option and its problems. He argues that the risks of nuclear power are great and that the Fukushima nuclear disaster could have "cascaded out of control and left Tokyo uninhabitable". He compares TEPCOs actions to the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas release in Tokyo’s subways in 1995. The Sankei and Yomiuri newspapers are criticised for supporting nuclear power and he says nuclear power is just not necessary.
Jinzaburo Takagi was a Japanese assistant professor in nuclear chemistry. He wrote several books on environment protection, and on the nuclear wastethreat. He received the Yoko Tada Human Rights Award in 1992, and the Ihatobe Award in 1994. He was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1997, jointly with Mycle Schneider.
Koide Hiroaki began his career as a nuclear engineer forty years ago, when he believed that nuclear power was an important resource for the future. Quickly, however, he "recognized the flaws in Japan’s nuclear power program and emerged as among the best informed of Japan’s nuclear power critics". His most recent book, Genpatsu no uso (The Lie of Nuclear Power) became a bestseller in Japan.
Award-winning novelist Haruki Murakami has said that the Fukushima accident was the second major nuclear disaster that the Japanese people have experienced, but this time it was not a bomb being dropped. According to Murakami, the Japanese people should have rejected nuclear power after having "learned through the sacrifice of the hibakusha just how badly radiation leaves scars on the world and human wellbeing".
Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe has been involved with pacifist and anti-nuclear campaigns and written books about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In September 2011, he urged Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to "halt plans to restart nuclear power plants and instead abandon nuclear energy". Kenzaburō Ōe said that Japan has an "ethical responsibility" to abandon nuclear power in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, just as the country renounced war under the postwar Constitution. During a 2012 press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, Ōe called for "an immediate end to nuclear power generation and warned that Japan would suffer another nuclear catastrophe if it tries to resume nuclear power plant operations".
On 12 March 2011, after the Fukushima disaster, Naoto Kan flew in a helicopter to observe the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and was heavily involved in efforts to effectively respond to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Naoto Kan took an increasingly anti-nuclear stance in the months following the Fukushima disaster. In May, he ordered the aging Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant be closed over earthquake and tsunami fears, and he said he would freeze plans to build new reactors. In July 2011, Kan said that Japan must reduce its dependence on nuclear energy, breaking with a decades-old Japanese government drive to build more nuclear power plants in the country. "We must scrap the plan to have nuclear power contribute 53 percent (of electricity supply) by 2030 and reduce the degree of reliance on nuclear power," Kan told a government panel. Kan said Japan should abandon plans to build 14 new reactors by 2030. He wants to "pass a bill to promote renewable energy and questioned whether private companies should be running atomic plants". In 2012, Kan said the Fukushima disaster made it clear to him that "Japan needs to dramatically reduce its dependence on nuclear power, which supplied 30 percent of its electricity before the crisis, and has turned him into a believer of renewable energy". Kan announced his intention to resign on August 10, 2011.
Nobuto Hosaka is the mayor of Setagaya, Tokyo. He campaigned and won the mayor’s job on an anti-nuclear platform in April 2011, just over a month after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to the Wall Street Journal, Hosaka "is determined to turn this city ward of 840,000 people, the largest in Tokyo, into the front-runner of a movement that will put an end to Japan’s reliance on atomic power and accelerate the use of renewable energy".
Tetsunari Iida is director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Japan. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, he is calling for a decrease in Japan's reliance on nuclear power and an increase in renewable energy use.
Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, has spoken about the Fukushima nuclear disaster and questioned the world's reliance on nuclear energy at a United Nations meeting in New York in 2011. Thurlow, who has become a strong advocate of nuclear non-proliferation, spoke at the meeting alongside Kazu Sueishi, another Hiroshima A-bomb hibakusha.
Madarame Haruki, as Chairman of the Japanese Nuclear Safety Commission (2010-2012), was an ardent pro-nuclear advocate. However, his inquiry testimony in the Diet in February 2012, showed that he had become critical of the Commission's approach. He said that "Japan's atomic safety rules are inferior to global standards and left the country unprepared for the Fukushima nuclear disaster last March". There were flaws in, and lax enforcement of, the safety rules governing Japanese nuclear power companies, and this included insufficient protection against tsunamis. He said the nuclear power industry had strenuously opposed adopting stricter international safety standards. He spoke of officials ignoring nuclear risks and said, "We ended up wasting our time looking for excuses that these measures are not needed in Japan". Madarame also asserted that Japan’s safety monitoring technology is outdated, while acknowledging that the Nuclear Safety Commission had, "…succumbed to a blind belief in the country’s technical prowess and failed to thoroughly assess the risks of building nuclear reactors in an earthquake-prone country". Regulators and the utilities missed many opportunities to improve operating safety standards and warned that safety regulations are fundamentally inadequate and minimally enforced. He also asserted that regulatory capture was an issue, where regulators had little power and were often subsumed by utility interests. In Madarame’s view, there has been a collective heedlessness about safety and inadequate risk management.
Solar power in Japan has been expanding since the late 1990s. The country is a leading manufacturer of solar panels and is in the top 5 ranking for countries with the most solar photovoltaics (PV) installed. In 2009 Japan had the third largest solar capacity in the world (behind Germany and Spain), with most of it grid connected. The solar insolation is good at about 4.3 to 4.8 kWh/(m²·day). Japan is the world's fourth largest energy consumer, making solar power an important national project. By the end of 2012, Japan had installed 7,000 MW of photovoltaics, enough to generate 0.77% of Japan's electricity. Due to the new feed-in tariff (FIT), Japan installed more than 5,000 MW in 2013.
The current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who came to power in 2012, has put nuclear energy back on the political agenda, with plans to restart as many reactors as possible. In July 2015, the government submitted its ideas for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to the United Nations, and the proposal included a target for nuclear power to meet at least 20% of Japan’s electricity consumption by 2030. Renewable energy sources, such as hydropower and solar power, would contribute more than 22%.