By Joseph Honton
SEPTEMBER 14, 2012. Ever since last year's meltdowns and radioactive discharges from Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, Japanese citizens have been squaring off against Tokyo politicians. Their message is simple: no one should be subjected to the possibility of another nuclear disaster.
As the only country to have lived through the horror of nuclear bombs, the voice of the protesters carries a special conviction. After all, this a nation of people directly affected by the fallout from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And ever since March 11th of last year, Japanese politicians have been wrestling with the political fallout from decades of permissive nuclear industry supervision. Even the usual attempts by policy think tanks to whitewash the story have failed to quiet the public outcry over the bald facts.
The disaster at Fukushima was more than a wake-up call. In a rare win for the voice of the people, today the Japanese government has written a death sentence for the nuclear power industry.
A COZY NUCLEAR VILLAGE
For decades, the Japanese amakudari system has bound the economic, political, and regulatory authorities into a cozy "nuclear village." Amakudari is the system whereby high-ranking government bureaucrats retire into well-paid private sector jobs that oversee government contracts.
In the case of the beleaguered Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, this inbred system led the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) to provide lenient oversight of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Public documents reveal that both METI and TEPCO were aware of the potential risks posed by tsunamis.
Furthermore, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which is supposed to be the industry's watchdog, has been warily viewed by the general public, because it is organizationally a branch of METI, and under the sway of its leadership. An independent investigation by a Diet commission, released in July, stated that collusion between TEPCO and NISA led to delays in implementation of safety measures that could have prevented the disaster.
The Liberal Democratic Party, has colluded with this system for years, by using organizations such as The Japan Forum on International Relations (JFIR) to promote pro-nuclear policies. In a June 2012 policy statement, JFIR provides ten recommendations, ending with “Continue and Step Up Efforts to Develop Thermonuclear Fusion.” All of this is done under the guise of national security and energy independence.
Any politician who ventures too far outside the cozy village, suffers the wrath of the system, as former Prime Minister Naoto Kan discovered, when a vendetta was launched to oust him from office for suggesting that TEPCO, METI, and NISA should be held to blame for the poor handling of the post-tsunami disaster and subsequent meltdowns.
MOTHERS AGAINST NUCLEAR ENERGY
But the protests by mothers, that the system is broken, and that no nuclear plant is safe from failure, has been ever-present since March 11, 2011.
Naoto Kan, in a statement before a parliamentary committee investigating the disaster, put it succinctly, "The best way to make nuclear plants safe is not to rely on them, but rather to get rid of them.”
The voice of the people has been remarkably effective at breaking through the entrenched cronyism.
On September 14, 2012, the National Diet of Japan promulgated a new energy policy that would shutter nuclear reactors when they reach the end of their 40-year life span. No new nuclear reactors would be permitted, and further work on the eleven reactors currently approved for construction would halt.
Japan will be nuclear-free by the end of the 2030s.