A Victory for the Anti-Nuclear Plant Argument?

A Victory for the Anti-Nuclear Plant Argument?

Masatake Shinohara
(Translation by Max Black)

In 1980, the economist Yoshiro Tamanoi described the danger of nuclear power in the Asahi Shimbun by raising the following problem. “The trend to opt for nuclear plants, based on the myth that once there is no more oil, nuclear will be the only way to go, is rampant and powerful in the commercial sector,” and that “There tends to be no distrust towards the position that we can simply treat nuclear reactors as a supply basis and as one more choice which consumers and producers make by spending money.” However, the switch from oil to nuclear power was emphatically not graspable as a question of the economical alternative, but entailed serious questions. Namely, this was because it was necessarily accompanied by the release of a harmful output, of all kinds of radioactive waste, which would place decisive burdens on the life environment. This waste would also place our descendents, at least to the third or fourth generation, in danger. The question he asked, then, was whether or not it made sense to promote nuclear power without properly considering these effects on the future.

In a Japanese newspaper from thirty years ago, we were able to see the criticism that nuclear plants are promoted without much thought. In the end, however, has this criticism been received seriously?

It has been ignored. For example, there have been the researchers against nuclear plants, most notably Hiroaki Koide at Kyoto University. Called the Kumatori 6, they have studied nuclear power for the purpose of ending nuclear power. Because of this oppositional stance, they have been intellectually isolated in universities. Nuclear plant promotion is national policy. Perhaps it is a matter of course that those who oppose it should be intellectually isolated. But they have stubbornly continued with their stance of opposition to nuclear power, making good use of objective data, as scientists, without compromising their stance.

Perhaps we can say that through the Fukushima accident, the danger of nuclear plants has been substantiated. The critics were correct. The factions that promoted it, declaring the safety of nuclear power, fully ignoring voices of criticism, were wrong. Radioactive pollution has now in reality occurred. Its harmful effects and its burdens may be confirmed anew at a time ten to twenty years from now. The political vision of the critics was the correct one.

So maybe we can also say this. The critics of nuclear power won. We should therefore restore the reputations of those who were abused and ignored. Let us celebrate the victory of the critics. Actually, this may be the first time that this lot, starting with those researchers at Kyoto University, who consistently advocated an antinuclear stance has seen a victory. Following the accident at Fukushima, there are definitely many people who are hearing, for the first time, that they exist. With this opportunity, those who had their research results ignored will now see their work become a reference point for many people.

If we really think about this, for the past thirty years the argument against nuclear reactors itself has not been raised very well. Starting with the accident at Kashiwazaki in Niigata Prefecture four years ago, accidents which make the current situation not at all surprising have taken place multiple times. But, perhaps because the situation had not truly become serious, the argument on the danger of nuclear plants had not shown the dynamism it has now. With an accident on the level of Chernobyl, opposition to nuclear power seems to finally be turning into a national concern. But one cannot but wonder what it means that the argument did not spread until things reached this level of danger. The argument in opposition to nuclear power also existed in the 1980’s. Why was it that the argument did not seriously build up until now, of all times?

Ikegami Yoshihiko’s claim on this blog is that with today’s earthquake and nuclear accident, most preexisting philosophy in Japan has become bankrupt and lost its meaning, and that it not only fails to understand the present situation but impedes its understanding.

In 1934 the physicist Torahiko Terada wrote, in ‘Natural Disaster and National Defense,’ that, “as civilization advances, this comes with an increased degree of violence in the devastation which natural disaster’s tyrannical power brings about.’ We can say that contemporary Japanese civilization, in the level of science and engineering found in its transportation system, communications equipment, and IT technology has reached great heights by even a worldwide standard. But the damage from the natural disaster is dire beyond precedent because of this high level. Were not the bankrupt and meaningless philosophies Ikegami describes constructed around the premise of a high standard of civilization in this sense? Were not they built up on the assumption that a calamity such as an earthquake absolutely would not occur, and that civilization would continue to progress in perpetuity? Was not the assumption that a nuclear accident is impossible blind faith rooted in the high level of Japanese scientific technology?

One reason that serious discussion of nuclear power plants was ignored and suppressed was, perhaps, this blind faith in scientific technology. Is not the tendency to suppress as ‘groupthink and rumor’ the argument which doubts safety itself– it is clear to everyone that a nuclear accident has occurred, radiation is being released, so why are we being told that things are safe–based on an ideology which places science and technology in the center? Doubtless, this centrism of science and technology is not the only form of philosophy that has become meaningless. We should say that the Japanese-style postmodernism of the 1980’s, which supported a sense of satisfaction based in economic prosperity, has also become meaningless. There are likely many others as well.

However, I have my doubts as to whether meeting with bankruptcy and meaninglessness implies death. These preexisting philosophies may continue to live from this point onward as bankrupt, meaningless, and explanation-impeding philosophies. While the danger of nuclear power is clear, the tendency to promote it remains, and just as they suppressed voices of opposition, meaningless philosophies impeding the intellectual endeavor of creating meaningful philosophies may multiply themselves from hereon in.

As far as what we are to think–we need, of course, to track the novelty of the situation brought on by this disaster. But we also need to be mindful of the damage wrought upon us by impeding, meaningless, and bankrupt philosophies. And to this end there is, also, the need for a revival of those meaningful philosophies that were ignored and repressed by the philosophy that today continues to bankrupt itself.















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