Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Joachim Radkau

Joachim Radkau on the (Historical) Lack of an Anti-Nuclear Movement in Japan

with 4 comments

…Japan, however, lacked a great nuclear energy controversy. That’s very strange for a number of reasons: Japan is the first and so far only victim of nuclear weapons. When the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 was hit by the fallout from an American hydrogen bomb test in 1954, this scandal gave impetus to the international protest movement against nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere. The Japanese mainland, moreover, is far more densely populated than Germany: correspondingly, the residual risk of nuclear technology is higher. On top of that, Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. In the United States, the regional earthquake danger was the key argument of the first initiatives against a nuclear energy project at Bodega Bay in California. For yet another and more unique reason, conditions in Japan were amenable to anti-NPP protest: because the Japanese electronics industry—herein more forward-looking than the German one—from very early on concentrated not on nuclear technology but rather on electronics, nuclear power never had a “national” argument in favor of it. On the contrary: the reactors had to be imported from the United States.

How it is that Japan never experienced a large protest movement in spite all of this remains to be investigated. It concerns one of those questions upon which one first comes via international comparison. Supposedly, the main reason lies in the fact that no alternative to nuclear energy could be seen from the very start: Japan has no rich coal reserves at its disposal; the dependence on Chinese coal would have been a nightmare; the great oil resources of the world are far removed from Japan; and wind power, even in the land of typhoons, isn’t exactly a confidenceinspiring energy resource. That saving energy in the short term is by far the most effective energy resource was understood by the Japanese automobile industry, to their advantage, much earlier than in the German automobile industry (while the Japanese, since the end of the “wooden age” around 1960, preferred to have their interior heating provided by electricity—a scandal in the eyes of European energy conservation strategists!).

And Hiroshima? In Tokyo there is only a small, hidden, and seldom visited memorial for the victims of atomic weapons. The subject was, as one hears, never popular in Japan. The victims had to suffer under discrimination, and a “culture 176 The Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germanyof memory”—to use a fashionable word—never developed. As Europeans familiar with Japan relate, the Japanese prefer to display a composed cheerfulness and dislike speaking about misfortune and suffering. Whether or not this judgment is tenable in such a sweeping form is open to doubt, as one finds counter-indications in Japanese literature as well. But Arnold Toynbee, the British universal historian, was presumably right in his thesis that cultural successes indeed emerge as a response to challenge and crises. These challenges, however, can’t be too strong. In Germany’s experience, people became capable, first out of a certain temporal distance, of a creative working through of the terrible catastrophe that was Nazi rule and World War II. From Russia it was reported that the contamination of Lake Baikal, famous for its beauty, gave the environmental movement a strong impetus, but not, however, the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl—because Chernobyl struck at the core of a Russian national pride founded on leading technologies like Sputnik. Presumably, the atomic catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so immense that they could no longer be processed by many Japanese—only suppressed…

From the Polygraph archives: Joachim Radkau’s “The Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germany” (and Japan, and elsewhere…).

Written by gerrycanavan

March 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm