By Amitabh Pal
There is good news—sort of—from Japan on the nuclear front.
“Japan said Friday that it would seek to phase out nuclear power by 2040—a historic shift for a country that has long staked its future on such energy, but one that falls far short of the decisive steps the government had promised in the wake of the world’s second-largest nuclear plant disaster last year,” reports the New York Times. “Although the long-awaited energy policy was named the 'Revolutionary Energy and Environment Strategy' by its authors, it extended the expected transition away from nuclear power by at least a decade and includes caveats that appear to allow some plants to operate for decades past even the new deadline.”
Even then, the Japanese government’s decision is a welcome step. And it is a testament to the steadfastness of the Japanese people, who have never relaxed their pressure on the authorities in the year and a half since the Fukushima catastrophe. Protesters have regularly besieged the streets of Tokyo, with their numbers reaching into the tens of thousands a number of times. They compelled Japan to briefly go off of nuclear power this summer, and let their displeasure be known when the government restarted a couple of reactors soon afterward. The demonstrators are still not happy with the tardy transition timeline.
“They’re ignoring the terror that many of us feel toward nuclear power,” Kumi Tomiyasu, a protesters at a rally in front of the Japanese prime minister’s office, told the New York Times. “By sticking with nuclear for so long, the government has put the interests of power companies and big business above those of the Japanese people.”
By making even a tentative move toward denuclearization, Japan has joined a number of other countries. Germany, Switzerland and Italy have all committed themselves against nuclear energy. And The Guardian reported some months ago that there have been only two new nuclear projects in the past year worldwide, as compared to thirty-eight in the previous two years.
Even in bastions of nuclear power, things are starting to shake up. In France, a country heavily dependent on nuclear energy, the Socialist government has, in a significant concession to the Greens, the junior coalition partner, hastened the decommissioning of a nuclear generation plant. And in North America, the nuclear industry has suffered a couple of setbacks.
“A new government in Quebec will shut Gentilly II,” writes activist Harvey Wasserman. “In California, new reports on the cold San Onofre 2 & 3 indicate deep problems that make a re-start more doubtful than ever.”
The nuclear march has also slowed in the global giants. China took a time out from new nuclear construction in the wake of Fukushima. And protests in India (predictably met with harsh repression) have put in question the government’s plans to dramatically expand nuclear generation.
But more needs to be done, and citizens need to be mobilized and educated. That’s why a coming rally in the United States is an encouraging sign.
“Riding the wave of anti-nuclear news is a September 20-22 series of D.C. events organized by the Coalition Against Nukes,” Wasserman informs us. “With activists convening from around the United States and Japan, the gathering promises to lend the No Nukes movement new focus.”
The time to transition away from nuclear power and fossil fuels to clean renewables is now—and people around the world need to let their governments know that.
If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Murders in Libya are Unconscionable."
Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter