In Japan, a Culture That Promotes Nuclear Dependency






KASHIMA, Japan — When the Shimane nuclear plant was first proposed here more than 40 years ago, this rural port town put up such fierce resistance that the plant’s would-be operator, Chugoku Electric, almost scrapped the project. Angry fishermen vowed to defend areas where they had fished and harvested seaweed for generations.

Two decades later, when Chugoku Electric was considering whether to expand the plant with a third reactor, Kashima once again swung into action: this time, to rally in favor. Prodded by the local fishing cooperative, the town assembly voted 15 to 2 to make a public appeal for construction of the $4 billion reactor.

Kashima’s reversal is a common story in Japan, and one that helps explain what is, so far, this nation’s unwavering pursuit of nuclear power: a lack of widespread grass-roots opposition in the communities around its 54 nuclear reactors. This has held true even after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami generated a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi station that has raised serious questions about whether this quake-prone nation has adequately ensured the safety of its plants. So far, it has spurred only muted public questioning in towns like this....

Experts and some residents say this dependency helps explain why, despite the legacy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the accidents at the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear plants, Japan never faced the levels of popular opposition to nuclear power seen in the United States and Europe — and is less likely than the United States to stop building new plants. Towns become enmeshed in the same circle — which includes politicians, bureaucrats, judges and nuclear industry executives — that has relentlessly promoted the expansion of nuclear power over safety concerns....



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