by Yoshihiko Ikegami
There is a documentary film that is rapidly spreading among us now. It is entitled “Scenario of the Introduction of Atomic Energy — Nuclear Strategy vis-à-vis Japan during the Cold War,” produced by NHK TV in 1994. As the main title suggests, the film follows the process of how the postwar Japan introduced nuclear power plants as a state project. And as the sub-title suggests, it was done along the line of the US Cold War strategy.
A postwar history around the introduction of nuclear energy is widely discussed today in Japan. Although the history was partially recognized in the past, it is now that we ought to acknowledge it by taking the current disaster as a springboard and connect missing links in the past. It is high time to clarify the historical continuity that we have not been able to grasp before the accident.
It was the Cold War that initiated Japan’s introduction of nuclear power plants. Right after WWII, especially between 1946 and 1948, due to the social sentiment of “never repeat the war” and the extreme poverty, popular movements including labor movements increased in number and scale. The occupying US as well as Japan’s ruling class very much feared this social shift. The US strategy was driven by this very fear that letting the popular movements grow would communize Japan.
In recent years the postwar popular movements have been under-appreciated. I cannot describe much in detail here, but it is due to
ups and downs, twists and turns of the progressive forces thereafter that the movements have not been evaluated properly, especially in consideration of the situation under the US occupation.
Notable movements include Yomiuri Dispute, the labor dispute over the major newspaper Yomiuri that sold 3 million copies; Toho Dispute, another labor dispute in the major movie company; and Hanshin Education Struggle, the movement against Japanese oppression on the Korean ethnic schools for those who remained in Japan following the Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Also during the early 50s, there were great mass movements of the under class involving workers, farmers and commoners.
It should be stress that each one of these movements originated in the critical sectors of the society at that time: Yomiuri in mass media, Toho in entertainment industry, Hanshin in ethnic issues and education, 50′s movements mobilizing innumerable industrial workers(…) This broad uprisings gripped the ruling US and the Japanese state with total fear. And in the process of oppressing the Yomiuri Dispute, Hidetoshi Shibata of the Yomiuri Newspaper played a major role in developing nuclear plants in Japan, hand in hand with the US Military.
Japan signed an unconditional surrender with the Allied Forces, following the two atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, no complete information on the a-bombs was made public due to a strict censorship by the occupation force of the US. It was only after 1952, the year Japan signed the San Francisco Treaty, the information on the a-bombs gradually became known among the nation. The next definitive incident was the 1954 thermonuclear experiment by the US in Bikini Atoll. A Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon No. 5 was nearby at the time of the bombing test and the entire crew of 23 were exposed to radiation. In addition, high-level radioactivity was detected in fish caught in nearby sea, which triggered a prairie fire of the anti-nuke movement throughout Japan.
Following the famous speech “Atoms for Peace” by Eisenhower, however, the US sought to turn around the impetus of Japan’s anti-nuke movements against them. Considering that the insurgency was due to the extreme poverty of the country, the US now planned to make Japan economically wealthy. In order to achieve it, more energy sources were required. Thus the introduction of nuclear power plants. The 3-million selling newspaper was a perfect medium of psychological warfare, for sweeping away Japan’s nuclear allergy (as they thought it was). Hence started the construction of nuclear power plants, which has since continued to this day.
But the radiation level detected in fish in 1954 was only one fifth of the level we find today in contaminated fish, the level repeatedly told safe by the government. With less radiation detected, however, there arose a large anti-nuke movement then, because of the widely shared memory of the a-bomb attacks. We must re-examine the uplift of the movement in relationship with the acceleration of other movements (especially labor movement). We have had many accounts of 50′s anti-nuke movement, while we have lacked an effort to contextualize it in mutual development with a broad range of mass movements. What was the US most afraid of? – this question is particularly crucial in this project.
Actual effects of the a-bombs were long concealed to the Japanese after the war, but the US built and ran a facility called ABCC (Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission) and closely observed the victims of the a-bomb radiation. This facility was used for observation only and not for cure of the resulting symptoms. They were probably observing the humans in the post-nuclear war age for military purpose. The facility was later reorganized as Radiation Effects Research Foundation. Many of the scholars who are repeatedly stressing safety with the radiation level of the current nuclear disaster are those who were once involved in the organization.
We have a naive tendency to trust scholars just because they are from Hiroshima and/or Nagasaki. But what these scholars almost never mention are the internal and low-level exposures, the core forms of radiation for Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims. Radiation and radioactive substances are two different things: as to what happens to a body when a radioactive substance is taken by ingestion and inhalation; and as for low-level radiation, it could affect the body anytime regardless of the amount. Definition of these two forms have long been debated regarding legal recognition of the a-bomb survivors, causality of and compensations for the bombing. While tragedy of the a-bomb destruction is widely known, issues of internal and low-level exposures are not well recognized. This is the root of a-bomb survivors’ agony that still continues to this day.
After the year 1945, Japan has become the only nation that experienced atomic bomb. However, at best merely half of the essence and substance of the bomb has been shed light on. Could the Fukushima nuclear accident be a motivation for us to make connection between the current disaster experience to the a-bomb experience, and further to understand our post-war history and the world history?
As I have already implied, it is common sense today that nuclear weapon and nuclear power plants are two different appearances of the same thing. They are inseparable as they share many factors in common. Not only Japanese but also foreign organizations have been accusing TEPCO of its secretive attitude and delay of information disclosure. Certainly TEPCO’s characteristics should be criticized, but we must not forget that technology of nuclear power industry originates in development of nuclear weapons. According to Stephanie Cooks’ In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, as one can see in spy conspiracies of Manhattan Project, the essence of nuclear technology is military technology, hence secretism persists. Military elements have always existed internally in nuclear industry from the beginning, therefore the technology is destined to swing between closure and disclosure, even with the slogan of atoms for peace. In addition, the technology that overtly and covertly determined the Cold War power structure wages a psychological warfare in its central tactic, as the history of the Cold War has proven. And now what we are confronting is the global nuclear capitalism.
The postwar Japan that began with two nuclear attacks is experiencing a radical shift with the current nuclear disaster. It exists in between two faces of atomic energy. But it also experienced the rise of mass movements in its initial stage. If so, we must re-learn from the achievements of post-war movements against nuclear weapon and nuclear energy, not only of Japan but the world over. We must rewrite our post-war history from the view of our current disaster. There are limitless opportunities and resources for us to do this, and only through our efforts to learn from the past, we may see a different future gradually appearing.