Nuclear Politics, Silence, and Activism
The discussions in the Atomic Age II Symposium highlighted both the undemocratic nature of nuclear politics and the courage of those who fight against it. One of the speakers, Jeff Patterson, pointed out three characteristics of nuclear industry: cover-up, secrecy, and minimization [of negative consequences]. Across nations including the US and Japan, nuclear power not only threatens health of all beings, but also principles of democratic governing. The presentations and discussions, one way or another, spoke to the governmental manipulation of access to information and control of pubic opinions. At the same time, the symposium presented hope for democracy through the existence of activists and scholars who protest the use of nuclear energy and weapons. As the Fukushima disaster has shown in Japan, protests led by antinuclear activists can be catalytic to social and political changes. Each activist in the symposium, connected through the networks of concerned individuals around the world, represented the power of activism working towards positive changes.
Nuclear politics threaten democracy. Governmental efforts to promote nuclear energy often involve top-down directives and well funded policy instruments. In Japan, one of these efforts was manifested as a list of organizations and individuals that the government kept under their surveillance. The government has been exerting pressure on the media not to report activities of those on the list by stating, “It is problematic to report on groups that loudly propound antinuclear agenda.” (My News Japan, 12/29/11) The list of names included that of professor Koide, the keynote speaker of the symposium. In his talk, he argued that the ultimate purpose of the Japanese government for nuclear energy lies in their capacity for nuclear armament. He reminded us that military strength is still the most important factor in becoming a world power – how archaic and medieval!-. It is not coincidence that the world’s top five military spenders are members of the UN Security Council. The sixth largest, he added, is Japan despite its constitution that prohibits involvement in war. As Koide noted, most Japanese citizens believe that the nation has relinquished its armed capabilities since the Second World War and is committed to peace. In spite of the popular belief, the professor argued, the real reason for the Japanese government to accumulate 45 tons of plutonium, equivalent of approximately 4,500 bombs dropped in Hiroshima, is its potential for nuclear armament.
The decades of nuclear promotions and propaganda have left the Japanese populace silent on the issue. A photo taken in Futaba town in Fukushima by Koide showed a banner reading “affluent livelihood with the correct understanding of nuclear power.” The focus on economic interests often overrides health and environmental concerns, and creates a social environment in which voices of opposition do not easily surface. After 3.11, mothers of small children find it difficult to speak their concerns in neighborhoods, schools, and even at home. Those who dare to speak their worries for radiation risk being labeled “shinkeishitsu,” a marker for an overly-worried neurotic person, a stigma often reserved for women, and are often prevented from being taken seriously. Due to the uncertainty created by conflicting information and the government “campaign” for nuclear safety, people in Japan are confused and resigned. Many find “no choice” but to silently bear the pain of living in the contaminated land, and are falling into the state of denial.
In the midst of the oppressing reality, antinuclear activists represent the courage of those who challenge the powerful and hope for a democratic and peaceful world. Ruiko Muto, a presenter in the symposium, is one of the women who dare to speak up from Fukushima. She has been labeled “kini shisugiru hito”, overly concerned with radiation. She is under the surveillance of the police force whose cars patrol twice a day her remote residence on the slope of a mountain. Yet, she continues to speak and take actions. She came to Chicago because she wanted to “let people in the world know” what really happened in Fukushima. She believes in the power of women in Japan. “In the midst of the history in which women have received considerable discrimination, I believe that women still have the power. The qualities that Japanese women possess include the power to recreate a different society.” Along with her colleagues, Muto is one courageous woman who dares to protest against the powerful institutions.
The symposium underlined the undemocratic nature of nuclear politics and the courage of those who speak against it. In the concluding speech, Norma Field reminded us that those who are interested in and oppose nuclear power are in the minority. Antinuclear activists around the world painfully know what this means in their day-to-day existence. The thoughts reminded me of Mahatma Gandhi’s words.
Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the Truth, for being correct, for being you. Never apologize for being correct, or for being years ahead of your time. If you are right and you know it, speak your mind. Even if you are a minority of one, the Truth is still the Truth.
Despite being a minority, the symposium drew a full of concerned people from all over the world. In the near future, we may find ourselves no longer in the minority. The conference itself represented hope, community, and courage of those who speak their minds.