Nation hit by A-bombs placed big bet on nuclear power

August 20, 2011


The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led to magazine articles and publications that are trying to unravel how two competing images of Japan emerged in modern history--the nation devastated by the atomic bombings in August 1945 going on to become one of the major users of nuclear power plants.

One aspect that has emerged in those discussions is the role played by the theory that Japan promoted nuclear energy "just because" it was the victim of an atomic bombing.

On the July 23 broadcast of a TV debate program, Italian journalist Pio D'Emilia asked, "Why did a nation that has the legacy of Hiroshima ever allow so easily the construction of nuclear power plants?"

A response was given by Michio Ishikawa, a supreme adviser at the Japan Nuclear Technology Institute who was born before August 1945 and who was involved in nuclear power development from the earliest stages after the end of World War II.

The gist of Ishikawa's response was that in his generation many nuclear energy researchers were in Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped, or in Nagasaki three days later when the second bomb was dropped. All those researchers became involved in nuclear energy on the grounds of "peaceful use" of the technology and to use it to improve people's lives, Ishikawa said.

The explanation can be boiled down to one of promoting nuclear energy not in spite of the atomic bombing, but because of it.

In the June issue of the magazine Impaction, Mikiyo Kano, a scholar of women's history, discovers such a thinking of "just because" in the arguments of the late Mitsuo Taketani, who was a major proponent of the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

In the November 1952 issue of Kaizo magazine, Taketani argued that the Japanese have the greatest right to research a peaceful nuclear energy technology because they are the only victims of an atomic bombing.

Some researchers have tried to delve into the psychology that led to the spread of the "just because" theory.

In the August issue of the magazine Sekai (World), Toshiyuki Tanaka, a professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute under the Hiroshima City University, wrote, "Because the hibakusha were injured by the atomic bombing, the slogan of 'The object that took your lives can, in fact, not only be used to treat cancer, but is also an energy source that can provide a strong life force' was accepted by them as a message of, in a sense, salvation."

Others point to a different psychology at work among the hibakusha.

In the June issue of Shincho 45, the critic Morihide Katayama writes that in the deep roots of the call for peaceful use of nuclear technology lay "a grassroots sense of vengeance."

That would be achieved by using the "hatred" held toward the United States for using the atomic bombs on them to skillfully utilize that same nuclear technology. One aspect of that argument is to "repay the loss of war due to science by using that science."

The "just because" thinking is also related to the emergence in Japan of the myth that nuclear energy was safe.

In the June issue of Gendai Shiso (Modern philosophy), the historian Hisato Nakajima focuses on the process behind the establishment of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

He explained how an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. tried to placate concerns held by local residents that nuclear power plants "were just as dangerous as an atomic bomb."

The TEPCO employee apparently gave the following argument to gain consent.

"I witnessed the atomic bombing and my older brother was killed by it. For that reason, I understand the dangers of nuclear technology much better than all of you. If someone like me, who lost relatives to the atomic bombing, had even a little concern, I would not be able to comply even if it was company policy."

Because Japan was a victim of the atomic bombing, an even stronger myth about nuclear energy safety would be required for residents and those employees working at the plant.

Nakajima points to the possibility of such unique historical circumstances to explain how that safety myth developed.

The sociology researcher Hiroshi Kainuma is in the spotlight for his book "Fukushima ron" (On Fukushima), which looks into what nuclear energy meant for Fukushima Prefecture.

In his book, Kainuma describes nuclear energy as something with the image of being "at the cutting edge of modernity."

In explaining what common thread existed between the atomic bomb and nuclear power plants, Kainuma said, "The cutting edge of modernity is the glory of war and growth."

He added, "The glory of growth in terms of economic prosperity and democratization and the glory of war in terms of 'liberation from fascism' and 'the liberation of Asia.' Both are modern ideals, and that is the reason people observed overwhelming modernity in both nuclear plants and atomic bombs."

This summer the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization, made up of hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, decided on a clear policy of moving away from nuclear energy through the gradual decommissioning of all nuclear reactors.

That represents a major turning point for an organization, which since its establishment in 1956, never called for a society that had zero nuclear plants.

Japan's history of nuclear energy would likely never have begun without inclusion of the thinking of "just because" the nation was hit by the atomic bombs.

To understand that complicated picture, there will likely be a need for a comprehensive re-examination of Japan's modern history, including the period of rapid economic growth and the nuclear strategy of the United States.

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Workers install the pressure container of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in May 1969. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Workers install the pressure container of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in May 1969. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Workers install the pressure container of the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in May 1969. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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