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Japan's Nuclear Power and Anti-Nuclear Movement

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1 Japan’s Nuclear Power and Anti-Nuclear Movement from a Socio-Historical Perspective Eiji Oguma Keio University 1. Introduction The March 2011 earthquake disaster and nuclear power plant accident have drawn attention to the place held in society of nuclear power plants. This paper will examine Japan’s nuclear power and anti-nuclear power movement from a historic and social perspective. To state my conclusion, Japan’s nuclear power shows a microcosm of the social structure built from the 1960s to the 1980s during the period Japan was referred to as “Japan as Number One.” In addressing the issue of nuclear power, it behooves us to rethink this history. 2. Industrialized Society and Nuclear Power Construction of nuclear power plants in Japan peaked from the 1960s to 1997. The various economic indicators show that Japan’s economy peaked in the latter 1990s. Retail sales and publications peaked in 1996, while in 2000 the volume of domestic freight transported and new automobile sales peaked. “Cool Japan” was no exception to this trend, with the most popular manga magazine Shōnen Jump recording a circulation of 6.53 million in 1995, while it fell to 280,000 in 2008. In addition this trend is related to the expansion of the income gap and the increase in poverty. Deflationary tendencies continue, with consumer prices falling and starting salaries for university graduates hardly rising since 1995. With the increase in the number of temporary workers, the average annual wages of workers in Japan had decreased during the past 20 years, from 5.2 million yen to 4.6 million yen (c. $ 63,000 to c. $ 56,000). This indicates that the gap between the earnings of university graduate permanent employees and other workers is expanding. Whereas in 1995 those on social welfare numbered 880,000, by 2011 the number grew to 2 million. These circumstances show that Japan has changed considerably since the days of “Japan as Number One.” I will organize my points on these matters from the perspective of the “shift from an industrialized society to a post-industrialized society.” When can we say Japan became an industrialized society? It was 1965 when the number of manufacturing workers overtook the population involved in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. In 1994 the population of service workers became larger than that of manufacturing workers. Naturally, Japan’s manufacturing industry is still very strong, but we can say that from 1965 to 1994 Japan was a manufacturing-centered society. That period was also the peak period for Japan’s nuclear power plant construction. What about in the United States? In the past 30 years, American manufacturing workers have decreased some 5 million, and the share of laborers in this sector has gone from 20 percent2 in 1979 to 11 percent. This is the due to the weakening of the manufacturing industry as a result of the two-fold oil shocks of the 1970s. Construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S. has hit a downturn since the mid-1970s, and the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 made this trend decisive. Though the timing may have been different, in both Japan and the U.S. the peak for nuclear power plant construction was during the period of the industrialized society. As huge plants that require massive investments, nuclear power plants are a symbol of the industrialized society. Along with their timing, the nature of the industrialized societies of Japan and the U.S. differed. This correlated to the difference in the forms of the anti-nuclear power movements. To put it simply, in Japan the involvement of the government in its economy is very large. This can also be said of nuclear power. 3. The System of Nuclear Power Promotion in Japan Japan is an Asian country that industrialized through government-led development policies. It had a long period of restricted political freedom and democracy while industrial policies were undertaken with the slogan “enrich the country, strengthen the military” (“fukoku kyōhei”). A discussion about Japan’s nuclear power must begin with the history of the Second World War. As war preparations proceeded in the 1930s, electric power came under governmental control in order to stabilize the supply of electricity to the military industry. Until that time, electric power companies competed freely in a disorderly manner without any consistency in power generation or transmission. In 1939 the government-controlled Japan Electric Generation and Transmission Company (Nippon Hassōden Kabushiki Kaisha) was established to monopolize the transmission network; and in 1942 the 152 electric power companies throughout Japan were merged into nine companies that each held a monopoly over its own district. Japan Electric Generation and Transmission Company was dismantled after the war and the ownership of transmission facilities of the nine electric power companies were divided up, allowing the districts’ monopoly structure to remain. This was the origin of the monopoly structure of electric power utilities which continues to this day. State regulation of the electric power utility was implemented in the form of “government policy, private management” rather than as a state-owned enterprise. Contrary to the general perception, the Japanese government is rather small among the developed nations in terms of both the number of civil servants and the ratio of government spending to GDP. The strength of the Japanese government is the strength of its administrative guidance. The basis of Japan’s industrial policy is to decrease governmental spending by making private companies shoulder the burden of business while manipulating the private companies with administrative guidance. As an example, in Japan broadcast companies require licenses, and as a result, even commercial television stations are reluctant to criticize the government for fear of losing their broadcast licenses. The advantage to the television stations is that the government restricts new companies from becoming broadcasters. For Japan’s electric utility, while it cannot go against the government’s intentions, it receives the advantage of approval to be a regional monopoly that can raise electric utility rates at will. Japan’s electric utility rate is set by the Electricity Enterprise Act passed by the government at 4 percent over the cost of electricity generation. The profits of electric power3 companies rise the costlier


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