11,500 Participants In Yokohama Want Japan To Change Its Thinking About Nuclear Power
The large Yokohama conference on January 14-15 for a nuclear power free world was a very well organized two day event with hundreds of lectures by speakers from Japan and abroad. I was impressed by the number of different groups and NPOs that came together to share information and experiences, 10 month after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.
Held at the Pacifico Yokohama by the harbour, the event was an opportunity to think about energy issues. German MEP Rebecca Harms noted that Japan is now running its huge cities and industries on only 6 nuclear reactors out of 54. She pointed out that Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after the conservative government lost an important local election directly after March 11, 2011. Clearly angry after having just visited Fukushima, she said, “With the majority of public opinion in Japan now standing solidly against nuclear power, why the hell would Japan ever consider promoting it again?”
At one of the workshops, Swedish expert Goran Bryntse, PhD, who has led the anti-nuclear movement for a long time, talked about how citizens can change the energy policy. First of all, he noted, energy efficiency is the best and cheapest alternative to nuclear power. For example, a country can save up to one third of its energy consumption through heatpumps, more efficient engines, LED lights, and new whitegoods such as the latest refrigerators.
In the case of Sweden, these measures would be able to replace 4 nuclear reactors, according to Dr Bryntse. Additionally, 6 more nuclear reactors can be replaced by wind power (3), biomass and co-generation (2), and solar energy (1). Thus, all of Sweden’s current 10 nuclear reactors can easily be phased out. Of course this is a lesson that Japan should also take note of.
At another talk session there was a panel discussion about creating a “New Japan.” There is now a debate about whether to stop nuclear power immediately, or to phase it out gradually, but all of the panelists agreed that what Japan needs is clean and sustainable energy. For this shift to happen, mass media needs to change and become more accountable. The lack of democratic policies is also regrettable. There is some hope that Japan’s new Green Party can put forward its first candidates in 2013. I was also impressed that people are now collecting signatures for a referendum on nuclear power.
I talked to Mr. Hideyuki Ban from Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center who was deeply moved by the large turnout. He was also glad so many foreign guests were able to attend. There were many peace groups and groups representing the hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and many old-timers who have campaigned even back when campaigning was not very popular in Japan. There were new groups of people who have been forced to deal with the unthinkable: mothers in Fukushima, worried about their kids, and lawyers trying to do the right thing to support the citizens – and shareholders – of TEPCO.
The Yokohama Declaration (pdf) that was adopted sounds like something a lot of people may want to read and sign. The declaration asked for support for the people in Fukushima, and said Japanese nuclear power plants that are currently idled should not be restarted.
Peace Boat and the other NGOs that made this event happen should all be applauded for their organizing skills. I met a lot of young people who attended both days. The friendly staff and genki volunteers made every effort to guide everyone to the right venue, offering simultaneous interpretation to anyone who asked for it. The organizers had hoped for a nice round 10,000 to attend, so this event was a huge success.
Martin Frid, Consumers Union of Japan