Sunday, September 6, 2020

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 14: Japanese Women and Antinuclear Activism After the Fukushima Accident

The Fukushima Power Plant after the disaster.
Click for photo credit.

This is the 14th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review. 

This chapter, Japanese Women and Antinuclear Activism After the Fukushima Accident, by Professor Heidi Hutner of Stony Brook University, begins with an interesting review of the role of women in anti-nuclear activism since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Women have been leading the anti-nuclear charge for generations and this chapter explores how women continued the activism after Fukushima. One of the drivers of this activism is that women and girls are unequally impacted by nuclear pollution which was highlighted in the Preamble to the 2017 UN Treaty to Prohibit the Use of Nuclear Weapons.


The case study section of the chapter reviews the events associated with the Fukushima disaster and the scope of the pollution problem that resulted when the cores were breached at the nuclear power plant. The levels of radioactivity in the area was shocking and the public was greatly dismayed by the amount of radiation released into the environment. All nuclear reactors in Japan were closed (not all of them are back online) and a new era of anti-nuclear activism, led by women, was born in Japan. Some protests had up to 170,000 protestors who marched to demand a clean up of the region and many Fukushima residents "occupied" areas of government spaces in Tokyo to shed light on the issue. Some of these protests continue to the present day. 

The chapter reviews the stories of a number of women activists who helped to drive public knowledge about the disaster and who sought greater government action to mitigate the problems of Fukushima and prevent future radiation pollution events. There are too many fascinating stories to account here. However, it is clear that many women were radicalized by the events of Fukushima and that this is part of a long tradition of women engaged with the ant-nuclear movement in Japan. The chapter also makes a case that Japan's patriarchal government and decision-making systems have driven much of the move to nuclear power in the last 70 years in direct contrast to women who have been pushing for an anti-nuclear future.

Click here for more information about the book.

A 2011 protest in Japan. Click for image credit.

Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on activism, nuclear energy, and/or gender and the environment.

1. What was the Fukushima disaster and when did it occur?

2. What were the impacts of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

3. Why are women so engaged with the anti-nuclear movement?

4. After the Fukushima disaster, a number of different types of protests emerged across Japan. Describe them.

5. Who is Mioko Smith and how did she set the stage for the protests that emerged after the Fukushima disaster?

6. How did the disaster impact farmer, Sachiko Sato?

7. What is the "partnership ethic" and why is it important in this case study?

8. What evidence is there that Japan's decision making around nuclear energy is an example of a patriarchal power system?

Previous posts in this series:

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