Finding a New Middle Ground

The nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has confronted Japan with major problems it must address to move forward. Tokyo resident Chris Salzberg explores the way in which some online commentators are taking the lead in exploring the various sides of the issues and reaching their own conclusions through reasoned debate.

The nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant has confronted Japan with major problems it must address to move forward. Tokyo resident Chris Salzberg explores the way in which some online commentators are taking the lead in exploring the various sides of the issues and reaching their own conclusions through reasoned debate.

Battle lines are being drawn in the sand over the fate of Japan’s nuclear power industry. On one side stand nearly three quarters of the entire Japanese population, who according to recent surveys favor a gradual phaseout of all nuclear power plants in the country.

Across the battle lines, politicians struggle to grapple with the public’s dramatic shift in consciousness. Amid the soul-searching, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Ishihara Nobuteru drew flak recently for characterizing Italian voters’ rejection of nuclear power as “mass hysteria,” much to the indignation of many Japanese. (“Hysterical? Look who’s talking,” one blogger shot back.)

But if not mass hysteria, what exactly has happened?

IT blogger Nakajima Satoshi provides one answer in a July 18 article posted in response to a reader comment. A former supporter of nuclear power himself, Nakajima describes the series of realizations that brought him to change his views:

“The first thing I thought when I heard the initial reports that there had been an accident at Fukushima Daiichi was how this would negatively impact the development of nuclear technology, not just in Japan but around the world,” he explains. “To change the course of Japan’s energy policy and suddenly stop using nuclear power, just because of an accident that would ordinarily happen only once in a thousand years, would, I felt, be a mistake.”

Intending to write an article to appease the concerns of the “hysterical” antinuclear crowd, Nakajima began researching the science and economics of nuclear power in Japan. In the end, though, his research led him to question his own assumptions about everything from the mechanics of nuclear fission to the hidden interests involved in Japan’s national energy policy.

“What happened on March 11, 2011, was not a once-in-a-million-year accident,” he concludes. “It was an accident that was bound to happen, and did.”

The fact that Nakajima came to this conclusion will certainly please the antinuclear crowd. Indeed, in a follow-up post Nakajima reports being contacted by—and eventually meeting with—none other than Japan’s prime minister, Kan Naoto, among the most visible critics of nuclear power. But his post also drew vocal criticism, notably from economist and blogger Ikeda Nobuo, who dismissed Nakajima and other critics of nuclear power as “amateurs.”

More interesting than Nakajima’s writing itself, though, is the way in which his blog created a space for discussion in a part of the net known for its mob-like tendencies. Unlike most such spaces, Nakajima’s blog does not shy away from sensitive topics.

Responding to Nakajima’s claim that business interests took precedence over safety concerns, for example, one commenter writes:

“One of the triggers for these unbelievable actions were the arguments of (some in) the antinuclear crowd, which were just as unbelievable. One side makes noise, and the other side has to make even more noise. This is also a part of the problem.”

As this comment makes clear, the challenges Japan faces with its energy policy are as much social as they are technological. Nakajima has set a precedent for others to follow in putting his ideas out for debate—and defending them, as he has done in follow-up articles. Those in Nagatachō could learn a thing or two. (Written on July 27, 2011.)

In This Series
The social media view of Japan
Finding a New Middle Ground (July 27)
A Crisis Told in Stories (May 1)
Pointing the Finger (April 14)

Chris SalzbergChris Salzberg

Born in 1976 in Montreal. Tokyo-based writer, translator, and aspiring web tools developer with a background in physics and math and a fascination with Japanese Internet culture. Between 2007 and 2009, covered the Japanese blogosphere as an editor for Global Voices Online, a global citizen media project. Can be reached on Twitter as @shioyama.