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Nuclear, Panic, and Danger: Why Fear of Nuclear Threatens Japan's Energy, Environmental, and National Security

  • Temple University Tokyo Japan (map)

Speech by Michael Shellenberger at Temple University, Tokyo, Japan

As we approach the eighth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, a consensus has formed among experts that fear of nuclear has created far more harm than the radiation. Whereas 15,000 people died in the tsunami and the evacuations resulted in the death of over 2,000 people, the radiation exposure has killed — at most — just one person. 

The replacement of nuclear energy with fossil fuels will create thousands of additional premature deaths from conventional air pollution. Japan’s economy and energy security has suffered from spending over $500 billion on fossil energy imports and clean up efforts. As a consequence, leading radiation scientists last year editorialized that never again should governments evacuate populations during or after a nuclear accident, no matter how bad it appears to be.

Since the accident, experts have pointed to the myth of perfect nuclear safety, psychological displacement of emotional trauma from the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami to Fukushima accident, and public ignorance of radiation, as the key reasons for the societal and governmental over-reaction.  This includes a scapegoating of Japan’s nuclear establishment, or “village,” as retribution motivated by preexisting distrust and even disgust.  

Michael Shellenberger will build on these factors to offer a unified picture of the danger created by nuclear panic, its motivations, and what to do about it. He will present evidence showing how widespread fear of nuclear energy within Japanese society reflects a displaced and often unconscious fear of nuclear weapons, anxieties over nuclear-armed North Korea and newly aggressive China and Russia, and uncertainties with regard to U.S. nuclear security guarantees.

Resolving the continuing conflict within Japan over nuclear energy will ultimately require resolving domestic tensions over what kind of economic, military, and political power Japan should and will become in the 21st Century.