Friday marks the fifth anniversary of the calamitous nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan. (The Fukushima nuclear power plant failed after a 9.0 earthquake struck the Japanese coast and caused a massive tsunami.)
The damage remains extensive. Radioactive contamination has rendered the immediate area around the plant uninhabitable, meaning that many local residents are still living in temporary housing structures. Meanwhile, despite cleanup efforts outside of that zone, many are hesitant to return to a region now heavily stigmatized.
So why is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushing for more nuclear power?
The Japanese leader is moving to reopen all the nuclear power plants shut down after the 2011 disaster. Abe’s camp argues that resource-poor Japan has limited energy options and hopes to have nuclear power provide 22% of national energy needs by 2030.
However, widespread anti-nuclear sentiment hints that the country is not ready – not remotely. On Wednesday, a court ordered a power company to halt two reactors that had been restarted, citing safety concerns. And legal battles over the professional negligence of Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, are ongoing. (Last month, a court indicted three former top executives over a shoddy evacuation that allegedly led to the deaths of over 40 people.)
Abe has encountered political opposition as well. Yukio Edano, the secretary-general of Japan’s opposition Democratic Party, recently refuted the government’s claims that it is imposing the world’s toughest safety regulations on its nuclear restart. And according to The Japan Times, a recent survey shows that two-thirds of local government leaders either want to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, or get rid of it entirely.
Beyond the extensive damage to Japanese infrastructure and the steep costs to clean up after the disaster – estimated to reach over $100 billion — the blow to the national psyche is clearly still tender.