The below article appears in the July/August issue (#66) of Mutiny Zine, a paper of anarchistic ideas and actions from Sydney. You can find the entire zine online HERE as well as individual articles from the zine on the Mutiny Zine blog.
Another article from this issue of the zine which might be of interest to ASEN folks is by Kylie and discusses climate summit counter-protests and some ways forward for the climate justice movement.
Love and solidarity- Mutiny Zine editors.
Globalising Resistance to Radiation: From Australia to Japan
By Alexander Brown, Tokyo
Throughout June and July thousands and now tens of thousands of people have been gathering every Friday outside the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo, to protest prime minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plans to re-start Japan’s nuclear reactors. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March last year, nuclear reactors that went offline for routine maintenance and testing were not restarted due to stringent new testing requirements imposed by the government as a consequence of the disaster. In May this year, I joined thousands of protesters in a colourful parade in the centre of Tokyo to celebrate the switching off of the last nuclear reactor still operating. This was the first time since 1970 that all of Japan’s nuclear reactors were switched off. In celebration we danced and drummed late into the night in the square outside Kōenji station in Tokyo.
In June, the nuclear cabal struck back. Their representative, prime minister Noda, coerced and cajoled local government leaders in the region of Oi Town in the western prefecture of Fukui into agreeing to the restart the Oi nuclear reactor. Noda threatened economic collapse and life-threatening electricity shortages that would threaten the electricity supply to hospitals. These ridiculous assertions were countered by anti-nuclear activists and experts who pointed out that they were based on inaccurate calculations of the true electricity shortfall.
On Saturday 30 June hundreds of protesters gathered outside the gates of the Oi nuclear reactor in protest at the travesty of democracy that was taking place inside. In Tokyo, I joined hundreds of angry demonstrators outside the prime minister’s residence who staged an impromptu march around the residence to give vent to their fury. The following Friday, the numbers outside the prime minister’s residence swelled to 100,000. The crowd spilled out from the footpath and onto the road. This was the first time in decades that protesters had managed to escape police control and fill an entire street in Japan for a protest. The following week, a similar number of people gathered and, in defiance of police, once more occupied the street.
In Australia this month, 500 activists gathered outside ‘the gates of hell’ at another link in the nuclear chain: the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia as part of the ‘Lizard’s Revenge’ festival and protest camp. Activists occupied the road outside the mine, sat down in front of the gates of Olympic Dam and played cricket in protest at plans to expand the world’s largest uranium mine. The carnivalesque atmosphere that combines militant resistance with creativity and celebration is common to the anti-nuclear movements in the two countries. Australia and Japan share a longstanding nuclear relationship based on the exploration and exportation of uranium resources to fuel Japanese nuclear reactors. Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, a new relationship is coming into view based on the struggles in both countries to shut down the nuclear industry.
Australia and Japan: The Uranium Connection
Following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Yvonne Margarula, Senior Traditional Owner of the Mirrar people whose traditional lands take in the site of the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu National Park, wrote to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon expressing her concern that uranium from Australia might have played a role in the disaster. Yvonne expressed her feelings of sorrow and regret that the poisonous uranium she has fought so hard to keep in the ground was now contaminating Japan and, as the radioactive cloud drifted across the northern hemisphere, the entire world.
On 31 October 2011, Dr Robert Floyd, Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, confirmed that Yvonne Margarula’s concerns were well founded. He stated before a Joint Standing Committee of the Australian parliament in September 2011 that
Australian obligated nuclear material was at the Fukushima Daiichi site and in each of the reactors—maybe five out of six, or it could have been all of them; almost all of them.
When the global nuclear industry began to develop in the late 1960s a major exploration programme was launched in Australia that led to the discovery of significant uranium deposits. These deposits were high grade, around 0.3%U3O8 and contained a significant amount of uranium. The discovery of these deposits made it possible for Australia to participate in the commercial nuclear industry. Japan relies on exporter countries such as Australia to provide the uranium used in its nuclear power plants. Japanese capital, with government assistance, became involved in the development of uranium mines such as the Ranger mine in Kakadu. As of 2006, Australia provided some one third of Japan’s total uranium imports. Multinational mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton export uranium to Japan from their Olympic Dam and Ranger uranium mines.
The Fukushima disaster exposed the global circuits of the nuclear industry. It made visible the shattered lives, poisoned environments, hazardous working conditions and political corruption that lie behind the innocuous act of plugging in an electrical device in Tokyo or any other city throughout Japan. This is a chain in which we are all implicated and which only we have the power to disrupt; whether by protesting uranium in South Australia or standing in front of the gates of a nuclear reactor in Oi Town. While the disaster revealed the global interconnection of the nuclear industry, it also revealed a multitude of resistances, refusals and rebellions that make that industry vulnerable and which will eventually bring it to its knees.
Globalising Resistance to Radiation: Australia-Japan Solidarity After Fukushima
In response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, anti-nuclear groups across Australia held joint rallies on Hiroshima Day, 6 August 2011. In my hometown of Wollongong about 30 local peace activists and a guest from Japan attended the annual Hiroshima Day commemoration. The event has been held on an annual basis since 1979 and Hiroshima commemorations were held in Wollongong from
as early as 1960. This year, in addition to remembering the terrible tragedy of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki we remembered the tragedy at Fukushima and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters that have caused such tremendous loss of life. Later that day about one hundred people attended a second action, organised by The Wollongong Anti-Nuclear Group, in the same place against nuclear power and nuclear weapons in response to the terrible tragedy in Japan.
Anti-nuclear protests in Australia continue one year after Fukushima. Responding to prime minister Noda Yoshihiko’s decision to restart the Oi nuclear reactor in Fukui prefecture a group in Brisbane protested outside the Japanese Consulate in June this year. In their own words their action was part of a ‘global response to Prime Minister Noda’s announcement that he would re-introduce nuclear power by putting the Ohi reactors back on line.’
The Uncertain Future of the Nuclear Industry
While anti-nuclear protests in Australia have increased following the Fukushima disaster, Australian state and federal governments have been keen to put the accident behind them and expand this poisonous industry. In February, for example, the New South Wales state government overturned a 26-year-ban on uranium exploration in the state. Energy Minister Chris Hartcher told uranium industry figures in June that his government hoped to develop a ‘vibrant uranium exploration industry’. In West Australia, too, the government has approved a uranium mine at Wiluna, which, if it comes to fruition, will be the first uranium mine in that state.
While Australian governments and nuclear advocates have been trying to push ahead with plans to expand uranium mining, the market realities after Fukushima are somewhat more complicated. On 10 May 2012 The Australian newspaper announced Japanese trading house Mitsui’s decision to pull out of the 340-tonne per year Honeymoon uranium mine in South Australia. The company possessed a 49 per cent stake in the mine. Mitsui first bought a stake in the mine in 2008, adding uranium for the first time to its investment portfolio. The mine commenced production in 2010 after capital expenditure of 138 million dollars.
While Mitsui deny any connection between the Fukushima disaster and its decision to pull out of the mine it is hard to believe considering the context of a total shutdown of all nuclear reactors in Japan. Mitsui spoke in economic terms of its lack of confidence in the project producing adequate future returns. However, the company also claimed it would continue to seek investment opportunities in the uranium mining industry. While companies try to maintain market confidence in their investments, the reality facing the future of nuclear energy is much more unstable with continuing protests in Japan and widespread uncertainty in China and India, two of the main projected future consumers of Australian uranium, over the fate of nuclear power.
Australia is thought to possess the largest uranium deposits in the world, with about 23 percent of total reserves. For those who would like to profit from selling these reserves the disaster, the attendant economic slump in Japan and in particular the effects of the nuclear accident are of concern. Debates among investors in Australia over the possible impact of Fukushima continue. Positions range from faith in the ability of Japan’s nuclear industry to bounce-back to the belief that a drop in uranium exports will be replaced by increased exports of coal, natural gas and foodstuffs to the idea that a fall in exports to Japan will be made up by growing exports of uranium to China or Russia. The anti-nuclear movement’s intervention helps increase this uncertainty and divides the ruling class over the question of investment in uranium.
Getting Away from Nuclear: Making Global Democracy
All over the world the nuclear industry is subject to contestation. The industry’s circuits of commodity production are characterised by struggles over uranium mining, power plant construction and waste disposal. While at each link in the nuclear fuel chain activists, workers, indigenous landholders, fight for their own unique set of reasons and interests, the combined effect undermines the nuclear industry. The Fukushima disaster has revealed the global interconnectedness of this industry, but it has also revealed the common desire of people all over the world to put a stop to it.
From Olympic Dam to Oi Village, from the fight against the proposed nuclear waste dump in Muckaty, NT, to the Rokkasho village nuclear reprocessing plant in Japan our resistance must be as diffuse, as all-pervasive and as persistent as radiation itself. By taking action in solidarity with people all over the world who are affected by the nuclear fuel cycle we can forge a global democratic alternative to the capitalist nuclear industry. Wherever we are, let’s fight to stop the nuclear industry and the poisonous anti-democratic politics on which it depends. The time is ripe for us to put an end to the nuclear industry once and for all.