The nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima earlier this year shocked the world, but they shocked the Japanese people even more. For years they’ve been earnestly reassured by their governments and the energy companies that atomic power was safe, clean and cheap.
Industry drove a well-oiled marketing machine, backed by buckets of government cash. A largely compliant, unquestioning media toed the line. For heavily industrialised, gadget and appliance obsessed, energy-hungry Japan, nuclear was the future. Opponents were savaged and consigned to the fringe.
Then the earth shook, tsunamis hurtled onto the coast sweeping away communities, seriously damaging a huge seaside power plant thought indestructible and - suddenly - Japan was in the grip of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. With the radiation clouds and plumes came a dramatic shift in opinion as confidence in the nuclear industry crashed.
She’d never want it this way but it was nevertheless vindication for people like Atsuko Ogasawara. Many in her fishing community had decided to take compensation payments and buyouts from a power company busily establishing a nuclear plant on the town’s outskirts. The Ogasawaras weren’t among them. First Atsuko’s mother refused to take the company’s ever escalating offers of cash for her small wooden home. Then when she died, Atsuko continued the resistance. Hers is the last home standing - all but enveloped by the power plant - but she’s not giving in. And her stand is inspiring others across Japan mobilising against the construction of nuclear power plants.
North Asia Correspondent Mark Willacy - who’s spent much of this year reporting on the quake, tsunami and the consequential Fukushima incident, travels to meet Atsuko Ogasawara and on to other anti-nuclear stand-offs across Japan where the resistance has been inspired by her tenacity and emboldened by the deepening national concern about industry and government guarantees about safety.
Along the way Willacy finds himself suiting-up and heading into what many believe to be the world’s most dangerous nuclear plant – Hamaoka – which sits on several major active fault lines. The area is due for what some expect to be a magnitude 8 earthquake. “If ever there was going to be another Fukushima disaster” Willacy notes, “ it’s likely it would happen here”.