Global Antinuclear Revival

No nuclear plant outside Japan is less safe today than it was before the horrific earthquake/tsunami combination that unleashed an unfolding nuclear nightmare in Japan.

Antinuclear activists protest in Germany

But the accidents in Japan underscore the risks of planning only for crises that might occur every one hundred years.  An earthquake that registers 9.0 on the Richter scale is an exceedingly rare event–the largest quake to hit Japan since such things have been monitored.  We can understand why a politician or bureaucrat would balance the promise of nuclear power against a relatively small risk–particularly in the limited time frames of an electoral cycle, tenure in office, or even a life.

Until the rare event takes place.

Antinuclear activists elsewhere in the world aren’t waiting for their own domestic disasters.  The reactor accidents in Japan have underscored the urgency of those who are already committed, and bolstered their chances of reaching people who were less convinced that nuclear safety was the critical issue to engage.

Turkish activists protest against nuclear power

Protest campaigns have percolated up around the world, including Belarus, which plans to purchase its first nuclear reactor since the Chernobyl accident (when it was part of the Soviet Union), France (which gets roughly 3/4 of its electricity from nuclear plants), IndiaIndonesia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey.

Thus far, the protests have been the largest in Germany (see video), which has a long history of antinuclear activism, and a government that has been compelled to respond to the activists.

The protests aren’t spontaneous; they’ve been organized by groups that have been trying to organize and mobilize for years.  Suddenly, however, their message started coming across more powerfully.

It’s not that the antinuclear activists have changed their rhetoric or tactics, so much as that a critical event has suddenly added exclamation points, amplification, and credibility, to everything they say.  Like the umbrella salesman working on a busy city street, circumstances outside his control have a great deal to do with how he’ll do.

Transnational groups, like Greenpeace, will support, and more importantly, publicize, activism everywhere, and activists will take their cues from each other.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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