Fachgruppensitzung Stadt- und Regionalforschung 2019

Dr. Florentine Koppenborg (Bavarian School of Public Policy (HfP), Technical University Munich): How safe is safe?

This presentation contributed to debates about trust (deficits) in the government after 3/11 and rural areas surrounding nuclear power plants as epicenters of government opposition. The March 2011 nuclear accident eroded trust in the safety of nuclear power plants. It prompted large anti-nuclear demonstrations across Japan, but most prevalent in Tokyo. In response, government bodies in charge of nuclear safety measures were reformed, resulting in the establishment of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA, Genshiryoku kisei iinkai) in 2012. The NRA pledged to implement strict measures to protect people’s lives and to regain public trust in nuclear safety. Despite thorough and time consuming safety checks to that end, a new wave of protests emerged, particularly in rural areas near nuclear power plants. What is the bone of contention fueling local opposition?

Drawing on the concepts of anzen and anshin, the presentation illuminated the ongoing struggle over interpreting nuclear safety among politicians, regulators, citizen groups, and the judiciary. The judiciary provided an avenue to challenge decision of the safety agency, which citizen group utilized by filing lawsuits against reactor restarts. Due to the courts’ ability to shut down nuclear reactors, their rulings have strong implications regarding the future of nuclear power in Japan. Investigating the position of the Abe administration, the NRA, the plaintiffs, and different courts on the safety of reactor restarts revealed considerable tensions between the government’s desire to provide reassurance (anshin), the NRA’s science-based approach to safety (anzen) and local residents’ desire for even stronger precautions. Also a divided judiciary was embroiled in the conflict. The findings presented contribute to an understanding of where citizen distrust in the nuclear safety administration lingers and how this drew more rural communities into the conflict over nuclear reactor restarts.