Nelson, Craig. 2011. “‘The Energy of a Bright Tomorrow’: The Rise of Nuclear Power in Japan.” Origins 4 (9) (June).

Ohio State University’s online journal Origins (tagline: “Current Events in Historical Perspective”) has published a highly accessible article by Craig Nelson, a historian of Japanese nuclear power. Nelson fulfills the promise of the journal’s tagline by providing a concise overview of the history of nuclear power in Japan, tracing the story of how a nation victimized by atomic bombings and viscerally opposed to nuclear weapons could become among the world’s most dependent upon nuclear power generation. This article, appropriate for readers at the high school level and up, will be useful for teachers and students who wish to learn more about the often-ignored history of “nukes” in Japan spanning the period between the three names that everyone now recognizes: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Fukushima.

Here is a brief excerpt:

We are haunted by the specter of our nuclear past. And given Japan’s complicated past with nuclear issues, it is especially surprising that Japan now has such a highly developed civilian nuclear power program, the third largest in the world after those of the United States and France.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, fallout from the testing of Soviet nuclear weapons, and the Lucky Dragon Incident of 1954 left the Japanese in the 1950s with what some observers have called a “nuclear allergy.” Historically, Japanese anti-nuclear-weapons activists have been among the most vigorous in the world.

But the desperate need for energy to power Japan’s rapid economic growth and the complexities of post-World War II international relations together led the Japanese government to pursue nuclear power.

Choosing a nuclear policy was one thing, persuading an initially reluctant public was quite another.   The government and electric utilities promoted the nuclear power option relentlessly, starting a public relations campaign in the mid-1950s that strove to cement a positive image of nuclear power in the public eye.

In Futaba, a sign bearing the town’s motto—“nuclear power is the energy of a bright tomorrow”—now stands as an eerie reminder of that campaign for a nuclear-powered future.

But nuclear power has remained a sensitive issue and the public has long expressed ambiguous feelings and increasing concern toward it.  The government, by contrast, has remained a firm supporter, even in the face of incidents and disaster that gave rise to questions about the wisdom and safety of nuclear power, such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (1979).

Regardless of the outcome of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi, nuclear issues have played a starring role in Japanese politics, society, and culture for the past seventy years—one that is unlikely to disappear in the near future.

Read the full article at Origins.

Listen to an NPR interview with author Craig Nelson about the history of nuclear power in Japan.

ARTICLE: ‘The Energy of a Bright Tomorrow:’ The Rise of Nuclear Power in Japan (2011)
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