This article discusses Japan’s nuclear power infrastructure via U.S.-Japan relations in the geopolitical context of the Cold War. It puts the origins of Japan’s nuclear power program in the period of the “postwar” (i.e. after the end of the Pacific War in 1945), a term which carries special significance within Japanese studies as a particular turning point for the country’s history due to the remaking of the former imperial power as a constitutional democracy and its new, close ties to the United States. Yoshimi argues that, even before the Japanese government began actively soliciting land and technology to build nuclear power plant complexes in the 1960s, the trajectory of nuclear power development taken by Japan was already conditioned by U.S. policies regarding nuclear power and Communism during the 1950s, under the Eisenhower administration, namely the “New Look” and “Atoms for Peace” projects.
America’s initiation of these projects, particularly “Atoms for Peace”, allowed Japanese conservatives in government and corporate circles to jump on the bandwagon of nuclear power development to promote Japan’s own economic and political interests. Indeed, after an accident involving a Japanese fishing boat that accidentally experienced fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test in the Marshall Islands, the idea of “Atoms for Peace” promoting not only grand ideals of peace and anti-Communism, but also an affluent lifestyle, became used to quell the fears that people in Japan had towards nuclear power. Yoshimi traces America’s penetration of Japan’s political and socioeconomic infrastructure through these Cold War policies, endorsed by agents in Japanese state and industry. In his analysis, a reliance on American strategy, policies and technology during the postwar allowed what he terms the “triple exposure” of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Bikini (or Lucky Dragon) incident into the background of Japanese people’s consciousness.
This article is a useful piece that might be read alongside Peter Kuznick’s “Japan’s Nuclear History in Perspective,” which gives more details on the U.S. side of the story. [“Japan’s Nuclear History in Perspective.” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (13 April). http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/japans-nuclear-historyperspective-eisenhower-and-atoms-war-and-peace-0 ] Yoshimi, as a Japanese academic, provides a counterpoint to Kuznick’s piece that discusses the larger significance for Japan to have been a part of these Eisenhower-era policies. Students might also be asked to do some follow-up reading on the U.S. Atoms for Peace project in other countries besides Japan and to discuss the Japanese case in comparison.
Shi-Lin Loh, Dept. of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University