How did earthquake-prone Japan, where two atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II creating a strong antinuclear weapons culture, come to embrace nuclear power just a few decades later? Therein lies a tale whose main characters include two former prime ministers, a suspected war criminal, CIA agent and postwar media baron, and “Japan’s Charles Lindbergh,” a flamboyant pilot who encouraged people to search for uranium in their backyards. It also involves thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and the pronuclear media collectively known as Japan’s “nuclear power village.” At the same time it’s the story of those who opposed nuclear power from the beginning, warning of the potential dangers and arguing for decades that nuclear power wasn’t as safe as advertised, and reactors could be seriously damaged by an earthquake.
The saga begins in summer 1953. Future Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was then a young politician studying at Harvard University. He learned from politically connected professors that the United States was about to allow the knowledge and technology that built atomic bombs to be exported for the peaceful use of nuclear power. In December 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his “Atoms for Peace” initiative that provided U.S. nuclear technology to allies like resource-poor Japan that wanted to harness the atom.
Nakasone reacted immediately, leading efforts in the Diet in late 1953 and early 1954 to draw up Japan’s first-ever budget for nuclear power research. He assembled a group of like-minded allies in and out of government to help convince the public of the necessity to invest in this new technology.
One of the most influential was Matsutaro Shoriki, head of the Yomiuri Shimbun and head of the newly created Nippon TV. Shoriki was jailed after World War II as a suspected Class-A war criminal and sent to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. But he was released a couple of years later without being charged and allegedly became a CIA informant. Shoriki was, like his friend Nakasone, a strong supporter of nuclear power. Under his guidance, the Yomiuri led the way in selling nuclear power to the public as a safe, reliable and peaceful energy source.
On New Year’s Day, 1954, the paper began a series of articles titled “Finally, the Sun Has Been Captured,” which extolled the benefits of nuclear power. Despite the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 incident of March 1, 1954, in which 23 Japanese fishermen were exposed to nuclear fallout from U.S. testing of a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, stoking public concern about anything nuclear, the Diet passed Japan’s first nuclear power research budget, worth-