Report from the Global Conference for a Nuclear-Free World Yokohama
The dawn of a small global revolution: A world without nuclear power is possible
Global Conference for a Nuclear Free World in Yokohama (Japan) ends with the “Yokohama Declaration”. A significant success.
“The Japanese have been exposed to nuclear radiation on five occasions: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Bikini Atoll [the crew of the vessel Daigo Fukuryu-maru], Tokaimura [the 1999 accident at the Japan Nuclear Fuel Conversion Co. plant], and then Fukushima. In the first three cases we were the victims, but with Fukushima we have, unfortunately, truly become the perpetrators, polluting the planet.” So said Ms. Chizuko Ueno, well-known Japanese sociologist, from the stage of the final plenary session. “But this conference has given me hope regarding three points: Getting free from nuclear power is possible; the alternatives are within our reach; finally, perhaps we citizens are able to decide our future and to accept responsibility instead of delegating it to politicians.”
11,500 participants in two days, against the 10,000 the organisers had hoped for. In addition, more than 100,000 viewers from all over the world followed the proceedings on Internet TV. Around 50 sessions including conferences, live concerts, films and performances, with all the halls packed. There were more than 50 meetings of various kinds, numerous stalls and parallel initiatives for children and adults, all organised by around 100 groups and associations from Japan, about 20 of which were from Fukushima, and abroad. Around 300 volunteers helped in the running of things. On the Saturday an anti-nuclear march of around 5,000 citizens crossed the centre of Yokohama.
These are the numbers registered by the Global Conference for a Nuclear Free World, promoted by six Japanese n.g.o.'s: Peace Boat, Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP) Green Action, Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, FoE Japan e Greenpeace Japan. The conference took place from 1.00 p.m. on Saturday 14th January till 8.30 p.m. on Sunday 15th January at the Pacifico Yokohama, a huge conference centre near the old port. A remarkable success, considering they had only a few months to prepare everything.
Local actions from the bottom-up linked globally: democracy
Since this was an event to promote abandoning our dependence on nuclear power, there were, of course, various sessions dedicated to renewable sources. Of special interest was a series of multimedia presentations made by Japanese youths who have gone round the world with Peace Boat -- the Japanese n.g.o. that has special consultative status for the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations --, which organises various educational trips during their voyage, like, for example, visiting eco-villages and schools that are very active in environmental education.
However, several speakers pointed out that what was in question was not really the choice of sources of energy, but control over them. In other words, opposing nuclear power necessarily involves a radical change in society and each individual citizen's relationship with politics. “We have to stop delegating decisions to others on such important issues as nuclear power”, Ms. Ueno and other speakers emphasised.
In concrete terms? The first step should be taken locally.
First of all, it was pointed out that after Fukushima, when problems related to nuclear power were talked about, the distinction between the double use of nuclear power, i.e. civil and military, disappeared. Through a comparison of various cases that have happened around the world it became obvious that the basic human rights of all the numerous victims of nuclear power -- victims of bombing, experiments, uranium mining, plant maintenance, waste treatment, not to mention accidents in plants in Japan and elsewhere -- have always been denied: the right to precise information in real time to safeguard one's health, the right to adequate treatment, or to a normal life, even the right to choose where to go to flee from the danger, and also the right to compensation, as is happening now to many inhabitants of Fukushima. All in the name of national security (in other words, military secrets). Rarely do the local authorities directly involved have a say in the matter, and they find themselves in the position of not being able to safeguard the lives of the inhabitants of their own territory. Fukushima offers many horrendous episodes.
And this is the point! Solidarity with Fukushima is bringing about a network of representatives of local authorities. The conference offered a useful starting point from which to launch a new network: the creation of a coordination of “Mayors for a nuclear-free world”, taking the “Mayors for peace” as an example, will soon be officially announced. A dozen representatives of local authorities who were at this event are convinced that by banding together and creating horizontal relationships the situation can be changed.
And the network will extend beyond national borders, because radiation ignores them completely.
The conference was 'global' not only in name and thanks to the presence of over 100 foreigners from 30 countries all over the world, but rather in the spirit the issue was dealt with. Fukushima was a common point of reference for everyone and had spurred on already-existing movements and raised the awareness of others, bringing about multiple reactions.
For instance, an initiative originated in nearby South Korea to launch an appeal with 311 signatures of well-known figures [311 refers to March 11th, the day of the earthquake]. At the start the idea was to gather 100 signatures each in South Korea, Japan and China, because at the moment Japan has 54 reactors; South Korea has 21, with seven on the way; while China has only 14, but this figure will rise sharply because around 30 are under construction. Already the three countries together form a zone with the highest concentration of utilities on the earth. The South Koreans place their hopes in the collaboration of these three countries; above all, the hope that in China -- where civil movements are still very limited, as the two Chinese representatives of nuclear activism in their country confirmed --, the rush to use atomic power can be halted.
Two members of Parliament and a female lawyer from Jordan were present. Jordan is one of the countries Japan is trying to sell 'made in Japan' nuclear plants to; the other countries are Turkey, Lithuania and Vietnam. “In Jordan, there is neither the money nor the resources of water, let alone security. Not even uranium. We have far less than is believed”, declares Jamal Gammoh, member of parliament and president of the Energy and Mineral Resources Commission. “Out of 120 members of parliament, 64 have already signed a petition against the construction of the plant.” After the conference the Jordanians are going to lobby their Japanese parliamentary counterparts in an effort to convince them to renounce the exportation of Japanese plants to Jordan.
The beginning of a mothers and children quiet revolution
The conference lasted only a short while, less than 18 hours, yet at the end the feeling was that one had taken part in a meeting lasting a few days. Perhaps it was due to the intensity of each meeting, or to the enthusiasm that permeated the four-storey pavilion.
Another reason could be that the sessions were also interactive, quite unusual for a conference of these dimensions. At the beginning and end of each session -- except for the plenary sessions in the main hall --, members of the audience were invited to chat with those seated next to them for a few minutes, the aim being to help people meet one another and to stimulate communication. Furthermore, before leaving we were asked to write a concrete suggestion or question that arose during the session on a post-it, both to fix our impressions in our minds by writing them down, and to encourage us to contribute to the brainstorming. We then took the post-its to a specially-designated area for this purpose where there were panels with trees with bare branches drawn on them, the post-its became the leaves: “a forest of actions for a nuclear-free world”. The forest project has been transferred to the internet in seven categories: 1. Emergency actions for Fukushima; 2. New action networks; 3. Recommendations to the Japanese government; 4. Recommendations to all governments; 5. The role of local authorities; 6. The contribution of corporations; 7. What we all can do.
Here is the link: http://npfree.jp/forest-of-action/
The bilingual [Japanese and English] site is in twitter style, which should allow everyone to take part, share and coordinate actions. As the title of the closing session says: “Let's make a start!” This, together with contacts made and knowledge acquired during the conference, should kick off a new era for anti-nuclear movements.
A number of people made reference during the final press conference to the Arab Spring, because the mobilisation was successful thanks to internet, the majority of the mass media having snubbed it in the days leading up to the event.
That is probably also due to the fact that the atmosphere was quite joyful and laid-back, there were more youths than older people, who are normally the main protagonists of political demonstrations in Japan. The presence of the younger generations was noticeable also in the recent large “Bye-bye nuclear power” demonstrations. The participation of lots of whole families, as many women as men -- a balanced proportion of all members as in normal society is, differently to Italy, a new phenomenon in Japan, or at least had not been seen since the movements against the Vietnam war.
Who knows whether it will evolve into a widespread social phenomenon? May March 11th be remembered by future generations as the start of a new epoch? Without a doubt we find ourselves smack in the middle of a most crucial period for the planet as far as nuclear power is concerned.