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Taro Yamamoto on the Anti-Nuclear Movement

SNA (Tokyo) — Actor Taro Yamamoto explains why he has become active in the anti-nuclear movement and what happened when a group of anti-nuclear activists stormed the Saga prefectural headquarters.

Full Transcript

Yamamoto: I first became afraid of nuclear power at the time of Chernobyl. At the time I was very young, about 5th grade in elementary school. After some years passed, I came to understand that nuclear energy is very risky, especially after I became a Greenpeace supporter. That was about eight years ago. The well-liked Japanese actors and actresses are those who seem pure. Those who talk about politics, sports, religion are breaking a bit of a taboo in Japan.

In Japan, it is extremely rare for celebrities to speak out on controversial topics. Yamamoto, who starred in films including Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, left his management agency following controversy caused by anti-nuclear remarks that he posted on Twitter.

Yamamoto: Those who support nuclear energy are the employees of the electric power companies or from construction companies. These are all organizations. But those who oppose nuclear power are various sorts. Mothers and fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, children and adults. Truly, a wide range of people. We are not here because we received some order from an organization. These were many who came for really the first time. I don’t know who they were, but we felt united. In truth, it is the people who are the most powerful. It is the people who can decide. But this has been reversed because votes have been bought. In truth, when people think there’s no choice, (they think) they have to resort to violence. When the voices of the people are being completely ignored, it is the final stage to protect ourselves. But until that time comes, I don’t want to use violence.

In late June, local authorities were debating whether to restart two reactors at the Genkai Nuclear Power Plant, located in Saga Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. The reactors had remained closed after routine maintenance checks. As part of the dialogue with the community, a local, ministry-sponsored TV program was aired live on June 26. After media reports, the plant’s operator, Kyushu Electric Power Company, later admitted it attempted to fabricate local public support for restarting the reactors by urging employees of the utility and its affiliates to send comments in favor of the issue to the TV program. Following the incident, a small group of protesters, including Yamamoto, made national headlines after they stormed the Saga Prefectural Office.

Yamamoto: It was a Monday morning at about 10 am, so I didn’t expect that many people would come. I didn’t think that a demonstration would have much effect. But if you ask me why I wanted to join, it was because it gave the participants a chance to create a bond with one another. Ordinarily, we just live as individuals, but we wanted to make a united appeal. Genkai was the most important place for us to fight. So, I went there to raise their morale. Of course, some media reports were accurate, and others just focused on shallow spectacle. I doubt they really saw anything that happened. They did not try to penetrate into events. They seemed like they had no energy. They were not really engaged in reporting at all. First of all, we wanted to talk directly to the governor, and we wanted to submit our petition, which described the things that we wanted to see happen. Those at the front moved into the building. The employees or guards let it open, so they moved in. I thought this might be a bad idea. I was worried things might escalate and there could be violence. I thought that I had a responsibility to stop things if they started getting out of control. I had confidence that I could do this, so I had to go inside. The city employees had made a barricade. I guess they had received an order from their superiors. Some of the younger members got angry and tried to bust the barricade. There weren’t so many security guards, but after we entered the building, many city employees emerged. There were about thirty of them, I’d say. If we really wanted a place to talk, I thought we should not break the barricade, but rather it was smarter to ask them to open it. We gave the petition to the governor’s representative. They could have just done this from the beginning. We then negotiated with them and submitted our petition on the first floor.

Woman: We can’t go back home (to Fukushima) even though we want to. Don’t do the same thing in Saga Prefecture. Don’t simply say nuclear power is safe. The world is a place where anything can happen. No one will be deceived by your words. Please listen. The fact that you have come here, must mean that you want to help us get rid of nuclear power.

On August 1, Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa admitted that he may have made a remark that prompted Kyushu Electric Power Company executives to start the email campaign to the TV program. He apologized but denied he had suggested the method as a way to sway the public debate.

Yamamoto: When it comes to politics in Hollywood, although people in Hollywood talk about issues like Tibet and Darfur, they have said nothing about the nuclear problem in Japan. This shows that, worldwide, the issue is being kept in the shadows. It’s being hidden by the nuclear power industry. So even Hollywood stars may not be able to talk about nuclear power in their own countries. Therefore, the children of Fukushima can get exposed from one to now twenty millisieverts of radiation. Frankly speaking, aren’t we just watching people die? (The authorities) say “Just be patient, but we guarantee nothing.” I think this is murder.

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