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Anti-nuclear movement growing in Asia

Though nuclear power still has a strong foothold in Asia, anti-nuclear sentiment and protest are growing from Mongolia to South Korea to Taiwan and even - in modest ways - in China.

By Winifred BirdCorrespondent / January 27, 2012

Protesters holding anti-nuclear banners listen to another group of protesters shouting slogans near an area a citizens' group has set up tents to protest against the use of nuclear power on the premises of the Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry in Tokyo Friday.

Hiro Komae/AP

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Yokohama, Japan

Heonseok Lee has a simple way of describing how public sentiment toward nuclear power has changed in South Korea since the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last March 11.

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“Before 3/11, I’d post an article criticizing the nuclear power industry, and right away there’d be hundreds of really nasty comments. After 3/11, there’ll still be a few dozen. But not hundreds,” says Lee, a full-time anti-nuclear activist in one of the world’s most pro-nuclear countries.

Though nuclear power still has a strong foothold throughout the region, and public opinion is mixed, activists across Asia have anecdotes like this to show that anti-nuclear sentiment and protest are slowly growing from Mongolia, to South Korea to Taiwan and even - in modest ways - to China.

This month, activists from Japan and South Korea announced plans for a new East Asian civil society network to promote renewable energy and oppose nuclear power.

“The more we share information on the dangers on nuclear power and spread technology and wisdom regarding natural energy, the more East Asia will become the center of peace, not conflict; of life, not destruction,” the network’s initial declaration reads, referring to frequent clashes in the region on the governmental level. Organizers are recruiting 311 prominent pop-culture figures, activists, politicians, and scientists to sign the declaration in time for a March 11 launch (they have 200 signatures so far). Eventually, they hope to coordinate actions, hold joint events, and share information region-wide.  

With its rapid economic growth and pressing need for low-carbon energy, however, Griffith University research fellow Vlado Vivoda says Asia is still on track to become the nuclear powerhouse of the future. It will take constant pressure and recruitment for activists to run with the Fukushima momentum and make the case that alternative energy sources – which are also booming in the region – can entirely replace nuclear reactors.

“Governments have acknowledged the disaster and announced new safety measures, but remain committed to nuclear power,” says Vivoda, who studies Asian energy security issues.

In November South Korean officials reaffirmed plans to nearly double the number of reactors operating domestically and make nuclear technology an export focus. China, too, shows little sign of revising plans to dramatically increase capacity, although it has temporarily delayed approval of new plants in order to reassess safety. And in the Taiwanese presidential election this month, current president Ma Ying-jeou beat out anti-nuclear challenger Tsai Ing-wen, who had promised to halt construction on two new reactors.

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