About the time of the one-year anniversary of the March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a conversation about the politics of nuclear power started up among Japanologists, mostly political scientists, on a listserv I read daily. The original discussion emerged from the question of whether Japanese political leaders would push for restarting a number of the offline nuclear power plants across the country in order to cover expected gaps in Japan's electricity supply. At first the debate's participants took up the countervailing pressures Japanese policymakers face: the need to provide affordable power to Japanese companies in order to spur economic recovery, the inevitable increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would be produced by a shift from nuclear to fossil fuels, the polling data suggesting an overwhelming majority of Japanese citizens are opposed to restarting the plants (Mainichi Shinbun 2012). Then the listserv debate broke away from scholarly assessments of the electoral and policy dilemmas faced by the ruling Democratic Party into thinly veiled arguments between proponents and opponents of nuclear power. Some assertions were made about the nuclear power “phobia” and “emotional” opposition of those who, it was suggested, do not understand the science of it, and a debate commenced over the question of how many people the Chernobyl accident of 1986 had really killed.

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