Everything changed after the meltdowns in the tsunami-stricken reactors. His schedule filled with invitations for interviews and speaking engagements; his book sales went up; and a 15-year-old British documentary featuring his research on “nuclear gypsies,” subcontractors hired to do the riskiest jobs at plants, is enjoying a revival on YouTube.
“I never imagined I would have so many people interested in helping me,” he said recently.
In the midst of the radiation crisis, in which miles of ocean and farmland have been contaminated and 80,000 people have been evicted from their homes, there lies a seed of hope for the people who warned that this day would come.
Until now, anti-nuclear activists here have counted some local victories, preventing plants from moving in or quashing the use of plutonium-laced nuclear fuel in their neighborhoods. But they say their national influence has been virtually nil.
They describe a block of pro-nuclear scholars, politicians and businessmen who have brought more than 50 reactors online in the past 35 years, making Japan the world’s third- largest producer of nuclear power.
But in the past few weeks, former chiefs of key nuclear safety commissions and government agencies have apologized for overlooking important safety concerns. And aging activists, who got involved in local battles opposing reactors in the 1970s or were inspired after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, are getting reinforcements.
A wave of younger people are checking daily Geiger-counter readings online and carrying “No Nukes” signs up and down the streets of trendy Tokyo neighborhoods. Two separate protests in the capital on Sunday attracted more than 10,000 people, who called for a moratorium on nuclear power.
“The times are changing,” said Yukio Yamaguchi, co-director of the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center, Japan’s most prominent anti-nuclear organization, at a meeting attended by nearly 300 people, including some who traveled more than 500 miles.
Higuchi is more optimistic that a moratorium on nuclear power production is possible. “The economic giants may still be saying, ‘We will not stop nuclear power,’ but the people, I think, will rise up.”
The son of a poor rice farmer in Nagano, Higuchi came of age in rapidly industrializing post-war Japan. He left the farm at age 22 for Tokyo, where he found a job as a heavy machine operator in a steel plant. At first he was happy. “I will be able to eat for the rest of my life,” he recalled thinking. But the job was dull and the fumes made him dizzy.