Anti-nuclear protests in Japan commemorate Fukushima anniversary

By Efrosini Costa

REUTERS/Issei Kato
REUTERS/Issei Kato
Public sentiment in Japan has turned against nuclear energy in the two years since its devastating nuclear disaster, but while many would like to see a zero nuclear power future – will it be possible?

“Sayonara, nuclear power,” read a sign at yesterday’s anti-nuclear rallies in Japan.

“I think it is adults’ responsibility to achieve zero nuclear power, before we die,” said another banner held by protesters.

Opinion polls in the country show a majority of Japanese people now oppose the use of nuclear energy and the sentiment was evident as thousands of demonstrators converged in Tokyo yesterday.

Similar events will be held around the country today with as many as 150 anti-nuclear protests planned today, local media are reporting.

But there are growing fears that this may not be enough to stop another Fukushima disaster from happening again.

A new government, which came to power in December last year, and dwindling numbers since last year’s “summer of discontent” have sparked rumours that the country’s leaders are keen to revive its once strong atomic energy industry.

As they begin to commemorate the second anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered the worst nuclear diaster since Chernobyl, the Japanese anti-nuclear movement seems to be struggling, with once disgraced pro-nuclear groups now rallying.

Although a recent study showed 70 per cent of Japanese citizens wanting nuclear energy phased out, a large number of them still back their new pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government and its leader Shinzo Abe.

The country’s prime minister recently signalled his wish to restart some of the 50 offline reactors in an effort to revive the stagnant Japanese economy – two of them have already been given the green light.

The March 11, 2011 tragedy claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people, with several thousand still unaccounted for. The subsequent fallout at the Fukushima nuclear plant severely contaminated the country’s vast farming region and forced more than 160,00 people from their homes.

Though the clean up and rebuilding process is well underway, the country’s disaster response experts are more nervous than ever about an impending quake and possible tsunami.

“There’s a high probability a violent tremor will strike the region [in the foreseeable future], stronger than the one that hit two years ago. It could be catastrophic,” famed Japanese seismologist Katsuhiko Ishibashi told reporters.

Nuclear energy once supplied close to 30 per cent of the country’s electricity needs and proponents of nuclear energy believe it is vital to re-energise the country in an effort to stop Japanese manufacturers from taking their businesses offshore.

But while the government is keen to revive the country’s atomic energy industry, some are unwilling to throw in the towel just yet.

For 64-year-old Morishi Izumita, one of the hundreds who gathered outside the prime minster’s office on Friday, the fight isn’t over.

“We can’t give up. I’m here every week,” Izumita told reporters.

“We need to be out here protesting. Not giving up is the important thing,” he added, as other activists banged on drums and chanted “Stop nuclear power, protect our children.”


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