Tens of thousands of people rallied Monday in Tokyo demanding an end to nuclear power, the latest in a series of demonstrations to erupt since the triple-meltdown disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Under scorching sunshine on a national holiday, demonstrators marched through the streets around Yoyogi Park chanting: “Don’t resume nuclear power operation! Prime Minister Noda should quit!”
Organizers estimated the turnout at 170,000, which would apparently make it the biggest antinuclear rally since last year’s quake and tsunami sparked the world’s worst atomic disaster in a generation at the poorly protected plant.
Participants included Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oe and famed musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto.
“We are angry because no progress has been made in terms of compensation and decontamination,” said Noboru Shikatani, 71, who evacuated from Fukushima to Tokyo amid the disaster.
“We can’t accept any resumption of nuclear power operation, as the Fukushima crisis has not been resolved,” he said. “We want to bring our voice to many people by joining this kind of demonstration.”
Sakamoto said: “We shouldn’t put the lives of children who are the future of our country, a beautiful Japan, in potential danger just for such a thing as electricity.”
Oe said: “I feel insulted by the government, which reactivated Kansai Electric Power’s Oi Nuclear Power Station after the major nuclear power accident happened.”
Oe and others are on a petition drive to collect 10 million signatures. As of July 8, around 7.85 million people had signed, and some have already been presented to Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura.
Monday’s rally came after unit 3 at the Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture last week became the nation’s first reactor to resume full operation, ending Japan’s brief departure from atomic power. Kepco is now trying to fire up reactor 4.
All of the nation’s commercial nuclear plants were shut down in succession after the Fukushima crisis began, kicking off a nearly two-month hiatus from atomic power and orders for all reactors to undergo stress tests.
Despite the government’s tests and safety claims, antinuclear sentiment remains strong and protesters have been turning out by the tens of thousands.
A damning independent Diet report recently said the crisis at Fukushima No. 1 was a man-made disaster, marked by oversight failures, collusion between Tokyo Electric, the government and industry-promoting regulators, and a culture that blindly follows authority.
Atomic power went on hold as Japan mulled its options after the 9.0-magnitude megaquake and tsunami crippled the cooling systems at Fukushima No. 1, leading to three core meltdowns.
But in mid-June, Noda gave the green light to restart two of the units at the Oi plant to prevent summer power shortages.
For critics of atomic power, the move came too soon.
“We want to continue to stage demonstrations as antinuclear sentiment is growing among the people,” said Yasunari Fujimoto, an organizer of the rally.
According to the organizers, the event drew not only activists from civic groups but also private citizens concerned about the future. The size of the crowd assembled at Yoyogi Park was unparalleled for an event there, they said.
Kumiko Kobayashi, 59, from Meguro Ward, Tokyo, brought her children and granddaughter to the protest. It was their first time.
“The first priority is to halt nuclear power plants. I want the government and the general public to adopt a normal way of thinking and realize that,” she said.
Jakucho Setouchi, a 90-year-old novelist and Buddhist nun, said she is skeptical the government will comply with the people’s wishes to do away with nuclear power but that it was imperative to deliver an emphatic message.
“We nonetheless need to assemble. We’re taxpayers. We can and should express our opinions,” she said.
Economic commentator Katsuto Uchihashi and journalist Takashi Hirose were among others who spoke at the rally, which was followed by a march.
The participants took to the streets in three groups, marching about 3 km near the park while chanting “We don’t need nuclear power plants,” and “Government — stop deciding without public consent.”
Reflecting the size of the crowd and police attempts to cram their growing numbers into the same-old area, the sidewalks around the park were packed, leaving almost no room to move around at one point.
Separately, the weekly antinuclear rally each Friday that’s routinely shunted off to the side of the prime minister’s residence has been getting progressively bigger. Civic groups staging the event say the June 29 rally drew 200,000 people, but the Metropolitan Police Department put the count at around 17,000.
A large candlelight vigil surrounding the Diet building is scheduled for July 29.