Tens of thousands of people turned out in Tokyo against nuclear power on Monday, urging the Japanese government not to restart reactors in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Protest organizers said 170,000 people rallied near a Tokyo park; police reportedly pegged the number at 75,000.
The massive rally is believed to be the biggest demonstration yet in Japan against nuclear power, which has plummeted in public favor since a devastating tsunami and earthquake struck the country in March 2011, inundating the Fukushima plant and spilling radiation into the surrounding area.
In a blistering recent report, an independent commission accused the Japanese government and its leading utility of colluding to avoid taking steps that would have prevented meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear complex, slamming it as “an obviously man-made disaster” that could have been prevented.
Worries about safety have soured Japanese citizens on nuclear power: A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year found 70% of Japanese respondents wanted to see nuclear power cut back or eliminated, a far higher percentage than a year earlier, when the nation was closely divided on the nuclear question. Overall, 80% were critical of the government, the same Pew poll found.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has warned that electricity will falter and prices will soar if nuclear reactors are not restarted, but protesters argue that Japan could wean itself off atomic energy and point to the failures chronicled in the report as evidence that nuclear power should be quashed.
The Monday protest was headlined by Japanese celebrities, including Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kenzaburo Oe. “I feel we’re being insulted by the government,” Oe was quoted by Kyodo News at the protest, describing rebooting a reactor last month as “a plot by the government."
One nuclear reactor at the Ohi plant in central Japan has already been restarted; another is slated to go online this week, the Associated Press reported. The rest of the more than four dozen nuclear reactors in Japan, which fuel nearly a third of its energy needs, are still idle.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A protester shouts slogans during an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo on Monday. Credit: Franck Robichon / European Pressphoto Agency