Nuclear Restart Generates Protests in Japan_Featured_, Politics Friday, July 20th, 2012
Every Friday evening they gather before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s residence.
The first rally in March was modest: a few hundred citizens joined against nuclear power, marking the anniversary of the earthquake- and tsunami-triggered Fukushima Daiichi disaster a year earlier. But in recent weeks, since Noda decided to restart two of Japan’s 54 idled nuclear reactors, the protest has swelled into a mass demonstration blocking the streets of Japan’s political center.
Building on their Friday night momentum, protestors on Monday staged their largest rally yet, with tens of thousands of people congregating at Yoyogi Park, and then marching in three groups through the capital.
This rare display of public discontent by the Japanese, bringing together citizens from all walks of life, shows no signs of waning, exposing how deeply the nation is divided over the form of energy that until recently powered one-third of Japan’s economy.
“Never in my 39 years of my life have I ever tried to voice my views out loud like this,” said Hitoshi Iwata, a Tokyo office worker who took to the streets after learning of the event through social media. “I expected the Fukushima case would turn society away from nuclear power,” he said. “But when things started to move on the contrary, the sense of disappointment was so strong I felt a compelling need to voice my protest.”
But there are no easy answers for Japan. The nation has no known fossil-fuel reserves of its own, and began relying heavily on nuclear power as a home-grown resource after the global oil shocks of the 1970s. The nation’s faith in the safety of its nuclear fleet was shattered when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami touched off the crisis at Fukushima. Since then, Japan has been ramping up fossil-fuel imports, aggressively promoting renewables and conservation, and trying to plot a new energy future.
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Photo: Kimimasa Mayama, European Pressphoto Agency