Japan Marks Three Months Since Tsunami with Anti-Nuclear Protests
TOKYO — Japan on Saturday marked three months since its massive quake-tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis, amid simmering public frustration over the government's slow response to the catastrophe.
Thousands of people staged anti-nuclear rallies in Tokyo and other cities as radiation continued to leak from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, some 220 kilometres northeast of the capital.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under heavy pressure to step down, visited part of the disaster zone where 23,500 people were killed or are still unaccounted for while 90,000 others remained holing up in crowded shelters.
Several thousand demonstrators, some carrying placards reading: "We don't want nuclear power plants" marched past the head office of the Fukushima plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, in a rally organized online by the Japan Congress against Atomic and Nuclear Bombs.
But dozens of apparently right-wing activists, some of them holding the military rising-sun flag, jeered at them from the roadside. "Shut up, anti-nuclear advocates who have no counterproposal," one of their placards read.
TEPCO, once the world's biggest utility, has seen its share price plunge more than 90 per cent since the March 11 disaster.
A minute's silence was observed at various places nationwide at 2:46 p.m., the moment the 9.0-magnitude quake struck below the Pacific seafloor sending monster waves over the country's northeastern Tohoku region.
"It is time to shift to renewable energy sources," Greenpeace director Kumi Naidoo told a rally at Tokyo's Yoyogi Park before they took to the streets holding sunflowers and gerbera daisies.
Media reports said that around 100 anti-nuclear events were staged nationwide, including in the western cities of Osaka and Hiroshima, which was devastated by a U.S. atomic bomb in 1945.
The prime minister attended a meeting with leaders in the port town of Kamaishi on ways to improve survivors' lives while newspaper editorials criticized his government's handling of the calamity.
"I am determined to turn what I heard today into relief measures including a supplementary budget," Kan told the meeting.
The mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun said his government's assistance to disaster-hit communities "has been insufficient."
"The removal of rubble has been overly delayed. Construction of makeshift housing for evacuees has yet to get on the right track," it said.
Rebuilding the muddy wastelands of the Tohoku region — an area now covered in 25 million tonnes of rubble — will take up to a decade and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, experts say.
A 20-kilometre exclusion zone has been enforced around the Fukushima nuclear plant, which emergency crews hope to bring into stable "cold shutdown" between October and January.
Environmental and anti-nuclear group Greenpeace called on Japan this week to evacuate children and pregnant women from Fukushima town, about 60 kilometres from the stricken plant, because of what it said was high radiation.
Since the disaster, Japan has raised the legal exposure limit for people, including children, from one to 20 millisieverts per year — matching the safety standard for nuclear industry workers in many countries.
In the wake of the disaster, Kan has said resource-poor Japan will review its energy policy, including its plans for more nuclear reactors, while making solar and other alternative energies new pillars of its energy mix.