Tens of thousands in Tokyo’s biggest anti-nuclear protest

Organizers claim 170,000 attended Tokyo’s “Sayonara Nukes” rally

TOKYO (majirox news) — The largest anti-nuclear protest in Tokyo to date was held July 16 (a national holiday), with huge crowds waving banners bearing slogans such as “Goodbye Nuclear Plants” and “The Nuclear Era is Over” and chanting “No Nukes.”

Despite the searing heat (91F/32C), organizers claim 170,000 were at the “Sayonara Nukes” rally in Yoyogi Park, making this the largest demonstration since the anti-US protests in the early 1960s.

Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto were among the famous names who were present at the gathering, aiming to halt Japan’s use of nuclear power.

“If we don’t do anything and stay silent, it means we agree in restarting the nuclear plants,” said 26-year-old protestor Ayumi Ajima.

Protestor Fumihiro Ito said, “By coming here today as an individual, I hope it makes people aware that there are a lot of anti-nuclear protestors.”

Demonstrators came from all over Japan, not just the Tokyo region, to register a peaceful protest at this use of nuclear power. Unlike similar protests in Europe or the US, there was a preponderance of older participants in their 60s and 70s.

Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors were all shut down, following last year’s nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, but last month saw two reactors restarted. This followed claims by the private utility Kansai Electric Power Company that without these plants, the Osaka region would face a massive shortfall this summer as demand for energy, largely driven by cooling systems, peaks.

Given the lack of a national grid, the restart of two reactors was presented as an inevitable action. However, even this limited use of nuclear power has sparked protests The post-Fukushima safety measures demanded by regulations are not in place at the Oi plant, and an accident in the startup process went unreported for 13 hours. In addition, the geological evidence of seismic faults running through the plant was hidden by the utility.

Some have said it is hard to understand precisely what are the long-term aims of these demonstrators when it comes to replacing the nuclear plants.

Professor Pema Gyalpo of Toin University said, “it will be some time before renewable energy sources are available on a scale which can replace the current 50 nuclear reactors.”

But one thing is certain‚ the movement against nuclear power as an energy source for Japan is gathering momentum – from trade unions, from citizens’ groups and environmental NPOs, and from the ordinary people of Japan in their millions. Already 7.8 million signatures out of a planned 10 million have been collected on a petition to bid farewell to nuclear power. Although the government appears to be reversing its stance on the use of nuclear power, there are too many ambiguities and too much foot-dragging for many people.

Prime Minister Noda, bureaucrats and the power companies, who have been accused of collusion that led to the Fukushima disaster, will have to take note of this public mood. It is almost unprecedented for Japan in the scale of the public actions, and level of outrage at the wishes of the people being ignored.

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