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Japan Nuclear-Free for First Time since 1970

For the first time in more than 40 years, Japan is producing no nuclear power.

The BBC reports that with the shutdown of the third reactor of the Tomari plant in northern Hokkaido prefecture, which is shuttered for routine maintenance, Japan is producing no nuclear energy for the first time since 1970. Up until last year, Japan was one of the world’s leading producers of nuclear power, deriving some 30% of its energy needs from the splitting of atoms.

The occasion gave great hope to anti-nuclear activists that the end of Japan’s nuclear era may be at hand. Public sentiment against nuclear power has soared to an all-time high in the east Asian nation following the devastating Fukushima Daiichi tragedy, in which four reactors at the plant were badly damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Radiation leaks caused tens of thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes and a 20km (12 mile) exclusion zone around the plant remains in effect to this day.

Thousands of  anti-nuclear activists and ordinary Japanese took to the streets of Tokyo on Saturday to march against atomic energy in the wake of the Tomari shutdown.

“No more Nagasaki, no more Fukushima,” demonstrators chanted as they rallied in the nation’s capital.

“Today is a historic day,” Masashi Ishikawa thundered to the gathered crowd, many of whom held traditional “koinobori” carp banners usually seen on Children’s Day. Koinobori have also become symbols of Japan’s nuclear-free movement.

“There are so many nuclear plants, but not a single one will be up and running today, and that’s because of our efforts,” Ishikawa added.

But the Tomari shutdown is only supposed to be temporary, as routine maintenance has been ordered on all Japanese nuclear plants are required to pass tests designed to determine their resistance to earthquakes and tsunamis.

There is hope, however, since local authorities must give their permission for the plants to restart, and so far no local leaders have done so. Supporting nuclear power has become something of the third rail in Japanese politics since the Fukushima disaster, and if the country can make it through the hot, humid summer without life being disrupted by blackouts, then nuclear foes’ efforts to make Japan permanently nuclear-free will surely receive a boost.

According to a June 2011 Asahi Shimbun poll, 74% of Japanese want to see nuclear power completely phased out.

To deal with the dearth of power resulting from the nuclear shutdowns, Japan has increased its import of fossil fuels and brought old non-nuclear power plants back online.

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