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Tens of Thousands of Japanese Protest Against Nuclear Power in Tokyo

(Photo: Matthias Lambrecht)

(Photo: Matthias Lambrecht)

Tens of thousands of Japanese rallied in their nation’s capital on Sunday to protest government plans to resume nuclear power generation.

UPI reports that as many as 60,000 people turned out for a demonstration near the Diet (parliament) building in Tokyo on Sunday. Metropolitan Police estimated the size of the crowd at closer to 20,000-30,000.

AFP reports that the protesters are angered by right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to restart the nation’s nuclear reactors, which were shut down in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi meltdown.

Among the protesters gathered in Shiba Park were disaster victims and Nobel literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe. Following a rally in the park, they marched through the streets of the capital chanting anti-nuclear slogans and holding signs denouncing nuclear power and the politicians who support it.

“No Nukes! Unevolved Apes Want Nukes!” one prominent banner read.

At one point during the protest, demonstrators stopped in front of the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

All 50 of Japan’s nuclear plants were shut down by May 2012 for safety inspections in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Two of the plants are back online. The government claims that potential summertime power shortages justify restarting the plants.

According to UPI, anti-nuclear activists have gathered 8 million signatures denouncing the government’s plan to return to nuclear power generation.

Bloomberg reports that Japan drastically increased energy imports in the wake of the nuclear shutdown. The resource-poor nation went from importing 1.4 trillion yen ($14 billion) in oil, liquefied natural gas, coal and liquefied propane gas before the shutdown to 2.2 trillion yen ($22 billion) by March 2013. Energy imports account for roughly a third of all Japan’s imports, helping to further increase a growing trade deficit.

Returning to full nuclear power generation would provide Japan with about 30 percent of its electricity needs. Currently, only about 2 percent of the country’s electricity is generated by nuclear reactors.

Further pressure on Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government to restart more nuclear plants comes in the form of a depreciating yen. Nuclear power advocates argue that the country simply cannot afford to continue importing so much energy, especially when 50 nuclear plants capable of generating massive amounts of power are sitting idle.

Opponents counter that disasters like Fukushima, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986, make nuclear power too risky of a proposition to rely upon for energy. Radiation from Fukushima poisoned the atmosphere, land, water, plants and animals around the plant, with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Juan Carlos Lentijo estimating that cleaning up the damage from Fukushima could take more than 40 years.

More than 156,000 people were displaced as a result of the partial meltdown and radiation leak, and the Japanese government imposed a 20-km (12-mile) exclusion zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The area immediately around the disaster zone may be uninhabitable for decades.

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