On the eve of the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, protesters were out in full force around the world, driven by the greater awareness of the potential dangers of nuclear energy.
Several protests were held in various parts of Taiwan on March 9, with about 100,000 demonstrators gathering for one in Taipei organized by a citizens' group.
The increased public concern has led to a push for a referendum on whether nuclear plants should be constructed.
Although construction on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant began in 1999 in New Taipei, completion has been delayed because of a temporary suspension of construction due to a political clash between the ruling and opposition parties. That delay has led to concerns about the safety of the plant.
In late February, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou decided to propose a referendum that would ask voters if they supported cancellation of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant. Ma's Kuomintang supports construction of the plant.
For the referendum to pass, a majority of the 18 million voters in Taiwan have to go to the polls and a majority of those have to support its passage. Because the chances for passage are low, Kuomintang officials are hoping that this outcome will not force construction to be halted.
However, the proposal has invigorated the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which opposes nuclear energy, and other groups opposed to nuclear power. Even a number of celebrities have come out against nuclear power, including actress Lin Chi-ling, who is popular in Japan for her appearances in TV dramas.
More than T$280 billion (about 900 billion yen, or $9.4 billion) has already been invested in the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant.
Defending the need for nuclear energy, Prime Minister Jiang Yi-huah said, "If the nuclear plant is stopped, electricity rates will increase."
However, criticism continues to be aimed at state-run Taiwan Power Co. for its failure to make greater management efforts.
The referendum is expected to be held sometime later this year.
In the March 9 protests, there were moderate voices among participants.
"While I do not oppose nuclear energy, I am worried about the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant," said Cheng Hsin-i, a third-year student at Fu Jen Catholic University in Taipei.
However, because there are public opinion polls with more than 60 percent of respondents opposed to the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, the referendum could overturn the plans of the Kuomintang.
Meanwhile, gatherings in South Korea went beyond concerns over nuclear energy.
In Seoul on March 9, a gathering not only remembered the victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, but also called for denuclearization of Asia and the world due to concerns about the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula with a nuclear-capable North Korea. A number of South Koreans who lived through the atomic bombing of Japan, also participated.
Several thousands took part in a gathering organized by environmental protection groups. Among the participants were hibakusha who survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 as well as their descendants. They called for a world without nuclear weapons and nuclear energy plants.
An 86-year-old woman who now lives in Hapcheon in Gyeongsangnam-do province was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Aug. 6, 1945. Soon thereafter her mother died. After Japan's defeat in World War II, she and her family moved to South Korea, but over the next decade or so, her husband and other relatives died due to radiation after-effects from the atomic bombing.
"There are many people now who do not know the danger of nuclear bombs," she said.
Anti-nuclear protests have been frequent in Germany since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, but this year a training exercise was also held based on the scenario that an accident had occurred at a nuclear plant.
Such training exercises are rare in Germany, even with its long history of anti-nuclear protests.
The exercise was organized on March 9 by anti-nuclear groups in Germany at the Grohnde Nuclear Power Plant in Lower Saxony. Protesters called for immediate suspension of operations at the plant.
"Don't think that a major disaster is occurring 9,000 kilometers away, but imagine that it is happening in front of your home," organizers said.
According to organizers, about 20,000 people took part in the exercise based on the assumption that an area 40 kilometers from the plant was designated a no-entry zone due to radiation leakage.
People wearing protective gear washed down the vehicles of evacuees from areas in the vicinity of the plant and students took their pets with them as they evacuated in the training exercise.
(This article was written by Takio Murakami in Taipei, Akira Nakano in Seoul and Ken Matsui in Hameln.)
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