FUKUOKA--In April 2011, one month after the onset of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the head office of Kyushu Electric Power Co.
The anti-nuke protesters were still there the next day, and the day after that.
On Jan. 14, the activists marked the 1,000th day of their sit-down protest.
“Humans cannot live side by side with nuclear energy,” said protest organizer Yukinobu Aoyagi. “Never again should lives be threatened and livelihoods deprived.”
Aoyagi, 67, embarked on the protests after receiving an e-mail from a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Although he was opposed to nuclear weapons, the hibakusha said he regretted that he had been indifferent to nuclear power generation.
A former theology student and social studies teacher, Aoyagi had been involved since the 1970s in activities to help ethnic Korean residents and foreign workers in Japan.
“Human dignity is important to me,” the activist said.
Aoyagi enlisted support from plaintiffs in anti-nuclear lawsuits and Kyushu Electric shareholders critical of nuclear power. He and his partners staged around-the-clock sit-ins during the first month.
More than 3,000 people have signed their names in support of the cause.
The protesters now gather outside Kyushu Electric's main office on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with banners that read, “Let’s stop nuclear plants.” Each day, they erect two 2.5-meter-square canopies on a sidewalk to shield themselves from the elements.
The canopies, bought with donations from supporters, have been replaced three times.
In summer months, the sidewalk often becomes baking hot. Some protesters suffered dramatic weight loss from sweating. In winter, oil stoves are not enough to ward off the chill factor from the wind.
A young Kyushu Electric worker once dropped by and criticized the protesters, saying that nuclear power is necessary. But after speaking several times with another mid-level Kyushu Electric employee, Aoyagi got the impression that not everyone at the utility feels the same way.
Kyushu Electric declined to comment on the protesters’ campaign.
“Many people have reservations about nuclear power,” a company official said. “We take their concerns seriously and try to gain an understanding for our operations.”
The Nuclear Regulation Authority is expected to complete safety screenings for Kyushu Electric’s Genkai and Sendai nuclear plants this year. The Abe administration plans to have idle reactors up and running once they are deemed safe.
Worried about Aoyagi’s physical condition, some say it may be time to put an end to the campaign. But the activist said he has no intention of calling it quits.
“Our canopies may be blown away by the wind, but they speak for the citizens,” Aoyagi said. “We will continue to declare our intention. We do not believe nuclear reactors should be restarted.”
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