Tens of thousands of people across Japan and around the world marked the March 11 anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that precipitated the nuclear disaster last year with rallies to renew calls for the abolition of nuclear power.
In Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, protesters gathered at a baseball stadium. Many wore face masks as a precaution against radiation leaked from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, 60 kilometers away.
Radiation readings at the stadium on Feb. 14 ranged between 0.19 microsievert and 0.69 microsievert per hour.
Kenzabuo Oe, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Literature, addressed the rally, telling the 16,000 or so people gathered that restarting nuclear reactors would be an unethical action that goes against popular will.
A 25-year-old nurse from Shirakawa in the prefecture said she attended the event to "demonstrate my stand against nuclear power, for the sake of the children I intend to have in the future."
Several farmers from Iitate, a village that lies northwest of the Fukushima plant and which was heavily contaminated, took the rostrum to hammer home a common theme: the perils of nuclear power.
"We should raise our voice to demand, 'No to nuclear power' so as not to waste (opportunities created by) the Fukushima accident," one farmer said.
In Tokyo's Nagatacho, where political parties are headquartered, some 14,000 demonstrators, according to the organizer, formed a human chain around the Diet building to drive home their call to phase out nuclear power.
Megumi Nemoto, a resident of Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, said she joined the protest because she opposes moves by the government to restart reactors shut down for maintenance checks.
"Why doesn't the government think of the possibility of another nuclear accident like the Fukushima disaster in Japan, where a temblor may hit any time?" she asked.
Nemoto, 26, is from Namie in Fukushima Prefecture, part of which is located in the central government-designated 20-kilometer no-entry zone from the plant.
Her family is taking refuge in Minami-Soma, also in the prefecture.
The unprecedented nuclear disaster has prompted many Japanese, including those who had shunned demonstrations in the past, to take to the streets to drive home the message to the government.
Hiroko Takai, 68, said it was the first time she had taken part in a rally.
Takai, a resident of the capital's Koto Ward who is originally from Hiroshima and whose father is a hibakusha, said: "I used to think the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes should be a separate issue (as opposed to possession of nuclear weapons). But the nuclear accident made me aware that nuclear power plants are not safe."
Now that a year has passed since the nuclear disaster, some participants noted that ordinary citizens seem less concerned about the issue than they did before.
A 40-year-old man living in Tokyo who joined the human chain with his elementary school-age child said he feels that fewer people are joining protest rallies, compared with the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
"If we stop taking protest action now, we will merely end up where we were before," he said. "I am going to continue to do what I can."
Before they formed a human chain, the protesters marched in front of the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the disabled plant, in central Tokyo. The protesters held white flags that read "Break with nuclear power."
Protest rallies were also held in Aomori and Fukui prefectures, home to many nuclear reactors, as well as Hokkaido, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka.
In Osaka city, two protest rallies drew a combined 15,000 protesters, according to the organizers.
Teruyuki Matsushita , 63, is from Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, which hosts the Mihama nuclear plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co.
During the rally, he said people living in big cities should raise their voices to help orchestrate change in the nuclear power industry.
Matsushita also said that people in municipalities hosting nuclear plants harbor mixed feelings about the technology.
"What would happen to the employment situation and the finances of local governments if nuclear plants were closed?" he asked. "Local people have two kinds of anxieties, one about playing host to a nuclear plant and another about being without a nuclear plant."
Demonstrations were held around the world on March 11 as people took to the streets to underscore their opposition to nuclear power.
In France, anti-nuclear demonstrators formed a human chain along the river Rhone, which has the highest concentration of nuclear facilities in Europe. One of the event's organizers expressed shock and outrage at the Fukushima accident.
Nuclear power represents nearly 80 percent of electricity output in France.
In Britain, a 24-hour demonstration was held in front of the Hinkley Point nuclear station in Somerset, southwestern England, against the British government’s plans to build two large nuclear reactors. The demonstration attracted about 1,000 people.
Makoto Ishiyama, 32, and his wife, Akiko, 32, were invited to the event from Fukushima Prefecture. The couple called for collective efforts to pass on a cleaner planet to future generations.
One of the British protesters, a 47-year-old mother who was joined by her three children, vowed to always stand firm against nuclear power.
In Switzerland, more than 1,000 people marched along a 6-kilomter mountain trail to demand a halt to the Muhleberg nuclear power plant, which went into operation in 1972. Cracks have been found in the reactors.
The Swiss government has already announced it will decommission five reactors by 2034.
In a rally in San Clemente, California, Hirohide Sakuma, 40, and Kyoko Sugasawa, 39, who are both from Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, which shares a border with Fukushima Prefecture, told participants that nuclear power should be abandoned to ensure the safety of local residents.
"If a nuclear accident like the one in Fukushima occurs, this area will become uninhabitable," Sakuma said at the anti-nuclear gathering on the night of March 10. "Will it be all right with you?"
Sugasawa, who has two daughters, said she now carries a dosimeter.
San Clemente is near the San Onofre nuclear power station, which is said to be most at risk of all U.S. nuclear facilities.
The plant, situated on the coast, was built to withstand a magnitude-7 quake despite its proximity to a major fault line about 8 km away. A breakwater 9.1 meters high has been erected in case tsunami hits, raising concerns among some residents.
Sakuma and Sugasawa were invited by a local group concerned about the safety of the San Onofre plant.
In Taipei, more than 3,000 protesters marched from around 2 p.m. on March 11, calling for an end to nuclear power.
Many protesters were young people who learned of the demonstration on Facebook.
A woman in her 30s said, "We are not sufficiently informed about nuclear power plants in Taiwan."
Taiwan has three nuclear power plants, two of which are in the vicinity of Taipei and near the coast.
Construction of a fourth plant has already begun.
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