Galvanized on the eve of the second anniversary of an earthquake and tsunami that triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, protesters turned out in full force in the Japanese capital on March 9 and 10, calling on the government to shun nuclear power.
On March 10, an estimated 40,000 protesters demonstrated around Tokyo, including in front of the Prime Minister's Official Residence, ministry offices and Hibiya Park.
"It's becoming more and more important for us to protest. I do this for my children, we can't leave the mess of nuclear power behind to them," said a 32-year-old mother of two marching in front of the offices of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, chanting "Stop nuclear! Protect our children!"
"People and the media are starting to forget Fukushima and what happened there," said the woman.
Japan is still coming to terms with the disaster that ravaged its northeastern region on March 11, 2011--the earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 people. Several thousand people are still unaccounted for. The disaster triggered a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which forced 160,000 people from their homes, and many of them will never return. It also sparked an unprecedented protest movement against nuclear power.
Protesters throng Tokyo parks on national holidays and outside the Diet building every Friday evening, drawing people previously unseen at political rallies, such as salarymen and housewives.
TEPCO faces a decades-long effort to decontaminate and decommission the wrecked nuclear plant after the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
All of Japan's 50 reactors were gradually shut down after the Fukushima disaster and all but two of them remain idle.
But the sweeping December victory of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party, which long supported nuclear power and fostered ties between politicians, bureaucrats and utilities, is a concern for nuclear power's opponents.
A recent survey showed about 70 percent of Japanese want to phase out nuclear power eventually. An equal number support Abe, who wants to restart off-line reactors if they meet new safety standards.
On March 10, Nobuko Kameyama, a 67-year-old retiree, handing out anti-nuclear leaflets at a train station in Tokyo, said many people were preoccupied with a stagnant economy while progress made toward phasing out nuclear under the previous government was lost when it lost power.
"The movement seems to have gotten quieter because we had to go back to the drawing board when the LDP got voted back in," Kameyama said.
In a Tokyo park on March 9, hundreds of people rallied, vowing never to give up the fight against nuclear power.
“I am going to fight against those who act as though Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima never happened,” Nobel Prize-winning writer Kenzaburo Oe told the crowd, referring to the atomic bombings preceding the end of World War II. “I am going to fight to prevent any more reactors from being restarted.”
The demonstrators applauded, waving signs and lanterns that said, “Let's save the children,” and “No nukes.” Some were handing out leaflets, pleading to save animals abandoned in the no-entry zone around the plant.
Kazuko Nihei, 36, selling trinkets and soap that mothers, like her, who had fled Fukushima, had made, hoping to raise funds for children's health checkups and their new lives in Tokyo.
“When the government talks about recovery, they are talking about infrastructure. When we talk about recovery, we are talking about the future of our children,” she said.
(The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.)
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