Anti-nuclear protestors sit tight at Japanese Ministry
Tokyo - Anti-nuclear activist Tadao Eda says he and other citizens will continue their sit-in at the Industry Ministry for as long as Japan is running nuclear power stations despite the ongoing crisis at a damaged plant in the north-east.
“Japan needs drastic changes in energy policy by scrapping all the nuclear reactors,” Eda says from his tent erected in a corner of the ministry's grounds two months ago.
“We won't allow the government to restart idled reactors” after they are shut down for maintenance, he says.
All of Japan's 11 reactors still in operation are scheduled to be shut down for servicing by April, he says. If the government withholds permission for them to restart, Japan would be free of nuclear power.
“That's an immediate goal,” Eda says outside the ministry, which has promoted the country's nuclear-dependent energy policy for decades.
The country's other 43 reactors are either currently being inspected, or have been shut down in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
The disaster left the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, 250 kilometres north-east of Tokyo, leaking radioactive substances into the environment.
Health scares around the country have provoked criticism of the government's management of its nuclear plants, and of the lack of reliable information available to the public during the crisis.
Fukushima's operator Tokyo Electric Power Co has also been criticised as it has struggled to bring the situation under control.
On Monday, the authorities moved to clear the protesters' tents from the ministry grounds, but were thwarted when two women in their 60s refused to move. “We won't talk to anyone but the emperor,” one was quoted as saying by freelance journalist Ryusaku Tanaka.
Under boos and jeers from onlookers, the officers gave up their attempt for the time being. “We still want them to leave as soon as possible,” a ministry official said.
The protestors have had a mixed response from the public, Eda says. They have been harassed by some right-wing activists, but another right-wing group on Wednesday met with industry officials to express their support for the protest.
Most passers-by walk blithely past the couple of tents pitched in the city, seemingly indifferent to the tenacious protest, eight months after the start of the disaster.
But Eda says there has been a growing sense of mistrust by the public of the authorities and media, which are widely seen as having downplayed the initial accident, the subsequent health risks, and the anti-nuclear protests which followed.
He also points out that around 1,300 people turned out last week to form a human chain around the ministry, despite the rain.
In other parts of the country, people have also been taking to the streets.
On Sunday, on the southern island of Kyushu, the site of another nuclear power plant, 15,000 people demonstrated to call on the government to scrap all of the nation's 54 reactors.
In Tokyo, many women involved in the protest at the industry ministry have also called for the immediate evacuation of all children in Fukushima prefecture, to protect them from the leaked radiation.
Members of the Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation met industry ministry officials in early November with the same request.
High levels of radiation have been detected 60 kilometres from the damaged Fukushima plant, well beyond the 20-kilometre official exclusion zone in place since April.
Chieko Shiina, a leader of the Fukushima-based group who joined the sit-in protest at the ministry, says, “The government has been trying to hide truths on the disaster. Many children and babies have been left behind in the disaster zone.”
The protest “is a way to take direct action to convey our voices to the government,” Shiina says.
Some see a link with the high-profile “occupy” protests in Western countries, which call for action against the capitalist economy and the growing gap between rich and poor.
Tanaka, who covered the anti-Wall Street protests in New York, has dubbed the tent protest in Tokyo “Occupy Industry Ministry.”
The nuclear situation in Japan does have a wealth dimension, Shiina says. Many of the nuclear plants are in the country's poorest regions, so the risk they pose to locals is underestimated.
The relative poverty of the region is one reason the government “abandoned Fukushima” after the disaster, she says. - Sapa