Anti-nuke protests in Japan three months after quake

Japan on Saturday marked three months since its massive quake-tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis, amid simmering public frustration over the government’s slow response to the catastrophe.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under heavy pressure to step down, visited part of the disaster zone where about 8 000 people remain unaccounted for and more than 90 000 others are holed up in crowded shelters.

Thousands of people were expected to attend an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo as radiation continued to leak from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, some 220km north-east of the capital.

They were to observe a minute’s silence at 2.46 pm (5.46 GMT), the moment the 9.0-magnitude quake struck below the Pacific seafloor, sending monster tidal waves over the country’s north-east coast.

The death toll from the quake — Japan’s biggest on record and the world’s fourth largest tectonic event since 1900 — has topped 23 000 including the missing.

Kan was to attend a government-sponsored forum in the port town of Kamaishi on ways to improve survivors’ lives, said his spokesman, who apologised for the fact that many people were still enduring harsh conditions.

Newspaper editorials criticised the Kan government’s handling of the calamity.

“Its assistance to disaster-hit local governments has been insufficient,” the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun said.

“The removal of rubble has been overly delayed. Construction of makeshift housing for evacuees has yet to get on the right track.”

More to come
Rebuilding the muddy wastelands of the north-eastern Tohoku region — an area now covered in 22 500 000 tonnes of rubble — will take up to a decade and cost hundreds of billions of dollars, say experts.

A 20km no-go zone has been enforced around the Fukushima nuclear plant, which emergency crews hope to bring into stable “cold shutdown” between October and January.

Environmental and anti-nuclear group Greenpeace called on Japan this week to evacuate children and pregnant women from Fukushima town, about 60km from the stricken plant, because of what it said was high radiation.

Since the disaster, Japan has raised the legal exposure limit for people, including children, from one to 20-millisieverts per year — matching the safety standard for nuclear industry workers in many countries.

Greenpeace is among organisers of the anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo.

Aside from their Energy Shift Parade in Tokyo, more anti-nuclear rallies were planned nationwide, including in the western cities of Osaka and Hiroshima, which was devastated by a United States atomic bomb in 1945.

Protesters also planned a Tokyo demonstration against embattled nuclear plant operator the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), once the world’s biggest utility, whose share price has plunged more than 90%.

In the wake of the disaster, Kan has said resource-poor Japan will review its energy policy, including its plans for more nuclear reactors, while making solar and other alternative energies new pillars of its energy mix. — AFP

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