HIROSHIMA – Hiroshima marked the 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb Saturday morning in a ceremony that paid tribute to victims of the March 11 quake and tsunami and heard calls by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Hiroshima politicians and local residents to consider moving away from nuclear power.
As fear that radiation leaking from the Fukushima nuclear plant entering the food chain continues to grow, media polls across the nation show an increasing number of people support moving away from nuclear power toward renewable energy. That includes many who attended Saturday’s ceremony.
“We’re very sorry for the people of Fukushima. If the reactor disaster wakes people up to the dangers of nuclear power, it will hopefully lead to the eventual closure of all Japan’s nuclear power plants, which can be replaced by better conservation measures and renewable energies,” said Hiroko Takenaka, 53, a Hiroshima resident whose parents were living near the city when the atomic bomb exploded.
In his remarks, Kan reaffirmed his commitment to a new energy policy away from nuclear power.
“The Fukushima reactor incident provides the human race with a new lesson and our mission is to convey that lesson to the world, and to the next generation. The country’s energy policy is being fundamentally reviewed, following a deep reflection on the myth that nuclear power is safe. My aim is to reduce Japan’s level of reliance on nuclear power so as to create a society that isn’t addicted to it,” Kan told the gathering, officially estimated at 50,000 but which appeared much less.
The annual Hiroshima peace declaration, read out by Mayor Kazumi Matsui, also paid tribute to the victims of March 11. Unlike Kan, however, Matsui did not issue a clear call to cut back on nuclear power, which before March 11 provided around 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs. Instead, he called for a general rethink of the current energy policy.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11 was so destructive it revived images of Hiroshima 66 years ago and still pains our hearts,” Matsui said. “Here in Hiroshima, we sincerely pray for the souls of all who perished and strongly support the survivors.
“The accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the ongoing threat of radiation have generated tremendous anxiety among those in the affected areas and elsewhere. The trust the Japanese people once had in nuclear power has been shattered. From the common admonition that ‘nuclear energy and humankind cannot coexist,’ some seek to abandon nuclear power altogether. Others advocate extremely strict control of nuclear power and increased utilization of renewable energy,” Matsui continued.
“The Japanese government should humbly accept this reality, quickly review our energy policies, and institute concrete countermeasures to regain the understanding and trust of the people,” he added.
Earlier in the week, there had been questions over how the mayor would refer to the Fukushima disaster in the peace declaration, and whether he would use forceful language advocating a reduction or even termination of Japan’s reliance on nuclear power.
Matsui’s call for a fundamental energy rethink is unprecedented for Hiroshima. But other local leaders, including the Osaka governor and mayor, have already voiced support for replacing nuclear power with renewable energy sources.
Saying he didn’t want to see any more hibakusha, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue, told reporters on July 28 that the Nagasaki peace declaration, to be proclaimed Tuesday, would also call for a shift from nuclear energy to safer renewable energy sources.
Matsui also urged the central government to do more for aging victims of the atomic bombs, including speeding up the process for certification as hibakusha. The average age of hibakusha is now more than 77 and many are still awaiting official certification.
To speed up the certification process, Matsui called on the central government to expand the size of the “black rain” areas, those parts of the city officially designated as areas where hibakusha, or hibakusha applicants, live. Because many victims were Koreans living in Japan at the time, the mayor spoke of the need for more comprehensive assistance measures for all hibakusha, regardless of their countries of residence.
After the ceremony, Kan met with seven hibakusha representatives. A couple of them asked the central government not only to strengthen assistance measures for hibakusha but also for those living or working at or in the vicinity of Fukushima No. 1.
“The central government and the utility in charge have a responsibility to provide health checks and treatment to workers at the Fukushima plant and to those living around it,” said Yukio Yoshioka, leader of a group of Hiroshima hibakusha.
“As for the hibakusha, it’s important for the government to revise the laws to allow for more assistance for psychological care, as well as provide more assistance to second-generation hibakusha,” Yoshioka said.
“Although officially different, in terms of concerns about radiation, there are similarities between the hibakusha and the Fukushima reactor accident,” Kan told a news conference following the meeting.