Thousands turn out for anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo

AFP-JIJI

Thousands of people turned out for an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo on Sunday as the nation prepares to mark the third anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

Demonstrators congregated at Hibiya Park, close to government buildings, before marching around the Diet.

They gathered to voice anger at the nuclear power industry and the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is pushing to restart dozens of nuclear reactors in the world’s third-largest economy despite the triple meltdown in March 2011 that tainted much of Fukushima Prefecture with radiation and heavily damaged its economy.

“I felt that it’s important that we continue to raise our voice whenever possible,” said Yasuro Kawai, a 66-year-old businessman from Chiba Prefecture.

“Today, there is no electricity flowing in Japan that is made at nuclear plants. If we continue this zero-nuclear status and if we make efforts to promote renewable energy and invest in energy-saving technology, I think it’s possible to live without nuclear,” Kawai said.

This week, Japan will mark the anniversary of the deadly 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.

The natural disasters killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 people still unaccounted for, while spawning huge waves that knocked out the cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, leading to three reactor meltdowns and hydrogen explosions that spewed radioactive material over the vast farming region.

The plant remains volatile and engineers say it will take four decades to dismantle the crippled reactors.

Protesters in Tokyo stressed that Japan can live without nuclear power because it has been doing so ever since most of the nation’s 50 commercial nuclear reactors were taken offline over renewed concerns about nuclear safety caused by the man-made disaster. Two reactors in Kansai were temporarily restarted afterward but are currently offline for maintenance.

In a light-hearted approach to get their message across, musicians performed using electricity generated by huge solar panels at the park, while dozens of merchants promoted products made in the tsunami-hit region.

The rally also featured stars like composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who played the music he created three years ago to mourn the victims of the disasters.

Although no one was reported to have died as a direct result of the Fukushima disaster, at least 1,656 residents have died from complications caused by stress and other conditions developed while living in temporary housing. Thousands have lost their jobs and property and remain homeless.

“The Fukushima accident continues today,” Sakamoto told the audience.

Tokyo resident Michiko Sasaki, 80, said the nation’s priority should be to think about how to end nuclear power and rebuild the Tohoku region.

“In this small nation of ours, there are so many nuclear plants. We are prone to earthquakes,” she added.

“Unless we end it now, what will happen in the future? Politicians must think about children of the future,” she said.

  • Stephen Kent

    If anyone reading this happens to be familiar with nuclear physics I’d like to hear your opinion. Since the idling plants are already fuelled up and the fuel rods will need to be stored domestically whether they are used or not, would it not make sense to get the energy out of the existing batch and then argue about whether the plants should be refuelled or not?

    • lokay5

      Incredible that you would even mention re-starting the nuke plants in Japan.
      Even more incredible? That someone agrees with you.

      What part of “Thousands of people turned out for an anti-nuclear rally in Tokyo” did you not understand? The “anti-nuclear” part?

      • Stephen Kent

        Well, on discussion sites there does tend to be a lot of discussion so I hope you can forgive me for saying something you didn’t completely agree with.

        I understood the article in its entirety thank you very much, but you seem to have misinterpreted my subsequent QUESTION as being a statement of support for going back to nuclear power. I am actually against it, and think that cultural and lifestyle changes would be a better solution to the energy question. However, the unused nuclear fuel in Japan hasn’t just disappeared because the reactors have been turned off; it’s sitting there radiating away (as nuclear fuel tends to do) and will eventually need to be disposed of just like the used fuel. See?

        Given that it was the failure of the cooling systems that caused the meltdown at Fukushima I was wondering whether there might be an argument, from a pragmatic point of view, for enhancing these systems in order to make sure they are not susceptible to tsunamis and then restarting the reactors to get the benefit from the remaining fuel since we’ll have to deal with the disadvantages either way. Then begin the process of moving fully away from nuclear power after that. Given that I am a layman I just wondered what anyone with expertise in this field might think about this idea. Hence my question.

      • Sam Gilman

        There is a direct answer, which I’ll do my best to explain. The Fukushima plant is an old design – often referred to as “second generation” (essentially designed in the 1960s). It requires active cooling. Third generation plants usually have something called “passive cooling”, often called “walk away safe” which basically means that if all power is suddenly lost, the reactor shuts down and cooling continues for a few days as a matter of simple physics, then requiring simple top-ups to the cooling system to keep going. In Fukushima Dai-ichi, when the power was cut, cooling stopped immediately, and thus there was no time to respond adequately in the trying circumstances of the tsunami.

        Even second generation plants can be made safer than Fukushima Dai-ichi was – part of the TEPCO scandal was that they did not make proper safety revisions to such an old plant.

        Some newest, fourth generation designs avoid the meltdown problem altogether as a matter of physics (rather than safety measures). They aren’t yet in commercial operation, however. As for fuel, one of the issues with older designs is that they use only a very small percentage of the energy in the fuel before it is abandoned. Newer designs should be able to take this fuel and extract more energy out of it.

      • Stephen Kent

        Thanks for that Sam, yeah, as I understand it they only get about 3 – 5% out of the fuel before it’s classified as “used”. But if those plants with the stations with the passive cooling systems were brought back online then they could extract the energy out of the fuel that is still stored within the rods that are still in the country. Definitely worth investigating I think, although it doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with the waste long term. Time to start plowing money into fusion technology I think.

      • Starviking

        Thousands of people protesting is hardly representative of the whole nation.

  • Eija Niskanen

    Stephen: You think putting an airplane in the air to fly 1 km is economically feasible or even time-saving?

    • Stephen Kent

      I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this, but I guess it is your analogy for a society that obtains its energy by investing lots of resources in nuclear fission technology and not considering the long term consequences?

    • Starviking

      Keeping an aeroplane fuelled and in service for 3 more years would be a better analogy.

  • mikethurgood

    This sentence from the article above is quite significant: “The natural disasters killed 15,884 people and left 2,636 people still
    unaccounted for, while spawning huge waves that knocked out the cooling
    systems at the Fukushima plant, leading to three reactor meltdowns and
    hydrogen explosions that spewed radioactive material over the vast
    farming region”.

    15,884 dead and 2,636 not accounted for, all absolutely nothing to do with radiation but everything to do with the earthquake and primarily the resulting tsunami.

    Contrast that with the number killed by radiation exposure: the article tells us that it’s zero.

    The outcome, as we are all aware, was disastrous, locally, and most unfortunate, considering that it was entirely the result of the vital standby generators being located underground instead of well above ground, ie well above the highest tsunami ever likely to occur.

    For those people in the local population who had to evacuate their houses because of the radioactive leakages causing unacceptable levels of ground contamination at the time, of course the event has inevitably been traumatic for them. But whether the whole accident scenario, and why it arose, really justifies eliminating nuclear power from the overall Japanese energy scenario is a moot point. I would like to think not, but then I am thousands of km from the event – although we live about 22 km from the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station near Cape Town in South Africa! – and I cannot, therefore, possibly speak for the people of Japan.

    What sort of information programmes have been broadcast on TV in Japan over, say, the past two years I obviously have no knowledge about. But if there haven’t been any then a rather important information transfer capability to the population of Japan will have been missed.

    The rest of the world where there are nuclear power stations, and those currently contemplating nuclear power for the first time, will, I am sure, be very interested in the final outcome and decision by the Japanese government.

    • lokay5

      ” it was entirely the result of the vital standby generators being located underground…”
      The latest analysis presents evidence that xenon-133 began to vent from Fukushima Daiichi immediately after the quake, and before the tsunami swamped the area. This implies that even without the devastating flood, the earthquake alone was sufficient to cause damage at the plant.