Japanese Leader Meets With Antinuclear Protesters
Published: August 22, 2012
The demonstrators are calling for a shutdown of the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in western Japan — the first reactors to be restarted since the nuclear accident at Fukushima in March 2011 — and for Japan to decommission its 54 other reactors. They say the reactors are not safe to restart, given the country’s frequent earthquakes and the government’s failure to prevent the Fukushima disaster.TOKY
For the first time since antinuclear rallies began months ago outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s office, a dozen protesters were allowed inside on Wednesday for a half-hour meeting that the fledgling movement hailed as a victory. The meeting comes at a time of growing antinuclear sentiment in Japan, and with elections expected this year.Mr. Noda, who angered demonstrators by dismissing their weekly rallies as “loud noise,” had been under public pressure to meet with them face to face.
The rallies outside Mr. Noda’s office in the heart of Tokyo have grown from crowds of several hundred to tens of thousands since the prime minister gave the go-ahead for restarting the Oi reactor in July. “Saikado hantai!” — “Oppose the restarts!” — is now the rallying cry at the protests, which the police say have swelled to include almost 100,000 people, although organizers say the turnout is almost twice that.
The meeting on Wednesday was broadcast on a live video link from the prime minister’s office.
“We wish we could have brought more of the people who gather outside your office every week,” the leader of the movement, an illustrator who goes by the name Misao Redwolf, told Mr. Noda, who sat stern-faced across from the group of protesters.
“Anger is erupting against your administration for failing to heed the lessons of the Fukushima disaster and pushing ahead with the restarts,” she said. “This is not a loud noise. This is the voice of the people.”
Mr. Noda said the government would take a wide variety of opinions into account before drafting the country’s future energy policy. A committee of experts is debating various scenarios through the year 2030, from phasing out nuclear power entirely to keeping enough reactors running to provide 20 to 25 percent of Japan’s power needs. Before Fukushima, nuclear energy supplied about 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.
On Tuesday, Motohisa Furukawa, the state minister for national strategy, told reporters that he hoped to push for the phasing-out option. But the nuclear disaster minister, Goshi Hosono, quickly countered that phasing out nuclear power should not be debated so lightly.
Mr. Noda defended his decision to allow the Oi restarts, but said Japan intended to downsize its civilian nuclear program. There was no bow and no smile, protesters noted afterward.
“We will make diligent efforts to ensure safety,” Mr. Noda said.
Last month, a candidate backing an antinuclear agenda made a strong showing in a governor’s race in a western prefecture that was considered a conservative stronghold, surprising the political elite. With nationwide elections expected this year, some politicians — including heavyweights like former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama — have made appearances at the rallies, though they have been accused of opportunism. Moreover, with Mr. Noda’s party likely to fall from power, any strategy his government settles on before a vote is more an election platform plank than a long-term national plan.
The protesters, meanwhile, have taken pains to present their rallies as orderly, peaceful and attended by a diverse group of Japanese. They are eager to distance themselves from the last wave of protests etched in the public memory, in the 1960s and 1970s, which were led by sometimes-violent radicals who opposed a security treaty with the United States.