Japan marks anniversary of quake, tsunami

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“I wanted to save people, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even help my father. I cannot keep crying,” Ms. Fujino said. “What can I do but keep on going?”

In Tokyo, anti-nuclear demonstrators waving banners, beating drums and shouting slogans marched to the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant.

As dusk fell, protesters holding candlelit lanterns linked arms to form a human chain nearly all the way around the parliament building.

Public opposition to nuclear power has grown in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986. The tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling systems, causing meltdowns at three reactors and spewing radiation into the air. Some 100,000 residents who were evacuated remain in temporary housing or with relatives.

Only two of Japan‘s 54 reactors are now running while those shut down for regular inspections undergo special tests to check their ability to withstand similar disasters. They could all go offline by the end of April if none is restarted.

The Japanese government has pledged to reduce reliance on nuclear power, which supplied about 30 percent of the nation’s energy before the disaster, but says it needs to restart some nuclear plants during the transition period.

Emperor Akihito, 78, who recently underwent heart bypass surgery, voiced concern in a speech at the national memorial ceremony about the difficulty of decontaminating land around the plant. Workers are using everything from shovels and high-powered water guns to chemicals that absorb radiation, but it is huge, costly project fraught with uncertainty.

The Environment Ministry expects it will generate at least 130 million cubic yards of soil, enough to fill 80 domed baseball stadiums.

“We shall not let our memory of the disasters fade, pay attention to disaster prevention and continue our effort to make this land an even safer place to live,” Akihito said.

In December, the government declared that the crippled Fukushima plant was basically stable and that radiation has subsided significantly. But the plant’s chief acknowledged recently that it remains in a fragile state, and makeshift equipment — some mended with tape — is keeping crucial systems running.

Enormous risks and challenges lie ahead at the plant, including locating and removing melted nuclear fuel from the inside of the reactors and disposing spent fuel rods. Completely decommissioning the plant could take 40 years.

Mr. Noda has acknowledged failures in the government’s response to the disaster, including being too slow in relaying key information and believing too much in “a myth of safety” about nuclear power.

In a statement from Vienna, Austria, marking the anniversary, the International Atomic Energy Agency called the Fukushima accident “a jolt to the nuclear industry, regulators and governments.”

Although it was triggered by a natural disaster, the accident highlighted “existing weaknesses” in regulatory oversight, accident management and defense against natural hazards, the IAEA said.

For Tamiko Oshimizu, the day brought a sense of closure.

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