Mass anti-nuclear protests in Japan mark anniversary of quake and tsunami

TOKYO—Protesters in Tokyo prepared Saturday to hold mass demonstrations against the use of nuclear power, as Japanese marked the three-month anniversary of the powerful earthquake and tsunami that killed tens of thousands and triggered one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

The magnitude-9 earthquake that hit off Japan’s northeast coast March 11 caused a massive tsunami that devastated the coastline. The disasters knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles (225 kilometres) northeast of Tokyo, setting off explosions, fires and large radiation leaks at the facility.

Official reports released earlier in the week said the damage and leakage was worse than previously thought, with nuclear fuel in three reactors likely melting through their main cores and larger containment vessels. The reports also said radiation that leaked into the air amounted to about one-sixth of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Hundreds of plant workers are still scrambling to bring the crippled Fukushima reactors to a “cold shutdown” by early next year and end the crisis. The accident has forced more than 80,000 residents to evacuate from their homes around the plant.

The disasters have renewed a national debate on the use of nuclear power in Japan, which has few natural resources and is heavily reliant on atomic energy. Some nuclear plants across the country have been shut down in the wake of the disaster, leading to fears Japan may not have enough electricity for the peak summer months.

Three months after the disasters, which killed about 23,000 people, 90,000 are still living in temporary shelters such as school gyms and community centres. Some families have been moved into temporary housing, but supplies are short and sufficient housing is not expected to be completed for several more months.

All along the coast, a massive cleanup effort continues as cranes and dump trucks haul away the wreckage from hundreds of thousands of buildings that were destroyed or damaged by the tsunami.

Also Saturday, embattled Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan was scheduled to visit a tsunami-damaged region in northern Iwate prefecture (state).

Kan, who reached the one-year mark of his tenure earlier this week, has been under fire for his handling of the disasters and the country’s recovery plans. He survived a no-confidence vote earlier this month, in part by promising to step down once the country’s recovery takes hold.

Speculation about when he will step down has been rampant since, with Japan’s two main opposition parties considering a grand coalition to lead the country’s recovery. Kan is Japan’s fifth leader in four years.

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