While Japan commemorates earthquake and tsunami victims four weeks after the disaster, a 7.1 earthquake damages the power supply to the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant. Demonstrations against nuclear power are growing.
Japan observes a moment of silence for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami
Japan's northeast has once again been hit by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, which has damaged the power supply to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and caused a tsunami warning to be issued. The epicenter of the aftershock was not far from Fukushima's damaged plant. While the tsunami warning has now been lifted, cooling mechanisms in three of the reactors, which were knocked out by the quake, are now up and running again.
The newest aftershock happened just shortly after Japan held a minute of silence in schools, factories and offices to commemorate the victims of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami one month ago. At least 13,000 bodies have been found and 14,600 people are still missing. The Japanese armed forces have started a new mission to search for missing victims.
The government has also widened the 20-kilometer exclusion zone around the crippled nuclear plant, as higher levels of radiation have been detected. Government spokesman Edano explains that the widening of the zone only reflects concerns over the effect of long-term exposure, and not that the situation at the nuclear plant has become worse.
While environmental group Greenpeace welcomes the plan, it also says that the move is "one of the minimum things that can be done for now."
There are still over 14,000 people missing after the devastating disaster one month ago
Not only are Japanese citizens becoming impatient with the situation in Fukushima, which has vaguely improved in the last four weeks, but so are Japan’s neighbors South Korea and China.
On Sunday, around 5,000 people in Tokyo took to the streets to show their annoyance and to demand that the nuclear plants be shut down. Though they are yet not backed by the majority of the population, the numbers of demonstrators are steadily growing. Five weeks ago there had been very few people who believed such crisis could happen.
"I came to show my anger"
"We've never experienced such a crisis before. It's about time to speak out," says businessman Hajime Matsumo. "If we don't put an end to nuclear plants now, it's going to be the end for Japan." Matsumo says that the people are convinced the step has to be taken now.
Thousands in Tokyo demand the shutdown of nuclear plants
Growing protests are making obvious a new quantum of skepticism for nuclear energy. Japanese artist Masanori Oda wants to see more involvement from his fellow citizens. He understands why people outside Japan wonder about the cool reactions of the Japanese people in the midst of the nuclear crisis.
"It is difficult to be angry if you live in the disaster area yourself but now it is a matter of self-respect," Oda says. "I don’t want to be cool when something like this happens. I have come here to show my anger."
Ruling party loosing support
The demonstrations on Sunday have also shown that Prime Minister Naoto Kan's ruling party is rapidly losing support. Japanese citizens have now begun considering a big coalition between the democrats and the liberal democrats, as people hope they will be more capable of finding a solution to the problems.
On Monday, slightly contaminated water from the reactors is expected to be pumped into the see for the last time. Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director general of Japan's nuclear watch dog, promises, "as the fishing industry and our neighbors are very worried about the effects of the radioactive water, we are planning to carry out and publish a report on the measures we have taken."
More and more people in Japan are against nuclar energy
More pressing than the 12,000 tons of "slightly" contaminated water that have been dumped into the ocean is the disposal of the water inside the reactors - around 60,000 tons of highly radioactive water that is preventing the repair of the reactors and the start up of the cooling units.
At the moment the nuclear agency still cannot say when the next phase is going to be reached. "But we want to make progress with the cooling process as quickly as possible and hope we will soon be able to tell people when radiation levels will start returning to normal," Nishiyama affirms.
Author: Horst Kläuser (Afp. Reuters, ag)
Editor: Sarah Berning