Memorials held in Fukushima Prefecture, where communities are still dealing with damage caused by 2011 disaster.
Koriyama, Japan – Marches have taken place in Japan to mark the third anniversary of the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami that left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing and devastated local infrastructure.
Although the anniversary of the event falls on Tuesday, several events and protests were planned in the region on Saturday, when more people could attend them.
In snowy Koriyama, a committee of anti-nuclear groups – mostly unions – coordinated the “No Nuclear Fukushima Citizen’s Rally” to commemorate the disaster and to warn the community of what they said were the dangers of nuclear energy.
“I’m here because I want to hear the voices of the people who live here,” said Hiroyuki Inoue, a 34-year-old construction worker who had travelled from Tokyo for the event, which included local vendors and entertainers.
The capital voted in a man many see as a pro-nuclear candidate , Yoichi Misuzoe, as its governor in February, a sign, some say, that political will to listen to the concerns in the affected communities is waning there.
“I don’t support Masuzoe – there are some people who have forgotten [the ongoing nuclear crisis] but many of us haven’t,” said Inoue.
“We’re still protesting.”
Koriyama was a place to which many were evacuated from the 20km nuclear exclusion zone, only to find out that Koriyama itself, about 55km west of the damaged Daiichi plant, had higher levels of radiation.
“We’ve had a lot of problems since the nuclear accident, and of course, it could happen again,” said Junpei Sato, 31, who was attending the event with his 4-year-old daughter, Ririko.
“The radiation, even now, is not under control – there’s a limit to what people can manage.”
The Tokoku region in northeast Japan violently shook to the magnitude 9.0 earthquake, ushering in a tsunami with waves higher than 20m crashing several kilometers into coastline, crushing and washing away entire communities in its path.
An estimated 136,000 people in Fukushima Prefecture remain displaced from their homes.
In the three years since the earthquake, there have been reports of leaks and other issues at the still damaged plant, whose presence and instability have largely overshadowed the recovery effort in the region.
In Fukushima City, a rally of over 1,000 people gathered in a hall, listening to speakers from different areas talk about what they’d lost over the course of the past three years.
Roughly half of that crowd poured onto the streets in an orderly march to the main prefectural hall, chanting against the restarting of the 50 nuclear plants currently shut down for inspections in Japan.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart some of those plants.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Shinya Miura, 29, an administrator for a medical union, when asked if he believed official claims that radiation levels as they stand pose no threat to the general public.
“I might believe that, but it doesn’t change my mind – I don’t want nuclear power,” said Miura.
TEPCO, the operator of the Daiichi power plant, and the government are not entirely trusted in the region, and claims and promises of a safe, decontaminated region being delivered by 2017 are viewed with suspicion.
“Maybe they’ll be able to clean around the homes, but we have a lot of mountains around here and that they won’t be able to clean,” said Mika Watanabe, 27.
The kindergarten teacher added she did not believe that the cleanup of the Daiichi plant is going well and that the area “has not become any more safe in the past three years.”
To commemorate the anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami on Tuesday, cities across Japan will observe a moment of silence at 2:46pm local time – when the earthquake struck – followed by candlelight vigils.