A ceremony to mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing was yesterday dominated by national soul-searching on atomic power as Japan’s prime minister pledged a nuclear-free future.
Marking the 66th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing at a yearly event usually devoted to opposing nuclear weapons, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the ongoing Fukushima crisis meant Japan must turn to other energy sources.
“The large-scale, long-running nuclear accident has triggered radiation leakage, causing serious concerns not only in Japan, but also in the world,” Kan, in black suit and tie, said at a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima’s Peace Park.
“I will reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, aiming at creating a society that will not rely on atomic power generation,” he added.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the ongoing nuclear accident, which has leaked radiation into air, soil and sea and forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes, which has led to rising public anger.
In more rare remarks on energy policy, Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui also called for the government to review its sources of power after the Fukushima accident, the world’s worst since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
“The continuing radiation scare has made many people live in fear and undermined people’s confidence in nuclear power,” he said.
“The Japanese government must quickly review the energy policy ... to regain people’s understanding and trust,” he said.
A city official said that about 50,000 people participated in the ceremony to remember the 1945 atomic bombing, which killed an estimated 140,000 people instantly or due to burns and radiation sickness soon after the blast.
More than 70,000 perished as a result of another US atomic attack on the port of Nagasaki three days later.
Yesterday’s ceremony was attended by representatives of more than 60 countries, including the US.
Kan, who also plans to attend a ceremony to mark the Nagasaki bombing on Tuesday, stressed in his speech: “We must never -forget the calamity of a nuclear arm that attacked Hiroshima 66 years ago. We must never let it happen again.”
Kan, a one-time environmental activist, has pledged to boost alternative energy sources to 20 percent of the nation’s energy mix by the 2020s.
They currently make up about 9 percent, most of it hydroelectric power.
However, the embattled prime minister has been fighting calls to resign amid rock-bottom poll ratings, while his government is still struggling to control the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.
The government and operator Tokyo Electric Power Co are aiming to bring the damaged nuclear reactors at the plant to a state of cold shutdown by January.
Kan’s government has also announced a plan to reform the current nuclear regulation bodies, splitting the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency from the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, which has heavily promoted nuclear power.
The government said on Thursday it would sack three top energy officials over their handling of the Fukushima atomic disaster and other scandals that have eroded public trust in the country’s nuclear policy.