Japan farmers rally against nuclear plant company

TOKYO, April 26, 2011 (AFP) - Hundreds of angry Japanese farmers protested Tuesday outside the Tokyo head office of nuclear plant operator TEPCO, taking with them vegetables, milk and and even two cows affected by the atomic crisis.

Some 350 people, mainly farmers from the region around the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi power plant, flocked to the heavily-guarded headquarters of embattled utility Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) in the capital.

Chanting anti-nuclear slogans, they waved in the air cabbages and spinach that had not been sold due to fears of radioactive contamination from the plant, which was hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

They also brought two live milk cows on pick-up trucks, as well as milk in aluminum containers, from their dairy farms near the plant, which is some 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo.

"TEPCO must stop the radiation leak! TEPCO must pay compensation! TEPCO must give us our hometown back!" demonstrators yelled in unison.

"Our cattle are getting thinner and thinner and some of them have already died," said Shinji Sakuma, who said he had some 80 cows 23 kilometres from the plant, but has largely abandoned his farm except for brief return visits to feed the animals.

"What we need is to get our old lives back."

Organisers submitted a letter of protest to TEPCO, seeking full compensation and sincere apologies from the company.

"It is important for all farmers to form a united front," said Okiji Kamiyama, who organised the rally. "We also need the understanding of the public that products in Fukushima are safe."

A TEPCO official emerged from the building to apologise for causing "huge troubles" but stopped short of providing details of compensation.

The plant was rocked by a series of explosions, and radiation has since leaked into the air, ground and sea, while the government has evacuated 85,000 people from homes nearby and set up a 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-go zone.

A group of 87 non-governmental organisations in Japan separately called for "a nuclear-free society" on Tuesday, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine.

"We will launch a large national action" seeking the permanent closure of both Fukushima Daiichi and its sister plant Fukushima Daini, the groups said in their statement, adding that the stricken plant remained "unpredictable."

They also demanded that Japan cancel plans to build new reactors, end its nuclear fuel recycling programme and shut down aging atomic power stations.

In Hiroshima, one of two cities hit by nuclear bombs in World War II, about 80 protesters staged a rally at the Hiroshima Peace Park holding a banner that read "Nuclear power and humanity cannot coexist", Kyodo News reported.

MySinchew 2011.04.26