JOHN YDSTIE, Host:
Yesterday, Japan commemorated the 66th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, but the ceremony was different this year. In March, a massive earthquake triggered a meltdown at the Japanese nuclear plant in Fukushima. The plant continues to leak radiation in what has become the worst atomic accident since Chernobyl. As NPR's Frank Langfitt reports, the country's ongoing nuclear disaster loomed large at yesterday's ceremony.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)
FRANK LANGFITT: Eight-fifteen A.M., the time when the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima. It killed 70,000 people instantly. As the bell tolled, most people at the ceremony froze, closed their eyes and put their hands together to pray.
(SOUNDBITE OF CICADAS)
LANGFITT: Cicadas roared in the trees overhead. Prime Minister Naoto Kan remembered the dead from long ago, then he spoke of Japan's most recent atomic tragedy.
NAOTO KAN: (Through Translator) I deeply regret believing in the security myth of nuclear power and will carry out a thorough verification of the cause of this incident and implement fundamental countermeasures to ensure safety.
LANGFITT: The security myth was the Japanese government's pledge that it could control the atom. Officials say the same forces that leveled Hiroshima could be harnessed the power of this resource-poor nation. Most Japanese believed it for years. Last month, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, a poll showed that 70 percent of Japanese now want nuclear power phased out. After yesterday's ceremony, anti-nuclear activists took their cause to the streets, and they drew a direct line between the two atomic events separated by more than six decades.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No more Hiroshima.
CROWD: No more Hiroshima.
MAN: No more Nagasaki.
CROWD: No more Nagasaki.
MAN: No more Fukushima
LANGFITT: One group of activists went to the Chugoku Electric Power Company. The company's been trying to build a plant 50 miles from Hiroshima for the past three decades and local residents have been fighting it the whole time. Yesterday, they shook their fists at the granite walls of the company's headquarters.
MAN: (Japanese spoken)
LANGFITT: We are against the Kaminoseki power plant. Let's go for it, they chanted. Toshiyasu Shimizu is on the Kaminoseki town council. He said fighting the plant has felt lonely at times.
TOSHIYASU SHIMIZU: (Through Translator) People, including those in the neighboring town, were not interested. But now they see nuclear power as their own problem so that has been a dramatic difference.
LANGFITT: Shimizu says after all these years, he feels like most of the country is beginning to agree with him. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Hiroshima.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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