[JURIST] Almost two years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster [IAEA backgrounder] Japanese officials report that 44 countries still ban or limit food imports from Japan, as thousands of the nation’s citizens gathered on Saturday in ongoing anti-nuclear demonstrations around the country. China and South Korea, both major purchasers, are among the economies that still set limits on Japanese food imports [Japan Times report] due to concern over potential nuclear contamination. While several countries such as Canada and Mexico are lifting their bans on Japanese food products, government officials fear many restrictions will continue, damaging domestic food export businesses. Large scale protests in Fukushima [Asahi Shimbun report] on Friday continued Saturday in Tokyo as thousands of people rallied [AP report] in a city park against Japan’s use of nuclear power. Following June’s unilateral decision by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda [BBC profile] to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors, Tokyo parks have seen hundreds and thousands gather in protest on national holidays [JURIST report] since the reactors were put back online, and protesters have gathered outside the parliament building in Tokyo every Friday evening. Only two of Japan’s 50 working nuclear reactors have been restarted since the disaster.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant was hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011, knocking out main power for cooling reactors, and the subsequent 15-meter tsunami destroyed electrical equipment and disabled backup generators. The meltdown is considered one of the biggest man-made environmental disasters of all time and the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986. Japan has been criticized for its handling of the crisis, and international reception to nuclear energy has fallen sharply since the incident. In August Japan prosecutors initiated [JURIST report] a criminal investigation into the nuclear disaster. In July a Japanese expert panel issued a report claiming that the Fukushima disaster was preventable [JURIST report]. In June more than 1,300 people filed a criminal complaint [JURIST report] against Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) [corporate website] for the crisis and for the plaintiffs’ resulting radiation. The complaint named as defendants Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, the former president of the company, and Haruki Madarame [Washington Times profiles], the chief of the Nuclear Safety Commission, along with 30 other executives. In March of that year TEPCO executives faced another complaint filed by a group of shareholders [JURIST report] for similar claims in the amount of US$67 billion.