Nukes away: Thousands protest Japan’s return to atomic energy (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Around 20,000 people gathered in Tokyo to protest the Japanese government’s unilateral decision to restart two nuclear reactors. Many in Japan are wary of nuclear power, as memories of last year’s devastating Fukushima disaster as still fresh.

Slogans chanted by protesters included “No to the restart!”, while posters brandished “No nukes”. The rally, organized in front of the prime minister’s residence, was attended by a number of public figures, including Nobel-prize winning author Kenzaburo Oe, investigative journalist Satoshi Kamata and electronic music pioneer Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra fame.   

Activists promised to hold another anti-nuclear rally next week.

Opposition to the government’s decision to restart the reactors just a month after the country’s last nuclear power plants were shut down has been on the rise. Activists managed to gather some 7.5  million signatures through an online petition.  

Last week, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda gave the go-ahead to restart two nuclear reactors at the Oi plant in western Japan. The decision was taken in conjunction with local authorities, though Noda fell short on his promise to not act without public backing.

Authorities said the decision was necessary to prevent a power crunch in the country, which is scant on energy resources, and has traditionally relied on oil imports and the atom.

Japan is still reeling from the devastating March 2011 earthquake-spurred tsunami that killed over 15,000 people and caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant by crippling its cooling system.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the affected area, though there have been no recorded deaths as a direct consequence of the nuclear meltdown.

Japanese anti nuclear power activists hold banners as they walk down a street during a demonstration in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
Japanese anti nuclear power activists hold banners as they walk down a street during a demonstration in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
An elderly woman sits in front of an anti nuclear banner during a demonstration in a street in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
An elderly woman sits in front of an anti nuclear banner during a demonstration in a street in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
Japanese police stand guard as anti nuclear power activists hold banners as they walk down a street during a demonstration in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
Japanese police stand guard as anti nuclear power activists hold banners as they walk down a street during a demonstration in Tokyo on June 23, 2012. (AFP Photo/Toru Yamanaka)
Anti nuclear activists hold placards and shout slogans during protest in front of the prime minister′s official residence in Tokyo on June 22, 2012. (AFP Photo/Rie Ishii)
Anti nuclear activists hold placards and shout slogans during protest in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on June 22, 2012. (AFP Photo/Rie Ishii)
Japanese police officers (bottom R) stand guard as anti nuclear activists hold placards and shout slogans during a protest in front of the prime minister′s official residence in Tokyo on June 22, 2012. (AFP Photo/Rie Ishii)
Japanese police officers (bottom R) stand guard as anti nuclear activists hold placards and shout slogans during a protest in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on June 22, 2012. (AFP Photo/Rie Ishii)