* Crowd breaks through barriers
* Defeated candidate wanted no nuclear power by 2020
TOKYO, July 29 Tens of thousands of people
protested against nuclear power outside Japan's parliament on
Sunday, the same day a proponent of using renewable energy to
replace nuclear following the Fukushima disaster was defeated in
a local election.
The protesters, including old-age pensioners, pressed up
against a wall of steel thrown up around the parliament building
shouting, "We don't need nuclear power" and other slogans.
On the main avenue leading to the assembly, the crowd broke
through the barriers and spilled onto the streets, forcing the
police to bring in reinforcements and deploy armoured buses to
buttress the main parliament gate.
The protest came as results from rural Yamaguchi showed that
Tetsunari Iida, an advocate of renewable energy to replace
nuclear power, lost his bid to become governor to a rival backed
by the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which promoted
nuclear power during its decades in power, Kyodo news agency
reported, citing exit polls.
Iida, who wants Japan to exit nuclear power by 2020, had
promised to revitalise Yamaguchi's economy with renewable energy
projects and opposed a project by Chubu Electric Power Co to
build a new nuclear plant in the town of Kaminoseki.
Energy policy has become a major headache for Prime Minister
Yoshihiko Noda, who less than a year in office is battling to
hold his Democratic Party together before a general election due
next year but which could come sooner.
Weekly protests outside Noda's office have grown in size in
recent months, with ordinary salary workers and mothers with
children joining the crowds.
On Sunday, the protesters - holding candles as darkness fell
on the hot summer day - took their demonstration to parliament.
Chanting "oppose restarts", they pressed against steel
barriers erected around the parliament building, where thousands
of police were deployed to keep the peace.
Many of the crowd had marched past the headquarters of Tokyo
Electric Power Co, the company at the heart of the
worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
"We are here to oppose nuclear power, which is simply too
dangerous," Hiroko Yamada, an elderly woman from Saitama
prefecture near Tokyo, said.
"(Noda) isn't listening to us. He only listens to companies
and Yonekura," she said, referring to Hiromasa Yonekura, the
chairman of Japan's biggest business lobby.
An upset victory by Iida, 53, would have added to Noda's
woes as the government tries to decide on an energy portfolio to
replace a 2010 programme that would have boosted nuclear power's
share of electricity supply to more than half by 2030.
Still, Iida's support from volunteers in the conservative
stronghold bodes ill for the Democrats and the LDP, support for
which has failed to benefit greatly from Noda's woes, Kyodo said
in an analysis of the local vote.
"The brave battle by Iida, who sought a change in energy
policy, can be said to be proof the popular call to exit nuclear
power has spread even to Yamaguchi," the news agency said.
Noda, who approved the restart of two idled reactors this
month, has said he would decide on a new medium-term energy plan
in August, although media reports over the weekend said that
decision could be delayed.
Experts have proposed three options: zero nuclear power as
soon as possible, a 15 percent atomic share of electricity by
2030, or 20-25 percent by the same date compared to almost 30
percent before the Fukushima disaster.
Under pressure from businesses worried about stable
electricity supply, Noda has been thought to be leaning toward
15 percent, which would require all of Japan's 50 reactors to
resume operations before gradually closing older units.
The growing anti-nuclear movement, however, may make
that choice difficult, some experts said.
Multiple inquiries into the March 11, 2011 nuclear crisis,
in which a huge quake-induced tsunami devastated the
Fukushima plant, causing meltdowns and forcing mass evacuations,
have underscored the failure by authorities and utilities to
adopt strict safety steps or disaster response plans.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Aaron Scheldrick; Editing by
Joseph Radford and Michael Roddy)