TOKYO - More than 200 farmers brought two cows to Tokyo where they shouted and punched the air Tuesday in a protest to demand compensation for products contaminated by radiation spewing from Japan's crippled nuclear plant.
The farmers from northeastern Japan wore green bandanas and held signs saying "Nuclear disaster is human disaster" and "Stop nuclear energy" outside the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the plant damaged in the March 11 tsunami.
Radiation leaking from Fukushima Dai-ichi plant - about 140 miles (220 kilometers) north of Tokyo - has been found in milk, water and leafy vegetables such as spinach from around the plant.
"I could not sit still in Fukushima. I want TEPCO to understand our frustration, anxiety and worries over our future," said 72-year-old Katsuo Okazaki, who grows peaches and apples. "My patience has run out. The nuclear crisis is totally destroying our farming business," he said.
The utility says it will take six to nine months to bring the plant into cold shutdown, a crucial step for allowing the roughly 80,000 people evacuated from a 12-mile (20-kilometer) area around the plant to return home.
TEPCO will start depositing initial compensation payments of 1 million yen ($12,000) per household on Tuesday into bank accounts of people forced to evacuate due to leaking radiation, Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said.
Okazaki isn't eligible because his farm is 60 kilometers from the plant, but he still wants compensation from the utility because he fears consumers will shun produce from his region over the long term. He says vegetable growers already have lost a great deal of money because of the nuclear accident.
"I am constantly worried about this, and feel like my strength is being sapped away," he said.
Farmers took turns shouting their frustrations into a microphone, their words carried over a loudspeaker mounted atop a van, as lunch-hour passers-by in the busy office district stopped and gawked at the animals.
"TEPCO, give us back our cows and pigs and chickens," one farmer shouted.
With its liability likely to stretch into the billions, TEPCO announced Monday it would slash executive compensation by 50 percent, cut managers' salaries by 25 percent and low-level employees would get a 20 percent pay cut. It also planned to freeze hiring for next year. The amount saved would total 54 billion yen ($660 million) for the year, the company said.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, a group of 87 Japanese anti-nuclear groups issued a joint statement criticizing TEPCO's failure to prepare adequately for a large tsunami as "immoral and criminal."
Warnings about "the danger of a huge earthquake and tsunami ... were not taken seriously," said the statement released by the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center. "We have continued to oppose nuclear power and nuclear facilities, calling for phase out of nuclear energy."