FUKUSHIMA – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe inspected the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant Saturday to show the public that his administration is serious about speeding up decontamination and reconstruction work while it tackles a host of other pressing issues, his aides said.
Donning a hazmat suit at J Village, a soccer center converted into a base for those involved in stabilizing the plant’s crippled reactors, Abe met with workers to thank them for their service to the nation.
It was his first visit to the Fukushima No. 1 power station as prime minister. The complex suffered three catastrophic core meltdowns in March 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing 15-meter tsunami knocked out the power supply.
“I know the decommissioning process is hard work. But it is progressing well and we owe it all to you,” Abe told the workers.
The prime minister then visited the No. 1 plant and spoke with employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co. who are engaged in preparatory work for the removal of spent nuclear fuel from the wrecked reactors’ storage pools.
Abe was slated to visit temporary accommodations in the prefecture later in the day and meet with residents who were evacuated due to the nuclear crisis last year. He was expected to return to Tokyo on Saturday evening.
Accompanying Abe on the trip was Takumi Nemoto, a Diet member representing a constituency in Fukushima who was appointed reconstruction minister in the new Cabinet inaugurated Wednesday.
Abe also inspected the power plant in October as leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, which at the time was still in the opposition camp.
Tomioka chief rips restarts
The mayor of a town rendered off-limits by the Fukushima disaster told environment officials Friday that he is opposed to restarting more of the nation’s idled nuclear reactors.
“The government’s apparent stance of giving priority to restarts hurts the feelings of the people in Fukushima Prefecture,” Tomioka Mayor Katsuya Endo told two senior vice environment ministers from the new government led by the Liberal Democratic Party. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched his Cabinet on Wednesday.
“Fukushima is absolutely opposed to the government’s plan to restart nuclear plants without consensus based on people’s discussions,” Endo told Shinji Inoue and Kazunori Tanaka.
He also criticized past LDP administrations for the slack safety standards they imposed on nuclear power plants in the first place. Unless Abe’s new government reflects on the past, it will not be able to win the public’s trust, Endo said.
The LDP returned to power earlier this month after three years in the opposition camp. Trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Abe’s team will review the national strategy set out by the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration to aim for a reactor phaseout by 2040.
The meeting took place in Koriyama, where the administrative functions of Endo’s town were transferred to escape the fallout from the core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 complex after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Tomioka and adjacent Naraha host the Fukushima No. 2 plant, another nuclear power complex that was taken offline along with most of the nation’s other reactors after the meltdowns. The Fukushima No. 2 facility lies 12 km south of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The fate of the Fukushima No. 2 power station, which could potentially be decommissioned, hasn’t been decided yet.
Evacuees get home visits
Some of the people who fled the radioactive fallout in Fukushima Prefecture will get to spend their first New Year holidays at home since the nuclear catastrophe, the government announced.
Starting Saturday, four municipalities with radiation restrictions will allow residents to stay in their homes up to five nights.
A total of 525 residents — 221 from Minamisoma, 236 from Iitate, 16 from Kawauchi and 52 from Tamura — have preregistered for the stays, the government said Friday.
The towns are either classified as “areas preparing for the evacuation order to be lifted,” where the annual radiation exposure does not exceed 20 millisieverts, or “residence-restricted areas” with an exposure of up to 50 millisieverts a year.
Until now, the municipalities had only allowed residents to visit their homes during the day.
While the government also permitted the town of Naraha to accept residents for the new year, the municipality decided against the move because its infrastructure and decontamination efforts remain insufficient.
“There has not been progress in restoring the sewage system and we cannot take sufficient measures to prevent crimes and disasters,” a Naraha municipal official said.
Minamisoma will only allow residents of the Haramachi district to return. An official said the water and sewage systems haven’t been restored in other areas, while housing remains damaged in the Odaka district, which is closest to the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
All returning residents will be required to carry dosimeters with them during their stays.