METI chief Miyazawa pays first visit to Fukushima No. 1 plant

Kyodo

New trade and industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa paid a visit to the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant over the weekend, his first since replacing Yuko Obuchi, who resigned in October over a funding scandal.

Miyazawa visited the wrecked plant on Saturday before going to Kagoshima Prefecture to push for the restart of idled reactors there, apparently to fend off criticism that he places greater importance on promoting restarts than dealing with the societal fallout from the triple meltdown in Fukushima.

“There are difficult issues, but we see things proceeding steadily so far,” the economy, trade and industry minister said, referring to efforts to scrap the stricken reactors and deal with the massive amount of radioactive water accumulating at the plant.

Miyazawa said the reactors at the Fukushima plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., and the Sendai plant run by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in Kagoshima are different because the safety of the latter has been confirmed by new safety tests introduced as a result of the Fukushima disaster.

“It is going to be a restart after preparing all we can think of right now to avoid such an accident,” he said.

All of the nation’s 48 commercial reactors remain offline, and must pass the new Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety assessments before going online again.

The central government and Kyushu Electric are trying to win local consent to restart the two Sendai reactors because they were the first to clear the new safety regime.

He will visit Kagoshima Monday to promote the issue.

Since filling the hole left by Obuchi last month, the new METI chief has been hit by political fund scandals of his own. Last month, he admitted that his fundraising body had booked an ¥18,230 expense for a visit to a sadomasochism sex show bar in Hiroshima that he denied attending.

The Liberal Democratic Party chapter he heads has been accused of receiving an illegal donation from a foreign-owned firm, and the media jumped on his 600-share stake in Tepco as soon as he filled Obuchi’s place. He has since moved the shares to a trust bank, he said.