FUKUSHIMA (Kyodo) Prime Minister Naoto Kan went Saturday to an operation base in Fukushima Prefecture to encourage Self-Defense Forces personnel and civilian workers trying to contain the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power station.
Before visiting the base camp set up at the J-Village athletic training facility about 20 km from the nuclear plant, Kan flew by SDF helicopter to Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, a city devastated by the March 11 quake and tsunami, to meet with evacuees.
It was his second trip to the nuclear plant. A visit scheduled for March 21 to meet with evacuees in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was canceled at the last minute due to poor weather.
Kan praised the workers of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and its subcontractors in the J-Village lobby and thanked them for their “hard work.”
“The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant needs to be put under control with your collective efforts,” Kan said. “We have to work hard until we reach a point where we can say our country has overcome the quake and the tsunami disaster.”
Stepping outdoors, Kan spoke to Tokyo firefighters who have been pumping water into the facility, calling on them to “give all your effort despite the harsh conditions.”
With the situation at the plant still critical, government officials, Tepco and other personnel are working around the clock to regain control of the complex and prevent further radiation leaks.
In Rikuzentakata, Kan stopped at Yonesaki Elementary School, where about 160 evacuees are taking shelter. He spoke with some of the survivors, offering words of encouragement.
Donning the blue coveralls that officials have been wearing since March 11, Kan asked the survivors about their living conditions, encouraged them to carry on and promised the “government will firmly address” their problems.
He also told them, “We will do the best we can to set up temporary housing.”
But his 20-minute visit three weeks after the disaster was not welcomed by all of the roughly 60 people present, with one saying it would have been better if Kan had visited them earlier.
“I wonder how well he could grasp the situation faced by victims,” fisherman Kazuo Sato, 45, said. “There are shelters still without electricity or water. Some people haven’t even been able to begin searching for bodies. I want (Kan) to turn attention to those matters.”
People who were forced to evacuate municipalities near the Fukushima plant also didn’t appear happy to hear Kan visited the plant’s operations base.
“The situation won’t change even if (the prime minister) comes,” a 50-year-old man said, adding the government should put more focus on compensation and other issues stemming from the nuclear crisis.
During his one-day trip, Kan was also briefed by Rikuzentakata Mayor Futoshi Toba and Iwate Gov. Takuya Tasso at the makeshift City Hall about current conditions in devastated areas, and the three discussed how to move forward with reconstruction efforts.
Departing from the building, Kan spoke to some 20 firefighters there, telling them to keep up their good work.
“This is going to be a long fight, but the government will work together with you until the end,” Kan said.
He also inspected city streets heavily damaged by the tsunami.
“We have to think of support measures from the central government’s side on how to revive fishing here,” he told reporters.
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