The clean-up at Fukushima after its tsunami-sparked nuclear meltdowns is unlike anything humanity has ever undertaken, Japan's prime minister said yesterday during a tour of the plant.
"The massive work towards decommissioning is an unprecedented challenge in human history," the newly elected Shinzo Abe said. "Success in the decommissioning will lead to the reconstruction of Fukushima and Japan."
Abe was at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi just days after being sworn in after the electoral triumph of his pro-business Liberal Democratic Party. The prime minister's trip to the still-ruined site is part of a push by his administration to put a lid on the crisis.
Observers widely expect Japan to restart its nuclear programme on the LDP's watch, despite public concerns that the party was partially responsible for the extent of the catastrophe because of a culture of complicity. His government said on Thursday it would review a pledge by the previous administration to scrap nuclear power within three decades and would give the green light to plants deemed safe by regulators.
Dressed in a protective suit and wearing a face mask, Abe was taken by bus to see two of the damaged reactors. He thanked workers for their efforts at a time when many Japanese are celebrating New Year with family.
"Decommissioning work is hard work, but it is progressing. We owe it all to you," he said.
Speaking to press in Kawauchi, a city to which residents have been allowed to return because of falling levels of radiation, Abe was guarded on the future of nuclear power. He said he wanted "a responsible energy policy" and pledged to boost alternative energy and renewables as his government worked out the best energy mix for Japan.