A blueprint for ending radiation leaks and stabilising reactors at Japan’s crippled nuclear plant drew a lacklustre response today as polls showed diminishing public support for the government’s handling of the country’s recent disasters.
The plan, issued by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) over the weekend in response to a government order, is meant to be a first step towards letting some of the tens of thousands of evacuees from near the company’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant return to their homes.
Those forced to flee radiation leaks after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the plant’s power and cooling systems are frustrated that their exile will not end soon. And officials acknowledge that unforeseen complications, or even another natural disaster, could set that timetable back even further.
“Well, this year is lost,” said Kenji Matsueda, 49, who is living in an evacuation centre in Fukushima after being forced from his home 12 miles from the plant. “I have no idea what I will do. Nine months is a long time. And it could be longer. I don’t think they really know.”
Pressure has been building on the government and Tepco to resolve Japan’s worst nuclear power accident, and prime minister Naoto Kan is facing calls for his resignation.
“You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all,” Masashi Waki, an MP from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted during an intense grilling of Mr Kan and members of his Cabinet in parliament.
“I am sincerely apologising for what has happened,” Mr Kan said, stressing that the government was doing all it could to handle unprecedented disasters.
Tepco’s president Masataka Shimizu looked visibly ill at ease as MPs heckled and taunted him.
“I again deeply apologise for causing so much trouble for residents near the complex, people in Fukushima and the public,” he said.
Polls by several Japanese national newspapers released today showed widespread dissatisfaction, with more than two-thirds of people surveyed unhappy with how Mr Kan’s administration has dealt with the nuclear crisis.
“Nothing concrete,” said a headline in the Mainichi newspaper of the plan. “The nuclear timetable does not show enough consideration for the residents,” said the Nihon Keizai, a financial newspaper.
A majority of those surveyed in the polls by the Mainichi, Nihon Keizai and Asahi newspapers expressed support, though, for tax increases to pay for reconstruction of areas devastated by the tsunami.