Fukushima voters urge politicians to face reality of nuclear crisis

Voters in Fukushima Prefecture, where about 150,000 people are still living as evacuees from their homes due to the nuclear disaster triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, urged politicians to face the reality of the crisis as official campaigning for the July 21 House of Councillors election got under way Thursday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized to voters in Fukushima in a speech in the prefecture Thursday morning, saying the Liberal Democratic Party headed by him "must reflect deeply" on its past policy of promoting nuclear power generation without thoroughly considering the safety of nuclear plants in Japan.

"Japan cannot be revived unless Fukushima recovers" from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant crisis, he said.

But Abe made no reference to efforts to end the crisis, the restart of other nuclear plants in Japan or the export of the nation's nuclear power generation technologies, which has stirred controversy.

Yasuo Yoshida, a 46-year-old fisherman in Iwaki, a coastal city in the prefecture, said politicians should visit the areas affected by the nuclear disaster more often and listen to the local people.

"Now we face a moment of truth in trying to rebuild Fukushima's fishing industry and I want politicians to ensure that the central government will take responsibility" for the revival of fishing, he said.

Fukushima fishermen have refrained from catching fish except for trial operations since the disaster due to fears of radiation contamination.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant, has recently suggested that underground water taken from the site be discharged into the sea, so as to reduce the overall amount of contaminated water at the facility.

But talks between the utility and local fishermen remain bogged down.

"Even if the underground water is clean, discharging it into the sea would ruin our recovery efforts due to the reputation (of the area)," Yoshida said.

He said he does not know whether the regional economy has recovered at all, since he has no work.

Keiko Fujinami, a 42-year-old housewife from Naraha, said she does not expect any change after the upper house election. "Nobody will stick to their election pledges," she said. Fujinami lives in Iwaki with her family as an evacuee.

The central government has said it will start research from July 12 on a district in Naraha where her house is located to check whether the site is suitable to accommodate a temporary storage facility for contaminated soil and waste resulting from the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The government is hoping to start transporting such soil and waste to the facility to be set up near the Fukushima plant from January 2015, but none of the municipalities approached has agreed to accept the construction of such a facility.

Fujinami said the government has promised to take measures to ensure safety if the facility is built in Naraha, but she believes she would not be able to return to her home if the facility is constructed in the town.

"None of the Diet members or central government officials lives here. Those people must be thinking that it's OK as long as the facility is located far away from Tokyo," she said.