TOKYO – A blueprint for ending radiation leaks and stabilizing reactors at Japan’s crippled nuclear plant drew a lackluster 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. over the weekend in response to a government order is meant to be a first step toward 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 due to 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.
“You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all,” Masashi Waki, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted during an intense grilling of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and members of his Cabinet in parliament today.
“I am sincerely apologizing for what has happened,” 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 lawmakers heckled and taunted him.
“I again deeply apologize for causing so much trouble for residents near the complex, people in Fukushima and the public,” Shimizu said.
Polls by several Japanese national newspapers released today showed widespread dissatisfaction, with more than two-thirds of Japanese surveyed unhappy with how Kan’s administration has dealt with the nuclear crisis.
Goshi Hosono, an adviser to the prime minister and member of his nuclear crisis management task force, said the government would closely monitor TEPCO’s implementation of its crisis plan and hoped it could be carried out ahead of schedule.
The timetable’s first step focuses on cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools, reducing radiation leaks and decontaminating water that has become radioactive within three months. The second step, for within six to nine months, is to bring the release of radioactive materials fully under control, achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and cover the buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth.
Nuclear safety officials described the plan as “realistic,” but acknowledged there could be setbacks.
“Given the conditions now, this is best that it could do,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the government’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, adding that conditions at the facility remain unstable.
Explosions, fires and other malfunctions have hindered efforts to repair the stricken plant and stem radiation leaks.
“There is no shortcut to resolving these issues. Though it will be difficult, we have to go step by step to resolve these problems,” he said.
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