Kobayashi declined to comment on the WHO report, but acknowledged that workers face unprecedented danger from persistently high radiation levels.
Several strong quakes have shaken northeast Japan since March 11, 2011, but Takahashi insisted the reactor No. 4 building — where 1,500 fuel assemblies stored in a pool on the top floor have drawn concern because of their vulnerability to seismic activity — could withstand an earthquake of similar intensity to the one that destroyed the plant two years ago.
Despite those reassurances, Takahashi conceded the plant has become the focal point of a nuclear crisis whose victims, like the facility itself, are a long way from returning to any semblance of normality.
On the drive through the 20km evacuation zone to Fukushima Dai-ichi, visitors pass entire villages that remain frozen in time. Half a dozen cars sit abandoned in a supermarket car park, shops and restaurants lie deserted, and thousands of black bags filled with contaminated soil and grass cover fields once used to grow rice, while authorities decide how, and where, to dispose of them.
Meanwhile, the tens of thousands of residents who once called this forbidding landscape home still have no idea when, or if, they will be able to return.