The clean-up at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant after its tsunami-sparked nuclear meltdowns is unlike anything humanity has ever undertaken, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday during a tour of the plant.
“The massive work toward decommissioning is an unprecedented challenge in human history,” the newly elected Abe said. “Success in the decommissioning will lead to the reconstruction of Fukushima and Japan.”
Abe was at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant just days after being sworn in following the electoral triumph of his pro-business Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
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 program 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 during its more than five-decade rule.
His government said on Thursday it would review a pledge by the previous administration to scrap nuclear power within three decades.
Experts have warned, however, that a number of reactors sit above what could be still-active faults, making them vulnerable to quakes.
Underlining Japan’s sometimes precarious position at the meeting point of continental plates, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit off the Fukushima coast yesterday mid-afternoon, US geologists said.
A spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said no abnormalities were reported.
All of Japan’s 50 reactors were shuttered for inspections in the aftermath of the disaster in March last year at Fukushima Dai-ichi, where a tsunami swamped cooling systems, causing meltdowns. Reactors raged out of control for months, spewing radiation over a wide area and forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate.
Abe’s visit comes a year after experts said they had brought the wrecked units under control. However, melted fuel remains inside their cores and full decommissioning is to take decades.
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.