UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday pledged the world body’s solidarity with Japan after its quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters and encouraged radiation evacuees to “hang in there.”
Traveling in the disaster-struck northeast, Ban became one of the most senior foreign leaders to visit the region close to the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which is still leaking radiation.
“I came here to express my solidarity, the United Nations’ solidarity for the government of Fukushima, and particularly for affected people in Fukushima,” Ban told Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato.
“Particularly this Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident has given us great lessons,” he said. “We need to carefully review to improve our safety and improve our capacity tools in such an emergency response.”
About 85,000 people have fled the region around the plant after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Ban, who has convened a nuclear safety summit for the UN General Assembly in New York next month, is expected to reinforce his calls for tougher international standards.
Joined by his wife, Ban visited a shelter where more than 300 evacuees, mainly from Minamisoma and a 20km no-go zone around the plant, have lived in cramped conditions for the past five months.
“You will hang in there,” Ban said in Japanese to the evacuees, who live in tiny spaces separated by cardboard partitions.
Ban, who arrived in Japan on Sunday, then visited Fukushima Minami High School, where he also gave words of encouragement to about 100 teenagers, telling them: “The entire world and the United Nations are behind you.”
Five months on from the disaster, Japan’s government and the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) are struggling to stabilize three reactors at the plant following a series of meltdowns and explosions.
Japan wants to bring all reactors to stable “cold shutdown” by January. However, lethal hotspots were detected inside the crippled plant last week, with radiation so high that they threaten to prevent emergency workers from making progress in the effort to control the crisis.
TEPCO has also faced a series of technical glitches affecting a system to decontaminate radioactive runoff water used to cool the reactors.
At the meeting with Ban, Sato asked him for cooperation from the world body.
“Five months have passed since the disaster and amid this ordeal Fukushima’s people are making their utmost effort to build a new Fukushima,” he said. “I would like to ask you, secretary-general, and the United Nations to especially remember Fukushima and cooperate with us.”
Ban then visited tsunami---ravaged Haragama beach in Soma, 40km north of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, to assess the damage.
Ban walked with the local mayor past demolished buildings and cars and mangled fishing nets still piled up on road sides, stopping to observe a moment of silence.
Ban was scheduled later yesterday to travel to Tokyo to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto.
Ban was also expected to request that Japan dispatch troops from its Self Defense Forces for a peacekeeping operation in South Sudan.
Ban came to Japan as part of an Asian tour that will also take him to his native South Korea today, where he will launch a UN youth conference, the Global Model UN, in Incheon.