To workers facing the perils at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and residents in the surrounding communities, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plant tour and his attempts to show the government taking control of the radiation-contaminated water problem left them angry.
"No one believes that the contaminated water is being controlled," said Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minami-Soma, whose residents were asked to evacuate following the nuclear accident in March 2011. "What can he know after riding to the plant on a bus and looking around for just a moment?"
After Abe said that water was being completely blocked from the ocean, following his visit to the Fukushima plant on Sept. 19, one man who has helped assemble the tanks from which contaminated water has leaked said, "I wonder if he is using words like 'blocked' and 'control' after really understanding what is going on at the site."
He said that not even Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, may be fully aware of the extent of the problems surrounding contaminated water.
The man recalls that one day he saw contaminated water spraying out of a tank. An employee of an affiliated company to TEPCO wore a raincoat over protective clothing to tighten a bolt on the tank, even as he was being showered with leaking water.
The man witnessed a similar scene on another day. However, TEPCO made no announcement about the two incidents.
"The affiliated company probably did not want to get on the bad side of TEPCO, so it stopped the leak and concealed the defect in the tank," the man said. "I believe more contaminated water is leaking than the announcements made so far by TEPCO."
The man was in charge of placing rubber packing between the connecting parts of the steel materials used in the tanks and using an electric screwdriver to tighten bolts. It took several days for a team of workers to assemble a single tank.
"As far as I knew, none of the workers had any experience making tanks," the man said. "There were many workers from outside Fukushima Prefecture, like Okinawa and Hokkaido, and the turnover in workers was rapid."
Radiation levels were high even in the rest areas where workers ate their meals. Alarms would inevitably go off during inspections for radioactive materials at the end of a work day.
Because protective clothing had to be worn even during the height of the record summer heat, the man said he came close to suffering from heatstroke, as his arms and legs began trembling.
"It is not work humans should have to do," the man said. "The workers will be unable to continue. The prime minister should spend one day working at the plant site to understand what the situation is really like."
Local officials were also critical of Abe's grasp of the situation.
The Soma-Futaba fishing cooperative association plans to resume trial operations from Sept. 26, after postponing a resumption date earlier in the month after hundreds of tons of radioactive water were discovered to be flowing into the sea from the Fukushima plant.
"(The prime minister) has no idea what is happening," said Hiroyuki Sato, who heads the association. "Consumers will never trust us unless he correctly says, 'Although contaminated water continues to flow into the ocean, fortunately, the fish that are being brought into port as well as the waters off the coast are not contaminated.' "
Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa also could not hide his anger at Abe, whose plant visit lasted about three hours.
"He should look at the many people who continue to live as evacuees so he can be aware that the situation is far from being under control," Izawa said.
Keisuke Ishii, 70, evacuated from Namie, which has been designated as an area where residents face difficulties in returning. Now living elsewhere in temporary housing in Fukushima Prefecture, he said, "The visit was nothing but a performance. He (Abe) should see for himself that nothing is being controlled."
(This article was written by Takuro Negishi and Shinichi Fujiwara.)
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