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Former Japan PM 'prevented nuclear plant pullout'
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 9, 2011

Former premier Naoto Kan prevented the operator of a stricken Japanese nuclear plant from abandoning it after the March tsunami and forced its older employees onto the frontline, a newspaper reported Friday.

People who were then in senior government positions have said executives at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) sought to withdraw from the Fukushima Daiichi plant on March 15 after it had been hit by a series of explosions.

The Tokyo Shimbun said Friday that Kan stormed into the company's head office in response, saying: "You cannot pull out and look on quietly. Then foreign countries could say 'We'll do it'," citing a transcript it obtained.

"There is no retreat when Japan's existence is on the line," Kan reportedly said, adding: "People aged 60 or older may as well go to the site."

The report said he told the then president and chairman: "Prepare to meet your fate."

Cooling systems and backup generators failed at the plant in the wake of the 14-metre tsunami spawned by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11.

The accident triggered reactor meltdowns at the plant 220 kilometres (136 miles) northeast of Tokyo and spewed radiation into the environment.

Yukio Edano, who was the top spokesman in the Kan government, told the Yomiuri Shimbun this week that then-president of the firm Masataka Shimizu sought to pull workers out, but the head of the plant, Masao Yoshida, said his team could hold out.

"There are various evaluations on the Kan government but at that moment I thought, 'It's good that this man is prime minister,'" Edano told the Yomiuri, recalling Kan speaking to TEPCO employees.

More than 16,000 people have worked at the Fukushima Daiichi plant since it began leaking radiation, an official at the health, labour and welfare ministry said.

There have been about 40 cases of heat stroke and the ministry is monitoring for any symptoms of radiation-related illness, the official said.

Kan officially stepped down last week amid criticism over his handling of the aftermath of the March 11 triple disaster -- the earthquake, tsunami and the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

Earlier this week Kan told the Tokyo Shimbun that he at one point feared Tokyo would be rendered uninhabitable by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

He added it would have been "impossible" to evacuate all of the 30 million residents in the event of a mass exclusion zone encompassing Tokyo and the Kanto region, and said that this risk made nuclear power too dangerous an option for the country.

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Japan's minister slapped for 'ghost town' slur
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 9, 2011 - Japan's new industry ministry provoked anger Friday when he described the area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant as a "ghost town", the latest gaffe by the week-old government.

Yoshio Hachiro, the minister of economy, trade and industry, was quick to apologise for the remark and retract it. But opposition parties criticised Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda for appointing him to the post.

Hachiro, who accompanied Noda on a tour of the plant and its vicinity on Thursday, told a news conference: "Unfortunately, there was not a soul in sight in the streets of the surrounding towns and villages.

"It literally resembled something of a ghost town."

Kyodo news agency also quoted witnesses saying that after his visit to the plant, Hachiro made as if he was to rub his jacket against a journalist, while making a remark to the effect that "I will infect you with radiation."

The "ghost town" comment was widely seen as insensitive at a time when the government cannot provide residents who have been forced to evacuate with a firm timetable for their return.

Premier Noda, touring a western Japan region hit by a recent typhoon, told Japanese media that Hachiro's expression was "inappropriate" and should be corrected with an apology.

Leaders of the main opposition Liberal-Democratic Party, called Hachiro "unqualified as a minister."

Ichiro Aizawa, the LDP chief of parliamentary affairs, told reporters: "We have no choice but to address the responsibility of the prime minister for appointing him."

Out of Noda's 17-member cabinet, 10 including Hachiro are newcomers to ministerial posts.

His defence minister has described himself as an "amateur concerning security" while his health minister, an avowed anti-smoker, called for further increases in the tobacco tax although the matter is outside her jurisdiction.

Hachiro, 63, a former socialist party member who switched to the now ruling Democratic Party of Japan in 1996, responded swiftly.

"I sincerely regret that the expression has caused some misunderstanding among people in the disaster area and I want to retract the expression," he told another news conference. "I am extremely sorry.

"I wanted to say that we will strongly enforce decontamination measures so that evacuated people can return to their towns."

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Victims struggle six months on from Japan quake
Tokyo (AFP) Sept 9, 2011
As Japan prepares to mark six months since the March earthquake, tens of thousands remain in temporary housing, mourning loved ones, fearful of radiation and despairing over a marathon road to recovery. The raging wall of water unleashed by the record 9.0 magnitude March 11 quake left an indelible scar on Japan's northeastern Pacific coast, killing 20,000 and sparking the worst nuclear accid ... read more

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