Prime Minister Suga pays 1st visit to Fukushima, vows to revive non-living areas

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited Fukushima Prefecture on Sept. 26 for the first time since taking office and pledged to resuscitate areas left deserted after the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi plant. Specifically, Suga expressed his government’s intention to remove the designation of all difficult-to-return zones in the future, including those outside "specified reconstruction and revitalization bases," eventually restoring environments where residents can live. In areas outside such bases, procedures for the elimination of evacuation area designation are uncertain. As for the increase in radioactive water treated but still containing tritium at the plant, Suga emphasized determining how to dispose of such wastewater as soon as possible was the government's responsibility. But he did not mention any specific timing to do so. ■No mention of when to fix wastewater disposal policy During his first regional trip since becoming prime minister, Suga visited the prefectural town of Hirono and answered reporters' questions at the Futaba Mirai Gakuen Junior and Senior High School. In response to questions on his policy regarding the lifting of evacuation orders in difficult-to-return zones and on decontamination work, he said: "Ultimately, we would like to remove all of them and enable everyone to live there, even though it will take time." He also said the government will steadily advance the development of reconstruction base areas. "Beyond that, we would like to advance development outside those areas. That is the direction of my government," he added. In the difficult-to-return zones, policies have become clear about the timing of removing evacuation area designation in reconstruction base areas and about cleanup operations, but there is no prospect of action being taken outside such base areas even though nine and a half years have lapsed since the disaster. Towns and villages with such areas are moving to respond on their own in an effort to open the way for terminating evacuation area designation. Among those municipalities, the village of Iitate is seeking the removal of evacuation orders for the entire region, not on the assumption of decontamination beforehand, while Futaba is demanding the designation of the whole town as a reconstruction base. The town of Tomioka is requesting approval of decontamination and the dismantling of houses left vacant to be undertaken by itself. All these requests have been made to the central government. At the crippled nuclear station, Suga was briefed by utility officials, including its president, Tomoaki Kobayakawa, on the progress in decommissioning work and the nature of wastewater containing tritium left after treatment of contaminated water. The amount of treated water is snowballing day by day, and TEPCO estimates that all wastewater-containing tanks at the plant will reach capacity around the summer of 2022. After touring the plant, including the tanks in place, the prime minister said his government "will responsibly decide on the handling of treated water as soon as possible." Suga also visited the Great East Japan Earthquake and Nuclear Disaster Memorial Museum in Futaba. With museum director Noboru Takamura as his guide, Suga viewed photos and materials showing the situation immediately after the nuclear mishap and the footsteps of reconstruction. At Futaba Mirai Gakuen, Suga talked with junior and high school students. He was accompanied on the trip by Reconstruction Minister Katsuei Hirasawa (Fukushima High School graduate) and Gov. Masao Uchibori, among other officials. Photo: Prime Minister Suga (left) is briefed on tritium-containing treated water at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on the afternoon of Sept. 26. The No. 3 reactor can be seen in the distance on the right.