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Japan's new PM heads to crippled Fukushima plant
Published on:Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 10:55
Japan's new prime minister was expected to visit the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant Saturday, days after coming to power on the most pro-atomic platform on offer in the general election.
Shinzo Abe's trip to the still-ruined site is part of a push by the pro-business Liberal Democratic Party to tackle an issue that has been a major talking point over much of the last two years.
His government said Thursday it would review a pledge by the previous administration to scrap nuclear power within three decades and would allow the restarting of any power plants deemed safe by regulators.
Japan's entire stable of 50 reactors was shuttered for safety inspections in the aftermath of the March 2011 disaster at Fukushima, where a tsunami swamped cooling systems, sparking meltdowns.
The reactors at the plant raged out of control for months after the initial catastrophe, spewing radiation over a wide area and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.
Japanese experts said they had brought the wrecked units under control in December last year, but melted fuel remains inside their cores and their full decommissioning and cleaning-up is expected to take decades.
Abe is expected to take a tour of the plant, run by the huge Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), and is also likely to visit temporary shelters housing those who were evacuated after the accident.
His LDP won a landslide victory in the December 16 election, returning to power after a three-year break.
Despite anti-nuclear sentiment running high in Japan following the Fukushima disaster, parties opposing atomic energy made little impact at the ballot box.
Economy, trade and industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Thursday he was ready to give the go-ahead to resuming generation at nuclear power plants "if they are confirmed safe".
Operators must get permission from the newly-formed Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) before their reactors can be restarted.
In June, then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda ordered the restarting of two reactors at Oi in western Japan amid fears of a summer power shortage, but he vowed ahead of the election to phase out nuclear power by 2040.
They remain the only working units in the country.
Motegi said abandoning Japan's only reprocessing plant for spent nuclear fuel at Rokkasho in the far north "is not an option".
Some experts have warned the plant could sit on an active seismic fault and would be vulnerable to a massive earthquake.
If regulators agree they will have to order its closure and Japan would be without any recycling capacity of its own.
Resource-poor Japan, which relied on atomic power for around a third of its energy has poured billions of dollars into its nuclear fuel recycling programme, in which uranium and plutonium are extracted from spent fuel for re-use in nuclear power plants.