Japan Vows to Bolster Tsunami Reconstruction by 2020 Olympic Games

By MARI YAMAGUCHI | March 14, 2016

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Thursday to bolster reconstruction efforts in tsunami-hit northern Japan and the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the disaster, Abe promised to rush decontamination work in irradiated areas near the plant to allow more residents to safely return home. He also set ambitious goals to reopen a damaged coastal railway in Fukushima by 2020 and triple tourism in the north.

“We will designate the next five years as a reconstruction revitalization period,” Abe said. ‘We plan to secure an ample budget to launch support measures to help disaster-hit areas stand on their feet again.”

Tokyo is the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Residents of disaster-hit regions criticize the government for rushing the reconstruction to showcase Fukushima’s safety for the Olympics rather than for the residents. The government hopes to reopen by next March all evacuation zones except for the dangerously contaminated surroundings of the plant.

Abe said he wants to triple the foreign visitors to Japan’s tsunami-hit northeastern region of Tohoku to 1.5 million in 2020 from the current level so that tourists can see the region’s reconstruction “through their own eyes.”

He also pledged to reopen the Joban railway line, part of which is in the highly contaminated no-go zone, by March 2020, just months before the Olympics.

The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, swamped much of Japan’s northeastern coast, leaving nearly 16,000 dead and some 2,500 still missing.

About 100,000 Fukushima residents haven’t returned home due to radiation concerns and a lack of infrastructure, jobs and other necessities. Abe vowed to speed up decontamination and construction of a waste storage site.

Decontamination must be conducted repeatedly because rains and wind bring new contamination from the mountains, adding to an astronomical number of container bags lining Fukushima’s fields and roadsides due to delays in building an interim 30-year storage site. Construction of the site, originally planned to open in January, hasn’t begun because of trouble obtaining permission from landowners.

Abe also said the government will do its utmost to deal with problems of radioactive water at the Fukushima plant and put its decades-long decommissioning on track. The plant operator aims to remove contaminated water from the basements of reactor turbines, keeping only the minimum needed to cool the melted reactor cores.

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