Abe visits Fukushima to check areas affected by 2011 nuclear disaster

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday checked on progress in reconstruction in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima affected by the 2011 nuclear crisis.
Abe attended a ceremony to open a new town hall in Okuma, one of the two municipalities hosting the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and visited a soccer facility from which the Japan leg of the Tokyo Olympic torch relay will start in March 2020.
Abe also visited the nuclear plant for the first time since September 2013 for an update on its decommissioning.
His visit comes after Japan's Olympics minister was forced to step down last week over remarks deemed offensive to people affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.
After effectively sacking the gaffe-prone minister, Yoshitaka Sakurada, Abe apologized to the public for appointing him and pledged to work to regain public trust in his cabinet.
At a fundraising party for a fellow ruling party lawmaker, Sakurada had joked that the lawmaker's political career was "more important" than the reconstruction of the northeastern region.
Even eight years on, the region is still struggling to return life for its residents to pre-disaster conditions.
Japan lifted its mandatory evacuation order just last Wednesday over parts of Okuma. The new town hall, however, will be in a different district than the site of the original town hall in what was once Okuma's center, as the area remains a no-go zone.
At the opening ceremony, Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said, "The new government building is at the forefront of the town's revival, and it is a symbol of the pledge to realize our reconstruction."
The new town hall will start providing services on May 7. But in districts of Okuma where the evacuation order has been lifted -- which covers 40 percent of the town's total land -- only 367 people, or around 3.5 percent of the original population of 10,341, had registered as residents as of late March.
The J-Village soccer training facility was used as an operational base for dealing with the nuclear crisis. It will fully reopen next Saturday.

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