| FUKUSHIMA, Japan, March 14
FUKUSHIMA, Japan, March 14 Japan's nuclear power
industry is accustomed to criticism but rarely from its loyal
army of nuclear-power workers and their families -- until now.
"My distrust just increased," said Mikiko Amano, a
55-year-old woman who had been recently evacuated from her home
close to the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.
She was talking to Reuters at a town outside the 20-km
evacuation zone around the complex, owned by the Tokyo Electric
Power Co (TEPCO), which continued to urge calm despite
broadcasters showing a plume of smoke rising from the plant.
"I was at home at the time of the first explosion. It was a
huge sound. After that, I evacuated. I went for a radiation
check at the hospital today and breathed a sigh of relief that I
was OK," Amano told Reuters.
"The company has been saying such a thing would not happen
and the plant was fine even after 40 years in operation...It
only raised my distrust of TEPCO."
Amano's family and tens of thousands of others evacuated
from their homes around the complex depend on the company for
their livelihoods, and many were remarkably stoic at first in
the face of what appeared to the rest of the world as imminent
Even as authorities waived Geiger counters over evacuees
clothes and gave them doses of iodine as a precaution against
radiation poisoning, local communities at first spoke
confidently about their employer's ability to avert a crisis.
Hideki Kato, a 41-year-old worker at the Fukushima Daiichi
complex, just wanted to get back to work.
"I think nuclear power plants are necessary. I am worried
about the job," Kato said at a school gym serving as an
evacuation centre in Kawamata town, outside the evacuation zone
in Fukushima prefecture.
"Can we make a living? Can I ever go back to work at the
plant?" he asked as his two children lay on the floor beside
him, wrapped in blankets. His son played with a cell phone while
Kato's parents looked on.
FEARS GRIP THE NUCLEAR FAITHFUL
Kato's question is one echoed around the world, with serious
doubts emerging over public support for the global nuclear power
industry if Japan fails to avert disaster.
With nuclear energy accounting for 26 percent of power
consumption in Japan, and more than half in countries like
France, public trust in the industry is vital in the face of
constant criticism from a committed anti-nuclear lobby.
Fukushima prefecture is the land of the nuclear faithful:
outside its nuclear power plants, the region north of Tokyo is
mostly characterised by rural and fishing communities with some
light industry. Here, nuclear power pays most of the bills.
Shinichi Watanabe, 63, from Futaba worked for two decades at
the Fukushima Daiichi plant. On Sunday, before the second
explosion at the plant, he was still keeping the faith.
"Thanks to the nuclear power plants, young people do not
have to leave to find work," he said.
His friend, 73-year-old carpenter Masao Takahashi, agreed,
saying: "Without the plants, our town is just a deserted place."
But, with yellow-suited health officials hosing down dozens
of evacuees in tented treatment centres, Takahashi suddenly did
not sound so sure:
"We had been told by the nuclear power plant people that
it's 100 percent safe no matter what typhoon or tsunami, but I
am worried about radiation exposure."
(Writing by Mark Bendeich)