TOKYO — 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.
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.
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Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press