Japan's first female industry chief visits Fukushima plant

TOKYO - Japan's new industry minister Yuko Obuchi on Sunday visited the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, days after assuming her new post.

Obuchi, a 40-year-old mother of two, was tapped by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week as the country's first female minister of economy, trade and industry, overseeing the power sector.

"For Japan's future and Fukushima's reconstruction, the nation as a whole must follow through the decommissioning work as well as the task to control contaminated water, no matter what," she told plant workers during her first visit to the site.

Obuchi then donned a protective Tyvek jacket and a heavy face mask to observe work at the crippled plant.

Since the 2011 disaster at Fukushima, where a tsunami knocked out cooling systems and sent reactors into meltdown, Japan's entire nuclear stable has gone offline - taking with it more than a quarter of the country's electricity supply.

That has left the resource-starved nation reliant on expensive fossil fuel imports, which has played havoc with the balance of payments and pushed up prices for hard-pressed consumers.

At her inaugural press conference last week, Obuchi repeated the Abe administration's line that the policy remains "to reduce our reliance on nuclear plants by actively introducing renewable energy and thorough energy-saving".

But, she added: "We will restart (nuclear plants) by making safety our priority".