- - Sunday, May 1, 2011

TOKYO | Japan’s prime minister faced growing international and domestic criticism over the weekend regarding his administration’s handling of the tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday criticized Japan for building nuclear reactors in areas prone to earthquakes, and said Japan’s reaction to the nuclear crisis at the crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear reactor complex was “slow.”

Japanese trade unions and political party leaders Sunday called for an end to nuclear energy in Japan, while a leading radiation expert quit Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s advisory panel, citing the government’s failure to properly protect the public from radiation.

Mr. Kan pleaded for public “understanding” Sunday after a Kyodo news agency survey showed that 76 percent of 1,010 respondents said he was “not exercising leadership” in dealing with the country’s disasters and 24 percent wanted him to “resign immediately.”

“People may feel that the government is acting slowly in various aspects … I can understand their feelings,” Mr. Kan said in parliament Sunday. “At the same time, I can say that the government for its part has been doing its utmost … if not in a perfect manner.”

Mr. Putin said Japan should have moved quickly after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami to bring electricity storage devices such as batteries and accumulators to the nuclear complex to help pump in water to cool stricken reactors.

“They didn’t manage to do that on time, and then problems erupted,” he said, speaking at a Russian nuclear industry meeting in the Volga region city of Penza, 390 miles southeast of Moscow. “As far as the Japanese are concerned, they are in a unique situation out there. I don’t know why, it is their choice, but they build [reactors] in seismically dangerous zones … which are everywhere there.”

Japan has raised the scale of the nuclear disaster to the same as 1986’s Chernobyl incident in Ukraine.

Russian officials had suggested that Japan might be exaggerating the scope of the crisis to reduce the liabilities of insurance companies. Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called for new global rules on nuclear plant safety.

Russia has 32 reactors, all built in the Soviet era, and plans to spend billions of dollars over the next decade building new reactors to reduce reliance on oil and gas.

As the Japanese disaster unfolded, Russia increased shipments of liquefied natural gas to Japan and offered to bolster coal and electricity supplies to its neighbor, separated by a 25-mile-wide Pacific Ocean channel between Russia’s Far East and Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, Japan’s labor confederations celebrated May Day with rallies calling for an end to nuclear power generation.

“Let us stop the government from promoting nuclear power generation and seek a change to its energy policy,” Sakuji Daikoku, head of the National Confederation of Trade Unions, told a rally in Tokyo on Sunday.

Japan Communist Party Chairman Kazuo Shii also spoke to about 20,000 people at Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo. “We will strongly demand the government make up its mind to withdraw from nuclear power generation and set a program to reduce nuclear power plants to zero.”

Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima told a separate rally at Hibiya Park outside the Imperial Palace: “Let us join our hands in switching Japan’s society off from nuclear power.”

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