- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

TOKYO | Small-business owners and laborers forced to leave their homes and jobs because of radiation from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors rode a bus all the way to Tokyo on Wednesday to demand compensation from the owners of the power plant.

Japanese are increasingly growing frustrated with Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s handling of the nuclear crisis, which has progressed fitfully since the March 11 tsunami swamped the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, knocking out important cooling systems. Restoring them will take months.

“I am not asking for anything more than I am entitled to,” said Ichijiro Ishikawa, 69, who dug roads and tunnels and is now living in a shelter because his home is in the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant. “I just want my due.”

He and about 20 others who lived and worked near the plant traveled 140 miles southwest to hand deliver a letter to the president of Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco. They said talks with the government over how to compensate victims will take too long to get started, and they want money now. A few were near tears.

They met near company headquarters with four Tepco officials who bowed to them in apology. President Masataka Shimizu later apologized during a two-hour news conference and pledged to do more, saying that cash payments would be readied as soon as possible, and that the company would do its best to get the plant’s reactors under control and stop radiation leaks.

“I offer my apologies for having spread radiation,” he said. “I apologize from the bottom of my heart.”

Mr. Shimizu declined to comment on whether he would resign to show that he is taking responsibility for the crisis. He said his job is to deal with it, along with the problems of those evacuated and concerns about the energy supply.

Tepco earlier said it will give evacuated towns $240,000 each in “apology money.”

The evacuees who traveled to Tepco’s offices said that farmers nearby have had to throw away milk because of contamination concerns, and that they need money to buy food for their cows.

On top of expenses associated with being away from home, said Hideo Munakata, 61, a construction worker, is buying bottled water for his children because of concerns about the tapwater. He also hasn’t been able to return to the evacuation zone to get his tools.

“We have to think about our future,” Mr. Munakata said. “Tokyo Electric must help us get our lives back.”

The nuclear crisis has hit farmers and fishermen in northeastern Japan hardest, though the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami caused widespread damage to factories, ports and other infrastructure that is taxing the world’s No. 3 economy.

The government downgraded its economic outlook for the first time in six months Wednesday, saying in a monthly Cabinet report that drops in production and consumer spending would limit growth.

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