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Japanese irked over handling of disaster

A blueprint for ending radiation leaks and stabilizing reactors at Japan's crippled nuclear plant drew a lackluster response today, as polls showed diminishing public support for the government's handling of the country's recent disasters.

The plan issued by Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the weekend, in response to a government order, is meant to be a first step toward letting some of the tens of thousands of evacuees from near the company's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant return to their homes.

Those forced to flee due to radiation leaks after a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami March 11 knocked out the plant's power and cooling systems are frustrated that their exile will not end soon. And officials acknowledge that unforeseen complications, or even another natural disaster, could set that timetable back even further.

"Well, this year is lost," said Kenji Matsueda, 49, who is living in an evacuation center in Fukushima after being forced from his home 12 miles from the plant. "I have no idea what I will do. Nine months is a long time. And it could be longer. I don't think they really know."

Pressure has been building on the government and TEPCO to resolve Japan's worst-ever nuclear power accident, with opposition leaders urging Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign.

"Japan has never before faced a crisis like this. We are doing our utmost," Kan said in response to criticism today in Japan's parliament.

Polls by several Japanese national newspapers released today showed widespread dissatisfaction, with more than two-thirds of Japanese unhappy with how Kan's administration has dealt with the nuclear crisis.

A majority of those surveyed in the polls by the Mainichi, Nihon Keizai and Asahi newspapers expressed support, though, for tax increases to pay for reconstruction of areas devastated by the tsunami.

The timetable's first step focuses on cooling the reactors and spent fuel pools, reducing radiation leaks and decontaminating water that has become radioactive, within three months. The second step, for within six to nine months, is to bring the release of radioactive materials fully under control, achieve a cold shutdown of the reactors and cover the buildings, possibly with a form of industrial cloth.

Nuclear safety officials described the plan as "realistic," but acknowledged there could be setbacks.

"Given the conditions now, this is best that it could do," said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the government's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, adding that conditions at the facility remain unstable.

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