Photo/IllutrationReconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura addresses an official conference on the reconstruction and rebuilding of Fukushima Prefecture in Fukushima city on Jan. 28. (Osamu Uchiyama)

FUKUSHIMA--Using marathon analogies, opinions on the current state of Fukushima Prefecture almost six years after the 2011 nuclear accident were running far apart between a national minister and local officials at a conference here to discuss the recovery process.

“If this is a marathon, Fukushima’s recovery is 30 kilometers into the race,” said Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura at the beginning of the conference on reconstruction of quake damage and rebuilding in the prefecture on Jan. 28. “Now, we have come to the crunch.”

A disgruntled Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori refuted Imamura’s optimistic analogy when he was interviewed by reporters after the conference’s close.

“Some regions in the designated evacuation zones are not even at the starting line,” said Uchibori. “Even in the areas where the designation is already lifted, recovery has only just begun.”

The evacuation order in most of the surrounding area of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is scheduled to be lifted at the end of March, apart from some “difficult-to-return zones” where radiation readings remain high.

The affected municipal governments are concerned that the central government’s understanding of areas affected by the 2011 disaster has been fading as the sixth anniversary approaches in March.

Aside from the opening, the conference, chaired by Imamura, was closed to the media.

According to one attendee, Imamura told conference delegates that he put “Fukushima first.”

Aping the catchphrase style of U.S. President Donald Trump and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Imamura apparently meant he prioritizes the recovery of the disaster-hit area of Fukushima Prefecture, but his choice of words failed to impress local officials.

The head of one municipal government said: “It is not a very good catchphrase to use here as it reminds us of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.”

“I would like him to be more sensitive about expressions he uses,” another complained.