Japanese aide has a John Gummer moment as he drinks water from a puddle at tsunami-hit nuclear plant
By David Gardner
Last updated at 6:00 PM on 1st November 2011
A Japanese official was accused of ‘doing a Gummer’ yesterday after drinking water from the tsunami-hit nuclear plant in Fukushima.
With TV cameras rolling, Yasuhiro Sonoda downed a glass of water taken from a puddle inside the reactors, which suffered a partial meltdown when Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March.
It wasn’t to quench his thirst. The parliamentary secretary for Japan’s Cabinet Office was trying to prove the water was safe.
Looking nervous, with his hands visibly shaking, Mr Sonoda hardly inspired confidence that the plant has been thoroughly decontaminated as he swigged back the water in two gulps.
Collected from beneath two reactor buildings at the plant, the water is not normally intended for human consumption. It is decontaminated before being used for tasks such as watering plants, a controversial procedure which has been the subject of safety concerns.
Before drinking the water, Mr Sonoda read out a string of figures relating to its low contamination levels and explained he was drinking in response to journalists repeatedly asking him to ‘prove”’ the safety of the plant’s surrounding area.
The stunt immediately drew comparisons with former British Agriculture Minister John Gummer, who famously made a public show of eating a hamburger with his daughter Cordelia at the height of the mad cow disease crisis in 1990.
The move backfired, with Mr Gummer coming under fire for involving Cordelia, who was also given a burger, and the phrase ‘doing a Gummer’ became immortalised in parliamentary folklore.
Mr Sonoda drank the water after a challenge from Japanese journalists at a press conference at Fukushima yesterday.
He said: ‘I don’t want it to be seen as some kind of performance, but if that’s the best way to prove that the water is safe then I would gladly drink it right here, in front of you, at any time.’
Afterwards he said: ‘Just drinking decontaminated water doesn’t mean safety has been confirmed. Presenting data to the public is the best way.’
The 44-year-old aide was also following in the footsteps of Japan’s former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his spokesman Yukio Edano.
Earlier this year, both men made a point of eating fruit produced in the Fukishima area to try and allay fears over contamination.
Japanese officials have said they will allow journalists to tour the plant next week for the first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused a partial meltdown in three of its reactors.
Tens of thousands of people had to flee their homes after a 20km exclusion zone was enforced around the plant.
The government believes it can fully stabilise the reactors by the end of the year, but nuclear experts have claimed that it could take up to 30 years to fully decommission the plant.