"I am not asking for anything more than I am entitled to. I just want my due," said Ichijiro Ishikawa, 69, a construction worker who lived eight miles (13 kilometers) from the plant.
Japan's leaders are urging a return to normality, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan exhorting the public Tuesday in a televised address to build an "even more marvelous country."
Work on repairing damage at the plant and ending radiation leaks has been impeded by aftershocks, fires, explosions and other glitches in the improvised efforts to restore its cooling systems.
"I think we are making progress toward stabilizing" the reactors, Shimizu told reporters.
Nuclear safety officials and TEPCO reported no major changes Wednesday, a day after the government ranked the accident there at the highest possible severity, 7, on an international scale.
The higher rating was open recognition that the nuclear crisis has become the second-worst in history after the catastrophe in Chernobyl, but it did not signal a worsening of the plant's status in recent days or any new health dangers.
Still, Kan warned that the situation remained unpredictable. Radioactive isotopes have been detected in tap water, fish and vegetables far from the facility.
Shipments of produce from 16 cities, towns and villages around Fukushima Dai-ichi have been banned. On Wednesday, the government added wood-grown shiitake mushrooms raised outdoors to a list of vegetables banned for shipping to markets after high levels of radiation were detected in tests over the weekend.
The nuclear crisis has hit farmers and fishermen in northeastern Japan hardest, though widespread damage to factories, ports and other infrastructure is also taking a huge toll on the world's No. 3 economy.
The government downgraded its economic outlook for the first time in six months on Wednesday, saying in a monthly Cabinet report that drops in production and consumer spending would be a drag on growth.