Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of rebuilding from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, is surrounded by reporters in Tokyo on April 4 as he explains his remarks about Fukushima residents who fled on a voluntary basis.
3/11 ‘voluntary evacuees’ are on their own, says angry minister
The minister in charge of rebuilding Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear disaster unfolded stormed out of a news conference after he faced repeated questions on the government’s responsibilities to locals who choose not to return home.
Masahiro Imamura said that the central government is no longer responsible for those people from areas not under evacuation orders at the news conference on April 4.
When a journalist pressed Imamura on the issue, the minister snapped at him saying, “You are rude and should never come to another news conference,” before pounding a desk, shouting “Shut up!” and abruptly leaving the Q&A session.
Imamura later apologized to reporters for becoming “emotional,” but did not retract his earlier remark, saying he made an “objective statement.”
Asked about the government’s responsibility for providing assistance to the so-called voluntary evacuees at the news conference in Tokyo, Imamura said: “They are responsible for their lives. They can file a lawsuit or do other things (if they disagree with the central government’s position).”
He added that the central government had done all it could to help, and that those who would not return to their homes in Fukushima Prefecture should take full responsibility for their actions.
Voluntary evacuees refer primarily to mothers and children from Fukushima Prefecture who fled to faraway regions even though they were not forced to evacuate.
The number of such people totaled 30,000 across Japan as of last October, according to the Fukushima prefectural government.
Concerns about their well-being have been mounting since the central and prefectural governments stopped funding free housing to those evacuees at the end of last month.
Support groups said the end of the free housing assistance could lead to a division among Fukushima people.
Locals who fled on a voluntary basis are eligible to receive limited support from the central government and compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, compared with their peers from the designated evacuation zone.
Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of Tohoku reconstruction, apologizes Tuesday for yelling at a freelance journalist during a news conference.
Fukushima disaster reconstruction minister apologizes over outburst at journalist
Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of reconstructing the disaster-hit Tohoku region, apologized Tuesday for raising his voice to a freelance journalist at a news conference over demanding questions on the government’s support for Fukushima evacuees.
Imamura was repeatedly asked how the central government planned to help those who voluntarily evacuated from areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant even though their towns and places of residence had not been designated by the state as mandatory evacuation zones.
On March 31, the Fukushima Prefectural Government terminated its financial assistance for housing for about 26,000 such “voluntary evacuees.”
Many of those evacuees, however, have no intention to or are unable to return to their hometowns in the prefecture because of concerns over radiation, financial difficulties or other reasons.
Imamura maintained that it is the Fukushima Prefectural Government, not the central government, that should extend direct assistance to those evacuees and that Tokyo is ready to support the prefectural government.
The journalist, whose name is not known, continued to call on Imamura to give “a responsible answer.” Imamura eventually demanded he leave the news conference at the Reconstruction Agency in Tokyo.
“I’m doing my job in a responsible manner. How rude you are!” Imamura shot back.
“You should retract what you’ve just said. Get out!” the minister shouted.
“Never come here again!” he also said. The minister ended the news conference by leaving the room.
Later that day, Imamura faced reporters and apologized for his “emotional” outburst at the journalist over his questions and said he will not repeat the behavior.
But he didn’t apologize for his explanation of the central government’s policy on volunteer evacuees. During the news conference, Imamura argued “voluntary evacuees” should bear “self-responsibility for their own decisions” on whether they will return to their hometowns nor not.
“You should file a lawsuit (against the state) or do whatever you like,” Imamura also said during the news conference.