Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) operates a drone in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, during his visit to see the area’s reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster, on Saturday. At right is Masahiro Imamura, disaster reconstruction minister
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized Saturday over controversial remarks recently made by his disaster reconstruction minister, who implied that Fukushima nuclear crisis evacuees from areas where the government deems safe should fend for themselves.
“The minister has already apologized himself but I want to straightforwardly express my apology,” Abe told reporters in the city of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, during his visit to see the area’s reconstruction from the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster. The minister, Masahiro Imamura, was accompanying Abe.
Opposition parties have been calling for the resignation of Imamura, who told reporters Tuesday that the decision by people to remain evacuated from the areas outside the government-designated zones around the Fukushima Daiichi plant is their “own responsibility, their own choice.”
The government halted housing subsidies for such voluntary evacuees last month. But many are still unable to return home amid doubts over the government’s safety rhetoric and concerns over possible health risks.
Imamura was being asked by reporters about the government’s responsibility for supporting evacuees. He then told one of the reporters who kept asking questions to “shut up.”
Imamura later apologized and retracted his comment.
On Saturday, Abe underscored that rebuilding the disaster-hit areas is one of the priorities for his administration and apparently took his latest Fukushima visit as an opportunity to deliver his apology.
“Nothing has changed in my administration’s policy to promote reconstruction by standing by the people in Fukushima and those affected by the disaster,” Abe said. “Without Fukushima’s reconstruction, there is no reconstruction of the Tohoku region. Without Tohoku’s reconstruction, Japan’s regeneration is impossible.”
Abe also visited a ranch in the town of Naraha which has resumed operations following temporary closure in the wake of the disaster. After drinking fresh milk there, he said, “I want to help remove damaging rumors and expand their sales route.”