Minister opposes releasing treated water from Fukushima plant into sea

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TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister said Friday he is opposed to treated water from the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant being released into the sea, citing the possible repercussions for local fishermen.

Masayoshi Yoshino’s remarks came shortly after a top official from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. said he is ready to see the tritium-containing water dumped into the sea.

A government panel is still debating how to deal with the water stored in tanks at the plant where three nuclear reactors melted down in the days after a huge earthquake and then tsunami struck the region in 2011.

Tritium is a radioactive substance considered relatively harmless to humans. It remains in the filtered water as it is difficult to separate even after passing through a treatment process. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water is routinely released into the sea after it is diluted.

Yoshino expressed at a news conference his concerns over the potential ramifications of releasing the treated water into the sea, saying there would “certainly be (perception) damage due to unfounded rumors.”

The minister urged those pushing for the release of the water “not to create fresh concerns for fishermen and those running fishing operations in Fukushima Prefecture.” He also asked them “not to drive (fishermen) further towards the edge.”

He was alluding to concerns among local fishermen about the effects on their livelihood if the public perceives fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima to be contaminated.

Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tepco, said in a recent interview that the decision to discharge the treated water “has already been made.”

After Kawamura’s remarks were widely reported, the utility was forced to make a clarification through a statement on Friday. Tepco said its chairman meant to say there is “no problem (with releasing water containing tritium) according to state guidelines based on scientific and technological standpoints,” and that the decision to release is not yet final.

While the plant operator and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry want to discharge the water, the local fishermen, backed by the minister, are opposed to it.

At the Fukushima plant, water becomes toxic when it is used to cool the damaged reactors. It is treated through a process said to be capable of removing 62 different types of radioactive material, except tritium.

Yoshino said Friday that while he is aware of some scientists’ opinion that the water should be released after it is diluted to permissible levels, he is not in favor of the idea.

“As I am also a native of Fukushima Prefecture, I fully understand the sentiment of the people,” Yoshino said. However, the minister has no authority to decide how the treated water will be disposed.

An ever-increasing amount of water containing tritium is collecting in tanks at the Fukushima plant. As of July 6, approximately 777,000 tons were stored in about 580 tanks.

On March 11, 2011, water inundated the six-reactor plant, located on ground 10 meters above sea level, and flooded power supply facilities. Reactor cooling systems were crippled and the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors suffered fuel meltdowns in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170715/p2g/00m/0dm/064000c

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EDITORIAL: Arrogance and complacency hallmarks of Abe’s leadership

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Masahiro Imamura bows to reporters after submitting his resignation as reconstruction minister to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 26.

Masahiro Imamura resigned April 26 as minister in charge of disaster reconstruction amid a public outcry over his latest gaffe concerning people affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

It was good that it happened over there, in the Tohoku region,” Imamura said of those catastrophic events at a fund-raising function for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party faction to which he belongs.

Imamura’s outrageous comment cast serious doubt on whether he truly comprehends the severity of the disaster, which left nearly 22,000 people dead, including cases attributed indirectly to the disaster, or missing.

He deserves to lose his job.

It was not the first time that Imamura had made an offensive remark about victims of the disaster. In early April, he stated that individuals who had voluntarily evacuated after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for the situation they faced. “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 said.

Coming from a minister who was duty-bound to show utmost sympathy for the plight of disaster victims, these remarks were simply unacceptable.

ABE’S COMPLACENCY GALLING

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe allowed Imamura to remain in the post. It was a clearly misguided decision that reflected Abe’s complacency about his overwhelming political clout due to the ruling camp’s dominance in the Diet.

Imamura’s gaffes are part of a pattern that signal the powerful ruling coalition’s arrogance and conceit.

Yosuke Tsuruho, the minister for Okinawa affairs, is another member of the Abe Cabinet who sparked public outrage.

Asked to comment on an incident in which a riot police officer derided local protesters against U.S. military helipads by calling them “dojin” during a confrontation in Higashi, in the northern part of Okinawa Prefecture, Tsuruho said, “I personally cannot say with certainty that referring to somebody as ‘dojin’ amounts to discrimination.” Tsuruho reiterated that position later on. Dojin is a derogatory word referring to indigenous people, insinuating that they are uncivilized primitives.

Tsuruho has refused to retract his remarks.

Kozo Yamamoto, the state minister in charge of regional revitalization, offered another example when he labeled museum curators as a cancer that must be rooted out. In a lecture at a seminar for regional revitalization, Yamamoto blurted out: “The biggest cancer is curators. They don’t have any ordinary tourism business mind-set whatsoever. We have to get rid of these folks.”

Defense Minister Tomomi Inada made a lame and clumsy excuse when she retracted her remarks denying in the Diet that she had provided legal advice to Yasunori Kagoike, then head of Moritomo Gakuen, a scandal-tainted school operator, admitting that she actually did. “Those responses were based on my memory, so I do not believe I made false responses,” Inada said.

And then there is the matter of Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda, who has repeatedly made contradictory remarks about proposed legislation to punish people who conspired to commit crimes and has kept relying on bureaucrats at his ministry to answer related questions in the Diet.

All these incidents signal a condescending attitude toward the public among members of the Abe Cabinet.

Their failure to see things from the viewpoint of the public is perhaps best demonstrated by the Abe administration’s strong-arm tactics in forging ahead with land reclamation work for a new U.S. military base off the Henoko district of the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in the face of fierce opposition from the prefectural government and residents.

Abe himself has made many questionable remarks.

One example came last week when he joked using the word “sontaku,” which roughly means conjecture about the wishes of another person to act in line with them. In the scandal over a controversial sale of state-owned land to Moritomo Gakuen at a deep discount, one core question is whether bureaucrats involved in the sale practiced “sontaku” to accommodate the implicit wishes of Abe and his wife, Akie.

Pointing out that a list of famous local specialties around the nation at a commercial outlet in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district didn’t include products from Yamaguchi Prefecture, his electoral constituency, Abe said, “Please do sontaku about what I’ve just said,” evoking laughter from those he was addressing.

POLITICAL DOMINANCE TO BLAME

When a lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party cited in a recent Diet session the results of an opinion poll showing 80 percent of the respondents remain unconvinced by the administration’s explanations about the Moritomo Gakuen scandal, Abe dodged the criticism by pointing out that the same opinion poll also showed that the Cabinet approval rating stood at 53 percent. And he added, “You also know the approval ratings for my Liberal Democratic Party, and your Democratic Party.”

The string of deplorable remarks by ministers appear to echo Abe’s hubris.

Indeed, the Cabinet has been enjoying solid and steady public support. A recent Asahi Shimbun poll showed that this was mainly due to a sense among respondents that it “looks better” than anything the other parties could cobble together.

This suggests that Japanese voters remain somewhat resigned to the sad political reality that there is no opposition party with sufficient clout to replace the government led by Abe, who has built an overwhelming political power base.

Heightened tensions in East Asia, along with Japan’s solid economic performance, powered by growing employment, also appear to be contributing to the public’s unwillingness to change the political status quo.

Another factor behind Abe’s political dominance is the concentration of power in the prime minister’s office due to a series of reforms that started in the late 1980s.

The LDP leadership now has the power to decide the party’s official candidates for elections as well as the allocation of state subsidies received by the party and key bureaucratic appointments. There is widespread reluctance among LDP members to defy the party leadership.

Also, no group within the ruling party is sufficiently powerful to challenge Abe’s leadership. As a result, the tone of criticism within the party against ministers who speak out of turn, let alone Abe’s problematic words and deeds, is only getting weaker.

PARTY INCAPABLE OF SOUL-SEARCHING

The Abe administration’s arrogance and conceit have reached extreme levels.

If we become complacent about our majority control and stop showing humility, we will instantly lose public support.”

This is what Abe said after he led the LDP to victory in the 2014 Lower House election and again after the Diet descended into turmoil over national security legislation.

But he refrained from making a similar comment after the ruling coalition scored a big win in the Upper House poll last year.

Was it because the LDP secured a majority in both Diet chambers for the first time in 27 years?

After Imamura’s resignation, a senior LDP lawmaker made an astonishing statement that showed the party had not undertaken any serious soul-searching.

Commenting on the development, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said, “The mass media meticulously records all remarks made by politicians and calls for their immediate resignation if they utter just one improper sentence. What a situation. We would be better off without them (media).”

Did he mean that the news media, not Imamura, is to blame?

Since Abe became prime minister for a second time in late 2012, five members of his Cabinet have stepped down to take responsibility for their inappropriate actions or words.

Every time a member of his Cabinet was forced to bow out, Abe said that he, as prime minister, was responsible for the appointment that had turned out to have been a blunder.

Although he has apoligized to the public for these incidents, Abe has never taken specific action.

Any government becomes complacent and arrogant if it stays in power for too long.

It is up to the people, the holders of sovereign power, to use their voices and take actions to force the government to mend its ways.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704270030.html

Fukushima native replaces reconstruction minister after quake gaffe

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Fukushima native replaces disaster minister after quake gaffe

Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura resigned Wednesday, a day after saying it was “a good thing” the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan rather than the Tokyo area.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked Masayoshi Yoshino, a House of Representatives member from Fukushima Prefecture and the chairman of a special lower house committee on disaster reconstruction, to replace Imamura.

“I severely troubled and hurt people in (northeastern Japan),” Imamura told reporters at Abe’s office after submitting his resignation, which the prime minister accepted immediately.

“I apologize from my heart for my lack of virtue,” he added, while rejecting calls to also resign as a lawmaker.

Abe also apologized, both to the residents of areas recovering from disasters and the Japanese public as a whole, after accepting Imamura’s resignation.

Imamura made the “good thing” comment at a function in Tokyo for a faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which Abe was also attending, on Tuesday evening. He immediately retracted the remark and apologized, but the damage was done.

The lawmaker made the remark after citing a figure of 25 trillion yen ($225 billion) for the damage to social capital and other infrastructure from the March 2011 disaster.

“It’s a good thing it was over there in the northeast. If it had been close to the greater Tokyo area, there would have been vast, enormous damage,” he said.

The disaster left 15,893 people dead and 2,553 still listed as missing, the National Police Agency said in its latest tally.

Imamura, 70, prompted calls for his resignation earlier this month when he suggested people displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the quake should fend for themselves.

A native of Saga Prefecture in Japan’s southwest, Imamura was given his post in a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

His 68-year-old replacement Yoshino, a fellow LDP lawmaker and former senior vice environment minister, hails from Iwaki, a city in Fukushima on the Pacific coast that bore the brunt of the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

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“My own home was damaged by the tsunami, and my campaign office was completely destroyed, so I think I understand better than anyone else the feelings of those affected by the disaster,” Yoshino said at his first press conference as a Cabinet minister later Wednesday.

The choice of a Fukushima local apparently reflects the administration’s desire to avoid further criticism that the reconstruction minister is unable to relate to people affected by the disaster.

Imamura’s resignation prompted the main opposition Democratic Party and three smaller opposition parties to also seek his resignation as a lawmaker.

The opposition demanded holding Diet committee sessions to pursue Abe’s responsibility in the matter.

The LDP and Democratic Party agreed Wednesday to hold such a session in the lower house on May 8. They are expected to arrange a House of Councillors committee session on May 9 or near that date.

The opposition parties had essentially threatened not to turn up for Diet deliberations until such a date was fixed.

Imamura’s resignation follows a series of blunders by Cabinet ministers and has dealt another blow to the government at a time when it is already facing issues that risk splitting public opinion.

The Diet is deliberating a bill to criminalize conspiracy to commit serious crimes, ostensibly to combat terrorism, which opponents say could result in the suppression of civil liberties.

Public sensitivity also surrounds a special bill in the works to enable the abdication of Emperor Akihito.

The string of embarrassments prompted Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of the LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito, to warn last week the administration is “strikingly lacking in a sense of alertness.”

Yamaguchi spoke after LDP lawmaker Toshinao Nakagawa resigned as parliamentary vice minister of economy, trade and industry amid media reports of extramarital affairs.

The week before that, regional revitalization minister Kozo Yamamoto, another LDP lawmaker, called curators of cultural properties a “cancer” that needs to be “eradicated,” before being forced to apologize and retract the remark.

“(The administration) must take seriously the suggestions that we are becoming slack,” Abe acknowledged Wednesday in his apology over Imamura’s resignation, vowing to “win back the public’s trust.”

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2017/04/43790ecd62a8-update5-fukushima-native-replaces-disaster-minister-after-quake-gaffe.html

 

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Disaster minister quits after quake gaffe, Fukushima rep takes over

Japan’s disaster reconstruction minister Masahiro Imamura resigned Wednesday, a day after saying it was “a good thing” the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan rather than the Tokyo area.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe picked Masayoshi Yoshino, a House of Representatives member from Fukushima Prefecture and a former senior vice environment minister, to replace Imamura.

Imamura tendered his resignation to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday morning and the prime minister accepted it immediately.

“I severely troubled and hurt people in (northeastern Japan),” Imamura told reporters at the prime minister’s office after submitting his resignation.

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“I apologize from my heart for my lack of virtue,” he added, while rejecting calls to also resign as a lawmaker.

Abe also apologized, both to the residents of areas recovering from disasters and to the Japanese public at large, after accepting Imamura’s resignation.

Imamura made the “good thing” comment at a function in Tokyo for a faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which Abe was also attending, on Tuesday evening. He immediately retracted the remark and apologized, but the damage was done.

Imamura had prompted calls for his resignation earlier this month when he suggested people displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the quake should fend for themselves.

The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party on Wednesday said Imamura’s resignation is not enough on its own.

“This brings into question Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s responsibility for having appointed (Imamura),” Renho said at a party meeting.

Abe acknowledged that this responsibility lies with him in his apology. “(The administration) must take seriously the suggestions that we are becoming slack,” Abe said, vowing to “bring back the public’s trust.”

Imamura, a native of Saga Prefecture in Japan’s southwest, was given his post in a Cabinet reshuffle in August last year.

His replacement Yoshino hails from Iwaki, a city in Fukushima on the Pacific coast that bore the brunt of damage in the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex.

“I have been making reconstruction my life, so I’m happy to be given a challenging post,” Yoshino told reporters at the LDP’s head office in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.

Imamura’s resignation has prompted the suspension of House of Representatives proceedings scheduled for Wednesday morning and most of the House of Councillors proceedings scheduled for Wednesday.

https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2017/04/e8335852ad1d-update2-disaster-minister-quits-after-quake-gaffe-fukushima-rep-takes-over.html

Japan reconstruction minister quits after inappropriate comment on disaster zone

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The Japanese cabinet minister overseeing reconstruction of areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster resigned on Wednesday after saying it was better the disaster struck the northeastern region instead of Tokyo.

Masahiro Imamura was forced to quit after remarks he made on Tuesday at a party for ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers and is the latest in a spate of ruling party lawmakers in trouble for their comments or behavior.

Speaking of the costs incurred in the 9.0 earthquake that set off a massive tsunami and left nearly 20,000 dead or missing, Imamura said: “It was better that this happened in the northeast.”

The comments came just weeks after Imamura set off a furor at a news conference by disparaging people who left Fukushima out of fear after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, then shouting at a reporter and storming out of the room.

Imamura’s comments prompted an immediate rebuke from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who apologized on his behalf. His swift resignation was seen aimed at minimizing the damage to Abe’s government, which has been accused of complacency in the absence of a viable opposition.

“It was an extremely inappropriate comment and hurtful to people in the disaster zone, an act causing the people a reconstruction minister works for to lose trust in him, ” Abe told reporters after Imamura resigned.

The subject still touches a raw nerve because regional businesses have struggled to recover and reconstruction work has been slow. Many evacuee families have also given up hope of returning to their home towns.

Shunsuke Mutai, a deputy reconstruction minister, drew fire last year after forcing a subordinate to carry him on his back so his feet could stay dry as he visited a flooded area. He quit in March on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the March 11 disaster after making a joke about the incident.

A week ago the vice minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshinao Nakagawa, was forced to resign from his position after news broke of an extramarital affair. He later resigned from the LDP.

Abe’s support currently hovers around 50 percent despite a series of recent scandals, including one involving a nationalist school. He has a shot at becoming Japan’s longest-serving leader after party rule chances allow him to serve a third consecutive three-year term after his current tenure ends in 2018.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-politics-resignation-idUSKBN17S07R

The Fukushima Evacuees Future

 

End of March 2017 the Japanese government pretends that the Fukushima disaster is over, ending the compensation and housing programs, forcing the evacuees to return to the contaminated towns close to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster site.

Masahiro Imamura, the reconstruction minister, while asked multiple questions about the plight of those classified as voluntary evacuees did expose the government opinion about the disaster’s victims, shocking all the journalists by his insensitivity. During that interview the reconstruction minister got angry with a reporter, ordering him to get out and to never come there again.

The government is encountered wide criticism for its handling of evacuees issue. To raise the radiation exposure limits for all people included children to that of nuclear plant workers has been condemned worldwide.

Those classified as voluntary evacuees are the people who evacuated from the regions of Fukushima that were not under official evacuation orders. Plus as more towns are now reopened, their evacuation orders lifted, those people who do not return are now becoming considered voluntary evacuees as well. The government provided housing assistance for voluntary evacuees ended in March. Asked about the government position on evacuees choosing to not return home Imamura sais that if they chose to not return to their home town they should take full responsibility for their own actions.

Japan’s government has done everything possible to remove all possible other options for evacuees, to force the evacuees to return to live in their contaminated towns. Compensation was ended for many. Housing programs have also ended, and temporary housing units are scheduled for closure, while at the same time many of the reopened towns lack sufficient services and many homes are heavily damaged, abandoned as they were since 2011.

Decontamination efforts to reduce radiation levels have not been very successful. With maybe a low radiation level only in the town center, with a radiation monitor set on concrete, but around town still many locations with unsafe levels. Many of those towns close to Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant still have no evacuation plan in case of further events.

The nuclear plant site remains a considerable risk. Work to dismantle sections of the damaged reactor buildings can release radioactive dust to the wind. Risks of hydrogen explosions, radiation releases or criticalities will remain as long as the site exists in its current state or has highly radioactive materials on site. To force the people back to live in close proximity to the site just puts them at further risk.

Imamura faced with a petition calling for his resignation tried to apologized in a more nuanced tone but the government policy remains. Prime Minister Abe dismissed calls for Imamura to resign.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/nhknewsline/quotesoftheday/20170405/

Abe apologizes over minister’s remarks on Fukushima evacuees

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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.”

https://www.japantoday.com/category/politics/view/abe-apologizes-over-ministers-remarks-on-fukushima-evacuees

Reconstruction minister unfit for his Position, 28,000 demand his resignation

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Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of rebuilding from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, waits for the start of a meeting of the Lower House’s Special Committee for Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake on April 6.

Rebuild minister says sorry as 28,000 demand his resignation

Under-fire minister Masahiro Imamura apologized and mostly retracted the remarks he made over so-called voluntary evacuees at a tense April 4 news conference in Tokyo, as thousands of protesters demanded his resignation.

Imamura, who is in charge of rebuilding from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, offered the late apology on April 6 after facing fierce criticism from Fukushima evacuees and political rivals.

The same day, four Fukushima evacuees’ groups and their supporters jointly submitted a petition with 28,127 signatures to the Reconstruction Agency in the capital, calling for Imamura’s resignation as the head of the agency.

When asked about the government’s responsibility for providing assistance to the voluntary evacuees at the news conference, Imamura had 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 also shouted at a freelance journalist who pressed him on the issue

He apologized for his outburst to reporters on the evening of April 4, but did not retract his remarks, saying he had made an “objective statement.”

However, Imamura made a U-turn on the morning of April 6 and offered his “sincere apologies” for his words on voluntary evacuees at a meeting for the Lower House’s Special Committee for Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Imamura asked permission to speak at the beginning of the meeting, and offered a further apology to the freelance journalist he had snapped at and for becoming “emotional” at the news conference, and then explained the other remarks that landed him in hot water.

“’Their own responsibility’ was not the right way of saying it,” the minister said. “I meant to say that they have made their own judgment (not to return).”

Addressing his remark suggesting that evacuees can take legal action if they are unhappy with the government’s decision on the matter, he explained that he was merely “generally speaking” that “asking a court’s decision is an option when an agreement cannot be reached (between two parties).”

Protests against Imamura by Fukushima evacuees began in front of the Reconstruction Agency building on April 5.

The letter accompanying the petition handed on April 6 read, “His remark suggested the nation is renouncing responsibility (to help evacuees), and trampled on evacuees’ feelings.”

Referring to a law passed to support all nuclear disaster victims, the letter continued, “As the minister of the agency responsible, we must question his quality.”

A law has been enacted to support the lives of children and other victims of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant accident regardless of the decisions that victims make about their own futures, such as whether to move permanently or temporarily, or return to their homes in the affected area.

Asked by an opposition party member for his position on the resignation demand, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave Imamura his backing.

I would like him to keep working hard for the speedy rebuilding of the disaster-hit area,” Abe said at the Lower House plenary session on April 6.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201704070035.html

 

Reconstruction minister unfit for his position

The minister in charge of Japan’s recovery from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and the ensuing nuclear disaster, is under fire for saying at an April 4 news conference that “voluntary evacuees” from the Fukushima nuclear disaster are “self-accountable” for their actions, as if to exonerate the government from its responsibility.

The gaffe by Reconstruction Minister Masahiro Imamura came in response to a reporter’s question about his views on the government’s responsibility for voluntary evacuees. He responded, “They are self-accountable (for their actions). It’s up to them.”

In the wake of the March 2011 nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, more than 20,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture voluntarily evacuated from their hometowns located outside government-designated no-go zones, according to a tally by the Fukushima Prefectural Government. Despite the high figure, the prefectural government terminated rent subsidies for voluntary evacuees as of the end of March.

Imamura’s remarks come in the face of a financial predicament for those who choose to stay away from areas affected by the nuclear catastrophe. It is only natural that protests over the minister’s insensible remarks and calls for his resignation have stormed the country.

The minister stated that evacuees’ decision on whether or not to return to their hometowns is up to them. When asked by a reporter whether the government was going to take responsibility for those who left their hometowns voluntarily, he replied that if they are dissatisfied, “they can go to court or whatever.” This nonchalant response appears to betray his honest feelings about the issue.

When the reporter continued his questions, Imamura lashed out, saying, “Get out,” and “Shut up.” Such an attitude from the minister, who doubles as minister in charge of Comprehensive Policy Coordination for Revival from the Nuclear Accident at Fukushima, is appalling.

Voluntary evacuees didn’t evacuate by choice; they are the victims of the country’s unprecedented nuclear catastrophe. The prefectural government insists that the termination of rent subsidies is aimed at promoting their return to their hometowns, but some evacuees cannot go home because they have landed new jobs elsewhere or because their children attend schools in those areas. Many households have a hard time making ends meet, and there are evacuees who remain concerned about radiation.

Overlooking this situation, Imamura talked about self-accountability with an air of indifference, as if to say it couldn’t be helped if evacuees “selfishly” evacuate and opt not to return. Who on earth could call him a minister who stands by disaster victims?

In a class action lawsuit brought by evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, Gunma Prefecture and other areas, the Maebashi District Court recognized the government’s negligence in the nuclear disaster, but granted a far smaller amount of compensation to plaintiffs than they had demanded. In the meantime, some municipalities have decided to continue financially supporting voluntary evacuees from their own coffers. This could widen the economic gap among evacuees depending on where they live.

The very least the government must do is to address the situation and extend support to voluntary evacuees. Yet Imamura’s astonishing remarks give a wide impression that the government ultimately desires to cast aside nuclear evacuees as soon as possible.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have marginalized the post of reconstruction minister. At a government-held memorial ceremony for the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March this year, Prime Minister Abe stopped short of referring to the “nuclear disaster” in his speech — which met a backlash from the Fukushima governor and others. The latest gaffe by Reconstruction Minister Imamura represents just how little weight the Abe government has placed on the ongoing nuclear crisis.

http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170407/p2a/00m/0na/012000c