Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
PRIME MINISTER NODA: Today marks exactly one year to the day since the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Prior to this press conference a commemoration ceremony hosted by the Government was held and a minute of silence was offered in tribute to each and every person who lost their lives in the disaster. There are still 3,155 persons who remain unaccounted for. I am filled with tremendous sorrow. The most important thing we can do to commemorate and honor the victims is to never forget that day. We must ensure that the memories and lessons of the disaster are never eroded over time. It is important, therefore, for all the people of Japan to continue to talk about it and pass down the memories and lessons.
The disaster-affected areas have been supported not only by the police and fire services and Self-Defense Forces (SDF), but also by medical teams, those working onsite at the scene of the nuclear power station accident and the many volunteers who gathered from around the nation. I would like to ensure that our gratitude to these people is also not forgotten.
Japan is an archipelago that is frequently assailed by natural disasters. Based on the knowledge and lessons gained from the disaster, the Government will proceed expeditiously with efforts nationwide to review and strengthen countermeasures against disasters.
At the same time as being a day for remembrance, today is also a day for us to renew our resolve to engage in reconstruction. One month has now passed since the establishment of the Reconstruction Agency, and while on the one hand there are tremendous expectations that it will function as a control tower for reconstruction, I am also aware that various criticisms have been expressed about it, including issues with paperwork and procedures. Taking on board these criticisms with due seriousness, I seek to amend those things that require amendment. I will be instructing Minister for Reconstruction Tatsuo Hirano to identify what areas of the operations of the Reconstruction Agency require revision and make a swift response.
It is the local communities themselves that will play a major role in rebirth of home towns. It is in the development of new towns where the principle of local sovereignty will actually be put into practice. The Government will provide maximum assistance to local citizens, so that they can draw up a blueprint that will set out a roadmap for autonomous local development.
At the same time, I also feel that there are positive signs in the rebirth of disaster-affected areas. We must diligently nurture such signs. I have been greatly encouraged to see the pictures of the smiling faces of the people living so courageously in the disaster-affected areas and the forward looking messages that have been sent to the Prime Minister's Office as part of the "My Reconstruction News" initiative, and also to see the images of babies born after the disaster and the lively and animated faces of children.
The number of tourists to the Tohoku region is also recovering, and from next week the Destination Tohoku Campaign will be launched as a joint effort between the public and private sector. In almost all of the more than 300 fishing ports that were affected by the disaster, it is now possible to land catches of marine products. In order to give further impetus to these efforts, I hope that as many people as possible will support the Tohoku region by visiting and sampling the rich variety of products from both land and sea.
It is also important to make active efforts to attract international conferences to the disaster-affected areas and show to the world the progress that is being made in reconstruction. In July a ministerial conference on large-scale natural disasters will be held in the Tohoku region and in December a ministerial meeting on nuclear safety is scheduled to be held in Fukushima.
From now what will be tested is the continuation of the sense of solidarity and togetherness among the people of Japan. The disaster-affected areas will continue to require our assistance. I would like all people in Japan to realize that from now we are all still involved in reconstruction. Through thorough information disclosure, the Government will make efforts to restore the trust of the public and develop an environment that nurtures a spirit of mutual assistance among fellow citizens.
The issue of the wide-area disposal of debris is one that the Government must take an active role. The noble spirit of the Japanese people in providing assistance to each at the time of the disaster has been praised around the world. I believe that the national character of the Japanese people will now be tested once again, and the wide-area disposal of debris is a symbolic challenge. In addition to the assistance measures for local governments that are willing to accept debris and have already announced their willingness - namely, measurement of radiation volumes at disposal sites, construction of disposal sites and support for increased waste disposal expenses - I would like to proceed with three new measures.
The first of these is to make a formal written request to prefectural governments concerning the acceptance of debris from the disaster-affected areas, based on applicable laws, and to stipulate criteria for the acceptance of debris and the method of disposal.
The second measure will be to request enhanced cooperation from private sector companies that are able to incinerate debris or reuse it as resource materials, such as cement or paper, for example.
The third measure will be to establish a ministerial meeting with ministers concerned this week and to develop a system for debris disposal that will be engaged in by the Government as a whole. The rebirth of Fukushima is the responsibility of the Government and it must definitely be accomplished. Until the residents in the vicinity of the nuclear power station are able to return to their peaceful lives, the battle against the nuclear power station accident will not be over. The Government will continue to respond to various challenges, including the smooth implementation of compensation payments, decontamination operations, health management, food safety and the early resumption of public services such as schools and hospitals. By making steady and surefooted progress, I hope to offer our support to the people of Fukushima, who remain worried about radiation and concerned about their hometowns.
Considerations on the development of interim storage facilities will be advanced in a process of close dialogue with local communities. The Act on Special Measures for Fukushima Reconstruction and Revitalization was passed by the House of Representatives last week. With the concerted efforts of the ruling and opposition parties I seek to achieve the enactment of this legislation as a means of further advancing the rebirth of Fukushima.
We must completely reform nuclear safety regulations and establish the highest regulatory standards. It is an inescapable fact that preparations for various accident scenarios were inadequate, relying on the myth of nuclear safety. In order to start again from zero regarding regulations for nuclear safety, I seek to achieve the establishment as soon as possible of a completely reformed nuclear regulatory agency that is imbued with a new spirit.
We must not ignore the regrets of those people who lost their lives without even being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. Our thoughts of remembrance must be translated into resolve to engage in reconstruction, and we must fulfill our historic mission to achieve the rebirth of Japan through reconstruction that is the result of the combined efforts of all the people of Japan. The period of intensive reconstruction is scheduled to last five years, with the aim of achieving reconstruction in 10 years. One year is nothing but a milestone on the long road to reconstruction. It is my wish that by the time the babies who were born after the disaster are 10 years old, we will have definitely achieved reconstruction of the disaster-affected areas and will be able to show those children vibrant and resurgent hometowns.
That concludes my opening statement.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are called on, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Mr. Takada, please.
REPORTER: I am Takada of Fuji Television. One year on from the Great East Japan Earthquake I would like to renew my feelings of remembrance and commemoration of the victims. With regard to reconstruction from the disaster, in the commemoration ceremony you stated that reconstruction is an historic mission and the issue of highest priority for your administration. On the one hand, while the victims of the disaster are seeking to stand up for themselves and engage in reconstruction, there are strong voices criticizing the delays in reconstruction efforts and it is a fact that there are still many victims of the disaster who are obliged to live in extremely difficult circumstances.
A few days ago, in the first round of the approval of reconstruction grants that was conducted by the Reconstruction Agency, only approximately 60% of applications were approved. In response to criticisms from local governments you have just mentioned that the Government will seek to improve the operations of the Reconstruction Agency. In specific terms, how do you propose to implement improvements, including the easing of the standards for approval of reconstruction grants? In addition, you have just announced three new policies regarding the wide-area disposal of debris. However with regard to the first measure of issuing written requests to local governments to accept debris based on law, will this measure entail the formulation of new legislation, or will it be implemented under the existing Special Measures Act? In addition, what is your specific image for the criteria for acceptance of debris and method of disposal? Also, when will the written requests be sent out? Please tell us about the specific methods you are implementing to expedite reconstruction overall.
PRIME MINISTER NODA: I believe you posed two questions, the first of which concerns reconstruction grants. Local governments had been requested to submit reconstruction plans by the end of January, and upon receiving these plans the first round of grant allocations were notified on March 2. These allocate project costs of approximately 305.3 billion yen and government costs of approximately 250.9 billion yen. With regard to the distribution of these funds, the first round of notifications were issued for projects that are considered essential for responding swiftly to measures to rebuild the lives of persons affected by the disaster. Local governments are requested to submit reconstruction plans by the end of March for the next round of allocations, and at that time I believe that it will be important for the Government to provide support and assistance for the formulation of plans.
In addition, with regard to projects that were not adopted by the Government or were dropped by municipalities in the first round, it is of course the case that these projects may be adopted in the future, depending on the progress made and the status of operations to review and deliberate these projects. As I have just noted, the first round of allocations was decided on the basis of projects that need to be expedited promptly, and therefore there is still a possibility that projects that may be not so pressing in terms of timeframe may be adopted.
Furthermore, there may be some projects that are addressed not under the reconstruction grant system, but in terms of national disaster management budget or some other system or budgetary allocation. I believe that one method that would avoid misunderstanding and confusion will be to explain the various distribution of funds to the local governments. For example, the Government can suggest the local governments that have made such requests whether such requests will be provided grants under the reconstruction grant system. Or, it can suggest that concerned process will take a little time and therefore these requests will either be responded to in the next round of grants or under a different system. With regard to points that require further attention, I believe that there are items that should be amended, including the issue of documentation and procedures. As I noted in my opening statement I have instructed the Minister for Reconstruction to respond to this issue.
Your second question related to the wide-area disposal of debris. I recently received a visit from Governor Kuroiwa of Kanagawa Prefecture and officials from the governments of Yokohama, Kawasaki and Sagamihara cities, who made requests concerning the disposal of debris, namely that the request from the national government to accept debris be based in law and also that criteria for disposal be formulated. With regard to whether new legislation will be required or whether current legislation can be used, the requests to local governments will be made based on the Act on Special Measures for Disaster Waste Management that was compiled in August last year with the agreement of the ruling and opposition parties. Based on this legislation the Government will issue a formal written request to all prefectural governments, excluding the three prefectures affected by the disaster, concerning the acceptance of disaster-related debris. In addition, for those municipalities that have already announced their intention to accept debris, through a process of coordination that will detail the type and volume of debris to be accepted, the Government will request the cooperation of these municipalities.
Furthermore, the legislation stipulates the standards for acceptance of debris, including the concentrations of radioactive materials, and also sets out provisions for the method of disposal, including the installation of emissions devices at incineration facilities. Through such measures the Government will make further efforts to seek the understanding of as many local governments and residents as possible with regard to the wide-area disposal of debris.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Can we have the next person? Mr. Kano, please.
REPORTER: I am Kano of the Sankei Shimbun. I have a question concerning the response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the issue of the restarting of operations at other nuclear power stations. The initial response to the nuclear accident by the Kan Administration, including the fact that at the time the accident occurred information from the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) was not conveyed at all, has aroused suspicion and distrust among local residents and governments, which is casting a shadow over the response to the accident including the recent issue of the construction of interim storage facilities. A report issued at the end of February by an independent private sector investigation commission criticized the response made by Prime Minister Kan and the Prime Minister's Office as being poorly judged and a stopgap measure. What is your view of the responsibility of former Prime Minister Kan and how do you intend to seek the understanding of local governments?
Also, with regard to the restarting of operations at power stations, you have stated that the process will be one in which ultimately a political judgment will be made on the basis of stress tests and local understanding. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano has stressed that politicians should also be actively engaged in the process of explaining the situation to local communities and seeking their understanding. In preparation for power shortages anticipated in the summer, is it your intention to seek the understanding of the local communities yourself? Also, what specifically will be the criteria for making a political judgment on whether to restart operations and by when will they be decided?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: With regard to your first question concerning the initial response to the nuclear accident, from immediately after the earthquake the administration at the time, including former Prime Minister Kan, was aware of the seriousness of the situation and made every effort to engage in measures such as the cooling of the reactors and the evacuation of residents. I believe, however, that the point about the failure to disclose adequate information is something that must be seriously considered and reflected upon.
In addition, I am aware that in the report issued by the private sector accident investigation commission, issues were pointed out concerning interventions made by the Prime Minister's Office at the site of the power station, which raised the question of responsibility. However, the same report also notes the Government's denial of the request by TEPCO to abandon the site and the establishment by the Government of the Integrated Response Headquarters together with TEPCO, pointing out the fact that these measures had a certain effect in terms of accident management. The Noda Administration that succeeded the Kan Administration will keep uppermost in mind the experiences and valuable lessons of that time and will make every effort to ensure that there is never another accident like in Fukushima. In particular, with regard to information disclosure, I believe that it is important to make every effort to ensure that information is duly provided.
With regard to your other question concerning the restarting of operations at nuclear power stations where operations have been suspended due to regular inspections, the process is as follows. Based on the latest knowledge available and on methods prescribed in a review provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the operator of the power station will implement a stress test, which will then be confirmed by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). Following confirmation by NISA, the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) will then engage in a further confirmation process to ascertain the validity of the stress test. After these steps a political judgment will be made that takes into comprehensive account the various circumstances, including whether the understanding of the local community has been gained.
This political decision is made at the point when confirmation and validation by the NSC has been completed, and entails four ministers - myself, Minister Edano, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura, and Minister Hosono - holding a meeting to discuss how to proceed with various issues such as safety and local understanding. This also includes a process whereby explanations are provided to local communities. The Government will make concerted efforts to provide such explanations and must seek the understanding of local residents, and as the head of Government it is I who must stand at the forefront of such efforts to seek the understanding of the public.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, Ms. Dvorak, please.
REPORTER: I am Dvorak of Wall Street Journal. I have a question regarding the process for restarting operations, which you explained a moment ago. Is it possible that this summer no nuclear power station in Japan will be operating? If so, what sort of situation can we expect? Can you discuss your thoughts on both the worst case scenario and ways to prevent such a scenario?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: At this moment in time, I cannot make premature comments about any possibilities regarding this year's situation of the operation of the nuclear power stations. However, if we hypothetically assume that nuclear power stations are not restarted and that the demand for electric power this summer is similar to the peak demand during summer of 2010, and moreover, that effective measures are not taken, then it is forecast that there will be a supply and demand gap in electric power of around 10%.
Therefore, based on the Action Plan to Stabilize Energy Supply and Demand that was compiled by the Energy and Environment Council in November of last year, measures are being mobilized and every effort will be made to fill in the supply and demand gap in electric power. This will be done, for instance, by increasing energy availability through the budget or regulatory reform and other methods as well as the promotion of energy conservation. By taking these initiatives, we hope to avoid having to introduce planned power outages and electricity usage restriction orders. All possible measures will be taken to ensure the stable supply of electric power. The plan is to review the electric power supply and demand forecasts and compile specific measures to be taken this coming summer by next month.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, Mr. Sasaki, please.
REPORTER: I am Sasaki of Jiji Press. I would like to ask a question in relation to crisis management at the Prime Minister's Office. I believe quite a few enhancements have been made in terms of crisis management at the Prime Minister's Office in both soft and hard aspects since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. With regard to the nuclear power station accident, it is pointed out that there may have been problems on the side of the operator, as was also stated in the report of the private sector commission that was discussed earlier. You mentioned a moment ago that you would like to draw upon valuable experiences. Specifically, how do you intend to draw on these experiences with respect to operational issues involving people?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: Earlier, I was speaking in light of the report of the private sector investigation commission on the accident. The Government's investigation committee on the accident has released a mid-term report at the end of last year. I believe the Diet's investigation committee on the accident will also be holding discussions moving forward. I believe countermeasures need to be taken, bearing in mind the findings of these respective verification bodies. In addition, I have Minister for Reconstruction Tatsuo Hirano serving as the Minister for Comprehensive Review of Measures in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake. I believe crisis management responses will be formulated while also taking into account this comprehensive review. But even before all of the findings are released, I believe there are things that we have already learned, and that there is already a certain degree of wisdom that has been acquired.
One of these things is the question of how the Government should carefully listen to the opinions of the experts and how the role of politics and experts should be identified. I believe this needs to be addressed calmly. There are many more things. Or, as was also stated in the report of the investigation on the accident, there are communication issues between the upper floors of the Prime Minister's Office and the basement, where many people are gathered together. I believe there are a number of crisis management issues which have already been identified, and so the responses must take these into consideration. Above all, there is the issue of structure. There were cases in which excuses were made for the Great East Japan Earthquake, with some saying it was "beyond expectations." However, we can no longer say this anymore. Crisis management must see through all possible scenarios. I believe this was the biggest lesson learned.
All of us - the Government, businesses, experts, and academia - we were fully under the spell of the safety myth, including how we dealt with the issue of crisis management. I believe what is important most of all is to conduct a comprehensive review looking back on our mistakes.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, Mr. Indo, please.
REPORTER: I am Indo of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. A moment ago, you spoke about steps forward for the debris removal and the restarting of operations of the nuclear power stations. Aside from these issues, there is also the issue of the interim storage facility and the issue that came up earlier regarding the bill on the regulatory agency. I believe the Prime Minister's Office, beginning with the Prime Minister, needs to take one step or two steps forward. Rather than the Government, I believe you and the Prime Minister's Office will need to take forward steps. In terms of forging an agreement with local governments or the handling of legislation, measures need to be taken to work together with the opposition parties. How will you be demonstrating your leadership?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: I have been saying from last year that reconstruction and the tackling against the nuclear power station accident, and also the recovery of the Japanese economy, are priorities of the Noda Cabinet. This basic stance remains unchanged.
In this context, I have presented today a policy on the wide-area disposal of debris, a matter that largely relates to reconstruction. This was also in part a policy that was promptly established taking into account the visits to the Prime Minister's Office by the Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture and others over time. While exchanging views with a variety of people, I would like matters of urgency to be dealt with through quick decision-making. Above all, it is essential that the Government's measures obtain the understanding of the people. Therefore, when I last went to Okinawa, I exchanged views with Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and considerations are being made regarding Okinawa. As such, if something comes to mind during the planning stage I immediately develop a scheme. I will also "sell" the measures. While this choice of words may be inappropriate, essentially I would like to also take the lead in informing about and promoting the measures.
With regard to the interim storage facilities, yesterday the ministers in charge, Minister Hosono and Minister Hirano, explained the views of the Government to the Governor of Fukushima Prefecture and the heads of the municipalities of eight towns and villages in the affected areas. The entire Government must take steps with the respective ministers in charge taking the lead. Since these are steps being taken by the entire Government, I recognize that it is my role to lead the entire Government as necessary.
With regard to the restarting of operations of the nuclear power stations, my response is the same as my reply to the earlier comment.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, Mr. Iwakami, please.
REPORTER: I am Iwakami, a freelance journalist. The Government released the minutes from the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters on March 9. The minutes show that former Prime Minister Kan stated that if the areas up to a 20km radius were to be evacuated the situation would be likely to be alright, even in the worst-case scenario. In other words, he judged that evacuation from only within the 20km radius would be sufficient. It is reported that in response to this, then Minister for National Policy Koichiro Gemba expressed disagreement. At this time, a meltdown had been reported. However the judgment of the Prime Minister was that evacuation from within this 20km radius was sufficient. This has prompted criticism that the Prime Minister should have made a decision to evacuate a wider area.
At this point in time have you determined which of these judgments and concepts was correct? You have just mentioned the importance of comprehensive review, and the evacuation issue is one that is still ongoing. I would like to hear your views on this matter.
PRIME MINISTER NODA: As shown in the recently published outline of the minutes, the Government was aware at that time that the situation was serious from immediately after the earthquake occurred, including the possibility of core melt and meltdown.
At that time every effort was made to tackle the various issues, including cooling of the nuclear reactors and the evacuation. The possibility of the so-called meltdown had already been recognized. However, there was probably still room for more debate on how to respond to the possibility and how to recognize the fact. I think that we still cannot rush to a conclusion about what was the correct decision at the time. However, I believe that an attempt was made to respond to all scenarios, including the worst-case scenario. I also believe that we have to carefully verify those responses while utilizing the lessons and findings to ensure that an accident like this never happens again.
REPORTER: Do you not have any judgment on the matter at this time?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: At this time we must verify the matter thoroughly.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We are running out of time so I would like to take the final question. Mr. Murao, please.
REPORTER: I am Murao of Yomiuri Shimbun. According to an opinion poll that the Yomiuri Shimbun conducted this weekend, nearly 70% of the respondents did not support the way the Government had handled the reconstruction and nearly 80% of the respondents did not support the way the Government had responded to the nuclear power station accident. On the other hand, the Cabinet's approval rating has increased about 5 percentage points from 30%. There has been a gradual increase in approval of the Government's initiatives, beginning with the comprehensive reform. Can you share with us your comments, if any?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: The Government's intentions have been to make every effort and work hard to advance reconstruction and respond to the nuclear power station accident. However, I believe the Government has to accept with sincerity that there are criticisms from the point of view of the people in the affected areas or the general population about the Government's responses still being too slow or not reaching all the people.
Therefore, I spoke about the Reconstruction Agency a moment ago. I also presented a policy on wide-area disposal of debris. New systems and an organization have been created based on an agreement reached between the ruling and opposition parties, including the Reconstruction Agency and the reconstruction grants. Thus, the Government will make every effort while putting these new systems and organization into full use so that such opinions will be eliminated.
With regard to the approval rating, as I have been saying from before and as I have said when the rating declined, we will be doing what we need to be doing one step at a time without oscillating between hope and despair. In this process, I hope to earn the approval of the people.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I will bring the Prime Minister's press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation.