Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
Friday, June 8, 2012
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.
Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda
PRIME MINISTER NODA: Today, I would like to share my thoughts directly with the people of Japan on the resumption of Units 3 and 4 of Oi Nuclear Power Station.
Since April, four ministers, including myself, have continuously held discussions and striven to obtain the understanding of the municipalities concerned. As we approach the summer, when electricity demand is at its peak, the time is coming upon us to make a conclusion. To protect the lives of the people - this was my one and only criteria in making a judgment on this issue that has split public opinion in two. My conviction is that it is the ultimate responsibility of the Government to protect the lives of the people.
Specifically, this has two meanings. The first meaning of "to protect the lives of the people" is that we must never let an accident like Fukushima happen, for the sake of the children who will be responsible for the next generation as well. Even if an earthquake and tsunami similar to the ones that struck Fukushima were to occur, countermeasures and systems are in place to prevent an accident. By making maximum use of the knowledge gained so far, we have confirmed that even if the nuclear power station were to lose all of its sources of electricity, the reactor core would not be damaged.
I made my judgment based on safety confirmation from knowledge carefully accumulated through public discussions, which were held on more than 40 occasions over a period of more than a year among experts, including those of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). Of course, there is no safety standard that is absolute. One of the major lessons from the accident at Fukushima Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) was that the safety standard needs to be consistently reviewed in light of the most up-to-date knowledge. Therefore, we have asked the (Kansai) electric power company to implement the Government's 30 safety measures, which were compiled based on the most up-to-date knowledge, by having the electric power company set certain deadlines ahead of the legalization of the measures under the new regulatory agency.
Having said this, in order to restore people's trust in nuclear safety, a new system must be established as quickly as possible and regulations must be renewed. I strongly expect that the debate in the Diet will move forward so that we can swiftly obtain the final drafts of the relevant legislation and translate them into action.
In this sense, while in essence safety is ensured, the Government's standard for judging safety - provisional safety regulations - will be reviewed when the new system is launched. Until then, a special monitoring system will be established under the unified responsibility of the Government, with the cooperation also of Fukui Prefecture, as expert personnel are required. This will clarify the chain of command that was raised as a problem in the last accident. Furthermore, persons in charge will be assigned on the spot both from the Government and Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) to make appropriate decisions directly under my command in the case of an eventuality.
With regard to the resumption of nuclear power stations other than Units 3 and 4 of Oi Nuclear Power Station, just like Oi, safety will continue to be judged carefully on an individual basis.
"To protect the lives of the people" - the second meaning is that we must avert any adverse impact on our daily lives caused by such matters as the impact of planned power outages and sharp increases in electricity prices as much as possible. In order to lead prosperous and decent lives, cheap and stable electricity is indispensable. Japanese society will not be able to function if there is a decision to permanently halt nuclear power generation, which has accounted for approximately 30% of our total electricity supply, or if nuclear power generation remains halted.
If this were a matter of saving electricity by a few percentage points, then perhaps we could somehow manage if everyone pooled their efforts. However, Kansai's electricity supply-demand gap of as high as 15% is a level that was not experienced even in eastern Japan last year, and realistically, I believe it is a huge hurdle to overcome.
Should we be forced to implement planned power outages or were sudden power outages to occur, some people would have their lives endangered. Some people would not be able to sustain their work. Some people would lose their workplaces. I believe the people in eastern Japan vividly remember the days immediately following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Any possibility of a planned power outage significantly disrupts our daily lives and economic activities, whether or not the power outages actually take place.
In order to avoid such a situation, we must exert our maximum effort. This is not only about summer electricity supply and demand in the short-term. If our dependency on fossil fuels is increased and electricity prices rise sharply, this would affect retail shops and small- and medium-sized enterprises that are just managing to stay afloat, as well as households. This would accelerate the hollowing out of industry and lead to a loss of places for employment. For these reasons, the lives of the people cannot be protected if the restarting of nuclear power station operations is restricted to the summer. Furthermore, Japan relies on the Middle East for 70% of its oil resources. We need to be prepared, too, that in the event of a situation occurring that would disrupt our imports from the Middle East, we may very well face the kind of pain we experienced during the oil shocks. Nuclear power is a vital source of electricity, also from the standpoint of Japan's priority issue of energy security.
We have been realizing prosperous and decent lifestyles in major cities by relying on the areas which supply electricity. It is Fukui Prefecture and Oi Town which have supported the Kansai region. These municipalities that host nuclear power stations have continued to supply electricity during electricity consumption periods, while living with nuclear power stations for more than 40 years. We must renew our respect and appreciation for the host municipalities.
Having said all of this, allow me to now share my thoughts overall. My judgment is that Units 3 and 4 of Oi Nuclear Power Station should be restarted in order to protect the lives of the people. For this, I ask again for the understanding of the host municipalities in particular. It is when their understanding is obtained that we will move forward with the restarting process.
People who have been forced to evacuate in Fukushima, children living in Fukushima, and all mothers harboring concerns and anxieties - with TEPCO's Fukushima Nuclear Power Station accident still remaining in our memory, I can very much understand that many people have mixed feelings about restarting nuclear power stations. However, I, as the one entrusted with the affairs of the state, cannot abandon my responsibility to protect the daily lives of the people.
Aside from the issue at hand of restarting nuclear power station operations, my administration, in the wake of the nuclear accident of March 11, has been reviewing our mid- to long-term energy policy toward reducing our dependency on nuclear power as much as possible. During this period, we have also made every effort to expand renewable energies and to promote energy saving.
This is a key issue that will set the basic course for Japan. From perspectives such as those of a safe and secure society, energy security, the impact on industry and employment, global warming, and economic growth, I would like the Government to present options and arrive at a conclusion by around August through discussions with the public. To reach a single conclusion when public opinion is split into two - this is precisely my responsibility.
We must not allow the security of our lives to be threatened by not restarting the nuclear power station. I wish to ask for your understanding on my judgment aimed at protecting the lives of the people.
I want to reiterate my commitment that I will ensure nuclear safety and make persistent efforts to pursue further increases in nuclear safety.
That is all from me.
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 could first state your name and affiliation. Yes, please.
REPORTER: I am Mochizuki of the Yomiuri Shimbun. Prime Minister, this is your second press conference this week, following the press conference of June 4. Thank you for taking the time to hold another press conference.
I believe that this press conference has come about in response to a request from the governor of Fukui Prefecture. In your opening statement, you indicated your recognition that nuclear power is necessary not merely to overcome the increased power demand during the summer months, but that it is also an important power resource for the economy of Japan and in terms of energy security. You mentioned that the issue would be given careful consideration, but what are your thoughts with regard to the schedule for the restarting of operations at nuclear power stations other than Oi Nuclear Power Station?
Also, what are your administration's concepts for the mid- to long-term energy mix, something that you also mentioned in your opening statement? You stated that you aim to arrive at a conclusion by around August, but the current discussions on the proportion of the energy mix accounted for by nuclear power in 2030 suggest that it will not be possible to bring nuclear power down to zero. Also, in the same time frame the issue of the 40-year rule for decommissioning of nuclear reactors may result in causing contradiction. With these points in mind could you tell us of your thought on this issue?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: First of all, you mentioned the purpose of the press conference today, and I would like to clarify that I have convened this press conference with the thoughts and wishes of not only the governor, but all of the residents of Fukui Prefecture foremost in my mind. My wish today is to basically explain my concept concerning the necessity to restart operations at the nuclear power station, from the perspective of protecting the livelihoods of the people of Japan.
The issue of the safety and necessity of restarting operations is as I have just explained in my opening statement. The restarting of operations is not an issue related exclusively to overcoming power demand issues over the summer months, but is also related to issues such as energy security and the impact on the people's livelihoods and the economy. Particularly with regard to the impact on the people's livelihoods and the economy, if power tariffs were to rise this would increase the burden on the public and this is something that we must work to keep under control. My decision, therefore, is one that is based on a number of perspectives, including the Japanese economy and stability of society as a whole.
With regard to the schedule for restarting operations at power stations other than Oi, it is completely inconceivable that a restarting of operations would take place with just a copybook schedule. The Government will continue with the process in place, making judgments carefully on individual cases based on due safety considerations.
Finally, with regard to the mid- to long-term energy mix, the Energy and Environment Council has met today and has set out interim options for the energy mix. Based on these interim options and while engaging with the public in various discussions, we aim to be able to announce a best energy mix by August, as you noted, in a form that will be reassuring for the people of Japan.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, please. Yes, Mr. Sato.
REPORTER: I am Sato of Nippon Television.
I realize that the issue of nuclear power stations is of great importance, but my question concerns the comprehensive reforms relating to consumption tax, draft bills for which are currently being finalized, which is also an important issue. Today consultations on revising the draft legislation began and my first question is whether you still remain resolved to aim for agreement on the draft bills by June 15.
Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Nobuteru Ishihara has stated that it would be a good idea to establish a national commission to discuss the issue of a minimum social security pension. What are your views on such a national commission?
I believe that in order to ensure the passage of the draft bills it will be unavoidable to extend the current session of the Diet, so my final question is do you anticipate a significantly extended Diet session that would stretch beyond the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)'s leadership elections that are scheduled for September? Please tell us your thoughts on this matter.
PRIME MINISTER NODA: First of all, the consultations on revising the draft legislation began in earnest today. These consultations have been an issue since last year and ones that we have continued to request. The LDP and New Komeito have recognized the importance of this issue as one that we must bring to a conclusion for the sake of the people of Japan, and I would like to express my appreciation to those parties for responding to requests to engage in consultations. In addition, I would also like to express my appreciation to other Diet groups for accepting the direction and thrust of the reforms.
This is an issue that we cannot postpone any longer. The current session of the Diet is scheduled to end on June 21 and prior to that I am naturally planning on attending the G-20 Mexico Summit. Given the current lack of transparency in the global economy, it is important for me to attend and clearly state Japan's position.
With this schedule in mind, I believe that discussion took place today in the consultations in which it was noted that a conclusion should be reached by June 15 and that maximum efforts would be made towards this goal. It is my strong expectation that earnest discussions will take place with that schedule in mind and that we will be able to obtain a final draft within the given timeframe.
With regard to the comments by LDP Secretary General Ishihara, it is the case that a total of seven draft bills have been submitted. We are seeking to achieve the passage of all seven draft bills, based on the results of the inter-party consultations. Among the issues contained in the bills are those for the mid- to long-term, which will naturally require discussion. The question of how to create a path forward for such discussions will include considerations of a national commission, such as you just mentioned, and I expect that discussions, including the possibility of a national commission, will lead to a conclusion.
The issue of the term of the Diet session is not one that relates only to the comprehensive reform, but also to other issues such as political reform, and in the period up to June 21 we must aim to achieve the passage of various other bills. We are currently at the stage where we are making our best efforts to bring to a conclusion those bills on themes that require a conclusion and the many other bills that have been submitted, and now is not the time to speak about the length of any extension to the Diet session.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next, Mr. Hamada, Please.
REPORTER: I am Hamada of Reuters.
In order to realize a society that does not depend on nuclear power in the long-term future, could you tell us of your thoughts concerning the necessity for discussion and consideration on the revision of the nuclear power generation business structure? Do you think that the current business structure of national energy policy under private sector management is preferable, or will there be a move to a structure in which operation of nuclear power stations is taken from the hands of power companies and the Government becomes involved?
PRIME MINISTER NODA: At the current point the Government does not take any position on the direction for the business structure of nuclear power generation. Before considering the business structure, there are other things that we must attend to. I believe that as was pointed out in a previous question, one of the important priorities is to decide-with a target of around August-on the ideal form for energy policy in the mid- to long-term, in a way that will give security and peace of mind to the people. I seek to come to a decision on energy policy taking into account the various discussions among every sector of society.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: This will be the last question. Mr. Nanao, please.
REPORTER: I am Nanao of Nico Nico Douga.
Today, in a recently-held meeting of the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) a number of issues were once again highlighted concerning the response of the Government at the time of the accident at TEPCO' s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Given the fact that draft bills relating to nuclear regulatory organization are currently being deliberated in the Diet and discussions are ongoing, I would like to ask for your comments on the Prime Minister's powers of instruction and the necessity for such powers, a point that was raised by the NAIIC.
PRIME MINISTER NODA: The observations and points raised by the Government's Investigation and Verification Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations of Tokyo Electric Power Company and also the NAIIC, which you have just mentioned, will be taken with all due seriousness, and the basic precept is that we work to construct measures that will ensure an accident like the one last year never occurs again. It is for this reason that all opinions emerging from the various investigation committees will be given serious consideration.
In addition, in the discussions on the format for a new regulatory organization, which are currently ongoing between the ruling and opposition parties, the powers and authorities of the Prime Minister are presently being deliberated. I have received a report that these deliberations are reaching their final stages. If agreement can be reached between the parties and a single consensus is formed, I believe that this would signify a major step forward and I will continue to monitor developments in the discussions.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I will bring the press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation.
PRIME MINISTER NODA: Thank you.