Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Upcoming Fourth Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake
Tuesday, March 10, 2015
OPENING STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Tomorrow will mark the fourth year since the Great East Japan Earthquake. I would like to once again express my heartfelt condolences as we mourn those who lost their lives in the earthquake disaster.
The people affected by the disaster, who lost beloved family members and friends, are still now enduring inconsolable sadness and hardships in a severe living environment. I have renewed my resolve to ensure that we continue to reach out to these people as we make every effort towards reconstruction.
Four years ago, when I visited the affected areas directly after the disaster I was left aghast at the magnitude of the damage. The scenes I witnessed at that time are seared into my memory.
It was at that time that I encountered a young girl at an evacuation center in Miyagi Prefecture. Nozomi Ono, who had lost her great-grandmother and mother in the disaster, was at the time a third-grader in elementary school. I presented a piece of card to Nozomi on which was written the character for “dream.” Two years ago, after becoming Prime Minister, I had the opportunity to meet Nozomi once again and she spoke about her dream of rebuilding her elementary school soon again. Last summer that dream came true. In October last year Nozomi, now a sixth-grader, proudly introduced the newly completed building at Nagatoro Elementary School to me.
In terms of the rebuilding of housing, by spring this year a total of 10,000 public housing units will be completed and people who had been living in temporary evacuation housing are already starting to move in. The Government aims to complete a further 10,000 public housing units over the course of the next one year. The construction of housing in upland areas is also accelerating, and by March next year it is expected that a total of 10,000 units will have been completed in such areas.
The recovery of 18,000 fishing boats and other vessels that were devastated by the tsunami is now complete and operations have restarted at 80 percent of processing facilities for fisheries products.
This year, planting in agricultural areas is expected to exceed 70 percent of pre-disaster levels.
The Joban Expressway, which runs north-to-south through the disaster-affected regions, is also now fully reopened. I hope that the reopened expressway will serve as an arterial transport route that will act as a trigger for reconstruction, enabling the shipment of delicious rice and marine produce from the Hamadori coastal region to areas of consumption, and also bringing in tourists.
In Fukushima the transportation of soil collected through decontamination to interim storage facilities is at long last due to begin from this week. I would like to once again express my gratitude to the people of the towns of Futaba and Okuma, who decided to accept the storage of soil in these facilities. We will take to heart the feelings the people of Fukushima have for their hometowns and further accelerate decontamination efforts towards the rebirth of Fukushima, working towards the elimination of the 88,000 temporary storage sites within the prefecture as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, it is also a fact that there are still many people enduring difficult circumstances, forced to live in temporary accommodation over such a long period of time. It pains me deeply when I think about how these people must feel.
The Government will also continue to take the lead in measures towards the decommissioning of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and measures to deal with contaminated water.
On my monthly visits to the affected regions, I have a sense that against this backdrop reconstruction is progressing steadily, step-by-step, to a new stage.
At the recently completed public housing for disaster-stricken households in Fukushima, I talked with one of the women residing there. She told me that although she is worried about the future, she wants to live a positive and cheerful life. The Government will reach out to and embrace the feelings of people affected by the disaster, who are working hard to live for each day, despite worries about the future. We will also provide all the necessary support. This determined resolve of the Abe Cabinet will never waver.
The Government will support the building of new community ties. We will make ever greater efforts in the area of support for psychological recovery, including strengthening the systems within local communities that keep an attentive eye out for others for those people who have endured the difficulties of evacuation for such long periods of time. We will also further accelerate efforts to accomplish the recovery of people’s livelihoods.
On a recent visit to Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture the rebuilt fish market was buzzing with life and the catches of fish being landed were above pre-disaster levels. Getting up at 5:00 a.m. must be tough, but the words of a young worker at the market made a strong impression on me, which I still remember, “It is a job that is worth getting up for.”
In March next year the five-year intensive reconstruction period will come to a close. By summer this year the Government will formulate a framework for new reconstruction assistance for the subsequent five years.
I recently gave instructions to the Cabinet to pool their combined efforts and resources in the compilation of this new framework, bearing in mind that all Cabinet ministers are ministers for reconstruction.
The Government will continue to provide all possible assistance to support the independence of all people affected by the disaster, and ensure that each and every person can create a hope-filled future for themselves.
In Fukushima we will create new reconstruction hubs and advance community development. Furthermore, we will work to ensure that the prefecture is reborn as a place for world-class cutting-edge research and one that generates new industries, in such areas as robotics and renewable energies.
As we enter the fifth year since the nuclear accident, we will support the creation of a path towards independence for all people affected. In order to accomplish this, in combination with a reappraisal of damage compensation for businesses, we will broadly expand support measures towards rebuilding businesses and livelihoods.
This policy package for the rebirth of Fukushima will be decided as early as May this year and a future vision for an independent and self-reliant Fukushima will be compiled by around the summer.
Reconstruction is still a work in progress. However, our steps are progressing steadily forward. Hereafter as well, these steps will only continue to move further forward.
Last week reconstruction work on the JR Yamada Line in Iwate Prefecture was initiated, a project that has been awaited eagerly by local residents. The city of Kamaishi is the railhead for the Yamada Line and just the other day it was decided that the city will host matches of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. This can be expected to bring many tourists to the city, including from overseas. At that time I hope that the visitors will fully savor the beauty of the Sanriku Coast, one of the natural treasures of which Japan is so proud, all the way from the very north to the very south.
In Miyagi Prefecture, the Ishinomaki and Senseki lines, two lines that provide important transport links for local residents, are scheduled to be fully reopened in sequence this spring.
I also visited Tomioka Station in Fukushima two years ago. Even now, around the station there are still traces of the tsunami and the nuclear accident, and after four years there were no immediate prospects whatsoever for the reopening of the JR Joban Line that passes through the areas where it is expected that residents will have difficulties in returning for a long time.
In response to the strong wishes of local residents the Government has approved a policy of fully reopening the JR Joban Line in the future, including the section between Namie and Tomioka.
We will aim to reopen the line in sections in the future.
“Being able to play outside has really helped to energize everyone.” This was what Nozomi Ono told me with a broad smile on her face on the playing field of the brand-new Nagatoro Elementary School. This spring Nozomi will advance to junior high school. I hope that she makes a new start, full of hopes and dreams.
This spring the new Futaba Future High School will open its doors in Fukushima. Although a little early, I would like to express my heartfelt congratulations to the 152 new students as they make a new start at the school. The Futaba area is rising up once more from the nuclear accident and is strongly engaging in reconstruction. The students will see this for themselves as they grow in an advanced educational environment. The days and weeks of three years at high school will undoubtedly provide students with a great source of educational nourishment that will serve them well in their future lives.
Children are our hope for the future. I have great expectations that the children of Fukushima will engage enthusiastically in study, play and interactions with their friends, growing to become leaders not only of Fukushima, but of Japan and the wider world.
With that I would like to conclude my opening statement.
REPORTER (MIYAZAKI, TV TOKYO): Prime Minister, I would like to ask about measures relating to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. It has been noted that there are issues with the system for safety management. For example, it has been discovered that contaminated water was leaking into the sea from the power station’s drainage system and that TEPCO was late in publicly disclosing this. A disposal site for highly radioactive waste has also yet to be selected. When and in what manner do you intend to respond to such issues?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: It is deeply regrettable that the Tokyo Electric Power Company has failed to adequately disclose information. We have instructed TEPCO to reestablish a relationship of trust with concerned parties, such as members of the fisheries industry, by making thorough efforts to adequately disclose information, and by taking appropriate measures to stop the leakage of radioactive material from the drainage system.
With regard to safety, the Nuclear Regulation Authority will continue to regulate the facility in a proactive manner in accordance with the changing circumstances on the ground.
Furthermore, we will not simply leave the situation up to TEPCO. The Government will continue to take the lead in measures towards the decommissioning of the power station and measures to deal with contaminated water.
Japan already has significant stores of spent nuclear fuel, and regardless of whether our nuclear power plants are restarted or not, there is no escaping the fact that a final disposal site for highly radioactive waste is needed. Responsibility for the creation of the waste lies with the current generation, and we will not pass the task on to future generations. The Government will revise the way this matter has heretofore been dealt with, and intends to lead efforts to fully secure final disposal sites, by assessing and proposing appropriate locations based on scientific evidence.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Next I will take another question from a company currently coordinating the press club. Please go ahead.
REPORTER (NAKAYAMA, NIHON KEIZAI SHIMBUN): Next year, the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Japan will be hosting the G7 summit, and one of the potential venues is Sendai City, a city affected by the disaster.
The Rugby World Cup was mentioned earlier and you have also expressed your desire to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to impress on people the extent of the reconstruction in the disaster-affected areas.
Although I understand it depends on the state of the reconstruction in the areas concerned, how do you intend to communicate to the world about how the region is recovering from the disaster?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Work on the selection of venues for next year’s summit is currently underway. We would like to make a decision by the start of this year’s summit, which is to be held in Germany in June. A decision on the venue will be made after comprehensive consideration of a range of factors such as security, accommodation facilities, and conference halls. However, regardless of where it is hosted, we intend to continue doing our very utmost to facilitate reconstruction, so as to be able to make a strong appeal about the vigorous reconstruction in the disaster-affected areas at the G7 summit, which will be attended by the heads of the world’s leading nations.
Furthermore, I intend to do whatever it takes to make the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games the “Reconstruction Olympics and Paralympics.” The basic plan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which was submitted to the IOC at the end of last month, outlined ideas to provide support to the disaster-affected areas and to widely communicate the state of reconstruction, including by conducting the Olympic Torch relay there. Specific plans will be considered at a meeting involving concerned parties such as the local governments of the three disaster-stricken prefectures, the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Some days ago Kamaishi City was also chosen to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup. I would like to ensure that all of these events help spur the reconstruction effort, and that they allow us to show to the world just how magnificent the reconstruction in the disaster-affected areas has been.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: Now I would like to take questions from the reporters who are not affiliated with the coordinators of the press club. Please raise your hand if you would like to ask a question.
REPORTER (HARDING, FINANCIAL TIMES): I believe one aim of Abenomics is to overcome deflation. How is that aim affected by the growing global deflationary trend? In addition, what kinds of policies are needed in response?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Overall the global economy is making a gradual recovery. It is my understanding that the effects of falling crude oil prices are curbing inflation, primarily in developed nations. On the other hand, I believe that in Japan the falling price of crude oil will have a positive impact on the economy as it reduces import prices, and thereby increases corporate earnings and real household income.
The Bank of Japan (BOJ) has set a price stability target of 2% and is currently carrying out bold monetary easing. The BOJ is entrusted with setting the specific indicators concerned. I understand that the BOJ expects the consumer price growth rate to increase as the effect of the lower crude oil prices weakens, and that it is highly probable that the rate will reach approximately 2% around fiscal 2015. Be that as it may, breaking free from deflation and achieving economic revitalization are two of the most important issues facing Japan. I will continue to work to ensure a virtuous economic cycle with the “three arrows” of Abenomics.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I will take the next question. Mr. Sugita, please.
REPORTER (SUGITA, KYODO NEWS): I have a question regarding reconstruction funding. Local governments in the affected areas would like the Government to continue funding the full amount of the reconstruction work even after the “intensive reconstruction period,” for the period starting from FY2016. Meanwhile, some members of the Government have voiced their view that local governments should pay out of their own pockets. What is your opinion?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: First and foremost, we will exert every effort to pass the FY2015 budget that prioritizes acceleration of the reconstruction process. On this basis, we will continue to steadily carry out the necessary projects in FY2016 and beyond. How this will be done, including funding matters, will be subject to examination. We will not stop in FY2016 or anytime after that. That is our basic position. We will fully address the needs of the people in the affected areas while paying careful attention to their feelings.
Although the five-year “intensive period” will end next March, by this summer we will establish a new reconstruction support framework for the subsequent five years. In this process, we will carefully review the issue of local financing and other matters, while listening to the people in the affected areas.
The reconstruction process is now entering a new phase. The Government will take steps by helping the affected people become independent and continuing to extend support as much as possible.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I will take just one more question. Mr. Hara, please.
REPORTER (HARA, NHK): My question is in connection with reconstruction projects. There are concerns that even if land for housing is established, the number of people who return to their towns will be lower than expected. Amidst such concerns, some people have been pointing out that in the affected areas, discrepancies between the reconstruction projects and the people’s needs are beginning to appear, given that the reconstruction projects are running behind schedule. It is anticipated that people’s needs will continue to change. How do you intend to correct the discrepancy between large-scale public works construction projects and the people’s needs?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: With regard to construction of housing in upland areas, I understand that the municipalities, who are implementing the project, have decided the location and number of houses based on surveys they have conducted regarding the housing wishes of the affected people. This project will take some time. Therefore, even if the wishes of the affected people were to change, municipalities are making adjustments to accommodate such changes as much as possible.
Furthermore, Government officials have been making visits to municipalities and have recently offered them necessary advice on gauging people’s wishes and revising the number of housing to an appropriate number. In this way, revisions have actually been made to the total number of houses in the project to construct housing in upland areas.
You are correct in that the wishes of the affected people could very well change with the passing of time. It is important that we adapt and adjust to such changes in people’s wishes by paying close attention to the people. I would like municipalities to continue to work towards the swift progress of this project, while, at the same time, carefully gauging the wishes of the affected people.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I would now like to bring the press conference by Prime Minister Abe to a close. Thank you very much for your cooperation.