Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Upcoming Fifth Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake
Thursday, March 10, 2016
OPENING STATEMENT BY PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Tomorrow is March 11, when we mark the fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. As I begin my remarks, I would like to once again express my heartfelt condolences for all those who lost their lives in the earthquake disaster.
Tsunamis annihilated the city of Rikuzentakata in Iwate Prefecture . I think there are many who remember the scene of the “Miracle Lone Pine” standing tall after enduring those tsunamis. It was about three years ago that I first set foot in Rikuzentakata after assuming the office of prime minister.
From atop a building that had suffered tsunami damage, I saw with my own eyes the state of the city, where strong traces of the earthquake disaster remained, even though two years had gone by. Even now, I cannot forget that dreadful scene I witnessed as a light snow fell around us.
We will do whatever it takes to accelerate reconstruction. Grounded in that determination, I have visited the disaster-affected area firsthand almost 30 times since becoming prime minister a little over three years ago.
“The procedures take too much time.”
“We lack sufficient human resources and materials.”
“There has been no progress in acquiring land.”
It was from responding individually to such comments as these that I heard there on site that we made our start three years ago. Under the Reconstruction Agency, we would break down the vertical segmentation within the national government. And, we would be certain to take a hands-on approach. We overhauled the administration that was handling reconstruction until that time and accelerated reconstruction.
The landscape at the center of the town of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, which was vacant lots for as far as the eye could see when I visited three years ago, had changed completely when I visited last month. The JR Ishinomaki line, which is the main way people in the area get around, has been restored, and in front of the new train station, where you can feel the warmth of the wood, you now find an electrical appliance shop, a green grocer, and a flower shop. With a lovely shopping street already completed, the area was bustling with crowds.
When the government changed three years ago, the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation had not even been planned out. Now, almost all of the work has been launched, and this spring, development work will be concluded in three-quarters of all areas. Nearly all fishing ports will reopen. More than 70 percent of farmland is able to be planted, and operations have restarted at almost 90 percent of processing facilities for fisheries products.
At the same time, there are quite a large number of people living in temporary housing even now, as well as people who still find themselves in difficult circumstances. The past five years have been a difficult and painful time for each of the people affected by the disaster.
Yet despite this, the intense passion they feel towards their hometowns has become a major force that enables reconstruction to move forward reliably, step by step.
We will continue to provide steady support that addresses the diversity of needs particular to each local area while properly taking into account the feelings of unease held by the people in the disaster areas.
In Fukushima, where I visited last week, five dairy farmers who were living evacuated came together to open a dairy farm that is one of the largest in Tohoku, raising some 500 dairy cattle. Standing before dairy products that had just begun to ship out, they told me about their passion for reconstruction, saying, “We intend to give it our all so that Fukushima becomes self-reliant and is able to compete head on as soon as possible.”
With solar energy generation, lithium-ion battery, and other related companies coming together there, Fukushima, which has suffered significant harm from the nuclear accident, is now poised to become a pioneering location that will carve out the energy society of the future. “New buds” of industries are sprouting one after the other even in the disaster-stricken region.
We intend to position the next five years as a “Reconstruction and Revitalization Period,” securing ample financial resources and providing support that will lead to the self-reliance of the disaster-affected area.
Last year, the Joban Expressway, which opened to traffic along its entirety, saw an increase in traffic volume, in combination with reconstruction demand. In light of the needs of the people living in the region, in Fukushima and Miyagi Prefectures, during this “reconstruction and revitalization period,” we will expand the Expressway to four lanes in those sections that become congested. We will begin work on this immediately.
In addition, although the schedule for restoring service along the entirety of the JR Joban Line has been undetermined until now, in order to meet the eager expectations of the people living in Fukushima’s local areas, we have taken the decision to aim to have the entire Joban Line brought back into service within fiscal 2019, before the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games begin.
In Fukushima, by the spring of 2017, we will lift evacuation orders except for zones where the return of residents would be difficult. We will also accelerate still further the construction of interim storage facilities and decontamination while doing our utmost to restore the infrastructure needed for daily life, so that as many people as possible are able to return to their hometowns.
The restoration of livelihoods is essential in particular. This past summer, a public-private team was inaugurated. Over more than five months, this team made firsthand visits to more than 3,000 small, medium, and micro enterprise operators who were affected by the nuclear accident in order to conduct consultations and provide assistance face-to-face.
In the future, they intend to visit individually all of the businessmen and women who were impacted by the accident -- some 8,000 of them -- by further strengthening the current system, in order to provide assistance of a cooperative type that will lead to the reopening of businesses and rehabilitating livelihoods by thoroughly implementing a hands-on approach and assessing the circumstances of each individual in a thoroughgoing manner. We will also provide tailor-made support so that motivated farmers can also relaunch farming operations as early as possible.
Even in the zones where the return of residents would be difficult, monitoring has made it clear that the quantity of radiation has been decreasing. We intend to indicate no later than the summer of 2016 the national government’s thinking regarding a review of the zoning, thoroughly taking into account the feelings that the local residents have towards their hometowns.
At the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), workers are on site at this very moment working to decommission the reactors, a task fraught with difficulty. I would like to extend my sincere respect to them.
Around the reactor buildings, work to create a wall of frozen soil will begin in the near future. This will restrain the flow of groundwater and substantially advance measures to tackle the issue of contaminated water. Going forward, the national government will continue to stand at the fore on this issue and dedicate its greatest possible efforts to decommissioning the reactors and tackling the contaminated water issue.
One year ago, I spent some time in Fukushima with Britain’s Prince William. Upon seeing the children of Fukushima playing outdoors so full of energy, he said to them, with a gentle smile on his face, “You really seem to be enjoying yourselves.” That evening, Prince William and I enjoyed a meal made with ingredients that were the pride of Fukushima, along with sake brewed in Fukushima.
The best way to dispel reputational damage from radiation-related rumors is to have as many international visitors as possible actually come to Fukushima and have them enjoy locally-sourced food.
In addition, I wish to have a large number of international visitors come to various places all around the Tohoku district, beyond just Fukushima. I believe that will become a robust force contributing to reconstruction.
Last year, the number of international tourists visiting Japan almost reached 20 million, more than doubling the number of such tourists before the change of government. However, the number of international tourists staying overnight in the six prefectures in the Tohoku district has not improved beyond finally recovering in 2015 the level of 500,000 it enjoyed before the earthquake disaster. We will aim to triple this number to 1.5 million in 2020, making use of the Rugby World Cup as well as the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as major triggers. I intend to make 2016 truly the base year for reviving tourism in Tohoku.
Over the next five years, we will invite travel agents from overseas to visit Tohoku and see for themselves how wonderful Tohoku is, at a scale of 2,000 participants. In order to have them put together appealing tours to Tohoku, we will run a large-scale Tohoku Promotion Campaign.
Moreover, I would like international tourists not simply to tour the larger cities of Tohoku, but rather also to experience the pleasures to be found in the surrounding local areas, all throughout Tohoku. I would also like to undertake such efforts as planning “unlimited use” passes to be used by international tourists on bus routes and train lines in the local areas.
Rikuzentakata, where that “Miracle Lone Pine” remained standing, enjoys the fifth-highest rate of new business start-ups nationally. New businesses are springing up one after another. There are people in Rikuzentakata who are now working to plant cherry trees. We cannot allow the lessons of the 2011 tsunamis to fade away.
Grounded in that strong belief, these people have planted close to 1,000 saplings over the past five years along the coast, which had suffered tsunami damage. Not long ago I myself participated in their activities, and I was deeply struck by the bright smiling faces of the local residents who were watching the tree planting activities take place.
Young saplings will not come into bloom anytime soon. But these trees will produce blossoms years from now, handing down the lessons from the tsunamis. These are cherry trees that will link us with remembrance. At the same time, gorgeous cherry trees in all their glory when fully in bloom will certainly become trees that elicit hope towards reconstruction for the people of the local area.
Without the reconstruction of Tohoku, there can be no revival of Japan.
Firmly grounded in that unshakable conviction, I have renewed my determination to build up a Tohoku that is brimming with hope.
I will end my opening statement here.
REPORTER (TANAKA, MAINICHI SHIMBUN): I am Tanaka, with the Mainichi Shimbun, one of the coordinators of the press club. I would like to ask about the restart of nuclear power plants.
Yesterday, the Otsu District Court issued a provisional injunction ordering a suspension of operations at the No. 3 and 4 reactors of the Takahama nuclear power station. Within that decision, regarding the fact that the national government will lead the formulation of evacuation plans and regarding the new regulatory requirements for nuclear plants, it indicates some doubt through the expression, “we have no alternative but to be hesitant about these being considered a foundation for public well-being.” How do you intend to respond to this kind of point from the court?
Also, in the Basic Energy Policy, nuclear power plants are positioned as an important source of base-load power. I would like to hear your comments on the impact this will have on the Basic Energy Policy or the impact it will have on restarting nuclear power plants in the future.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: The government follows a consistent policy for restarting nuclear power plants that has not changed whatsoever, namely that it is only for nuclear power plants that have been judged to be compliant with the new regulatory requirements, which are of the most stringent level in the world, through scientific and technical examinations conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which has a high degree of independence. Then, respecting the NRA’s expert judgment, we move forward on restarting those plants by gaining the understanding of the local community. Beyond that, I look forward to Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) providing further explanations regarding the safety of the plants, in light of this provisional injunction. The national government for its part will provide guidance to KEPCO to do so.
As for the evacuation plans, the local authorities intimately familiar with the actual circumstances in the local area formulate these plans for each local community. The national government has been painstakingly involved in that process from the very beginning and ultimately it was approved by the Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Council, which I chair. Through this system in which we provide firm support for local authorities with the national government standing at the forefront, we will take all possible measures to address this matter, just as we have done until now. In addition, we intend to continue to examine and provide support regarding evacuation plans that have already been formulated and continue to improve upon and strengthen measures to deal with nuclear emergencies, based on the outcomes of evacuation drills and other information.
Nuclear power is indispensable for Japan, a nation lacking natural resources, in order to ensure the stability of our energy supply while taking into account economic aspects and the issue of climate change. Of course, going forward, we will decrease our degree of reliance on nuclear power to the greatest extent possible.
In any event, ensuring safety is the utmost priority, and restoring the public’s trust is the most important thing of all. I believe that both the electric companies and the government should do their utmost to provide sincere and sufficient explanations to the public.
REPORTER (IWATA, TBS): I am Iwata, with TBS, one of the coordinators of the press club.
I would like to inquire about reconstruction of the disaster area, especially Fukushima Prefecture.
I understand that this spring, evacuation orders will be lifted for the first time in some parts of the Restricted Habitation Area that was established as a result of the nuclear accident. However, the quite arduous state of affairs is striking, such as the fact that in the areas where evacuation orders have already been lifted, there are some communities to which less than 10 percent of residents have actually returned. I would like you to tell us your thoughts once more on how you will support the return of the residents and how you will move forward with decontamination.
In addition, please discuss what the national government will do in the future to address the lack of progress in purchasing land for interim storage facilities for the waste resulting from the nuclear accident and the selection of the final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: In the areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, we will make our utmost efforts to provide carefully-tailored support for people’s occupations and livelihoods, daily living, psychological care, and other aspects and make it possible to restore hometowns in which those residents who wish to return can do so with peace of mind.
People cannot return to their hometowns if there are no jobs. For this reason, a public-private team will pay a visit to some 8,000 business owners one by one, holding consultations with them and then providing a response and support appropriate for each one’s particular circumstances. In the areas along the coast in Fukushima, we are moving forward with the Innovation Coast Scheme, which places advanced technologies including nuclear reactor decommissioning and robots at the core. Regarding the daily living environment, we will provide responses that are tailored to the needs of the local communities, so that people can not only secure housing but also go shopping with peace of mind and receive medical and welfare services.
In Fukushima and other disaster-affected areas, we will continue to carry out decontamination properly in order to ensure the safety of the people in the local communities.
In order to make the lifting of the evacuation orders a reality in March 2017 except in zones where the return of residents would be difficult, we will accelerate the work as much as possible by increasing the number of workers, coordinating progress with work to restore infrastructure, and other such efforts. For locations which have already been decontaminated once, we intend to conduct monitoring of the quantity of radiation after the decontamination work is completed and conduct follow-up decontamination in accordance with individual circumstances, such as whether or not there has been recontamination.
With regard to decontaminating the forests, we intend to move forward in line with the “Integrated Measures for Regenerating the Forests and the Forestry Industry in Fukushima” that were compiled yesterday.
The soil and other things cleared away during decontamination must be removed from sites near people’s daily activities and taken to interim storage facilities promptly. I think having that done as early as possible is what the people of Fukushima are hoping for. For that reason, we will address the acquisition of land for interim storage facilities by further strengthening the system in the affected areas, with the Ministry of the Environment at the center, in order to gain the understanding of the landowners. We must provide careful and thoroughgoing explanations to the landowners, keeping in mind the attachment they feel towards their land. We intend to accelerate the acquisition of land and move forward in preparing the facilities through efforts across the entire government.
As for the fuel debris, based on the Mid- and Long-Term Roadmap formulated by the government and TEPCO in unison, extraction of the debris will begin within 2021, and after storing it safely, consideration will then be given to the next steps in managing and disposing of the debris. The national government will handle the matter responsibly until everything is completed, so that the management and disposal of the fuel debris to be extracted in the future and the selection of the final disposal site are performed appropriately.
REPORTER (MONDA, KAHOKU SHIMPO): I am Monda, with the Kahoku Shimpo.
My question is about measures to alleviate child poverty.
In the disaster area, the number of children receiving assistance for educational expenses is increasing dramatically because they lost their parents in the earthquake disaster or because their parents’ income dropped sharply due to the disaster. The number of children who have given up on attending university or other schooling because of economic reasons is also on the rise.
Mr. Prime Minister, in your Policy Speech to the Diet in January, you emphasized your policies for supporting child-rearing in low-income households. Do you have anything under consideration for new support policies for children in the disaster areas who are facing a more serious state of affairs?
PRIME MINISTER ABE: I believe that children’s futures should not be determined by their families’ economic circumstances. Grounded in this basic approach, within the supplementary budget [for fiscal 2015] as well as the main budget for the coming fiscal year, we have reinforced our assistance for child-rearing, particularly assistance for single-parent households, families with multiple children, and low-income households.
And, as for your question, in the disaster-affected areas in particular we have reduced tuition fees or granted exemptions for them. In addition, we are running programs that provide financial support for commuting expenses, medical expenses, fees for school lunches, and other such expenses and also providing no-interest student loans for attending university or other schooling, while carrying out study support and other types of assistance to regenerate local communities, using “learning” as a medium. I intend for us to continue to thoroughly implement these so that children do not meet with any difficulties as a result of the earthquake disaster when first enrolling in school or going on to high school or university.
In order to provide well-tailored assistance that is appropriate for the circumstances of each individual child, we will strengthen our cooperation with non-profit organizations and other non-governmental organizations that provide assistance by walking right alongside the children in a grassroots manner. The National Campaign for Supporting Children’s Futures is a cooperative project undertaken by the national government, public institutions, and the private sector that works to alleviate child poverty as a national endeavor. In the Campaign, we intend to support the measures to alleviate child poverty by forging a support network that includes non-governmental organizations active in the disaster areas and local authorities within the disaster areas.
I want to build a society in which all children, of course including children in the disaster-affected areas, can dream big dreams if only they try hard.
REPORTER (HARA, NHK): I am Hara with NHK.
In the disaster area, we can see progress centered on developing infrastructure, such as work to raise the ground level higher, efforts to create safer communities, and so on. However, as time passes, society ages and the population shrinks more and more, so there is also a viewpoint that raises doubts over whether or not any headway will actually be made in reviving local regions under the current way of pressing forward with reconstruction. Now that five years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake, I would like to hear your thoughts on what you consider to be the most important issues for making progress in reviving the disaster-stricken areas.
Also, with regard to infrastructure development and disaster prevention measures, which are being conducted through investments of enormous sums, please share your views on whether you consider the current situation to be appropriate or you think there is room for reviewing the situation.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Many people are living lives of great inconvenience even now, notably those living in temporary housing. And, because of the nuclear accident, there are also many who are unable to return to the land that is so dear to them. In order to enable these people to return to permanent housing at the earliest possible time while leading lives filled with peace of mind, I intend to accelerate the preparation of housing and the building of communities that are highly resilient to natural disasters, bearing in mind the views of the people in the disaster area and the local authorities. The restoration of infrastructure is almost complete, and the reconstruction of housing will also be completed on the whole in roughly three years. In Fukushima too, we have been accelerating the creation of an environment in which we can lift the evacuation orders in March 2017, except in zones where the return of residents would be difficult.
At the same time, as daily life in temporary housing continues for an extended time, there are some who tend to withdraw from interaction with others or who become isolated even after moving to public housing for disaster victims. Within the “reconstruction and revitalization period” as well, we will do our utmost to provide support that meets the needs of each local community, including considering the sensitivities of the disaster victims, psychological care, and the revival of communities, so that these people are able to live their lives in a spirited way.
The town of Onagawa in Miyagi Prefecture, which I mentioned just now in my opening statement, created a wonderful shopping street bustling with crowds, on the basis of a concept of building a new town and having people from outside the town also come to visit it. This is a policy of solidly encouraging new attempts in which the people in the local communities serve as the leading actors, instead of the national government building “cookie cutter” towns that are all the same. By promoting and developing tourism and creating new businesses, our intention is to create a new Tohoku in which the people of the area serve as the main players, rather than letting reconstruction end with simply restoring the previous situation.
In addition, I believe that what is important within disaster prevention measures is appropriately combining “hard-side” measures, such as preparing disaster-related facilities, with “soft-side” measures, such as formulating a disaster prevention plan for the local area. In addition to integrally combining those “soft” and “hard” measures and integrally carrying them out, I believe that we have to press forward with projects in effective and efficient ways by assigning weights and a priority order for policies and measures, including those with a viewpoint over the medium to long term, while also listening to the various views of the communities and the residents.
The national government intends to thoroughly implement disaster prevention and mitigation measures in light of the valuable lessons learned through the loss of so many precious lives, in order to protect the lives and assets of the people from disasters.
PRIME MINISTER ABE: Thank you very much.