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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Friday, April 1, 2011
[Provisional Translation]

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference with Prime Minister Naoto Kan. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Three weeks have now passed since the earthquake. A moment ago in a round robin Cabinet meeting we decided to officially name the disaster the Great East Japan Earthquake. I want to once again offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of those who perished in the earthquake, as well as my deepest sympathy for everyone affected by this disaster. To those in local governments, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), fire departments, police bureaus, and to everyone else risking their lives to assist with the relief effort: you have my sincere respect. I am proud to command such incredible public servants.

I would also like to use this opportunity to once again express my gratitude for many offers of support Japan has received from all over the world.

Today is April 1. It is the start of a new fiscal year, and we have already successfully passed the budget as well as a portion of related legislation through the Diet. The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred after the budget had been submitted. We must now prioritize support for those affected by this disaster as well as policy toward reconstruction. To this end, although we already have a set budget, we will rescind a portion of it while beginning preparations of a supplementary budget. We will use some of the funds in the current budget to support those affected by the earthquake. We have been considering the necessity of implementing the budget for reconstruction in several stages in line with the requirements of this process. With the first round of funding, we will clear out rubble, build temporary housing, support reemployment and help businesses start to rebuild. We are currently preparing funding for this. I hope to finalize the first supplementary budget and submit it to the Diet within April.

We must then begin preparations toward reconstruction. In fact, we will go beyond mere reconstruction, creating an even better Tohoku and even better Japan. We are moving forward with the creation of a reconstruction plan that has this big dream at its core. I have received many opinions over the telephone from the mayors of each city, town and village in the disaster-stricken area. These opinions will be incorporated into the plan  for instance, in some areas we will level parts of mountains in order to create plateaus for people to live on. Those residing in the area will then commute to the shoreline if they work in ports or the fisheries industry. We will create eco-towns, places which use biomass and plant-based fuel to provide natural heating. We will outfit cities with infrastructure to support the elderly. We aim to create new kinds of towns that will become models for the rest of the world.

In the course of reconstruction, reemployment will be a major issue. The disaster-stricken region is home to many parts manufacturers, farmers and fishermen. The areafs fisheries industry in particular has always thrived. We must revitalize these primary industries without fail.

In drafting a plan for reconstruction we must call upon the opinions of experts and those with a stake in the future of the region. I hope to bring a group of such people together to form a Reconstruction Design Council by April 11, exactly one month after the disaster occurred. At the same time, we will create a system in the Government to actualize the proposals and plans created by this Council. I want to create this system within this month as well.

We have received many positive offers of cooperation for reconstruction activities from those in opposition parties. We will establish a system by which to promote cross-party cooperation. It is my absolute hope that we will be successful with this.

Next, I would like to discuss the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants. We have carried out work thus far based on three principles, and we will continue to do so.

Our first principle is that we must prioritize the health and safety of the people of Japan.

Our second principle is that we must implement risk management initiatives to such an extent that some in the public feel we are being too cautious.

Our third principle is that we must conceive of every possible scenario and prepare response systems that can deal with each scenario should it occur.

We are currently proceeding with work under these three principles.

We are organizing our efforts around two cooperation initiatives in order to return the power plants to a stable condition.

The first hardly needs to be mentioned. The Government, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and related enterprises, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and other expert groups are exerting every effort for cooperation to address this problem. We have been doing so for some time and will continue to do so.

The second is international cooperation. Experts from other countries, in particular the United States, are already fully involved in the response effort, participating in joint operations with us. I spoke with US President Obama a few days ago and he again promised the full cooperation of the United States. Yesterday, French President Sarkozy visited Japan and told me that as the leader of a country possessing advanced nuclear technology and as chair of the G8 and G20, he would offer Francefs full cooperation and would send experts to help us.

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has dispatched experts, and is currently assisting us with a variety of operations. We are prepared for a long struggle at the power plants, and we will not give up until we have succeeded. We will continue to work with this resolve. Although we have caused much inconvenience to the people of Japan, I promise everyone that we will overcome this issue and restore the country to a state of complete safety.

The earthquake three weeks ago was truly horrific. However, in the time since then, I have seen some truly heart-warming scenes. People in and outside of Japan have come together to help our country overcome this disaster. Our efforts are now gathering momentum.

It has been sometimes said in Japan that the bonds between us Japanese are weakening. Since the earthquake, those in local governments, in industry, in NPOs, as well as many individuals across the country have voluntarily offered their support and cooperation to help us overcome this disaster. I believe that our renewed bonds will reach across the nation and lead us to a wonderful tomorrow. I am confident that we have a bright future ahead of us.

The late physicist Dr. Torahiko Terada wrote numerous essays about disaster. Among them, he noted that the practice of offering aid in times of trouble is deeply rooted in the nature of the Japanese as a custom passed down from generation to generation since ancient times.

I am certain that we will overcome the Great East Japan Earthquake, strengthen our mutual bonds and rebuild our great nation. With these opening remarks I pledge that I, my Cabinet, and everyone in the Government will make this happen. With this I conclude my opening remarks. Thank you for your attention.


CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. Although I will be calling on you to ask questions, we would appreciate it if you would still state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Aoyama-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Aoyama of Nippon TV. I would like to ask a question about Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Three weeks have passed since the earthquake. It has been a time of great uncertainty not just for those living around the plant but for the entire nation, and this state continues. Up until now you have said that you cannot make any predictions, but what is your understanding of the current situation? Also, what steps or responses do you think should be undertaken to draw the situation at the plant to a close? Please tell us in detail what options there are to avoid the worst possible outcome. Additionally, please also tell us your frank thoughts about your objectives or goals for when you think this situation will calm down.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I first wish to say that I am very sorry to those who have inconvenienced by calling for an evacuation around the power plants as well as those who have suffered losses regarding vegetables and other matters in various ways.

Regarding the current situation at the power plants, as I stated a moment ago we are gathering opinions from experts and working to stabilize the situation. At the current stage, we have not yet reached a point of sufficient stability. However, as I said earlier, we are preparing for every possibility, and I believe that we will definitely reach our goal.

As for a timeframe for this, at the current moment in time I cannot say anything for sure. We are working as hard as we can. This is all I can say.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Yes, next please, Igarashi-san.

REPORTER: I am Igarashi of the Yomiuri Shimbun. I would like to ask for more detailed information about reconstruction. You stated just now that you will be establishing a Reconstruction Design Council made up of experts and those with a stake in the future of the region. Will a member of the Cabinet be placed on this Council? If so, I think you will put someone in charge of reconstruction, and I would like you to tell us who exactly you have in mind for such a post.

In particular, President of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Sadakazu Tanigaki turned down your request to become a member of the Cabinet. Do you intend to request his cooperation again?

Furthermore, I believe that you will need to establish a mid-term reconstruction plan. By when do you intend to do so?

Finally, the cost of reconstruction is sure to be enormous. In addition to the creation of supplementary budgets, what is your opinion on options such as raising consumption tax or income tax? I apologize for asking so many questions.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I said earlier, we will first create a budget to clear away rubble and do other work to help those affected by the disaster rebuild in the area. While doing so, we will make preparations for reconstruction work. As I said earlier, I hope to establish a Reconstruction Design Council by April 11, exactly one month from the earthquake, and this Council will decide which form of reconstruction should be taken. I would like the Council to thoroughly debate the issue, taking into account the opinions of experts and those with a stake in the region.

From now on we will begin to discuss the creation of a system to accept and implement the proposals of the Council. I have been hearing information such as examples of the actions of Goto Shimpei following the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, or what the situation was like when headquarters were established to deal with the aftermath of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. It is my absolute hope that we will create an efficient and extremely responsive system. In doing so, we need to simultaneously discuss what shape the system should take, including whether a minister will be assigned to the commission or not. I think the process of making a decision about this will be smooth.

With regard to the needed financial resources for reconstruction, as I said a minute ago, a portion of the current budget will be frozen and redistributed. However, it is evident that this will not be enough. I want the Reconstruction Design Council to discuss this as well, and if necessary, we will forward debate among all political parties on the issue and seek a consensus. This is my thinking on the matter.


REPORTER: I am Matsuura of Kyodo News. On March 19, LDP President Tanigaki refused your request for him to enter the Cabinet. Do you intend to make this request of him again? Given the history between the opposition and ruling parties up until now I think that creating a grand coalition would be quite difficult. What kind of environment are you trying to create to encourage this? I would like to ask about these two points.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: It is true that I called Mr. Tanigaki and told him that I would like to have a meeting with him. However, I have never said anything as to what took place at that meeting. Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, those in opposition parties, including those in the LDP, have offered their full support for the response to this disaster. I would like to know their opinions, and to go even further, I would like to create a plan with them. I expect we will be able to work something out on this. I hope that we can.


REPORTER: I am Yamaguchi of NHK. I would like to ask about reconstruction financing. You said that just reallocating a portion of the budget would not free up enough funds. Are you considering increasing the national debt? Or will you consider tax hikes? Are there other options? Please tell us your thoughts.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I said just now, although we have established a budget for the current fiscal year, we will be freezing a portion of this budget. It should be obvious that this alone will not be enough. How we can come up with the additional funding we need is going to be an important theme for the Reconstruction Design Council. At the same time, if we do not receive the cooperation or the agreement of opposition parties we will not be able to pass such a budget and related legislation, so I hope that we will be able to discuss this and reach a consensus. These are my thoughts on these issues.

REPORTER: What is your personal opinion?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: My stance is that at this stage we are going to work toward the establishment of the Reconstruction Design Council and begin serious discussions with each political party. Before I decide anything I would like to hear a variety of opinions.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next we would like to call on a member of the foreign press. Sekiguchi-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Sekiguchi of Dow Jones. Some are saying that following the incident at the nuclear power plants TEPCO will require a large amount of funding. Would you please talk about the possibility of injecting public funds into the company or issuing debt guarantees?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Naturally, I expect that TEPCO will be obligated to compensate in various ways. At the same time, I think that the Government would need to ultimately respond responsibly when TEPCO is unable to meet its primary obligations or responsibilities. Currently TEPCO is operating as a private company, but as I said earlier, I believe there would be a need to offer the company some support. However, basically, we would like the company to make their efforts as a private enterprise. This is what I think.


REPORTER: I am Sakajiri of the Asahi Shimbun. My question concerns the nuclear power plant. Previously, it seemed like Japan was trying to resolve this issue on its own, using the SDF and fire departments, but recently the emphasis has been placed on obtaining cooperation from the international community, as you mentioned in your opening statement. Put another way, does this mean that the situation is so serious that it requires the collective wisdom of the international community?

My other question concerns the specific options available for work at the power plants. The current situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is one in which reactors must be cooled by any means. While continuing the injection of pure water for this purpose, we must also work to treat contaminated water. Workers seem to be stuck running back and forth between two different jobs. Will this continue for some time, or are any other specific options feasible?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Concerning the international community, the United States has been making various proposals from a very early stage. At least, as far as I know, we have gladly accepted almost all of their offers, and all that are necessary. Currently, discussion is being held every day, mainly at the Integrated Headquarters with the U.S. experts, and also with utility operators, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Commissions (NISA), and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC). Various preparations are being made. In that sense, we have been cooperating with other countries, especially with the United States, on all matters, in order to respond to the nuclear incident, from the very beginning. In addition to the United States, France, the IAEA, and many other countries have proposed assistance regarding the nuclear incident, as I mentioned previously. We are going to receive a considerable amount of cooperation from them.

You also asked what options are available. This has been principally discussed by each group of experts, and based on their discussion we are proceeding with daily measures in a planned way. My understanding is that cooling is an extremely important operation and that this must be continued. At the same time, the resulting water contamination and other problems currently arising must be thoroughly addressed. We must see that the cooling operation leads to the full recovery of its functions. That I think is the first goal we must aim for. I hope this answers your question.


REPORTER: I am Motobashira from Kahoku Online Network. My question concerns economic compensation for those affected by the disaster. Many people who are currently in evacuation shelters have lost everything due to the tsunami. I donft think the current Law to Provide Assistance for the Recovery of the Livelihoods of those Affected by Disasters would allow these people to rebuild houses and lead normal lives again in their home towns, due to the variability in the amount of allowance given. I believe the matter has also been discussed within the Government, I want to hear your current opinions about revising or expanding the scope of the said Law as well as generating employment in these regions, which will be a major issue going forward.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I would like to again extend my words of apology and encouragement to all the people in Miyagi, Fukushima, Iwate, and other prefectures in the Tohoku Region, as well as a certain parts of the Kanto Region, who have suffered a tremendous loss and are having a difficult time.

Concerning the policy of assisting individual disaster victims, including whether or not the amount of allowance will be increased, as you suggested, to the extent possible I would like to do my best to provide them with sufficient assistance.

Concerning employment, I think some of these people can be hired for various kinds of work handled by local governments, such as the clearing of rubble. And then we must revive the industrial infrastructure to generate new jobs and recover lost jobs. I think that process is extremely important.


REPORTER: I am Nanao from Nico Nico Douga. The evacuation zones around the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini Nuclear Power Plants are still being disputed, and the people, especially those living around the zone, are not sure what to trust.

When you met with President Sarkozy yesterday, a proposal was made to discuss the safety standards of nuclear power plants at the G8 and in other international fora. In addition to this, do you have any intention to set an international standard about evacuation zones in the event of a nuclear accident? Donft you think that this would give assurance to the people and prevent harmful rumors from arising?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I exchanged opinions on various topics yesterday with President Sarkozy. Among these topics, we talked about discussing and establishing international safety standards about the safety of nuclear reactors and power plants during an international meeting. We didnft discuss if the topics should include a standard rule about evacuation zones. I said that such a rule is needed for nuclear reactors, as a start.

Currently, as you are aware, the NSC gives advice to the Government from the perspective of experts. These experts make proposals based on various kinds of monitoring operations and in consideration of the various efforts being made at the nuclear power plants. The scope of the safety measures has been decided based on such proposals, and we have been assuring the people that there will be no threat to human health as long as they observe these standards.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: The next person, please. Goto-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Goto from Jiji Press. Earlier, you announced that some programs to be financed by this fiscal yearfs budget will be frozen. However, are there any expenditure items you consider not freezing but, for instance, withdrawing or revising? In particular, do you have any intention of revising or withdrawing the child allowance program listed in the Democratic Party of Japanfs (DPJ) Manifesto?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As you know, through various discussions between the ruling and opposition parties at the Diet, we have just withdrawn a government bill that had been submitted to the Diet to raise the child allowance from 13,000 yen to 20,000 yen for children under age three.

As to how the child allowances will be continued, or how they should shape out, these questions will of course need to be discussed within the DPJ. At the same time, I hope substantial discussion will take place between the ruling and opposition parties to reach an agreement, including in the current process of enacting the stopgap bill.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: The next person, please. Indo-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Indo from the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. I would like to ask about your overall vision for the nuclear energy policy. Yesterday, I believe President Sarkozy sent out the message that in terms of safety, discussions will be conducted out of a need to establish rigorous standards, and that France will be going ahead with its nuclear energy policy.

You indicated you will consider Japanfs nuclear energy policy bearing in mind the verifications made about the accident. However, news reports about your meeting with Japanese Communist Party (JCP) Leader Kazuo Shii prior to your meeting with Mr. Sarkozy only headlined the energy plan being reviewed. Are your intentions to move forward with nuclear energy? Or are you considering alternative energies and scrapping nuclear power programs altogether? Which is your overall vision?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First of all, the accident is of course the biggest in Japanfs history of nuclear power accidents. Internationally, while there has been an even bigger accident, the ongoing incident is one of the biggest accidents to unfold. Therefore, first and foremost, the starting point for beginning anew must be to conduct a thorough verification once this problem has stabilized to some extent. I believe everybody will agree with me on this.

And so, in that context, we will begin with a thorough verification from the stage that this problem is a little more stabilized. I believe through the verifications, it will gradually become clear what level of safety will need to be ensured to reassure the people of Japan and so on. Rather than having some vision in advance, we will start with verifications. Although reference has been made to reviewing the energy policy, what I was saying is that the existing plans for nuclear power plants obviously need to be reviewed under the forthcoming verifications to see whether sufficient safety is ensured or not. I was not making a conclusive statement about abandoning all plans or going forward with all plans.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: The next person, please. Hatakeyama-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Hatakeyama, a freelance reporter. I have a question about the gshelter in placeh advisory for the 20 to 30km zone. The emergency response manuals for nuclear power accidents of the IAEA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, France, and the European Commission state that wooden buildings are hardly expected to reduce external radiation exposure. Furthermore, with regards to shelter in place to reduce internal radiation exposure due to inhalation, the manuals recommend a period not exceeding around 48 hours as permissible. Beyond that, they say the sheltering measure should be removed or an evacuation should be decided to cope with the situation. Already three weeks have passed. Twenty thousand people still remain in the shelter in place zone, and this being a sheltering zone, supplies are not reaching smoothly and peoplesf lives are extremely inconvenienced. Nevertheless, the shelter in place measure, which cannot be expected to reduce internal radiation exposure, has not been removed. Could you tell us why?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First, as I have noted earlier, these decisions about evacuation or sheltering are made in respect to the advice sought and received from the NSC in principle, while of course we also seek the various opinions of many others. Such was the process behind arriving at the current decision that, while in principle areas beyond the 20 km zone are safe, people living in the 20 to 30km zone will be alright if they stay indoors.

However, as you mentioned, we are also aware of the fact that problems slightly different from the safety issues are arising in peoplesf day-to-day lives, such as for instance supplies are extremely difficult to reach the 20 to 30km zone. The respective municipalities and response headquarters are responding. At the same time, we are also exchanging views with the NSC and the local municipalities on how these problems should be coped with, including what is socially appropriate. That is where we are right now.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: The next person, please. Matsuyama-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Matsuyama from Fuji TV. I have a question about the reconstruction of the disaster-stricken areas. Earlier, you mentioned that you would like to make the Tohoku area a new model of restoration. In that respect, will the Reconstruction Council be considering the possibility of the nationalization or public ownership of some of the heavily devastated areas along the coast for example? Also, you noted that you are determined to win the long battle also regarding the areas around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. I imagine that in saying you expect this issue to take a long time you foresee that a long-term evacuation will be necessary. Do you have any plans to make any areas a no-go zone for a ten-year or twenty-year period?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: There is a famous story about Mr. Shimpei Goto, who significantly reformed Tokyo in the aftermath of a major earthquake disaster. He tried to reform Tokyo in parallel with the reconstruction efforts. Although some of his plans were realized, not all of them were necessarily. I have been reading and hearing stories about this.

As I said earlier, there were areas of the ria coast in Hokuriku which experienced a major tsunami in the past. This was the first time that a high tsunami also reached areas that were not really rias. Seen in that light, local leaders and other people hold a variety of opinions on the best ways of using the land.

In this context, we would like to ask land use experts to join the Reconstruction Design Council and carefully explore how the land should be used. We cannot take forward steps unless there is agreement among the local people or the land owners. Therefore, I believe this will be one of the major challenges in exploring land usage.

REPORTER: What about the establishment of a no-entry zone in the areas around the nuclear power plant?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I have repeatedly said, since we are still currently in the midst of the situation, I believe it is still too early today to comment on what will happen later.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We have time for one last question. Araki-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Araki from the Chugoku Shimbun. My question is regarding the latest nuclear accident. The horrors of radiation experienced in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have once again become a reality, and the residents in the area have a lot of anxiety. While the latest incident has shattered the nuclear safety myth, earlier you noted that the first step is to conduct verifications. Does this mean you have no intention of reducing the number of nuclear power plants in the future?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: It all comes down to what I said earlier. What I can say at this point in time is that since a nuclear power plant accident of this magnitude is taking place, this problem itself all comes down to the need for substantial verifications once the problem has stabilized to some extent.

At the same time, if I may add, in terms of energy use, just as the way energy sources which do not emit CO2 such as wind power or biomass are very important, I believe nuclear energy has been reviewed over the years in the sense that it, too, does not emit CO2. These questions of how to ensure a balanced energy supply in Japan has been considered to date, and I believe, need to be further explored. In that sense as well, I believe it all begins with verifications.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: This brings the Prime Ministerfs press conference to a close. Thank you very much for your cooperation.