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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

May 18, 2011
[Provisional Translation]

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We shall now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan. We will begin with an opening statement from the Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

PRIME MINISTER KAN: At the May 6 press conference, I stated that I had requested the suspension of operations of the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station. This request was subsequently accepted by Chubu Electric Power Company. Since that time, various discussions have taken place in the Diet, among other settings, and I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the understanding shown by so many of the general public towards this request, which had been decided for the safety and the peace of mind of the Japanese people.

In addition, revisions to what is called the "roadmap" were released yesterday by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), at the same time as the government's release of a compilation of upcoming operations. Within this, with regard to the nuclear power station and particularly the Unit 1 reactor, there had been until now a supposition that the fuel rods have been submerged in water to roughly two-thirds [of their length]; this was instead a roadmap in the context of the shift to a more severe view that the fuel has already melted and dropped to the bottom.

Within this new estimation, the cooling methods need to adopt different formats from those envisioned thus far. However, as for the timing for the completion of Step II that had been scheduled from the very beginning to be between six and nine months from April 17, which is to say, in the middle of next January at the latest, TEPCO has also indicated its recognition that it is possible to uphold the schedule as is. The government also wants to stabilize the situation by achieving a cold shutdown of the nuclear reactors and essentially ending any releases of radioactivity by no later than January of next year. If this is achieved, I expect that it will be possible to state the extent of the area and the timing at which the residents of the areas surrounding the nuclear reactors can return home, after decontamination or monitoring.

In addition, with regard to our nuclear energy administration across the board, I consider it essential to review fundamentally the longstanding state of affairs of our nuclear energy administration. For example, under Japan's current nuclear energy administration, the authority to promote nuclear energy and the agency to monitor nuclear safety are both affiliated with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in the form of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. Both oversight functions and the role of promoting the public management of nuclear energy co-existed under the same administrative institution. There is thus this kind of issue of independence. Moreover, there is the issue of means of sharing or publicly disclosing information. In addition, risk management linking various ministries and agencies is another issue. I believe that we had not necessarily adopted robust structures in such areas.

In that sense, I expect that, the longstanding state of affairs itself at our nuclear energy administration will be thoroughly reviewed by the Nuclear Incident Investigation Commission about to be launched, and this Commission will find a direction of fundamental reforms.

Furthermore, yesterday the Cabinet took the decision to approve Guidelines for Policy Promotion for the re-launching of the promotion of basic policies, which we had been advancing since before the earthquake disaster struck. For almost 20 years prior to this great earthquake disaster, Japan has been enveloped by the feeling of an impasse somehow, both in terms of public finances and the state of Japanese society overall. Recognizing the disaster as a crunch that has arisen in the midst of that sort of crisis, we have been aiming to break out of the stagnation surrounding Japan over those 20 years through overcoming this crunch.

In that regard, we have advanced discussions on such issues as, integrated reform of the social security system and taxation, the New Growth Strategy, comprehensive economic partnerships and the revival of agricultural industries, and we adopted the Basic Policy on these agendas last November. Now we have decided to restart discussions once more while maintaining the approach of that Basic Policy.

On other matters, a diplomatic schedule occasions for this upcoming weekend and the next week has been finalized. On May 21 and 22, the leaders of Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea will meet. In addition, meetings of the OECD, the G8, and the Japan-EU Summit Meeting are scheduled for next week. During the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit Meeting, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and ROK President Lee Myung-bak will both visit the disaster-struck area to extend their sympathy. I am very grateful for this. In the course of this series of international meetings, I consider it essential to express once again our ratitude for the assistance provided to Japan by a large number of countries and international organizations. Moreover, I believe that, it is truly important for Japan, as one of the leading countries in the world, to show our gratefulness and repay such support by achieving recovery and reconstruction as early in various forms as possible and making contributions to the international community in various forms.

Finally, Japan's future energy policy is attracting great interest in international meetings. While Japan's existing energy policy has been constructed on the two main pillars of fossil fuels and nuclear energy, I regard it as necessary to add another two pillars, namely natural energies and energy conservation. We will be thoroughly upgrading the safety of nuclear power taking into account [the lessons learned from] the current accident. We must examine the steps to be taken in order to achieve that. At the same time, natural energies and energy conservation, which will be newly added, are areas which in some sense could lead to the world-leading innovations. Through such means I intend to go forward such that Japan can play a leading role, as a nation advanced in the fields of the environment and energy.

A bill on feed-in tariff of the entire amount of renewable energy generated from solar and wind will be submitted during the current Diet session. I have high expectations for the significant role that the passage of this bill will have as one way for the country to do its utmost to support these natural energies. In this way I intend to move forward in a way that goes hand in hand with recovery and reconstruction, such that Japan is able to truly flourish as a leader among the world's foremost nations in the environment and energy.


CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: With that, I would like to move into questions. I will designate who will ask the questions. Please first state your media affiliation and name before posing your question.

I'll take the first question now. Mr. Yamaguchi, please.

REPORTER: I'm Yamaguchi, with NHK.
Mr. Prime Minister, you mentioned energy policy. At the most recent press conference, you stated that you would be reviewing energy policy starting with a blank slate. Among nations having an advanced nuclear power industry I believe that there are some expressing doubt as to your true motive for this. On what timeline and in what way do you intend to mix your energy policy? Also, please tell us what views you will be expressing at the G8.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: What I said was that we need to review from scratch the Basic Energy Plan, which is currently decided upon every three years and, had its current form decided last year. I also stated this at the Diet.

The current Basic Energy Plan indicates an orientation that by 2020, energy from nuclear power will contribute approximately 53%, and recyclable energies 20%, of our electric power. Is this format possible or not, given the current accident? And, is this the direction in which we should be heading? Should we invest more effort in, for example, natural energies and so on? I stated that the Basic Energy Plan, including such points as these, needed to be reviewed starting from scratch.

As for its orientation that I have just explained, we will be promoting natural energies, centered on such energies as wind power, solar power, and biomass. With regard to means of using fossil fuels and the like, there are also a great number of technologies that reduce CO2 emissions through energy conservation. We will actively promote such technologies.

Of course, within that process, I believe that fossil fuels will also come to have a substantial amount of weight, and that it will be necessary to consider the use of nuclear power within the context of enhancing its safety further.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Mr. Arimoto, go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Arimoto of the Nishinippon Shimbun.

I would like to ask about the fundamental review of nuclear energy administration that you mentioned a bit earlier.

As you mentioned, Mr. Prime Minister, the decision to suspend operations at Hamaoka is being viewed favorably by the general public, yet on the other hand appraisal of the overall response to the nuclear accident continues to be harsh. As background to this matter, it has been pointed out that the configuration of publicly planned, privately run nuclear power plants, in which the government formulates a plan which the private sector carries out, has caused ambiguity in where responsibility lies.

In addition, recently, some cabinet ministers have made statements on the matter of splitting TEPCO's electrical power generation and power transmission, which arose in the past during discussions about liberalizing electric power. In the future, as you conduct a review of energy policy, to what extent will you be looking into the managerial configuration of electric power companies around the nation, as well as this state of affairs of nuclear power stations? Please also tell us what sort of awareness you have at the present about such matters.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First of all, as we work to bring the current nuclear accident under stable control, a thorough investigation into the accident and elucidation of its causes must be carried out. In doing so, as I stated earlier, or in fact as I have been stating for some time, we need to address not only a technical matter in a narrow sense, but the state of affairs of our nuclear administration overall, and various aspects of electrical power supply systems, as you just pointed out, which take a multitude of forms in various countries. In Japan as well, similar debates have been held regarding the telecommunications industry, through which new kinds of communication service which are not based on monopoly in local markets came into being. I believe that we will reach a stage where we discuss similar systems among other measures.

In that sense, first of all the Investigation Commission will carry out thorough examination, and in that process we will discuss the points which should be debated, including various aspects that you have just pointed out.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Let's take another question. Mr. Tanaka, please.

REPORTER: I'm Tanaka, with the Mainichi Shimbun.

I would like to inquire about two points regarding nuclear energy policy. First, it seems that yesterday you met with Japanese Communist Party (JCP) Chairman [Kazuo] Shii and explained the review of the nuclear fuel cycle. Please tell us your outlook on the nuclear fuel cycle at present. Also, as for nuclear power plants in the course of their regularly-scheduled inspections, several dozen reactors are not in operation as they are undergoing their periodic inspection at present. A number of these nuclear power plants are not easily able to resume operations or will have the resumption of operations postponed, and some nuclear power stations will be beginning their routine inspections in the near future. Will you be working to expedite the resumption of operations, or do you consider the resumption of operations something to be done in a cautious manner? These are my two questions.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First of all, what I said to JCP Chairman Kazuo Shii at yesterday's meeting was of the same intent as what I have said at the Diet, namely that the Basic Energy Plan will be reviewed starting with a blank slate.

I believe that Mr. Shii shares the same understanding, as that same thrust can be found written in The Akahata[, the newspaper published by the JCP,] and so on. Because I touched upon the issue of spent fuel on that occasion some media reports have said that individual nuclear fuel cycles would be reviewed from scratch, but that is erroneous. What I said was consistently that it was the Basic Energy Plan [that would be reviewed]. The main thrust of what I said was that we would be reviewing the total Plan, which as you know includes fossil energy, nuclear energy, and natural energies.

As for the question about nuclear power stations whose operations have been halted because of regular inspections and so on, I am currently telling each electric power company to adequately prepare urgent safety precautions. For those power stations at which such preparations have been thoroughly undertaken, there may arise in the future the issue of new standards as time goes on. However at least at the present time, what I can say is that for those power stations at which such urgent safety precautions have been thoroughly carried out, we intend to permit operations upon confirming safety in accordance with the policies that have been in place to date.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: All right, now let's have a question from the foreign press.

Ms. Li, please.

REPORTER: I am Li with Phoenix Satellite Television Holdings of Hong Kong.

I would like to inquire about the Japan-China-ROK Trilateral Summit Meeting. It appears that since last year Japan-China relations have become cool. What sort of outcome for Sino-Japanese relations does the Japanese side expect through this summit meeting? And, insofar as it seems that Premier Wen Jiabao is inclined to visit Fukushima and it has been reported in the press that this was a proposal from the Japanese side, please tell us what sort of message the Japanese side hopes to send to the international community through this visit.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: While this will be a trilateral summit meeting among Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea, with regard to Japan-China relations, last year somewhat delicate situations did arise. However, upon the great earthquake disaster striking, China responded in a truly heartfelt manner, with China being among the very first to extend its sympathy and assistance offer, and moreover with President Hu Jintao himself coming to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing and signing the book of condolences, among other things. What's more, I believe that Premier Wen Jiabao entering the disaster-stricken area and extending his sympathy there during his visit to Japan will truly lead to deepened bonds or friendship, or indeed a greater deepening of the bonds of friendship, or kizuna, between Japan and China, with of course [the same being true] between Japan and the ROK as well. In that sense, I would like to express my appreciation, and at the same time I recognize this as being a major step towards the enhancement of Japan-China relations into the future.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Mr. Iwagami, please.

REPORTER: I am Iwagami, a freelancer.

I would like to inquire about two points concerning nuclear energy policy. You mentioned conducting a review of nuclear energy, but I believe this will be an extremely major crossroads as to whether nuclear energy will be maintained, scaled down, or fundamentally eliminated. Please tell us where your true intentions lie.

Also, just now you touched upon a system for purchasing the entire amount [of renewable energy generated]. In order to bring this into effect, would it not ultimately be necessary to in fact split off the transmission grid? The electrical grid should be made something neutral, should it not? It is conceivable that when holding TEPCO to be responsible for compensation, TEPCO's assets would be safeguarded while the transmission grid would be put up as collateral. I would like to also hear your views on the splitting off of the generation and transmission of electric power.

I look forward to your response to these two questions.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As for nuclear power it goes without saying that, the current accident is of course one that is an extremely weighty one for Japan in a sense, as an accident that can be said to have exceeded our assumptions. I therefore consider it necessary to reflect upon and review in an appropriately weighty format where the reason lies why we could not have stopped it from happening.

Within that process, should we be able to emerge with a safer means to utilize nuclear energy, and should such a direction be able to be found firmly, then naturally we would enhance the use of nuclear energy. In any case, as the first step it is necessary to conduct thorough investigation. I believe that everything starts from that step.

With regard to your suggestion about splitting off the transmission grid and electrical generation in relation to the system for purchasing the entire amount [of renewable energy generated], this too is not something limited to the current accident. Rather, natural energies are technologies that are generally speaking difficult to be used by large-scale electrical generation facilities. That is to say, these energies become a locally-distributed energy supply.

The electric power companies themselves which own large-scale electrical generation facilities have built electricity distribution systems in formats that were matched to their own such large-scale electrical generation plants. Therefore, when incorporating such natural energies to a significant degree, what system will be necessary, or indeed would be ideal? At present, at this timing when surveys of the accident are being conducted, it is difficult to delve into such matters to that extent. However, as we consider what Japan's energy should look like in the future and in particular the Basic Energy Plan, we can expect that discussions will naturally cover such points as well, and indeed I believe that they should cover such matters.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: All right then, the next person. Mr. Inudo, go ahead.

REPORTER: I'm Inudo with the Nikkei Shimbun.

While the framework for compensation for damages from the nuclear accident has been decided, with regard to how to handle the related bill, the Chief Cabinet Secretary has indicated his recognition that, insofar as the bill would be quite thorny, submitting it to the current Diet session would be difficult. I would like to hear your thoughts regarding how you would or would not submit this bill to the current Diet session, and also whether you consider it something that, if submitted, must be passed, even if it means extending the session.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As for compensation for damages, first of all, regardless of whether or not a bill is passed, the government must - and indeed, we shall - take responsibility such that compensation moves forward in a way that is swift and covers all the bases.

Premised on that point, the question is by when such a bill would be necessary, and taking what form. We are currently examining the situation, including the prospects for passage.

REPORTER (INUDO): Some people say that you are eager to submit it to the current Diet session.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I just mentioned, regardless of whether or not a law is enacted, the compensation itself will move forward in a sound manner. Of course, with regard to the modalities of this law, the President of TEPCO, who was in attendance the other day as an unsworn witness, also stated the view that he would hope for enactment at an early time. We are examining the situation, including various views such as that.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: All right then, let's take another question. Mr. Aoyama?

REPORTER: I'm Aoyama of the Nippon Television Network.

While answering a question at the Diet earlier, you stated that it would be desirable to avoid a hurriedly-formulated second supplementary budget, with submission in late August or thereafter having been implied. However, the opposition parties are calling for the early submission of the second supplementary budget, saying that funds for recovery are still insufficient. What are your thoughts on this matter?

In addition, with regard to ending this ordinary Diet session as originally scheduled or ending it after [only] a slight extension to the term, the opposition parties are saying that this is in order to silence criticism. In the context of this sort of situation continuing, I would like to ask what your current thoughts are about extending the term of this ordinary Diet session by a substantial amount.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First of all, within the first supplementary budget that was passed on May 2 totaling over four trillion yen, I consider the expeditious and thorough advancement of such operations as disposal of debris or the building of temporary housing facilities or the restoration of lifeline services to be important first of all.

After that, as for what sorts of things would require further expenditures, the Reconstruction Design Council is currently discussing what could be called a blueprint for full-fledged reconstruction. I believe that, should various truly urgent items be proposed, then we would need to give consideration on each case if the current first supplementary budget were to be insufficient. In other words, it is a question of whether something can, based on its specifics, be accomplished under the current first supplementary budget or handled under reserve funds, or, indeed, if it is something for which these would be insufficient. I intend to undertake a thorough examination of the situation, including such considerations. It is certainly not the case that I am viewing such matters with an alternate goal in mind.

With regard to the issue of the end of the Diet session term as well, this is something that ultimately the Diet determines, but we have not reached any conclusions at this time on what should be done about the term of the Diet session since there are still several important bills remaining.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: As we're almost out of time, I would like to take the final question. Mr. Yamashita, please.

REPORTER: I'm Yamashita of the Hokkaido Shimbun.

Mr. Prime Minister, in your opening statement just now, you touched upon the Cabinet decision on the Guidelines for Policy Promotion. I believe that the postponement of a decision [originally scheduled to be reached] in June on whether or not to participate in the TPP was incorporated in those Guidelines. I believe that the original selection of June was that if a decision was not reached by that month, then it would be too late. I think we are in a situation in which, having been struck by the earthquake and farming households having sustained so much damage, there is a question of whether it is possible to reach a decision on participation.

In my view, as long as Japan ultimately reaches a decision by November that should be sufficient. I would like to know, contrasting the pre-quake situation and the present, if there have been any changes in your willingness to engage in the issue of participation in the TPP, or any changes in the possibility of such participation.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I stated earlier, the Basic Policy itself, upon which a Cabinet decision was reached in November, does not imply changes to the fundamental direction regarding this issue. The direction is not being changed and will be maintained.

That said, it is also a fact that on account of this large-scale earthquake disaster, discussions on the revival of the agriculture, forestry, and fishery industries, for example, were suspended temporarily for that time. In addition, in a context of a great many agricultural households and fisheries industry entities in particular having suffered damages in this large-scale earthquake disaster, such recovery and reconstruction must take a form that connects solidly with this greater agricultural revival and revitalization of the agriculture, forestry, and fishery industries. Such elements also exist, as you stated.

In that sense, within the Guidelines, which was relaunched under such circumstances, there are indeed a small number of areas which we have set aside, but we intend to move forward without changes to the fundamental orientation.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: With that, I will bring the press conference to a close. Thank you for your cooperation.