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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Thursday, June 2, 2011
[Provisional Translation]

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

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

PRIME MINISTER KAN: In the midst of our efforts to advance recovery and reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake, today the opposition parties submitted a no-confidence motion against me, or rather the Kan Cabinet. I believe that many of the people of Japan will probably be wondering what on earth is happening in the Diet. However, I also believe that my own inadequacies were a significant factor in this no-confidence motion and I would like to apologize to the people of Japan. Fortunately, many Diet members opposed the motion, in particular most of the Diet members of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), and the motion was voted down by a considerable margin. Thanks to this result, the Cabinet will be able to advance without interruption on the various efforts that are currently underway, including those to advance recovery and reconstruction and those to bring the incident at the nuclear power station under control. This is something that I am very grateful for. I will once again exert every effort for the recovery and reconstruction efforts, which are still insufficient in some aspects.

I have said before that these recovery and reconstruction efforts should not simply aim to restore society to its pre-disaster status. I want to engage in recovery and reconstruction efforts that aim to create a bold, new society. In particular, the incident at the nuclear power station created a great deal of debate. This debate has focused on concerns about nuclear energy and also about the global warming effect of fossil fuels. Given such debate, I believe we should move from these two types of energy that have formed the pillar of Japan's energy policy to date, towards the bold development of renewable natural energy and the important pillar of energy conservation. I believe that such a move will lead to the realization of a future society that is both safe and environmentally friendly. In particular, renewable natural energy and energy conservation both differ from the large-scale fossil fuel and nuclear power stations that have prevailed to date, in that without the participation of a majority of the people of Japan, they cannot be realized.

This disaster has prompted me to think very deeply about kizuna, or the interpersonal bonds that exist between so many people, whether they are the bonds between families or between parents and children. In comparison to before the disaster, I am now spending more time talking with my sons, their wives and elderly mother, which was something I could not do or did not spare a great deal of time doing before the disaster. Such conversations have made me strongly feel the warmth of human interaction. If we can translate such interpersonal bonds between people into a new-energy-based society by placing solar panels on each home and building, constructing power-saving homes, and installing efficient heating and cooling systems tailored to particular communities or regions, then I believe that this will lead to an expansion of interpersonal bonds based around local communities. In response to the challenge that has been put before me, which could well be termed a national crisis, I am filled with determination to realize a society with such hopes and aspirations. This is the point that I wish to make to the people of Japan.

Following the rejection of the motion of no-confidence in the Diet, although many of our actions may have been insufficient in certain aspects or may have lacked a certain amount of ability, I very much hope that from now, as we renew our efforts towards recovery and reconstruction, I will be able to gain the cooperation of all political parties, including the opposition parties, until certain progress has been made for the process of recovery and reconstruction and until the nuclear power station has been stabilized to a certain degree. I also hope that all parties will join me in working to create a new, safe and secure society. I would like to use this platform to express this sincere message to the members of the opposition parties.


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. Yamaguchi-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Yamaguchi of NHK. Today, many Diet members of the DPJ took your words "until certain progress is made" to be an announcement as your resignation. Overseas media are also reporting your comments as such. Around when are you contemplating that "certain progress" will have been made? In addition, you are scheduled to make a visit to the United States in September. Are you still planning to make that visit?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: The words I used in the meeting of Diet members were my own, and their meaning is exactly as the words suggest. In other words, we are currently moving from recovery to reconstruction, for which a second supplementary budget will be necessary, as will be the creation of various systems and structures. In addition, the response to bring the nuclear power station incident under control is regrettably still in its first phase and further efforts will be required to stabilize the situation. Frankly speaking, this is the kind of certain progress towards the creation of the new society about which I spoke. There are many colleagues in the party in their fifties, forties and thirties. I would want to pass responsibility to these colleagues and have them carry on the hard work.

With regard to my visit to the United States, while the future of Japan-U.S. relations is based on interpersonal relationships between leaders, at the same time it is also based on relations between political parties and also between sovereign states. With all of these relations I wish to firmly maintain my responsibility, or pass on that responsibility in whatever the form it would take.


REPORTER: I am Aimoto of the Nishinippon Shimbun. With regard to the creation of a new society, including the use of new energies, that you just mentioned, and the timing of your resignation, I believe that former Prime Minister Hatoyama stated that the timing of such a resignation would be in the not-too-distant future, premised on certain progress being made with the draft bill for the Basic Act on Reconstruction and the formulation of the second supplementary budget. If you speak about the creation of a society that incorporates new energies, that would imply a much longer timeframe. What are your specific intentions with regard to the timing of your resignation?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I would refer you to the statement I made in the meeting of Diet members, which I believe you would have heard directly or on the television. What I said there still stands. Also, with regard to what defines "certain progress" I have outlined my thoughts in my response to the previous question.


REPORTER: I am Sakajiri of the Asahi Shimbun. I have another point of confirmation regarding the timing of your resignation. If you say that you will resign once certain progress has been made, towards reconstruction, but do not state a specific time, I believe that you could continue to say that certain progress has not yet been made and continue to refrain from resigning, which seems to me to lack a certain sincerity. Do you think the public will understand and support this stance?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I refer you to my previous responses that once certain progress has been made, I wish to pass responsibility to the younger generation and naturally I will take responsibility for the comments I made at the meeting of Diet members.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: May we have the next question? Kubota-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Kubota of Reuters. With regard to Japan-U.S. relations you have just stated that this incorporates interpersonal relations as well as those on the party and national level. However, you are the fifth prime minister in as many years, and with the Japanese leadership changing so frequently, do you not think that Japan's credibility in terms of policy making will be diminished from the perspective of the international community? How do you think Japan can maintain its credibility and influence?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I generally share the concerns that you have mentioned, and even in a country with a parliamentary cabinet system, I generally believe that in terms of international relations it is preferable for a leader to remain in office for at least four years, which is the same period that a president or a governor would remain in office.

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

REPORTER: I am Igarashi of the Yomiuri Shimbun. With regard to the no-confidence motion, it turned out that almost all DPJ Diet members voted against the motion, however, two DPJ Diet members supported it and a number of Diet members, including former party leader Mr. Ozawa, absented themselves from the vote. I believe that a response to a vote of no confidence holds a very important position in a parliamentary system and I would like to ask how you will deal with the DPJ Diet members who rebelled. Also, prior to the vote a number of senior Government figures, including senior vice ministers and a parliamentary secretary submitted their resignations. What response will you be making to these people?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I have just attended an officers' meeting and the beginning of an executive board meeting of the party. It is in the forum of those meetings that a party response or censure of these people is being discussed. I have received a report that while some points have been decided, there are still a number of points that require further discussion. In addition, with regard to the senior vice ministers and parliamentary secretary who submitted their resignations, I have received their letters of resignation. I will make a final decision after gauging the party's direction on censure of these people. They have all been working very hard in their positions, but if the party issues a ruling on this matter, I would refer to that ruling when making a decision on a response to the resignations.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Nanao-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Nanao of Nico Nico Douga. My question concerns the nuclear power incident. I believe the evacuees are eager to return to their homes as quickly as possible. I believe you have also heard this directly from those people. A moment ago, the roadmap of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) came up in your discussion. Do you intend to stay on as Prime Minister until you see to it that the evacuees return to their homes?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: "See to it"? Well, first, in terms of the roadmap, at the point when Step 2 is completed, when the reactors have basically stopped releasing radioactive materials and cold shutdown has been achieved, I believe that at that point we can indeed deem that the situation has been brought under a certain level of control. However, on the issue of the timetable, it is unclear whether at that point in time we will necessarily know how everything will turn out. We will need to conduct various monitoring or decontamination work, among other work, but I believe there is a reasonable possibility that this may take a little more time.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Matsuyama-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Matsuyama of Fuji TV. Regarding the previous question, you said that the achievement of cold shutdown is when we can deem that the incident at the Fukushima nuclear power station has been brought under control. Are you stating that you want to personally take command until cold shutdown is achieved, which is targeted for January of next year? Also, I understand there is an agreement in writing between you and former Prime Minister Hatoyama. Although the words "nuclear power station" are not included in the memorandum, are you of the understanding that you were able to reach an agreement with former Prime Minister Hatoyama on matters including controlling the situation at the nuclear power station?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: The agreement with former Prime Minister Hatoyama is exactly as stated in the confirmation memo prepared by former Prime Minister Hatoyama.

REPORTER: The words "nuclear power station" were not included in that memorandum. Nevertheless, are you of the understanding that this matter is also included in the agreement?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I said, "when the situation is deemed to be under control" at the meeting of the DPJ parliament members. I also answered a question a moment ago on what I meant by my statement.


REPORTER: I am Mizushima of Jiji Press. I would like to confirm what you said at the meeting of the DPJ parliament members. I understood that you were giving advance notice about your resignation. In that case, I understood that you yourself will not be handling the issues of, for example, the issue of mid- to long-term consumption tax, matters related to DPJ personnel, or the Cabinet reshuffle. Is my understanding correct?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I did not touch on any of those matters at the meeting of the DPJ parliament members.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next question, Uesugi-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Takashi Uesugi, a freelance journalist. No matter how many questions are asked about your statement regarding when the situation is deemed to be under control, we don't get a clear answer, so I will ask the question differently. Once the situation is deemed to be under control, is it the past of prime minister that you be quitting or Diet as member?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I'm sorry to give you the same answer, but I discussed this at the meeting of the DPJ parliament members - an open forum where many DPJ parliament members as well as members of the press were in attendance. Please read what you will from my statement.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Matsuura-san of Kyodo News, please.

REPORTER: I am Matsuura of Kyodo News. Regarding the Diet session, I believe you mentioned to LDP and DPJ Diet members that you would like to significantly extend the Diet session. How long do you intend to extend it?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Amid the current circumstances due to the earthquake disaster, the people of Japan have also expressed their view to me that they want the Diet to be able to discuss the necessary items at any given time. If we are to meet their request, I believe that would mean the Diet will be in session as a de facto ordinary session of the Diet until sometime in December.


REPORTER: I am Oguri of NTV. A moment ago, you said that the items you and former Prime Minister Hatoyama reached an agreement upon are as stated in the confirmation note. However, the confirmation note says "confirmation items." What was confirmed in this memorandum? From what former Prime Minister Hatoyama has written down here, I am of the understanding that coming up with a timetable for the establishment of the Basic Act on Reconstruction and the early formulation of the second supplementary budget were the conditions for your resignation. Is this what you discussed with former Prime Minister Hatoyama? You pledged to advance a transparent government administration. Therefore, please give us a clear explanation.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: In my discussion with former Prime Minister Hatoyama, we made absolutely no promises other than what is written in the memo stated "agreement items."

REPORTER: What did...

PRIME MINISTER KAN: It is exactly as it is written in the memo.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Imahori-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Imahori of Sankei Shimbun. I'm sorry to repeat the question asked by another reporter, but my understanding is that former Prime Minister Hatoyama asked you to resign once there is a timetable for the establishment of the Basic Act on Reconstruction and the formulation of the second supplementary budget. This is what he said. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: Naturally, I believe I have to take responsibility for what I say particularly in public. The agreement reached between me and Mr. Hatoyama is exactly as stated in the memo. I believe it is better that I refrain from commenting any further about this.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next question, Hatakeyama-san, please.

REPORTER: I am Mitsuyoshi Hatakeyama, a freelance reporter. At the risk of being overly persistent, I would like to ask about what you mean by 'certain progress.' I believe that of course most of the public is hoping for progress toward a conclusion at the nuclear power station. Am I correct in understanding that you mean you will be working hard for the Japanese people and in order to resign as soon as possible?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I believe it is my responsibility to do my utmost in striving toward the cold shutdown in step 2 of the roadmap for the station and toward reaching a point at which almost no radioactivity is being emitted, and I think that all of this should be realized as quickly as possible.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. The Chugoku Shimbun, please.

REPORTER: I am Araki of the Chugoku Shimbun. Listening to your opening statement, I understood that it is your strong intention to hold onto your position for a while and take on such responsibilities as the efforts for reconstruction and the nuclear incident. In that case, and as long as the upper house of the Diet is controlled by opposition parties, I assume that you will need to seek the cooperation of the opposition parties. Do you have any specific strategies planned for this? I believe there have been many bills submitted with the intention of clearing up problems in the disaster-affected region as quickly as possible. It would help if you could give us more specific details on this.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I stated earlier, I hope to work in cooperation with the opposition parties for recovery and reconstruction work and the effort to bring the nuclear incident under control. Specifically, individuals such as the chairman of the Policy Research Council and the chief of the Diet Affairs Committee are hard at work on a number of issues. I believe that I too must put forth further effort.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next, a freelance reporter, please.

REPORTER: I am Egawa, a freelance reporter. Thank you for taking my question. You said earlier that some of your actions may have been insufficient in certain aspects. For example, some have been saying that the response to the nuclear incident was inadequate or that there was far too much infighting within the DPJ. Please tell us about any reflections you have on these two points, including on pulling your Party together, and any points that you would like to make improvements on.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As far as any insufficiencies, to an extent I myself do not think that everything has gone perfectly. That is why I said that our actions were insufficient in certain aspects. But I do not think that this is a matter for which I am able to point out specific insufficiencies individually.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next question, Iwakami-san, please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Iwakami, a freelance reporter. I would like to ask about the response to the nuclear incident. It has now been revealed that a meltdown occurred in Units 1 through 3. Since around when have you been aware of this? Furthermore, what stopped you from evacuating area residents immediately after the start of the incident? If the local people of Fukushima Prefecture had known about the meltdown earlier, and if the Government had been quicker in evacuating people from Iitate Village and other locations, many would have been spared from being exposed to radiation. I think you bear a large responsibility for this as you knew about everything. What do you think about your responsibility in this matter?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: This issue was questioned in depth in the Diet as well, and at that time I had documents with me to help me answer questions in a more detailed manner. I don't have these documents stating exact times and dates with me right now. However, what I have been saying on that issue is that in May, when TEPCO managed to enter the nuclear reactor building and the control tower and repair water level gauges, it was discovered that the water levels within the Unit 1 reactor were far below the supposed level of two-thirds of the fuel rods, meaning that the fuel rods must have been substantially exposed if they were still in the place they used to be. After analyzing these readings, it was concluded that there had been a meltdown at an early stage of the incident. This was reported to and confirmed by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA). That was when the Government officially acknowledged that there had been a meltdown. I recall that from an early time Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano has suggested the possibility of a meltdown at his press conferences and on other occasions. I have of course been receiving reports from TEPCO, NISA, and the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), at least when there was a report submitted to me. In addition, I also sought out opinions from other sources, and these sources suggested the possibility of a meltdown as well. So I was also aware of the possibility that a meltdown had occurred at an early stage. However, speaking from the position of the head of the Government and emergency response headquarters, our basic stance has been to speak based on confirmed data. In the beginning, the only data that could be confirmed was that the water level was still as high as two-thirds of the fuel rods. As the head of the emergency response, I made my statements based on this data, and we continued to inquire into the various possibilities to the extent possible. In any case, since the cooling system at the station was lost and Article 15 of the Act on Special Measures Concerning Nuclear Emergency Preparedness was invoked, we have been continuing the cooling operation up until today, which involves the injection of water directly into the reactor, given the extreme difficulty of recovering the normal cooling system. As a result, although there are slight differences, the temperatures in Units 1, 2, and 3 are currently being maintained at a very low level most of the time. I have never thought about relaxing our efforts for water injection even for one moment. The necessity of continued cooling operations had also been acknowledged by NISA, the NSC, and TEPCO. This is the stance that each organization has been taking. As for the issue of planned evacuation zones, our basic stance has been to ask people to evacuate based on confirmed facts.

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