Press Conference by the Prime Minister on His Visit to Ishikawa Prefecture to Confirm the Extent of the Damage Caused by the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake and Other Matters
I saw the cities and roads over a wide area of the Noto Peninsula from the air today. I also visited evacuation centers and confirmed the harsh situation where people live in these centers. I saw with my own eyes fallen buildings, the ruins of the fire in city areas, massive landslides, and other horrible scars left by the earthquake. At the same time, I heard firsthand from affected people about their concerns over tremendous difficulty they are facing. This made me realize anew the profound damage inflicted by this disaster. Once again, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives as well as my sympathies to all those affected by the earthquake.
Thirteen days have passed since the earthquake occurred. It is getting colder and colder under harsh circumstances. As mentally and physically demanding lives in evacuation centers continue, I also strongly felt the anxiety that affected people voiced about uncertainty over their future. While staying close to their feelings, I will take the lead in doing our utmost in the current response to the earthquake and support for rebuilding lives and livelihoods of those affected by the disaster in a whole-of-government approach, so that residents living in the affected area will regain their lives with peace of mind at the earliest possible time.
Today, I received a 15-item request toward the reconstruction of the Noto region and other affected areas from Governor Hase (of Ishikawa Prefecture). The Government will take the request seriously and do everything in its power for the affected people. With this determination, we will put every effort into our response to the disaster and support for rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of affected people. We will swiftly put the request into action, starting with any item for which we are ready. For example, the national government is currently engaged in the emergency reconstruction of the coastal part of National Route 249 on behalf of local municipalities. However, in light of the strong request from Governor Hase, after this emergency reconstruction work is complete, the national government will implement emergency measures to exercise authority on behalf of local governments until the full-fledged restoration of the section of the Noestu Expressway managed by Ishikawa Prefecture, including the section which is shared with the Noto Satoyama Kaido expressway, the coastal part of National Route 249, whose immense damage has resulted in multiple isolated communities, along with related measures against sediment disasters, as well as the implementation of the river erosion control project for the Kawarada River to protect the central town area of Wajima City from secondary disasters. I will give instructions on the above to the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. We will also proceed with measures to designate the earthquake as an Extraordinary Disaster in accordance with the Act on Reconstruction from Large-scale Disasters, so that the national government will be able to exercise authority on behalf of local governments with regard to the reconstruction of facilities over a wide area, including fishing ports and coasts.
It is also important to carry out initiatives to support the lives of those affected. Governor Hase made a request with a particular focus on this point. In Ishikawa Prefecture, we will first set up service counters for application for special loans under the Temporary Loan Emergency Funds scheme for affected households at the Ishikawa Sports Center, a temporary evacuation center before secondary evacuation in Kanazawa City, and swiftly start accepting applications in about a week. In conjunction with the designation of a Disaster of Extreme Severity, we will also raise the subsidy rate of the Employment Adjustment Subsidies for affected local employers from the usual two-thirds to four-fifths for small and medium-sized enterprises and from the usual one-half to two-thirds for large enterprises, while extending the number of payment days from the usual 100 days to 300 days. We will promptly push ahead with procedures and make this special measure retrospectively effective as of January 1.
As for finances, we must not hesitate to respond to the disaster due to budget constraints. While gradually utilizing general reserve funds for the fiscal 2023, of which 460 billion yen remains, we will take a very extraordinary step to revise the draft budget for the fiscal 2024 by doubling general reserve funds from 500 billion yen to 1 trillion yen. We will obtain a Cabinet approval on the revision to the budget on (January) 16 at the earliest, submit it to the Diet, and seek to have it pass the Diet at the earliest possible time. Although the full extent of the damage remains unclear, we will properly arrange a system that will enable swift response regardless of the sheer scale of damage. Moreover, I have just given instructions to draw up a package of measures as soon as possible to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of those affected. Once the compilation of this package is complete, in order to ensure its swift implementation by starting gradually with any actionable measure, we will make a decision on the utilization of the second installment of reserve funds within this month, following on the decision on January 9. We will make adjustments, in anticipation that we will decide to utilize funds worth more than 100 billion yen this time. In any case, the Government will work together and make every effort, while united as one with those here in Ishikawa, so that people affected by this earthquake may regain their smiles and feel that their lives are secure.
(On the approach to the restart of nuclear power plants, including Hokuriku Electric Power Company’s Shika Nuclear Power Station and the nearby Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company in light of the recent earthquake as well as on the response, including the evacuation plan policy in the event of a nuclear accident, with a view to obtaining local understanding, against the background that the earthquake has disabled part of the system to receive electricity from outside at the Shika Nuclear Power Station and the Nuclear Regulation Authority has requested its secretariat to consider the need for the review of measures against earthquakes)
As you have pointed out, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) recently convened a meeting to deliberate on the impact of the latest earthquake on the nuclear facilities of the Shika Nuclear Power Station in question as well as the response to the earthquake. I am aware that, as a result of the meeting, the NRA did not find any issues with the safety of the nuclear facilities and expressed the recognition that no problem has occurred that will affect the ensuring of the safety of other nuclear power plants. As you are aware, the Shika Nuclear Power Station is currently offline I have been informed that while conducting the review on the conformity of the power station with the new regulatory standards, the NRA plans to additionally take into account the insights gained from the recent earthquake and perform rigorous screening. The Government will remain unchanged in its policy of bringing nuclear power plants back online while seeking understanding from local communities, only when the NRA, which has a high degree of independence, determines that these plants comply with the new regulatory standards formulated based on the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The other question concerns evacuation. With regard to evacuation in terms of the Shika Nuclear Power Station, the national government has established a Regional Nuclear Disaster Management Council, and is currently right in the middle of the formulation of emergency responses, in order to flesh out and enhance local disaster management plans and evacuation plans. We recognize that it is indispensable to compile these plans, by fully taking into account the lessons learned from the latest earthquake. We believe that there is no end to preparedness for nuclear disasters nor perfect preparedness. We must aim to expand and enhance the nuclear disaster management system based on the lessons and other insights gained from the recent earthquake and continue to improve the effectiveness of our response to nuclear-related accidents.
(On how much the Prime Minister has been informed on the North Korean missile and the Government’s response going forward, including the holding of a National Security Council meeting)
I received the news you mentioned just before this press conference. In response, I swiftly gave the following three instructions: first, grasp the situation and provide the public with adequate information; second, ensure the safety of vessels and other assets; and third, take all possible measures to ensure proper response to contingencies. At the same time, I promptly called Chief Cabinet Secretary Hayashi to share information and instructed him to take every possible precaution in the response going forward. I would like to confirm how the Government will respond, including a four ministers’ meeting you have mentioned, after fully looking into the situation. Because it was right before this press conference, this is all that I know at this moment and all the responses that I am considering as of now.