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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Second Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake

Monday, March 11, 2013

[Provisional Translation]

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the second anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. We will begin with a statement from the Prime Minister. Mr. Prime Minister, your opening statement, please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Today marks the second March 11 since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

March 11 is a day for us to offer prayers for those who became victims of this great earthquake disaster. I offer my sincere condolences to those who lost their beloved family members as a result of the great earthquake disaster. I would also like to express my sincere sympathies to the families of people who remain unaccounted for even today and to all others who were affected by the disaster.

I have visited the disaster areas each month since assuming the office of Prime Minister this past December. Even now, after two years, a number of people are forced to live in temporary housing. "Until when will this way of living continue?" they ask. Any number of times in the disaster zones, I have heard voices anxious over uncertainty about the future. In Fukushima, many people are suffering damage from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station even now. Children are not even able to play outdoors sufficiently. We cannot avert our eyes from the harsh reality of the disaster areas. The Great East Japan Earthquake is an event that is current and ongoing even now.

At the same time, the people in the disaster areas are living industriously in the present. Despite the harsh lifestyle in temporary housing, people check on each other and encourage each other. Construction of reconstruction housing has also started to progress, although only in part. And some people have been able to restart factories that were damaged. These rays of light may still seem faint. However, through the strength of the disaster victims, the light of hope is certainly now rising in the disaster zone. We will make this light more intense and more enduring. Execution is all that counts. The key to that is a hands-on approach.

Visiting the factories there, I felt strongly that the disaster victims harbor the anxiety of uncertainty towards the future. We must prepare an environment in which each and every one of the disaster victims is able to go about rebuilding his or her livelihood. We will do this by indicating in tangible form by when and to what extent reconstruction will progress.

As for the rebuilding of residences and the reconstruction of communities, we have compiled and published "roadmaps on residential reconstruction" which include concrete targets, such as the dates by which how many households will be able to move into residences, broken down by district within each municipality. We will be updating this meticulously on a quarterly basis in the future.

What is lacking on the ground in the disaster zone is human resources. Bringing together professionals from around Japan is the most expeditious way of accelerating reconstruction. In order to reinforce the human resources in charge of reconstruction work within each local authority, we will make active use of experienced people in the government. To address the delays in the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation, while there are the issues of purchasing the land, conducting surveys for buried cultural property, and so on, we will again bring in specialists to accelerate our efforts.

There on the ground, procedures have become impediments. Individual procedures such as the purchasing of farmland help lead to the delays in the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation. Reconstruction is a race against time. Even if a certain procedure is entirely reasonable during normal times, we will conduct reviews from the principle of putting reconstruction first, in keeping with the circumstances on the ground in the disaster areas. We have already streamlined procedures in the purchasing of farmland. In the future, we will boldly simplify procedures to enable the acceleration of the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation. In the future as well, as various issues become evident, we will move forward in reviewing procedures meticulously, one by one, eliminating the vertical segmentation of the administrative structure.

In Fukushima, we have made steady progress in the revision of evacuation zones, which is the first step towards reconstruction. By April 1, we will newly revise designations in the village of Katsurao and the towns of Tomioka and Namie. By doing so, some 30,000 more people will be able to travel to their residence in their hometown freely.

We recently compiled the "Plan for Early Return and Settlement," which will assist in restoring hometowns. Even in the coastal region of Fukushima where reconstruction has been delayed, last month, the disposal of disaster debris began with the operation of temporary incinerators in the city of Soma and other endeavors. Visible progress is now evident. In regions where entry is permitted, we will prepare an environment in which we press forward with decontamination and the restoration of electricity, water supply, and other infrastructure in order to enable people to return to their hometowns as soon as possible.

Moreover, by approximately summer of this year, we will clarify the route forward in concrete terms to facilitate people's early return to their hometowns, including the expected timeline for the streets and water supply to be restored, the medical and welfare systems to be in place, and the area to be ready for occupancy.

Nothing changes merely by calling for reconstruction in words. The Abe administration will move forward with reconstruction that the public is able to perceive tangibly by thoroughly implementing a hands-on approach and executing our efforts one by one.

March 11 must be a day that generates hope. I believe that March 11 must be the kind of day on which the disaster victims can feel, "Next March 11, reconstruction will progress further and daily life will be better." What's more, we will bring this about with certainty. And, I believe that when the people in the disaster areas are full of hope and move forward vigorously towards reconstruction, it will also console the souls of many of the people who became victims to the disaster two years ago.

As I end my remarks, there is something I wish to say to the Japanese people.

Whether you make a donation to or purchase products from Tohoku, any such action is welcome. Let each of us make efforts to do what we can in our own way for the reconstruction of Tohoku. I believe that that is the way to generate hope in Tohoku. Let us together build up a new Tohoku overflowing with hope.

With that, I will end my remarks.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. Yes, go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Furuta with theTokyo Shimbun andChunichi Shimbun.

Mr. Prime Minister, with regard to reconstruction, particularly the rebuilding of housing, which is the area of reconstruction that is the most delayed, especially the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation, you just now stated that from now, you will move forward on revising various procedures.

I think that for the disaster victims, the greatest source of anxiety is uncertainty about the future, just as you stated. Therefore, with regard to the question of by when the transfer of housing to areas of high elevation will be completed, what are your views on the time schedule as you move forward with the revisions. For Fukushima as well, you said that the government is moving forward with revisions to the evacuation zones. I would like to know how at the present time you view the question of when on earth the residents who have evacuated who wish to return to their hometowns will all be able to return and live their lives securely in their hometowns, if they so desire.

PRIME MINISTER ABE: I have visited the disaster areas several times now. Of all the wishes of the disaster victims, their number one request is when they will be able to return to their former daily lives and when they will be able to leave temporary housing. The biggest matter, or issue, thus far has been that we have not indicated a time schedule for these things. When we are unable to see what lies ahead, human beings are naturally anxious. Therefore, in order now to dispel such anxiety, as of March 7 we are publicly disclosing the roadmap for housing reconstruction, broken down by district in each municipality. For example, in the case of public housing for disaster victims, by fiscal 2015, Iwate Prefecture expects to prepare basically 90 per cent [of expected demand], or roughly 5,100 housing units, whereas Miyagi Prefecture expects to have prepared basically 70 per cent [of anticipated demand], or roughly 11,200 units. For Fukushima, I am unable to give a percentage because the total number of housing units to be prepared is not clear, but Fukushima Prefecture is scheduled to have basically 2,900 housing units completed.

We would like for the people living in temporary housing facilities and the like to be able to see future livelihood rehabilitation on the horizon and have high hopes for it. In the future, we plan to update this every quarter. Currently, with regard to districts for which we are unable to put forth a roadmap, we will be engaging in efforts to enable us to clearly articulate a concrete image.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now. Please go ahead.

REPORTER: I am Takahashi with Kyodo News.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have also set forth a policy of accelerating decontamination. However, there have been delays in setting up interim storage facilities for storing contaminated soil. Please tell us what kind of expectations you have regarding the selection of the locations for these facilities and when the transport of the contaminated soil to the facilities will be completed. Also, there are unease and concern within the local communities that the interim storage facilities will not be an intermediary arrangement but instead little by little become the final disposal site. Please also tell us how you as Prime Minister would respond to these fears.

Also, in your policy speech to the Diet, you promised to build a Tohoku in which young people are able to have hearts full of hope. Please indicate for us in concrete terms the government's representative policies or measures for bringing this about.

PRIME MINISTER ABE: First of all, with regard to the interim storage facilities, we intend to steadily implement inspections of the proposed locations while also listening to the views of the local communities in concrete terms. The inspections of the proposed locations are scheduled to be carried out from March to the end of May, and at present we have just begun preliminary inspections. Based on the results of the inspections of the proposed locations, we intend to gain the understanding of the local communities regarding the situating of the facilities so as to enable the introduction of contaminated soil from January 2015. As this takes place we will also indicate the concrete contents of the facilities, giving sufficient consideration to safety. We also intend to provide explanations in a sincere manner to address the concerns of the local communities regarding the possibility you just mentioned of these sites gradually becoming final disposal sites.

And, as for future concrete measures, I would like to promote industries that are expected to be able to drive the Japanese economy in the future. For example, off the shores of Fukushima, I would like for us to conduct technology development and demonstration of the world's first full-scale floating wind power station on the ocean. I would also like to develop in Fukushima Prefecture a hub for supporting the research and development, safety measures, and commercialization of medical equipment.

The Industrial Competitiveness Council has also taken up discussions in this way, taking what can be called a view to the future. I intend to cultivate in Tohoku industries in fields which truly resolve the issues Japan is facing and can be expanded around the world.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: I'll take the next question now.

REPORTER: I am Hara, with NHK. Thank you for taking my question.

I would like to ask about the processing of spent nuclear fuel.

Mr. Prime Minister, in your policy speech to the Diet, you indicated your intention to restart operations of nuclear power plants where safety has been confirmed. The reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village [in Aomori Prefecture] has had a series of troubles, and currently, there is no anticipated start date for launching reprocessing operations. Moreover, it also appears that no clear plan has been decided for the method of processing high-level radioactive waste.

Please explain how you intend to proceed with the processing of spent nuclear fuel in the future.

PRIME MINISTER ABE: First of all, with regard to the final processing of high-level nuclear waste, even now, we have not been able to begin the surveys for processing site selection. I intend for the national government to take responsibility for examining means of strengthening the efforts towards selecting a processing site.

In addition, dealing with spent nuclear fuel is a challenge being faced in common by nations around the world. As for [the] Monju [fast-breeder reactor] and the Rokkasho reprocessing facility, Japan possesses high-level nuclear fuel cycle technologies, even at the global level. I intend for us therefore to continue to engage in this area, in cooperation with countries around the world.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: This will be the last question, as we've gone significantly over the scheduled time. Mr. Soble, please.

REPORTER: I am Soble, with the Financial Times.
Mr. Prime Minister, I believe that you have been saying for some time that it is necessary for the Japanese economy as a whole to be more active in order to engender reconstruction in the disaster areas. In that regard, I would like to ask one thing regarding monetary policy. I believe you have said that it is necessary to shift from deflation to inflation though bold monetary easing, but I would like you to tell us about the risks that you envision being associated with bold monetary easing. If there are any risks, then what would those be, in concrete terms? And, I would like you to tell me how large you perceive those risks to be.

PRIME MINISTER ABE: Deflation has been continuing in Japan for more than a decade. Also, the enormous sum of what is said to be 50 trillion yen in national income has been lost. Although successive administrations have mobilized fiscal spending and engaged in other such efforts, they were unsuccessful in changing Japan's ingrained deflationary mindset.

I think it is fair to say that among developed nations, only Japan has had deflation lasting this long. We must change the current state of affairs in order to transform Japan into a country that is able to contribute more to the world. Within that context, we have come to tackle the issue through a policy package of a nature altogether different from what has come before, coupled with a new system within the Bank of Japan.

Naturally, as for trends in the prices of goods and long-term interest rates, it is imperative that we closely monitor them. But some people talk of hyperinflation, for example, and I think it is reasonable to say that this is completely out of the question. Our price stability target is 2 percent. If inflation were to exceed 2 percent, then naturally the Bank of Japan would also advance policies to ensure that it contracts to within 2 percent. I regard this as a matter of course.

Also, we intend to use the "three prongs" of economic revival to increase the opportunity for corporate earnings and thereby realize an expansion of employment and income. We have taken the approach of using these means to elevate wages. Of course, we will also be thoroughly engaged in putting public finances on a sound footing in order to ensure confidence in Japan.

Also, with regard to rising energy prices, we will be making efforts to decrease import costs by importing shale gas from North America and otherwise diversifying the sources of our energy supply.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: With that, I would like to bring this press conference to a close. Thank you all very much.

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