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Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan

Wednesday, July 13, 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: Two days ago we marked the passing of four months since the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. Since that time, although the people affected have probably felt to some extent that there have been delays in some areas with regard to the progress of recovery and reconstruction in response to the disaster, the Cabinet and the local governments concerned have been making every effort in their various positions. In this process I recognize that we have made progress in areas that require steady advances to be made , relating to recovery, for example the construction of temporary housing or the disposal of debris. In the intervening period, the Basic Act on Reconstruction has been passed by the Diet and the Reconstruction Headquarters in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake was established on June 28.

Prior to the establishment of the Headquarters, on June 25, I received the recommendations of the Reconstruction Design Council, which set out a blueprint for full-fledged reconstruction. It is now time for us to respect the content of these recommendations and engage in efforts to compile a Basic Policy by the end of this month, ascertain the specific budgetary requirements for reconstruction and set about making the required amendments to legislation. In addition, for recovery-related budgetary items that were not included in the first supplementary budget, the second supplementary budget is scheduled to be submitted to the Diet on July 15. Efforts and actions have also been progressing towards the conclusion of the incident at the nuclear power station. On July 19, it is expected that Step 1 of the Roadmap towards conclusion of the incident will be completed. I have heard various details in the intervening period concerning measures being undertaken, and my understanding is that the conclusion of Step 1 will be achieved almost as originally scheduled.

For example, for such operations as the circulation injection cooling system at the power station, although there have been some minor glitches, systems are now functioning more-or-less as expected, and this will help to stabilize the reactors at the power station and enable cooling operations that avoid the release of contaminated water. It is efforts such as these that are being undertaken in the Step 1 processes. Once progress has been made in Step 1, it will then be possible to proceed to Step 2, which is scheduled to take from three to six months. We will make every effort to bring forward Step 2 as much as possible, and in that process I believe that it will gradually become clear at what point and to what extent it will be possible to allow the local residents to return to their homes and places where they used to go about their daily lives.

Furthermore, also with regard to damage compensation relating to the nuclear incident, a bill for a supporting body has been submitted to the Diet and deliberations on this bill have begun. Moreover, a draft bill for the promotion of renewable energies, which in view of the nuclear incident are now more necessary than ever, will be deliberated by the Diet starting from tomorrow, assuming things go according to schedule. In these ways, we are gradually making progress towards the conclusion of the nuclear incident and also towards ensuring new provisions of energies for the future.

In this context, I would like to clarify my concept relating to nuclear power and energy policy in general. Until the experience of the nuclear incident on March 11, my policy on nuclear power had been that it should be utilized, while ensuring safety, and I made statements to that effect. However, given my own experiences of this large-scale nuclear incident on March 11, I realized the scale of the risks involved. For example, the residents living within a 10km and then 20km radius had to be asked to evacuate. In a worst-case scenario, it might also have been possible that evacuations from a wider area would have been necessary. Furthermore, in the process of bringing the incident to a conclusion, while I believe that Steps 1 and 2 will be advanced to a certain stage, the time required until the reactors can finally be decommissioned could be five or ten years or even longer. It was when I considered the scale of such risks arising from the nuclear incident that I realized that it would no longer be possible to conduct policy on the basis of ensuring safety alone, which was the conventional wisdom until the incident. I was made keenly aware of the type of technology nuclear power actually is.

These thoughts led me to conclude that with regard to Japanfs future nuclear power policy, we should aim to achieve a society that is not dependent on nuclear power. In other words, we should reduce our dependence on nuclear power in a planned and gradual manner and aim to realize a society in the future where we can do without nuclear power stations. I have come to believe that this is the direction that Japan should pursue.

However, on the other hand, it is a responsibility of the Government to ensure that the necessary power is supplied for people to go about their lives and for industry. If we can gain the understanding and cooperation of the members of the public and corporations involved, I believe, for example, that through power saving at peak demand periods during the summer months and the utilization of privately-owned power generation, we can respond adequately to the situation. With regard to this point, I have already given instructions to the ministers responsible to compile a draft plan concerning specific modalities for power supply.

The measures for which I have issued instructions to date, including, for example, the request to suspend operations at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station and the introduction of stress tests, have been based on the perspective of ensuring public safety and peace of mind. These instructions have been given based on my consistent basic concept for nuclear power that I have just explained. In particular, the issue of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which is responsible for checking safety, being positioned under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), where the current stance is to support nuclear power, is one that has already been flagged in a report submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), concerning the need to separate these two bodies. This is something about which the Government, including the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, share a common recognition.

I would like to reiterate here that in the course of these efforts I feel sorry for causing inconvenience due to delays in issuing various instructions and I would like to apologize to the people concerned.

I have just set out what constitutes my basic concept for nuclear power stations and nuclear power in general. From now, in accordance with that basic concept, I will make efforts to engage in a fundamental reform of nuclear power administration and work to actively secure new renewable energy sources and promote energy conservation. These are the things I will seek to advance on the basis of this consistent concept and this is what I would like to emphasize.


CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We will now move on to the Q&A session. When you are designated, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Mr. Hirata, please.

REPORTER: I am Hirata of the Mainichi Shimbun. I have a question as the current secretariat company. First of all, I have a request to make of you. Last week, when Minister Matsumoto resigned, we requested a press conference but this request was denied. I am well aware of the various demands on your time, but there are many points about the statements you have made on which we would like to seek confirmation. I would like to respectfully request that you make yourself available for press questions, in contrast to the current situation in which you only give press conferences at times when it is convenient for you.

I would now like to ask my question. Towards the restarting of operations at Genkai Nuclear Power Station, there have been various discussions within the Government. While you are in office, is it your intention to not permit the restarting of operations at the power station? What are your specific thoughts when you consider an outlook for power supply during the winter months this year and summer next year? Also, you have just made an apology concerning the response to the current situation. How do you evaluate your own leadership? I would like to hear your explanation.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: As I said, my basic concept is based on the experience of the nuclear incident. For example, under existing legislation it is the case that for restarting of operations at nuclear power stations, NISA, which is affiliated to METI, issues instructions on what needs to be done and then check that these things have been implemented and make a decision, which is then submitted to the METI Minister to make a final decision. However, while there are many reasons why we could not prevent the nuclear incident, from an administrative perspective it could be said that one of the causes was that checks by NISA were insufficient. This could be due to the fact that it is positioned under METI, where the basic stance is to promote nuclear energy policy. This is something that was emphatically pointed out by many sources from the initial stages. Given this basic recognition, the issue of the affiliation of NISA was something that was stated in the report submitted to the IAEA. Minister Kaieda is also in total agreement with me that at some point in the near future NISA should at the very least be separated from METI.

With regard to this issue, although my instructions may have been somewhat delayed, the single most significant point that I concerned myself with was whether processes being advanced by NISA alone would be sufficient to truly gain the understanding of the public and ensure their peace of mind. Given this situation, I issued instructions to the ministers concerned to consider what new rules, or the participation of what new persons or bodies would be sufficient to gain the understanding and approval of the public, and to consider the ways in which such new rules and new participants could operate. The result of these considerations was the completion of a unified view of the Government, which was reported to you the other day by the Chief Cabinet Secretary. There have been a number of views expressed about this decision, but it was made based on the sole recognition that a mechanism in which decisions are made by NISA alone, under the jurisdiction of METI, is simply not appropriate. There were absolutely no other reasons behind the decision. You also asked a question concerning the outlook for power supply. As I have just stated, I issued instructions quite some time ago to METI and the National Policy Unit (NPU) to provide detailed documents and explanations relating to energy supply and demand outlooks for summer and winter this year and also for summer next year. I have received explanations about this on one or two occasions. Although these outlooks have not yet been finalized, I have received an interim report from other ministers that although we are obliged to request people to cooperate in conserving energy at peak times and other measures, by doing so it will be possible to ensure necessary power supply during the summer and also during the winter. I expect to be able to outline a specific plan in the near future. As we have some time remaining concerning an outlook for next year and thereafter, it is my intention that the plan should take into account such matters, for example, as how we can utilize natural gas in our power stations.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Imaichi, please.

REPORTER: I am Imaichi of TBS Television. Various public opinion polls show that the Cabinet approval rating has fallen below 20% in recent days. Furthermore, your response in relation to the so-called stress tests has received much criticism not only from the ruling and opposition parties but also from inside your Cabinet. There are renewed calls demanding your early resignation. You have said in your responses at the Diet that you have never used the word gresignationh in speaking about yourself. However, under these circumstances, what are your thoughts on the Cabinet approval rating which has fallen below 20%? When do you intend to express your intention to resign by using the word gresignationh?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I personally always believe that the opinions of the people, including public opinion polls, must be taken to heart. I will put all my efforts for the matters related to nuclear energy policy, and recovery and reconstruction, as I have just explained the steps the Cabinet needs to take or is taking. In the remarks I already made on June 2 to the meeting of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) Diet members and during my press conference on whether I will stay in office or not, I believe I stated my intentions. Please refer to those remarks.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Yamaguchi, please.

REPORTER: I am Yamaguchi of NHK. You said that your aim is to achieve a zero nuclear power society in the future. Do you not have any plans to dissolve the House of Representatives or call a general election based on this issue?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: The phrase, gzero nuclear power,h featured significantly in the headline of a newspaper today. However, the point of my earlier comments was, although there may be quite some degree of similarity, that I will strive to achieve a society which does not depend on nuclear power. Our societyfs dependence on nuclear power will be lowered in a planned and gradual manner to achieve a society with no nuclear power in the future. As for energy policy, this is a critical policy which determines the foundation of society in some ways. Thus, I believe it is ultimately up to the people to choose what sort of energy and society they want. Naturally, this is a major policy and political issue which should be left up to the people to decide. Nevertheless, I have not thought at all as to whether I will dissolve or not dissolve the House of Representatives over this issue.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: I will take a question from the foreign press. Ms. Sakamaki, please.

REPORTER: I am Sakamaki from Bloomberg. I have a question on the Governmentfs response to heat stroke. This year, there has been a sharp increase in the number of patients who have suffered from heat stroke due to the effects of the TEPCOfs Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station incident and subsequent electricity saving measures. The number of people who were taken to hospitals by ambulance in June was triple the number in the same month of last year. Although I understand that the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) is creating a pamphlet and other materials to address this issue, do you have any intention to step up the efforts to offer concrete advice to the people or take other related measures?

PRIME MINISTER KAN: This year, the rainy season ended quite early, and more regions are facing high temperatures. The fact that many elderly and others have fallen ill or died because of heat stroke is truly regrettable, and I believe this is an issue which requires our attention. Furthermore, I would like to ask for everyonefs cooperation in the efforts to save electricity to the extent that the efforts are reasonable and people do not suffer from heat stroke. In this sense, in taking up this issue, the respective agencies ? the MHLW or perhaps it is another organization ? need to pay adequate attention or provide thorough advice on how to take precautions or on what steps to take in order to survive the summer without suffering from heat stroke. I would like the relevant ministers to also examine this issue, and I will be giving them instructions to this effect.


REPORTER: My name is Jimbo from Video News Network. Earlier you stated that because NISA is affiliated to METI, the government agency in charge of promoting nuclear power generation, a straightforward assessment is problematic. Of course I think this is a perfectly reasonable comment but my another doubt is that the position of METI regarding the promotion of nuclear power is clearly at odds with the position of the Kan Administration as you just described it. I think that essentially the METI Minister is in the position of commanding and supervising METI, so I do not understand the assumption that even with your authority and position as Prime Minister, if the person in that position has a different policy from that of the Prime Minister, assessment by NISA, which is under the umbrella of METI, should be deemed to be insufficient. Why are you not able to change the policy of METI by using your authority as prime minister? I would like to hear your explanation.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: For example, we have the Basic Energy Plan. This plan is drawn up by the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE), within METI, based on certain laws. This Basic Energy Plan stated a goal of increasing the proportion of electricity generated by nuclear energy to 53% by 2030, but when this incident occurred I instructed that the plan must be withdrawn and reviewed. Depending on the circumstances, this review may be done by ANRE, under METI, as is the normal case or, for example, the NPU may have to do it, as it is at the NPU where discussions are currently being held concerning the best approach to energy policy, and I think it will not reach a conclusion whereby all of these existing mechanisms are left unmodified. Based on this situation, in response to your point, I am currently giving various instructions and asking for explanations of various documents regarding the policy approach of METI. Of course government administration has various policy levels, for example deciding the draft budget etc., and it is in these parts of government administration where progress can be made relatively quickly. However, to change major basic policies, it is necessary to have sufficient debate and reach sufficient understanding, and regarding that point, as you indicated just now, the system is not structured so that everything I think instantly becomes the policy of the relevant government ministries or agencies. Naturally a certain amount of debate in the Cabinet is necessary and in some cases debates in the ruling parties or in the Diet are required. The opposition parties are issuing nuclear energy policy directions that present considerably different approaches to the previous policy, so in that context I think that it is sufficiently possible that at the very least one of the former concepts concerning METI will also be changed during the process of debate.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: Next person. Mr. Matsuura, please.

REPORTER: My name is Matsuura from Kyodo News. My first point is that earlier you presented the highly challenging goal of moving away from nuclear power, and I think you should start by clearly stating specific goals, namely how much you intend to reduce nuclear power generation and by what year. Secondly, I would like you to clarify whether it will be you or a different prime minister that will be working toward that major goal from September onwards.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: I am the kind of person to think relatively far ahead, but I think that it is necessary to carefully build up policy starting from the basics when promoting this kind of major policy. I also stated this earlier, but first of all the current situation itself, as you know, is that many nuclear power stations are already suspended in response to the incident on March 11. However, I want to start by carefully examining the questions of what should be done to ensure that this situation does not have a negative effect on the lives of the people or the economy of Japan, and what policies are necessary for this, in order to establish a plan. This is what I am thinking. Then, to turn the discussion to nuclear policy, among the reactors that currently exist, there are some that have been in continuous operation for quite a long time, or to put it simply there are some old reactors and there are some comparatively new reactors too. Including these matters, going forward I want to discuss thoroughly from a medium- to long-term perspective the plan regarding how we will go about ensuring safety, putting some reactors back into operation until a certain point in time while ensuring their safety, and on the other hand the time at which old reactors will be decommissioned, in order to finalize the plan. I think that it is still a little too early for me to give specifics. Therefore, although I have been asked about the month in which it will happen, as might be expected, switching this energy policy requires substantial deliberation, which is currently being conducted vigorously in the Diet. Consequently, taking into account these deliberations, as long as I have the responsibility of course I will advance discussions and the formulation of the plan during my tenure, but this does not mean that I think that everything will be able to be achieved under my tenure.

CABINET PUBLIC RELATIONS SECRETARY: We are running out of time so I would like to make the next question the last. Mr. Indo, please.

REPORTER: I am Indo of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun. You just mentioned that dependence on nuclear power would be eliminated in the future, which is a significant shift in mid- to long-term policy. However, a month has already passed since you expressed your intention to resign, which leads me to believe that it would be impossible to make such a dramatic change in policy after expressing your resignation. Do you plan to sign over authority to a new Prime Minister and then have that person advance the policy change? Or will you withdraw your resignation and then sit down to address the issue? I have the feeling that the latter option needs to be taken for things to move forward, but what are your intentions? Also, to be precise, moments ago when asked whether you intend to restart operations at nuclear power stations, you did not provide a direct response. Do you intend to restart operations if safety is confirmed? Now, for instance, there are two nuclear power stations that are still under gcontrolled operation,h Oi and Tomari Nuclear Power Stations. Is it correct to say that you will allow these two to stay in operation? These are my two questions.

PRIME MINISTER KAN: First of all, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disaster and the ensuing nuclear incident were unprecedented events in Japan. All Japanese people experienced this truly enormous accident. This happened during this time I have been in office as the Prime Minister, so I experienced the accident within that capacity. Therefore, conversely I believe it to be my responsibility as the incumbent Prime Minister to propose nuclear power policy revisions based on that experience. Regarding the issue of restarting operations at nuclear power stations ? and I just received a similar question moments ago ? it is of course not possible for me to make technical and expert decisions on all matters, such as judging the robustness of reactors based on specific qualities. Furthermore, it is not my place to make such decisions. What I am saying, and what I have said time and again, is that ? in court proceedings, for example, the judge is trusted by the people, so people should therefore abide by the judgefs decisions. In that sense, NISA can craft various criteria in response to the current situation and make independent decisions based on law, but I find it difficult to believe that such actions would gain the understanding of the people in the face of such a large nuclear incident. That is why I asked for a unified view to be issued so that the people would be able to look on and feel reassured by the solid response. Ultimately it is the group of four ministers mentioned the other day, including myself, who will make the final political judgment about whether the decision made based on this unified view is solid and in line with the various items for consideration, and whether the decision is appropriate. So, it is sufficiently conceivable that if experts make a proper proposal and it is deemed appropriate, this will then be approved by the four ministers and duly put into action.

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