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Speeches and Statements by the Prime Minister

Press Conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

Friday, December 16, 2011

[Provisional Translation]


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We will now begin the press conference by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Prime Minister, your opening statement please.

Opening Statement by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda

PRIME MINISTER NODA:Today the situation relating to the accident at the nuclear power station reached a significant milestone and I would like to provide a report to the people of Japan in my opening statement.

"Without the revival of Fukushima Prefecture there can be no revival for Japan." Since my appointment as Prime Minister of Japan I have used this phrase on frequent occasions. The single largest precondition for the revival of Fukushima is that the nuclear power station accident is brought to a conclusion. Since the accident occurred on March 11, the Government of Japan has been engaged in comprehensive efforts to respond to the situation, first and foremost by seeking to stabilize the status of the nuclear reactors. In the areas affected by the accident outside the power station grounds, the impact of the accident is still being strongly felt and it is a fact that there are many challenges that remain outstanding, including full-fledged decontamination efforts, the disposal of debris and work to enable the return home of the people who have evacuated. On the other hand, after implementing a meticulous inspection operation by experts, it has been confirmed technologically that coolant water is now circulating stably and that the temperature at the base of the reactors and inside the containment vessel is now secured below 100 degrees Celsius, which means that even if trouble were to reoccur, radiation dose beyond the grounds of the power stations can be maintained at sufficiently low levels.

Given this situation, today I convened a meeting of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters, over which I preside, and the members of the meeting confirmed the judgment that the nuclear reactors had thus reached a state of cold shutdown and that this element of the power station accident had thus been brought to a conclusion. I would therefore like to announce the conclusion of Step 2 of the roadmap towards the conclusion of the nuclear power station accident.

Since the accident occurred, it has caused tremendous worry and great inconvenience for the people of Fukushima, as well as all the people of Japan and indeed the people of the world. I would like to express my apologies for this. Now that the status of the reactors has been stabilized, I believe that one of the major causes for concern has been eliminated.

It has been the dedicated efforts of countless people that have led us to this milestone today. I would like to mention the efforts of those people once again today. There are the members of the fire departments, Self Defense Forces and police service, who were involved in operations to inject water into the reactors from the immediate aftermath of the accident, working under the threat of irradiation and with the awareness that their very lives may be threatened. There are also all the workers at the power station, who worked day and night in an extreme environment, where during the summer months there was the added concern of heat exhaustion. There are the people from companies and research institutions in Japan and overseas who generously provided their knowledge and technical expertise. On behalf of the people of Japan, I would like to reiterate my appreciation for all these heroic and dedicated efforts, which were undertaken to save Japan from the clutches of the nuclear accident.

In addition, within the grounds of the nuclear power station there are still countless origami paper cranes, letters of hope and banners that have been sent from all around the country. I believe that such items have provided tremendous support and encouragement to those working at the site. I would also like to express my appreciation to all the members of the public who have taken the trouble to send warm messages of encouragement to the people working diligently at the power station.

With this milestone we have reached the conclusion of Step 2, but this does not mean that the struggle to tackle the nuclear accident is over. With regard to the nuclear reactors, we will now move from the stage where we seek to stabilize the situation, to a stage where we look toward decommissioning. The Government will once again clearly lay out the roadmap from now, and will continue to make every effort until the very end of the decommissioning process for the reactors, all the while taking every precaution to ensure the safety of the power station. Outside the grounds of the power station the three future challenges are decontamination operations, health management and compensation payments. We will engage in committed actions relating to these three challenges to ensure that the residents who have been obliged to evacuate are able to return to their homes and that an environment is created as soon as possible that will allow residents to rebuild their lives as they used to be. To this end the Government plans to set out its concept for a revision of the evacuation zones.

Next, I would like to provide a brief explanation of the individual challenges and the Government's response to them.

The first challenge is decontamination. The Government will promote the resumption of public services, such as hospitals and schools, in order to enable residents to return, but it goes without saying that the most significant factor in such efforts will be the thorough decontamination of residual radiation. In order to enable decontamination operations to progress as soon as possible, the Government will provide large-scale budgetary and manpower resources. In terms of the budget, a total of 464 billion yen has been secured to date, and I am seeking to prepare a total budget allocation of over 1 trillion yen, including the budget requests for next fiscal year. If further budgetary allocation is deemed to be required, depending on the status of progress, the Government will take responsibility to secure the required budget. With regard to manpower resources, the number of personnel to advance decontamination operations will be significantly increased. By the end of January next year a total of 200 personnel will be available, which will further increase to 400 personnel in April. A training and education structure will be rapidly developed for the personnel who will actually be engaged in decontamination operations on-site and by April we aim to have secured more than 30,000 personnel.

The second challenge is thorough measures to manage the health of the residents of Fukushima. In specific terms, there are already two whole body counters in place in Fukushima Prefecture, which are capable of testing for internal exposure to radiation, and a further five such counters will be purchased to significantly expedite testing and examination. In addition, the Government will expend all possible means to gain an understanding concerning the degree of exposure to radiation and its impact on the health of children. Already from October thyroid gland examinations for all children in Fukushima Prefecture who were under 18 years of age at the time of the disaster were initiated. From mid-November these examinations were launched not only at prefectural hospitals in Fukushima, but also by five teams of doctors and diagnosticians, which were formed to engage in visits to schools and civic halls, where they are also implementing examinations. Currently approximately 10,000 people are being examined each month. Furthermore, dosimeters have been installed in all locations that have requested them, in locations within the prefecture where people tend to gather in large numbers, including schools, kindergartens, child day care centers and parks. These dosimeters are being used to monitor radiation volumes on a real-time basis. By mid-February it is anticipated that 2,700 dosimeters will have been installed. In addition, with regard to food safety, the Government will further strengthen and thoroughly implement a structure to engage in detailed examinations, in order to ensure that food showing residual radiation in excess of the regulation values is not distributed in the food chain. I have previously noted that I am enjoying delicious rice from Fukushima Prefecture at the Prime Minister's Office. I would like the people of Japan to also feel safe and secure about eating food that has been confirmed to be safe, as a means of supporting the reconstruction of Fukushima.

The third challenge is the payment of compensation for damages arising from the nuclear accident. The Government is also working to develop a support structure through which an expedited and appropriate response can be made that is based on the perspective of those people who have been affected. In specific terms, in addition to providing the funds required for compensation payments through the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund, the Government has also decided to expand the scope of eligibility for compensation to residents in the vicinity of the power station who evacuated voluntarily. Furthermore, teams comprising lawyers and other experts are engaging in visits to provide consultation services to residents. We are steadily progressing with assistance that will help to facilitate the compensation claims of the people affected by the accident.

Finally, I would like to state that my resolve remains unwavering that "Without the revival of Fukushima Prefecture there can be no revival for Japan." This is something that I intend to keep on repeating time and again. This is a challenge for the nation and also a challenge for the whole of humanity. I believe that the day will definitely come when the word "Fukushima" evokes an image of a place where the knowledge and wisdom of Japan and the world is amassed, and where the bravery and force of will of the people have opened up a new chapter for humanity. Already in Fukushima, initiatives are being created that seek to create a new Fukushima, through projects to promote renewable energies and clusters of medical-related industries, among other matters. The Government will work with the local communities to promote and aid the realization of such initiatives. Already, under the third supplementary budget, which was recently passed by the Diet, a fund for the revival of Fukushima has been established and assistance measures in excess of 500 billion yen, including 170 billion yen to promote the relocation of businesses to Fukushima Prefecture, have been set up. Moreover, in next year's ordinary session of the Diet, the Government will be submitting a special measures bill for the reconstruction and revival of Fukushima. I intend to proceed with work to draft this legislation while listening intently to the wishes of the local communities. The Government will continue to make concerted efforts to ensure that the residents who have been forced to move away from the familiar surroundings of their home towns will be able to return to their homes and rebuild their lives as soon as possible. We will pour every effort into the revival of Fukushima. It is this unwavering resolve that I would like to emphasize in my statement today.

This concludes my opening statement.


CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY:We will now move on to the Q&A session. For those who would like to ask questions, we would appreciate it if you would first state your name and affiliation. Thank you. Ms. Ito, please.

REPORTER:I am Ito of the Japan Times. This question is concerning the conclusion of the nuclear power station accident.

The cold shutdown of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station has been confirmed and the conclusion of the roadmap's Step 2 has been declared. However, as you have just said, there are still many challenges that lie ahead. For instance, even just recently it was discovered that contaminated water inside of the facility had leaked out and there are also estimates that the treated water storage tank will reach full capacity by the first half of next year. Moreover, no detailed information is available about the rector's core and there is no schedule in place for the return home of affected residents. There is indeed a mountain of problems left to deal with. What is more, on the domestic level, there is a sense of distrust primarily among local residents in Fukushima Prefecture over the Government's response to the accident and its disclosure of information. Against this backdrop, were there any objections within the administration to declaring the completion of Step 2? Also, do you think that local residents can accept the cold shutdown of the reactor in a positive manner? Please share your thoughts.

PRIME MINISTER NODA:On the completion of Step 2, or, the cold shutdown of the reactor, which the former Kan administration defined in a roadmap released in spring of this year toward the conclusion of the nuclear accident, I mentioned this in my opening statement, but the conditions for a cold shutdown were that a state be maintained where the bottom of the pressure vessel was below 100 degrees Celsius in temperature, where nuclear materials emitted from the containment vessel were managed and controlled to a significant degree, and where a circulating water injection and cooling system be in place to maintain the previous two conditions. The completion of Step 2 relied on these conditions in order to secure safety for the mid-term. While also listening to the opinions of experts on these conditions, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) ultimately confirmed that the conditions had been fulfilled. A report was submitted to the Nuclear Safety Commission, and it was confirmed that all conditions had been achieved. In light of this, in the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters today, in which all Cabinet members participate, the decision was made without objection to declare that we had completed Step 2 and that a cold shutdown had been achieved.

However, and I mentioned this in my opening statement, a range of other problems with the reactors have yet to be resolved. You have just pointed out numerous issues related to water. We still have many challenges ahead of us, including the task of decontamination and the removal of rubble. That has not changed. Therefore, our battle against the nuclear power station accident has not come to an end. Nevertheless, we have achieved a cold shutdown based on objective fact, and that of course marks the conclusion of one major chapter in our battle. That is why we made the declaration today and that is why we must continue to work without rest until the reactors are truly decommissioned. With regard to the issues that were pointed out, or, including the issue of information disclosure, we will continue to provide thorough explanations to citizens and other countries while reflecting on the past.


REPORTER:I am Sakajiri of Asahi Shimbun. My question is with regard to the issue of revising the Restricted Area and other evacuation areas. As of present, there is a Restricted Area, an area within a radius of 20 kilometers of the station, and Deliberate Evacuation Areas outside of that 20-kilometer zone, where residents are still evacuating their homes. In your opening statement you commented that you intend to make some indication concerning the evacuation zones and revising those zones in the near future. What direction do you think that your revisions will take? Also, I have one more question. There are areas with high annual radiation dosage and there is suspicion that it will be difficult for residents to return home for a long time. It appears that there is also talk about the Government borrowing that land or purchasing it. What type of specific assistance measures do you have in mind for residents that will not be able to return home for the long term? Please answer these two questions.

PRIME MINISTER NODA:There are still residents in the affected areas forced to live in tough conditions away from home. Just thinking about that breaks my heart. As I mentioned earlier, now that Step 2 has been completed we will be carrying out revisions on the Restricted Area and other evacuation zones. I intend to advance prompt considerations while conducting close communications with Fukushima Prefecture and local municipalities. I plan to have Minister Goshi Hosono, Minister Yukio Edano, Minister Tatsuo Hirano, and other related ministers visit Fukushima Prefecture this weekend as well as other related prefectures and municipalities to hold discussions on this.

With regard to your other question about areas with high radiation levels, just as you have pointed out, in the event that we identified some areas as being uninhabitable for the long term, the Government must take responsibility and consider mid- to long-term measures. You brought up specific measures including the purchase or leasing of such land - I believe that we must compile our ideas, including on such measures, while holding close discussions with the prefectures and municipalities involved.


REPORTER:I am Sato of Nippon Television. I would like to ask about the consumption tax increase issue that is being discussed within the party. You have consistently said that a draft plan will be compiled by the end of the year and that you will accomplish this with unwavering resolve. Nevertheless, there continues to be strong opposition with signatures against the tax increase continuing to be collected. Furthermore, there are views being raised that the draft plan does not need to be compiled by the end of the year, and that there is no need to decide on this now in such a structured manner. In this light, while you have said "by the end of the year," is there any possibility that the compilation of the draft plan will be extended into early next year or that it will be postponed? That is my first question. Also, ever since you referred to the draft plan, even after questioning members of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), I have not been able to obtain a clear picture of what this draft plan exactly is. Is my understanding correct that the draft plan properly compiles the views of the Government and DPJ? Those are my two questions.

PRIME MINISTER NODA:The fundamental recognition is that the comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems cannot be avoided any longer by any administration. Moreover, the law, Article 104 of the Supplementary Provisions of the FY2009 Tax System Reform Act, stipulates that a bill will be submitted by the end of the year. That is the exact wording. Therefore, it was decided at a recent meeting of the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform that specifically a draft plan will be submitted by the end of the year. The draft plan, as it is positioned, will be decided by the Headquarters of the Government and Ruling Parties for Social Security Reform. Hence, it represents the views of the Government and ruling party working together. Naturally, the draft plan is meant to indicate what our ideas are for consulting with the opposition parties. If the draft plan is overly vague, clearly we will be told to start over. Our intent is to present our ideas, which will ensure that starting-over does not happen and which will serve as a proper springboard for discussion. Following the consultations between the ruling and opposition parties, an outline will be compiled and preparations will be made to turn this into a bill. The bill will then be submitted by the end of the year. I believe we need to follow this general schedule strictly, without slackening our vigilance whatsoever. While a variety of remarks are being made, considering the atmosphere within the party as well, in principle I believe it is proper that active discussions take place according to this flow of events. My intention is to get the draft plan compiled with everyone being on the same page with regard to this general schedule.


REPORTER:I am Ito of AFP. Allow me to ask about the scheme for the Government's management of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. In order to push ahead more vigorously with the efforts to bring the nuclear power accident under control, do you support the idea of further strengthening the management of the Government or the involvement of the Government, for example, through the nationalization of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:It is decided that TEPCO and the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund will jointly compile the so-called comprehensive special business plan by the spring of next year. In doing so, I have instructed that a variety of options out of a wide range of possibilities be considered for facilitating the smooth payment of compensation. The Government, too, will be making considerations by keeping an array of possibilities in mind. While you pointedly mentioned nationalization, our intent is to have discussions without targeting any expected outcome in particular. What we will be doing is keeping an array of possibilities in mind, discussing them and consolidating them by the spring of next year.


REPORTER:I am Yamaguchi of NHK. You talked about the accident at the power stations "concluding" today. Thinking about this from the point of view of the affected regions though, I think there is the strong feeling that this term is quite hard to accept. Don't you feel anything strange about using the term "concluding"?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:The issue is as I outlined a moment ago. In terms of the on-site issues at the reactor and what the cold shutdown means - in the process of inspecting the situation at the stations according to the standards and definitions set in the roadmap created last spring, we were able to verify each of the three points up for inspection, meaning that Step 2 has been completed. This was the result of our activities to this point and the goal of our thinking on this issue. I would like to have everyone's understanding on this.

On the other hand, in terms of the feelings of those living in the affected areas, I understand that many still have questions such as, "What will be done about decontamination?" "What will be done about compensation?" "How can people rebuild their lives?" And "How will the residents of the area be able to return home at an early date?" These are not on-site issues, but off-site issues, and I believe that the situation is just as I explained earlier - our response to the accident does not end here. I feel strongly in my heart that we have not finished our work yet; no, what I want the people of the affected region to understand is that we will be expediting further our work on the issues I mentioned, putting even more effort toward them. This sums up our thinking on the matter. The Government is in no way, shape or form going to relax in its efforts here or begin turning its attention away from Fukushima just because Step 2 has been completed. There are still matters for which we must exert greater effort, for instance, the budget and personnel topics that I spoke of earlier. I am of the mind to put forward thorough efforts on each of these issues.


REPORTER:I am Takatsuka of the Mainichi Shimbun. I have a question about the bill to cut the remuneration of national public servants. In your press conference last week you made an announcement to the effect that you wanted to draw up an agreement on this matter within the year through discussion among the Government and each political party. It seems that discussion has reached a stalemate, and now the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) and New Komeito have proposed to accept the Recommendation of the National Personnel Authority (NPA) and then cut remuneration later. Do you intend to accept this proposal?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:My hope for the bill to reduce national public servant remuneration and the bill for postal service reform, as well as for the issues of redressing the vote-value disparity and reducing the number of Diet members, was that we would be able to come to some kind of agreement during the extraordinary session of the Diet. It is unfortunate that we did not reach a conclusion on these issues. In particular, the reduction in national public servant remuneration by 7.8% which you touched upon is being proposed as an extraordinary measure to secure funding for reconstruction. Since this issue pertains to funding for reconstruction, I wish to receive the understanding of both the opposition and ruling parties on this in order to reach a conclusion as soon as possible. As you noted, it has been proposed that we first accept the Recommendation of the NPA. I want to see if we can work out our differences on this. You pointed out that we have not seen much progress yet, but my basic stance is that I want to see thorough discussion centered around the Chairman of the Policy Research Council that will allow us to reach some form of an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties on both the proposal to reduce national public servant remuneration and the proposal on the postal service reform within the year, so that we can have these bills enacted at an early stage within the ordinary session of the Diet next year. So as to whether I am considering accepting the proposal of the LDP and New Komeito, I will continue to call on the opposition for discussions and I want to listen well to their opinions, but since this is related to legislation that we put a lot of thought into, I will just say that I hope to reach some form of agreement following a careful matching of ideas.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY:Next person. Mr. Jimbo, please.

REPORTER:I am Jimbo of Video News. You just declared the cold shutdown in accordance with the roadmap formulated in spring. Last spring, however, neither TEPCO nor the Integrated Headquarters had acknowledged the meltdown and melt-through of the reactor. In other words, at that stage, the definition used for the cold shutdown assumed that the nuclear fuel was still inside the reactor, in the pressure vessel. Subsequently, it was acknowledged that a meltdown did occur, and even a melt-through. It is now even being speculated that little or no nuclear fuel remains inside the pressure vessel. Not a few people feel it strange that a cold shutdown has been declared achieved because the temperature at the bottom of the pressure vessel is below 100 degrees. How do you respond to this? We now know that the truth is that nobody really knows the actual state of the leaked fuel. Nevertheless, you are now declaring a cold shutdown and the conclusion of the nuclear accident. I have the impression that you are making a "speed-before-quality" declaration. How can you declare a conclusion to the accident at this timing when nobody knows what has happened to the leaked fuel? Could you tell us why you are doing this now?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:We reached this conclusion after measuring the temperature not only of the bottom of the pressure vessel but also of various locations in the whole containment vessel. A cold temperature has been achieved within the whole containment vessel, not just the bottom of the pressure vessel. The temperature is now below 100 degrees. We have confirmed a stable, cold temperature, which is why we are saying that Step 2 of the roadmap has been completed. We are not only talking about the bottom of the pressure vessel, and that is not what the roadmap was about to begin with. We came to this conclusion in consideration of the status of the containment vessel as a whole.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY:Next person, please. Mr. Murao, please.

REPORTER:You did not reply to my question about the fuel rods.

CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECRETARY:Excuse me, we ask that you please cooperate for the smooth continuation of this press conference. Mr. Murao, please.

REPORTER:But the Prime Minister did not answer regarding the fuel rods.


REPORTER:I am Murao of the Yomiuri Shimbun. I would like to ask you about how the Government should proceed with energy policy going forward. In particular, could you share with us your views on the restart of nuclear power stations and the construction of new nuclear power stations?

PRIME MINISTER NODA:Regarding the restart of nuclear power stations, first of all, nuclear power station operators should conduct stress tests. NISA will then evaluate the results of the stress tests. Next, the NSC will check and confirm that evaluation. After going through all these processes, the Government will make a final decision, also in consideration of the extent of understanding about the restart of operations among people in host communities and the Japanese public at large. If the safety of nuclear power stations can be confirmed, the Government will stand at the forefront in explaining about the restart of nuclear power plant operations to people in host communities. This is the process of how we will go about the restart of operations; it is a process which we have confirmed over and over again. At the present time, we already have reports on stress tests at about seven nuclear power stations. NISA is currently conducting evaluations of these stress tests, and in line with the principle of openness, we are also holding explanatory meetings at the same time. As all of this is occurring, NISA is expected to come up with its evaluation soon. We are now in that process. After we carry all of this out steadily and according to the established procedure, we should know how many existing nuclear power stations should be allowed to restart operations.

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

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