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Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 (AM)

Press Conference by the Chief Cabinet Secretary (Excerpt)

[Provisional Translation]

Opening Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: I will give an overview of today's Cabinet meeting. The meeting approved 16 general and other measures, and also the promulgation of legislation, cabinet orders and personnel decisions. With regard to statements by ministers, the Minister of Finance and Minister for Reconstruction spoke about the issuance of commemorative currency related to projects for reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Before the Cabinet Meeting there was a Ministerial Meeting on Response to Heavy Snow. This was the second meeting following upon the one on February 2. The entire government is coming together for a response to seasonal heavy snow in line with the Prime Minister's instructions. At today's meeting we compiled the 2012 Measures for the Response to Heavy Snow. These measures examine the situation in which the record-breaking heavy snow around the areas of the Sea of Japan since December have had an enormous impact on the livelihoods of the people, and in order to further ensure the safety and security of the people's livelihoods, calls for the rapid implementation of polices related to: 1) financial support for fees related to the clearing of snow, etc.; 2) the establishment of a system to clear snow; 3) measures for those affected by the disaster and lifestyle support; 4) support for small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and those in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries. For further details on this matter, there was a press conference after the Cabinet Meeting by the Minister of State for Disaster Management, but for even more details, I ask that you please inquire with the Disaster Management Section in the Cabinet Office.


REPORTER: On the issue of sanctions against Iran, according to some reports today the United States has basically given its agreement to the direction announced by Japan of reducing imports by more than 11%. Please tell us about the current state of negotiations between Japan and the United States and the schedule for the future.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: Discussion is underway between Japan and the United States on the US National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The current situation is one in which we are deepening our understanding of the other side's position. However, there is no truth to the reports that an agreement has basically been reached. There was a Japan-US discussion on February 2 in Washington DC. Going forward, we will have an exchange of opinions on a variety of matters through diplomatic channels. There are now no plans to have another discussion. I believe the content of the reports to be conjecture. I will only say that there is no truth to the report that an agreement has basically been reached.


REPORTER: I would like to ask about the restarting of nuclear power stations. Yesterday, at a press conference after a meeting of the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC), Chair of the Commission Madarame said that primary assessment of stress tests had been insufficient and that the decision to determine whether or not to operate power stations based on the primary assessment was the judgment of the Government. With Dr. Madarame, who is an expert, saying that he cannot state that the stations are safe, I would like to hear your current recognition regarding whether it is possible for the Government to make a judgment on the restarting of nuclear power stations based on the primary assessment alone.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: Dr. Madarame clearly stated that he would not make a judgment on the restarting of stations. On that basis, he also made many other remarks. Regarding the restarting of nuclear power stations currently suspended for repular inspections, primary assessment of stress tests by power station operators, based on the methods reviewed in the report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the end of January, will be evaluated by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), ensuring thorough transparency. And furthermore, with its validity - including the confirmation by the NSC of the validity of that process - at the political level we will make a decision, one that includes the points of earning the understanding of the local areas and trust of the public. This will be a comprehensive judgment, nothing more and nothing less.

REPORTER: I believe that the Government positioned stress tests as examinations in which safety was verified and ensured by experts, and an expert has now said that safety could not be sufficiently ensured in the primary assessment. How do you take this statement?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The expert, Dr. Madarame, stated something to the effect that both primary and secondary assessments would be necessary to respond to a document (from the NSC to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI))  on July 6 last year. I understand this to refer to a comprehensive safety evaluation, and I acknowledge that he also clearly stated that he would not contradict the government policy of judging whether to restart a suspended  power station based on the primary assessment, and that he would not deny the government policy.

REPORTER: Concerning the environmental assessment related to the transfer of the Futenma Air Station, yesterday the Governor of Okinawa expressed some harsh opinions. How does the Government again intend to seek his understanding on the matter?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: The opinion of the Governor was very harsh, saying that it was factually impossible to realize a transfer plan that did not receive the understanding of the local region. I also acknowledge that this is the first evaluation, so to speak. Beyond that, there are 180 separate opinions included in the evaluation. I believe that the Ministry of Defense has said that they will closely examine the content of the Governor's opinion moving forward. After that, efforts to take into consideration the opinions, to revise the environmental impact statement as needed, and so on, will be handled appropriately based on laws and so forth. This is the stance of the Ministry of Defense, and the Government as a whole is of the view to uphold that stance going forward.

REPORTER: I'm sorry to return to the discussion on the restarting of nuclear power stations, but in his Policy Speech and other occasions, the Prime Minister said that the restarting of power stations would occur after earning the trust of the regions for stations where safety had been thoroughly verified and confirmed. Who is the subject of this sentence? Who will be doing this thorough verification and confirmation of safety?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: I have spoken on this process many times up until now. Nuclear power station operators will do stress tests. The first assessment is when they say that the station is alright.  The "operators" are the subject of that sentence. The next subject will be the NISA, which will evaluate the safety on top of the first assessment. After that, a comprehensive decision will be made on the restarting of power stations at the political level. This includes members of the Cabinet. In the end they will make the judgment. So there are three subjects, and they change in that order.

REPORTER: So safety will be verified at the Cabinet level?

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: What that means is that the NSC will guarantee the judgment on the process and so forth for the safety verification. I believe that at the Cabinet level we will be making a political judgment, a comprehensive political judgment of the understanding of the region and the public understanding on this, and so on. Under the leadership of Dr. Madarame, the NSC will be checking whether the NISA had carried out its evaluation according to appropriate process. We are waiting for the NSC's judgment on that.


REPORTER: I would like  you to tell us about the statements of the Minister of Finance and Minister for Reconstruction during the Cabinet Meeting.

CHIEF CABINET SECRETARY FUJIMURA: They were almost the same. They requested the meeting to make a decision on the issuance of FY2015 commemorative currency given that reconstruction projects following the Great East Japan Earthquake are national projects. The currency will be issued in 1,000 and 10,000 yen denominations. The plan is for the currency for the first issuance to be created by Japan Mint. There will be a second, third and fourth issuance as well, and we intend to call for proposals from the public and select designs for each of these other issuances. It is expected that the issuance of this commemorative currency will further add momentum to work on the Rebirth of Japan through reconstruction based on the spirit of mutual aid and solidarity among the public. The Minister for Reconstruction said that he hoped it would be an opportunity to unite the heart of the people of Japan.

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