Amid calls for her resignation and growing outrage in Fukushima Prefecture, the ruling party’s policy chief on June 19 apologized for saying the Fukushima nuclear disaster has not directly caused any deaths.
“It was regrettable if people in Fukushima Prefecture felt bitter and were angry,” Sanae Takaichi, chairwoman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council, told reporters at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo. “I will retract everything I said about the energy policy.”
Politicians and families of people who died in the evacuation process described Takaichi’s June 17 comment as insensitive, baffling and inaccurate.
Although the central government has defended Takaichi, the criticism has been so great that some members of the LDP want to limit her public appearances during the Upper House election in July.
Takaichi made the comment when she was arguing for the need to restart idle nuclear reactors during a meeting of the LDP’s Hyogo prefectural chapter in Kobe.
“We are in a situation in which no one has ever been killed by an accident at a nuclear power plant (in Japan), including Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant,” she said.
Takaichi later said she wanted to emphasize that no one has died due to radiation exposure from the Fukushima disaster. But opposition party leaders said Takaichi was missing the point.
“Some people died due to stress during their prolonged stays at evacuation centers. It was undoubtedly caused by the nuclear accident,” Goshi Hosono, secretary-general of the Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters on June 18. “Anyone who cannot accept the seriousness of such a situation has no right to manage things at the center of the government.”
Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party, was more blunt.
“The LDP, which has promoted nuclear power, is most responsible for the Fukushima accident,” she said. “(Takaichi’s remark) was outrageous. She should resign her post as the policy chief.”
And Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of the Japan Restoration Party, who himself has come under fire for his remarks about wartime “comfort women,” said of Takaichi’s comment, “It is wrong to judge the nuclear problem based on whether people died or not.”
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on June 18 defended Takaichi’s remark, saying, “Seen from the context, I don’t think it so problematic.”
Not all LDP members agreed.
The LDP’s Fukushima prefectural chapter filed a protest to the party headquarters on June 19, demanding Takaichi retract her remark and apologize.
Takao Hiraide, secretary-general of the chapter, said the previous day: “With many prefectural citizens having died during the evacuation, their relatives are heartbroken. Takaichi’s remark was truly regrettable.”
A Lower House member who belongs to the LDP chapter was furious and bewildered. “With the central government and the LDP saying they would stay close to the pain in the disaster-stricken areas, what she said goes exactly against it.”
According to Fukushima Prefecture, 1,415 residents in the prefecture have died during the forced evacuation or after they were relocated since the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster in March 2011.
About 160,000 people in the prefecture still live in evacuation.
Forty patients at Futaba Hospital in Okuma, about 4 kilometers from the crippled plant, had died by the end of March 2011 during the chaos in the evacuation process.
“(Takaichi’s) comment tramples on the feelings of people in Fukushima,” said a resident whose family member was one of the Futaba patients who died. “I was unhappy about (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe’s plans to restart nuclear reactors, and I cannot stand his subordinate’s remark, too.”
Relatives of several patients who died in the evacuation sued TEPCO earlier this month, arguing that the deaths were caused by the accident.
In addition, some residents are still suffering from anxiety after being temporarily evacuated to an area with high radiation levels due to the government’s failure to release predictions on the spread of radioactive materials immediately after the accident.
Tamotsu Baba, mayor of Namie, which was designated as a no-entry zone after the accident, said Takaichi displayed a lack of sensitivity to the continuing plight of the affected residents.
“It was an outrageous comment, given that town residents are living hard lives and were scattered in the evacuation,” he said. “I am afraid that memories of the accident seem to be fading.”
The LDP, currently well ahead of other parties in opinion polls, plans to include the resumption of nuclear power operations in its platform for the Upper House election.
Yoshimi Watanabe, who heads Your Party, said Takaichi’s comment “showed one aspect of the LDP’s intoxication caused by the high support rates.”
However, many LDP members have expressed concerns that Takaichi’s remark could hurt the party in the election and fuel opposition to its plan to restart nuclear reactors.
“I don’t want Takaichi to make a campaign speech,” a senior LDP official said.
Abe plans to visit Fukushima Prefecture on June 30 for the third time.
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