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What Gov't really thinks of Fukushima

June 18, 2014

Editorial: Ishihara's Fukushima gaffe reflects real feelings of gov't




Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara's gaffe over a plan to build interim facilities to store soil and other waste contaminated with radioactive substances from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant has rubbed local residents the wrong way. His remarks have called into question whether he is qualified as a politician.

Ishihara came under fire for suggesting on June 16 that "monetary value" would ultimately decide whether local authorities accept the central government's proposal to build interim storage facilities. He made the remarks after he reported the plan on the facility to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the prime minister's office on June 16 -- the day following the latest briefing session for local residents on the plan.

Many local residents apparently took his remarks as reflecting the national government's true intentions to try to persuade local bodies in Fukushima to host such facilities by offering financial grants or compensation. It is only natural that Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato criticized Ishihara's remarks saying, "Does he understand the severity of the nuclear disaster?"

Ishihara later said he never meant that the matter can be settled with money and apologized for upsetting Fukushima residents. However, Ishihara has never attended any of the 16 briefing sessions for local residents on the plan that the national government has held since late May. He should visit Fukushima Prefecture as early as possible to apologize for and thoroughly explain his remarks.

The national government plans to acquire a land lot about 16 square kilometers in size that stands over the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba and Okuma to build an interim storage facility. The government aims to begin to shift contaminated soil and other waste, which is currently stored at temporary storage sites, to the new facility in January next year.

However, central government officials provided only a vague explanation in the briefing sessions on the road map toward the final disposal of contaminated soil outside Fukushima Prefecture and the amount of compensation the government will pay to local authorities when it nationalizes the facility. The explanation hardly won the understanding of local residents. Such being the case, the government is considering establishing a system to provide grants that can be used to help residents restore their livelihoods and make up for losses caused by harmful rumors against local products.

Ishihara explains that he made the controversial remarks to the effect that it would be important to show the specific amounts of money to buy land for the facility as well as funds to cover local residents' efforts to restore their livelihoods and revitalize the local economy.

However, his explanation reminds the public of the traditional political method of providing massive amounts of grants to local governments hosting nuclear plants in efforts to promote atomic power. On the occasion of Okinawa's Nago mayoral race in January this year in which the pros and cons of a plan to relocate the U.S. military's Air Station Futenma to the city was the point of contention, the national government unveiled measures to revitalize the local economy in a bid to increase the chance of the candidate in favor of the relocation winning the election.

However, the national government's attempt ended in failure and the incumbent mayor who is opposed to hosting a substitute facility for Futenma base was re-elected. The idea of offering a massive amount of money in return for hosting burdensome facilities is outdated.

If Ishihara had truly sympathized with local residents who have been suffering from the nuclear crisis, he would not have said the issue could ultimately be settled by "monetary value." One cannot help but wonder if he ever learned any lessons from another gaffe he had made about the nuclear crisis when he was serving as secretary-general of the now ruling Liberal Democratic Party. At that time, Ishihara compared the crippled atomic power station to a facility of the AUM Shinrikyo cult that carried out deadly nerve gas attacks, using the word, "Satyam," and was later pressed to explains what he really meant by that.

Some people are reportedly searching for their children who went missing after being hit by the tsunami in 2011 near the proposed site for the interim storage facility. The construction of the facility could lead to the loss of land where local residents were born and raised.

Negotiations on the construction of the interim storage facility will never progress unless the national government sincerely listens to what local residents have to say and win their trust.

June 18, 2014(Mainichi Japan)

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