Noda tells U.N. end to nuke crisis in sight

Prime minister reassures world leaders at high-level safety talks

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed confidence during a speech at the United Nations that the Fukushima nuclear crisis will be brought under control in the not-too-distant future.

Speaking before a high-level nuclear meeting at the world body, Noda pledged Thursday that Japan will disclose all information related to the crisis, the worst since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and share with the international community the lessons Japan has learned about nuclear safety.

Noda explained that he visited the Fukushima No. 1 power plant earlier this month to get a closer look at the reactor buildings.

“This very fact demonstrates the steady progress in our efforts to bring the accident under stable control,” he said.

Noda informed U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and other world leaders of the latest estimates that the amount of radioactive substances being released from the reactors has fallen to around one-four millionth of the level early in the crisis.

Noda, who took office three weeks ago, said the aim is to bring the reactors into a state of cold shutdown by the end of this year, a month ahead of the initial target.

While admitting the emergency response and preparedness for the enormous March 11 tsunami was insufficient, he said, “Japan is determined to raise the safety of its nuclear power generation to the highest level in the world,” signaling that his administration has no immediate plans to phase out nuclear reactors.

Noda also said Japan stands ready to continue to export its technology and expertise to emerging economies seeking to introduce nuclear facilities and at the same time to step up its efforts to take the lead in expanding the use of renewable energy.

Noda, who is making his international debut as prime minister in New York, said Tokyo will present the specifics of its new energy policy over the medium and long terms around next summer.

He added that Japan will strengthen nuclear security with the rest of the world to prevent terrorist access.

In his closing remarks, Noda said he is confident Japan will overcome the nuclear crisis and there will be a time when Fukushima will be remembered as “the place where, through people’s strong will and courage, a new era was opened for the future of humankind.”

The high-level meeting, organized at the request of the U.N. chief in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, was attended by such leaders as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, as well as top officials from more than 50 countries.

Many of them proposed that global nuclear safety standards be enhanced in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“Participants affirmed that the responsibility for ensuring the application of the highest standards of nuclear safety . . . lies with each state and operating organization,” the U.N. chief said in his chairman’s summary.

Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, president of the 66th U.N. General Assembly, said the Fukushima disaster was “a loud global wakeup call.”

“When one of the world’s best-prepared countries can experience such a large-scale nuclear accident, it is all too clear that we must continue to evolve our thinking and practices for the safe and secure operation of nuclear facilities worldwide,” al-Nasser said.

Still, many attendees said it is unrealistic to abandon nuclear energy in the near future.

South Korea’s Lee said the Fukushima accident was “a hard blow” to public trust in nuclear safety. But he said this should not be “cause to renounce nuclear energy. On the contrary, this is a moment to seek ways to promote the safe use of nuclear energy based on scientific evidence.”

Tobacco tax hike mooted

New York KYODO

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says an increase in cigarette taxes could be included in the tax hike to fund reconstruction following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

“It would be ill-balanced if we were to raise only corporate and income taxes,” Noda told reporters Thursday in New York. “I think increasing the cigarette tax should be considered an option.”

He said he will compile the third extraordinary budget for the current fiscal year after fully hearing what the opposition bloc has to say about it.

On relocating the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, he said he is ready to provide sufficient explanations to residents without specifying an end date for concluding the issue.

His comments came after he and President Barack Obama confirmed during their summit earlier in the week that Japan will continue to make efforts toward relocating the air base within Okinawa, in line with an existing bilateral accord, despite strong local opposition.

Referring to the infighting within his Democratic Party of Japan over whether the suspension of kingpin Ichiro Ozawa should be lifted, Noda said “there is no reason” to do so.

Ozawa’s party membership was suspended earlier this year following his indictment over a political money scandal.

Noda also reiterated he will not dissolve the Lower House to hold a general election in the near future, saying the government needs to address postdisaster reconstruction and the nuclear crisis.