Facing flak from both the opposition — and her own party — Sanae Takaichi, policy chief for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, retracted earlier remarks that no one was killed in the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns and that the government should restart reactors nationwide.
Takaichi told reporters Wednesday that she would retract all of the remarks she made Monday during a speech in Kobe, adding that it was up to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to decide her fate.
Abe, who was later briefed on the matter during his diplomatic trip in Europe, said he would keep Takaichi in the position, but warned her against making remarks “that could cause misunderstandings,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Abe and Suga have apparently rushed to stave off any political damage from the controversial remarks ahead of a critical Upper House election next month.
In the wake of Takaichi’s comments, Suga contacted her several times to discuss the matter, a government source said.
“It’s true (her words) caused misunderstanding,” Suga said. “A politician should be careful not to make any remarks that could lead to misunderstandings.”
No deaths have been confirmed to be directly related to the massive amount of radioactive materials spewed from the Fukushima No. 1 plant’s wrecked reactors since the March 2011 triple meltdowns.
However, the hasty evacuation of elderly and hospitalized patients resulted in at least 70 deaths, and many other evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture died at shelters or killed themselves after the meltdowns.
Earlier the same day, the LDP’s Fukushima prefectural chapter submitted a letter of protest to party headquarters in Tokyo, saying Takaichi had ignored those victims as well as numerous Fukushima residents still unable to return to their hometowns because of dangerous levels of radiation.
Abe’s Cabinet has urged party executives and Cabinet ministers in particular to avoid any gaffes that could hurt their electoral chances since his first Cabinet in 2006 and 2007 suffered political setbacks after a rash of ministerial scandals.