Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara on Thursday retracted remarks suggesting that paying off local authorities in cash would ultimately solve the problem of where to store radiation-tainted soil from Fukushima Prefecture, after opposition parties demanded his resignation.
Ishihara also said he would visit the region to apologize in person shortly after the Diet session closes for summer.
But he made clear that he had no intention of resigning, saying he wanted to fulfill his responsibilities as the environment minister.
“I retract my comments and apologize for causing misunderstanding” because the remarks were not made in a dignified manner, Ishihara said in a tense Diet session that saw him lambasted by the opposition parties.
The minister, son of former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, said Monday that “monetary value” would eventually settle the protracted talks on whether any government would agree to host storage facilities for radioactive soil removed from areas contaminated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
The comments enraged towns and cities in Fukushima, the opposition camp, and even members of the Cabinet.
Earlier, Ishihara had apologized but refused to retract the comments, saying they were made at an informal meeting with reporters rather than a formal news conference. What he meant to say, he added, was that it is important to show the amount of compensation paid to local governments for the storage sites.
Nevertheless, he delivered a full retraction Thursday amid growing pressure from the opposition camp, which submitted a censure motion against him later in the day.
Evacuees from Okuma and Futaba, the two towns hosting the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant, called Ishihara’s remarks insensitive. Both were abandoned after the triple meltdown in March 2011.
Emiko Yoshida, 64, who fled Okuma for Aizuwakamatsu, 100 km away, said she thinks her town has no choice but to take the storage facilities. But she also said she felt betrayed by Ishihara.
“We can’t forgive him unless he apologizes directly to us,” she said.