National / Politics

Japan's environment minister denies mocking radiation fears of Fukushima residents

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa came under fire Tuesday for what opposition lawmakers called an insensitive gaffe that appeared to ridicule the fears of people in Fukushima Prefecture over radiation exposure.

At the center of the controversy was a remark she reportedly made Sunday during a speech in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture.

The Nagano-based Shinano Mainichi Shimbun on Monday quoted the Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker as saying, “There are always those ‘anti-radiation’ people, as you may call them, who are worried about radiation no matter how low the levels are.”

According to the newspaper, Marukawa then went on to attack the government’s official goal of reducing contamination near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant to an annual dose of 1 millisievert, calling it a “scientifically groundless” figure decided by her Democratic Party of Japan predecessor.

On Tuesday, DPJ lawmaker Rintaro Ogata said Marukawa’s comments sounded as though she were deriding those suffering from radiation exposure fears in Fukushima.

Marukawa said she has no clear recollection of the remark as the event went unrecorded due to the absence of her secretary.

Nonetheless, she said she felt “misquoted” by the newspaper, though she added: “I would like to apologize for not expressing my views clearly enough.”

The DPJ, which was in power when the triple disaster hit Japan in 2011, set the annual 1-millisievert target based on an estimation by the International Commission on Radiological Protection that acceptable radiation exposure levels range from 1 to 20 millisieverts per year in the aftermath of a nuclear accident.

Marukawa denied that she called the target “scientifically groundless” and instead emphasized that the DPJ should have more thoroughly explained the rationale behind it.

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