National / Politics

Fukushima disaster reconstruction minister apologizes over outburst at journalist

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of reconstructing the disaster-hit Tohoku region, apologized Tuesday for raising his voice to a freelance journalist at a news conference over demanding questions on the government’s support for Fukushima evacuees.

Imamura was repeatedly asked how the central government planned to help those who voluntarily evacuated from areas near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant even though their towns and places of residence had not been designated by the state as mandatory evacuation zones.

On March 31, the Fukushima Prefectural Government terminated its financial assistance for housing for about 26,000 such “voluntary evacuees.”

Many of those evacuees, however, have no intention to or are unable to return to their hometowns in the prefecture because of concerns over radiation, financial difficulties or other reasons.

Imamura maintained that it is the Fukushima Prefectural Government, not the central government, that should extend direct assistance to those evacuees and that Tokyo is ready to support the prefectural government.

The journalist, whose name is not known, continued to call on Imamura to give “a responsible answer.” Imamura eventually demanded he leave the news conference at the Reconstruction Agency in Tokyo.

“I’m doing my job in a responsible manner. How rude you are!” Imamura shot back.

“You should retract what you’ve just said. Get out!” the minister shouted.

“Never come here again!” he also said. The minister ended the news conference by leaving the room.

Later that day, Imamura faced reporters and apologized for his “emotional” outburst at the journalist over his questions and said he will not repeat the behavior.

But he didn’t apologize for his explanation of the central government’s policy on volunteer evacuees. During the news conference, Imamura argued “voluntary evacuees” should bear “self-responsibility for their own decisions” on whether they will return to their hometowns nor not.

“You should file a lawsuit (against the state) or do whatever you like,” Imamura also said during the news conference.