National / Politics

Abe spurns calls for reconstruction chief to quit over Fukushima evacuee gaffe

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday dismissed calls for the disaster reconstruction minister to resign after he made remarks implying that the nuclear refugees from Fukushima Prefecture should be left to fend for themselves.

At a Tuesday news conference, the minister, Masahiro Imamura, defended the government’s decision to delegate help for “voluntary evacuees,” calling it their “own responsibility, their own choice” not to return to their radiation-tainted homes.

“I want (Imamura) to continue to be alongside those affected by the disaster and devote every effort to his duties with the aim of (achieving) reconstruction as soon as possible,” Abe told a full session of the House of Representatives.

Earlier Thursday, Imamura, 70, apologized for “causing a nuisance to everyone” at the Lower House committee session on reconstruction.

Housing subsidies ended last month for people who fled areas outside government-designated hot zones surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“I feel sorry that I gave the impression that (the evacuees’) are responsible for their own (return) despite the fact that they are displaced because of the nuclear disaster, and I deeply apologize,” Imamura said.

Kazuko Kori, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party who was elected by proportional representation in northeastern Japan, called for Imamura to resign because “we cannot discuss reconstruction under this minister.”

But Imamura vowed to “keep performing my duties in good faith.”

Imamura also came under fire for aggressively lashing out at the reporter whose question triggered the controversial comments on Tuesday, yelling “shut up” during the news conference. He offered a brief apology the same day for having “become emotional.”

On Thursday, he said he was willing to apologize to the reporter “if necessary.”

The Lower House reconstruction committee is debating a proposal to reform a special law related to the 2011 disasters that would see the state pay for cleanup efforts in parts of Fukushima still too contaminated to live in.

Imamura has been in his post since the August 2016 Cabinet reshuffle.