Trade and industry minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned from his post Sept. 9, only eight days after his Cabinet appointment, over remarks that offended people affected by the Fukushima nuclear accidents. Mr. Yukio Edano, chief Cabinet secretary under former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, was sworn in as Mr. Hachiro’s successor on Sept. 12. Although Mr. Hachiro’s resignation is a setback for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his Cabinet, his administration must resolve to pursue a policy of phasing out nuclear power generation.
On Sept. 8, Mr. Hachiro, together with Mr. Noda, had visited an evacuation zone within 20 km of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant as well as urban districts of municipalities around the plant. The next day he told a news conference that the urban districts he had visited were “towns of death with no person seen around.”
He was also reported to have said jokingly on the night of Sept. 8 that he could “pass on radioactivity to you” by rubbing the sleeve of his protective clothing against a reporter. It is surprising that it apparently did not occur to Mr. Hachiro that because his ministry promotes and regulates nuclear power and is blamed for lax oversight that led to the Fukushima nuclear fiasco, he cannot be too careful about what he says over matters related to the crisis.
He could have used considerate language to describe what he saw and felt. As Mr. Noda said, Mr. Hachiro made “inappropriate remarks.” The opposition forces will launch an attack on Mr. Noda in the Diet over his responsibility for appointing Mr. Hachiro as a Cabinet member, but the nuclear power establishment should not use Mr. Hachiro’s remarks and resignation as a means of deterring moves toward phasing out nuclear power.
As trade and industry minister, Mr. Hachiro said nuclear power plants would disappear from Japan because it is difficult to build new ones and because the government will order decommissioning when reactors reach the end of their operational life.
Although Mr. Noda shares Mr. Hachiro’s view on the difficulty of building new plants and on decommissioning old ones, he appears to be on his guard not to categorically rule out nuclear power in Japan. He should declare that Japan will pursue a society that is independent of nuclear power, as his predecessor Mr. Kan did.
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