July 17(Sunday)

Conversing with the people working at the nuclear accident site

 

Yesterday, I visited Fukushima in order to hear the views of the people engaged in the work to bring the nuclear accident to a stable state as well as to hold discussions with the mayors and other leaders of the municipalities that have been evacuated around the nuclear plant.

 

Several thousand people―not only TEPCO employees but also people connected with affiliated companies, general contractors, and so on―are engaged in work at the nuclear accident site. I take my hat off to the people on site for their dedicated efforts. Thanks to them, the work to stabilize the situation has progressed substantially, with "Step 1" of the process being completed roughly according to schedule and the transition to "Step 2" expected to be possible the day after tomorrow (the 19th).

 

In the course of approximately 30 minutes of speaking with them, I expressed my gratitude, saying, "The fact that the nuclear reactors are being brought under control to a significant extent is due to your dedicated work, and for that I would like to extend my most sincere appreciation. I believe that Japan is being saved through your efforts." I was truly pleased at having the opportunity to speak with the workers directly in this way and convey my feelings of gratitude. Naturally, I pledged that as the government we would continue our greatest possible efforts, including improvements in the working environment.

 

It was during these conversations that I heard once more that the biggest concern regarding the work environment is heat stroke. They say that because body temperature rises due to the radiation-protective equipment worn, there is no other choice but to begin work extremely early in the morning and allocate the hottest time in mid-day to recuperation. I also received a request from the medical personnel responsible for monitoring the health of the people going to the accident site, that the backup system be reinforced. I will handle this thoroughly.

 

My discussions with the heads and chairpersons of the twelve municipalities in the vicinity of the nuclear plant were also very meaningful. I heard once more the strong request that people wish to return to their homes at the earliest possible time. I will spare no effort in working towards this goal.

 

Surrounding the nuclear accident, there is an urgent need to respond while taking a bifocal view, addressing one by one issues such as these that are 'immediately at hand,' while at the same time determining a course for nuclear energy 'over the long term.' From this latter perspective, at the press conference held four days ago, I indicated that we should "achieve a society that is not dependent on nuclear power." While some have criticized the fact that I laid out my personal thinking before a decision was taken on government policy, it is only natural that the person at the helm first indicate a direction forward.

 

The year before last, in his speech delivered in Prague, President Obama spoke of his idea to "seek... a world without nuclear weapons" and showed the 'direction towards which the world should work in the future'. In the same way, my having declared that we will 'aim to realize a society in the future where we can do without nuclear power stations' was a statement of the Prime Minister's thinking regarding the 'direction towards which Japan should work in the future.'

 

Having experienced the accident of March 11, I have come to believe that as the Cabinet and as the party, full-fledged discussions are necessary on our overall energy policies, including our nuclear energy policies. I welcome the fact that since my statement the other day, debates on the pros and cons of this have become lively on a number of fronts. Now is the time for us to actively engage in material discussions.



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